Thursday, January 10, 2008

Two Things That Struck Us Today

Well, there were a lot more than just two, and it's only mid-day. But these two seemed especially worth mentioning. Al Gore, the man who should be president, continues to haunt the fevered imaginations of the right wing so much that the National Review devotes an entire blog to him. They call it Planet Gore. Meanwhile, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times of London asks the burning question: How Italian is your man?

7 Comments:

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Say what you will—--deride him, dismiss him, mock him—--but you’ll not change my mind about Barack Obama. Some Americans have become so cynical, and so used to letting wind-bag pundits think for them, that they have obliterated their capacity to see that an actual leader might be standing before them. Does Obama lack experience? Is his voting record suspect or without conviction? In the grand scheme of things, these are such silly questions, particularly given that such details have little bearing on presidential election outcomes. Besides, what experience—-other than the job itelf—-could possibly prepare you for the Presidency? Let's face it--more and more, and for better or worse, it's become a "learn on the job" endeavor, in part because Americans have shown time and again, and particularly with the current race, they really don’t care about experience. If experience mattered, Joe Biden or Chris Dodd should be the front runners; of course, both are now primary footnotes. The downside of course is that a George Bush (and someday an Arnold) can get elected President. Many voters claim to be guided by issues—-and certainly many are—-but you better believe that the forces and stimuli that inform a vote for one candidate or another are not much different from those that inform the choice of one movie over another, or the vote for one American Idol contestant over another. The way a candidate looks, dresses, talks, the way he comports over time, the sound of the voice, the expressions, the smiles, the laughs, the sincerity (feigned or otherwise)—-those attributes influence our decisions, in part because less and less we're presented with candidates we can connect to in way that allows us to say, "I believe in this individual." Like many Americans, I “met” Barack for the first time in July 2004, when he addressed the Democratic convention in Boston. Not surprisingly, several of the windbag pundits were only mildly complimentary of the performance; some were unmoved. My reaction was, “I just watched the next Democratic President of the United States.” (Yeah, we wanted Kerry to beat Bush, but I think we all intuitively concluded what long shot that was.) I knew nothing about Obama. But what captivated me was his charisma and his authenticity. He was a natural. And it was crystal clear that he was smart, confident, optimistic and certainly at ease addressing—-and inspiring—-the masses. Good Lord, what a far cry that performance was from what we had grown used to from the incumbent nincompoop. We now know that Barack is all of the things that he conveyed at the convention. Smart, eloquent, optimistic, in his element in the political arena. In many ways, he reminds me of Bill Bradley, the incredibly smart (and truly experienced) New Jersey senator who sought the presidency in 2000. I think Americans simply weren’t ready for someone as smart and honest as Bradley. And perhaps he didn’t have the right looks or demeanor. But he certainly possessed most everything you’d want in a true leader. Can Barack offer the same? Well, the election is as much a crap shoot as it is an exercise of democracy. At this juncture, I think what we need most this time around is someone we can believe in. Clinton had his believers, and surprise surprise, he spat in their faces. So far, there are no indications in Barack’s past or present behavior that suggest he’d do the same. So, call me naïve or romantic, but I’m taking my chances on Barack, because he is someone I believe in. I’ve not had that feeling for any politician for a long time.

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, an awful lot here to digest, so I'll mull it all over some more before I respond. You've stated your case nicely, that's for sure. And I sure agree that the incumbent is a nincompoop. The rest of it, though, I don't know about. You used the right word, his "performance." That's unfortunately how millions of people judge these candidates, as if they were all actors and we were theatre critics. I'm afraid the presidency demands so much more, though in the TV age, it's a given that any effective leader must be able to crisply articulate his messages before the cameras. But that should only be the beginning of the long list of qualifications. It doesn't do much by itself. And I've seen nothing from Obama yet to convince me that he's more than a half-empty suit with lots of ambition. I'm not sure he's all that much better qualified to lead the country than I am. Now there's a scary thought. Anyway, I'm sure I'll have some other observations soon.

 
At 9:31 AM, Anonymous MilesB said...

OK John. Come clean. How Italian are you???

 
At 12:49 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Miles, you always make me smile, in addition to making me think. I'm pretty Italian in many ways, as I think you know (we've chatted more than a little about being sons of immigrants, and of course the person who told us recently that we looked alike made us realize how small a pond the Adriatic really is). I suppose after visiting my dad's ancestral village in Abruzzi twice, I'm Italian in my soul and in things like devotion to craft and appreciation for beauty (in words, architecture, women and just about everything else), while fully American in much of my outlook. That makes for a yeasty, ever-fermenting mix--that's for sure.

 
At 12:57 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Okay, dear anonymous, who kicked off this discussion, one more thought about your wonderful riff. I agree that much of America has grown too cynical about politics and much else, but remember that much of that is because we've been so grieviously wounded as a country by the horrible, even criminal, decisions of some of our leaders, prominently including our current president. So to my way of thinking, that makes it even more incumbent on us to use our head at least as much as our heart in choosing our next leader.

There's a famous saying about American politics that comes to mind in this context: we campaign in poetry but govern in prose. I think that's worth remembering. Why it's all well and good to focus on any candidate's ability to summon soaring rhetoric, I think it's far more important to select someone who will demonstrate solid judgment, flexibility, etc. while in office. And what's the best way of judging that? Easy, by studying that person's record, following the perfectly sound universal principle that the best predictor of someone's future actions are his or her past actions. Lenders know that, and can provide statistical data to support it. Voters ought to do more of the same, I think.

 
At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make a fair, but ultimately empty point. Certainly I'm not basing my interest and belief in Obama on his oratory skills. As for "studying" a person's record, sure, that's important, so long as you do so at arm's length. Most candidates aren't as good or bad as they're made out to be in profiles. Moreover, past or present behavior does not always reveal future behavior, particularly with regard to the presidency. Again, sometimes individuals mature quickly, sometimes they flame out, abuse their power, or both. And any study of the presidency is in part, a study of those entrusted by the president to aid the mission. Is it any surprise with Cheney and Rumsfeld and other like minded hawks in the fold that we're now at war? We could go back and forth on this, obviously. Do I think Obama is our savior? Hardly. I think he has potential. I think he can get people mobilized to tackle the myriad messes he'll inherit. Let's agree that to be a presidential candidate at all, you have to be part narcisist, part salesman, part entertainer, not to mention type A, a taskmaster, a bit brutal, willing to sacrifice your own, and cunning about when to sell out and to whom. You have to be a politician. Wonderful if it were otherwise. but it ain't. So we have to look beyond the politician and all that it means to be one. With Obama, I believe there's something worthwile beyond the aforementioned. Of course, it's early, and I could easily be proven wrong...

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That's all brilliantly well said. You've outlined it wonderfully, and thus moved us much closer to agreement. I think your point about how he has the potential to get people motivated to tackle the messes he'll be inheriting is the most persuasive of all. Thanks for engaging me on this. It's helped change my mind ever so slightly, which is always good. And yes, you do have to be just a little off to go through this endless campaign process to begin with. But it does have the salutary effect of separating the serious from the lazy and unserious (like Fred Thompson).

 

Post a Comment

<< Home