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Archive for February, 2010

speed limit infinityThere are moments in each our lives that we just know are going to be the snapshots our minds will use to remember important events that must never be forgotten.  Sometimes they are snapshots that are uniquely our own, like watching a child’s first steps, or the first moment you laid eyes on your spouse-to-be and felt the invisible lighting wrack your senses. But sometimes they are snapshots that we all share, like Armstrong’s boot hitting the surface of the moon, the last moments of Kennedy’s life as a sniper’s bullets found their mark, or the still vivid horror of September 11th 2001. 
 
Thursday’s health care summit may very well turn out to be the snapshot of the Obama presidency and a seven hour highlight reel of how the 21st century will see to it that Lincoln’s words remain immortal, that a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
 
I originally envisioned writing a different piece  to recap Thursday’s historic health summit. I thought I would be doing what every pundit does, giving you my own blow-by-blow account of who the winners and losers were in this free-to-view, televised, bipartisan match up that was intended to be a political game of Bridge, not only as a metaphor about closing a divide, but as a game intended to see if opposing parties could be thrust upon each other from across a table, check out the cards they were dealt, and try to work as a team to actually win a hand for the American people.  But, I changed my mind. This turned out to be too important and it deserves to be more than that. I can only hope I can rise to the challenge and find a way to articulate the history that I saw unfold Thursday.
 
I’ll admit it.  When President Obama got in front of the cameras during the most viewed television event in history, this year’s Super Bowl, and presented the challenge to Congress to come together and try to move forward on Health Care Reform legislation, something  that has been held just out of our reach for the last five decades, I thought to myself, finally, here will be a forum to separate the posers from the players.  This will be the chance to for the American people to see if their wishes are truly being represented by those they charged with the task to be their voice.  What I was privileged enough to witness instead was a mechanism of transparency that I hope will be repeated with every major piece of legislation that proves to be so philosophically contentious that our legislators simply can not find a way to build bridge long enough to span an ocean’s divide and put the American people back into the conversation.
 
It was amazing to hear from so many old-time career congressmen and congresswomen that they have never been part of anything like this summit in all their years and that they have never seen this body act so civilly with each other for so long when meeting over a piece of legislation that has such deep party lines drawn in the sand.  Why not?  If they don’t normally behave like the quasi-nobles they want us to think they are, why do they insist on calling each other distinguished?  Now we know they can all walk the walk when the cameras are on, let’s hope they can take this obviously new lesson to budget meetings and the endless hours of debate that are required to build a meaningful consensus and hammer out the details on the things that Americans want and deserve.
 
When President Obama made his opening remarks, he tried to set the tone that would be needed for progress.  He didn’t want it to be another day of focusing on the details that divide, he wanted to focus on the details that both parties seem to embrace, things like the unacceptable practice of allowing pre-existing conditions to be used as a device to deny or drop someone’s coverage, bringing down premiums for everyone, and getting decent, accessible health care for the frustrated legions of hard working Americans and small businesses that have nowhere else to turn for help.
 
But the moment I saw the Republican Whip, Eric Cantor, and Republican Minority Leader, John Boehner, walk into the room risking a hernia by lugging in the 2400 page House and Senate Bill, I knew where this was meeting was going to go.  What I didn’t know is that they would be getting my thanks today.  Thank you for sticking steadfast to your guns and personifying the word “unyielding” from a minority position, thank you for having such an obtuse opinion of the American people that you thought courtroom theatrics would provide the smoke and mirrors needed to misdirect the viewing public from the big white elephant in the room.  Thank you for showing us all your true colors.  Thank you for helping America see the light.  And most of all, thank you for lighting the torches for us on the once dark path to a reconciliation vote that will see the simplest and most ancient tenet of democracy find its bloom, the majority rules.
 
Barack Obama did what great Presidents do, he engaged the American public in the process.  But at the same time, he showed us once again what kind of truly unique enigma he is.  Every time he faces an opponent, they think it’s going to be a cake walk.  Ask Hillary Clinton, or even better, ask John McCain what it is exactly that he is reminded of every day. They all seem to make the mistake of thinking that because he doesn’t engage in the customary chest-pounding we’ve grown accustomed to, they will be able to lead him around like a puppy on leash and have their way.
 
Time and time again he proves to be something else, something I can best describe as a shy matador. I know it’s an oxymoron, after all, there is nothing normally shy about a matador, but it sums up what I see in this man.  Before he get’s into the ring the spectacle has already started, the crowd is already electric with anticipation and it is the matador’s job to take charge of the bull’s final passes.  He has to be on his toes and posses the agility of a feline, he has to use brains before brawn, he has to know when to flash red and instigate a charge, and he has to know when to move and allow the bull’s momentum to offer him a clear shot with his blade that will make the beast’s vulnerable spot his undoing. 
 
After a day of the same tired talking points, his closing statement did exactly that, and more. The look on John Cantor’s face when President Obama, Mr. Hope himself, actually mouthed the words that a compromise may not be able to be reached, you finally saw the dumbfounding realization wash over him that they had blown a perfect opportunity to affect the change they want by choosing theatrics over substance, by distancing themselves from opportunity instead of embracing it.  It was almost as priceless as watching Obama completely baffle John McCain by agreeing with him flat out on the point he was trying to make and turning him into a stuttering mess.
 
In 21st century America, forums like this have got to be made common practice. As everyday Americans rehash Thursday’s events with conversations around the water cooler and kitchen tables, as people ask themselves if they want to put their boat in a ”pool” or a lake, as they grapple with the logic presented by both sides and make an educated determination about what is truly best for themselves, I would be stupefied if there is not substantial movement in the polls, now that a lot of the shadowy mystery has been dragged into the light.  If I’m wrong, I’ll grin and bear it, but if I’m right, I will be delighted and filled with a newfound confidence that we really can take our government back if the doors and windows are wide open for all of us to peer in on the proceedings that decide our future. 
 
If these legislators want to keep saying that America rejects this, or embraces that, at least have the common decency to let us see what’s actually behind door number one and door number two.  I think America is quickly getting sick and tired of making every decision based on whether it is stamped with an R or a D.
 
Everyone agreed that health care must be reformed.  Everyone agreed that our current trajectory is unsustainable.  Now that America finally had a chance to hear everyone’s positions loud and clear, I am confident that we will have a law in place by April and I really do hope that Republicans in Congress can look past their own nose and work across the aisle to represent their constituencies and do their very best to get more of their ideas implemented before they are simply left out of the discussion altogether as Democrats have been 16 out of the 22 times a reconciliation vote has been used in our recent history. 
 
If the majority was really against the bill on the table, as every Republican on Thursday professed, wouldn’t it be President John McCain calling the shots? Obama wasn’t miming his intentions to overhaul the system when stadiums were filled with the hopeful and the entire world tuned in for 2 years of tire kicking and checking under the hood.  And I hope that everyone agrees with the mathematical truth that 51% still constitutes a majority.
 
President Obama will not wait to bring desperately needed relief to struggling Americans because time will not stop for anyone. This moment is too important, this moment decides the future, this moment is in our hands.  It’s time to do the right thing.

Joust

Will tomorrow’s health care summit get the historic attention it deserves?  Will the problems of attainable health care and skyrocketing costs finally be solved?
 
This is going to be an opportunity for more than just Congress to get on the same page, but Main Stream Media (MSM) as well.  It will also be a first look at what real Washington transparency should look like when our fate is decided by a chosen few.
 
Sensationalism and saturation were the guiding principles during the election campaigns, but will this important gathering get the same unbridled attention?  Will MSM be taking names and breaking heads, making anyone that is not at least trying to legitimately move our country forward pay for it the way they crush anyone else that lands on their target list?  Will FOX stay true to form and be against everything uttered from Obama’s mouth, will MSNBC or CNN play their own favorites? Time will soon tell if the word unbiased is the golden rule of news that it should be.
 
If MSM can make Joe the Plumber a household name, I would hope that when our opposing parties converge in Washington to grind out a solution to a problem that has plagued administrations for decades, they will be stepping up to the plate as well.
 
The theatrics have already started.  Some prominent Republicans have already made up their minds that this whole thing is an exercise in futility.  Words like “trap” and “non-starter” have been flying around since President Obama threw down the gauntlet of bipartisanship during the Super Bowl.  Ridiculous issues like whether or not the President can stand at a podium, or must be seated at eye level with the rest of the attendees so as not to have a perceived position of strength (this is our President, right?) are actually topics of battle right now and I find that kind of small minded thinking distressing. I don’t care if they get together at a Denny’s and hash it out over some hash browns and eggs.  I don’t care if it’s done in a big circle around a campfire with everyone sitting Indian style, just get it done and put America first for once.
 
If anyone thinks this is a trap, they don’t have any ideas.  If anyone thinks this is a non-starter unless it starts with a blank page, they are an obstructionist.  Seems pretty simple to me.  Both sides should get over themselves and finally put the American people first instead of any silly partisan point scoring or career maneuvering.  Democrats better go into this thing with an open mind as well, or the repercussions they could suffer in November from the fallout could be severe.  America is tired of the playground antics and if good, tangible ideas to finally end the stalemate come from the Republican corner, Democrats better embrace them.  By the same token, if good, tangible ideas come from the Democratic corner to bridge the divide, the same holds true of the Republicans.  No party can ever be allowed to trump the will of the people and Obama’s election crystallized where the majority of Americans want to go at this moment in time.
 
Any one foolish enough to say America has already spoken and resoundingly rejected health care reform must be living in an alternate plane of  existence where John McCain is their president.  For the rest of us, Thursday is going to be a grand test to see who deserves to be called a legislator and who the imposters are. 
 
I’ll be watching the whole thing tomorrow and I’ll be back on Friday with my own take on who the winners and losers from both factions were.  As long as America isn’t on the loser’s list again, I’ll be one happy clam.
 
See you Friday!
Working Hard for You!

Working Hard for You!

One undeniable fact that history has always shown us without fail, is that every empire to ever see its moment of glory under the sun, no matter how breathtaking in scope and dimension, eventually crumbled.  The good news is that human history has been painstakingly recorded so future generations can learn from past mistakes and avoid the same pitfalls, the bad news is we don’t seem to be grasping the warnings.
 
Democracies of ancient times had the concept down pat, the voice of the people should reign supreme.  But then, because there was no way to effectively streamline the will of the masses into a manageable structure, legislators were born, a chosen few granted the honor and privilege to represent the voice of others.  But, with the birth of the legislator, came the inevitable afterbirth, corruption.  Just like in ancient days, it always seems to gravitate to those granted the power to speak for others.
 
We’ve never known a civilization that didn’t fall victim to this particular scourge in the end, and now at the dawn of the 21st century, the 535 bodies that make up our own Congress are rumbling down the very same road.  The one million dollar question is, are we going to just passively sit in the nosebleed section of the bleachers and watch it happen?
 
Barack Obama swept into the White House riding a wave fueled by America’s desire for change.  The Tea Party is trying to find steady legs by whistling the same tune, counting on the rampant frustration out there that is growing by the day.  But, we are treading on a trap door when we embrace change just for the sake of change without a clear rationale or direction.  It seems the common practice of picking the other party is the misguided concept that is all the rage these days.  The common thinking  is all we have to do is change the Ds to Rs, or vice versa, and things will change.  Unfortunately, the way our government is set up to run, the exact opposite becomes true. When it is too late to make a difference, we realize we embarked on another fool’s errand with more stagnation and corruption of the system becoming the ugly truth once again.
 
It should be an honor to be elected as a legislator.  It should be the spirit of service to the greater good, not ambition for self advancement that drives anyone’s decision to run for office.  Sadly, that has become the exception, not the rule.  To make things even harder to find a diamond in the rough, in today’s information age we are bombarded from all sides with celebrities. They are driven down our throats and engraved into our psyche which makes us comfortable with them, like our favorite old shoes.  And then our gravest weakness is preyed on, our desire to be represented by someone that is just like us, someone with our quirks and faults, someone that we hope can identify with us on a personal level.
 
It is time to take a step back and see how this completely defies logic.  I may be a wiz at “the Google”, but should I be the one diagnosing what ails a sick loved one? Of course not, I want someone better, I want the best.  I want Dr. House on steroids.  I want someone that makes me look like an elementary school drop out.  We should want the same in Washington.  I don’t want the person that wakes up needing to read the headlines to set their direction on any given day, I want the person that can write volumes about tomorrow that will make them seem clairvoyant when tomorrow comes to pass. 
 
The fact that Sarah Palin and the word President are even mentioned in the same sentence is an example of this dilemma, and it chills me to the core.  Has our mighty nation fallen so far?  Have we become such a celebrity addicted people that something like that is even in the realm of possibility? Are mainstream media outlets, corporations beholden to the bottom line, the best place to find the shoes we want to be wearing for the next decade and beyond? Will we be content with the next jack-of-all-trades that is a master of none? Shouldn’t we be moving mountains  instead to find the master of ONE?  It’s like wanting the creator of the Pet Rock to become the new Secretary of the Treasury because he managed to make millions selling something as simple and worthless as a rock.  But, I wouldn’t want the guy that happened to stumble over the leprechaun at the end of the rainbow and found his pot of gold, I want an economic Beethoven, that unique individual that I know is out there, the one that can taste numbers and has always had the gift that would allow them to just sit down and play that particular piano. 
 
Shouldn’t we want the same thing in a legislator?  I can’t speak for you, but that’s what I want. I want the wisdom and moral high ground of a grandparent, the heart of a teenage rebel, and the passion of an artist all rolled into one.  I want an unwavering hero to champion my causes, a knight of the modern world that still puts ethics, honor and integrity above even their own ambitions.  I want someone that feels blessed to be in such a prestigious position, but is still humbled by the power they wield each and every day.  I want someone that towers above mediocrity, not the poster child for it.  I want someone that thinks $155,000  a year is a lot of money and believes they should be working their tail off for us every single day to earn it.  I want someone that would vote against a pay raise for themselves when so many are in dire straits, not because it’s politically savvy, but because it’s right.
 
Barack Obama is president today because the majority of Americans saw these qualities in him.  There is no other feasible explanation that could account for a virtual unknown to ride the rocket from obscurity to leader of the most powerful nation on earth in just two short years.  He vocalized the change we have been seeking. He made sense and stirred that primal instinct we all share to leave the generations of tomorrow a better world.  We gave him the keys and told him to drive, but we seem to want to leave the boot on the car.  That boot is partisan gridlock in Congress and if we want any chance to arrive quickly and safely at our destination, we have to find a way to free up the wheels.  Swapping Ds for Rs, or Rs for Ds at the first opportunity is not going to remove the boot, it will simply put it on another wheel, but the car still won’t move.
 
The stench of congress is overwhelming a majority of Americans now.  Polls show it, pundits talk about it, and we are all starting to smell it ever more potently.  When so many people can smell something  this rotten, rest assured that opportunities will soon be seen on the horizon to change it, but it will be up to us all as individuals to seize the opportunities when they present themselves.  It is up to us to  and make the wise choice and scream with the power of a unified voice that we will not tolerate mediocrity any longer. 
 
We gave President Obama the keys because he had a map that most of us agreed with, otherwise he would not be in office today.  Don’t you think it’s time we took the boot off and let him start our journey forward?  If we find him veering off course in the next three years, we can snatch away his keys and give them to someone else that earns our trust under the hot lights of a presidential election campaign.  But, until Congress strives to find solutions instead of obstacles, we will find ourselves crawling along at a newborn’s pace, and while a baby crawls faster than a Lamborghini with a boot on it, is that the style in which America should be traveling? 
 
We are a nation that has always set the pace, blazed new trails and set an example for the world to follow.  If we don’t start getting that edge back, we will just become another glorious empire relegated to the footnotes of history.  The power is still in our hands, we just have to quit embracing mediocrity in Washington and look past celebrity and name recognition to find those few unique individuals that are the gifted prodigies, the ones that are not like most of us, but something more, the ones that feel honor and pride in being given the privilege to represent our voices and desires.  It is high time we start to do the back-breaking work of panning for gold again if we ever hope to find those precious nuggets that can change our stars from inside Washington. 
 
Time stops for no one, and wasting even one more second in the ridiculous quagmire that Congress has become is a poisonous fruit that we can’t afford another bite of.  So get in the ear of your legislators and let them know that you are not going to take it any more and may the will of the majority finally be done.
 
Partisanship today is serving no one, but somewhere out there are the right people with the right stuff.  We the people deserve nothing less as long as we are willing to part the party fog and turn over every stone to find them.  Until we do, Rome is burning.

 

Poll1The worm may be turning at long last.  President Obama finally found the conduit he has been lacking to have a conversation with a huge portion of the American public that has been rendered deaf and oblivious to his proposals and agenda ever since he won the White House on a wave of hope for change - the Super Bowl, and it paid off big.  The massive audience, the largest in television history, wasn’t tuned in to listen to him, they were ready for some football, and of course, the annual unveiling of the latest gems of advertising that have become just as much of a fun tradition as the game itself.  Tucked into the middle of a fantastic game, and coupled with the rare attention paid to the time slotted between the action, was an Obama sit down with Katie Couric.  What this ultimate bully pulpit afforded him was finally a chance to shine a huge spotlight on the crippling scourge of Washington politics, partisan gridlock.  He took the snap from Couric, slipped a few tackles and trotted the length of the field to score six.
 
Just one day before the game, the media’s attention had been focused farther north, on Nashville Tennessee, where Sarah Palin was keynote speaker at a Grand-Ol’-Opry-style convention of the Tea Party Movement, and let me tell you, it was not good news for the Grand Ol’ Party.  For almost an hour she took every imaginable opportunity to take shots at Barack Obama and she was all over the map in trying to do it.  She chided him for being a professor, not a Commander-in-Chief, she tried to reduce his eloquence and intelligence to some kind of a parlor trick that uses a teleprompter as the main prop.  She invoked the spirit of Ronald Reagan on what would have been his 99th birthday to rally the crowd and then she channeled Bill Clinton’s “there is nothing wrong in America that can’t be fixed by what is right in America” almost verbatim. She called Alaska, not America, the beacon of hope, then she continued down her erratic path and went on to channel Obama himself by rattling on about the ability of a grass roots movement to change the power structure of Washington. She talked about hope and change and then went on to ask, in folksy Palin’esque fashion, how that “hopey-changey” thing was working out for the millions that were moved by that very same notion just over a year ago.  The icing on the cake though, was the fact that she had crib notes written on her own hand to remind herself to talk about energy, the budget cuts… err, tax cuts and the cherry on top, a reminder to lift American spirits. Well Rush, Hannity and Sarah, start your engines because I am about to drop the R-word that sums that whole fiasco up, “Ridiculous!”  Her whole speech and Q&A session revealed not one single policy idea, no clear love for the Republican party and a call for Washington transparency that Obama would make the crux of his pitch to the American people the very next day.  No, I don’t think the GOP is going to enjoy the rants of Sarah Palin very much at all going forward, unless they are taking the whole “even bad publicity is good publicity” advertising mantra to a whole new level.
 
Thanks to the great American pastime that is the NFL, the gauntlet has been thrown.  Obama got his chance to give the American people a little professorial lesson on political obstructionism and pointed it right at the GOP with one of those big foam fingers.  And if you don’t think so, take these numbers from a Washington Post/ABC News poll done after what may just become known as the GOP’s Black Sunday.  The majority is now blaming the Republicans in congress as the problem by virtue of their unwillingness to compromise in order to move our country forward.  Even a whopping 42% of Republicans seem to want them to keep trying to pass a Health Care bill. 
 
President Barack Obama has shifted the conversation to American progress, not political gamesmanship, and put a bullet in the chamber to up the stakes considerably on the game the Republican party has been playing without the threat of consequence for over a year now.  All I can say is they better paint on their game faces and get themselves ready for one tough opponent.  On February 25th, they had better bring some real and tangible ideas to the table, because for a majority of Americans, at this defining moment, “just say no” simply won’t cut it anymore.
 
Barack Obama has put your tickets in the mail and you will all have sideline seats on the 50 yard line.  I hope I see you all there.  Bring on the Game!