Friday, June 20, 2008

Collective Grief

Many commentators have written about the large outpouring of emotion surrounding the recent sudden death of Tim Russert. Some have wondered about the scope of those expressions of grief.
While all of us, political cognoscenti, were personally touched by Russert's unfortunate early demise, I believe there was another force behind the emotion. More than a year ago I posted a poem on my poetry blog: on the subject of what I call

Collective Grief

Small slights
Each imperceptible
Occur day by day

Events of our lives
At home, at work
And in the world
At large

Things that
Upset but not
So much as to
Rise to the level
Of conscious reaction

I call them the small
Grief or the little grief

We accumulate them
Over time in some
Reservoir of emotion
About which we
Have no awareness

Then, one day a big
Event occurs and a flood
Flows from that
Reservoir out of
Proportion to the event

When the event is public
As with the death of
A revered icon
The flood includes
Not only our accumulated
Grief but also
That collective grief we
All share which has
Accumulated silently
Beside our own.

So, on several occasions, Tim Russert's death and the memorial remarks associated with his passing brought me to tears. They were an expression of grief for him, but perhaps more an expression of my own portion of the collective grief and my own mortality as well.

The Rule of Law

Perhaps I am burdened by being a lawyer and a believer in the constitution and the now "quaint" notion that we are a nation and a people bound by and committed to the rule of law. Perhaps it is difficult for me to come to grips with the this contemporary notion that the rule of law is situational and applies only when it serves our purposes.

Most of the mouth breathing citizens of this republic don't have the vaguest idea of the issues at stake in the telecom immunity bill which passed the US Senate yesterday. The Congress has done the bidding of the Bush White House, or rather the Bush White House has finessed the Congress in an action that goes to the very heart of why the administration is the most duplicitous and mendacious in our history.

So, some background: the telecom bill, FISA Amendments Act of 2007, provides to the administration and all involved, including domestic telecom carriers, immunity from prosecution for spying upon and eavesdropping upon the communications of US citizens. The eavesdropping was done without warrants. They were absolutely clear violations of the law and the constitution. The administration knew they were illegal. The administration knew that their actions could subject themselves to criminal prosecution and subject the telecom carriers to prosecution as well.
So, what did the administration do? They cunningly included the Democratic leadership in the house and the Senate in their plans. In the hysteria the prevailed post 9/11 the Democratic leadership bought off on the warrant less eavesdropping. To oppose those moves, either privately or publicly would have made them unpatriotic in the blustering eyes of the administration. So, they had no balls (or ovaries as the case may be) and supported the administrations private indiscretions and rape of the constitution.

Now, when the heat is on and the issue sees the clear light of day, the Senate (the House is voting today so lean on your Congressman/woman) supports the White House and passes this immunity bill. It seems counterintuitive that the Democrats would do that, but not when you understand that they were protecting not only the telecom carries and the White House; they were protecting themselves and their own as well.

As an analogy for the more dense among you, this is like the person who robs a bank, gets caught, and then has the law changed so that bank robbing is no longer a crime. Oh, you say, this is different. Think again please about the foundation of this nation and the sanctity of the rule of law.

Senator Dodd proposed an amendment that would have removed the immunity. It failed to pass with a filibuster proof vote of 67 Nay and 31 Yea with the ever tough Hillary Clinton not voting. Obama voted Yea. For the list of Senate voters so you will know who to never support again, see:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tim Russert

It was such a shock to learn on this past Friday afternoon that Tim Russert had died suddenly of a heart attack. How will we navigate this Presidential election year without Russert? So many times my pals and I will compare notes Sunday and say, "Did you see Russert? Did you see Richardson implode on Russert?" Regardless of the guest, Russert was asking the tough questions that needed to be asked. He was asking the questions that we wanted to ask. In a way, he seemed to speak for all of us, right, left or center. His passing leaves a big hole.

More than the probing interrogator who prodded our democratic process, Russert allowed us to know that he had a big heart. His book about his Dad, "Big Russ" was a wonderful testiment to the power of our fathers to shape our lives and create the foundation of values that carry us into the world. Not all of us have had the good fortune to be the children of a solid and loving father. And, few can speak easily and with genuine emotion about the power of the love between parent and child.

This morning Russert's son, Luke, appeared for the first time to talk about his father. It is evocative and testament to the notion that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

R.F.K. R.I.P.

Has it really been forty years since the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy? Can it be? It seems like just yesterday.

I have so many feelings as I reflect upon both his death and those forty years. I think about his impact, both upon me and upon the country. I also think about the sweep of history and the range of those forty years.

Those forty years have happened in a moment. In historical time, forty years covers a significant span. It reaches from the Great Depression to the Man on the Moon. It reaches from Gettysburg to the Model T. And, now, it reaches from Bobby to Barack.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I met Bobby Kennedy. It was in May of 1968, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I was attending graduate school at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. I would receive a Master’s Degree in American Studies from that school. It was a fairly god forsaken place, at 7200 feet elevation on a windswept high mountain plain. I drove with my great friend Eugene Brown, now a city councilman in Durham, North Carolina, from Laramie to Cheyenne.

We attended a big rally at which Kennedy gave a tremendous speech. The rally preceded a whistle stop tour across Nebraska which was about to hold its primary. I was a Kennedy supporter. Many of the “elites” on campus were supporters of “Clean Gene” McCarthy. McCarthy had come out early against the War in Vietnam and against President Johnson and had played a large role in driving Johnson from pursuit of reelection with his strong showing earlier in New Hampshire.

After the large rally we wrangled our way into a smaller, intimate gathering and a short receiving line formed through which Bobby Kennedy passed. I remember it like it was yesterday. He seemed small and tired. I remember more than anything his eyes. He shook my hand and looked directly into my eyes. For that small moment he was only concentrating on me. We made small talk. I only remember one fragment of the conversation. He asked, “Are you working on the Nebraska primary?” He spoke for a few minutes to the crowd and was gone. It was a powerful experience and we drove back to Laramie completely energized.

It was three weeks later that we watched television late at night excited to see the positive results from the California primary. As Bobby and Ethel Kennedy turned to walk off the stage at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, I turned off the television.

The victory was sweet, but so short lived.

I was asleep when thirty minutes later Eugene Brown awakened me with a loud knock on my front door. “Kennedy has been shot.” I couldn’t believe it. We stayed up all night watching television. We were sick.

For so many of us, Bobby Kennedy embodied and represented such hope and promise. He opposed the War in Vietnam. He cared about poor people and those who were hungry and oppressed. He cared deeply about racial equality. His honest and steady voice was one of the few encouraging elements during the painful moments surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King.

At his funeral in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his brother Ted eulogized Bobby,

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Mr. President:

On behalf of Mrs. Kennedy, her children, the parents and sisters of Robert Kennedy, I want to express what we feel to those who mourn with us today in this Cathedral and around the world.

We loved him as a brother, and as a father, and as a son. From his parents, and from his older brothers and sisters -- Joe and Kathleen and Jack -- he received an inspiration which he passed on to all of us. He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side.

Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust, or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and he lived it intensely.

A few years back, Robert Kennedy wrote some words about his own father which expresses [sic] the way we in his family felt about him. He said of what his father meant to him, and I quote: "What it really all adds up to is love -- not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it." And he continued, "Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off."

That is what Robert Kennedy was given. What he leaves to us is what he said, what he did, and what he stood for. A speech he made to the young people of South Africa on their Day of Affirmation in 1966 sums it up the best, and I would like to read it now:

"There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember -- even if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek -- as we do -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again. The answer is to rely on youth -- not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.

It is a revolutionary world we live in, and this generation at home and around the world has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived. Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who [pro]claimed that "all men are created equal."

These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. *It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.* Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.

For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.

*The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.* Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live."

That is the way he lived. That is what he leaves us.

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering, and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

"Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not."

As stirring as those words are, and they move me to tears to this day, nothing in the political realm is more emotional for me than watching the films of the funeral train which carried Bobby Kennedy from New York City to Washington, DC. It is said that as many as 1 million people stood beside the tracks as the train made its way south.

They stood in silent vigil, paying their respects to a man who, however late he came to it, wanted for all Americans a country that cared about them, treated them with honor and compassion, and spoke from his heart. I stand by those tracks and raise my hand in salute.

Presumptive Nominee

What a long way it has been. What a long ways yet to go. It has been miraculous and so heartening to see Barack Obama become the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.
Last night's speech in Minneapolis hit all the right notes. And, to see the Obama speech in juxtaposition to the McCain speech from New Orleans was striking. This upcoming race for the Presidency will be a daily delight. Hillary will parse for a few days, hoping to leverage her losing position however she can. Bill has been sent back to the dog house, hopefully never to return.

So, I am very excited and thrilled about the outcome. But, I must say it is bitter sweet. That is, for me, a function of the stark fact that today, June 4, 2008, is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. More about that in my next post.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bush is a Nut Case

Getting lost in the media furor over McClellan's memoir is the new autobiography of retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the onetime commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, who is scathing in his assessment that the Bush administration "led America into a strategic blunder of historic proportions."

Among the anecdotes in "Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story" is an arresting portrait of Bush after four contractors were killed in Fallujah in 2004, triggering a fierce U.S. response that was reportedly egged on by the president.

During a videoconference with his national security team and generals, Sanchez writes, Bush launched into what he described as a "confused" pep talk:

"Kick ass!" he quotes the president as saying. "If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal."

"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"

A White House spokesman had no comment.

Thanks to TalkingPointsMemo for this piece.


I am an elitist. I think I have always been an elitist. Moreover, I am proud to be an elitist. It is only in the recent politically correct morass that the term elitist has become a pejorative. Historically elitism has been the core driver of this great American democratic experiment. Elitism is what makes America the great, productive leader is has been. Elitism is what brings the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” to our shores. Elitism is the driving engine of our greatness. I am an elitist and I celebrate that fact.

From its beginnings, this country has, in most regards, been a meritocracy. A meritocracy is, by definition, driven by its elite best. To be elite it to be superior. An elite student gets A grades, and is admitted to a top college where he or she excels and gains admission to an elite graduate school. Ultimately, the high achiever enters the work force and becomes a member of an elite profession or becomes among the elite in their chosen profession. The elite in the United States are not calcified body. We have a porous elite, open to new entrants based upon merit and the pursuit of excellence.

Elitist got us to the moon and cured polio. Elitists invented the silicon wafer and wrote software code. Elitists crafted the great American novel and wrote songs that make our hearts soar. Elitists nurture our souls. Elitists drive this American dream.

In this recent political campaign, both the Hillary Clinton camp and the right wingnut talk radio nabobs of negativism use the charge “elite,” to mischaracterize Obama, in particular after his reference to the attitudes of small town America bypassed by progress and prosperity. He happened, by the way, to be speaking the truth. Curiously, both Clinton and Obama are members of the American elite as a consequence of brain power, ambition and education. Our meritocracy served them well. Less so, McCain, who has largely been a screw up and got his start from the lucky sperm club, what with a father and grandfather who were Admirals. Not much of a stretch for him to get into Annapolis! His type of elitist does require a pejorative meaning in my book.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sleek Headed Men

I have been watching Meet the Press this morning and listening to Harold Ickes opinine on the strategy that delivers the nomination for Hillary Clinton. It is ridiculous. It is based upon the notion of electability and his tortured alleged fact that Clinton has more popular votes. He claims that the last time the nominee had fewer popular votes was in 1972, a sour reference to the ill-fated McGovern campaign.

Ickes is prickly and the classic tough fixer, his long term role for Billary. In watching him I am reminded of the lines from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, "Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. Sleek headed men such as sleep 'o nights. Such men are dangerous." Ickes slicks back his thinning hair. It goes well with his thin lips. I have always distrusted anyone with thin lips. Seriously, it is an old bias of mine. Look in the mirror. If you have thin lips, you are no friend of mine.