Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama, My Candidate

Barack Obama is just eight years older than me. He is of my generation - the generation that missed the sixties, the generation that grew up under the specter of the Cold War and Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He is my candidate, the first candidate with whom I could truly emphasize.

I loved his speech tonight, but two parts in particular jumped out at me. He built a strong case for the power of government - yes, the federal government itself. The big bad bureaucracy. Like me, Obama believes that government is not only necessary, but is in fact the proper mechanism to tackle society's problems. Like me, he believes that government at its best works on our behalf and in line with our best instincts.
What is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now.

He also recognizes that not everybody believes him. He spoke directly tonight to the people who have given up on politics, on government, and maybe they've even given up on him. And he pointed out how that apathy was far from benign - that ignoring politics would merely let the bastards keep doing what they've been doing. Obama as just another politicians, in an effort to get them to sit out the election. He called on the sideline-sitters and the cynics to stand up and get involved.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer, and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values.

And that's to be expected, because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

And you know what? It's worked before, because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping and settle for what you already know. I get it.

He does get it.

Tonight confirmed everything I was hoping about Obama. He's not just resting on his laurels and his 80,000-strong rockstar receptions. He's ready to fight for this election, ready to fight McCain toe to toe and call him out on every lie and deception. He can deliver the soaring rhetoric and take roundhouse swings at McCain at the same time.

More reassuring to me was hearing that Obama believes what I believe about government. I won't agree with him on every decision, but I'm relieved to hear that he has the same understanding that I do of the role of government. Our finest presidents - Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson - have used the power of the federal government to attack the deepest problems of society. Obama's not running from the legacy of the "New Deal" Democratic party - he's proud to be a member of that party. And I'm proud to be a part of his party.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hurricane Gustav - the Wrath of God?

Sestak on DailyKos:

For months, all you heard was that the only chance for a Republican victory in November would be through an act of God. Conservative Evangelicals prayed for it to rain on Barack Obama's parade. They prayed that it would rain in Denver, Colorado on Thursday night when Barack Obama accepts the nomination to be the candidate of the Democratic Party for President of these United States. God didn't just refuse their selfish and misguided pleas; He struck them with a vengeance for their insolence.

As we speak, the planners of the Republican National Convention are holding emergency talks right now. I'm not kidding. Ya see, there's an anger brewing south of here. A storm of rage called "Gustav" with his one eye set upon the Gulf of Mexico, looking past the offshore oil rigs and towards the Gulf states. Does God want property and lives to be destroyed? No. Is God sending a message to those who dared to misuse His name? Perhaps.

(And lest I be misunderstood, let me make this crystal clear. I don't want this hurricane to hit land anywhere. I do not, for the love of God, want another Katrina-esque situation in New Orleans or anywhere around the Gulf Coast. I'm just sharing one Kossack's perspective, that's all.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thank You, Hillary Clinton

Hillary knocked it out of the park tonight. She had a thankless task - bringing her supporters over to Obama's side without demeaning them or her own candidacy. She managed to pull it off beautifully, with some vicious shots at McCain in the process.

This was the best speech by Senator Clinton I've ever seen.

There will be lots of analysis of this tomorrow - matter of fact, some of it is already up on the web. The New York Times interviews one Hillary delegate who was asked whether she would support Obama.

Her response: “Absolutely–she just told us to, didn’t she?”

There were several liveblogs of her speech, but the funniest one was at Defective Yeti. Go read it. Tell him I sent ya.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"How Many Homes Do You Own?"

So have you heard the one where the reporter asks John McCain how many houses he owns? And McCain says he doesn't know how many houses he owns?

Seriously. This actually happened.

I'll let my good friend Barack Obama explain how it went down.
"...somebody asked John McCain, how many houses do you have? And he said, I’m not sure. I’ll have to check with my staff. True quote. I’m not sure. I’ll have to check with my staff. So they asked his staff, and he said, at least four. At least four. Now, think about that. I guess if you think that being rich means you’ve got to make $5 million and if you don’t know how many houses you have, then it’s not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong. But if you’re like me, and you’ve got one house, or you are like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so they don’t lose their home, you might have a different perspective. And by the way, the answer is John McCain has seven homes."

Here's the video of Obama's response.

Here's the audio of McCain actually saying it.

Obama is going to town on this quote, and on McCain's fundamental inability to understand the economy or average Americans. Check out this list of campaign events, all focusing on McCain's bonehead line.

I don't want to just call it a gaffe, because a gaffe implies he said something he didn't mean. John McCain is a wealthy man. He owns more homes than he can keep track of. This isn't a gaffe - it's an accidental admission of his wealth.

I'm hoping this becomes the quote of the year. The "I voted for it before I voted against it" of 2008. Of course, I'll also be happy if he says something stupider than this, but this will work for now.




Monday, August 18, 2008

The Vice President will be ...

So the NY Times is reporting that Obama has selected his vice-presidential pick, and he'll make the announcement soon.

Really soon.

Like, Wednesday.

So, being a pretend internet pundit, I have to get my pick in, so when Obama names my selection, I'll look all brilliant and prescient and insightful.

and so, let me punditize. Allow me to present to you the 2008 vice-presidential nominee for the Democratic party.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Brian Schweitzer.

And who dat, you may be asking yourself? Well, let me paste some stuff from Wikipedia tell you everything I know about him.

Brian Schweitzer is the Democratic governor of Montana, a state not exactly known for left-wing politics. Schweitzer served in the Clinton administration and, in 2004, ran for the Senate against incumbent Conrad Burns, and nearly beat him. (51-47.)

He ran for governor after Judy Martz (rhymes with ... um ... um ... Martz) stepped down. As kind of a shocker, he announced that he would be running with a Republican, John Bohlinger, as his lieutenant governor. (apparently, you run on a ticket in Montana.) See how nicely that fits Obama's message of a new kind of politics?

Montana's in the Rocky Mountain West, which is sizing up to be an important region in this election. Schweitzer is a Democrat that appeals to conservatives and independents. He's a non-traditional Democrat like Jon Tester or Jim Webb. Montana is only two states away from Colorado, so he'll get a hero's welcome in Denver.

As proof that I am not just pulling this out of my hat, here's the words of an actual pundit - Sean Q. from

The first time I heard Brian Schweitzer speak, I thought: "This guy is going to be President." That is not a common reaction on my part to politicians. I've listened to hundreds and hundreds of Democratic politicians speak, and I've only had that reaction twice in my lifetime. The first was Barack Obama, the second was Brian Schweitzer.

People have asked me what it was that made me feel so strongly in reaction, and the way I'd put it now is that Brian Schweitzer and Barack Obama are the two "new Democrat" styles that are extremely effective in the post-Clinton era. Both emphasize solutions over partisanship. Both are suspected by Republicans of talking a good game of bipartisanship and hewing to traditional Democratic Party ideology. Both are great communicators, but with different rhetorical strengths. Obama rose from an mainly urban and intellectual background; Schweitzer's breakthrough is probably the single best example of why the Democrats chose Denver as the convention site this year.
So will it happen? I dunno. Probably not. But he's my pick. Brian Schweitzer. Write it down.

More ACORN Fallout

“Does Drummond know the word is out? If not, shouldn’t someone tell him?”

I'm going to do something I have never done. I'm reposting an entire blog entry from someone who is not me. The author is one Drummond Pike. He maintained a blog on the Tides Foundation website - a blog that has since been scrubbed from the internet. (I copied the cached page from a Google search in order to recreate this blog post.) Keep reading to find out why Mr. Pike might have wanted to hide this particular entry.

Time to Step Aside
Author: Drummond Pike
Source: Notes from the Left Coast

Wade Rathke has done something some would never have predicted. Resigned as ACORN’s Chief Organizer. Who ever would have imagined?

I met Wade in 1972, as best I can recall. Marge Tabankin and I were running the Youth Project (she was my boss) and had developed a bit of a competition to find the most impressive new organizers “out there.” The YP, begun in the Center for Community Change’s basement, was an operation to leverage foundation $$ into community organizing that involved young people – an attempt to bring the national movements of the day down into the everyday lives of disenfranchised communities. I came up with Mike Miller from Organize, Inc. in SF – a skilled, talented follower of Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation approach: parish based, working class organizing. Alinsky had defined the field in many ways and his Rules for Radicals was found on the shelves of an entire college generation at the time. Margie’s choice was this kid named Wade Rathke.

Rathke was this ornery, young red head in Little Rock, Arkansas that was a couple of years into what would become ACORN as we know it today. He’d dropped out of Williams College to work with the anti-draft movement, but ended up working with George Wiley on the National Welfare Rights Organization. He built an edgy, confrontational group in Springfield, MA and learned on the job how to push for a better break for welfare mothers. His yearning to return to the south led him to convince Wiley to back his hair-brained scheme to build a new kind of organization that expanded the range – low AND moderate income folks, but stretched organizationally beyond one city into a statewide, and ultimately national, approach where there were more levers of power.

So, when I showed up in Little Rock on that hot, humid day in 1972, I found something I hadn’t expected. New thinking, new ambition, new methods. Later, on a whim, I invited Wade up to train some organizers in Montana at the Northern Plains Resource Council. What I saw then truly convinced me that this was a special person – able to find common ground between welfare moms in Springfield, aggrieved neighbors displaced by a freeway being built through their Little Rock neighborhood, and land-rich ranchers in eastern Montana fighting coal strip-mining. What they all faced was an imbalance of power, and they were swimming upstream. He imparted wisdom, practical advice on strategy and tactics, and an invitation to think of themselves in a larger context.

I was deeply impressed, and when I started up Tides several years later, he was my first call to recruit for the Board. Over the 32 ensuing years, he’s been a font of wisdom and advice on how to build an organization. I’ve felt often as though I were sitting at the foot of a master, and I think I was. He built ACORN on the premise that old models were meant to be challenged, and that’s something we at Tides have absorbed as well.

Later, when he started what became Local 100 of the SEIU, he pulled off a similar “defying gravity” move: he started a new union in a “right-to-work” state whose laws were extremely hostile to any effort to organize workers. Once again turning convention on its head, he figured out that workers consigned to minimum wage jobs had issues, an instinct to make their efforts collective, and a willingness to give the intense Rathke a chance to show them a new way. Now getting contracts signed with employers in right-to-work states is challenging in the extreme, but judging by the hostile monitoring they got during the Bush 1 years, they must have been doing something right.

I am convinced that the light of history will shine on Rathke quite brilliantly. In his 38 years at the helm of ACORN, he achieved what few have ever done working with poor people. He showed them that, through their own devices, and when collected in significant numbers and willing, on occasion, to be “impolite,” they can win real, tangible victories. If you have ever attended a national convention of ACORN, you will know what I mean. And if you ever need testimony, just talk to one of the leaders of ACORN like Maude Hurd and before her, Steve McDonald, or any of the others. 400,000 families are members, and it is hardly surprising to see progressive national candidates for public office come and address the throng. America will never be the same for the ACORN he helped build from scratch.

There is a paragraph in his blog about moving on that talks about the things that didn’t go well. I know about this from my own experience with Tides. You make decisions. You care. You do what you think is right. And, inevitably, some things you get wrong. How we are able to move forward directly depends on how we see the things that don’t go well and whether we learn from them. As Amory Lovins once famously invoked, “Systems without feedback loops are inherently stupid.” You can say the same about organizers and managers. The thing that many who meet Wade in other circumstances may miss is that he has always maintained the most important of feedback loops – those with the members and leaders. The respect he always shows, the deeply human connection between organizer and members he always honors, are incredible to behold.

I once traveled to Peru with Wade during the time leading up to the launching of ACORN Peru, I saw this same deep respect, combined with an understanding of the circumstances in which folks were organizing. I also saw him meet an equal, recognize and respect it, and establish a real understanding about the power of organizing in changing lives. This fellow, pictured on the right, ran an amazing organization that could produce thousands of people on the street on very short notice. I actually believe Wade was a bit jealous!

As Wade so eloquently says, he is moving on to work with “the weak” links in the ACORN network – the international ACORN’s and Local 100 which is recovering still from Katrina. He’s unlikely to call them “weak” in a year. Why? Because he’s our generation’s great organizer.

This post was written June 25, 2008, around the time that Wade Rathke resigned from ACORN. It was intended as a heroic tribute to someone who Pike clearly holds in great esteem. This post looks even more suspicious, given the news that broke today.

Weeks after Mr. Pike wrote this post, the New York Times broke the story that Wade Rathke's brother had imbezzled close to a million dollars from ACORN, and that Wade and a few ACORN insiders had hidden the crime from everyone - investors, supporters, and even several members of the board - for years. (A refresher here.)

In that article, the New York Times reported that the stolen money had been repaid by some anonymous donor - a remarkable gesture by someone who clearly was trying to protect ACORN from further damage.

Today, the Times reported that this donor was one Drummond Pike - the founder and chief executive of the Tides Foundation.


  1. Wade Rathke sat on the board of the Tides Foundation. Oh, until very recently. Questions, questions, questions.
  2. Pike has not confirmed that he paid the debt - although it has been confirmed by other sources - and it is still unclear whether he paid it with his own money or Tides money. His succinct response was, “As a rule, I do not comment on my personal finances.” If it turns out he did this with Tides money and not his own money, this is going to erupt into a full-blown disaster.
  3. The Tides Foundation gave grants to ACORN on numerous occasions. Pike was one of a handful of insiders - including Rathke - who knew about this scandal and did nothing until the Times broke the story. There is now reason to question not only Mr. Rathke's behavior and judgment, but also Mr. Pike's leadership re: his foundation.
  4. The Tides Foundation is one of the most important funder of social justice work. Tides funds innumerable nonprofit organizations. If it turns out Tides money was used to repay this debt, every organization that ever received Tides money will now be tied to the ACORN scandal, thanks to Mr. Pike's actions.
  5. I can guaran-damn-tee you that few, if any, donors to the Tides Foundation knew about this behind-the-scenes deal. If it were me, I sure would want a say in whether my money was being used to cover up a crime. (Again, assuming that Tides money went to pay the debt.)
In retrospect, it looks like Pike's farewell letter to Rathke is just part of the coverup. He knew something was dirty in Rathke's sudden resignation, and yet he still wrote this piece that made Rathke look like some magnificent combination of Horatio Alger and Martin Luther King.

Far from being over, the ripples of this scandal are just beginning.

This is the part that sticks with me. I wonder if Pike was commenting on his own behavior when he wrote these words, or if it was meant sincerely at the time. Regardless, these words are going to come back to haunt him.

You make decisions. You care. You do what you think is right. And, inevitably, some things you get wrong. How we are able to move forward directly depends on how we see the things that don’t go well and whether we learn from them.

Friday, August 08, 2008

John Edwards

Many of my longtime readers know that I supported John Edwards' candidacy.

When I heard the rumors last year, and again a few weeks ago, I thought that it was baloney. I didn't deny that Edwards was capable of an affair - he's a good-looking, wealthy guy with a high profile and a strong opinion of himself. However, his relationship with his wife seemed rock-solid, and the evidence from the Enquirer seemed suspect. There were no photographs. There was no hard proof. And after all, it was a supermarket tabloid. I chose to ignore the rumors.

I don't know yet how I think about the confession by Edwards of his affair - his short-term affair that he says ended two years ago. I don't care, frankly, to know how long it went on, how it ended, how many times they slept together. None of it is my business.

He has spoken out and so has his wife. I bear both of their statements in mind.

John Edwards Statement

Elizabeth Edwards Statement

However, I cared about this man and I committed myself to his presidency. I was moved by his support of poverty issues, by his highlighting of issues being ignored by most other candidates. I would have willingly followed him all the way to the convention, and then to the White House.

Who knows when this would have surfaced if he had become the frontrunner instead of Obama? In New Hampshire? In Nevada? Before the nomination? Who knows, if he had become the candidate, what would have happened to his candidacy if this story had broken in September or October?

Edwards made a foolish mistake, as millions of men and women have also made. But he was running for president with this in his back pocket. He ended the affair - he announced his candidacy on December 28, 2006. He lied about this affair for nearly a year - beginning in October of last year - knowing that it was true. His wife knew the truth, but he strung the rest of us along for his entire candidacy and beyond. We believed in him, and when he said the rumors were bunk, we believed him because we believed in him. We were lied to, all of us. I cannot just let this go. I cannot reconcile this with platitudes about his privacy or about the fallibility of the human condition.

He lied to me, and the National Enquirer had to bring the news that he was a liar. Thank you very much, John.

Sure, it never should have become public. Sure. Sure, he deserves his privacy. But goddammit, he knew this was going to come back and bite him eventually. He's a public figure, and things like this do not just go away. (And if he wanted it to go away, what the hell was he doing visiting this woman in July 2008? He says he ended the affair in 2006 - why was he still visiting her last month?)

I don't know who I'm angriest with - the press or John Edwards. But Meteor Blades wrote a white-hot post on Kos that stuck with me.

You knew when you declared for the presidency that this affair hung over you, that it might easily come to light. That it could, had you gained the nomination, have wrecked the party’s chances for winning the White House, tamped down support for Democrats running for seats in Congress, and set progressives back a decade. You knew that when you kept your name in the hopper for the vice presidency.

But you kept running anyway. You lied. And you got others to lie for you. You did this knowing full well the damage that could be done, not to your marriage, but to the party and the aspirations for better governance of those who looked to you as a leader who could help bring it about.

Your populist message was and is a crucial one, the source of much of your support, the reason that many of us backed you even though your past record on an array of issues, including Iraq, gave us pause. We gave you credit for changing your mind. Your speaking out for the needs of a sector of the population previously ignored by other candidates created a powerful and loyal constituency.

You have made it clear that you cared more about yourself than about that constituency. Than about us. You were willing to take a chance that you would be nominated for the Presidency and that the revelation of this affair would put a Republican in the White House, ironically, a Republican who betrays and mistreats the women in his life, too.

So that's what Meteor thinks.

As I said before, I don't really know what to think about this. What do you think? Tell me where you're at on this. I hate having to talk about this, but we're here, and it's out, so we might as well talk about it.