Category Archives: The Political Game

High Noon – Antidote for Trump Malaise

When in despair with the fortune of our country, I began reading High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, by Glenn Frankel. His thesis is that Carl Foreman, the screenwriter, created High Noon as a parable about how he was abandoned by friends and community when he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee for what he believed in—freedom of thought and speech.

I was surprised to learn that when the Blacklist arose in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, a Democrat, Harry Truman, was President, we had a democratic Congress, and a liberal majority on the Supreme Court. Yet people were being forced to sign loyalty oaths to keep their jobs, and friends were harassed and pressured by HUAC to turn against friends, naming them as former Communists and causing them to lose their ability to work.

Foreman testifying before HUAC, 1951

Foreman at HUAC hearing, 1951

Fear that Communists would take over the U.S. was so intense that many in government and the film business were willing to trounce on the liberties of others, often to save their own jobs.

The similarity to the present is obvious. As Frankel writes, “Conservatives who had resisted the growth of the federal government…(under FDR) joined forces with embittered working-class populists who felt excluded from their share of prosperity.” They believed, Frankel continues, that “usurpers—liberals, Jews, and Communists in those days; gays, Muslims, and undocumented immigrants today—had stolen their country, and…they were determined to claw it back.”

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Reading Bobby, Arlene, and Jane

I found the video on YouTube:  Bobby Kennedy speaking to a rally of black people in Indianapolis in 1968, on the night Martin Luther King was shot. Bobby had been informed about King’s death by the mayor, who told him not to go to the black neighborhood because riots could break out. Bobby had replied, “Don’t tell me where I can and cannot go.”

Bobby mlkIn the darkness, standing on a flatbed truck, he spoke, unrehearsed, from his heart. “If you’re black, and you’re tempted to be filled with feelings of hatred and mistrust,” he told the crowd, “I would only say that I can also feel, in my own heart, (he pointed to his chest) the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my own family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

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Slouching Toward the Caucus in Hawaii

It’s hard to tell in Honolulu that a Presidential election is happening. The only evidence of the upcoming Democratic caucuses, on March 26th, is near the University of Hawaii and other spots, where, at rush hour, young people and a few retirees stand at intersections, grinning and waving signs for “Bernie 2016” to get drivers’ attention. Since the nineteen-twenties, Hawaii has banned billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising. Legend has it that, in 1968, Charles Campbell, a schoolteacher who was running for Honolulu’s city council, made a sign and waved it on the main street of town. The rest is history. Volunteers are taught to smile and to acknowledge drivers who honk by waving or flashing the shaka—a fist with thumb and little finger extended.

Bernie signCampaigns in Hawaii are unique, and not just in their sign-waving. It’s effectively a one-party state, where almost every elected official is a Democrat.  Presidential candidates rarely campaign here. There’s no ethnic majority, and many residents are hapa, or mixed, in their backgrounds. The state is five hours behind Washington and New York (six hours when it’s daylight-saving time), and twelve hours away by plane. At dawn in Hawaii, your inbox is already flooded with e-mails, but it goes silent after 4 P.M.

It was 5:30 A.M. Honolulu time, on February 28th, when the somnolent campaign was jolted awake by the thirty-four-year-old Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who announced on “Meet the Press” that she had resigned as a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders. A veteran of two deployments in Iraq and Kuwait, Gabbard said she wanted a Commander-in-Chief “who will not waste precious lives and money on interventionist wars of regime change.”

Tulsi blueGabbard had been warned that her action would have political consequences, but, she told me on Sunday, “it was not a hard decision. . . . It was deeply personal to me, as a soldier and veteran.” Before Gabbard resigned from her post in the D.N.C., she had tried to draw attention to what she sees as “the core issue of this Presidential election: war and peace. But that message was not being heard,” she said. “The tough questions were not being asked. I needed to resign and endorse Senator Sanders to communicate to voters that there was a clear choice—a clear difference of position—between Sanders and Clinton.”

The congresswoman fears that, if elected, Clinton “will escalate the civil war in Syria.” She pointed out that Clinton “was the head cheerleader and architect of the war to overthrow the Libyan government of Qaddafi, which has resulted in chaos, a failed state, and a stronghold for ISIS and Al Qaeda.” She said that the domestic programs the candidates are advocating—“education, infrastructure, growing our economy—are not possible if we continue throwing trillions of American taxpayer dollars . . . on these wars.”

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Colorado — Medicare for All?

A revolution is sprouting in Colorado that could make it the first state to create a single-payer health care system that covers every resident. They’re calling it “Medicare for All.”

ColoradoCareYes, a citizens’ group, wrote an amendment and collected enough signatures to get ColoradoCare on the ballot in November. If passed, it would cover everyone, with no deductibles and no co-pays for primary care.

Irene Aguilar, the only state senator who’s a practicing MD, is a driving force behind ColoradoCare

Irene Aguilar, the only state senator who’s a practicing MD, helped create ColoradoCare

Obamacare, they assert, fails to provide what it promised—affordable care. Insurance companies still control the deck, and are raising rates. The New York Times reported recently that about 20% of insured people are struggling with “crushing medical debt.” Others are paying more for health care and getting less than they were before Obamacare.

Take, for example, my neighbors, Matt, 33, and his Korean wife, Nuri, 29. He works for an educational nonprofit, and she just started her first job in America, as a stock person at a clothing store.

Before Obamacare, they had a plan that cost $500 a month for them both. They could see any doctor they chose, and their deductible was $1000.

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Ari Shavit Proposes 3rd Way for Israel/Palestine peace

One day after the Jerusalem synagogue attack last week, Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land, proposed a Plan B—an alternative peace process that is gradual and informal, and offers a “horizon of hope.”
When I spoke with him in Denver on Wednesday, Shavit said that formal talks to attain an all-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty have always failed, creating a vacuum that has led to accelerating violence. “It’s on the brink now of spiraling out of control.”

What happened in Jerusalem is perilous, he said, “first because you see the influence of ISIS. To attack people while they pray in such a barbaric manner—using meat cleavers—you can see ISIS penetrating the minds of young people in the region.”

The second cause of alarm is that “it’s becoming a religious war,” Shavit said. Before it was primarily nationalistic, but now, “we have a struggle between religious Jews and religious Muslims over the holy city. And the combination of a religious war with ISIS inspiration is a lethal cocktail.”

Shavit repeated this Wednesday night at a sold-out talk capping the Denver JCC’s festival of arts, authors, movies and music. Since publication of Shavit’s book a year ago, his talks across the country have sold out. The book was an instant phenomenon: a captivating and sometimes startling history of Israel that presents all points of view. It soared onto the best-seller list, was praised and occasionally attacked by people from both the left and right, and won the Natan Book Award and the Jewish Book Award.

I found Shavit to be a great bear of a man with a rich, baritone voice. He’s tough-minded but owns an endearing humor and humility. Describing how he wrote the book as a personal historical narrative, he said, “I like my book, and sometimes I even like myself.”

In our interview, Shavit said it’s not realistic to try for a comprehensive peace agreement now, “although I would love to have one.” There’s too much violence and instability, he said. “There’s no leader for peace, no Martin Luther King or Gandhi in the region, and extremists are getting stronger on both sides. We need an alternative peace concept that will give hope and be an organizing principle for stability in the Middle East.”

The alternative he proposes is: a two-state dynamic that proceeds gradually, and will lead, in the long term, to a two-state solution.
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The question was put to Obama’s brain trust in Chicago: “When JFK took office in 1960, he said we would put a man on the moon in ten years, and we did. What should a President Obama have as his moon shot?”

There was only one answer, but before I relate that, here’s the back story:

I’d gone to Chicago for the National Women’s Leadership Issues Conference on Oct 10-11, where 1500 women met for two days with Barack and Michelle Obama, Jill and Joe Biden, campaign manager David Plouff, chief strategist David Axelrod and high-ranking advisors to Obama.

Michelle and the women

It was an amazing experience: Imagine a stampede of women carrying $2,000 handbags and wearing diamond Obama pins – elbowing each other to grab the best seats. But seriously, we heard ideas and information we hadn’t been privy to before and came away pumped for the final sprint.

Tickets ran from $1,000 to $28,500. I’d bought a cheap seat (more than I’d ever donated to a political campaign) because I wanted an inside view of Obama’s team. As I took my seat in the Sheraton ballroom, I wondered why the campaign was turning over its key players during the last days of the race. The women attending were already committed and in high gear, having raised more money than any other group in the Democratic party. I was told it was to “reward and reinvigorate them.”

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Published June 13, 2008 by Sara Davidson

The day after Obama claimed the nomination, a German newspaper ran a picture of the White House on its front page with the headline, “Uncle Barack’s Cabin.”

The cleverness! The outrageousness! The irony delighted me. When “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe was published in 1852, it not only became the bestselling novel of the century but was an urgent moral outcry. It opened people’s eyes to the horrors of slavery and hastened the Civil War.

Now, the next first lady may be a descendant of slaves.

But not everyone saw the humor in Die Tageszeitung’s headline. Many bristled that a racial slur was being applied to Obama. “Uncle Tom,” they pointed out, had become an epithet for Negroes who abased themselves to placate their white masters.

But how did this slur come about? A few years ago, I re-read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and was mystified that “Uncle Tom” had become a synonym for black self loathing. In the novel, Tom is a Christ-like figure, noble, humble and generous, who’s beloved by whites and blacks alike. He sacrifices his own life to prevent other slaves from suffering.

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I knew Obama was in trouble the weekend before the Ohio-Texas votes. I was at a calling party organized by About fifty of us had spread out through a friend’s home in Colorado and were using our cellphones to call voters in Forth Worth, Texas, urging them to vote for Obama.

Dialing for Votes.

I have never volunteered for anything like this in my life. But 2008 is a year of high political drama, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1968, when Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were on stage. Since the Democratic primary began heating up last year, I’ve followed it like a junkie. My oldest dearest friend and I came down on different sides. She’s for Clinton, I’m for Mr. O, and this causes… tension. I know another pair of friends in the same boat and they’ve agreed not to talk about it. This is the kind of thing that happened a lot in 1968. Two young men I’d known at Berkeley broke off their friendship when one abandoned the McCarthy camp and went to work for Bobby.

Now, 40 years later, at the cell phone party, we’re dialing names from sheets of paper. Mostly, we’re speaking to answering machines. I reach one live woman and she’s for Obama, but the next string of people I reach are voting for “someone else.” One man says, “I ain’t votin’ for no Muslim.” I try to tell him Obama is Christian but the man hangs up.

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“It’s 7 p.m, and the Democratic caucus is in session!” the leader cried over a bullhorn.

Pandemonium erupted – cheers and war whoops – in the overcrowded school where I was attending my first caucus. I’d moved to Colorado, a caucus state, 5 years ago, but in the 2004 election, John Kerry had already been declared the nominee before our state caucuses were held. Only 200 people had showed up that year at the elementary school gym, but this year, on Super Tuesday, there were 2500. An unprecedented number!

Counting votes. Low tech.

I was excited: my first taste of democracy in action. But by the end of the evening, I would wonder if it was democracy at all.

I’d just broken my collar bone in a ski accident and torn a ligament in my knee. I was wearing a brace and couldn’t drive, but nothing could stop me from attending. A friend picked me up an hour early for the five-minute drive to the school, but we had to scrounge for parking and wait in line in the freezing night just to register. So by 7, tension was high. Would Obama or Clinton get the most votes?

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