Saturday, September 26, 2009

Primary Colors - Idealism vs Reality

The final push for almost all campaigns occurs about 40 days from election day. During this time, almost anything goes. After all, this is a winner take all affair where the second place finisher usually fades into obscurity.

The tenor of the campaigns tend to get nuclear, with each side trying to out "negative" the other, in search of that Holy Grail of Politics, the unaffiliated voter. Those who are able to woo this highly sought after component of our electorate, tend to emerge the victor.

This is also the time when war weary campaign staffers, exhausted by the rigors of non-stop campaigning for almost a year, try to suck it up for the final push and, like marathoners in mile 23 of the 26 mile race, hope like hell not to hit the wall - that point where the body and mind say "no mas" at the same time. It is during this period where the "win at all costs" bloodsport of politics really kicks in.

It is usually at this juncture, whether I'm involved in a campaign or not, I resurrect an old movie with John Travolta called Primary Colors. This movie is supposed to be a comedy following the presidential campaign of Governor Jack Stanton(Travolta)a candidate in the mold of Bill Clinton who, through the course of the campaign, always seems to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory via the untimely intervention of his personal demons and his addiction to...well... remember Jennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky....you get my drift. Anyway, Stanton manages to dodge one political bullet after another with the help of adroit staffers.

Then it happens. The event that occurs which will define the candidate and the campaign. You know, the one where political and ethical values collide. The event where if you take the high ground, you risk losing the election but saving your sense of decency by doing the "right thing", or taking the low road, droping the nuke and winning the election, but losing your "dignity and honor" in the process.

I love this part of the movie, because it has the naive "we can change the world idealist" colliding head-on into the hardcore world of "reality politics". Which way does Stanton choose to go? Well, rent the movie and find out for yourself because I'm not going to tell.

What I will share, however, is that the dialogue in the movie, while corny and over the top at times, still manages to get to the core of why people run for elected office in the first place - and that is to make a difference in peoples lives. That's it, pure and simple.

It is that simple belief that frequently gets lost in the campaign battles leading up to election day. The campaigns are on autopilot to stay on message, gear up the troops for the GOTV (Get Out The Vote),ads, phone calls, door-to-door leaflet drops and other processes of a campaign.

Primary Colors helps remind me why I love this kind of work, and who I am doing this for and why. It's to make a difference, and particularly for those who can't fight for themselves, and who depend on elected officials to fight the battles for them.

So if you're feeling a bit jaded or overwhelmed by the campaigns being run in your state, county, city or town, just watch Primary Colors - and know that your vote and opinion do matter - choose wisely.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's Just Have Cage Matches

This has been one heck of a couple of weeks. Anger management should be the order of the day. Tea Party participants calling for Obama's death-among other things; Congressman Joe Wilson calling the President a liar; Serena Williams cussing out a linesperson after a bad call during a tense tennis match at the U.S. Open; Roger Federer the number one ranked tennis player, and possibly the best of the modern era, also cussing out a tennis official during the same U.S. Open. What the hell is going on?

Have we all become so intolerant that anger is the order of the day? On top of this, the call of "racism" for the slightest indiscretion or slight is the word "du jour". Everybody is getting in on the act, including former President Jimmy Carter, who characterizes Congressman Wilson's outburst as promoting racism against President Obama.

Serena's punishment for her outburst was severe, and to his credit, Papa Williams didn't play the race card. But I wonder if Roger Federer was punished for his outburst?

Look, I think that Congressman Wilson's actions were incredibly stupid and childish to be sure, but to call them racist? Well, that might be a stretch. I don't think every thoughtless, stupid verbal act committed by white folks against people of color, or vise versa, is racist. Sometimes people are just, well....stupid.

But having said that, it is also naive to think that racism does not exist in this country and that, in some corners, it doesn't play a part in certain decisions or reactions to events. Just because you don't verbally call someone a nigger, spic, kike, cracker, slant-eye or whatever racial slur you choose, doesn't mean you don't think that they are that slur.

We all need to take a time out and tone down this anger and hateful expression of speech. We have got to find a way to agree to disagree without using race as an excuse, or race baiting to achieve desired goals.

But perhaps that is too much of a Utopian concept. Maybe Rodney King's plea, "can't we all just get along?", is really a thing of fantasy.

I sincerely hope not, because remember, the behaviors and models of conduct we exhibit now, are what our children will use as guides for their own future attitudes and behavior. Is that the kind of legacy we wish to leave them? I for one - don't.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The President and Our Children

The fervor over Barack Obama's address to our children on Wednesday has reach a fever pitch that honestly, I just don't get. There are those who say that the President is mixing politics and his office by giving this speech to take some of the heat off the lousy job he's done with the healthcare reform issue.

My answer to that is, well, what president hasn't viewed this "back to school speech to kids" as a political opportunity? Hell, name a speech any politican gives that's not politically motivated to some degree or another.

No, the speech isn't the problem, at least on its face. The problem is the White House trying to control the method by which the educational community discusses...or not...the speech with the kids. If they had just left well enough alone, the speech would have been given and things would have moved on without much notice.

I actually read the speech, and it's fine to me. Work hard, don't give up, ask questions, education is important, this is the kind of advice the speech contains. Not much different than what my parents would drum into my siblings and me..all-the-time. Thank goodness they did! Now I do the same to my kids.

But the White House didn't leave it alone. So now, a relatively simple "do your best in school" kind of address, has morphed into a real or perceived "future voters for Obama" registration drive. Just like the lack of guidance has helped denigrate the healthcare debate into the debacle that it has become, this over controlling, "let's structure how educators discuss the president's speech" thing is not good judgement either.

I think our educators, for better or worse, do fine by themselves influencing our children by shaping political thought within their respective classrooms without White House intervention. Teacher influence on our kids - now that is an issue for a future blog posting.

Let the President give his speech so we can get back to the business of healthcare, the economy and Van Jones. Oh, my mistake, cross Jones off the list.