Monday, February 26, 2007

Politics at the Oscars®

Most years, I make a point of avoiding watching the Academy Awards® (and all the other award shows, too), but this year I watched, and I was rewarded with several moments of political note. Vice President Al Gore was there, of course, because An Inconvenient Truth was nominated in several categories, but he also co-presented an award with Leonardo diCaprio. Immediately afterwards, Leo asked Al if he didn't have some other major announcement he wanted to make, while the whole world was watching. Mr. Gore said that he hadn't really planned to, but Leonardo was so convincing, so, "My fellow Americans..." Just then, the orchestra swelled and played him off the stage. Through the rest of the telecast, no announcement of political candidacy was forthcoming. Later, when Melissa Etheridge won for best song, also for An Inconvenient Truth, she started off by thanking her wife and their four kids for their support. In a sane world, that would be par for the course, but in the polarized climate of American politics, with equal rights for gay Americans being used as a wedge issue by cynics pandering to bigotry, it was unmistakably a political statement. What I was left with most, though, was the thought of what a "dream team" I might assemble for the Al Gore White House.

I would put Barack Obama in as V.P., giving him a seat to gain the experience he will need to be a successful President in some future election. There's always the danger of having the running mate outshine the nominee in charisma, but, first of all, Al Gore isn't nearly the dead fish he was in 2000, and second, I think we need to have a little "audacity of hope" in the White House as a counterbalance to Darth Cheney's legacy. Barack Obama has the ability to inspire a lot of people to be excited about politics, and specifically about Democratic politics.

I want Hillary Clinton to be the Secretary of State. Hillary wouldn't be the first woman Secretary of State — I have great admiration for Madeleine Albright, and Condoleezza Rice is female — but I think she'd be an excellent choice. The public face of diplomacy is all smiles and curtsies and "Your excellency," but behind that veneer we need someone who is a solid dealmaker, somebody who can bring a mix of brass knuckles, a sugar tongue, and a horse trader's knack for splitting the difference. As polarized as the American people are towards Hillary Clinton, it's clear that on the world stage she could sit down with friend and foe alike and hammer out some solutions. I'd like to see her tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for humanitarian reasons, but also because it is a thorn that continues to fester anti-American sentiment around the world. I'd also like to see her work on repairing our relationships with our allies, and on building better relations with the "people on the street" in countries whose governments are aligned with us but whose citizens hate us. We have to realize that the terrorists will never be defeated as long as they can vanish into a sympathetic crowd, and that means we need more than just official cooperation. We need a broad willingness on the part of the people of Pakistan to turn in Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, for example.

I previously endorsed Joe Biden for President, primarily because of his experience in foreign policy. Unfortunately, his longshot candidacy took a big step backwards on its opening day with his badly misphrased compliment to Barack Obama, pushing him more into the "snowball's prayer" category with Governor Vilsack. However, I want to see his experience put to good use. The position that comes to mind is National Security Advisor. It's a less public role than he's used to — he'll probably spend much less time on the Sunday morning talk shows — but I think his keen eye and wealth of experience would enable him to give the President solid advice on where the threats are, where we should apply hard pressure, and where we should use soft power and diplomacy.

For Secretary of Defense, I would put forward General Wesley Clark, but under 10 USC 113(a) he's ineligible until 2010. (The SecDef must not have been an active-duty member of the armed forces for at least 10 years; General Clark retired in 2000.) He could certainly serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, bringing some much-needed gravitas to that post, to ensure that the lip service paid by the Bush Administration to "supporting our troops" doesn't evaporate, leaving our veterans in the lurch. Another strong possibility for Secretary of Veterans Affairs would be someone like Tammy Duckworth.

I would put Bill Richardson back in his chair as Secretary of Energy, but task him specifically with moving America dramatically towards energy independence. Our long-term homeland security is hopelessly undermined by our dependence on foreign oil, especially from such volatile regions as the Middle East and Africa. We need a bold and broadly based initiative, with a strong emphasis on federally funded basic research but also with an eye towards commercial viability. Balancing those demands will require the kind of experience that Bill Richardson could bring to the job.

There are still some significant blanks to fill in — Treasury, Attorney General, Homeland Security, Labor, HHS, HUD, and others — and I'm very aware that I've only named one woman (plus an alternate) so far, although State is a major post. My point, though, isn't to put forward a specific list, but rather to illustrate the kind of caliber of competence and gravitas that the Democrats need to demonstrate in order to be taken seriously as a party that can tackle the many problems facing the United States in the 21st century.

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