Comments

Well said, you couldn't be more perceptive, sound reasoning, etc., etc. ;-)

Yeah, OK, what else could I say? I agree with you.

--Marc
(Precinct Captain for Obama, delivering 6 of 7 delegates.)

Well done, Mike.
It unfortunately about sums up my own feelings (and I'm a life-long Republican, although I can't remember the last time I voted for a Repub for President). Oh yeah -- I voted for Ike, and then once for GHW Bush).

I agree with you that we need a very good leader. Unfortunately, I seem to equate leadership with speaking the truth, and only Dennis Kucinich (and to a lesser extent, John Edwards) fit that bill for me.

I think that if Obama had true courage, he'd be for a universal single payer health care program and move to revoke the corporate charters for insurance corporations. It just doesn't make any sense to pay insurance companies (and there ridiculously overpaid CEO's) to profit off of health care.

Oh, and I think we should have an income cap in this country...say 5 million per year. If you can't be happy on that size income, it ain't the money that's your problem. (I think the 5 million is way to high, but it's a compromise to people to think an income cap is somehow a wacky idea.)
-paul

Very nicely put Mike but just to move in a slightly different direction.

Isn't it sad that we need leaders. I suspect since time began for human beings, we have relied on leaders to take responsibility for things we would rather not have to deal with. Sort of an absolution of responsibility.

Every day I see people who would rather follow blindly than have to make up their own mind. This has got be be one of mankinds' biggest problems. Of course our leaders encourage this sheep like behavior and have institutionalized systems to propagate this mess.

I think it would be better if as a society we worked toward a goal of less reliance on leadership and more reliance on individual responsibility.

Mike,

A great commentary, although I would say that the Democrats in office are 85% corrupt. Refusing to exercise their responsibility as the branch of government oversight on the executive branch would indicate they're more interested in staying in power than upholding the Constitution.

What has happened to this country is that the rich (read: corporate ownership) has bought out our politicians, taken over and consolidated our media, and broadcasts their version of reality 24x7 to advance their interests.

The average American has watched his or her earning power disappear, the gap between the richest and the masses continues to grow exponentially, and the mainstream media no longer is the fourth estate, it simply ignores (and often funds) ongoing corruption in our government.

Anyone interested in what is happening should start making a habit of watching Bill Moyer's Journal on PBS every Friday evening - last week's expose on the growing inequity gap between the rich and the average American was enlightening to say the least.

In the vein of double-talking and being bought out by corporate interests, if you're wondering whether John McCain (who I used to admire and believe in) will make a good president (speaking the truth), take a look at the video commentary by Keith Olbermann on McCain on the msnbc.com website entitled "Olbermann: McCain should know better" - June 12, 2008.

You had me salivating, right up until the last twelve lines, then you came out with the giant bottle of steak sauce and drowned an otherwise beautifully prepared meal................... :-)

Cheers,
Chris

Not American, so don't support either party, just a view from the other side of the pond...

Must be tough to be a Democrat. Because after the Clinton - Obama fiasco I reckon that America is going to do exactly what it has done the last 2 elections. Desperately look around for a democrat they can support. Look in despair at the candidate that actually gets put forward. Gulp. Hold their nose and vote for the Republican again.

The real horror of American politics seems to me that GWB was actually the lessor of two evils both times!

I'm in violent agreement with most of what you said. However, just want to say that I as one citizen have no idea what percentage of each party's politicians are corrupt, only that it's way too high. Politicians should be less corrupt than the average citizen, since they have asked to be put in positions of public trust and enormous responsibility. Our current president got thousands of Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis killed on false pretenses and lies, and nobody is seriously considering impeachment. Our previous president lied about inappropriate behavior with another adult and was impeached. Go figure. I'm voting for Obama and hoping he doesn't compromise too much.

Thanks for explaining the duties of the Texas governorship. I had always wondered how someone who never worked an honest day in his life, and ruined whatever he touched on the few attempts he actually made, could leave that position relatively unscathed.

I don't know how effective Obama will be as President, all depends on how much he allows himself to be compromised- you don't get there without being bought and sold. I do know that McCain will be an uninterrupted disaster- W and Cheney wrapped into one. I forget the name of the documentary, but during an interview at his office, "maverick" McCain actually agreed that investigations should commence into Cheney's conduct as VP. Right on cue, as if in an SNL skit, his secretary notifies him that none other than the VP himself was on the line. McCain's jaw dropped a country mile, the look of sheer and absolute panic on his face as sad, revealing and hilarious as it ever gets.

Did you know that in his farewell address, Ike had originally wanted to warn us against "the military/Congressional industrial complex?" Guess which word he was advised to omit...

What an excellent subject matter for discussion! The thing of it is, when you look at all the candidates, not only has leadership been lacking, but it also seems that there is no clear direction from the "head honcho". Looking at the current crop:

Clinton - While we know that the Cliton's aspire to the White House and that is the purpose behind everything they do - they are a known entity. Whether the direction they take us is one we need to go is another question. Where would they take us? We don't know - all we know is they want the White House!

Obama - This guy came from Illinois with very little background, but an engaging and dynamic personality. While this is an excellent quality for a potential leader, when his guidance comes from known associates that denounce the country, it stands to reason that his principles are not dissimilar. This should not be surprising as he refuses to "pledge allegiance" to the country. How can one lead effectively if one refuses to pledge to ally themselves with the country they wish to lead?

McCain - Okay yes, he served his country and clearly is a strong-willed individual, but that does not speak to his ability to lead others, nor on his ability to lead a country. We know his thoughts on immigration and foreign policy, but what about taxes, economics of scale, dependency on external entities for energy, and the rampant decay of education in America, along with all the other domestic challenges that face our country?

Along with questioning the direction that our leaders want to take us in, we also need to be looking at the candidates in terms of their own directives. As the old saying goes, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. With that in mind, I always end up asking "Why do they want to be President?" I have yet to see any of them give a satisfactory answer.

Dunno if that may warm your heart, but we're quite in the same mess as you here in France!
OK, we don't have war now (but wait a minute that Sarkozy sends guys in Iraq!), but we got the aforementioned impulsive grown-up-kid at the head of the country : something that illustrate your point about leadership very well.
Our president has generally nothing sound to say (his last great idea, time-wise, was for every kid in primary school to 'adopt' a Shoah victim - what a productive idea for 6 to 10 yeards old kids!) but I have to admit he says it in a confident and attractive manner - just until you realize what the words meant and say - hey, stop this fool!
This guy is an ad, in a word. Seductive (and power-hungry) enough to gain our voices and leadership, but using it only for its personal interest (or the ones of his upper-bourgeoisie cast).
Dubya made the petrol prices rise bringing hell to the Middle East, and therefore even more wealth in his clan - here, Sarkozy speaks about an advertising ban on public TV channels to make stock prices of the private ones (owned by friends) rise, or simply unweaves all the employment laws we got here so that bosses (read : friends) can fire one half of their workers and employ the other one twice the time - which might be the most remarkable achievement of his presidence so far (as long as he doesn't send the french Army in Iraq).

And the same is that here, Democrate means Socialiste, and they're tearing themselves not in 2, but in 4 or 5 - not counting the other left-wing parties : trotskysts, ex-trotskysts, ex-communists, and a few more marxist-based shades of them wo have actually the same programs, but for ideological reasons will die rather than unit themselves.
As it is easy to conceive, that leaves so few room for an sound opponent voice to be heard - here we design the half of the political space not ruling the country as 'Opposition', but they are actually against themselves, giving way for the power.

This, just to show you you're not alone in the world with your Dubya's Curse. O tempora, O mores...


Oh, and about corruption, you know the saying : Power tends to corrupt...

"Churchill was a great leader too, but you'll notice the British only called on him when they were in a tight fix and they needed a tough guy, and then just as soon as the war was done with, they booted him right out."

I think you're missing the point. The British were in a tight fix because their inept pre-war leadership believed it could ignore and then buy off Hitler. Churchill was called a war monger in the 1930s for advocating re-armament and vigorous national defense. Yet the policies he argued for then would probably have deterred war and made the later rescue of mankind by Churchill et al -- a damn close thing, achieved only at terrible cost -- unnecessary.

Lack of experience is only one of Obama's weaknesses. His main weakness is a worldview that seeks to ignore threats from or placate enemies. Historically, this is a dangerous worldview for the leader of a major country to have.

I watch Bill Moyer's Journal every Friday, and unfortunately, he is the only one doing that.

You are the only one of stature, who has written anything similar, but your audience is smaller than Moyer's.

I am supporting Obama. McCain was part of the Keating Five, which is the epitome of corruption. He has received a zero from Planned Parenthood, and he voted against the King holiday. How could anyone so awful be President??

The way I see it, is that the Republican Party is opposed to progress. All I see out of them is opposition to science. The stalwarts of the GOP, like Dobson and Hagee, are bigots.

We need another Kennedy. Obama is promoted by some as another Kennedy. He's not, but he is as close as we're going to get.

I have only one thing to say about McCain: yuck!

Well said, and I appreciate that this is readable from both a left- and right-wing perspective. Personally I've been very irritated this election cycle by how Ron Paul, who is maybe the only admirable politician in America, was marginalized and his supporters were portrayed as kooks by the media. I didn't agree with his whole message, but he had some vital things to say that are being ignored. I would disagree about the percentage of corruption: I'd say that both parties are 95% crooked. Which gives me a tough choice this November. I don't trust Obama or McCain. The best advice I've read this season was by Robert Samuelson, who said he'd vote McCain because the Democrats will probably open up their majority in Congress and he dislikes one-party government.

I believe people no longer recognize what "leadership" means in the practical sense, because it's been buried in verbal pontification by all kinds of business school gurus and sociologists. There are countless books on the subject, most of which would do Derrida or Foucault proud with the obtuse impenetrability of their prose.
But in reality, it's a very simple concept. Have you ever been stuck in a meeting with a bunch of unmotivated people mulling over a problem, for which there are a finite number of evident solutions? Folks will argue the merits of the various options and meander in verbal circles indefinitely. Finally someone says, "Hey. Let's pick option B, and here's why." A bit of persuasive power and at least the illusion of conviction, and voila! The sheep follow the "leader". There are surprisingly few people willing to publically make and defend a decision, and to take the effort to persuade others to go along. And so many wiling to go along with whatever sounds good enough. After more than twenty years in hierarchical organizations and 5 years as director of one, I'm convinced that's "leadership" in a nutshell.

From the neighbouring country to the north,
any one person placed on a pedestal and asked to preside over a country, or a company or anything will soon realize being at the top is not a happy position. And yet if a country wants a leader; or perhaps shall we say a figure head 'cause that's what he/she is make sure you obtain one that is bright,
one that has not been an ass in previous activities, and somebody whose put
his brain in gear and thinks, before he opens his mouth, on any topic.

Oh, and before somebody wonders about "us,"
our political leaders are leaders of their
respective party. And yes it is a popularity
contest as much here in Canada as it is in the USA. The popular winner is almost always
not always the best winner; sadly, for the job.


Meh, I've been convinced we need some sort of "Try again, loser." option. Add in a "None of the above" option to all ballots. If the combination of "None of the above" votes plus the number of registered voters who didn't vote totals more than 60% of all registered voters, then the top two parties on that particular ballot will be required to put up brand new candidates and the re-vote will be held in six weeks ('cause none of us want to endure any more political ads at that point).

After all, if the candidates can't even inspire us to vote ...

So, on one hand we have a candidate whose sat under a fiery, America hating minister for 20 years as he spouted his hatred and claims he FINALLY has repudiated those beliefs, and yet who also refuses to acknowledge the very country he wants to be the Ultimate Leader of by committing his allegiance to its guiding principles (I wonder how he'll get around THAT if he wins and takes the Oath of Office?). He says he's the Candidate of Change, but I just remember the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times" and I wonder, what KIND of changes?
On the other hand is a temperamental old War Hawk with questionable ties who may or may not represent "business as usual."
What to do? What to do? For me, a strong Republican, it may come down to whether or not Obama chooses Clinton as his running mate. If so, game over, set and match point; McCain gets the nod, because Hell will freeze over before I'd willingly see a Clinton back in the White House again!

"... he refuses to "pledge allegiance" to the country ..."

Oh come on! I'm sorry, but I can't let this pass without comment. Regardless of who should or should not be president (something that I think intelligent, rational people can disagree on), this sort of nonsense is destroying our political discourse. Maybe it's always been this way, but I'm really quite discouraged that these empty, vapid sound-bites have replaced critical analysis for so many.

As to this specific claim, there are some on 'the right' who are working very hard to portray Obama as a crypto-muslim or some sort of Manchurian candidate, and absolutely love it that folks like Jason here are perpetuating these smears. It is, of course demonstrably false - a quick search of YouTube finds video of Barack Obama leading the pledge.

The sad thing is, these sleazy tactics seem to work. There was an equally disgusting whisper campaign against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries.

Please, stick to the issues and not the sleaze.

Obama is sure to lose because I support him.

I'm 49 and I've voted in every election since I turned 18. I have not voted for the winning candidate yet.

Do what I did... join the 'Surfers Party of America.'
Our two party system is too limited. I'd love to see the Green and Libertarian parties grow to where we have 4 equal choices. But would the media allow that? Think about how the media controlled the debates this year, refusing to allow legitimate contenders into all debates. And the Constitution Party has unfortunately turned out to be a fundamentalist joke and not attracted any good leaders.
I think a major problem with our party affiliations is that people stick to them not realizing that primaries are sometimes more important than general elections. I was first a Democrat, then moved to the Republican Party to vote against a particular candidate in a primary. I'm now a member of the SPA because I'm from Florida and live overseas. The FL primary is ineffectively late this year, and so I'm only interested in the general election.
I'm not lover of capitalism, and think that it will eventually collapse, hopefully replaced by ParEcon or a more equitable system. One of the failures of the capitalist system is that the great leaders you're speaking about Mike are leading corporations, not governments. Therein lies our problem - how do we convince the best and the brightest that they should enter politics?

Just for the sake of accuracy, Jason's comments above are wrong.

Stating that Senator Obama will not pledge allegiance is a scurrilous lie that is constantly making the rounds. It is no more accurate than the allegations that Senator McCain was a collaborator with the Viet Cong.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I would have liked this Open Mike to be a bit longer, but with qualifications for your statements that Republican politicians are evil and Democratic ones are idiots. i.e., "Republicans are evil because they're denying access to embryonic stem cells," or "Democrats are idiots because they're advocating protectionism." Actually, I think that our politicians are neither stupid nor evil, but rather irresponsible and self-serving. I think there is no "leadership" of any kind even from rank and file congressmen. From bottom to top, the politicians in this country are so obsessed with getting votes that they refuse to take a brave, individual position on anything, such as the social security mess. The media appear to perceive pandering and waffling, which Obama and McCain are masters at, to be leadership.

The Unites States is a country that goes to war with no more justification than a scary rumor. The United States is a country that sends people like Jessica Lynch to Iraq four times rather then send their child once. The United States is a country that invents a story about the death of its fallen (re: Pat Tillman) as if brave and honorable service isn’t enough. I believe at one time the United States was the land of the free and home of the brave. Not now.

If I were czar the first order of business would be to hold the people of the United States accountable for their own decisions. Among other things, I would begin a “fair draft” where the call list is sorted by Adjusted Gross Income to ensure those with most to lose go first and are afforded the privilege of defending their good fortune.

A fair draft would silence a lot of loud mouth cowboys and save us the cost of their misguided adventures. With the money saved I would repair bridges across the fruited plain, provide health care to every U.S. citizen, and open an embassy on the moon.

Obama 08!

I'm probably going to vote for Someone Else. I'm waiting until the major parties wake up and realize that if they could just capture the votes going to Someone Else, they'd win -- and so come back to reason. Probably won't work, though.

About the war. I'm not sure the war was a bad idea. I'm also not sure it was a good idea. The reason I'm not sure, is, we don't know what the outcome would have been if we hadn't gone to war. There are several possibilities worse than what we now have; on the other hand, what we now have is worse than other possible outcomes.

The essential problem is that we only went to war because of our addiction to oil. If there were no oil in the Middle East, would we be fighting there? I don't think so.

The US needs a serious conversation about two major issues: energy and medical care. We're avoiding them, because of powerful interest groups on both sides. The Democrats are no better on this than the Republicans.

The energy crisis could severely damage our economy - so could medical care, if we do it wrong, and there's every reason to believe that the Democrats are about to lurch in the wrong direction. People who favor unlimited health care usually start out with, "A country this rich should be able to..."

Well, guess what. We're not that rich. We need some kind of universal insurance, whether run by the government or some kind of regulated private system, but we *cannot* pay any amount for any kind of care. Coverage cannot be both reasonably priced and unlimited. And we need to talk about that.

Will Obama lead that conversation? No. He's already staked out a position, which comes down to, "Whatever you want." McCain? No. On the critical questions, the two parties are captives of their special interest groups, and in effect are tweedledum and tweedledummer.

So I'm voting for Someone Else.

JC

Not being an American, I have no say in the US presidential election, but I've been following Mr. Obama as someone whose ideas I would connect with, until recently.

Is Mr Obama today, the same person who won the Iowa caucus? Did he not ridicule the idea of having to wear the flag on his lapel and did he not say that God has no place in American politics? Well guess what, now that he's won his party's nomination, he has to appeal to a broader audience. He's now wearing the flag and saying God Bless America more than once in most every speech.

What else will he have to change? Blue collar workers voted for Clinton in Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia. As someone wrote, in these states, a gun is a form of identity, capital punishment one of God's commandment and abortion a crime.

So how does Obama reach these voters? You won't hear him talk much about gun control, won't say a word about capital punishment, will certainly minimize the role of goverment and mostly make people forget that he is black, especially to the latinos.

On June the 4th, showing support for Israel, Mr Obama went further then GWB ever dared to, declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of that country.

What other surprises does he have in store for the upcoming presidential election?

Some commenters seem to think that political compromise is itself a major evil. In reality it has been the failure to compromise on the part of both parties that has stymied progress on many important issues. Luckily this year we have two candidates who may be more interested in achieving some progress as president (and be willing to compromise to achieve it) than in pursuing ideological purity for its own sake like the current inhabitant.

Last week I watched the re-broadcast of PBS's American Experience 2 parter about Franklin Roosevelt.

Sigh.

When he was informered that he had won (1932), Harry Howe asked him, "well, now that you are president?"
His reply:
"I don't know Harry, but if I do not do something, I'll be the last president."

Living in liberal Connecticut affords me the luxury of being lazy: I know that our electoral college votes are going to the Democratic candidate, so I don't have to pick between two incompetent candidates. (And that applies not matter which two you pick from Obama/Clinton/Kookinich/Gravel/McCain/Giuliani/Thompson etc). Instead, I throw my vote to the Libertarians. I don't know that I'd actually like to see a Libertarian president, but I wouldn't mind a bit of Libertarian influence in our government.

I rooted for Bush 8 years ago (even though I voted Libertarian). I thought he showed good "leadership" traits. Unfortunately, those traits were used to pursue a deeply flawed agenda. (I have to disagree with Mike on one point: I think he's a quick study ... he's learned out to manipulate the legal system, the checks and balances; he's learned how to get things done, just nothing about what to get done because he's so sure that he knows that already).

I'm not sure what we need in a president. On the one hand, a presidents effectiveness is constitutionally limited by the other branches of government, while on the other hand, the other branches of government are no more competent than the president. In other words, a bad president can only be so bad ... and a good president can only be so good. Maybe a good president these days is one who can find a way to put partisan squabbling aside long enough to make government do something for us. Then again, maybe the squabbling is necessary to keep government from doing too much *to* us.

Obama is interesting. It seems that most Americans are far more "anti" than "pro". At least in past elections. Most political talk (not just advertising) is about how wrong the other guy is; very little is about how right anyone is. Obama is the first candidate in recent memory that has a good amount of positive support. (I don't think anyone's first choice for president is John McCain). I'm a "moderate conservative" when I answer all the questions and have my beliefs mathematically plotted, but I checked out a site that matches my beliefs against the candidates and the *highest* match was 50% ... and that was with John Edwards ! Then came the Repulican candidates. None of the candidates match my beliefs well at all. Despite being more conservative than liberal, I can't say I'd be sorry to see Obama win. Or any more sorry than I'd be to see McCain win. It would be an interesting 4 years if nothing else.

Ultimately, I have to agree with Mike - that it's all just a big crap shoot.

"If America wanted experience, Robert Byrd would be running against Ted Stevens."

Well, at least we've dodged _that_ bullet.

It is quite difficult I believe to interface with folks across the political spectrum. As the red / blue charts, and their various iterations show us...like minded people tend to congregate. This brings a situation into the forefront if folks are interested, the vilification of those who think differently from each other. Association with one group disparages the other. Before I retired my work exposed me to a broad spectrum of ideas and now my interests do the same and more. In a nutshell I am 64, white and conservative. My passion is blues music. To say I spend a GREAT deal of time chatting with folks of a different political persuasion from mine is a big understatement. I absolutely cherish the discussions and the friendships that have developed. I have 2 negative impressions of Obama and 1 POTENTIAL over riding positive. The question I have asked and continue to ask is this. Is he the one? Is he the one to look us all in the eye and tell us we are NOT a nation of racists and haters. If he is then I will not only vote for him but as the saying goes "Carry water for him."

I stand somewhat corrected on the "Pledge of Allegiance" myth surrounding Barak Obama. In actually taking a few minutes to dig around on the subject, he has come out since then stating that he has said the Pledge (and even led it in the Senate), and that he was also sworn in with a Bible and not the Koran. It of course, makes sense at this juncture to do so because as a candidate, you want to appeal to the widest possible voter base, and refusal to "Pledge allegiance" would not bode well in a general election. Nevertheless, the original evidence is there. Furthermore, a shift in your ideology to capture political office is not only indicative of a lack of leadership qualities, but also indicative of a lack of moral fiber. We know as photographers that a picture is worth a thousand words, but live video is even more telling. Thus, to that end, I give you Exhibit A:

http://www.youtube.com/v/kxfvxKBXRM4&hl=en

You may call me wrong, and lay stake to the claim that it's a "scurrilous lie", based on media that has been produced since the initial one that prompted the idea. Look carefully at said media though - where is his hand? Certainly not over his heart. While this may not seem like an issue to some, leadership, the ability to lead, and sticking to a moral compass are of fundamental importance. What a person's position is on things like taxes, health insurance, Israel or anything else is certainly of importance, but more importantly is the value of sticking to a moral compass. What I care about more than any other issue is seeing some integrity in a day and age where we are in desperate need of some. I would like to see a candidate who steps out, says "I believe X" and does not backtrack or change their stance for political gain. That, to me is the definition of leadership.

In reference to the patriotism issue, I realize that patriotism is not necessarily a characteristic of leadership in general but if your personal interests are not aligned with those of that which you wish to lead, then you have no right to that position because of the conflict of interest. I still have fundamental doubts about any of their interests versus the interests of the country. So, to that end, I still want very much to find out what each candidate wants. Don't tell me what you think the country wants/needs. Tell me what you want/need and why. If you do that, and your interests align with what interests me, you have my vote. Thus far, none have impressed me.

Another view from the other side of the world; Australia this time. In one sense, it doesn't actually matter who wins. You guys, and everybody else whose political traditions are derived from the British, are able to carry on quite well pretty much regardles of the actual leader, and if the leader turns out to be useless then to replace him/her painlessly and recover.

"until Bush does nothing to stop a war that kills or maims a whole generation, Buchanan has him beat. There were single days in the Civil War when several times as many American kids were killed as have died in Iraq."

Surely you don't stipulate that that generation has to be American? If you're looking at the impact of the Iraq war, let's take the Iraqi deaths (though it seems that's still far less than the Civil War stats), and the turmoil in that country, into account as well?

Forget the politics, you should be lecturing in business school.

We've got so messed up with "leadership" and "experience" that they've become synonymous with "rushing to the front" and "accumlated incompetence", IMO.

I can't comment too much on US politics, other than to say that I live with a US citizen who rooted strongly for Hillary, as did all her family, Democrats to a woman & man. But I do think Mike is right about leadership. It ain't what you got, it's the way that you do it. I slightly disagree about Hitler - I think he was Commander, rather than a Leader. Stalin was probably up there among the Commanders, too.

What's the difference? Well, it's what made Churchill a genuine leader (in and of his limited time - again, Mike is right about this & I say this as someone to whom Churchill is a major hero): the ability to see, and speak, the truth even when it's very unpleasant. Leadership begins here, and without it, can never begin: all you get is Commanders. Churchill was by no means the only person who saw the Nazi threat in the 30s, but he was one of the most prominent to say "this can only end badly". The trouble is, people don't always like to hear that, and one thing I have noticed among even my partners' family is that the US culture does place a premium on optimism. I'd go so far as to say that the great un-American activity is pessimism.

As an informed outsider, what troubles me about Obama is that I hear coming from him the sort of unfocused, unevidenced optimistic rhetoric that characterised Blair - something else that didn't end well.

Leadership, even in this sense, is also situational: whilst Churchill was right about Nazism (and to a lesser extent Stalinism), he was dead, 180-degree wrong, about Gandhi, independence in Africa, the desire for reform in '45 Britain, and the future of the Empire and Britain as world power in general. Of those things, he neither saw nor spoke the truth, and so never could be a post-war leader.

For the sake of the world as a whole, we all need Obama to be a great leader. That will begin when he says something along the lines of "this is an unholy mess and sorting it out is going to be very painful and take a long time and there is not going to a victory for anyone, least of all me". Churchill said to one of his generals when he was appointed PM "Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time." Blood, toil, tears and sweat, anyone? (Churchill again, but quoting Theodore Roosevelt I think).

Jason,

I once sang the Star Spangled Banner at a high school soccer game. The tape usually played over the sound system was missing and the play-by-play guy who tried to sing it acappella soon realized that he couldn't carry a tune - at least not this one. I picked it up from the stands in front of the press box and carried through 'til the end. (He came over afterwards and thanked me profusely.)

The point is, how many spectators listening to this musical relay were standing at attention with their hands over their hearts? And more importantly, what would you assume about the patriotic fervor of those who instead stood respectfully at attention.

No, I think it’s the other way around. We could be at a turning point and there may be no turning back. Things don’t always keep on going on an even keel. Take ancient Athens, for example. At one point they were the maritime superpower of the eastern Mediterranean. Then their assembly voted to send their entire fleet to Syracuse to fight in Sicily (against the advice of Pericles). Just one survivor returned two years later - and as an after effect they were conquered by Sparta within a decade or two.

Economically, America has been going backwards since 1950 when the US had 50% of gross national income and the continuing erosion of the value of the dollar is just a symptom. Excessive military expenditure doesn’t help, especially when it gets to the stage of an illegal and immoral war in Iraq that is going nowhere. I also think that increasing inequality of income distribution is not merely socially but economically corrosive in the longer term because it restricts contribution and award for merit. Corruption is not just a feature of politicians, it is also in the power of lobby groups and the power of big business. And global warming may overwhelm us gradually or suddenly, in the worst case with an irreversible climate shift, especially if we do little or nothing.

I think Obama is hopeful because he’s the only US Presidential candidate, at least in the last 35 years, that I’ve heard say he thinks the Military should be wound back. Of course the problems are very large and we can’t expect miracles or instant solutions. I also think that the days when the US can pretend to be “the” leader of the World are fast receding as the US must these days only have a share of somewhere between 15% and 18% of world national income (I haven’t seen the figures for a while). This will become clearer in the (lingering?) aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan. The increasingly worldwide nature of environmental problems is going to mean increasingly worldwide cooperation if we are to make progress. No question, the US President can make a difference. McCain would be much better than Bush but I don’t see him as terribly hopeful in these terms. Let’s hope that Obama proves to be the equivalent of Roosevelt or better (that’s FDR, not Teddy).

(This post from a New Zealander living in Australia).

Jason's video link does not show what he claims it does. A little more "digging around" might have gotten to the truth of the matter. The image relied on by Jason and many others was shot in September 2007 at a steak fry in Indiana. The event in question was not the Pledge of Allegiance, but rather the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. See, e.g., http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/anthem.asp; http://mediamatters.org/items/200804200001?f=s_search

In any case, America would be much better off if the electorate picked a President based on policy rather than superficial (and in this case, incorrect) searches of the internet for indicators that support ingrained biases.

Jason, I'm looking (and listening) carefully, as suggested- and I think it's important to differentiate between The Pledge of Allegiance, and The Star Spangled Banner. It was the latter that was being played in your Exhibit A- Senator Obama had, in fact, "assumed the position" during The Pledge, as is customary.

We will no doubt see many more attacks, distortions, and outright lies in the months to come before the election. Some will be as outright laughable as "the terrorist fist jab." Others will demand that we remember the immortal words of Mr. Samuel Johnson, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

As usual for you, quite an objective delineation of your own rationale, with which I agree.

But to say, "I have absolutely no political clout or influence beyond my own single little vote" is to overlook the power of your pen (or keyboard)...Mike, you do have a large readership. But I applaud your piece.

The real power is in Congress and until we get some reform there then who sits in the Oval Office is pretty much of little concern. We need Amendments providing us with term limits for members of both Houses, limiting the influence of lobbyists and providing the President with the Line Item Veto to level the playing field and make the President important again as something other than Commander in Chief.

So vote for who you want but know that if you punch the ballot for the same Congressman or Senator that is in office now for your district or state you really aren't changing anything but the face on the news.

You get to approvingly quote someone who claims that Republicans are 95% corrupt, but we have to be civil in our messages!

HI Mike,
I would take you a different direction in my comment. I recently ran across this, which summarizes my thoughts exactly.

Here is an excerpt from a newsletter by Bill Gross, the managing director of Pimco. He manages the largest bond fund in the world. I wish I would have said these words:

"What this country needs is either a good 5¢ cigar or the reincarnation of an Illinois "rail-splitter" willing to tell the American people "what up" – "what really up." We have for so long now been willing to be entertained rather than informed, that we more or less accept majority opinion, perpetually shaped by ratings obsessed media, at face value. After 12 months of an endless primary campaign barrage, for instance, most of us believe that a candidate's preacher – Democrat or Republican – should be a significant factor in how we vote. We care more about who's going to be eliminated from this week's American Idol than the deteriorating quality of our healthcare system. Alternative energy discussion takes a bleacher's seat to the latest foibles of Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears and then we wonder why gas is four bucks a gallon. We care as much as we always have – we just care about the wrong things: entertainment, as opposed to informed choices; trivia vs. hardcore ideological debate.
It's Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum folks, and all good fun, but the hordes are crossing the Alps and headed for modern day Rome – better educated, harder working, and willing to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow. Can it be any wonder that an estimated 1% of America's wealth migrates into foreign hands every year? We, as a people, are overweight, poorly educated, overindulged, and imbued with such a sense of self importance on a geopolitical scale, that our allies are dropping like flies. "Yes we can?" Well, if so, then the "we" is the critical element, not the leader that will be chosen in November. Let's get off the couch and shape up – physically, intellectually, and institutionally – and begin to make some informed choices about our future. Lincoln didn't say it, but might have agreed, that the worst part about being fooled is fooling yourself, and as a nation, we've been doing a pretty good job of that for a long time now." Bill Gross

I think we are spending too much time watching entertainment about the individuals and not enough time thinking, talking and voicing our opinions about the significant problems we face as a nation. I believe if the focus shifted the politicians would follow and it wouldn't matter which party was elected.

What do you think?

Mike

Jack,
Are you aware of the corruption in Bush's Washington? It's truly stunning. You should look into it--that is, if you can stomach it. Personally, I sometimes can't read about it, and I'm very good at reading both about bad things and things that I don't agree with.

We have a very, very serious problem with corruption. In many ways it's nothing new, but in toto it's unprecedented in American history, at least in its scope and extent. It's possible to argue that Grant and Johnson led more corrupt governments, but we weren't nearly the player on the world stage that we are now--and the amounts of money were minuscule in comparison, however you look at it.

If you begin trying to learn about corruption in the United States government, it's a nearly unending Pandora's box. One person could easily work full-time learning about it and still only encompass the tip of the iceberg.

In any event, what is uncivil about making a charge of corruption? Civility in this sense applies to the conduct of the discourse, not its contents. A lot of people have already said things here that I disagree with strongly. But none have been uncivil.

Mike J.

I only disagree with your premise that we don't know who will be a better leader. Obama has shown a willingness to listen to and work with a wide variety of people; whereas McCain is a short fuse. His anger will cause us as much grief as W.

Funny thing about corruption. You tend to find it where you look.

I'm guessing you really didn't find all that much corruption in Clinton's Washington... nor, I'm guessing, did you look too hard.

That was your team, after all.

Jack,
Guess you think "75%" = 0, then?

I'm not an "us and them" type of guy. Remember what Mark Twain said: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."

Mike J.

I'm not an American. In that sense, I don't have a dog in the fight. I do however object to people propagating mistruth about political candidates. Many of these mistruths stem from attempts to paint the candidate as "different" or "not one of us". They get propagated by people who usually don't have that opinion, but over time the sentiment builds and these small things reinforce the misconception.

For the first time in a long while, there is no incumbent on the ticket. There isn't even the immediate past vice president on the ticket. The issues separating the candidates are substantive. I'd love to see the election be about those issues, and not about who has a better attack team operating in the shadows.

You won't even let Woodrow Wilson compete for Worst President Ever? Tsk.

Check out The Peace To End All Peace and tell me Bush doesn't remind you of Woody Wilson just a little bit.

And I always thought Millard Fillmore was the worst president!
I just hope you get a decent president this time, one who understands that not all of their constituants wear fancy suits or have 7 figure incomes.

Ben Rosengart,
Wilson makes my personal worst list, not least because he was a virulent racist who set progress for blacks back 50 years. Who knows, if he had not ever been President, progress to racial equality might have been much steadier, and come earlier, and the Civil Rights movement would never have needed to unfold as such a struggle. Overall, people give Wilson credit for accomplishments that offset his negative points, and his negative points aren't as well understood or as universally acknowledged. But I personally think he was really bad, even tragically bad.

Bush is tragically bad in a somewhat similar way. I personally think that global warming will be much worse than most people are willing to speculate right now, so that the overriding view of history will be to regret the tragedy of choosing an oilman over an environmentalist at just the most crucial juncture in the history of that problem (basically, at the time period when we had our last chance to do something about it). But you can't convince people of that view NOW, because global warming isn't yet a universally acknowledged threat. In 30 years it will be, I believe. Another somewhat milder tragedy of Bush is that he took an era that should have been one of peace and prosperity and transformed it into one of war, debt, increasing inequity, economic malaise, curtailed rights for citizens, and national decline. That's less arguable, but perhaps also less starkly tragic.

Mike J.

Question to ask a 'leader':
"Why would anyone want to be led by you?"
as the trainer of that leadership course said "Of all the senior managers he has ever asked, he has always been met by dumfound silence - probably the only time these people have ever been silent".

Question to yourself:
"Why would you be led by someone?" - or in your upcoming choice - why would you vote for someone?

Although I consider myself a Republican and can generally be found slightly to the right of center, I agree with many of the things you have written. I must however comment on the issue of health care. Where in the Constitution does it say that the federal government owes citizens any level of health care? Why should health care be different than anything else of value in our society? Health care should be earned just like food, shelter, clothing, transportation, entertainment, etc. If you want to dramatically decrease the cost of health care in this country, hold people accountable for their lifestyle choices which negatively impact their health. People who smoke, are obese, are sedentary, drink heavily, use drugs, etc. choose to do these things. Why should the costs of their choices be spread onto those people who avoid such behaviors? Also, we should stop trying to keep people alive for a few more weeks, or months , or even years regardless of the quality of that time at the end of life and without any consideration of cost.
As a physician, I see huge amounts of money spent on patients who have little or no enjoyment of life whatsoever and who contribute nothing to society. Still, it is society who pays for their upkeep through health insurance premiums and public programs (taxes).
Perhaps the Native Americans had it right...When you are too old to pull your own weight anymore, walk off alone into the wilderness, make peace with the Great Spirit, and die with honor.

Over this side of the Pacific we're collectively somewhat disenchanted with GWB and our former Prime Minister who followed him so blindly into the current mess in Iraq.
However that's bye-the-bye.
My question is - will America REALLY elect a black President, or have the Democrats made a principled mistake? There are people here betting it will never happen.

L. M. Youdale,
Your guess is as good as mine. There's already a pretty vicious smear campaign going on. This will give you a fairly good idea of what's being bandied about the right-wing noise machine, even though this is a comedy show:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/23079/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-mon-jun-16-2008#s-p1-sr-i0

Lots of fifth-column, hysterically dualistic, evil-infiltrator sorts of things...shibboleths being established. This is likely to get really bad before November. But we'll see.

Just a comment about the note by R.M. Williams above.

Whenever universal health care is mentioned, there is usually someone that deliberately chooses to call it "free" medical care with the inevitable statement that nothing is free. This is a straw man argument. Here in Canada, we have had universal health care for decades. It is not free. It is an insurance policy that the country is buying itself. Inclusion is automatic and everyone pays premiums, one way or another. Attempting to characterize these systems as free, and then denigrating them as such, is an old argument that wore out a long time ago, although it may still work.

There are lots of things that can go wrong with a monopoly payer system, which is what we have. But it's best not to try to use the argument that independent insurance companies are efficient and would provide better services; I've worked in large corporations and associating them with efficiency is comical at best.

Another aspect of your argument that I would quarrel with is the notion that people are responsible for their own health, and when they fail they should suffer the consequences. There are many cases for whom that is probably true. So what? Do you turn them down for insurance, let go bankrupt, then die? That argument might be compelling when you're dealing with a crackhead criminal, but what about some poor honest guy who happens to get a disease because of the neighbourghood he lives in, or for no obvious preventable reason at all. What about people who insist on taking up running on asphalt in their 40s and need knee surgery? Would you deny them too, since their behaviour induced the problem?

Your US constitution may not have guaranteed all citizens health care, but why should that be an argument for not adopting it? I don't understand the relevance of that statement. Who cares what a group of upper class land-owning nobles said 250 years ago. I wouldn't.

The free market gives us cheap cell phones and affordable consumer baubles, no question about it. Our lives are demonstrably better because of the economic way that we have structured our society. To suppose that that belief system carries over into all aspects of life is pretty narrow-minded thinking, imo.

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