Friday, August 29, 2008

Heroes, Kings, and Old Men

I must admit I feel sorry for John McCain. It's not because he may lose the election for president. It has to do with something else, something that will remain with him whether he loses or wins. The problem I see is one that is writ large in his life, but appears also in the lives of many men who do not appear in the news.

McCain refers very often to his military service and to his time as a prisoner of war. Lots of other people talk about this time in his life, and even his opponents refer to him as a hero. His later decades, including several terms in the Senate, appear almost as an anti-climax.

Perhaps the young McCain was a hero. Certainly on behalf of his country he suffered in ways that no one should have to suffer. But heroism is for young men, perhaps also for those in middle age. McCain is now past seventy, and as Aaron Kipnis has said, "There are no old heroes--only wise or foolish old men." Someone McCain's age can be a credible senator or president. But by that point in life, heroism needs to give place to something greater. The hero must become the wise old man. If not, then he turns into the foolish old man, somebody stuck in the past.

John McCain is the third of that name. His grandfather was an admiral, and his father was also. The current John McCain never became an admiral. I wonder how much he is haunted by this. I wonder also how much he is haunted by having served his country inside an enemy prison rather than in a position of high command. That was a hell of a hard way to become a hero.

If these are McCain's preoccupations, then he has company. Many men have difficulty letting go of heroic expectations about themselves or even heroic realities. When I was in college, I met a World War II veteran, a relative of one of my friends. Within the first ten minutes of our acquaintance, he was reciting with gusto stories of the dangers he had faced in that war thirty years earlier. It was as though nothing had happened since then. Whether a man is acknowledged as a hero or not, he may not learn that there is life afterward, and that his final decades are inevitably characterized by either foolishness or wisdom.

Another stage can occur between the young hero and the old man. That is the stage of the king. Kings can reign well or poorly. They can preside over territories large or small: not only entire nations, but businesses, classrooms, and families. Richard Rohr has said that a man is rarely in touch with his king energy before the age of fifty. When there's a true king in the room, you know it. He's robust, confident but not arrogant, and embodies a zest for life. The true king makes others feel safe and appreciated.

I've learned a lot about John McCain in recent months, as many Americans have, and I find little or no evidence of positive king energy in what he does. People who know him well, even some who share his political perspective, find him hard to get along with. The greatest leaders add luster even to high office. Others fulfill their roles with dignity and competence. The record suggests that McCain does not belong to either of these groups.

Barack Obama is still in his forties, yet he strikes me as a man moving from hero to king. His mother, his father, his stepfather, and his grandfather are all gone, and he has separated himself from his spiritual father, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Becoming a good king often involves saying farewell to parental figures and leaving mentors behind. The end of these relationships brings grief and sometimes conflict. Obama's words and actions demonstrate that he has negotiated these transitions in a thoughtful way. He lives in the present moment, not the past.

I feel sorry for John McCain, but I will not vote for him. On the other hand, Barack Obama makes me hopeful. Whether or not he's elected president, Obama will serve our country with positive king energy and in time become an old man of uncommon wisdom.

Monday, August 18, 2008

VoterPalooza: Issues and Candidates Forum

Saturday, September 20, 2008
2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Municipal Office CenterPort Huron, Michigan

VoterPalooza: An issues and candidates forum

Statement of Purpose

On September 20, 2008, at the Municipal Office Center in Port Huron, BlueNovember.Org will sponsor in VoterPalooza, an issues and candidates forum focusing on the major themes of the 2008 election. VoterPalooza will provide voters a chance to hear advocates from four political parties as well as candidates from four local races. We are inviting representatives of the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green parties to participate.

From the parties' advocates, voters will hear the parties' positions on the two overarching issues of the campaign: the economy and national security. From candidates, voters will get side-by-side comparison.

With VoterPalooza, we hope to stimulate voter interest and encourage people to use their right to vote in this important election, perhaps the most important presidential contest in generations. The right to vote for our national and local leadership is a fundamental feature of our American citizenship.

By providing voters information about Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, and Green party ideas for how best to stabilize our economy and keep us secure in a troubled world, and by focusing attention on four local races. By sponsoring this event, BlueNovemner.Org hopes to generate excitement about the democratic process and increase voter turnout in St. Clair County.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Company You Keep

John McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy near the bottom of his class: 894 out of 899. This sad performance should not in itself disqualify him for the presidency. What should disqualify him are attitudes that put him at the bottom of the class in our nation's continuing education about decency and justice.

Social change sometimes takes the form of a bell curve. The change starts with a small number of people, then larger numbers are won over. In time the majority of people endorse the change. Those who do not become an increasingly smaller part of the population until opposition to the change practically disappears. John McCain keeps company with people whose views on race and justice are dangerously outdated. They--and he, so it seems--are at the bottom of the class on these ethical issues.

Irwin A. Tang's new book, Gook: John McCain's Racism and Why It Matters (The it Works / Paul Revere Press) provides evidence for this. Tang reveals connections between American militarism and racist attitudes throughout the last century. He helps those of us who are not Asian American sense the racism that people of Asian background have encountered and still encounter in the United States.

Tang is also helpful when he points to the ugly attitudes and actions of specific people who support John McCain and are supported by him. In response to public exposure, McCain has banished several such people from official roles in his campaign, but the fact remains that he was happy to have them on board before the political price became too great. What role they continue to play in his career remains unclear.

One of these folks is Richard Quinn, a long-time associate of McCain who serves as a paid strategist for him in South Carolina. Tang identifies Quinn as "a life-long white supremacist" who has served as editor-in-chief of The Southern Partisan, "an anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-gay journal" with ties with the Holocaust-denial movement. This magazine described the first Grand Wizard of the KKK as a "superhero," Nelson Mandela as a "bad egg," and feminism as "a revolt against God." Quinn was also McCain's chief strategist in South Carolina during his 2000 presidential campaign. The state campaign was headquartered in a building owned by Quinn that also housed the offices of The Southern Partisan.

Another of McCain's pals is George Wallace, Jr., son of the late governor of Alabama. Wallace ran in the 2005 Republican primary for lieutenant governor. In June of that year, his speech opened the national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a major white supremacist group he had addressed on other occasions. Wallace lost the primary, but this was due to no lack of effort on the part of John McCain, who endorsed him and arranged a fundraiser on his behalf. Irwin Tang notes that of the numerous Republicans running for office in recent years, Wallace may be the only one to attend hate group meetings in full public view. Yet McCain went out of his way to support him. Why was this primary of such importance to a man wanting to become president?

John McCain hired a number of former lobbyists to help with his current presidential campaign. One of them was Charlie Black, who lobbied for such notorious dictators as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia, and Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire, each of whom was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in their own countries. Black was also handsomely paid for lobbying on behalf of Jonas Savimbi's Angolan guerilla group UNITA. One Africa specialist has described Savimbi as unique in the history of the continent "because of the degree of suffering he caused without showing any remorse."

Let's not overlook this pair of former Washington lobbyists: Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear. Davenport was hired as McCain's campaign manager in the mid-Atlantic states, Goodyear as McCain's convention CEO. They lobbied on behalf of the military junta that rules Myanmar, formerly Burma. This junta has killed its enemies and terrorized entire ethnic groups in their country. They have kept Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. And when Cyclone Nargis ravished their country, they prevented food and medicine from reaching millions of people in crisis.

You're known by the company you keep. The company kept by a presidential candidate includes people who will be rewarded with power and position should that candidate be elected.