Monday, August 6, 2012
Outside of Milwaukee, a 40 year-old man with a military background entered a Sikh temple and murdered six people, wounding several more. He was killed in a gun battle with a police officer who was himself seriously wounded.
I can already feel the weariness, telegraphed across the media, at having to relay the horrific details of another mass shooting story. After all, it's only been two weeks or so after the awful shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Must we endure the heart-wrenching stories behind more destroyed families, guilty of nothing more than practicing their faith in America? Must we awkwardly attempt to acknowledge our unbearable social vanity, our ugly national self-involvement through recognition of a faith far too few Americans understand (including, I'm embarrassed to say, this American)? Must we once again dance the macabre waltz down the thorny, darkened path into the mind of an obviously disturbed man (there are early reports he was involved with the white supremacist movement) with guns who knew how to use them.
How are we going to process this as a society, as a nation? Can we have a discussion about gun control now? After Aurora, our political betters assured us that now was not the time to talk about guns. It would be inconvenient for campaigns which would prefer to remain focused on the economy, jobs, insulting the British, dressage horses, and #YouDidntBuildThat.
Matt, I admit that I wasn't sure how to get going this week. After this news, I wasn't sure I wanted to.
Then I heard NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewing a man named Kavneet Singh on Morning Edition today. Mr. Singh is the managing director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and he was talking about how many Sikhs have been subjected to discrimination, and even violence (it's not surprising that Americans often confuse Sikh -- especially men, with their beards and turbans -- for Muslims).
Inskeep offered an opportunity to Mr. Singh: tell the listeners something about the Sikh faith they may not know. What Mr. Singh said was this:
I think I would share with your listeners the three main principles of the Sikh faith.The first is the remembrance of God.The second, to earn an honest living, and to make sure that you are not a burden on society. And the third, is while making that honest living, make sure that you give back to your community.And your community here is what I like to call capital "C" -- your community is everybody. It's not just the people in your town, the people in your faith, but really everybody that you come in contact with is your community.The Sikh faith is founded on the principles of giving back in service, and I think throughout our history, we have been very strong proponents of civil rights of equality, and religious freedom. And those ideas should sound very similar to folks as they are among the founding principles of this country that we all live in and share.
It's small, Matt, but we have our own community. It is the community of politics, government, and the group of like-minded folks who want to make those things better -- and in doing so, make our country a better place.
I hope we can continue our conversation this week, not because it's so much fun -- it is. But because when we talk about the things we know and love, when we try to inform our small but worthy readership -- our community -- we are, in our own way, giving back.
This week, let's do so in honor of the destroyed families in Wisconsin.
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Thank you for those words from Mr. Singh. I, too, knew little of the Sikh faith, other than a general country of origin and bent toward peace. In all honesty, the details of these shootings, though painfully relevant to those involved and affected, are not my chief concern when stuff like this occurs. I could not agree more strongly with Mr. Singh that the tenets he shared are very closely aligned with the most basic beliefs of Americans. The right to life being chief among them. Life. The most basic right, without which all other rights are futile.
One could very easily argue that if a government were stripped down to its truly essential, most central function, it would be to protect the lives of its citizens - from all threats foreign and domestic. There can be no conclusion other than to say that here and in Colorado, Tuscon and elsewhere, our government has not met its basic responsibilities. Just down the interstate from the latest shooting, Chicago experiences these tragedies EVERY WEEKEND. Yes, the weekend roundup from the Chicago Tribune has to resort to bullet points to list everyone who was shot over a typical weekend. I am going to stop short of jumping on my high horse about the disgusting neglect and indifference to that violence and death, but I do not pretend it doesn't exist.
So we can go on about conventions and VP picks and I will happily do so, but I have no illusions that either Obama or Romney will make the country safer for my step-nieces and nephews that live in Chicago.
What I can say about this current cycle is that it certainly will define our country in the near term. Will our elected leaders and those who raise $100 million a month to "support" them continue to cannibalize our future to serve their present? Will the current generation continue along the path they are headed - becoming the first generation in American history to be better off than their children? It sure appears that way. Regardless of political leanings, any sane person can acknowledge that the deficit and debt are unsustainable. Where is the political will to sacrifice? No, we are told to go shopping - that a second Cadillac will fix everything.
It appears as though the current generation of leaders looked upon the sacrifices of their parents and saw, not the principle of delayed gratification for the greater good, but saw that their parents treated them as more important than themselves. Instead of seeing their own children and grandchildren in that light, they keep themselves in the center of their world, as the most important. They saw "me", not "the next generation". Just look at the health care debate. The group most strongly against universal health care? You guessed it, those already receiving it through Medicare. They may as well have said, "no, I'm gonna get mine."
Wow, apparently I didn't jump off that high horse after all.
Even in the wake of two mass shootings and on the tide of daily gun violence and murders, @SpencerianRed has not let up in its criticism of Obama and has added in Harry Reid. No, it is lists of celebrities Obama has met with since his jobs council or how long since he appeared on a Sunday talk show and then the rest is Solyndra and David Plouffe receiving money for speeches. It is attack, attack, attack. Not a word about mental health services, public safety or guns.
As we careen toward November, I would love to hear something about the future of our country that isn't a thinly veiled (and probably wrapped in an American flag) attack on the other guy. No, I want to hear something that will give me some confidence that I will not spend my entire life digging out of the hole the previous generation's lack of leadership dug. I want to know that my three boys will be guided by political leaders that might actually achieve that most basic duty of protecting their life - whether it be at the movies, at school, in a place of worship or wherever else they choose to go in this wonderful country of ours.
Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are powerful and important rights that my sons deserve - and will hopefully have the opportunity to pursue. Their cousins in Chicago, their countrymen in Wisconsin and Colorado deserve the same. Will their country's leaders ever have the fortitude to have an honest discussion about how to ensure those rights? One guy sneaks a bomb on a plane in his shoes and we now all go barefoot at the airport, but 30,000 gun violence victims and... Deafening silence. One was politically easy. To address the other would take guts. Is there a leader out there - on either side - with the guts to do anything to truly protect my boys - and my nieces and nephews that do not live in such comfortable surroundings?
Probably not. It is so much easier to run each other down and count days and unanswered questions, to bait each other with accusations and labels in neat thirty second commercials. The ultimate echo chamber here is not Red or Blue - it is the echo chamber of failed congressional, and yes, executive leadership.
Maybe later in the week I will be able to get excited about convention lineups and electoral math, but today I am simply disgusted at the me generation we are saddled with as leaders.
Until then, I am going to watch my boys a little more closely and say some extra prayers. Don't worry, I will include Emmy and Finn in them as well.
Back to you my friend.
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Hi, Matt --
Short and sweet tonight. I'm tired. It's been a long day.
I've had some unofficial, unpaid involvement in a political race here in Florida -- I'll decline to name which one for now, but if you read this blog, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out -- and in the last couple of days have engaged, via my own Twitter feed (@bkirby816) with a young man in the Sarasota area.
He does a lot of work -- in a lot of confusing capacities -- for the other side, and I will tell you that he has been somewhat successful in engaging me in a Twitter-based back-and-forth, my least favorite kind of engagement. I like Twitter -- obviously -- but I find it to be a poor medium for the kinds of political discussion we should be having with one another on each side of the political aisle.
I'm sort of ashamed to admit having engaged at all.
But my point here is not that I have done a poor job of engaging, or whether or not I should have taken up political conversation in light of this most recent, horrifying massacre, about which you spoke so eloquently in your last email. My real point is that I'm glad you finally have introduced a subject I've wanted us to cover since we started this exercise.
The fellow I've had a couple of back-and-forths with is around 29 or 30. I'm 41 in a week or two. There's a generational difference there, as there is between you and I. Among the many duties this guy has is that of a new media person. Good for him.
I'm not saying he's better at Twitter (Tweet dated August 4 from him: Just purchased my 1st handgun! http://instagr.am/p/N6yg6rGhKu/ I feel I chose wisely in not engaging on that one, for a whole host of reasons). I'm not saying I'm worse. I am saying that, born of your own frustration, we are witnessing the birth of new ways to communicate -- and yes, new ways to represent ourselves. If our government can't, then maybe 140 characters can. (Well. Maybe 140 characters can help.)
I fear I'm not making a lot of sense, here, in a feeble attempt to offer you some hope for the future. Not your future, or mine -- I know us both well enough to know we'll work hard and make something work -- but for that of your great boys, and my kids, too.
To end on a slightly hopeful note, Spencerian Blue seems, once again, adrift, much as it was after the Aurora killing. It is the heat of a campaign, and yet it doesn't feel quite right to wonder aloud what's in Mitt Romney's tax returns.
Maybe it's a sign, however faint, that we've at least engaged with the right side.
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Thursday, August 9, 2012
It has been a curious, disjointed week to this point, I think. It seems as though the American public and political chatterers can't summon the same outrage for Wisconsin as for Colorado. I actually do not think it has anything to do with the setting in Wisconsin, but rather that it has come so quickly on the heels of Colorado. You see, a single incident is easy to slough off as an outlier, but two is the beginning of a pattern. A pattern that, as we have already discussed, leads to uncomfortable questions that we as a nation are not ready to deal with. I think the weirdness of this week is due more to introspection and discomfort than anything else.
The sputtering start to the week was brushed aside forcefully today with the latest kerfuffle of back and forth between the campaigns. This time, over an ad by a superPAC backing Obama. They released an ad which basically accused Romney of murdering some poor man's wife with his capitalistic greed. Talk about overplaying your hand... It was the sort of disgusting innuendo that we all saw coming in the wake of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision that ushered in this superPAC era.
What followed was a series of screw ups from both campaigns. Two who you follow, Cutter and LaBolt, are being vilified in @SpencerianRed as liars for their claims of not knowing the story, followed by revelations that Steph herself introduced it into a conference call some months ago. There really isn't a good out here for Obama or his staffers. They now must either defend the indefensible or disavow their ally, while at the same time their staff must either admit to a lie or cling to a technicality or semantics while conceding the point. Not good.
On the other side, Andrea Saul is taking friendly fire for commenting that the wife would have received better health care - and theoretically still be alive if she was in Mitt Romney's Massachusetts living under Romneycare. She broke the cardinal rule of admitting to a benefit of Romney's signature achievement as governor, of even whispering its name. Now the knives are out, calling for her resignation. How silly of her to lose sight of the narrative and cite factual information that doesn't bow down to the fiction being created around Mittens.
Not that this is new, but it is exactly the kind of situation that, in my opinion, shines a bright light on the differences between generations. Many have reacted to the whole thing with the same political playbook as always - false indignation, demagoguery, hyperbole and most of all, acceptance. This is the way politics works, right? Campaigns attack and defend and frame and shade. Candidiates claim and promise things without any real intention of follow through - unless the political winds are right. The big piece to note, though, is acceptance. Too much life experience has brought reality and cynicism.
For those under 35, they experience the whole charade differently. A hallmark of the younger generation is a belief in collective good, in civic engagement. The younger generation believes strongly in community service - and the ideals behind it. So when that group and mindset looks at the cannibals and self-adoring political ruling class (and the cannibals and self-adoring financial ruling class for that matter) there is a true philosophical disconnect. They look at the disingenuous superPAC ad (yes, Romney has had plenty of them as well, and the new generation looks at them in the very same light) they do not see political gamesmanship and accept it. They see politics above decency. They see a "say anything if it works" culture - looking at you Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and so many others - and reject it. This is why the Obama 2008 rhetoric was so powerful and so potent. This is why young people turned out in droves and sent him to The White House in a landslide. Four years of actually running the country, of living the day-to-day politics of trying to accomplish things in DC have tarnished that brand.
If I were running things in Chicago, my focus would be on bringing that back, on finding ways of making Obama look transformational again. Otherwise those young voters may just disappear. I don't think they will flock to Romney, but I do think they will withhold their vote. I have made this argument before: to a Millennial, a vote is more than making a choice and doing your civic duty, it is a personal endorsement. If they do not feel good about the choices before them, they will not make the "lesser of two evils" bargain that most older voters make with themselves. No, their solution is much more personal. They will engage on their own, seek out like-minded individuals and work together toward better options. And that is what brings us back to Twitter.
Twitter is almost anything you want it to be. For me, it is a source of information. For many Millenials, it is a source of connection, of interaction with those who feel as they do and believe as they believe. Instead of a conversation at the deli, they can now have a conversation with someone in Delhi. This is how you were sucked in to the banter with the young "sportsman" from Sarasota. This is how hearts and minds will be won for those 35 and under in 2012.
And to bring things full circle, this is what spawned our little project in the first place.
So I say engage in the conversation. You may not win him over, but you never know who will see it, who will be following along and who may re-engage in the political process as a result.
To switch gears on you, I have a final question for the week. It is all about optics. I think Obama has a challenge in that he is trying in some ways to recreate 2008 with his convention speech at Bank of America field. Yes, one of the biggest problems is the name of the field... What do you see as the optics/image message that he must convey to build momentum toward November - and recapture some of that idealistic enthusiasm?
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Hi, Matt --
Well, I'll say this for the past week: I'm damn glad it's nearly over.
I have to tell you, Matt, I simply fail to see the precipitous down-side on the Mitt-Romney-killed-a-lady superPAC ad in the same light. Granted, the conversation about the ad is not getting the same kind of play in @SpencerianBlue land as you're probably getting over at @SpencerianRed. The unfortunate Andrea Saul deal really undercut quite a bit of any "bad" which might come out of this for Team Obama.
As for Stephanie Cutter and Ben LaBolt, "defend the indefensible"? I guess. The problem is that the cold, dark heart of the ad -- "I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned" -- is, by virtually every accounting available, almost assuredly true. Indeed, the mechanics are most assuredly true (ie, the man lost his job thanks to Bain, lost his insurance, lost his wife). This, not for nothing, Matt, is more than we can say for a recent Mitt Romney ad, which uses footage from downtown Oklahoma City in reference to Ohio.
The Obama ad conveys a tragic story, really. And you're right: it makes a kind of cold, calculating political play tiresome to younger generations.
That said, we're here to analyze those calculations as much as we are to analyze why they're tiresome to so many of our fellow Americans. So let me give it a shot.
As you know, I've called this the bully election, but I'm not so sure it's not the rope-a-dope election. Obama did it with the tax returns (Harry Reid doubled-down on it for them). Did Romney pay taxes at all? Who knows! It doesn't matter, because as the media takes up the conversation, it forces Romney and his surrogates to address the issue, no matter how poorly ("...you people..."), which, of course, only keeps the issue alive longer.
They did it with Romney's time at Bain Capital. Was he CEO? Wasn't he? When was he? Who knows! Again, it doesn't really matter, because Romney won't address it head-on, and it'll stay alive and on the front pages as long as Romney keeps dodging it... and as long as Team Obama keeps hammering it.
Now they're doing it with a sort of clever mash-up of health care and Romney's time at Bain. From my view, it put the Romney people in a box -- one from which poor Andrea Saul, now the, well, bane of Rush Limbaugh, reasonably tried to extricate herself. It failed. Will Romney address his time at Bain now? After accusations of being complicit in an innocent woman's death, you'd think anybody would. Well, he clearly won't be addressing his Massachusetts health care law...
So did Stephanie Cutter and Ben LaBolt coordinate -- illegally -- with the superPAC that ran the ad? Once more, who knows. Truly, who knows, but if the Romney folks want to have that argument, I'd guess the Obama folks are all too willing to have an un-prove-able inside baseball conversation that most folks -- Millennials included -- won't give two squirts about. They'll be happy to have the conversation for two reasons. One, because it will keep the substance of the attack ad front-and-center. No reasonable reporter will be able to write about an illegal superPAC/campaign coordination story without having to talk about the substance of the ad. Two, everyone knows Citizens United sucks, but not a lot of people can say why. This is why
If this is a part of the conversation, then I think the Obama folks would be happy to have that conversation, too.
Cynical? Awful? Yes, truly.
Still, Obama has little choice but to run a (somewhat) cynical, tough campaign, in large part because of Citizens United. In a funny sort of way, this gets to your very good question about capturing that 2008 lightning in a bottle and optics. For a whole host of reasons, 2012 will never be 2008, and everyone -- most of all Barack Obama himself -- has to know that.
I've heard a lot of talk about the optics of North Carolina. Yes, Bank of America Field -- oops. And a Democratic governor so unpopular she has declined to run again. And a state party in shambles. And a pretty good chance of going for Romney (it went for Obama in '08).
Tough optics, tough campaign.
But you know what? I think that's just what Team Obama wants. Think back to 2008. Obama was never as good as when he was in the heat of the primary fight against Hillary Clinton. He relished the role of the eloquent underdog. Remember, then-Senator Clinton was the foregone conclusion, the inevitable nominee. So they said.
I swore I wouldn't mine the rich ore offered up by early episodes of The West Wing too often, but here I go, anyway. There was a great scene a couple of seasons in when President Bartlet is preparing to debate his ho-hum opponent. He just can't get fired up about it, mostly because he's so smart and the other guy is such a dope. Just before the debate, he's standing in the green room, and he thanks his staff, shakes everybody's hand, and spends a moment sulking. Of course, the only person who really knows what he needs to get on his A-game -- an adrenaline rush and the excitement of fifty people rushing around -- is his wife. She takes a pair of scissors and cuts his tie off just moments before he walks onto the stage. It sends everyone into a high-energy frenzy, and jump-starts the mojo of the re-election campaign.
Look, if anyone can walk into Bank of America Field and say...
I am honored to be here tonight with all of you in this wonderful, beautiful state. North Carolina is home to some of the finest educational institutions in our nation. Whether you're a Tar Heel or run with the Wolfpack -- whether you went to Duke or attend Fayetteville State University, you ought to be proud of the education you got in one of the smartest states in the union. [HOLD FOR APPLAUSE/CHEERING]
But this unique American place is great not because of great schools or great natural beauty -- it is because, like America, the best of it lies in the differences, from the elegance of the Biltmore Estates to the roar of the crowd at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. People from all walks of life can love North Carolina.
This place is home to John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, but also to Doc Watson and the Avett Brothers. And North Carolina is home to the late legend of the United States Senate, Sam Ervin -- the man who brought down Joseph McCarthy and helped expose the scandal of Watergate. But it is also home, as we all know, to Senator Jesse Helms. Yes, this is a great and truly diverse state. But don't take it from me. If you need a true testament to her greatness, travel a little more than a hundred miles or so east towards Fayetteville and talk to some of the young men and women honorably and bravely serving our country at Fort Bragg, one of the finest and strongest military installations the world has ever seen. [HOLD FOR APPLAUSE]
It's true: North Carolina is rich in diversity. As is our great nation.
Indeed, where else could a sitting president stand before you in the middle of Bank of America Field, yet in the shadow of a larger than life North Carolina Presidents who preceded him -- indeed, the same one who famously dismantled the Second Bank of the United States.
Yes, Andrew Jackson serves as a complicated, often awful figure in history, even today. But Jackson's deplorable ethnic cleansing of Native American peoples, and his inexcusable support of slavery didn't stop a man named Hiram Rhodes Revels.
I should say, Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels. You see, Senator Revels was the first black American to serve in Congress. And he was born not far from where Fort Bragg stands today, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. [HOLD FOR APPLAUSE]
He helped make my journey possible. [APPLAUSE]
Of course... I should probably mention that he started out as a Republican. But he, wisely, I feel, came over to the Democratic Party about 1874... [HOLD FOR LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE]
...it would be President Barack Obama.
Of course, I'm not going to be holding my breath for a phone call from the Obama speechwriters, that's for sure.
Probably didn't answer your question so well, Matt, but it's all I got this week.
Best, and until next week...
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Welcome to Into the Echo Chamber, the weekly electronic conversation of the 2012 presidential campaign as viewed from two Twitter feeds. Matt Spence is monitoring the Twitterverse of the Romney Campaign, Republicans, and the "red" side of the aisle at @SpencerianRed. I am monitoring the tweets of the Obama Team, Democrats and the blue team using @SpencerianBlue. Our email-based back-and-forths are posted here on Thursdays.