Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Tortoise and the Hare

Things aren’t looking too good for Hillary Clinton. I don’t believe that all is lost quite yet; stranger things have happened in American politics (and Hillary’s own life) and the lady may still win the day. But I think she would do well to take a different tack over the next few weeks in what might be her last opportunity to rescue her presidential candidacy.

I listened hard to Barack Obama on Tuesday night when he was wooing Houston and giving thanks to the people of Wisconsin for his primary win there, and I watched him just as closely. He’s more than a gifted orator, he’s a spellbinding preacher. When he speaks of hope and what can be achieved when people assert their power from the bottom up you can’t help but feel a giddy sense of joy. It’s the same feeling people get when they’re imbued with The Spirit, like at a revival meeting, and Obama is hypnotizing his adoring crowds as he preaches his gospel of The Urgency of Now, promising with conviction that yes, we can make miracles if we get fired up and ready to go. It’s been so long since an American politician spouted dreams and poetry that if you’re not at all touched by him, you must be completely jaded or slightly dead. (Isn’t he what we fans of The West Wing wanted when we fantasized about Martin Sheen – or Jimmy Smits – really being president?)

What can Hillary Clinton, Superwoman perhaps, but mere mortal nonetheless, say or do in the face of the proverbial knight in shining armor? Pitting a pragmatist against an idealist seems like the classic race between the tortoise and the hare. In the fable, the steadfast tortoise is victorious over the splashy, speedy, charismatic hare, because the hare gets over-confident and sloppy. Tenacity triumphs over celebrity. If Hillary is lucky, Barack’s ego may get the better of him, slow him down and reveal his darker side – because bright light always casts a long shadow.

Obama the hare is, astrologically speaking, Leo the Lion. He’s a rock star (geez, how many metaphors can I mix? Wanna metaphor cocktail??) – and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that stars get tripped up when they start believing their publicity. Conversely, Clinton is a Scorpio – passionate, private, devoted to her purpose. Scorpio is the Guardian-Warrior, also known in this transitional, multi-tasking era for women, as Mommy. Can Mommy best the Rock Star? In the past, Hillary has achieved her goals by playing hardball. I don’t think that game will work here.

If I were Hillary, what I’d say to Obama during tonight’s debate is this: I can’t deny the beauty and often the truth of what you say. But being a visionary isn’t what makes one a leader. In order to win big, you have to have lost big. You can’t lead well without having known failure, and without having made tough, sometimes ugly choices. I’ve known failure. I’ve known humiliation. I know what it means to be hated, to be pitied, to be misunderstood. At this age and stage of my life, I’m best equipped to lead, because I have 60 years of life experience. And I lived in the White House for eight years. I know how power works – and how it doesn’t. What will you do when your path is blocked, when forces more numerous and more powerful than you rise up to resist you? What will you do when Congress turns on you, or your cabinet offers conflicting counsel, or the audience for the world stage doesn’t embrace you like the folks back home? If you want the power of the presidency, stop charming the crowds and start addressing the issues. Come down from your pulpit and talk specifics. And while you’re doing that, I’m just gonna keep on moving down the road…

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why Can’t We Talk About Race and Gender?

I do realize that I probably don’t have my finger on the pulse of the nation, that I’m often out of sync with prevailing attitudes, however, is it just me, or is there not something odd about America entertaining its first viable black and female presidential candidates, but they don’t want to talk about race or gender and we (the public, the media, whoever) aren’t supposed to either. Why? I understand that Obama wants to be viewed as a candidate, not the blackcandidate, and that similarly, Clinton rejects being seen as the womancandidate. But given our national history, won’t the first black or woman president bring something distinct and unique to the job, an awareness, sensitivity and (you should excuse me) agenda that white men have generally lacked?

In my ministerial capacity, I’ve conducted two gay commitment ceremonies – but we called them weddings and no one mentioned the word gay; it was a deliberate choice, to emphasize the idea that love is love and no one is served by making distinctions between gay and straight. But the 2008 presidential campaign is not a symbolic ceremony, it’s our national democratic process in action, and whoever becomes president will have to deal with significant issues that are undeniably tied to race, gender or both.

I expect a woman president to be particularly sensitive to issues that have a serious impact on women: preserving the right to choose and ready access to birth control information and products; promoting increased parity in health care, insurance coverage, higher education and employment; addressing domestic violence and rape in a truly meaningful, authoritative way; and both nationally and as a foreign policy priority, confronting sexual slavery, rape as a tactic of war, female genital mutilation, and the dearth of human rights for women reflected in honor killings and other culturally entrenched forms of subjugation.

Likewise, I expect a black president to be especially attuned to issues that have a serious impact on racial minorities: discrimination in employment, business development and housing; the wildly disproportionate number of prisoners of color; outrageous levels of poverty; the crippling impact of hard drugs and family instability in communities of color; the massive education problem; and the disturbing influence of “ghetto culture” music and mindset that devalues learning and upward mobility.

Indeed, I would like to see any president, of any race or either gender, address all of the pressing problems listed above. And at this historic juncture, isn’t it legitimate, hell, imperative, that unprecedented candidates confront long-ignored social issues with status-quo-disrupting determination? I would like to hear Hillary Clinton say that women and children in America (and around the world) can depend on her being a consistent advocate on their behalf. I’d like to hear Barack Obama say that on his watch, the American racial divide will be bridged and Africa will no longer be the continent left behind. I dearly want both of them to initiate a much-needed national dialogue on race and gender – but first, they have to be willing to say the words.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Why I’m For Hillary - Take 2

There was a moment Thurs- day night, watching Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama standing together on the stage of the Kodak Theatre in L.A. before their first one-on-one debate, that my eyes started to water and I thought: I wish my parents had lived to see this. A black man and a woman, both in serious contention for the Democratic presidential nomination and, God willing, one of them will actually be elected. No matter what happens now, that was an historic and quite magnificent moment.

I think Obama is a sincere idealist. He says the kinds of things I’ve longed to hear a politician say for decades: that he and we can successfully work together to effect dramatic change in America; that we, as a people, must get back on the path to empathy and service to one another; that as a nation, we must reject fear, anger and revenge in favor of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. If he becomes the Democratic candidate, I won’t be displeased and I will happily vote for him.

But I’m for Clinton because I believe she is a sincere pragmatist, and as such, can get more done than a visionary. Those 35 years of experience she keeps talking about have taught her how to play the political game, have shown her where a few of the bodies are buried, and have given her hide the texture and strength of a buffalo. I think she has the intellect and skill to be a very effective president, and I believe she has deep and genuine emotions, especially where children and women are concerned. I also like the idea that Bill will be with her, because despite his recent heavy-handed behavior in his wife’s defense, I think he’ll provide good counsel and be a valuable ambassador/diplomat around the world on her behalf. I also think he’ll create a gracious, confident, generous protocol for a future First Gentleman. I readily admit that I’d like to see a woman president and I think Hillary is the right woman at the right time to crack that White House glass ceiling.

Conversely, I fear that Obama is sadly naive. I don’t believe he will ever be allowed to do what he wants to do, despite whatever mandate he may receive from the young people he’s brought into the political process with his nouveau 60s enthusiasm. Even if I were willing to surrender to Obama’s seductive hopefulness, I don’t believe he can transform our entrenched system. Part of what I like about Hillary is that she can hold her own in the now-non-smoking back rooms of politics, and she knows they’re not going away anytime soon.

Yes, it distresses me that Hillary is a vitriol magnet. I don’t think any political woman since Eleanor Roosevelt has engendered such visceral hatred. Maybe the upside is that some of these ignorant younger women who think the power of sexism went out with stockings and garters will see that it is still an integral part of the underpinnings of this culture – and gets real ugly when it picks up the scent of a super-smart, influential woman heading for significant power. In any case, I know she can handle it, because she already has.

I find it interesting and revealing that Clinton is doing better with blue collar folks than Obama. I think it shows they believe she can solve problems and effect realistic change that will genuinely, actually, improve their lives. On the other hand, Obama has enchanted the young and the more affluent – people who can still afford dreams. I guess my age is showing in my inability, perhaps unwillingness, to get on another bandwagon, to once again embrace the romance of potential transformation. But in the course of my years, I’ve seen the leading transformers of my time literally murdered by frightened opposition. Hillary doesn’t exactly inspire me, but she encourages me; I feel sure about what she can do.

In the best of all possible worlds, Hillary will get the nomination and Barack will be smart enough, and big enough, to be her running mate and make his agenda a functional part of her administration. Ideally, we would have eight years of Clinton followed by eight years of Obama. Maybe by then, we’ll be able to afford a dreamer.