Friday, March 21, 2008

Jack Kemp rebukes Hannity on Obama-Wright issue

You know, it's almost enough to give you faith in democracy in our republic. Jack Kemp is a former NFL quarterback who became a Republican Congressman from upstate New York and who was Bob Dole's running mate in the 1996 Presidential election. He appeared tonight on Fox News Hannity and Colmes, not normally a bastion of intellectually well-founded political discourse. Jack Kemp was appearing on behalf of John McCain, trying to persuade Sean Hannity that John McCain is a candidate worthy of his active support. That much is par for the course. However, it seems he has been taking Hannity to task for the way he is mischaracterizing the situation with Rev. Wright as it relates to Barack Obama's candidacy.

A portion of the video in question, ©2008 Fox News, via

Here is the exchange I found most noteworthy, starting at about 2m43s into the video clip (about 40%):

Sean Hannity: I want to go back to your comments about Reverend Wright, because —

Jack Kemp: Okay. [slight chuckle]

Hannity: This is really important here, though. I don't know — should I call you Quarterback or Congressman? I never know what to say, but, ah —

Kemp: Sir.

Hannity: Sir.

Kemp: Recovering politician.

Hannity: Okay, but there you go. Here's what's important: this comes down to — and you've seemed willing to give Barack Obama a pass that I'm not willing to give him, and let me explain this. This was his pastor for 20 years, the most incendiary anti-American language you would ever hear from the pulpit. He claims that he didn't know, but that he did know, but that he disinvited him to the invocation when he was announcing he's running for President here. Jack, I don't believe him, number one, and secondly, I question the judgment of this man.

Kemp: He denounced the racism. He denounced the anti-Israel statements of Rev. Wright. He denounced the off-the-wall belief that America is the worst killing machine —

Hannity: Yeah, but he sat there twenty years; do you really —

Kemp: He didn't believe that. I don't believe he — The Wall Street Journal, no "soft on liberals" editorial, said they don't for a minute think that he believed any of that stuff. So, look —

Hannity: No, no, no, no, that's not the question. [Barack Obama] is saying he didn't know. Now, this church, his pastor went to Tripoli with Louis Farrakhan

Kemp: [loud sigh]

Hannity: No, Jack, this is important. They gave him a lifetime achievement award and said Farrkhan "epitomized greatness," and he didn't know any of this?

Kemp: Barack Obama didn't do any of that. Barack didn't do that.

Hannity: His church did. He didn't know his pastor was like this?

Kemp: [sigh] Sean, I can't do this every night with you. I mean, you and I disagree with this. I think he's denounced it. I disagree with so many of his positions. For instance, he blamed the lack of economic opportunity that young black men and women have. You know what? I agree with him. We have not done enough to democratize our capitalistic system, to make more capital available to start businesses. He wants to raise taxes on capital gains, dividends, income tax by 52%. He's gonna squeeze — not me, I'm already wealthy at 72. He's gonna squeeze the young black entrepreneur. He's hurting them.

Hannity: Let's go down this road, because I think this is important, and I know I'm pressin' ya —

Kemp: I don't want to stay on ad hominem attacks.

Hannity: I don't want an ad hominem argument here. I find it — I'll use the term that Hillary Clinton used about General Petraeus — this, for me, is the willing suspension of disbelief. And what I mean by this is, if he really didn't know his pastor had these associations with Farrakhan, he went to this church for twenty years, the pastor was saying these controversial things, as he would have us believe — We discovered and broke the story last night that he's friends with another pastor who has used "the N-word" repeatedly, talked about the mayor of Chicago as a "slavemaster" — It's very — I'm hard-pressed to think maybe he has some agreement with this, which is a scary scenario for a President.

Kemp: I don't think he does. He's in a tight spot, 'cause he's gotta answer this, again and again and again, particularly in the general. Having said that, I told you on your radio show this week that I hope that, if he is defeated, it's on the basis of bad economic policy, raising taxes, waving a white flag to our enemy in the Middle East, and things like that, not what Pastor Wright said.

Hannity: I think you've taken on the role of the "external conscience" of Sean Hannity. Boy, you've been after me a lot lately.

Kemp: I'm not "after you"; I'm a fan of yours, but I want to hold you accountable!

Hannity: I am accountable. I know my facts.
In closing, let's just highlight a couple more points of what Sean Hannity said. Barack Obama has never said that he was not present for any of Reverend Wright's controversial sermons. He has said — and in at least one case the claim has been corroborated — that he was not present for the specific sermons that have been so popular on YouTube. Obama did in fact disinvite Rev. Wright from the official announcement of his candidacy. Barack Obama played no role in the decision by the church to give an award to Minister Farrakhan, nor did he have any role in Farrakhan and Wright's trip to Libya. At least Hannity didn't harp on his foreign-sounding name or try to pretend he is or ever was a Muslim.

I don't agree with Jack Kemp's reasons for not supporting Barack Obama, but I do agree about — and I salute him for speaking out against — some red herrings that are not reasons to oppose Obama. If Barack Obama, the golden-throated orator, cannot convince the American people that he has the better plan for America, then he does not deserve to be President, and ditto for Hillary Clinton and John McCain. If more Republicans were more like Jack Kemp, we could at least have a civilized national political conversation, and talk about things that really matter.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Laying the Blame for Florida

The Florida Democratic Party officially announced today that it will not hold a re-vote to replace the invalid primary it held in January. There's plenty of blame to go around in this political clusterfuck, but I'll give you my views of some of the more noteworthy targets of my ire.

  • The Florida Democratic Party. Knowing that the Democratic National Committee would not seat delegates based on a primary held before Super Tuesday, they went right ahead and held the primary early and did nothing to prepare for the shocking and unexpected result that the DNC refuses to seat delegates based on a primary that intentionally flouted the rules. They continued to press for a result that cannot and will not happen — seating the delegates as if it had been a valid election — and then blamed lack of time when they couldn't reach a solution that would allow Florida's voters to be heard in the selection of a nominee.

  • New Hampshire and Iowa. These two states demand that their contests precede all other primaries and caucuses. They're not representative of the country, they're not representative of the Democratic Party, and there's no reason they should be permanently in the catbird seat. The arguments about "retail politics" and the way that voters in those two states take super-seriously their responsibility to lead the pack in selecting nominees, are hogwash. The DNC needs to shuffle the primary deck, perhaps choosing four states at random for pre-Super-Tuesday contests, with no preference at all for New Hampshire or Iowa.

  • Hillary Clinton's campaign. Immediately after the vote which they had agreed would not count, the Clinton campaign, including the candidate herself, began a full-court press to have the votes count. They are intent on changing the rules in the middle of the game, and also on disenfranchising the voters in Florida (and Michigan) who stayed home because everyone agreed in advance that those primaries were meaningless. They're even threatening to go to court to compel the DNC to seat the delegates from Florida, in a cynical effort to game the system to give them a victory in court that they couldn't achieve fairly at the ballot box. I was already leaning towards Obama for other reasons, but the Clinton campaign's rhetoric about the Florida primary cements my negative opinion of her candidacy.

  • The Democratic National Committee. As soon as Florida and Michigan announced their illegal primaries, the DNC should have been working behind the scenes to create a fallback plan that would allow those states to seat legally chosen delegates. It's as if the DNC is trying to shoot the Party in the foot by doing everything it can to ensure a nasty floor fight at the Convention. The old Will Rogers quote is no excuse for this level of disorganization.
Well, Florida, your options were crystal clear: re-vote or lose your delegates. You have chosen the latter. Don't you dare whine about it now, 'cause it's your own damned fault.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Education, Loyalty, and Home

There have been a couple of noteworthy news stories about education here in Northern California the last few days. In one case, a remedial math teacher at Cal State East Bay (the former CSU-Hayward) was fired because, as a devout Quaker, she objected to two items in the loyalty oath that all state employees must sign. Specifically, she objected to the wording "I swear" and to the implication that she would take up arms or other violent means in defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. (A compromise was later reached, allowing her to return to CSU-EB.) The other case involved homeschooling. A state appellate court ruled that parents who home-school their children must have proper teaching credentials for the grade level(s) of their kids. The vast majority of homeschooling parents are not accredited, so if the ruling stands, those kids will legally be considered truant.

Marianne Kearney-Brown is a grad student at CSU-EB, and has a part-time job teaching remedial math to undergrads. Her students are the ones who muddled through high school without mastering the basic math skills needed by anyone who wants to be competitive in the job market. They probably don't like math, find it boring and tedious, and have never really understood it at any level beyond hoping to pass the next pop quiz. She was getting the kids motivated and getting through to them; by all accounts, her teaching was top-grade. However, all employees of the state of California, including part-time grad student instructors, must "swear (or affirm) [to] preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Ms. Kearney-Brown modified the oath slightly, more or less along these lines: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will nonviolently preserve, protect and defend..." The University held that it was unacceptable for the employee to modify the oath in any way, even for her religious beliefs. (Quakers believe that taking an oath is blasphemous, and violence is not acceptable, even in defense of your country.) They cited a court precedent from 1968, Smith v. County Engineer, and told her, "Based on the advice of counsel, we cannot permit attachments or addenda that are incompatible and inconsistent with the oath."

There's just one thing: the "attachments or addenda" in question were in no way "incompatible and inconsistent" with the purpose of the oath. In the end, the University offered a compromise solution: Ms. Kearney-Brown would sign the oath with a statement from the University that her oath does not in any way bind her to take up arms, even in the event of invasion or insurrection. Further, that clarification will be made available to other employees who might have similar reservations. Meanwhile, she is reinstated with back pay. The University clearly saw that it was on shaky legal ground, and faced a public relations nightmare, so it quickly found a face-saving way to back quietly away. All in all, a "win-win" ending.

The other ruling of note was a California appeals court on 2008-03-07, holding that California law requires that children either be enrolled in an accredited school or be tutored by teachers who are accredited for the student's grade level, and that the law makes no exception for homeschooling. The great majority of parents who home-school their children, do not have state-approved credentials, and the court specifically held that it was insufficient to have an accredited school sign off on the parents' lesson plans and make quarterly visits to the home. There are an estimated 166,000 children affected by this ruling, if it holds on appeal. The governor has already announced that if the ruling is not overturned by the courts, he will work with the legislature to change the law.

The issue of homeschooling is complicated. There are many students who "fall through the cracks" in public schools, or even in private schools. Many of them are better served by having the individual attention and round-the-clock supervision of their parents as teachers. However, there are also homeschoolers who pull their kids from regular schools in order to teach that Noah and the Ark is an historical truth, or that dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth contemporaneously, or that the government of the United States comes from Almighty God. Society as a whole is poorly served by allowing parents to propagate such pernicious disinformation. Kids need to know that science and scientific evidence tell us that the earth is billions of years old and that dinosaurs died out millions of years before the earliest humans, and they need to learn and understand that the United States is and always has been a secular nation. We are not and never have been a Christian nation, despite the fact that a substantial majority of our people are Christians. More broadly, society needs some assurance that the material that homeschooling parents are teaching their kids is accurate and complete, meeting the educational standards that are the bedrock of our future prosperity. It will be a dark day indeed if the legislature turns around and says, "Okay, homeschoolers, you can do whatever you want — we don't care."

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

George McGovern on The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert's guest on last night's Colbert Report (Comedy Central) was former Senator George McGovern (D–SD), the Democrats' 1972 Presidential candidate. McGovern managed to win only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, a worse record than 1988's dismal campaign by Michael Dukakis, and only narrowly eclipsed by Walter Mondale in 1984. (Mondale won only DC and Minnesota, which has fewer electoral votes than Mass.) McGovern was also deeply involved in the bitter feud that tore deeply into the Democratic Party in the 1968 election, so his experiences can certainly shed some light on this year's contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

You can watch the show segments here:

Embedded video copyright ©2008 Comedy Central/Comedy Partners, all rights reserved


[Colbert intro, reminiscing about "Crushing Democratic Disappointments," specifically focusing on 1972.]

Stephen Colbert: '72, I remember that: the year the Democrats spurned establishment candidate Hubert Humphrey and gave the Presidential nomination to anti-war populist George McGovern. Sound familiar? Well, tonight we take a look back, in a Colbert RĂ©port "Special ReporT": The 1972 Democrats — Alone Again, Naturally.

[Colbert goes on to give a pop culture snapshot of the time: cartoons, rock stars, and...]

Colbert: Democratic politics were more radical than ever, thanks to South Dakota Senator and long-haired hippie freak, George McGovern. Listen to him spew his anti-Vietnam hate:
McGovern: We do not understand why it was necessary to continue the war over the past 4 years, but whatever their motives, if the [Nixon] Administration can bring off a settlement of this war, they'll have my full support and cooperation in any effort that can lead to peace. [1972]
Colbert: Allow me to summarize: Viet Cong, take our daughters. McGovern had run previously in 1968, but the party establishment gave the nomination to Hubert Humphrey, even though Humphrey had not won one single primary.
Hubert Humphrey: I proudly accept the nomination of our party. [August 1968]
Colbert: "Aaand I accept having my ass handed to me by Richard Nixon." You see, the infighting at the 1968 Chicago convention had fractured the Democratic Party, along with a lot of hippies' skulls. But in 1972, thanks to campaign reforms led by wild-eyed bomb thrower Senator George McGovern, all it took to win the Democratic nomination was to be the voters' favorite candidate, and that's exactly what McGovern did. Leapfrogging establishment candidates Ed Muskie and Hubert Humphrey, just because more people liked him. What kind of people?
Archie Bunker: What are you gonna do with your around about $200?

Meathead: Well, that I'd like to use for something really important.

Archie: Like what?

Meathead: Like giving it to the McGovern campaign.
[All in the Family, CBS, 1972]
Colbert: Now, if Meathead had sensibly invested that $200 in U.S. Savings Bonds in 1972, today he'd have $250. McGovern was on the wrong side of progress: the progressive side. He was pro-Civil Rights, pro-Women's Rights, pro-Gay Rights, and pro-Seniors' Rights. But at a time when you could buy technology like this [photo of early L.E.D. digital watch] for only $2,000, anything seemed possible. So this "free love acid freak" used his flaming rhetoric to exploit his supporters' sick fetish for not getting killed in Southeast Asia.
McGovern: We've taken all these risks on the side of war, and it's accomplished two things: it's killed more of our people, and the other side has taken more of our prisoners. [1972-05-30, NBC]
Colbert: Two accomplishments, Senator? What about Rambo?? [mouths and gestures "Three."] Luckily, some patriotic Democrats stabbed him in the back. Humphrey said McGovern would destroy America's military, and launched a fight at the convention that left McGovern only 48 hours to find a running mate, so McGovern chose Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, who, it was revealed two weeks later, had undergone electric shock treatment for depression. McGovern might as well've picked this guy. President Nixon was able to campaign against McGovern, using the exact same charges Humphrey and other Democrats had used, and on election day, McGovern won Massachusetts, but all the American states were won by Richard Nixon. And Nixon was re-elected to an historic 1½-year term. McGovern had been stopped; America was safe.

Colbert: Some say McGovern's story in 1972 has parallels to the campaign today:
David Gergen: John McCain's going to go after Barack Obama as sort of the George McGovern of 1972. [Anderson Cooper 360°, CNN, 2008-02-27]

Bob Novak: He is a Leftist, he is another McGovern, he is far to the Left. [Hannity & Colmes, Fox "News", 2008-03-06]

Pat Buchanan: George McGovern got the youth vote, the sort of idealism, the passion, "all things can be done," and we know what happened to McGovern. [Hardball, MSNBC, 2008-02-05]
Colbert: It's true: the similarities are striking. [picture of McGovern, overlaid with Obama's tribal costume from his visit to Africa] When we return, my distinguished guest, extremist and possibly Muslim Senator, George McGovern. We'll be right back.

[commercial break]

Colbert: My guest tonight was a Presidential candidate in 1972. Good thing he lost to Nixon, or he would've been impeached for Watergate. Please welcome Senator George McGovern.

Colbert: Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

Senator George McGovern (D–SD): My pleasure.

Colbert: That kind of accolade, is that what you get when you accept the nomination for President? Does it feel like that?

McGovern: Well, you never get too much of it.

Colbert: You can't overdose on praise.

McGovern: You cannot overdose.

Colbert: Yeah, in punditry or politics. Now, before we go on, I want to offer my show as a forum. Would you care to confess anything about your involvement in a prostitution ring, before we go forward?

McGovern: I think I'll leave that to you.

Colbert: Okay, good. You have a book called Out of Iraq: A practical plan for withdrawal now. You are seen — certainly my memory of you is the ultimate "peace candidate": you were against the war in Vietnam, I assume from this [book] you're against the war in Iraq — unless it's out of Iraq and into Iran? No? Syria? Okay, just checking, just checking. Is there any kind of war you would support?

McGovern: Yes. When I was 19 years old, I volunteered to be a bomber pilot in World War II. I believed in that war then; I still do: Hitler was an incredible monster.

Colbert: Well, Hitler, yeah, I mean, that's easy. That's a gimme. You guys were so lucky to have World War II — it had Nazis in it! It was so obviously the right war!

McGovern: That's why I supported it.

Colbert: These days, we've got these tricky wars. We can't figure out why exactly we're in there, and we have to, you know, "stick by the President."

McGovern: Well, I think the President is wrong. I thought he was wrong to go in there. I opposed this war in Iraq before we went in. So did the President's father [George H.W. Bush-41], so did the President's father's Secretary of State [James Baker] and his National Security Advisor, General [Brent] Scowcroft — the whole team opposed it, except for the youngest son. [apparently intended as a reference to George W. Bush, although he is the oldest son, followed by Jeb, Neil, and Marvin, plus daughter Dorothy]

Colbert: But, you've said that, though you fought in World War II, that you do not believe the United States should be fighting in stupid and unnecessary wars.

McGovern: Yeah, like Vietnam, like Iraq. The one thing those two countries had in common with each other is that neither one was the slightest threat to the United States.

Colbert: Weapons of Mass Destruction, sir.

McGovern: There weren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Colbert: But we did not know that until we went in. We did not know.

McGovern: The international inspectors, who were in there for several years, were unable to find any.

Colbert: Right. They could not find the lack of them, because they could always have been hidden somewhere else. That's accepted wisdom, at this point.

McGovern: That could be true of any country.

Colbert: Exactly — I got my eye on ... Belgium. I guess my point is, if we don't fight stupid and unnecessary wars, isn't that going to cut down on most wars?

McGovern: I think it would. I think it would've eliminated most of the wars of the 20th century, with the exception of World War II: that was a war we had to fight.

Colbert: Now, a comparison is made between Barack Obama's call for us to get out of Iraq and him being perceived as the sort of idealist anti-war candidate, and your candidacy of 1972. Do you think that is in any way a fair comparison?

McGovern: I don't think either Barack Obama or George McGovern are unreasonable idealists. I think we're realists who looked at the facts: a country that was causing us no trouble, there was no particular terrorism in Iraq, people weren't killing each other by the tens of thousands in Iraq. We had it fairly well contained; we should've left it alone.

Colbert: But the reality is, we did go to war, so if you say we shouldn't have gone to war, aren't you living in some sort of ideal world where we hadn't? Aren't you, by definition, an idealist?

McGovern: Well, I don't mind being called an idealist if you will concede that idealists can also be realistic.

Colbert: I will not concede anything. You're on the wrong show. Can an idealist win the Presidency? Who's the last idealist who got in?

McGovern: I would say that the two most famous ones are probably Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln — one a Democrat and one a Republican. I'm doing a book on Lincoln's Presidency, and if that man wasn't an idealist, I don't know what idealism means. He lived by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; to me, those are all ideals that are worthy of a great President.

Colbert: You were in a very protracted Democratic convention fight in '68 and again in '72; did that really harm you, and could it harm Hillary or Obama, if they attack back and forth?

McGovern: It really did harm us in '72, because all of the candidates that I had defeated, ganged up on me to try to take the California delegation away from us, and that hurt. We needed that time to get ready for the convention, to pick a running mate, with plenty of time to look at the various possibilities, and I think that really hurt us a lot. I think it helped deliver the election to Richard Nixon.

Colbert: Are you supporting anybody this time around?

McGovern: I endorsed Hillary last October. I've known her for 35 years; I think she'd be a good President. I want to quickly add, I didn't know Barack Obama at that time, but I've been very impressed with him as a candidate, and —

Colbert: Are you a superdelegate?

McGovern: No, I'm not a superdelegate.

Colbert: Aw, I was hoping to get one of those guys.

McGovern: I'm just a plain old citizen.

Colbert: Last question, sir, and I'm sure you've gotten this before: Are you on acid right now?

McGovern: Am I what?

Colbert: Are you, are you — [to audience:] no, no, I wanna get it right. Are you on acid right now?

McGovern: Well, you may think I need it, but I haven't had any.

Colbert: Senator McGovern, thank you so much. Senator George McGovern; the book is Out of Iraq. We'll be right back.
It seems to me that once again the Democratic Party is facing the choice of standing up and being Democrats and fighting for the principles that make us progressives and calling out the neocon Republicans on their slanders, or cowering in fear that "they might call us l-l-l-liberals!" The American people are opposed to the Iraq War. We understand that it was a mistake to go in, that it was an unprovoked war of aggression by the United States, that it has cost us far more blood and treasure than the Bush Administration ever hinted, and that it has reduced rather than enhanced our national security. We need a candidate who will stand up and say that patriotism is not about wearing a lapel pin, it is about fighting for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We need a candidate who will stand up and say that supporting our troops is about giving them body armor and hearing protection, caring for our wounded, and above all not sending our troops into the wrong war, not about mindlessly backing a wrong-headed mission with wrong-headed leadership. We need a candidate who will stand up and say that the United States cannot claim to have the best healthcare system in the world while leaving tens of millions of our citizens without access to routine medical services.

However, first and foremost, the Democratic Party must avoid the fratricidal (or sororicidal) attacks that so hamstrung the McGovern campaign in 1972. Claims that the Republican candidate is better qualified than your Democratic opponent, do not help the party, especially when in the same breath you say that the Republican is more qualified than you are. Pretending to be unsure whether or not your opponent is a Muslim, does not help the party. Throwing the kitchen sink at your opponent does not help the party. Yes, I'm throwing more blame at Hillary Clinton than at Barack Obama on this issue, because I believe that the record shows that she has engaged in quantitatively more and qualitatively worse attacks than Barack Obama has.

The 1972 campaign offers a tested and proven road map for the Democrats to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Let's hope they have the sense not to take that path.

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