Saturday, October 04, 2008

Essence of freedom

When I read my cousin Ellen's email a few days ago and formulated my reasons for being wary of Sarah Palin I realized that I had made a common mistake. I had fallen in with the herd and forgotten the actual meaning of freedom. I also realized that my dislike of Palin is more about what her beliefs say about her and her ability to reason intelligently than anything else.

I don't oppose teaching creationism in the schools as long as evolution is taught as well. That may shock some people, but it shouldn't, especially if you know me. It goes to the heart of what freedom really means. How can anyone judge the arguments if one of the major points of the discussion is missing? How can anyone judge the validity of creationism versus evolution without seeing them side by side with all the facts and figures, theories and conjecture? You can't. No one can.

What I find so frightening about Sarah Palin is that she seems like an intelligent woman, except when you get to the subject of her religion and religious beliefs. I have no problem with people believing whatever they want and worshiping or not worshiping whatever gods they choose. I do have a problem when religion overrides common sense and empirical scientific data. Thinking like Sarah Palin's is what made Leonardo da Vinci hide his work and research and made Galileo recant his statements about the earth being round and not flat. Thinking like Sarah Palin's, and anyone who allows religion to dictate science, is what has killed more people and caused more deaths than anything else, including greed and rampant testosterone poisoning.

Freedom is about being able to say what you think and believe what you will without having to hide for fear of censure or death, and that holds true for every American, except those who choose public office. Elected officials represent the entire population of their constituency and not just those who agree with them. Elected officials should be and must be blind and deaf to anything but the welfare and protection of all the people they govern. Nowhere is this more important than in the offices of President and Vice-President. As a private citizen you may believe what you wish and speak your mind without fear of censure or punishment. Publicly, you are neutral, the voice of all the people, and especially the voice of those whose beliefs are in opposition or different than yours. This is the essence of what Jefferson meant when he wrote about the separation of church and state.

It's not about whether or not to allow prayer in schools or religious mottos on public buildings as long as it does not exclude any American. The people who built this country believed in Judeo-Christian religions. That is no longer true. While our forefathers and the people who were present at the birth of these United States believed in one god we live in a country where people believe in many gods and no god among those who still hold to Judeo-Christian beliefs.

President Bush has made a lot of mistakes, but he has also done a lot of good. His biggest mistake was making decisions based on his religious beliefs, beliefs that exclude nearly half of the population. This cannot be allowed to continue.

When any elected official bases his decisions on his personal beliefs and needs he damages the whole country and breaks faith with the people who ignored their own beliefs to vote him into office. A politician needs to be a wo/man of the people first and an individual last. The President and Vice-President speak for the entire country and not just those who believe the same way and to do anything else is self-serving and will bring this country down because only tyrants and dictators consider their own beliefs and needs before the people's.

It is difficult not to consider one's own feelings in a position of power when it seems as though the people have put their faith in you, the person. That is what makes politicians rip at each other's personal beliefs and drag each other through the mud. That's not what elections were meant to be. Yes, it's about popularity in a sense, but it should be about a person's ability to put their own needs and concerns to the side and do what is best for all concerned. What elections have devolved into is a continuous round of "Don't do as I do; do as I say." We are supposed to ignore the man behind the curtain pulling the strings and be awed by the spectacle in front of us.

It is the rare politician who puts his beliefs on hold and acts in the best interests of the people who elected him -- and those who didn't elect him. That's the problem. Politicians forget the very basic tenets of freedom, to govern in a way that protects all the people, most especially those who were in opposition, and yet that is what elected officials are supposed to do.

We have seen too much personal animosity and exclusion based on personal beliefs in the politicians who are currently in office and among those who wish to be elected. That has to change. I don't mean saying the words without understanding the meaning or promising change without a definite plan of what and how to change, but change at the very roots of how things are run. It's time to remember (if you ever knew) what freedom is all about and what it really means. Freedom is easy to say but a hard concept to put into action because we are human and we think of ourselves first. It's called the survival instinct. Freedom is a hard mark to hit, especially when you don't know what it really is.

When I interviewed Benson Wolman many years ago, he taught me the true meaning of freedom. Benson Wolman was a Jew and a lawyer who faced the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the rights of the members of the Ku Klux Klan to raise a cross on the Ohio Statehouse lawn. When I asked him how a Jew could defend people who would eradicate him and his people from the face of the earth if they could he told me that his rabbi taught him the true meaning of freedom. Freedom means not only speaking and writing and believing as you choose but defending the freedom of people who chose to believe something else even if that something else was dangerous to your very existence. Benson Wolman was the very essence of freedom and freedom few understand and even fewer practice, as we have seen from the current candidates for President.

As much as it angers us to hear Rev. Wright damn America and spew filth from the pulpit, it is his right to do so. It is Michelle Obama's right to be ashamed to be an American and to be a bigoted racist who sees white people as the enemy. It is Barack Obama's right to go to Rev. Wright's church and sit in a pew and nod his head when Rev. Wright vent his spleen and damn America and all white Americans without apology or explanation. It is not, however, Obama's right to censure and demand and get punishment for people who oppose him as he has done in several states throughout the country. If someone chooses to wear a button or hat or sash or shirt or put a sign in their yard that makes fun of Obama or publicly states they are against him being elected president, Barack Obama has no right to complain or to deny them their right to speak. It may hurt him personally and offend him, but as a candidate for the highest office in the land he must be blind. The same goes for Sarah Palin and John McCain.

I don't care what they do in their private lives as long as it does not hurt or impact the rest of the country. A healthy America is an America where people can voice their opposition, complaints and personal beliefs without fear or censure or punishment. A healthy America is one where the President and Vice-President act for the good of all Americans and not those who voted for them and believe as they do. A healthy America is one where elected officials work for the common good and not to line their own pockets or get rich from the hard work and sacrifice of the rest of the country. A healthy America is one where elected officials at all levels are blind and deaf, instruments of the people who speak for us all.

This is not a perfect world, but we are far from where we should be over 200 years from our beginnings. How can we bring freedom and the rights of all people to the rest of the world if we cannot get it right in our own back yard?

Vote as your conscience dictates but take a closer look at the man behind the curtain pulling the levers and strings to manipulate the spectacle in front of your eyes. Can we really afford another President who cannot understand the basic tenets of freedom for everyone, even for those who oppose him? Can we expect such a person to stand for us all when he can't even face the dissenting public during a campaign? I know we can't.

The candidates look on running for office like it's a popularity contest. It is and it isn't. It's more than that. It's about proving to the people -- all the people -- that you have their best interests at heart and will put aside personal agendas and animosities to do what's best for every single solitary American without regard for personal beliefs. It's about the greater good. It's about putting the people and this country first. If a candidate cannot put aside his or her ego and put the country first, then s/he has no business running for office.

The way I see it, that leaves only one choice, the candidate with a proven track record of putting the needs of the many before the needs of the one or the needs of one group first.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Obama mania

I usually don't discuss politics here, but the more I read and hear the more I realize that maybe it's time I did say something. Avoid if you're not interested or you don't want to be exposed to free speech.

I have serious doubts about a candidate that can't keep his statements straight or understand the meaning of the words his wife and he are using. There has been a lot of talk about where Obama got the money to run for congress, pay off his college debts, buy a $1.6M house and run for president. According to his wife, Michelle, he used to wear ratty sweaters and was the very essence of the down-at-the-heels college professor still paying off his and his wife's college loans. His first book, Dreams of my Father, was published in 1995 but it wasn't until after his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that an editor from Crown Publishing decided to buy the rights and publish the book in paperback, except Crown already owned the rights, which says that until Obama was recognized on the national political stage his book wasn't important enough to be noticed for nearly ten years. Celebrity has its privileges and those privileges netted Obama a publishing contract with a three book deal and a $1.9M advance. I won't go into the publishing nuances and workings to explain that an advance isn't paid all at once and that Obama's agent got at least 15% off the top or that the advance wasn't paid all at once, but I will point out that Michelle and Obama have both stated that the royalties from the publication of his book paid off their college loans and bought their house and that an advance is not the same as royalties, or that you don't start collecting royalties until the advance is paid off or that none of this happened until well after 2005.

Does it sound like I'm splitting hairs? Need I remind you of the lawyer who once told the American people, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."? Talk about splitting hairs.

Obama ran for Congress and after one year of service as a senator he was stumping for president. I have to wonder if this isn't a case of the which comes first, the chicken or the egg or, in Obama's case, wanting to serve his state as senator or use it as a springboard to running for President. He certainly has done very little work as senator and a lot of work running for president, including disassociating himself with long time friends, confidantes and spiritual leaders, nearly all of whom have publicly stated they knew they'd have to bow out of the picture in order not to hurt Obama's chances. I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like premeditated planning of the first order. It isn't as though most of the people who have run for president haven't put it on their schedule: get degree, run for Congress, pick up shirts at the dry cleaners, run for president. Most of them did. It's a calculated move not a movie where a law professor or temp agency worker gets picked up, dusted off and put in the Oval Office. That doesn't happen in real life -- or does it? But most of those who followed the accepted route to the White House at least serve out their first term or two before hitting the campaign trail or finish out their contracts before setting their sights on the next rung on the ladder.

Why is it that Americans lose their minds and follow blindly behind any candidate just because he's young -- or at least relatively young? Are we so enamored of youth we forget that with age and experience comes (hopefully) wisdom? And it isn't just youth that draws the voters (and the political heat) but being different, like being a woman or a black man. Are we so anxious for any kind of novelty that we jump on the bandwagon without checking to see whether it has a sturdy bottom or wheels or is actually going somewhere we want to go?

Clinton preyed on our watercolor memories of JFK and the Camelot years, that were more like Camelot after Mordred than before (think Cuban Missile Crisis, among other debacles), and mobilized the vast resources of the Hollywood glitterati to put him in office. He appealed to our desire for flash over substance and that's what we got -- a lot of flash, side-stepping, double talk and scandal, reminiscent of JFK's well known and documented appetites and indiscretions that were very indiscreet. Then came Hillary, although she didn't quite make the grade, and now Obama, a young bi-racial man who is a very charismatic speaker as long as he has a script or teleprompter in front of him.

Obama took the Democratic National Convention by summer shower with Hillary fighting and kicking the whole way, but was it his charisma, his youth or the fact that he is bi-racial that won the day? A combination of all three? Is he the flavor of the month because he's different or because he has the goods or just talks a good game? It's the big pink polka dot purple elephant in the middle of the room that no one wants to talk about. Are people voting for him because he's not white, because he's bi-racial, because he's black? Is it all about political correctness or about him being the best candidate for the job?

We're on the verge of electing a man to office to defend the Constitution (it's in the oath of office) who suspends the freedom of speech whenever it might make him look bad or someone dissents. He's a lawyer, a former law professor running for the highest office in the land and he has no more respect for the Constitution than that? Isn't he supposed to uphold the law, fight for the law, fight for the rights that govern this country and all public offices? Isn't he supposed to be able to take a few body blows from people who don't like him and don't agree with him? Or is he above the rights and freedoms that have made America and Americans unique for over 200 years?

Personally, I don't trust him. There are too many unanswered questions and too much double talk and hemming and hawing for my taste. Even if I could get over my doubts, I cannot get over the fact that this is a man who has publicly said that his supporters should get in the opposition's face and shout them down. This is a man who wants to jail and fine people who don't agree with him. This is a man who leaves his friends by the wayside whenever they conflict with his primary objective -- becoming President. I have no doubt that he will pick up his friends again if he becomes president and will flaunt them in the faces of everyone who believed him when he said he didn't know his pastor and spiritual advisor hated America and all white Americans or that his ties to felons and monied Muslims are none of our business or that he is willing to rush through a bailout of Wall Street without looking into the details of what that bailout will mean to the taxpayers who are counting on him to see to their needs just so he can get back on the campaign trail. Even in a court of law, doubts like these are enough to set a defendant free, but evidently they are not enough to slow down the Obama-mania.

Even Clinton, although his motives are far from pure, has all but publicly thrown his support to John McCain. He'd pretty much do anything to get back to the White House and the Secret Service that keep his revolving door revolving for his sexual liaisons and so he can stop listening to Hillary whine that she put him in the White House and now it's her turn. And then there's Joe Biden who would have gone with McCain if McCain had asked him first, like any good political whore.

The difference between a whore and a prostitute is that the prostitute asks for the money up front before screwing you.

If none of that gave me pause, what a friend told me when she met Obama on her front porch when he was in her neighborhood did. She said he had a limp and moist handshake like holding onto a dead, wet and slimy fish. Obama asked her how long she had lived in her house. She told me that was enough to convince her he wasn't the man for the job of President. He was more interested in making small talk for the cameras and reporters following him around than asking her what would have give him her vote. He didn't ask her how long she thought she could afford to live in her house under the present economy. Sound bytes instead of sound thinking.

Obama is great when you give him a script and, as one fellow journaler often says, a gaffe machine when he ad libs. It is unfortunate he can't script the four years of his presidency should he be elected and he certainly can't script that 3 a.m. call on the red phone, although that my not be an issue since the Muslims in Iran and all through the Arab world are so enamored of The Obama.

And let's not forget that Michelle Obama, the potential First Lady, is the same person who said that she was ashamed to be an American, the same person who got an education and preferential treatment because of the Civil Rights that so many people, black and white, fought for in a country where she can freely and publicly speak her mind even to be negative and ashamed, a country where she got a first class education, is the the beneficiary of her husband's advance and royalties and has held some very lucrative and powerful positions. As First Lady, she is ambassador to the world and a shining example of what it is to be an American, even if she is ashamed to be an American.

If the only reason you're voting for Obama is because of the hype, the youth, his charisma and the fact that he's bi-racial, it's time to step back and take another look. Or maybe you should just shake his hand while standing on your porch as he makes small talk for the press. After all, being personable and charismatic is so much more important than experience and ethics and standing behind the Constitution you've been elected to defend. It's all about change, not a change of politics or business as usual, just a change of face.

That is all. Disperse.