Friday, February 23, 2018
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Andy Schmookler


Not Liberalism’s Weakness, But Its Strength

On my website, a long-time reader who is a conservative Christian (but one who no longer has any regard for the Republicans and who sticks with my website, and even contributed to my campaign, though his disdain for liberals is frequently expressed) conjectured earlier today about"some weakness in the spirit make-up that creates the 'liberals' seeming need for a more than natural protective society."

To him I replied:

"More than natural protective society." "Weakness." What rubbish?  

It's Liberalism doing what every actor should do: work to make America the best society it can be.  Is it not clear that the ideal America is a society and nation that creates certain degrees of community feeling, and a certain commitment to the well-being of all, and not some hostile rejection of things being done to help the LOSERS. It is not just the Ayn Rand part of the right that seems to place no value on a sense of community in our approach to national problems.

Lacking, too, is a respect for those things that can't be accomplished separately - and also for purposes that go beyond selfishness - but can be achieved only through the system we created to enable us to act together:  i.e, the government.

The problem isn't any liberal "weakness":  The liberals at their best at least are working creatively to create a society that serves the good as best it can, with wise trade-offs one hopes, and with an inevitable mixture of success and failure.

But we sure are a whole lot better a society than we would have been without Social Security, and Medicare and Medicate, and environmental regulation, and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

All of those are expressions of the liberal spirit, and the net result of them is that this country is a far better place in a great many ways because these were accomplished.

It is very good for America and for all of us that this spirit had so much sway in the shaping of America's destiny that it did in the most critical years of 1933 up until maybe 1981.  

I see the problem as being more on the right, as with every other issue we face in America today that I can think of.  

Where Obama Has Failed, and Why It Is Not Too Late for Him to...

This piece appeared in Thursday's edition of the Roanoke Times. While the piece is framed, for strategic reasons, as a critique of President Obama -- a valid critique in my view -- the true main points of the argument are 1) the abominable conduct of the Republicans (which I continue to believe is, and has been over the past decade and more, one of the major stories in all of American history), and 2) the opportunity their conduct presents -- to President Obama and to all Democrats -- to attack and, it is hoped, to defeat them.

Five years into his presidency, we can say that in many respects Barack Obama has been a good president.  He has addressed genuine national problems. The solutions he has proposed have been constructive. And his communications to the American people have mostly been sensible and honest.

But President Obama has failed in one important area (and it is not in the highly embarrassing, but essentially temporary, botch of the roll-out of the Obamacare website). Where Obama has failed is in not fighting harder against an opposition party whose obstructiveness - and destructiveness - have been extraordinary by the standards of the American political tradition.

It's easy to demonstrate Obama's failure. He wanted the politics of his era to be, "The Republicans and I together can get good things done." The Republicans have striven for a politics of, "We're going to keep you from accomplishing anything." Which side would you say has prevailed?

Some say that no one can force cooperation from politicians. I say, "Nonsense." Only the president has the bully pulpit, and great presidents have used it to dominate the politics of their times.  President Obama has been in a position, all along, to compel the Republicans to clean up their act or be driven into oblivion.

All it takes is focusing the public's attention on the ugly things the Republicans have been up to. Take the one time President Obama took a strong position and stood his ground -- the crisis in late September and early October over the government shutdown and the GOP threat to push the nation into default.  The Republicans sunk so low in public esteem during that destructive display that they were compelled to give in.

Would You Want to Know? A Question for Republican Supporters

The following op/ed by me has appeared in newspapers in my part of Virginia.

I want to speak to the conservatives in this area.

I know from experience that you are good neighbors, and that you make a local society in many ways is admirable. But I am concerned about what's happened with you in the larger political world.

It's not about your conservative values, which on the whole I think are valuable to America. It's about what's happened over the past generation regarding the things you think to be factually true. I ask you this question: If a lot of what you believe to be true were actually false, would you want to know?

At this point, I imagine many of you angrily dismissing my question. After all, am I not the guy who ran for Congress as a Democrat, and aren't Democrats the enemy and not worth listening to?

Setting aside this demonization of the "other side," I hope you will recognize that I speak to you not as a Democrat but as a person with a lifelong passion for truth.  

I’m Betting on Obenshain Acting Honorably

The following piece has run in several Virginia newspapers, including today in the Lynchburg News & Advance.

Earlier this month, an alarm about Virginia's razor-close Attorney General's race sounded in some Democratic circles. Adam Swerver, in an article posted on the MSNBC website, declared that even if the defeat of Republican candidate Mark Obenshain is confirmed in a recount, he might still be able to have himself declared the winner by the Virginia state legislature, which is dominated by Republicans.

Swerver's article quoted University of Kentucky law Professor Joshua Douglas describing the plausibility of such a move. Swerver concluded that "the only thing stopping Republicans from ordering a new election or declaring him (Obershain) the winner would be fear of a political backlash or their own self-restraint."

When reported on the Democratic website Blue Virginia, this article generated many responses. Opinions differed about the chances of Republicans succeeding with such a gambit, but there was little faith that scruples would hold them back from stealing the election. One response: "The va GOP will do ANYTHING to win cheat or steal an election."

I don't know whether state Senator Obenshain can gain the office through such a power-grab. But I bet he won't.

A Half Century Ago Today: Here’s My Story. What’s Yours?

November 22, 1963 was bound to be an important day for me. On that day, as a college freshman, I was to travel down to New Haven, Connecticut, for Harvard-Yale weekend. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have gone to an away game, but I was the quarterback of an undefeated intramural touch football team that was scheduled to play Yale's undefeated intramural champions.

When we got to the playing field at Yale, people were strangely clumped around cars with their radios on, and the doors open. We asked what was going on, and we were told, "The president has been shot in Dallas." It was of course unbelievable.

I had felt especially connected with JFK, having seen him only a few weeks before, when he unexpectedly showed up at the Columbia game. Sitting there in the stadium, surrounded by his Secret Service retinue, even at a distance the beauty of the man was visible, his auburn hair radiating life in the sun. How could someone look so extraordinary even across a whole football field?

And now he'd been shot.

Was he OK, we wanted to know? Would he live? Nobody knew. Only that he'd been rushed to the hospital in Dallas.

We were supposed to start our game, and no one was there to tell us differently. So we played the game. We won, using a trick play I still like to remember. But the whole game happened under a cloud of uncertainty and gloom.

When the game was over, it was known. President Kennedy was dead. The president had been assassinated.

Private Opulence, Public Poverty

A little item in THE WEEK magazine (11/15/13):

Public investment is at its lowest level since World War II, dropping to just 3.6 percent of U.S. output, compared to the postwar average of 5 percent. The decrease is largely thanks to 'Republican success in stymieing President Barack Obama's push for more spending on infrastructure, science, and education.'
What a shame. And what a shame the Obamacare launch has gone so badly, as it provides ammunition for those who work to sell the public the idea that the government is never the solution but always the problem.

Not only is there a problem with the "keep your government hands off my Medicare kinds of ignorance," but most Americans don't know how important a role has been played, in the development of American affluence, by "public investment"-- including the canals and bridges that the Federalists and Whigs sought in the early 19th century, and the railroads in which government played an important role, as well as things like the interstate highway system and the Internet (in which actually Al Gore did play a constructive role).

The whole challenge is to find the right mix between the public and the private in our economy, not to idolize the one and demonize the other.

Obamacare’s Difficulties Are Disheartening, But Consider This

Our nation's greatest achievements did not come without failures along the way. When I think of such achievements, winning World War II and landing a man on the moon come quickly to mind.

What the United States accomplished between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and V-J Day is astonishing. But the early months of that war were a string of defeats and set-backs. The Japanese rolled across the Philippines, taking numerous American soldiers prisoner. In North Africa, the inexperienced American troops were no match for Rommel's forces. Those days were dark indeed.

By the end of the 1960s, the United States had landed men on the moon --"one small step for a man, one giant step for mankind"-- and won the admiration of the world. However, a decade before that, I recall, the pictures from Cape Canaveral were anything but inspiring. Missiles would go through a countdown only to topple and explode when ignition time came, or lift off but fail to go into orbit.

America worked its way through those failures, however, and went on to do great things.

Of course, in those times, we did not have a major political party that was not just hoping for failure, but actively working for failure.

Against that, too, we must persevere.

Is There a Single Republican Today Who Might Have Been Played by John Wayne...

I don't think so. Not straight-shooting enough for a John Wayne character. Not decent enough for Jimmy Stewart. Not enough integrity for either of the kinds of characters they played.

It is the pervasive dishonesty of the whole thrust of today's Republican Party that precludes any of them from being cast as a hero.

These are the guys who embezzle the money from their bank, or who are hired to beat up the farmers who get in the way of the cattle baron.

Hearing Clinton Speak Is, by Itself, Worth Going Out of One’s Way For

There are good political reasons to attend the Clinton-McAuliffe campaign events. But even if there weren't....

Toward the close of last year's campaign, at a rally in Roanoke, I heard Bill Clinton speak. I was extremely impressed. Really impressed. Even more than I'd been by his speech to the Democratic convention-- a speech that (with the possible exception of Michele Obama's) was the high-point of the convention.

Bill Clinton is not only likely the most gifted politician of our times, but he is also a great teacher. He spoke for about an hour on that occasion in Roanoke, and he was engaging and clear and persuasive, and he laid out with unusual clarity a whole host of issues-- all done in a way that strengthened the candidate in whose support he had come, Barack Obama.

In the coming days, Clinton will be speaking around Virginia in support of his friend, Terry McAuliffe. Since the candidate himself will be there, unlike in Roanoke, and Clinton will be the endorser and not the surrogate, there will be doubtless less of Clinton than at the event last year. But Bill Clinton will not be short-changed, and I think Terry McAuliffe is too smart to worry about being upstaged when he's got someone like Clinton to rally the troops for him. So those who attend these rallies will almost certainly get to witness a worthwhile and memorable Clinton performance.

Besides which, as I learned at the Virginia Democratic state convention in June, 2012, Terry McAuliffe is himself capable of giving a very powerful, very effective political speech. Indeed, in terms of the stem-winder variety of political oratory, McAuliffe may be the stronger of the two. His speech at the state convention last year was one of the most rousing political speeches I've ever heard, in person or otherwise.

So I encourage y'awl to consider attendance at the following events as worth your while. It's worth doing for the usual political reasons-- to support the Democratic ticket in this campaign home-stretch. But even if there were no election, just hearing Bill Clinton speak, in person, in the context of the political battles of our times, would be reason enough.

Here's what an email I got says is the schedule (I think this list is incomplete, and I hope that those with additional information will provide it, below, in the comments):

Thrilled by the Transformation I Perceived in President Obama this Morning

I was a huge fan of Obama's for the year before his inauguration. Much of the time since the first few months of his presidency, I've been intensely frustrated and disappointed by what I see as his weakness in dealing with an opposition determined to make him fail, regardless of the damage to the nation. Today, I believe I saw something that says he's undergone a real and basic transformation, a movement into a place of deep strength.

The way he stood his ground during the recent standoff with the Republicans in Congress showed he'd learned a lesson. That's important, but it doesn't necessarily show a transformation: the idea that "this time we don't pay ransom to hostage-takers" can represent a decision, undertaken at a level of conscious strategy, and does not necessarily show a deeper movement of heart and soul away from weakness and into a place of strength.

But here the President was, talking about his signature accomplishment precisely because of the problems that have beset its launch, and the President seemed to be strong in a way that comes from the core, strong in a way that I've not seen much in the past.

In the past, I've often thought that he was good at ACTING as if he was strong, but that he didn't really own that strength. Today I felt that here was a man who had settled into the fact that he is President of the United States, that he can prevail over his enemies, that he can make good things happen, that he is comfortable in the possession of not only the power of his office but also his inner power.

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