Archive for November, 2008

Everyone thinks they know Barack Obama

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

I’m amazed at how many people seem to know what is inside Barack Obama’s head.

The problem is, most of them can’t be right, because he can’t possibly be as good/bad, radical/pragmatic, leftist/centrist, forthright/sneaky, etc., as people seem to think.

And I’m not just talking about the far left and far right folks who see the world through such colored glasses that they distort everything.

I’m talking about smart, thoughtful, politically aware folks – both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives – who seem to think they have the president-elect all figured out.

Frankly, I haven’t the slightest idea what he’s going to do next. He doesn’t have enough of a track record – certainly when it comes to things like governing the free world – for any of us to have much of an idea.

From the moment he burst on the scene with “the speech,” he has talked about building a new kind of political style. One that emphasizes non-partisan support for improving the lives of regular Americans and a more collaborative approach to the rest of the world.

Of course, no one really believes what politicians say. And why should Obama be any different?

Maybe he isn’t. Maybe that was all just what he needed to say to get elected. 

But somehow this new guy on the block has managed to kindle a tiny bit of hope – at least in my mind – that maybe he really means what he has said. The few decisions he has made so far have done nothing to dim the hope.

Yet people will continue to see his actions through their own perspectives, and cynicism is strong in America.

A good example is my friend Mike Ingels, who blogs as the Erie Hiker. In a recent comment on this blog, he talked about how Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have an arch-liberal agenda for America. Generally, Mike is pretty right-on with these kinds of things. But I don’t know where he got this one?

Most of the complaints I’ve heard so far about Obama’s cabinet choices are coming from liberals. He seems to be choosing, smart, experienced, realistic professionals who will help his administration make good decisions. And he seems to be willing to look to unusual places – like Hillary Clinton and the current leaders of the military – for some of his choices.

Of course, Mike may be right. But I hope he isn’t. I hope Barack Obama really is what he promised voters during that painfully long campaign – someone who isn’t tied to any of the old, tired ideologies.

Mike and I agree on one thing. It’s important for Obama to stand up to the left-wing of the Democratic party, and make sure Congress doesn’t follow an agenda that is out-of-touch with basic American values.

It seems obvious that wouldn’t be very smart politically. It would be the fastest way to swing the momentum back to the Republican Party, which right now is badly in need some some kind of help.

Sad day for SE Michigan, nation

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

This is, indeed, a sad day for Southeast Michigan and for America.

John Dingell didn’t deserve to have his key Energy and Commerce chairmanship taken from him (link to story). For his party to ignore his long and impressive legislative record is a slap in the face and a shame.

But, as they say, that’s politics. You don’t spend 50-plus years in Washington without knowing it’s a tough place and that you’re going to win some and lose some. Rep. Dingell has won his share.

And it’s not that Henry Waxman is a bad person, or that Dingell is going away. They’ve worked together on the Energy and Commerce Committee for years, and will continue to do so. Rep. Dingell will still be looking out for the auto industry, and he still has plenty of friends in Congress.

Dingell-Waxman battle important for Michigan, nation

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Has John Dingell been wrong to protect the Big Three from tougher environmenal standards?

Yep.

Does that mean he should be pushed out of his chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee?

Nope.

Dingell, the 82-year-old Democrat who has been a member of Congress since 1955, has an impressive record as a protector of the environment and as a protector of the auto industry. Unfortunately, those two goals have been in conflict at times, and Dingell generally has sided with Detroit over issues like clean air and global warming.

On the other hand, Henry Waxman, the 69-year-old California Democrat who is challenging Dingell for chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce committee, is a long-time environmentalist with no auto industry in his back yard. He’s been free to push for tougher energy and environmental standards.

Now, with Barack Obama planning wide-ranging energy reforms – including some that the auto industry won’t like – it’s easy to see why the party leadership is considering dumping Dingell.

But it would be a mistake. Although many in the nation don’t want to admit it, the auto industry is too important to the nation’s economy to let it fail. And no one knows better than John Dingell the mix of energy reforms that are best for the nation – and that won’t push the auto industry over the edge.

At the same time, Detroit automakers would benefit from some tough love. They would be more competitive today if Congress had held them to higher mileage standards a decade ago.

Dingell will need to compromise – but that’s something he’s good at. Tougher environmental standards are necessary if we’re going to reverse global warming – not to mention continuing to clean up the air and water.

Rep. Dingell knows that, and will lead the Energy and Commerce Committee in that direction – if he survives the challenge from Waxman.

If Waxman takes over and runs roughshod over Detroit, the environment may benefit. But the nation would be worse off.

Separating race from hope

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

As America and the world celebrate the historic election of an African-American as president of the United States, a host of emotions are swirling through our collective minds.

We’re proud of America, for dealng another blow to racism and bigotry.

We’re amazed at how far we’ve come – just a generation ago blacks were fighting to attend the college of their choice or sit in the front of the bus.

We’re optimistic that Barack Obama’s election really does mean something special – a sign of a cultural shift toward a future closer to Martin Luther King’s dream.

But is it all about race?

Isn’t there more to Obama’s election than an historic milestone for African-Americans.

We should be proud, amazed and optimistic about what his election means for race relations. But most Americans didn’t vote for Obama because of his race.

They voted for his message of change. They voted for his plans for getting out of unpopular foreign wars and switching our economic focus from the rich to the middle class.

And most of all, they voted for hope.

Hope that America can be a leader in the world without being a bully.

Hope that we can put American ingenuity back to work creating jobs on our shores, not overseas.

Hope that we can provide basic services like health care for all of our citizens.

Hope that we can balance the federal budget, not by cutting services for people in need but by ending policies that don’t make sense – like fighting expensive wars while cutting taxes on oil companies making billion-dollar profits.

Yes, let’s celebrate for a few days the amazing milestone that Barack Obama’s election represents.

But then I hope we – the entire country – can get to work tackling the tough issues and  moving toward that vision of the future that was behind so many of those votes on Tuesday.

Historic swing places responsibility on Democrats

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

As the White House and Congress swing to the Democrats, along with the spoils of victory come the responsibility of ruling.

It’s been more than 40 years since one political party has controlled the White House and held a filibuster-proof lead in the House and Senate. If that happens tonight, and it now seems possible, that’s a lot of power in a few sets of hands.

John McCain tried vainly to convince American voters that giving control of Congress and the White House to the Democrats was a bad idea.

But voters apparently were more angry with the way the Republicans handled their turn at the helm than worried about Democratic control.

Still, with power comes responsibility. And with the nearly absolute power voters have given the Democrats comes a greater responsiblity to not screw it up.

Checks and balances are a good thing. That’s why our government is set up the way it is, with three branches, each holding different powers, and with two houses of Congress. And that’s why one of them, the Senate, requires 60 of the 100 votes to move legislation along.

I’ve always been a fan of the famous line, sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson and sometimes to Henry David Thoreau, “That government is best which governs least.”

With the mess we’re in now – both the economy at home and our place as a leader in the world – it would be good if the folks atop the Democratic Party moved carefully and slowly.

Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have their hands on the steering wheel and their foot on the throttle. Even if they miss the 60 seats in the Senate, they’ll be close.

This isn’t a time, however, to show off how fast you can drive your new wheels – or to stick it to the Republicans by flexing your muscles.

It’s a time for smart, thoughtful, cautious change. And for bringing the minority party and mainstream America along for the ride.

Getting a thrill out of voting

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I can’t remember having as much fun voting.

There were more poeple in the gymnasium at Lambertville United Methodist Church than last weekend for the church craft show.

Each of the three lines for one precinct had several dozen people in them. There was a low buzz filling the room – kind of like a crowded library. The poll workers talked quietly, leading each voter through the process. But that many people can only be so quiet.

And, of course, it’s always a little more fun voting for president. Not that the local school board isn’t important, but presidential elections are the pinacle of our democratic process.

This ballot also was interesting because there were a variety of contested races, from county clerk to township trustees, where there was a real choice between good candidates.

Today was a great day to be an American, to exercise my right to vote, to join a crowd in the church gymnasium and feel the excitement of election day.

Too many times, I’ve felt like I was walking into a mausoleum when I cast my vote. Today was more like it should be.

Predictions are that more than 70 percent of registered voters will cast ballots today. I can’t imagine what the other 30 percent could be doing that is so important.

They’re missing out on a good time.