9.9.08 -- Every day I've been thinking a lot about the presidential election, and I want to do everything I can to think clearly, to be smart, and to communicate to others exactly what's important, what's at stake, and why it's important to do everything possible to ensure the election of Barack Obama as our next president -- first and foremost, to end eight years of Republican misrule, characterized by George W. Bush's lying and taking the country into an unnecessary, unprovoked, and mismanaged war in Iraq, which has not only failed to bring to justice the perpetrators of 9/11 (Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda) but has alienated our allies and emptied the substantial federal budget surplus into the pockets of the war machine (aka business partners of Dick Cheney). The domestic consequences have been terrible. As Obama said in his acceptance speech in Denver: Eight is enough!

Right now, the electorate is all wrapped up in tabloid-mentality fixation on Sarah Palin, John McCain's off-the-wall choice for running mate. It only takes two minutes of thinking to realize that someone who's been governor of Alaska (one of our least-populated states) for 18 months and before that major of a small town (pop. 7000) is completely unqualified to take over in case of the president's death or disability, which is the primary job of vice president. End of story.

The media is being tricked into focusing on Palin's colorful personality (she is the Spice Girl chosen to provide contrast to McCain, who's about as exciting to see and hear as a bowl of leftover mashed potatoes), and we're being lured by the media into an obsessive fixation on her. This is exactly what Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt, his protégé who is running McCain's campaign, want to happen, in order to distract the American public from considering what a weak candidate McCain really is. 

Let's keep our eyes on the prize. 

As Richard C. Hoffnung wrote in a letter to the editor of the Financial Times, "the Republicans' chances of winning depend not only on appealing to people who refuse to accept scientific reality, but on persuading the voters to believe in a whole series of other incredible propositions. These include not only the Orwellian role reversals of ‘elitist’ Barack Obama from Chicago's black ghetto and John McCain, the ‘man of the people’ who cannot remember how many properties he owns, but also the ideas that the US can continue to dominate the rest of the world through military power, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the US economy, that even more tax cuts for the rich and rape of the environment by large oil companies will solve the problems of the US's vanishing middle class, that the best way to heal its social and racial divisions is to hand out more guns and deport more immigrants, and that we can stand up for freedom by tapping more phones and building more Guantánamo prisons."
9.10.08 -- Ugly truth of the day #1: The presidency is about substance. Government is about substance. Unfortunately, presidential campaigns are NOT about substance – they’re about flash, frenzy, and feeding the 24-hour news cycle. 

Ugly truth of the day #2: There are lots of racist, sexist, mean, vindictive Americans out there, and they all have a constitutional right to vote.

As Dan Savage points out, Sarah Palin’s attitudes about sex education and women’s right to choose betray a clear sense of entitlement. “Sarah Palin is pleased that her daughter ‘made the decision’—on her own—to keep the baby. But Sarah Palin doesn't believe that other girls should be able to make their own decisions. Sarah Palin believes that abortion should be illegal in almost every instance—including rape and incest. So Bristol Palin is being celebrated for making a choice that Sarah Palin would like to take away from all other American women. Apparently, today's GOP believes that choice is a special right reserved for the wayward daughters of Republican-elected officials.”

9.13.08 -- When it dawned on me today what the McCain campaign is up to with its latest ad attacking Obama, I was so disgusted I wanted to throw up. The text of the ad cobbles together a bunch of mild comments about Sarah Palin attributed (some of them inaccurately) to Obama, presents them as if they were savage insults, and accuses Obama of being “disrespectful” to the Governor of Alaska. When you watch the ad, the quotes run next to pictures of Obama’s face. So Obama = good-looking. Obama = “what she was told.” Obama = “lying.” Obama = “disrespectful.” Accusing a black man of being disrespectful to a white woman…are we back in 1955, when a mob of Mississippi Ku Klux Klansmen lynched a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago named Emmett Till for disrespecting a white girl by whistling at her? 
This is what Deepak Chopra is talking about in an essay published online about the shadow material lurking underneath this presidential race. “Palin's pluck has been admired, and her forthrightness, but her real appeal goes deeper. She is the reverse of Barack Obama, in essence his shadow, deriding his idealism and exhorting people to obey their worst impulses. In psychological terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face: anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of "the other." For millions of Americans, Obama triggers those feelings, but they don't want to express them. He is calling for us to reach for our higher selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind.” Chopra is touching on something that I’m feeling, which is that the subtext of the McCain-Palin campaign is encouraging Americans to vote their prejudices. As in, would you want your daughter to have a black man as her commander-in-chief? But presented in such a way that it’s absolutely deniable, with mock-outrage that anyone would construe the campaign in such a way. Ugh ugh ugh. 

9.18.08 -- Stephen Phillips, an astute reader, wrote in a letter to the NY Times Magazine: “Before declaring George Bush’s administration a failure, consider that he has packed the Supreme Court with right-wingers; rewarded his fat-cat backers with massive tax cuts and seen their wealth grow like Midas’s; brought about the return of Big Oil to Iraq — a dream of Vice President Dick Cheney’s, if not his own; relaxed untold environmental and pro-worker regulations on behalf of business; and created an unprecedented boon for big business by contracting out everything from the Iraq war to the rebuilding after Katrina. In short, Bush has accomplished absolutely everything his supporters wished. It is this degree of ‘failure’ that scares me about the slimmest chance of another Republican win this November.”

The cover story about John McCain in the latest issue of The Atlantic “Why War Is His Answer” – gave me a lot of insight about the legacy of McCain’s military service and his years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, which is to prize honor above everything else – it’s a masculine thing, it’s a warrior thing, this fixation on honor. Honor is one of those words that we’re all supposed to bow down to as some kind of ultimate moral authority. But whose honor? Many horrible things are done in the world in the name of defending honor (such as the killing of Muslim women by their male relatives for the sin of premarital or extra-marital sex). I can understand the desire of the servicemen who have done their duty to see the war end and for the U.S. to “withdraw with honor” from Iraq, so that their sacrifices will have seemed worth it. But military personnel are not the only Americans with honor. What about all the Americans, civilians and military both, who have been dishonored by a president and an administration that lied to us to launch an unnecessary, unprovoked, mismanaged war? Is our honor served by prolonging and perpetuating this war? As McCain himself says in the Atlantic article, “I don’t know of any enemy we face, or possible adversary, where there’s a clear-cut victory,” and that there is no way of knowing when the war against terrorism is over. How, then, can he ask the American people to sacrifice its resources and its soldiers’ lives in pursuit of this elusive sense of honor?

9.28.08 -- This has been one of the craziest weeks ever in recent American history, right up there with Nixon resigning, the Clinton impeachment hearings, and the aftermath of 9/11: major banks going belly-up, the president going on prime-time television to say “Trust me, give Henry Paulson $700 billion but don’t ask what he’s done with it,” John McCain running around like a chicken with his head cut off…cancel the debate! Suspend the campaign! Let me go to Washington and fix this economic crisis! Never mind, back to the campaign! Debate is on! Oy. Does he need more medication, or less?

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the first presidential debate Friday night. I knew the posturing and blah-blah-blah would wear me down. I much preferred reading, watching, and hearing about it after the fact. I know that many liberal-minded commentators, including Maureen Dowd and Nora Ephron, are impatient for Obama to show some fire, to really let McCain have it. And I totally understand the desire for political representatives to voice the anger and outrage that we feel about the disaster that Bush and political allies like McCain have dragged the country into – for a long time, I resented Hillary Clinton for not being more aggressive as my senator in opposing Bush in Washington. I’ve been fascinated, though, by Obama’s style, which I don’t find cold and removed at all. To me he seems entirely engaged in a thoughtful, clear-eyed manner that bespeaks leadership to me. He pointed out in no uncertain terms where he was right about Iraq and McCain was wrong. Meanwhile, McCain’s repeated attacks on Obama just made him look petulant and rabid. And maybe because I’m a Buddhist, I appreciated Obama’s acknowledging when he agreed with McCain – to me it modeled bipartisan negotiation, a refusal to demonize the opposition, and a refreshing alternative to knee-jerk adversarial banter.

Ugly truth of the week: Wall Street is a lot like Wasilla, Alaska – a little tiny town where everybody knows everybody, and the thinking is: when it comes to cleaning up a mess, you have to rely on the people who created the mess because who else is there?

10.8.08 -- What makes me really crazy about the financial crisis is that the Republicans have brain-washed the American public into thinking they’re the fiscally savvy party, the people for whom you vote your pocketbook. And they never miss an opportunity to whale away at the Democrats at the party of tax-and-spend, tax-and-spend. One more bitter Orwellian joke! It was Bill Clinton who balanced the federal budget and left office with a surplus of $700 billion. Bush not only spent that away but racked up a $500 billion deficit. Where’d that money go? A lot of it went into the war machine, aka the business partners of Dick Cheney. And now this Wall Street bailout looks like another opportunity for the richest of the rich to feed from the public trough before Bush leaves office. It’s an accelerated version of something the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell wrote early in the Bush Administration: “In the past two years, the White House has been awfully nice to certain people, particularly those in the top two tax brackets. This Administration's idea of economic policy is to go from table to table at the Four Seasons discreetly asking patrons if they need help with the check.”

I’m glad that commentators seem to think Barack Obama showed up John McCain at the second presidential debate, but I found it to be an excruciating exchange of politician-speak on both sides. Obama was no better at answering the earnest questions from the audience directly than McCain was, but McCain definitely lost points with most viewers by referring to Obama as “that one.” I finally had to stop watching, because I couldn’t stand listening to McCain’s phony grampa voice, which reminded me of Ronald Reagan. And I couldn’t stand watching him. Is it because I’m a massage therapist that his physical posture looks so uncomfortable? Those locked shoulders, the legacy of his years being tortured in a Vietnamese prison: this is a man who looks like he’s in chronic physical pain, how can he possibly make a clear decision? Plus, I’ve gotten spoiled – I think we’ve all been a little spoiled – by the blunt out-front commentary of the stand-up pundits like Steve Colbert and Bill Maher. If Jon Stewart can say it, why can’t Barack Obama say, “Senator McCain, you’re a lying sack o’ shit”?
10.26.08 -- Eight days and counting. Can’t wait. We could all vote tomorrow. Except for “the undecided.” You probably read this already, but David Sedaris in last week’s New Yorker has the last word about these supposedly undecided voters in the 2008 election: “To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. ‘Can I interest you in the chicken?’ she asks. ‘Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?’ To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked. I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?” 
10.30.08 -- Maureen Dowd lit into Sarah Palin’s shopping spree by stepping back to put a few more salient facts and figures in the picture: “The Republicans’ attempt to make the case that Barack Obama is hoity-toity and they’re hoi polloi has fallen under the sheer weight of the stunning numbers: The McCains own 13 cars, eight homes and access to a corporate jet, and Cindy had her Marie Antoinette moment at the convention. Vanity Fair calculated that her outfit cost $300,000, with three-carat diamond earrings worth $280,000, an Oscar de la Renta dress valued at $3,000, a Chanel white ceramic watch clocking in at $4,500 and a four-strand pearl necklace worth between $11,000 and $25,000. While presenting herself as an I’m-just-like- you hockey mom frugal enough to put the Alaska state plane up for sale on eBay, Palin made her big speech at the convention wearing a $2,500 cream silk Valentino jacket that the McCain staff had gotten her at Saks.”

The editors of the New Yorker provide a long, heartfelt endorsement of Barack Obama. It’s the single best survey of the presidential campaign, the differences between the parties, and why Obama is the better choice that I’ve encountered. It concludes: “The election of Obama—a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of twenty-first-century America—would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the Presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting-rights acts of the nineteen-sixties and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.”

-- Don Shewey, novice political blogger