* American heritage – I have often wondered why, in a country so blessed with the footing of democratic and religious freedoms, there is much evidence of hatred and prejudice. Civil rights did not become a legal reality until the 1960s and even then it was not simply an extension of rights to all citizens. It required a big bang of legislation and legal enforcement. At this moment religious tolerance appears to be experiencing a backward spiral as the Republican brand encourages the narrowness and overreach of the religious-right. As we survey our country in the beginning of the 21st century that which permeates our presidential elections are issues of race, religion, hate and fear. It characterizes George Bush’s candidacies and administrations. Some may excuse these patterns as merely Rovian politics but, such seeds of ill will require a compatible environment to root. At one time I hopefully and naively believed that our society and much of humanity were on an ascending plane of betterment and concern for the common good. Our “avowed” commitment to faith in a universal influence and “belief” in individual freedoms has too often been as much surface as substance. How does one explain this failure to build upon the tenants of 18th Century Enlightenment that inspired the foundation of our country and the structure of our political framework?
Future generations of sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists will render theories and opinions as to the contributing factors that kept us underachievers of the democratic ideal. DNA experts may find genetic markers that preclude humans at this stage of evolutionary development from achieving the promise of fair, tolerant and moral behavior. With respect to America, perhaps there was a “genetic” flaw endemic to our founding. I thought about this on a recent visit to Monticello, the home of one of the greatest of our founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson.
By almost any standard Jefferson was a Renaissance man. Science, agriculture, botany, arts and letters were within his interest and grasp. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and thereafter spent 33 years in public life, including serving as President of the US from 1801 to 1809. Embodied in the Declaration were the words “all men are created equal” and have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In opposition to these lofty ideals, during Jefferson’s lifetime he owned over 600 slaves. This contradiction was noted by the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who believed in the idea of liberty and rights of man and who lent his considerable efforts to the American Revolution. Thirty-five years after the revolution he visited Jefferson at Monticello. A slave later related how Lafayette was critical of Jefferson for his support of slavery. Jefferson responded that perhaps some time in the future slaves would be free. Perhaps some time in the future the idealism and lofty goals enunciated at our nation’s birth will be broadly fulfilled and hypocrisy will be as ugly a footnote as slavery.
* Yes Virginia, democracy has been saved – The Virginia State Board of Elections has ruled that, “voters won't be allowed to wear clothing featuring John McCain or Barack Obama when they head to the polls on November 4th.”The ACLU says the ban violates the First Amendment’s right to free speech. “The board, however, said it has to weigh that against the right to vote free of undue influence or the tension that candidate advocacy might create.” I suggest that we all take a Xanax and go to the polls nude. This will abate our tensions and preclude undue influence should another voter be wearing a White shirt or a Black skirt.
* Quote of the Week – “Democracy and capitalism are the two great pillars of the American idea. To have rocked one of those pillars may be regarded as a misfortune. To have damaged the reputation of both, at home and abroad, is a pretty stunning achievement for an American president.” From an article by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, referring to Iraq, the Wall Street meltdown and the Bush legacy.
* Halloween arrived early for Republicans ~ the tricks have far-exceeded the treats – In July the McCain campaign stunned the political landscape by announcing that Sarah Palin was the selection for VP. The attractive and bubbly governor of Alaska was costumed as a reformer with executive credentials and she enthusiastically enhanced the façade by claiming foreign policy experience. McCain certainly was not fooled by Palin’s background because it was as empty as some of McCain’s campaign appearances. Palin was an offering to the religious-right and hopefully an attraction to women and small town and rural voters. She has agreeably accepted the role of attacking Obama and memorizing campaign sound bites. She has objectively done nothing to enhance her credibility as someone actually qualified for the position. What do the American people think about Ms. Palin three months after her grand entrance and two weeks before the election?
Two polls released on Tuesday indicate that the Palin selection is being seen for what it is – a trick. “Palin's qualifications to be president now rank as voters' top concern about John McCain's candidacy… Fifty-five percent of respondents now say Palin is not qualified to serve as president… for the first time, more voters have a negative opinion of her than a positive one. In the survey, 47 percent view her negatively, versus 38 percent who see her in a positive light…opinions of Palin have flipped in the last month, especially among the female voters she was expected to attract to the McCain ticket… Women, especially women under age 50, have become increasingly critical of Palin: 60% now express an unfavorable view of Palin, up from 36% in mid-September.” On November 4th it is likely that Christmas will have arrived early for the Republican ticket as the voting public appears ready to say to McCain and Palin, “Ho, ho, ho” and vote “Bah, humbug.”
* Speaking of costumes – The Republican National Committee has spent $150,000 to clothe and coif Sarah Palin and her family since her coming out party as VP nominee. The “values” mom who prides herself on appealing to regular folks and “real” Americans did not do her shopping at Wal Mart. "According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74. The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September. The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August." John McCain’s experience and knowledge of government may not have rubbed off on Ms. Palin but his wife Cindy certainly has become Sarah’s big sister when it comes to fashion and cosmetics. One can only hope that she does not spill beer on her haute couture. You betcha!
* Cause or effect? ~ the dumbing of the electorate - As the 2008 presidential campaign nears the end game fewer and fewer important issues are getting attention. It would be difficult to recall the last, if any, discussion about illegal immigration and an approach to the 12 to 20 million people residing in our country illegally. Iraq and Afghanistan are in deep background and one could conclude that Pakistan does not exist. Silence has accompanied the issues of food and product safety, greater inspection of food imports, broader inspection of shipping containers entering the country and increased security at chemical plants. Never on the table was discussion about our dwindling water resources and increasingly polluted water supply. Neither candidate, beyond promising to clean up Washington, addresses campaign finance reform or stronger congressional ethics rules and oversight or increased restrictions on lobbyists. After you have heard an Obama or McCain campaign speech one time there is no need to tune in to another. Both campaigns approach the listening public as if we do not have the ability to understand more than one issue at a time or two issues in a week or 3 issues in a month. Since campaigns are scientifically researched and designed to attract the maximum number of voters perhaps they have concluded that John Q. Public or Joe the Plumber cannot intellectually multi-task issues. Perhaps they are correct.
* “Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”
Gore Vidal - American novelist, screenwriter, playwright, essayist, short story writer and politician.