The Republican Party is moving toward fascism

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s been clear to me for a while that Republicans are authoritarians. Of course, all political parties want their ideas implemented into law. In this country it’s supposed to be done through persuasion and an open and democratic process. But when I look at today’s Republican Party, I’m having a hard time convincing myself Republicans are not generally fascists.

Yes, yes, I know. They are the freedom party. Two days ago House Republicans passed version 2 of the oxymoronically named American Health Care Act, a version that was significantly crueler than the previous version that lost by a small margin. This one didn’t do much better, but did pass with four votes to spare. They want to give Americans the freedom to go without healthcare coverage again. They have that freedom now, but it requires paying a penalty to Uncle Sam. Freedom they tell us is not free, but in this case it had to be truly free to be freedom. This strikes me as a strange version of freedom. In general the sorts of freedoms they are pushing look dubious at best. They want school children to have the freedom to eat unhealthy lunches again. They want parents to have the freedom to keep their children from getting vaccinated. They want the citizens of Flint, Michigan to have the freedom to drink dirty water full of lead whether they want to or not. They also want parents to have the freedom to send their children to charter schools using our tax dollars without charter schools being held to the same standards as public schools. And they want all of us to have the freedom to breathe air contaminated by unchecked industrial pollutions again.

They sure don’t want pregnant women to have freedom over their own bodies. They don’t want to grant to poor people the freedom to accept food stamps, at least not without first peeing into a cup. In general they don’t want blacks, minorities and liberal areas to have the freedom to easily vote or at all. Republican secretaries of states find ever more creative ways to scrub their voter rolls. They clearly don’t want to give Democrats political power proportionate to their share of the population and will create crazily gerrymandered districts to disproportionately overstate their political power. And it’s not just Democrats. They don’t want to extend that freedom to moderates either, the bulk of the country. Democrats at least have minority status. Moderates are pretty much unrepresented.

So it’s pretty clear what their intent is: to dramatically overstate their political power so they can force the majority to do what they say. Supposedly they are following a democratic process, but not really. There is nothing democratic about gerrymandering, regardless of which political party is doing it. It’s legal because the constitution delegates most criteria for voting to the states, but it’s not democratic. Our Electoral College that for the fourth time put into the presidency someone who did not win the popular vote is not democratic either; although it was the price we paid to bring the southern states into our union more than two centuries ago. All this gives Republicans power, but not legitimacy, which is why there are so many protests going on. Deliberately and systematically Republicans are doing everything possible to make us tow their line. Using the vast capital of the wealthy class, they largely control the popular media. As Marshall McLuhan long ago noted, the medium is the message.

But fascism? Would it be too much to say that Republicans want to do away with democracy and institute a fascist state instead? Thanks to Republicans, their persistence and their money we effectively have an oligarchy. Former president Jimmy Carter said just as much. So I went to Wikipedia and studied fascism to find out.

Modern fascism was defined in the last century, principally in Germany and Italy on and before the Second World War. Wikipedia defines it as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism. So overstated nationalism is (or was) certainly a key to the being a fascist. With Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency we arguably have an ardent nationalist as chief. Only he is fighting for a largely mythical version of America some sixty years earlier.

Fascists also think liberal democracies are obsolete. I’ve outlined plenty of evidence of this already. Totalitarianism is a key feature of fascism. To get there you have to take away power from those who don’t agree with you. They have been very successful there through gerrymandering, voter suppression and many other tactics, some quite illegal.

Lately we’ve been seeing the troubling rise of brownshirts: formal and informal right-wing paramilitary organizations that will take action when they feel it is necessary. We saw brownshirts and anti-fascists (brownshirts on the left, but many fewer) come to fisticuffs recently at Berkeley on April 15. I believe the possession of so many guns in this country is generally a “be prepared” statement from these brownshirts so they can take action when society crosses some sort of nebulous boundary they won’t tolerate. The existence of these groups is evidence, if not proof, that lots of totalitarian wannabees live among us. Judging from their numbers at Trump rallies it’s a sizeable bunch.

I don’t see yet a desire by Republicans to nationalize industry, although Trump has said he want to in-source everything possible. It may be that nationalization simply doesn’t work in the 21st century with so much international trade. Fascists though sure like strong leaders, and Christians in particular like to play follow the leader. They already follow a largely false version of Jesus. They sure don’t like any ambiguity. It gives them the hives. Trump played them masterfully in the campaign and they voted for him in droves. While his poll numbers decline, he hasn’t lost the authoritarian base of his support, and probably won’t as long as he keeps up his bragado.

Trump himself is clearly authoritarian. He praises dictators and discount moderates. He has no patience for the messiness of republican government. It’s wholly reflexive because this is the way he has run his businesses. So is true of much of the moneyed class. They are used to being in charge and having respect they assert is due their wealth and station.

So while we are clearly not there yet, we clearly have in charge a party and a president with fascist tendencies. And it’s not like we haven’t traveled part way down this road. An oligarchy is a big step toward getting there. It’s unclear whether our three branches of government can check the rise of the fascists, particularly when one party controls all three branches.

As for me, I intend to keep doing all I can to not let fascism happen here. I think it’s a lot closer than we think.

Judgment Day? Dear God, please start at the White House

The Thinker by Rodin

For being “retired”, life sure is keeping me busy, too busy to find much time to blog. The thing about being retired is that you can do anything you want. For me this means doing more of the stuff I love, which is teaching and consulting, both of which provide some income too. Blogging doesn’t bring in any money so it tends to sit on the back burner some weeks. For the last two weeks or so I’ve had little downtime.

I’ve not been at a loss for topics though, which is why I’ve decided to skip for now my monthly Craigslist casual encounters post (sorry, fans!). Mostly I’ve been thinking about evil and by extension evil people. There are so many sterling examples of late, particularly the people in the White House. My brother-in-law, one of the few right-wingers in my life, posted a picture of Trump and a bunch of his execs in the White House praying, or pretending to pray. His remark was something like: “Something you never saw in the last administration, ha ha! Isn’t it good to have real Christians in the White House?”

Trump and staff hypocritically "praying"
Trump and staff hypocritically “praying”

Yeah, right. I’m careful not to leave snarky comments with Rick, my brother in law. I have to live with him and he’s a good husband to my sister too. We can easily push each other’s buttons but choose not too and arguably I’m more publicly expressive of my opinions than he is of his.

Yet the photo really irked me. First of all, I sincerely doubt Trump has uttered a sincere prayer in his life, unless it was to plead to God to bring him more money. Second, for all of Obama’s haphazard churchgoing, Obama is something of a regular churchgoer compared to Trump. As best I can tell the only time Trump goes to church is to attend weddings, funerals and more recently political events. At a prayer breakfast in February he used the religious occasion to pray for poor ratings for The Apprentice, now that Arnold Schwarzenegger in playing the boss.

As for the rest of these White House “Christians”, Jesus would not recognize any of them as his followers. I won’t expound here about hypocritical Christians in general because I’ve done so many time, including this post. I … just … don’t … get … it. I don’t get how these “Christians” can believe they are Christian. I don’t believe Trump thinks he’s a Christian and I doubt he spends a millisecond thinking about God or concerning himself with the poor, except to pick their pockets.

The whole lot of these White House stoolies are running as fast as they can away from The Lord, by doing their damnedest to make the rich richer and the poor poorer (not to mention kill the planet) while trying desperately to humiliate the poor in the process. Include in this bunch my brother in law Rick, a faithful Catholic in the sense that he goes to Mass weekly, tithes his share but otherwise lives values wholly inconsistent with Christianity. Ironically, some of the most Christian people I know are atheists. In the unlikely event of the Rapture, I totally expect most of today’s “Christians” will be dumbstruck when their atheist neighbors ascend into heaven while the pit of hell opens up for them. It’s like Matthew 19:21 is excised from their Bibles, you know: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’”

Speaking of brothers in law, I have another one, well, not quite a brother in law, but the husband of a niece. We recently got into something of a civilized rant on Facebook. My niece was wondering if there were any really great men in the world. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. I said: drive a couple of hundred miles south to Plains, Georgia some Sunday and watch the 39th president, James Earl Carter, teach Sunday school. Or watch him, age 90-something, nailing boards into walls at one of the many Habitat for Humanity houses he and his organization help construct. Jimmy Carter gives me hope that there really are some true Christians in the world. After all, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Carter Center has overseen more than a hundred elections, spreading democracy across the world.

But none of that mattered to my niece’s husband John. He has spent too much time watching Fox News. And somewhere in there he heard that Carter sent money to commies, Manuel Noriega of Nicaragua in this case, although we’re talking about the late 1970s. What a horrible man! Granted that history was not kind to his short presidency, but he did get a Nobel Prize from it and took unpopular but correct actions, such as agreeing to turn the Panama Canal over to the Panamanians. We kept the discourse pretty civil, largely due to his wife Sandy who was probably sending him IMs saying she wanted to stay on my good side. Alas, neither John nor brother in law Rick have anything good to say about Jimmy Carter, the most prominent example of a true Christian I can think of in today’s world. Jimmy Carter is by no means a saint, but he is a saintly man. He is holy in my mind, one of a handful of holy men in this world for who this honor should be obvious.

But not to John, not to Rick, and probably not to any of them people in the photo, except possibly the minister leading these hypocrites in prayer. Doubtless immediately after the photo op, the base applauded their “true Christians” while the subjects went back to deconstructing the administrative state, the professed aim of Trump’s senior adviser Steve Bannon which hopefully will include a new world war too.

I wish I could be a Christian just long enough to believe in Hell. With a few exceptions, I’m having a hard time thinking of a group of people more deserving to spend eternity there than the hypocrites in the photo. Fortunately, Jesus loves even dregs of humanity like them, even though their sacred mission seems to be to facilitate Satan by making more Americans poor, sick, hungry, anxious and scared.

Well, I’m not a Christian. Although I don’t believe in hell, here’s a toast wishing them a speedy entrance to it anyhow. The whole bunch of you in that photo can go to hell.

The folly of voting third-party for president

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s post Labor Day and it’s a presidential election year. You know what that means. According to our press, it means people are now starting to seriously pay attention to the upcoming election.

I find this hard to believe. Granted that I am something of a political junkie but it must be a very, very remote corner of Appalachia that hasn’t heard the endless thoughts spewing from the mouth and Twitter feed of Donald J. Trump. He’s the mouth that has roared for over a year now. And Hillary Clinton has spent decades in the public spotlight. We all have firmly baked opinions about her.

Perhaps to stir up some excitement, the press is agog about tightening polls showing Hillary Clinton’s lead dropping. It’s still a rare poll that shows her numbers below Trump’s, at least nationally but polls are generally showing her numbers moving to within margin of error numbers. It’s clear that large majorities of Americans don’t particularly like either Clinton or Trump and wants someone else to vote for. Unsurprisingly some are looking at third party candidates instead: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Those voters who follow through seem to want to make a statement.

And they will make a statement if they don’t mind shooting themselves in the foot. This happened to me in 1980 when I voted for John Anderson for president. I hate to say our electoral system is rigged but when it comes to the presidential vote it certain is and it’s by design. This is because an Electoral College actually votes a president into office and because 48 of the fifty states have laws that whichever candidate wins a plurality of the votes in the presidential race gets all of the state’s electoral delegates.

This means the system is rigged so as to make it virtually impossible for any candidate not in a major party to win. But it also means that if you are voting third party, you are throwing away your vote. The only exception is if your third party candidate wins a plurality of the votes in your state. And while that may garner some electoral votes for your third party candidate, a whole lot of other states have to do the same for your candidate to actually win. In short, you have to bet that both the Democratic and Republican party candidates are so dysfunctional that a wholesale national voting rebellion is going to happen, something that has never happened in our country as best I can tell and probably can’t happen now in our polarized political environment.

In practical terms, this means to a Massachusetts resident like me that if I would have otherwise voted for Hillary Clinton and I vote for Jill Stein instead, I am effectively voting for Donald Trump since it will bump up his share of the votes as a percent of the state’s votes. And if I am a non-racist Alabaman that normally votes Republican but I am so disgusted by Trump’s racism that I vote for Gary Johnson instead, I am helping elect Hillary Clinton.

In my case in 1980 as a 23-year-old voting for third party candidate John Anderson, I was effectively voting for Ronald Reagan, the last candidate I would have voted for. Fortunately in the blue-state of Maryland, it didn’t matter as Maryland’s electoral votes went for Jimmy Carter. Nationwide though John Anderson took 6.6% of the popular vote. Conceivably had Anderson not run and those votes had gone to Carter instead (as research suggests) then that election would at least have been a lot closer. Carter lost by nearly 10% of the popular vote but where it matters, he received only 49 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Reagan’s election was a landslide by any standards, thanks probably to John Anderson’s spoiler effect. As bad as that was the 1984 election was worse. Walter Mondale garnered only 13 electoral votes (his home state of Minnesota and Washington D.C.) Reagan got the rest (525) and that was with no serious third party opposition. For a more recent event that shows the folly of voting third party, look at the 2000 election. Had the Green Party votes in Florida gone to Al Gore, there would have been no President George W. Bush.

Trump is right that the presidential voting system is rigged, but it’s always been that way. The Electoral College mess was designed by our founding fathers to get a commitment from southern states at the time the constitution was ratified. Without it, southern states would have probably never been able to elect a president. With slaves counting as 2/3 of a free person for a state’s share of electoral votes, with a few exceptions (like John Adams) for decades it made it virtually impossible for a non-southerner to become president.

So hopefully I’ve convinced you not to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. If still not convinced, consider that the Green Party and Libertarian Party are minority parties because their views are simply not mainstream views. I find a lot to admire about the Green Party but it’s a party of ideologues, not a party of pragmatists. For example, GMO foods are not going away and it’s folly at this time to try. Libertarians are easy to dismiss because it is wholly unworkable. Imagine selling all our roads, sewers and schools. Imagine no laws against pollution. It would be an unmanageable nightmare.

Which leaves you dear voter ultimately holding your nose while you vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. (I realize there are some voters, particularly Trump voters who are actually enthusiastic about their candidate. Weird.) The other option is not to vote, but not voting is effectively the same as voting third party. You will effectively give more power to those that do vote.

So suck it up for democracy. Democracy ain’t pretty sometimes and it won’t be in this election. However, you have a duty to perform so do it mindful that the system is not perfect and your candidate won’t be either. If you really want the Green or Libertarian parties to grow, you have to do it the hard way by getting local and state candidates elected. With enough of them they may become a majority party in your state. Then you will have leverage, at least on the state level. Or you can work for a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Electoral College and make it based on actual votes.

Oh, and those polls? I’m still not worried. I think Clinton is still going to win based on state polls, which are the only ones that matter. With a majority of Americans saying they will never vote for Trump, the only way that Trump wins is if a lot of those voters stay home or vote third party instead of voting for Hillary. It’s unlikely but it can happen, and it could happen this year if you don’t vote with the left side of your brain instead of the right side.

I’ll be using the left side and voting for the imperfect Hillary Clinton.

Unwinding the crazy (or why Obama and Mitt Romney need to talk)

The Thinker by Rodin

So my daughter has been chatting with me on Skype. She wants to know: “Dad, have politics ever this crazy?” She would actually take some comfort in knowing that demagogues like Donald Trump have actually arisen before and have had a stake put through their hearts.

I had to tell her no, not in my lifetime anyhow and not within the United States. There are plenty of demagogues out there all the time, but few come around as Donald Trump has to create cyclones of ill will all for the purpose of acquiring something close to the pinnacle of political power in the world: being president of the United States. I see him getting the Republican nomination; hopes of a brokered convention are just fantasies. There have been deeply evil politicians and presidents. Richard Nixon comes to mind but at least he was trapped by a political system of checks and balances. It’s not clear if Trump becomes president whether the system still has the backbone to deal with someone like him. I’d like to think so, but I am skeptical.

Over the years this blog has been around, I’ve made something of a second career cataloguing these demagogues. Democrats are not entirely clean, with John Edwards leaping to mind. Both sides of the party can be pandered to and inflamed. Mostly though these demagogues have limited appeal. Some of the many I have blogged about include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I have read enough history though to know that Donald Trump is not quite unprecedented. Early in our history we had a president arguably as bad as Trump: Andrew Jackson whose portrait mysteriously adorns our ten-dollar bill.

We’ve also had our share of bad presidents but who were not demagogues. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who purged blacks from the government. President Harding dropped his pants for more than one woman not his wife and got embroiled in the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Herbert Hoover and a top-heavy Republican congress ushered in the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson made the Vietnam debacle much worse. And I’ve shown 12 years ago that Ronald Reagan was pretty much a disaster of a president. Then of course there is George W. Bush. Still with the possible exception of Jackson none of these presidents rise to Trump’s level. None had the mentality that the ends justified the means. Trump’s success makes him a singular danger to our democracy.

So sorry daughter, we are living the Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Polls suggest a Trump election win will be quite a stretch, but if anyone could pull it off Trump is demonstrating he has the skills and oratory to do it. Trump though is not unique, but simply the most articulate spokesman for the Republican brand. It’s a brand full of chest thumping, racism, classism and staking out unequivocal positions that have devolved into concerns about the size of Trump’s hands and penis. They are all doing it without qualification, except possibly John Kasich. These candidates will denounce Trump on the one hand but won’t take the next obvious step: saying they will not support him if he wins his party’s nomination.

This is because for all their claims of principle they really don’t have any. It’s not principle that drives them; it’s the lust for power. This puts them ever further on the extreme right as well as makes them back down from taking principled stands like saying they won’t support Trump if he wins their party’s nomination. They are all jockeying for power as best they can by keeping their options open. I was puzzling through Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump shortly after dropping out. Why was he doing this? The easy rationalization is that both are bullies and he identifies with a fellow bully. But the same can be said for most of the Republican candidates. I think Christie is hoping to be nominated as his running mate. I think he is further expecting that if Trump wins office he will eventually be impeached and removed, leaving him as president. It’s a tactic worthy of Frank Underwood; he was just the first to go there. While Christie may admire Trump for being a master bully, I think his real motivation is simply a lust for power.

The larger question is how do you undo something like this? It’s not like we are at the precipice. Lots of people are already jumping off the cliff into the political unknown. It’s time for the grownups not just to speak up but also to take real action. Mitt Romney says he won’t vote for Trump but did not suggest an alternative, which is hardly helpful. Establishment Republicans are trying to persuade voters in keystone states like Florida and Ohio to vote for someone else, but they appear too late to the game to change the dynamics. President Obama recently spoke out, but it was at a fundraiser. Changing the dynamics here though is pretty much impossible when the other party will refuse to even listen to you. Just for starters Republicans in Congress won’t even allow Obama’s budget director to present his budget, the first time this has ever been done. A Republican Senate also refuses to entertain a nominee for the Supreme Court.

We need an elder statesman with mojo and credibility to bring the parties together to tone down the rhetoric and is some marginal way change the conversation and up the civility factor. There is no one such person, unfortunately. Jimmy Carter comes to mind but Republicans would dismiss him.

We urgently need a national timeout. All these key muckrakers need to have a private conclave and hash this out. If I were President Obama I’d be on the phone with Mitt Romney. I’d be penciling in a date in a couple weeks at a private retreat like Camp David and use the power of shame (if it works) to bring all these blowhards together in one place to hash this out. This would include Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and all the presidential candidates on both sides. It would also include chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. I’d include trained facilitators and psychologists to help ensure the meeting moves forward productively The topics would include: setting baselines for acceptable political behavior and setting up a process involving some compromise so that Congress and the President can work together in some minimal fashion through the election.

Would it work? The odds are against my proposal but someone needs to step forward and we need two brave people on both sides of the aisle. I don’t see any others who can play this role.

Sadly, nothing like this is likely to happen, but it needs to happen. Is there a grownup in the room?

The southern strategy bites back

The Thinker by Rodin

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently wrote that Donald Trump has changed the Republican Party permanently. In the past the establishment elite controlled the party. Unfortunately well-moneyed Republicans were relatively few in number. They had to find votes somewhere so they adopted a “southern strategy” that pandered to the fears and prejudices of those principally in the south. This included crass appeals to classists, racists, fundamentalist Christians and to those who wished for things to be the way they were in the 1950s, you know, when non-whites knew their place.

It worked quite well. Essentially the Republicans picked up formerly white southern Democrats when Democrats (some say unwisely) moved toward being more inclusive instead of the party of the white working class. Starting with Richard Nixon, Republicans realized that catering to people’s prejudices was a reliable vote getter. Republicans stoked then exploited these class divisions and anxieties so well that today the south and much of the non-coastal west is now a deep shade of red. Robinson said that Trump’s genius was to call to task Republicans because they didn’t follow through on their promises to this new base, actions like sending undocumented immigrants home. He said that Trump has fundamentally changed the party, wresting control from its establishment and making it explicitly a party centered on addressing these fears rather than merely pandering to them.

It used to be that in the Republican Party the tiger controlled its tail. The tail (the Tea Party, racists and Christian fundamentalists) now appears to control the party. We’ll find out for sure if Trump wins his party’s nomination. Even if Trump somehow slips, anyone who takes his place will have to sound a lot like him, which is why Ted Cruz won’t say anything bad about Trump while echoing most of his talking points. Counterproductively, the remaining Republican candidates are busy criticizing each other instead of focusing on Trump, at best a pennywise but pound-foolish strategy.

The Republican Party is thus on the cusp of becoming an officially anti-democratic party. It’s clear this is where they’ve been heading for a long time given their hostility toward the poor made manifest in egregious gerrymandering and increasingly odious voting restrictions. It’s like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Republicans have decided they are the pigs. What Republicans don’t want to admit is that any control they get must be tenuous at best, as the nation’s changing demographics will eventually overwhelm them. They already recognize their reality by creating egregious voter restriction laws. These stack the deck in their favor but they cannot last forever.

Trump’s policies are popular with his supporters because he is proposing actions that explicitly redress these problems. He wants to deport the undocumented and cut off a path to citizenship for those here legally. Do this and you can at least push off the date of white disempowerment. When Trump proposes a wall along our border with Mexico, what his supporters hear is not that it will deter the undocumented from coming into the United States, but that it is a concrete step toward moving us back to the 1950s when they were in charge and minorities knew their place.

An explicitly anti-democratic party should be very scary to the rest of us. It suggests that Republicans want a radical change to our constitutional government. Trump’s words at least suggest he plans to govern by fiat if he cannot get his way.

It’s understandable that many voters are frustrated with the gridlock in Washington. I am one of them. They want to elect someone that can end it. By supporting someone who will use non-constitutional means though, they tacitly are saying that this is the only way things can change. If elected, Trump’s methods appear to be to take action unlawfully and unilaterally if necessary. He can say that he ran on this promise, voters voted him in anyhow and thus he has their sanction. However, the problem of Washington gridlock has everything to do with excessive gerrymandering that Republicans spent decades working on to garner disproportionate political power. Gerrymandering gives power to the extremes and disempowers the middle.

Curiously many of Trump’s political supporters are not new Republicans but frustrated disempowered people in the middle who see him as their savior. You can see this because some of Trump’s policies are not traditionally conservative at all. His supporters are less concerned with whether the policies are conservative but whether he can make government function for the people again. They see Trump as a man of practical action who by using the force of personality and the presidency will untangle this Gordian knot. For decades the disenfranchised white working class has propped up the Republican Party’s power, with little to show for the support they were given. This gave an opening for the daring (Trump) to exploit.

I contend that what really irks Trump supporters are not the loss of white political power, but their ability to influence politicians to work for the middle class, as evidenced by their declining wages and more problematic standard of living. As Jimmy Carter has pointed out, we effectively live in an oligarchy now. The Republican Party is the champion of the oligarchy. And the oligarchy wants a sense of stability that leaves them in charge. Then they can exploit government and the country for their benefit, which in recent decades has meant a decline in the standard of living for most of us by redistributing income to the rich.

Trump supporters are realizing that they have been had and their votes for Republicans have been counterproductive, but for many they still can’t vote for a Democrat because most Democrats don’t believe in the specialness of whites that Republicans have skillfully exploited. However, it’s why Bernie Sanders can appeal to many Trump supporters, and visa versa, by channeling their economic frustrations. Both are speaking to them in a language they understand. Trump though has chosen to pander to the white working class.

Both parties have exploited working whites for many decades. Whites perceive that Democrats favor minorities at their expense, which they attribute to erosion in their standard of living. They also perceive that Republicans pander to them for votes but give power to the oligarchy instead. They don’t realize that by uniting with many of those they instinctively revile that government could work for them, and in the process work for everyone else too.

To make that leap they must see behind the façade, which is that white Christians are somehow more special than everyone else. I expect the smarter Trump supporters will leach off toward supporting Bernie Sanders instead.

Trump is a showman and a fraud. Those who want the real deal though need to support someone whose entire career has been toward making the government represent the people. By raising the boats of the middle and lower classes, the anxiety about these others should ease.

Who should we trust now?

The Thinker by Rodin

Lordy, Walter Cronkite is gone. Nearly thirty years after he retired as anchorman for the CBS Evening News, the most trusted man in America has regrettably gone to meet his maker at age 92. What amazed me is that even though Cronkite had been largely off camera for thirty years, his passing has inspired genuine grief from millions of Americans. It seems like more people are mourning Cronkite’s passing than Ronald Reagan’s. Cronkite should have faded from our memories by now but for many of us he looms large and singular all these years later. One thing you hear repeatedly is that America will never trust anyone again as they trusted Walter Cronkite.

If you want to be the most trusted person in America, it helps if you have little competition. Cronkite thrived in television news in an age when you had three networks and thus only three choices for your evening news. Cable was just emerging in the 1970s and cable news did not appear until CNN was born around 1980. Today with so many ways to acquire our news, many of them new, it is hard for any individual today to stand out they way Cronkite did. Few of us even bother to watch network news these days. The whole idea of TV network news is almost obsolete.

Cronkite seemed singular but in reality, he followed in the footsteps of the late Edward R. Murrow, who spotted him as a war correspondent in London during World War II. Murrow made it possible for us to place our trust in Cronkite because like Cronkite, America trusted Murrow. I was not old enough to watch Murrow live on television, but I was certainly aware of his legendary influence growing up. I suspect that even those under thirty who never saw Walter Cronkite behind his desk at the CBS Evening News felt his presence.

We trusted Cronkite not only because he looked trustworthy, but he was born in an age when journalism was a highly ethical career, where facts mattered and where professional duty required impartiality. In our new media age, some of us now place this level of trust in certain news bloggers. In fact, few bloggers are impartial, but many are voracious consumers of the news. A talented few have minds like Sherlock Holmes and can sift through vast amounts of information to discern the truth. A couple of bloggers that I deeply respect include Marcy Wheeler and Andrew Sullivan. Neither Marcy nor Andrew though would qualify as traditional journalists but rather interpreters of the news gathered by others. Cronkite, like all journalists, was a person with his own biases that only occasionally leaked out in the form of editorials. Cronkite though was not afraid to investigate an issue, although while anchorman he delegated most of this work to his staff. He was an imperfect perfectionist, always striving to provide America with the best-informed information available on a particular news day. It was reflexive in him and we could tell. That is why America trusted him. We never got that sense about his replacement Dan Rather. At least Cronkite could tell us, “That’s the way it is,” while all Rather could come up with was a pithy “Courage.”

Cronkite proved that trust must be earned in order for it to be placed. Cronkite earned the trust of millions of Americans through his fanatical devotion to objectivity and insistence on quality shoe-leather journalism. What was neat about Cronkite is you never got the sense that he had a bloated ego. On camera at least, he came across like someone out of a cold shower: relentlessly measured and sober. During the scary years of The Cold War where the stakes were often life itself, you could not trust much, but you could trust Uncle Walter.

Who should we place our trust in now, if anyone? It is unlikely that we will ever see that level of trust again in a television journalist, simply because to have it you have to have both a very large audience and be a journalist at your core. Technology has made the former very hard to acquire, and journalism as I studied it in the 1970s is almost gone. More of us are comfortable having our news served to us with spin, be it from the obviously right-wing Fox News or the obviously left-wing MSNBC. CNN claims to hold the middle ground yet populates its shows with cast of characters paid to show their biases. The closest I can find to high quality journalist on CNN is Campbell Brown. She is much nicer to look at then Uncle Walter, but even she is no Uncle Walter. On the radio, National Public Radio has some terrific hosts, but they are faceless. Hosts like Robert Siegel sound terrific but are faceless. You cannot stare them in the eye and get a sense of their soul, like you could with Walter Cronkite. Nor is it clear how much of what they present on the air they direct. Uncle Walter was in charge of the CBS Evening News. On NPR, it appears the producers direct the work.

The Washington Post asked prominent and not so prominent Washingtonians who they think should inherit Cronkite’s mantle of trust. The results were pretty disturbing and included Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Anderson Cooper and Jon Stewart (please!) I like Barack Obama too but before I put Cronkite levels of trust in him, I would like to see how he did with four years as president. Oprah is energetic, empathetic and certainly filthy rich. Do I trust her to provide the insight and informed judgment needed in the 21st century? Not a chance, even if she did do much to make Obama our first African American president.

I can think of some non-journalists who I think can rise to Cronkite’s level of trust. These are typically people who tell us uncomfortable but true things about ourselves and our world that we do not necessarily want to hear or take to heart, but which we know in our heart are nonetheless true. And they have also earned a level of trust through actual deeds.

My number one choice is Nelson Mandela. He spent twenty-eight years in prison for his convictions and has a moral authority probably second to none in the world. Mandela, 91, while a great moral authority, does not claim to have any special understanding of the United States and our particular situation. Yet he is probably the most singular, inspiring and trustworthy living worldwide figure since Mohandas Gandhi. In many ways, I think he surpasses Gandhi, who himself was a very peculiar man. As I learned, in the process of trying to make things better Gandhi often made things worse. Mandela is a gentle and compassionate soul whose moral leadership moved the toxic Apartheid state of South Africa into a modern pluralistic state. In the process, he has inspired and revered by billions worldwide.

My number two choice would be the Dalai Lama. Popes come and go, some better than others and some worse, but the Dalia Lama (whoever he is in his latest incarnation) is consistently compassionate and demonstrates a saner and more sustainable way for human to live and the world to thrive. Buddhists though rarely get much respect because they are so unnoticed. Yet Buddhists are often full of great insight and wisdom. To my knowledge, Buddhists have never caused any wars and have always strived to live simply and compassionately. Like Mandela, the Dalai Lama has little to say to America that we want to hear, nor is he vested in the issues of our day.

My number three choice is actually my number one choice because he lives among us. He is a surprising choice because during the years that Americans got to know him best, he was not terribly popular. His name is Jimmy Carter. He is often telling America things that we do not want to hear, but he speaks with great moral authority, is grounded in our culture and our values and has the humbleness that Cronkite manifested on camera as well as a compassion for all suffering people.

What is truly great about Jimmy Carter though is that when he speaks we know in our hearts that he is right. He is right, for example, when he told us that Israel is engaged in a slow genocide on the Gaza Strip.  President Carter is now 84 years old. Given the actuarial tables he will probably not to be with us much longer. For those of us who find it hard to trust in a nebulous god we can neither see nor feel, we look for examples among us of the best that we can be. For myself, I can think of no better person to place my trust in now that Uncle Walter is gone than in Jimmy Carter.

May Jimmy, like Uncle Walter, live a long life. May we Americans learn much from him in the time we are fortunate to have him with us among the living. Like Walter Cronkite, we are unlikely to see the likes of him again.

No silver bullet

The Thinker by Rodin

Those of us of a certain age remember the presidency of Jimmy Carter. While Carter’s post presidency was far more successful than his actual presidency, Carter also had a bad habit of not telling us what we wanted to hear. In the midst of rampant high inflation, oil shocks and other systemic problems most of which were decades in the making he asked Americans to sacrifice. He told us we needed to change ingrained habits to ensure a brighter tomorrow. He talked about the urgent need for our country to establishing energy independence from the Middle East. He told us to turn down the thermostats in the winter and turn them up in the summer.

Americans did not cope well with these suggestions. I cannot remember a time when my fellow citizens were in a sourer mood. It was no wonder then that when Ronald Reagan proclaimed that it was Morning in America, his message fell on receptive years. Living with the reality of the energy crisis and the fundamental changes underway in our economy at that time was no fun at all. Our politicians were convenient targets at whom we could vent our rage. Out went Jimmy, in came Ronnie. Out went fiscal discipline, in came Voodoo Economics. We would grow our way to prosperity by charging it to the U.S. Treasury. We would delude ourselves that we were prosperous the same way that Blondie deluded herself that she could afford all those shoes because there were still checks in the checkbook.

Reagan exploited a fundamental truth about Americans: in peacetime, the electorate can tolerate a few servings of spinach only. For the eight years of his administration, the spinach diet disappeared and was replaced by the jellybean diet. (Ronnie loved those jellybeans.) To ensure we would not be eating spinach, he strengthened our relationship with Middle East oil suppliers, i.e. Saudi Arabia. All that cheap oil did help grow our economy, which in time perked up the national mood. The Saudis seemed very happy with their new fleet of American fighter jets, not to mention our growing military presence in the region, even though we were technically infidels. It is now clear that this strategy to keep America growing through access to cheap oil had a downside. It tied us intimately to the intractable problems in the Middle East.

In case you have not noticed, the Middle East, never a calm region of the world, is hardly a more secure place than it was twenty-five years ago. In fact, it is arguably in more turmoil than it has ever been. The umbilical cord between the Middle East and us, driven by our insistence on its oil, is now so big and so thick that cutting it is unthinkable. Moreover, the fundamental issues in the Middle East have not been resolved either. In fact, we have exacerbated the Middle East’s problems. We have given oppressive and authoritarian states (Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular) the means to keep their people oppressed. I strongly suspect that there is a direct connection between the continued oppression in these states and the rise of Islamic Jihadist movements. Osama bin Laden, after all, is a Saudi who had no sanctioned outlet for his grievances. He was told to stuff it or go to prison or possibly be executed.

And so we get in higher and deeper, to the point where we make ghastly half trillion dollar mistakes in hellholes like Iraq trying to undo our mistakes. As if the carnage in the Middle East were not enough to distract us, there are these other problems that make issues like terrorism seem rather trivial. Global warming and its consequence, overpopulation and a ravaged environment, is probably the biggest problem that humanity will ever face. We recognize the need to do something serious to address it, but we are not sure what should be done. Whatever solutions are required, what we have done so far clearly has not worked. It looks like we need a long-term strategy to really address global warming, we need it now, and it must be dramatic. In many ways, these issues are the same issues we tried to address a quarter century ago. Only now having spent twenty five years ignoring the problem, the cost and pain involved in fixing the problem has mushroomed, much like the costs of occupying Iraq.

Americans are beginning to understand, grudgingly, that it is time to eat the spinach again. Since Republicans seem incapable of it, the Democrats will have the unenviable task of leading on these issues. It remains to be seen though whether Americans are willing to accept the pain and sacrifice necessary for genuine energy independence and real solutions to global warming. Thinking back to the Carter years, I am not hopeful. In fact, in our SUV addicted nation, I think we will give up our guns before we will give up our Hummers. Instead, we will look feverishly for that silver bullet that will allow us to live our first world lifestyles without actually having to pay for it.

In today’s USA Today, I read that Honda will release a limited edition hydrogen powered car next year. Great news: it will not pollute the air at all! You will refill your tank at special gas stations equipped with hydrogen pumps. While hydrogen powered cars will not emit any pollution, all that hydrogen is going to have to be manufactured and transported from somewhere. Ideally, it would come from a nonpolluting sources such as hydroelectric plants and wind farms. To make a long story short, hydrogen powered cars probably are not a silver bullet either. At least in the short term producing the hydrogen to run them would probably contribute to global warming. If we use renewable sources of energy, like feedstocks, to produce hydrogen, we may drive up the cost of food, and cause people to starve. We are already seeing the effect from using corn for energy. Corn is being used to create ethanol. As more corn is used, demand for corn increased, and prices rise. As a direct result, rising corn flour prices in Mexico are deepening the poverty of many Mexicans and causing more Mexicans to go hungry. With hydrogen powered cars, our urban skies may eventually be cleaner, but it will not solve the global warming problem. Instead, trying to solve one problem will likely cause additional unforeseen problems. Someone will probably pay a price for every clever strategy we concoct to solve these problems.

There are unlikely to be any silver bullets for us on the global warming issue. Technologies like hydrogen-powered cars, while better than doing nothing, are merely tinkering around the edges. Real solutions are likely to be too painful to adopt. To address it we must consume much less energy than we do now. We must stop our population growth and eventually reduce our population to levels that the earth can handle. We must live in denser neighborhoods. In short, a few servings of spinach will not suffice just like a couple week on the Atkins Diet won’t make you a thin person for life.

I expect that Democrats have learned from the Carter years. I think they will give these issues attention, but not enough to alter the dynamics between the needs of people and the needs of the planet. Instead, they will choose a middle ground. Arguably, it may be the better of two bad choices. Turn the screws too tightly, and the Republicans get back in charge, which if their history holds true suggests we will go back to giving lip service to the global warming problem. That will be toxic to our species and to our planet.

Hillary Clinton epitomizes this middle ground. She is expressing hope and optimism that we can address global warming, energy independence and all the other issues our nation is grappling with. To me it sounds like a new version of Morning in America. Hope is a necessary ingredient to drive change, but more than hope is needed. These actions, however much hope they may inspire, are doomed and fall short of what is needed.

What is needed is massive and painful societal change. I have some ideas that are unlikely to go anywhere. However, if they were enacted they would demonstrate to the world that we are serious about global warming. Mind you that these are only first steps. How many of these would you personally commit to in order to address global warming?

  • Limit tax deductions for dependents to two dependents per household.
  • Tax homes that exceed a reasonable square footage, say 2000 square feet.
  • Limit trash collection to once a week.
  • Prohibit the use of power mowers. If we must have power mowers, ensure they use catalytic converters like our cars use.
  • Require all houses to undergo annual energy audits. Fine those that do not meet strict efficiency standards.
  • Limit power consumption from carbon producing sources to a given number of kilowatt-hours per household per month. Exempt households that receive their energy from clean power sources.
  • Put a surcharge on energy use to be used for the development of more clean forms of power.
  • Prohibit new development on undeveloped land.
  • Limit the number of automobiles to one per household.
  • Pay per pound of garbage collected.
  • Provide tax credits for households that have certified systems that keeps temperatures at 65 or below in the winter and 80 or above in the summer.

Yeah, I know. Most if not all of these ideas are dead on arrival in Congress, even if my party, the Democratic Party wins control of all branches of government. As President Carter found out, this will be too much spinach for the national stomach to digest. While other actions show good intent, only actions like these will lead to meaningful change.

The reality is that our golden era of energy gluttony has passed. This new era in which we will arrive either sooner or later will not be as comfortable, but we and/or our grandchildren will have to get used to it. It is either that, or as is suggested in the movie The Last Mimzy, the future of the human race and of the planet looks unimaginably bleak.

Needed: a dose of reality for presidential daughters (and sons)

The Thinker by Rodin

Those of us who watched The West Wing were treated to a fictional, yet likely accurate portrayal of the life of presidential offspring. Viewers best knew the fictional President Bartlet’s daughter Zoey. At the end of Season Four, she was kidnapped on the night of her graduation from Georgetown University. She also prominently dated Bartlet’s very African American personal aid, Charlie Young. Both of these events caused end of season cliffhangers.

From The West Wing we learn that the gilded life is not necessarily easy for presidential offspring. The Secret Service is omnipresent, making it very difficult to maintain privacy and the semblance of a personal life. There is also the ever-curious press corps, who likes to read into the president defects they detect in their offspring. Like modern day princes, these presidential sons and daughters are thrust into a role not of their choosing. Moreover, once their famous parent leaves office, they often become curiosities. Like Amy Carter, sometime they are banished to obscurity. However, if they are particularly smart, good-looking and their parents are well connected they can end up earning six figures right out of college.

Chelsea Clinton has a new job, the Associated Press reports. The 26-year-old former first daughter recently started working for Avenue Capital Group, a New York-based hedge fund that handles about $12 billion in assets.

Clinton had been working as a consultant for McKinsey & Co., the international consulting firm, since 2003, reportedly for a six-figure salary. She received her master’s degree from Oxford University after graduating from Stanford in 2001.

Federal campaign records indicate that Avenue Capital founders Marc Lasry and Sonia Gardner have donated thousands of dollars to Democratic lawmakers, including Chelsea Clinton’s mother, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as to various Democratic campaign committees. There was no word late yesterday from Avenue Capital, any of the Clintons or their reps.

Arguably, Chelsea was simply astute enough to turn the detriment of being a presidential daughter into an asset. If you Google Chelsea’s name, you will find that she has been a busy daughter in the six years since her father left office. After finishing high school at the exclusive Sidwell Friends School in Washington, she received a bachelor’s degree in history from Stanford, where she commendably graduated with highest honors. She recently received a degree in international relations from Oxford University, which her father also attended. Ironically, she now lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. It is just a bit north of the current residence of another presidential daughter: Barbara Pierce Bush, who lives in Greenwich Village. I have to wonder if they occasionally get together for cappuccinos at Starbucks.

Granted, the cost of living is very high in New York City. Even so, Chelsea Clinton’s six-figure salary, given that she is a 26-year-old woman with a master’s degree and is not a lawyer is virtually unheard of. Bill Clinton earned only $30,000 a year as the governor of Arkansas, and that was after spending some time as a professor at the University of Arkansas and unsuccessfully running for Congress. It does not take much to infer that Chelsea’s comfortable salary was due in large part to her parental connections. It also does not hurt that she is a very attractive woman. Presumably, she carries a premium for both her good looks and parental connections. I assume this was the reasoning behind McKinsey & Co. offering her such an inflated salary. Reports suggest she has the Clinton charisma. She may be the next generation of a future Clinton political dynasty.

Like Chelsea, President Bush’s twin daughters Jenna and Barbara are also cute and attractive. Unlike Chelsea, they never properly lived at the White House. Both were 18 when Bush was elected and just beginning college. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Jenna laudably spent some time teaching in public schools in the District of Columbia. Her twin sister Barbara chose to attend Yale, which her father and grandfather attended. Perhaps this was done in part to keep the Bush legacy at Yale alive for another generation.

However, both Bush daughters have had their issues with the law. Barbara and Jenna were charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol at a Mexican restaurant in May 2001. Jenna had a similar incident at an Austin bar a month earlier. In addition, The Washington Post reported in 2002 that the Bush girls were spotted (but not cited for) drinking at a Washington DC nightclub. Having spent some time recently pondering genograms, I have to wonder if the Bush twins have been channeling their father’s issues with alcohol and parental authority. Time will tell. While nominally Republican, both act more like Democrats.

Of Jack and Jackie Kennedy’s children, John Jr. became a glamorous assistant attorney in New York. He attracted a lot of press, but never became a politician. Perhaps this was because, like his father, he died young. He died in 1999 at age 39 (along with his wife and sister-in-law) when he piloted a piper cub into the Atlantic. The crash was thought to be due to his inexperience piloting aircraft. Caroline, the sole surviving child of the Kennedy marriage and now technically an orphan, is politically active in a few of her father’s causes. She is one of the founders of the Profiles in Courage Award. She is a graduate of both Harvard and the Columbia Law School. Her modest life seems a sensible response to her family’s tragic tendencies.

What is true about all these people is that it was difficult for them to encounter the real world. Chelsea Clinton probably enjoyed the most freedom, until her father ran for president. All have enjoyed both the perquisites and the detriments of being offspring to the president of the United States. Their lives were changed forever.

For me this background makes the case of Amy Carter so interesting. I have already confessed my admiration for Jimmy Carter. There was no cushy private school for Amy when the Carters were in the White House; she went to D.C. public schools. Her relatively normal entry into adulthood was perhaps assisted by the public’s general disdain for her father. The Carters were determined not to give their daughter any special favor. Amy fell into obscurity.

The last of the Carter’s three children (her two brothers were 15-20 years older, so they were adults when Carter was in office), Amy’s post White House life was frightfully ordinary. She too went to college, but to “ordinary” colleges like the Memphis College of Art and Tulane University. After her collegiate experience, she was left to fend for herself. As I recall from press reports, she worked in a bookstore to make ends meet. However, she has been politically active. She participated in various sit-ins on issues including apartheid in South Africa and the Reagan Administrations policies in Central America. She dallied on her way to the altar, not marrying until she was 29. She refused to be “given away” at her wedding, and has retained her maiden name. She is currently raising one son with her husband, and is avoiding the limelight.

I suspect over time that some of these presidential offspring will be running for higher office too. Perhaps it is in their blood, or they picked up the expectation watching their parents. I can sense thirty years from now there may be another Senator Clinton in the Senate. However, I am leery about all of these glamorous and often pampered next generation politicians running future ships of state. Our current president perhaps demonstrates that political dynasties tend to be bad ideas. Those who run the ship of state should be people grounded in real life. Arguably, because George W. Bush was not, it contributed to his singular view of the world and the disaster that now is Iraq. Iraq would have never have happened on Bill Clinton’s watch. Bill Clinton certainly came with many faults. He is also quite brilliant and has an amazingly flexible mind. I personally was thrilled at his election. Any man who took at much joy in a burger and fries from Burger King as he did could get my vote. For my money, he was grounded in the real world. He may have come from trailer park trash, but this and his intelligence gave him the insight to deal effectively with people. It may also be one of the reasons he was so despised. The same is true with Jimmy Carter. Both rose above their modest circumstances and in so doing, became very effective politicians.

So if we must have political dynasties, I am keeping one finger crossed behind my back. It is not crossed for a future Senator or President Chelsea Clinton, but instead for a future Senator or President Amy Carter. Amy’s life at least was grounded in some reality, despite being the president’s daughter. It appears that there are no coattails from her father’s term in office on which to run. However, I would rest easier with her steering the ship of state.

I bet Amy enjoys a burger with fries too.

My hero

The Thinker by Rodin

Everyone should have their heroes. I may be 47, but I’m not too old to have my hero. Jimmy Carter is my hero.

I hate to admit I admire Jimmy Carter as much as I do. For one thing he is a passionate Christian and I am not. I am not sure exactly what I am, but I am not a Christian. While I like individuals who happen to be Christian, as a class I am not fond of Christians. But then there’s Jimmy. And after analyzing my feelings about the man I realize I like him because he is a Christian.

A contradiction? Not at all. I admire Christians who can actually act Christ-like. When I think my disenfranchisement with Christianity, aside from all the silly mysticism of much of it, my number one gripe is that most Christians seem to be more spiritually aligned with Satan than with Jesus. But then there’s Jimmy Carter. Here’s a man who epitomizes what Christianity should be but so rarely is. Certainly he is not alone. Perhaps I note so few of them because they so quietly do their work. But from my perspective true Christians are a rare breed. And I believe that Jimmy Carter is near or at the top of the list of people who epitomize the Jesus I found from reading the Bible.

I often wonder how many of those people who purport to be Christians have actually bothered to read Jesus’s words. Here in Virginia you can’t walk two feet without bumping into purported Christians. Unfortunately we’re talking about the Jerry Falwell type of Christian. These folks have no qualms about amassing large sums of money even though Jesus disdained wealth. These Christians seems to be obsessed over the evils of gays and sodomy even though Jesus hung out with Samaritans and prostitutes and stayed away from the rabbis at the temple. These Christians are people who every day feel free to condemn me and people like me for my lifestyle but seem to have wholly missed Jesus’s words saying only those without sin should cast the first stone.

Then there is Jimmy Carter. Humble. Decent. Not the proselytizing type. Not the sort of man to give you a lecture for your behavior. He is a man much more concerned about living the example of Jesus through deeds than through words. Here is a man who if he followed the Ronald Reagan model for ex-presidents might have grabbed speaking fees for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at a pop. Instead he went home after a bitter defeat, licked his wounds, built the required presidential library and went to work. Most of us know that he started Habitat for Humanity, which creates affordable housing across the nation. Many of us also know he has worked tirelessly to bring democratic government to nations that never knew it. If you look around the world today and wonder why there are more democratic nations than there were in 1980, don’t think Reagan or Bush had much to do with it. Thank instead Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter who monitored countless elections. Thank also Jimmy and Rosalyn for all their work vital work in world sustainable development.

People often say that Jimmy Carter was a terrible president. The truth is that Carter was too good to be our president. We say we want a man of peace and high character as our president. But in fact we prefer the macho cowboy as president, not the 98-pound weakling. We even prefer adulterers like Bill Clinton to weenie men like Jimmy Carter who confess lust in their hearts but don’t do anything about it. We saw Jimmy Carter as almost effeminate: a wimp. Here was a guy who agonized for weeks before sending American forces into combat in an unsuccessful attempt to free our hostages from Iran’s custody. We all know W would not be such a wimp. He’d send in the Marines! Send out the strike fighters! He’d show those wacky Persians who’s the boss! Yes, we require a real man (or perhaps someday a real woman) as our president. We don’t want someone who realizes what a hollow thing our sexual stereotypes are and instead is content to be an honest and fallible human being.

The truth was that Carter was a president during times that would have tripped up anyone. The same fate would have befell Gerald Ford had he won in 1976. There is not much any president can do to reduce high inflation, high interest rates and oil shocks in four short years. But Carter did what he could. Although the deficits of the 1970s look puny by modern standards he did manage to reduce the annual federal budget deficit, unlike his immediate predecessors. And he made unpopular but correct choices in a number of areas. Does anyone remember the hubbub of “giving away” the Panama Canal? Does anyone care now that it is under the control of the Panamanian people? It was the right thing to do and Carter had the leadership to make sure it happened.

And what other president prior to Carter did as much for world peace? Certainly many presidents sent men to war to create a peace. But Jimmy Carter actively worked to solve the thorniest foreign policy issues. The Camp David Accords were an amazing achievement that created a peace that has endured for over 25 years between two implacable foes: Israel and Egypt. It is no wonder that for this and his many other achievements in peacemaking Jimmy Carter belatedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Last night I watched Carter, nearly 81, speak at the Democratic National Convention. His voice was unsteady at times but he is otherwise in remarkably good health. He gave of one the most concise but on target speeches against George W. Bush and his strategy of preemptive war that has ever been made. Who else could say this with such conviction and authority?

Today, our dominant international challenge is to restore the greatness of America – based on telling the truth, a commitment to peace, and respect for civil liberties at home and basic human rights around the world. Truth is the foundation of our global leadership, but our credibility has been shattered and we are left increasingly isolated and vulnerable in a hostile world. Without truth – without trust – America cannot flourish. Trust is at the very heart of our democracy, the sacred covenant between the president and the people.

Jimmy Carter is modeling the behavior we should all emulate. If we had courage we would be following behind him. Instead of squandering our lives playing with game cubes or watching “reality” television, our lives could take on genuine meaning and richness. Carter is showing us a path we can all choose to take. How many of us have the courage to rise above our selfishness and live the meaningful life?

If I could pick just one person among all the brilliant people, statesmen and theologians in this world to spend an hour with I would pick Jimmy Carter. Just to have the opportunity to shake his hand would be the highlight of my life. Jimmy, if you are in Northern Virginia, take this as a standing invitation. And as a wishy washy Unitarian Universalist to a true Christian I say: God bless.