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On Canvassing, Four Years Later


Fired Up
Originally uploaded by cplong11
Today, the girls and I, along with my colleague, Dan Letwin, and his son, Nick, took to the local streets to canvass for Barack Obama as we did four years ago.

A lot has changed in four years, particularly with the kids, as the pictures posted here attest.

Changed too is the sense of possibility we had four years ago when we really didn't know if it was even reasonable to think that America might elect an African American President.

Even then, however, I was trying to live a kind of critical optimism that would enable us, in what still remains "a dangerously adolescent country (Baldwin)," to cultivate a sense of our own limits and to nurture more just relationships with one another.

Today, I took to the Pennsylvania streets for Barack Obama despite what I believe to be his very significant failures to move our understanding of justice from one based on retribution and violence to one oriented by a deep sense of how our lives are woven intimately into the lives of others and the well-being of the world in which we together live. Retributive justice is, of course, no justice at all; rather, justice is rooted in our abilities to respond to others, however different they may be, in ways that move us toward a mutually more fulfilling life.

The rhetoric of retribution in the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the unrepentant use of drone strikes are two of the ways this administration, like the last, perpetuates a cycle of violence that is destructive of any possibility of peace. Even at this late date in human history, when retribution has proven itself unable to perpetuate anything other than perpetual violence, we humans remain addicted to the short lived satisfaction it offers, no matter how many times we experience the pain it will inevitably return to us.

Chloe and Hannah Canvassing
Originally uploaded by cplong11
And yet, despite all of that, I nevertheless took to the streets to canvas for Obama with my kids and my colleague because Barack Obama still articulates a compelling vision of what is possible for America, even if America - and perhaps Obama himself - is not fully prepared to live up to the ideals set forth. 

I will settle, for now, for a President who recognizes the need for us to take care of one another, who understands the destructive impact our human economy is having on the earth's ecology, and who has shown himself capable of moving difficult legislation through a recalcitrant and dysfunctional political system.

So today, just like four years ago, we set out to knock on doors for Obama; and today, as then, I found myself at once saddened and heartened. 

I was saddened by the man who, learning that we were there for Obama, shut his door in the face of three little kids and their somewhat taken aback fathers. That act of rudeness did not rise to the comic level that my argument with the libertarians did four years ago, but still, it demonstrated a lack of civility that has become all too common a part of our civic culture. 

I was heartened, however, as I was four years ago, by the few we seemed to convince, and by the woman who was herself so pleased to welcome the six of us onto her front porch, where she listened to these two middle aged fathers still idealistic enough to believe knocking on a few doors could make a difference, and to their three excited kids willing to believe it would too.

Deliberative Dialogue

This image captures a poignant moment in the Flash Forum in Response to the Arizona Shootings held by the Center for Democratic Deliberation on January 21 at Penn State. The panelists are listening to a student accuse them of being irrational left wing ideologues who are attempting to blame right wing rhetoric for the shootings. 

The image, which I captured with my iPhone, bears reflecting upon because it displays a the range of expressions that suggest something important about the emotional dimension endemic to all political communication.  Each member of the panel has a slightly different look that range from skeptical amusement, to inchoate anger, to concerned disbelief.

As a member of the audience, my heart began to beat a bit faster as I listened to the belligerent tenor of the comment. Plato identified the affection of the soul operative in such situations as thumos, or spirited desire, and he intentionally placed Socrates in situations in which he faced and had to respond to such spirited interlocutors--Thrasymachus in the Republic and Callices in the Gorgias to name the two most famous.

From my perspective, the most interesting and important dimension of the exchange was this: whatever validity this student had in accusing the panel of a left leaning bias was lost by the agonistic manner in which he presented his position. His rhetoric was designed to shame and dominate rather than to question and deliberate. The panel did a nice job of undermining this rhetorical strategy. But the performance of a kind of political speech that erodes the possibility of common understanding served as a very powerful object lesson about how we talk to one another politically.

I was left thinking about how we model political communication in our classrooms and in our lives. When we disagree most vehemently, thumos overtakes us and clouds precisely those capacities we most need for deliberation and understanding: generosity, humility and critical reflection - to name just three.

It was heartening, then, to hear a second student take up the right wing perspective later in the conversation in a more respectful and thoughtful mode. He posed some hard questions that invited us to think further about our own ways of framing the issue, and he did it in a conscientious and considerate way. Professor Hawhee rightly paused at the end to positively reinforce the manner in which he formulated his position.

Sometimes deliberation depends less on what we say than it does on how we say it.

The Specter of Arlen

Despite the fact that I have never voted for Arlen Specter, I have come to respect some of the values he stood for over his long career in the Senate.  As a Republican, he remained an advocate of women's rights and more recently, as a Democrat, he stood on the right side of the Health Care debate.  I had the opportunity to see him work an audience up close late last summer here in State College when he came for a town hall meeting at the Penn Stater.

There my admiration grew as he responded to a very angry group of Tea Party activists who were as disrespectful as they were misguided.  The exchange I captured on video below says a great deal about Specter's ability to speak the truth in such a tense atmosphere.

Nevertheless, I am very happy to see Joe Sestak as the Democratic nominee for US Senate from Pennsylvania this evening. Everyone understands why the Obama administration supported Specter, albeit somewhat halfheartedly, given the need to garner Specter's vote for Health Insurance Reform. The irony of it is that many of us voted for Sestak precisely because we understand that the Health Insurance Reform bill was crippled by too many conservative Democrats in the Senate. 

My hope is that by nominating Sestak, who will be a formidable candidate in the fall, we can defeat Toomey and push the Senate to take a more progressive approach to the problems of health insurance reform, sustainable energy, and improving education. In the end, many of us who worked hard to elect President Obama saw in Sestak a person who would champion the same ideals.

The time is ripe for a new, more progressive voice in the US Senator from Pennsylvania, but still, I admire and thank Senator Specter for his long service to the Commonwealth. The specter of Arlen will continue to haunt Pennsylvania in a largely positive way for many years to come.  And I am glad to see that he is already endorsing Sestak in the general election.

Freedom and Healthcare

WPSU Banner.jpgIn the wake of the Specter town hall I blogged about here, I have been thinking about the underlying political ideology of those who are so angry about health insurance reform. I would characterize those who I experienced there as staunch libertarians. I wrote a blog post about the main problem with this political philosophy - a negative conception of freedom based on an understanding of the human subject as independent - for my latest contribution to 

To read it, visit the post on their site here.

On God and Government

I recorded the following video at today's town hall meeting with Senator Specter in State College at the Penn Stater hotel.  It captures something of the anger and passion of the event. 

It illustrates too an absolute inability to recognize the positive role that government can and does play in people's lives. It is striking that the lesson this man learned from the way the VA and "the state" supported his wife's heart transplant is that government is evil and that all we need is prayer to sustain us.

Live Blogging Specter at Penn Stater

10:03: As this comes to a close, I am feeling at once hopeful and depressed.  A life of anger and hate is difficult. It is painful to see it and to have it seep into the public discourse.

CpLatspecter.jpgHowever, there are many who live in anger and fear and who are here to express the sentiments that grow out of those emotions. I hear a fear that is corrosive.

My hope comes in the way the Senator has responded and listened.  I remain concerned that he is leaving with the impression that people are strongly against reform. 

Specter remains, happily, in favor of keeping a single payer option on the table and is trying to make good decisions.

9:58: A lot of small employers have dropped insurance over the past year. Employers can't keep up with the cost.  How would reform help with this? Specter insists that insurance companies won't be able to drop coverage and refuse it. The plan will cut costs he says ... and I hope it is strong enough to do that.

9:53: Now the question is: if you vote yes to health insurance reform, should you be held criminally culpable?  Specter says: no. Simple, elegant.

9:45: On to abortion... Happily, Specter is in favor of both life and the right to choice.

9:38: It seems that to change one's mind about the single payer option in the face of the attempt to garner support for reform (as Obama seems to have done) is to be a lair. Specter defends the notion that we need to be flexible and make changes to our position in the face of the interests of others.  

It is frustrating to hear that the flexibility required to come to agreement is caricatured as duplicity.

9:20: A man tells a compelling story about his wife who needed a heart transplant when they had no money. They prayed on it and God answered: his VA benefits came through and she had the operation and is now healthy. 

The lesson he takes from this: government is evil, prayer is the answer.

He is against healthcare reform because he does not want government to decide to kill his wife!??

Specter makes the obvious point that the VA is a government program.

Oh, and by the way, there seems to be an Obama goon squad somewhere around here. People are worried about it, but I only see a bunch of idealistic looking Specter staffers dressed in coat and tie ... and I see John Eich.

9:13:  Apparently Specter is trying to kill us when he advocates for exercise, healthy eating, and regular checkups.  Not sure how that follows, but there it is...

killlawyers.jpg9:10: It seems that the lawyers are causing all the problems in America.  Here is a sign that suggests the lawyers be killed!

This civil discourse indeed!

Specter says that he decided not to shave his head and become a sex symbol after his cancer treatment. Good choice.

9:05: There are now a few more pro reform questions being asked thoughtfully. Specter restates that the single payer plan should be on the table.  He has retained his sense of humor and recognizes that when he advocates for the rights of states, he gets a lot cheers. He predicts it before he says it.

8:55: Watching this, I am increasingly aware of the anger and fear that is animating some people in the country. These are people who genuinely feel threatened by a changing world. I hear it in the loud opposition to the very idea of global warming and any intervention by the government in the lives of individuals.

8:45: Question about public leader's arrogance, we are apparently on the road to socialism.  The war is allegedly for American freedom. Specter says that we are not moving to socialism, the boisterous people are booing because they don't believe him.

Specter says he favors a public option.  Says he is here to listen, but I wonder what the impression he is getting about the position of the "American people" from this meeting.  There are just a lot of angry people in this room.

8:40: Second question is from a young man whose father is a plumber without insurance. Asks what they are going to do to help him. He is clearly in favor of insurance reform. Specter says that they are working for universal health insurance (claps and boos combined) and he speaks of a co-operative program.

Specter is talking about changing parties because the Republicans were not willing to engage in a discussion about the stimulus.  He says that when he voted for the stimulus, the Republicans censored him.  He is glad to be able to vote his conscience, not on a partisan label.

8:35: Specter says that your right to free speech ends when you interrupt others trying to exercise the right to free speech. The first question is more of a filibuster than question.  The questioner wants to know "why aren't you taking more time?" Specter says that they are taking the time to get it right.

Specter is angry and feisty.  There is a strong anger in the hall, but Specter is firm. 

theline.jpg8:25: Waiting for Specter, here are some pictures of the line outside the hall.  It is hard to tell who is for what, but it feels like there are a number of people here early who are against reform.  They have signs, which were not permitted into the hall.  The first 30 people were given cards to ask questions.

Specter comes enters and is talking about the anger he has seen over the past few days as he goes through PA.

Luzier.jpg8:15: I am in the hall after waiting in line for about an hour.  I had a nice talk with Joyce Luzier (shown here on right) from Phillipsburg who is supporting health insurance reform. We had a nice discussion about the importance of reform and sighed as we saw the bus of anti-reformers arrive.

No Recess without a Bill

WPSU.jpgToday published a blog post of mine in which I advocate for the passage of a strong, comprehensive healthcare reform bill prior to the August recess.

I outline three basic goals the bill should achieve: to cover all Americans, to reduce costs as it increases the quality of care and to avoid increasing the federal deficit.

Congress should not be allow out for recess without passing a comprehensive healthcare reform bill.

Read the post on here, and feel free to comment there or here. 

Thompson's Misguided Views on Healthcare

Read my latest blog post on the website in which I respond to a letter I received from Representative Thompson.  He wrote me a letter after I called his office to encourage him to support a strong public health insurance option.  His position is misguided. To read about how, click here.

Force is Not Power

Today saddens me. 
20 June - 30 خرداد
Although it is not clear what the ultimate outcome of the events that have unfolded in Iran over the last week will be, still, today's violent response by the Iranian government to protesters contesting the election are tragic in the most ancient sense.

The tragedy is rooted in a fundamental blindness to the powerlessness of violence. Humans seem unable to recognize this blindness, despite its absolute obviousness.  It is not that violence is not effective in repressing the spirit of a people for a time. It certainly is, and we may be bearing witness yet again today to this effectiveness. 

But effective violence is not power; it is mere force. Power comes when communities gather together around a common purpose, for a common good. Power is organic, it grows and can be cultivated. Force is coercive, it destroys and cultivates only despair.

Today as I watched the violence unfold in Iran, I felt at once intimately connected to it and remotely distant from it. The desire to be heard, to press for what one believes, to risk something for justice, this resonates with the human spirit that connects us. Yet the very real horror of looking violence in the face, of having one's person, one's very life at stake, that I can barely fathom. All I can do is admire the courage of those who are standing for what they believe is right and the vision of those who refuse to succumb to violence in the process. 

True power lies with them, whatever the immediate outcome of today's events in Iran. 

One Person = One Broadcaster

Mousavi.jpgOver the past few days, I have been powerfully moved by the voices from Iranians struggling to be heard that have been delivered to me through Twitter as I monitored the feed from #iranelection.  

In one recent post by the Mousavi1388 feed, which is one of the only ways the candidate who seems to have won the most votes in Iran can communicate, it is written:

We have no national press coverage in Iran, everyone should help spread Mousavi's message.  One Person = One Broadcaster. #IranElection

A more poignant articulation of the political power of the social web can hardly be imagined. 

I am relieved to see that Twitter itself has recognized the important role their service is playing in Iran.  They have accordingly rescheduled a service maintenance that would have brought their servers offline during a 90 minute period at 9:45pm Pacific time, which would have been around 9:15am in Iran. If the plan to have a nationwide strike tomorrow is to succeed, communication via Twitter is critical for its organization.  I am impressed by Twitter's sensitivity to the political significance of what is happening and by its ability to alter what was surely a logistically complex undertaking even in normal circumstances.

I am impressed also by all the people around the world who have published addresses to proxy servers that allow the tweets from Iran to bypass the government filters seeking to suppress grassroots communication.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of this struggle is, and my hopes and thoughts are with those in the streets trying to be heard--may they be untouched by violence, the manner in which this political process has unfolded has transformed my understanding of Iran, of the power of social media and of the possibilities that open when communities of communication emerge committed to a noble purpose

Following Events in Iran

As mentioned early this week, I have been anticipating the election in Iran to see the extent to which the new possibilities for peace emerge as the structure of global politics shifts in the face of the economic crisis and the election of President Obama.

So, this morning I was disappointed to learn that Ahmadinejad had been declared the winner in a supposed landslide.  Since then, I have been following the story in a very interesting way: directly through Twitter and YouTube, I am being exposed to the views and experiences of individuals, unfiltered by the media, either here or in Iran.

Here are some of the links I have been following:

Check out the protests themselves from grassroots video like these:
Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic is doing a very nice job of keeping up on the story with these direct, social web resources:
It is very powerful to be this directly connected to events happening half a world away to people with whom I have no real direct experience. Yet these media offer a more direct glimpse into the event.  They cannot replace solid investigative journalism, but in the immediacy of the moment, they can give a real sense of what is happening. 

Profiting from Health Care

I admire the White House's strategy to press forward on substantive health care reform now and I hope Washington is able to resist the temptation to water down the public option in such a way that the medical-industrial complex can manipulate it for its own obsession with profits.  

I share Robert Reich's opinion that the public option must be national in scale and able to combine with Medicare so as to be able to force the Pharma, Insurance and medical practitioners to bring costs down.

In his recent New Yorker article, Atul Gawande shows the degree to which the practices of physicians and other medical professionals in certain areas drive the costs of healthcare up by prescribing unnecessary procedures and otherwise over treating patients in order to maximize profits.  This report shows the extent to which the medical profession, to say nothing of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, "took profit growth to be a legitimate ethic in the practice of medicine."

It has become increasingly clear that whatever fears people have about a government run healthcare option, it will at least have the benefit of not being at its very core driven by the ethic of profit maximization.  Joe Conason has nicely shown the benefits of a strong publicly funded option, emphasizing the fact that a government program would cut costs right off the top by eliminating price increases associated with maximizing profits for shareholders.

Patients should profit from the healthcare system by receiving better care, not the medical-industrial complex by generating more money.  Aside from a strong belief that everyone has the right to basic health care, the main reason I support a strong public option is to undermine the ethic of profit maximization that has perverted the healthcare system in the United States for too long. 

The Ethics of Drilling

I have been asked to continue to blog for WPSU on local politics, so periodically I will be draw your attention here to my posts there.

My latest post concerns the manner in which policy decisions are made in Harrisburg with reference specifically to the question of how to monetize drilling for gas on the Marcellus shale that runs underneath much of the state.  In the post I criticized policy makers for focusing exclusively on economic concerns and failing to frame the question of drilling as a broader, ethical decision.

To read the post and comment, see: The Ethics of Drilling on

The Shifting Ground

Today is the anniversary of the death of Mohammed in 632 CE. The schism that opened in the Muslim world after his death continues to play out in the contemporary political tensions between Sunni Muslims who believe that the first four caliphs where the rightful successors to Mohammed and Shi'ite Muslims who believe that the heirs of the fourth caliph, Mohammed's cousin, Ali, are the only legitimate successors to Mohammed.

On this anniversary of Mohammed's death, three stories suggest the shifting ground of global politics in the Middle East and beyond:

  1. Hezbollah, a Shi'ite group backed by Iran and Syria, lost the election in Lebannon this weekend.  This an important defeat because it eases the tensions between Lebannon and Isreal and opens the possibility of talks between the US and Syria, which were put off until after the elections in Lebannon. Some are even crediting an "Obama effect" for the election results.
  2. Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to make a major policy speech about the principles of peace and security for Israel. It seems that he is feeling the pressure from Obama's strategy to hold the Israeli government accountable for continuing settlements.
  3. All over Europe, there seems to be a political shifting to the right in the face of the global economic crisis. This unfortunate development, which could have easily been predicted insofar as tacking rightward is a standard, and disturbing, european response to uncertainty. Happily, the American response to such uncertainties seems, if FDR and Obama are any indication, to be precise opposite.
All of these stories suggest that the ground of global politics is shifting in a remarkable and decisive way, a way that opens new possibilities for peace and, of course, violence. It will be interesting to see how the elections in Iran to take place at the end of the week will turn out. That too could prove decisive for the ultimate success of Obama's foreign policy initiatives.

Let us hope that on this anniversary of the death of the prophet Mohammed, something of the schism between Sunni and Shi'a, between Israel and Palestine, between West and East, can be healed.

The Cairo Speech

Something more than "mere words" is at stake when the President of the United States, Barack Obama, goes to Cairo, Egypt and makes a speech offering a new beginning to the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world in which he says, among other things, that the responsibility we have to one another as human beings is difficult:

"For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes and yes, religious subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared."

I have written here often of the power of words, and again it must be said that words are themselves actions. When Obama insists upon a stop to Israeli settlements, the words have the power to shift the constellation of forces that have been locked in violent struggle for generations. When Obama says that subjugation in the pursuit of self-interest is self-defeating, that the attempt to elevate one group by repressing another will inevitably fail, he opens up the possibility that another logic might prevail upon the world, one that thinks more responsibly about the responsibilities we have to one another, and to ourselves as interconnected co-habitants of an earth that cannot long sustain our violent ways of relating to one another.

To say that words are actions, of course, is not to say that actions other than illocutionary are superfluous; but those sorts of actions will only be effective if animated by words oriented toward the question of what is just and best for the whole of humanity. Such an orientation has never guided US foreign policy. My hope is that now, with a President with the courage to allow his words to articulate a more global conception of "self-interest," it might.

I think something like this is heard in the passages from the Koran, the Talmud and the Bible Obama evoked at the end of the speech:

Koran: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

Talmud: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

Bible: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

2009 Pennsylvania Primary

In less than a week, we will be going to the polls again here in Pennsylvania. Although this primary lacks the national interest of last year's Presidential primary, it remains nevertheless important to local politics.  

I thought I would take a moment here to highlight my two small contributions thus far to the local political debate:

    1. A letter the editor of the Centre Daily Times in support of my friend, neighbor and Penn State colleague, Jim Leous, who is running for a position on the school board for the State College Area School District.
    2. A blog post on about the importance of investing in education and my concern that a number of the candidates running for school board are running in order to minimize taxes rather than ensuring that we have a state of the arts school district. 

Cultivating New Ecological Habits

After listening to this week's New Yorker comment podcast entitled "Economy vs. Environment" by David Owen, I was struck by three things. 

First, economic prosperity is dirty.  Owens says that "the principle source of [hu]man-made greenhouse gases has always been prosperity."  The advantage of the current economic downturn is that it has slowed the carbon clock a bit.

Second, new technologies won't solve our global warming problem.  As Owens suggests, getting increased miles to the gallon is no help if it encourages people to drive more; having electric cars will not help if the electricity is produced by fossil fueled power plants and if we continue, as he writes, "sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful."

Finally, the real solution to the energy and global warming crisis lies in the transformation of human habits.  Our habits must change. We must cultivate more sustainable ways of acting and thinking, habits that allow us to live in a more symbiotic way with the planet that sustains us.

To begin, let's figure out how to live closer to where we work.  Let's ride public transportation when we can, even if it is inconvenient.  Let's convince our political representatives that it is in our best interest to pay for and otherwise support things that cultivate habits that support a more symbiotic way of living in the world.

If economic flourishing is going to promote ecological prosperity, the new, green economy will have to serve a whole new set of human habits oriented toward a mutually sustaining relationship between the world and its human co-habitants.


I have just finished listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on the Lincoln Presidency, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  Although the book takes a largely uncritical view of Lincoln's political wisdom, it was compellingly told and insightful.  What struck me most was the political power of magnanimity. Goodwin does not make this point explicitly, but it seems to me that the central friendship of the book, that between Lincoln and his political rival turned close friend, William Henry Seward, was rooted in the core virtue of magnanimity which both men embodied.

The magnanimity of Lincoln was revealed repeatedly throughout the story as Lincoln confounded rivals who under-estimated his ability to navigate the world of human politics.  It was what allowed him to tolerate General McClellan's repeated challenges to his judgment and authority during the early stages of the war.  It was what enabled him to draw on Salmon P. Chase's extraordinary ability to raise money for the war effort as Treasury Secretary even as Chase opposed him for the Republican nomination in the 1864 election.  In these and many other cases, Lincoln acted always in a thoughtful, even manner, never allowing his anger to cloud his judgment or his understanding of the forces that animated his opponents. 

William Henry Seward's magnanimity was of a slightly different sort: he seems to have been free of pretty resentfulness and vindictiveness. After losing the 1860 Republican nomination for President, which everyone expected him to win, Seward was able to find it within himself, despite this disappointment, to campaign vigorously on Lincoln's behalf in 1860.  Many credit speeches he gave on Lincoln's behalf for the ultimate Republican victory that year.  He then accepted Lincoln's nomination of him as Secretary of State (does this story sound familiar?) and became one of Lincoln's closest friends and most important political advisors.

Perhaps the strong friendship between these two men was rooted in the shard virtue of magnanimity.  What strikes me as worth holding always in mind is that magnanimity requires a great deal of ethical imagination: the ability to imagine one's way in the position of another in order to gain insight into what animates that person.  From this perspective, those initial impulses toward anger dissolve and new possibilities open for more productive modes of response.  I will recall Seward and Lincoln as I make my way through the politics of the academy and everyday life, remembering not to respond in anger, but with empathy and magnanimity, for it is at once ethically generous and politically, far more effective.

Two Little Moments

I just wanted to pause to note two small moments that occurred as we watched the inauguration unfold on TV as a family on Tuesday.

As Val and I were focused on the inauguration, Hannah was hard at play with her dolls. As we were waiting for all the dignitaries to be seated, I turned to Hannah and noticed her holding two dolls in her hands; she was making them jump up and down.  They were chanting "OBAMA, OBAMA, OBAMA."

Then there was Chloe who said as she sat on my lap watching the 21 cannons saluted the new President and the crowd going wild: "Daddy, the whole world is shaking."

To which I could only reply, "Yes, Sweetheart, it really is."

The Power of Words

This day stands as a rebuke to all who doubt the power of words.  And on this defining day, I was struck again by the power of words spoken to inspire, transform, evoke, and celebrate.  Here are some I found most poignant:

Those who doubt the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet can never diminish the power engendered by nonviolent struggles for justice and equality like the one that made this day possible.
--From Diane Feinstein's Welcoming Remarks
Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

--From Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural Poem, Praise Song for the Day

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

--From President Barack Obama's 1st Inaugural

This particular passage evoked for me the words of James Baldwin who said that to achieve nationhood requires "the growing up of this dangerously adolescent country." I hear in it the very real possibility of the mature politics of which I wrote here almost a year ago.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.


To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.


What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

--From President Barack Obama's 1st Inaugural
Let me end this evocation of the words spoken today by gesturing to the way Obama's suggestion that the ideals of America "still light the world" resonate with these words about love from Alexander's poem:

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

And these, from the Reverend Joseph Lowery's beautiful benediction:

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.
And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques or wherever we seek your will.

Making this Moment Possible

Lyons_Paul.jpgI woke, this much anticipated morning, to the news of the death of a colleague.  Professor Paul Lyons taught history, social work and holocaust studies for 29 years at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where I began my academic career. He was a man dedicated to social justice and committed to teaching young people to think critically about the world and to orient their lives toward the question of justice.

Paul's response to the attacks on September 11, 2001 was powerful: he collaborated with his fellow Stockton professor David Emmons to teach a course on the event.  The power of this response lies in the thoughtful and expansive influence it has on future generations.  In the wake of oversimplified, dogmatic rhetoric, Paul responded with a depth of historical understanding and a passion to engage students directly about an event that changed the course of our lives.

So, this morning, as we our attention to the future with the inauguration of the first black president, I also pause to remember all those teachers, like Paul Lyons, committed to orienting young people toward justice and opening the possibility of this moment.

The Steep Climb

In a short but powerful speech from the Lincoln Memorial, Barack Obama stood where King had stood and offered a powerful rejoinder to some of those most powerful words King spoke 46 years ago.  Where King spoke of a country where his children "will not be not judged by the color of their skin by the content of their character," Obama spoke of "the true character of our nation" that is "not revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard."

The shift from the individual to the community is critical and is made, no doubt, in the spirit of King's belief that we are all bound together into a community in which injustice to one effects justice for all.  To summon this spirit of community, on that spot, at this moment is to begin to turn us toward our best selves.

And if you listen, perhaps you can hear King's rejoinder to Obama's sober recognition that "There is not doubt our road will be long.  That our climb will be steep" -- for King said:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low ...

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

King was right that he would not get to the mountaintop with us, nor are we there yet, but we are closer and with continuing work and encouraging words, ever higher we will climb.

Mortgage Relief

For those of us who own houses and who are working hard to keep up with our mortgage payments, it has been difficult to hear about multi-billion dollar bailouts of Wall Street banks and financial institutions who have failed to make good on their commitments.

However, according to the New York Times article, Washington's New Tack: Helping Homeowners, the Treasury Department is considering a plan that would subsidize 30-year mortgage rates so people would have the opportunity to get such mortgages at an interest rate of as little as 4.5%.

This strikes me as a very promising idea, and not only because my family and I would benefit from it. By essentially cutting the monthly cost of living for all current homeowners, the government will be increasing the amount of money middle income families can inject directly back into the economy.  Further, the plan would help the banks insofar as there presumably would be fewer loan defaults and the fees generated by the millions of people electing to refinance existing mortgages would be a windfall profit for them.

There is a qualified version of the proposal, however, that concerns me. The Real Estate lobby is apparently suggesting that these subsidized mortgages be limited to new home buyers. While this would be cheaper for the government insofar as fewer people would be able to take advantage of it, there is no reason to impose such a limitation if a more inclusive relief package would still make the offer available to new home buyers and thus stimulate the housing market. 

I think the proposed subsidized mortgage stimulus package, if enacted in an inclusive rather than exclusive way, would be a far more effective stimulus to the economy than writing individual rebate checks to all tax payers. To have a reduced monthly payment built into the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage would have a profound and lasting impact on the overall wealth of those who are working hard to afford their first home or who are, like us, working to pay off the remainder of a hefty mortgage.

Of course, this proposal only address those with the money to buy or own a house, so it would not address the struggles of millions of the working poor.  For them, relief in a variety of other forms will be needed: health coverage, unemployment benefits, etc. Such efforts, however, would not be undermined by extending mortgage relief to homeowners and home buyers; to the contrary, the overall effect of this sort of mortgage relief plan would be a more robust and strengthening economy.

If you agree, write your Congress members, the President and the President-Elect:

For those who live in Pennsylvania, you can write to our Senators here:

Critical Optimism

My friend and colleague from the New School, Emma Bianchi, forwarded me an essay written by Judith Butler entitled "Uncritical Exuberance?" that cautions us against too enthusiastically identifying with the election of Barack Obama.  Butler discerns a danger in "believing that this political moment can overcome the antagonisms that are constitutive of political life, especially political life in these times."

She also insists, rightly I think, that "there have always been good reasons not to embrace 'national unity' as an ideal, and to nurse suspicions toward absolute and seamless identification with any political leader."

I share her concern about the disjunction between those who voted for Obama in California (60%) and those who voted against the legalization of gay marriage (52%) and about the way economic concerns may have trumped racist tendencies in voters who professed to have voted for Obama despite his race.  To the extent that Obama's rhetoric of unity ("there are not red states or blue states, but the United States...") colludes in masking such ambivalence, it must be critically challenged.

However, I hear in Obama's politics something different, something more nuanced and mature.  There is, of course, often the appeal to a certain unity, but always without denying difference.  Here is where a different form of politics becomes possible. This other politics is not animated by the naive ideal of post-partisanship, but by the sober courage to enact a more deliberative reality.

My experience this year as a local volunteer canvassing for Obama has pressed this recognition upon me. In face to face encounters with individuals, many of whom disagreed with me, I came to see the possibilities endemic to what Obama envisions as a "deliberative democracy."  George Packer, drawing on Obama's The Audacity of Hope in this article from the New Yorker, clarifies the meaning of "deliberative democracy" this way:

it denotes a conversation among adults who listen to one another, who attempt to persuade one another by means of argument and evidence, and who remain open to the possibility that they could be wrong.
Deliberative democracy thus understood does not deny the antagonistic dimension of politics, nor does it enable the masking of ambivalence by an imagined unity; rather, it presumes the maturity of the citizenry and seeks to further cultivate it by engaging in honest, fallibilistic dialogue oriented always by the attempt to move us, incrementally to be sure, toward a more just way of living together.

If this is Obama's understanding of politics and if he intends to allow his Presidency to be informed by such a politics, then in electing him, this "dangerously adolescent country" has taken a decisive step toward maturity.

Yet, however decisive, it is only a first step, for the difficulty of it comes in living it. To live it requires critical optimism: the sober analysis and recognition of the limits of our current situation animated by an unyielding refusal to allow our failures to deter us from pressing toward a more just community.

The grassroots organization of Obama's campaign has the capacity to cultivate this sort of critical optimism. The technology it has embraced should enable it to pivot from the fund-raising and canvassing so critical to campaigning to the dynamic exchange of ideas so critical to governing.

If Obama can make this turn by empowering people to voice their views, offering them a resource by which they feel genuinely heard, and providing them with a certain level of transparency with regard to the mechanisms by which decisions are ultimately made, it will be transformative of American democracy.

Watch closely what happens as the campaign becomes, for here will be the first indication that such a transformation is really being attempted. I am not uncritically exuberant; yet I remain critically optimistic.

Summoning a New Spirit

NYTObama.jpgIt is difficult to put into words the feelings of the last few days, the sense of genuine pride, of relief, of hope, of new possibility; the sense of gravity for the seriousness of the situation we now face, the very weight of responsibility that comes with an accomplishment like this.

From the moment I saw the President-elect walk onto the stage in Grant Park on Tuesday night, I knew he was changed. The full weight of the Office was squarely on his shoulders, and he bore it well.

As I listened to him speak, I was filled with a solemn sense of elation; joy in the moment, earnest in the face of the enormity of the task.  Obama captured this sense of solemn elation when he said:

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change.  And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.  It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.  So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.
The passage resonates with almost every speech Obama has given through the campaign; it invites us to participate in something larger than ourselves, and it uses "this day, this election...this defining moment" to turn our attention toward new possibilities, to a future not measured by days or months, but by centuries.  It seized the moment as the opportunity to ask us to to imagine what we want to be and how we want it to be for our children.

From the start, Obama has had a sense for what the Greeks called the kairos, the right moment. It is a term that means also due measure, proper proportion, fitness; the proper time for planting, the season when growth is best cultivated. This most ancient of words not only designates the sense of timing with which the Obama campaign has operated, but it also beautifully articulates the very manner of its operation: balanced, steady, measured.

And now, they have turned from campaigning to governing with a swiftness that is to be admired.  Without a break, the Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, has been established and a new website launched:

One senses that this is just the beginning and that we will be asked to be an important part of what is to come.

President Obama!

ObamaOpening.JPGThe first word Hannah could read herself, or at least recognize, was 'Obama'.  She has been involved with the Obama campaign for at least 30% of her three year old life, and now she and her sister Chloe will never know a world in which an African-American was not president of the United States.

Here are some pictures that bring into focus how much Chloe and Hannah have grown over the course of this election.  The first is of Chloe, Caitlin and Hannah at the opening of the State College Obama campaign office in March.

Val and Girls Eday.jpgHere is a picture of Chloe, Hannah and Val on Election Day, 2008.  Hannah and Chloe have grown up during this campaign and I hope they have learned something about standing up for what you believe in and putting your energy and efforts into making the world a better place. 

Chloe and Hannah were my intrepid canvassers, walking through many neighborhoods, ringing doorbells, always very happy to be out talking to voters.  They never complained and always were happy to visit the Obama office, where they inevitably received some treats, many stickers and more than a few high fives from volunteers.

To hear President-elect Obama speak tonight in Grant Park in Chicago was gift enough for all the effort.

Newsday Blog

My brother-in-law is the editor of the sports section of New York Newsday.  He asked for feedback from those of us living in battleground states.  I sent them a picture and a short report, which is now posted here:

Thanks to Hank for extending the voice of State College to the NYC area.

E-day State College, PA

Val and Girls Eday.jpgWhen I arrived at the 31st precinct (State College West - 1) at 6:45am to begin working as a poll watcher for the Obama campaign, they had already been lined up for a half an hour.  Fathers with their daughters, young students and retired professors, mother's with their children, all waiting to begin voting in the 2008 Presidential election.

They came in a steady stream from the moment the doors opened at 7am until 11:20am, at which point we signed in our 300th voter.  Shirley, a longtime poll worker in the precinct, reported that 300 is usually a good number for when the polls close.  (It seems that there are about 700 voters registered in the precinct, so by 11:15 over 40% had already voted.)  Shirley said she had never seen it this busy.  One 74 year old voter said that in all his years here, he had never waited in line as long as he had this year. Everyone was in a good mood and the voting went smoothly. There were a large number of first time voters and voters who had been inactive in recent elections.

My job was to write down the voter numbers of those who had voted so that a runner could pick up the list and bring it back to the Obama campaign. They had a list of targeted voters who the campaign was calling if they had not yet voted.  It was, again, all very organized.

Veronique.jpgBy noon, when Val and the girls came to pick me up, almost 400 people had voted, and I left to drive one of my colleagues to her polling place so she could vote.  When we arrived a little past 1pm at the Knights of Columbus on Stratford Ave, where the 19th and the 22nd precincts were voting, there was a huge line waiting to vote.  Actually, the line for the 22nd precinct, which covers an area where a lot of students live, was very long.  The line for the 19th, which is were my colleague, Véronique votes, the line was short.

This suggests that the student turnout is extremely high, which is a very good sign for Obama.  Obama campaign volunteers from New York and elsewhere were managing the line, making sure each person was on the proper line.  They had access to laptops on which they double checked people's precinct to make sure they only waited on line if they were to vote in the 22nd district.

During the course of the morning, I was struck by how important this entire process is.  Here were people, each concerned enough about our community to come out and have their voice heard. When I finally had a chance to stand in front of my own ballot, I was moved to be able to fill in the circle for Barack Obama.  I paused over it, taking special care to make sure the circle was perfectly filled in, that all was in order before it was scanned.  As I filled in that circle, I recalled the words Obama spoke the night he won the Iowa primary last January: "They said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to come together around a common purpose..."  Perhaps today, our day has finally come.



Chris and Larry.jpgToday the girls and I went out for another day of knocking on doors to get out the vote for Obama.  This time, however, we were paired with Larry, a doctoral candidate in the School of Education, who was out for the first time volunteering.

When we started, I was really hoping that he would experience the same feeling of empowerment that I have come to feel each time I muster the courage to go door to door canvassing. The day started slowly as there were no answers at the first few doors on which we knocked. Then we came to a house where someone came to the door and motioned that he was not interested.  Just as I was beginning to feel depressed for Larry, we knocked on the door of a strong supporter who was even willing to volunteer on election day. 

Chloe Driving.jpgLarry and I were rejuvenated by this response and proceeded to happily work through the rest of our assigned addresses, with Chloe helping a bit with the parking lot driving, and Hannah happily sleeping in the back.  (If you look closely at the picture to the right, you can see her napping.)

Today we were knocking on the doors of all the houses that had no answers yesterday. While we are out there, another two volunteers were going through the same neighborhood putting signs on the door nobs of the houses of likely voters indicating where their polling place was and giving them information about voting. 

Chloe and Hannah PA.jpgAgain, I was very impressed by the organization of the campaign materials and those training the volunteers.  The Obama office in State College was buzzing with volunteers young and old.  An eighty year old woman was behind us as we were picking up our packet and she said she was there to work the phones. I met a student I had last year in my first year seminar at Penn State, Stephanie Marek, who was calling off-campus students to make sure they knew where to vote and that there were also down ticket candidates for whom it was important to vote.  We saw dozens of young out-of-state volunteers catching a bite to eat before going back out canvassing. 

It was really quite inspiring to see so many people so motivated and engaged. This year is different for so many reasons, but most of all, it is different because so many people have felt empowered to participate in the political process and have been given an avenue through which to channel this very positive political energy.

The polls open here in Pennsylvania in about 34 hours ...


GOTV1 Chloe and Chris.jpgHere in State College, things are progressing very well with the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts for Barack Obama.  Chloe, Hannah, Nanny Janny, Val and I went to the Obama office in State College today to canvass for them and we were told that all the canvassing packets had already gone out, and this was at 1:30pm!  The office was packed with volunteers, including many young people who have come from out of state for the next few days.

They told us that the Bellefonte office needed some help, so Nanny Janny, Chloe, Hannah and I headed to Bellefonte to do some canvassing.  They sent us out to Pleasant Gap, PA and again, I was impressed by the level of organization involved.

The packet I had included about 25 houses nestled into the gap that passed over Nittany mountain.  The doors I knocked on were largely of lower-income white voters who, for the most part, were supporting Obama.  My job was to ask if they knew where to vote and if they needed a ride to the polls.  Although I encountered two households who were not supportive, the majority of people I talked to were planning to vote for Obama for reasons ranging from the profound to the endearing.  When I asked one voter if he supported Obama, he told me that he supported the idea that the troops should be out of Iraq and so he would be voting for Obama.  Another voter told me that he though Obama was "pretty cool" and that, although he didn't really follow politics, he was going to vote for Obama because he sponsored a concert at Penn State with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. I made sure he knew where his polling place was an happily moved on to the next house.

Today's Washington Post is highlighting a story with the headline "True Believers In McCain Flock to Pa." The dateline says State College, Pa and the story highlights a man who drove from South Carolina to State College in his trailer, set up camp in a local Walmart parking lot (is that legal?), and starting going door to door.  He is trying to do 25 houses a hour for ten hours a day through Tuesday.

What strikes me about this story is the way it highlights the radical difference between the McCain and Obama campaigns.  McCain has decided that winning PA is the only way he can possibly map a road through the electoral map to the White House.  However, inundating the state with free roaming door knocker set up in the parking lot at Walmart does not strike me as a very effective campaign strategy.  It calls to mind the seat-of-the-pants, winging it decision making process the McCain campaign has embodied from the start, having perfected it with the choice of Palin and the suspension of the campaign to muck around in the economic rescue process.

In striking contrast to this, the Obama campaign has a very well thought out and methodological approach to GOTV efforts.  They have thousands of people coming from out of state too, but they are put up in people's houses, fed by local volunteers and given access to resources that will allow them to make extremely effective use of their time while they are here.  The campaign has a very clear idea of what it wants done each day.

GOTV1 Walking.jpgToday and tomorrow, we are to contact likely voters and ensure they know where to vote and find out if they need a ride to the polling place.  Monday, canvassers will be hanging thousands of door nob notices on the doors of targeted voters indicating where the polling places are and reminding people to vote.  On election day, each house will be visited twice to make sure each supporter has in fact voted.  This is a potentially very powerful method and will be looked upon as a model if it works.

The current Real Clear Politics polling average for PA has Obama ahead by 7.5 points, but I am not sure any of these polls are able to factor in what will happen to an electorate when the Democratic candidate has such a powerful GOTV program.  My hope is that this will be decisive and that Obama will win PA and the election going away.

A Last Hail Mary Pass?

Over the last few days I have received four phone calls from the McCain campaign and one mailer from the Republican national committee.  Of the four phone calls, two have been robo calls, one was a person and the other was a person inviting us to the Palin event at Penn State a week prior to the election.

To read the rest of this post, visit the Vote'08 Blog on

Redemption for Powell?

While many of us have found it difficult to forgive Colin Powell for the decisive role he played in lending credibility to the lies that led us into Iraq, his endorsement of Obama today on Meet the Press goes a long way toward winning him some degree of redemption.  The passion with which he spoke in particular about the "really right answer" to the question of Obama's being a Muslim earned him my admiration.

"That One"?


Last night's presidential debate was, on the whole, quite substantive, offering the public a good sense of the fundamental differences between McCain and Obama on issues ranging from health care to foreign policy.  However, the single most poignant moment from my perspective was when McCain disdainfully referred to Obama as "that one," pointing his index finger across his chest toward Obama, but never looking directly at him.

The comment and the gesture captured the deep level of contempt McCain has for Obama. It seemed to express something  bitter and angry at the core of McCain's character. As my mother suggested at the time, the phrase "that one" trades on an undercurrent of racism associated with references to "those people."

Although much more distasteful, I wonder if this gesture will have the same effect on McCain's ultimate quest for the White House that  George H.W. Bush's impatient glance at his watch during the 1992 debate had on his quest for a second term.

This is also posted on the Vote2008 blog available here.

The Front Porch

HannahChloeCanvass.jpgThe girls and I went out canvassing for Obama again on Saturday and I learned something: the front porch is where the world can be changed.

OK, that sounds perhaps a bit grandiose, but I think it is something both Socrates and Jesus knew well: that the conversations we have with each individual we encounter changes everything.

Yesterday, Chloe, Hannah and I visited 29 houses in the Greentrees neighborhood of State College.  We talked to people at 18 of them. Some people were already planning to vote for Obama, a few had decided in favor of McCain. Many, though, were undecided and open to hearing why I was out on a cloudy and cool Saturday afternoon with my daughters knocking on doors for Obama.

I think we changed a few minds, moving undecided voters toward supporting Obama. I am not sure how much my arguments about Obama's economic plan or his health care initiatives had an impact. I had the sense that it was less what I said than it was that I was there on their front porch with my girls talking to them about issues that matter to us all. My hope is that these short conversations, these brief connections, will stay with people and move them to vote in November.

Of course, our adventures on Saturday were not all so wonderful. Toward the end of our route, about two and a half hours into it, with my two little political activists beginning to tire, we happened to knock on the door of a rabid libertarian, his wife, two kids and a friend of theirs. They all came right out onto the porch to aggressively interrogate me as to why I support Obama. Before I could say much, the man dismissed my comments as platitudes and declared all government to be evil. We then had a lively discussion, in which, among other things, I was told that the government should run its business like he runs his rental business and that it should not  lend money to lazy people who can't afford to pay. When I pressed him on the question of what we owe to one another as members of a community, he said bluntly: "nothing."

With that, I bid him farewell, giving some of my Obama literature to his friend, who I felt to be silently supportive of me throughout. As I left, saddened and disheartened, my libertarian friend informed me that he would be writing himself in as president this year because, as he said, "I am smarter than Obama and McCain." I told him: "good luck with that," shook off my sadness and forged ahead to the next house.

After that encounter, I was so happy to meet at the next house a middle aged woman who came out in her socks to talk to me as the girls ran all over her freshly cut lawn. As I apologized for that, she assured me it was no problem, said she had not decided for whom she was voting and listened to me talk about why I was out there advocating for Obama. After our short conversation, she said: "you know, I think I will vote for Obama."

The world can indeed be changed by a conversation on the front porch.

Register to Vote Now

This is a simple call for anyone who comes across this blog and agrees with what they find here to please register to vote.

The Pennsylvania deadline is Monday, October 6th

I have added the voter registration gadget from Google below for all US citizens eligible to vote to easily determine how to register online by typing in their address here.

Please take the time to register.  If you don't vote, you have no voice; but you can't vote unless you register!

The Death of Reaganism and the Future of America


The last vestiges of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which was passed during the first year of the Franklin Roosevelt administration in an attempt to regulate the banking industry in the face of the Great Depression, were repeled in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton.

With a stroke of the pen, Bill Clinton, who campaigned on the idea that "the era of big Government is over," completed a process begun in 1980, in the Reagan administration.  Reagan, who campaigned on the idea that he would "get government off our backs," began the process of deregulation. In 1980, the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act was passed. It removed the power of the Federal Reserve Board to set interest rates for savings accounts originally established by Glass-Steagall.

The process of deregulation that began with Reagan and was completed by Clinton has brought us to the crisis we face today.

To read the rest of this post, including the suggestion that Smart Government replace Big Government, see

The Issues


In a striking comment earlier this month, Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, insisted: "This election is not about issues.  This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."

As the economy crumbles around us, the issues have finally taken center stage in the presidential election. Despite the McCain campaign's attempts to draw attention away from issues, it is precisely in the face of the very real economic issues facing Americans that a composite view of the two candidates is indeed coming into focus.

To read the rest of this post, please click here to visit the Vote '08 site.

Boots on the Ground in PA

DanChris.jpgToday my friend and neighbor, Dan Letwin, and I went out canvassing for Barack Obama with our kids.  It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon; a perfect day to change the world.

We brought our four kids: Nicholas, 4, Chloe 4, Hannah 2 1/2, and Timmy, not yet one. The kids helped us put people at ease as we knocked on their doors. And they lent us courage to do the knocking.

After picking up our list and route from the local State College Obama Office, we headed out to the Park Forest area of Ferguson township.

Over the course of the afternoon, we talked to over 20 people, many of whom were already supporting Obama. We did, however, talk to three undecided voters who were open to our pitch about Obama's character and qualifications. We also talked to three Republicans who were ready to consider voting for Obama based on the recent problems with the economy, but were as yet unconvinced.

KidsCanvass.jpgI was struck by how welcoming people were and how willing they were to talk. It did not hurt that we had kids running around, excited to take turns ringing doorbells and happy to just be with each other and with us on a beautiful day.

We did meet one person who felt political views were a personal matter. We respected that and left him with some literature about the Obama plan to strengthen the economy.

One Republican resident answered the door with a bowl of spaghetti, but he didn't excuse himself on that basis when we told him we were canvassing for Obama. He expressed concern about the economy (by far the main issue on everyone's mind) and listened to us talk about how Obama wants intelligent regulations for 21st century business practices that do not undermine innovation.

In the end, however, the best part of the day was to be with a friend, with our kids, doing our part to nudge the world in the direction toward which we believe it should go.

If we changed no one's mind, if we failed to win a single vote for Obama, it would still have been time well spent; for surely Nicholas, Chloe, Hannah and Timmy, each in her or his own way, felt something of the powerful possibilities that open when people enter into dialogue with one another intent on bending the "arc of the moral universe toward justice".

President 2.0

If Barack Obama wins in November, it will surely be historic, but not only because he would be the first African American president.  He would also be the first President elected based on an organizing and fund raising campaign driven by the incredible power of Web 2.0 technologies.

The traditional "grassroots" strategies have given way to a pixelroots campaign.

To read the rest of this post, please click here to visit the post on

Learning from the Lies

Over the past eight years, the Republican party and its leaders have perfected a strategy of political dishonesty and deception.

In 2000, having lost badly to McCain in the New Hampshire primary, George W. Bush, decided to appropriate the McCain message of reform and undertake an aggressive negative smear strategy in which he deployed push polls and a "whisper campaign" to propagate the lie that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. The results were remarkable: Bush won the South Carolina primary and ultimately the White House.  

To read the full post, click here to visit WPSU Vote08.


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