Saturday, January 26, 2008

Super Tuesday is almost upon us

Republican Politics, American Style

Published on January 31st in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I ended my column by discussing Mrs. Clinton's recent flip flop on illegal immigration. The Democratic Party and many Republicans recognize that illegal immigration is a very touchy issue for many American voters.

All of the Democratic and a few of the Republican candidates also know that it is totally unrealistic to spend billions of dollars building a huge fence along the US-Mexico border in an attempt to stop the flow of illegal Mexican and Central American immigrants into the US. It is even more unrealistic to expect that any more than a few hundred of the estimated 15 million illegal immigrants currently living in the US are ever going to be arrested and deported to their homelands.

Unfortunately Mrs. Clinton's new stance is now much closer to that of the Republican demagogues on this issue than it is to the views of most Democrats and the other Democratic Presidential candidates. I believe her recent flip flop on this issue is an indication that she is looking ahead to the general election. It also underscores the suspicions of me and many other American voters that Clinton is just like so many other politicians who say what they think most voters want to hear (and what will get them elected) rather than what they truly believe.

Mrs. Clinton is the first woman while Senator Obama is the first person of colour to ever have a realistic chance to be elected President of the United States. But there are definite differences in how they portray themselves to voters.

In his discussions with women voters, Mr. Obama presents himself as particularly sensitized and equally committed to women's issues as Mrs. Clinton, because he was raised by a single mother. On the other hand, Hillary frequently talks about what women tell her about the importance of her candidacy as a woman and how much it means to them as women. Hillary also makes frequent references to "the all-boys club of presidential politics" and is prone to using language that evokes gender stereotypes. I see these kinds of statements as a subtle but effective appeal to women to vote for her if for no other reason than simply because she is a woman.

Maybe its just me, but if I was a woman or a member of a minority group, I would want people to vote for me because they thought I was the best person to serve in the job or because they agreed with my views or positions on issues that were important to them, not because we shared the same ethnicity, gender or racial identity.

In contrast to Mrs. Clinton, Obama has avoided racial appeals to minority voters choosing instead to emphasize that he is a multicultural candidate who possesses the unique ability to bring people together and break from the status quo. Mr Obama does not appeal to African-American political and community leaders for their endorsements, because he wants members of minority groups to vote for him because they believe he is the person who possesses the leadership skills America needs and is the best person for the job as President, not because their local leaders believe he will serve their interests.

It is no surprise to me that Barack Obama has received fewer endorsements of support from African-American politicians, because they are no different than the majority of other establishment Democratic politicians and activists who have also endorsed Mrs. Clinton. Hillary Clinton has sought endorsements from all of them, courted them and made promises to them of what she will do for them if she wins. Barrack Obama refuses to make such promises or ask for their endorsements because he is determined to serve the interests of all Americans and to be beholden to no one.

There is one final distinction I want to make before closing this week's column and that deals with the propriety or lack of propriety in the way the candidates conduct their political campaigns. While many Americans say they are sick and tired of negative campaign ads and personal attacks on each other by political opponents, the truth is voters actually respond to this negativity and Republicans have refined and elevated the use of such tactics to a fine art over the past 20 years.

While most of the Democratic candidates have refrained from using such tactics, the Clinton campaign has seen recent resignations by two Clinton volunteer coordinators in Iowa who had forwarded e-mails raising questions about Obama's religion and then later by its national co-chairman Bill Shaheen for suggesting Democrats should be wary of Obama because his teenage drug use could make it hard for him to win the presidency. Unfortunately the story doesn't end there though.

On January 13th while he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder Robert Johnson once again raised the teenage drug use issue while he was slamming Senator Obama, saying that many years ago while Hillary and Bill Clinton were involved in black issues, "Barack Obama was doing something in the neighbourhood, and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book." Since Mrs. Clinton had said that Obama's drug use as a young man many years ago would not be an issue with her campaign, journalists questioned the Clinton campaign about Johnson's remarks. At first he Clinton campaign responded by denying that Johnson was referring to Obama's teenage drug use and offered the press a statement by Mr. Johnson saying "My comments today were referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

But the press, the Democratic voters who heard Johnson's remarks at the Clinton rally, and the general public weren't buying this explanation so on Tuesday January 15th Clinton tried to distance herself from Johnson's comments during a debate in Nevada. When that didn't work, Johnson finally "fessed up" on January 17th and sent Senator Obama an apology for "the un-called-for comments I made at a recent Clinton event." Do you see a pattern here or is it just me?

I support Barack Obama for US President because I truly believe he is the one person who can unify America and end its four decade's long civil war over ethnic, gender, race and religious differences at a time when the world needs America's leadership most. Many Americans will go to the polls next (Super) Tuesday February 5th to cast their ballots for US presidential candidates, so now it's time for me to place my faith and trust in their wisdom and judgement and see how they respond.

More reasons to support Barack Obama

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on January 24th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I discussed Barack Obama’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq, at a time when it was politically popular to support this course of action, as an example of the Senator’s strongly held principles, keen insight and good judgement. I also quoted Senator Obama regarding his vision of America and that its role in the world was to lead by example, words which I said reflected Obama’s belief in America’s unique capacity to inspire people both in America and around the world and to provide leadership through America’s actions rather than its economic and military might.
These are attributes I believe one should look for in a true leader but there are other ways in which Barack Obama has distinguished himself from all of the other Republican and Democratic candidates. Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney as well as Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are all wealthy millionaires who have raised most of their Presidential campaign funds by tapping the wallets of other wealthy party members and in Romney’s case his own personal fortune.
While Barack Obama also has his share of wealthy supporters, Mrs. Clinton has raised the vast majority of her estimated $120 million by soliciting wealthy Democrats and lobbyists for the maximum($2,300 each) that they can contribute to the Democratic primary and General elections. Another source of much of Clinton’s campaign cash has been Political Action Committees (PACS) which are used by Washington lobbyists to funnel money to candidates they believe will be friendly to the interests they represent should they be elected. Hillary also transferred millions of dollars left over from her 2006 Senate campaign to her Presidential campaign fund.
By contrast, Senator Obama did not have any funds from his 2004 US Senate campaign to use as seed money for a Presidential bid. So the estimated $100 million Obama has used for his Democratic Presidential campaign was raised without transferring funds from any other campaign fund and includes no money from federal lobbyists or PACs because he has refused to accept such money. Furthermore, very few of Obama’s supporters have yet given the $2,300 maximum allowed by US law because the vast majority of his campaign donors are not wealthy Americans.
This contrast in sources of financial support for their political campaigns is also reflected in the large numbers of grassroots supporters Barack Obama has drawn to his campaign for the Presidency. Senator Obama has received considerable media attention for his use of the internet to help build a base of over 450,000 financial contributors during the first nine months of his campaign. This figure is more than double the number of campaign donors Hillary Clinton has tapped to raise a similar amount of campaign funds and more than triple the number of supporters any of the other candidates have received donations from.
With average donations in the hundreds rather than thousands of dollars and no funds from PACs and lobbyists, it would appear to me that Senator Obama will be much more likely to propose policies and legislation that is truly in the best interests of all Americans rather than wealthy Americans, business lobbyists and other special interest groups. None of the other Republican or Democratic candidates can back up their claims that they will not be subject to undue influence by special interests with the kind of actions Senator Obama has taken to insulate himself and his Presidential campaign from the political influence wealthy contributors are always seeking to buy.
For the sake of argument, I will use Mrs. Clinton to illustrate my point about some of the ways you can buy influence with gifts or donations to politicians and their family members. Back in President Clinton’s days as Governor of Arkansas, Hillary Clinton earned more than $100,000 a year from her law firm and from serving as a corporate director. A U.S. cement maker named Lafarge paid her $31,000 a year to serve as one of its directors while her husband Bill was earning $35,000 a year serving as Governor of the State of Arkansas. Well, just before Clinton was elected President, the US Environmental Protection Agency fined Lafarge $1.8 million for pollution violations at one of its cement plants. Would it surprise you to know that the Clinton administration reduced that fine to less than $600,000 the very next year?
Did you know that even though US Senators are required by law to disclose gifts they receive on their ethics report, they don’t have to disclose gifts that are given to their spouses? That means Hillary Clinton didn’t have to report the flag shaped white gold brooch containing 177 small diamonds and rubies that Bill Clinton received from the World Diamond Conference in Belgium. Since when did it become fashionable for men to wear diamond brooches?
There are several other issues which further distinguish Senator Obama from Mrs. Clinton and the other Presidential candidates. Clinton and others have questioned whether or not Senator Obama has the experience and or the toughness required to be President of the most powerful country in the world. To this charge Obama has replied “What I’ve always found is people who talk about how tough they are aren’t the tough ones. I’m less interested in beating my chest and rattling my sabre and more in making decisions that build a safer and more secure world. We can and should lead the world, but we have to apply wisdom and judgment. Part of our capacity to lead is linked to our capacity to show restraint.”
Of course it goes without saying that the “more experienced” Republican and Democratic candidates are also the ones who supported Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and in the case of Mrs. Clinton, President Bush’s recent sabre rattling regarding Iran.
Hillary Clinton has recently changed her stance on the politically explosive issue of illegal immigration, saying that she no longer supports the idea of giving illegal immigrants’ drivers licences for identification. I will discuss this and other differences next week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Post Iowa and New Hampshire primaries

Republican Politics, American Style
January 17th 2008 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

First Obama upsets Clinton in Iowa and then Clinton ekes out a narrow win in New Hampshire. Since the Democrats still appear to be split why does this Republican believe Barack Obama possesses the global leadership skills and vision that America and the rest of the world will need if we hope to resolve many of the problems we are currently facing or will soon be confronting? Well, let’s review some of the reasons I have mentioned in previous columns over the past year.
Back in 2002 America was still grieving the victims of al Qaeda’s 9/11 suicide attacks on the two most visible symbols of America’s economic and military supremacy around the globe; the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. As a nation America was struggling to adjust to being a victim of pseudo-religious political violence on a massive scale. But once Americans had grieved the loss of life and gotten over their shock, the vast majority of Americans also became very angry. Americans wanted to hit back at the terrorists who had so viciously assaulted us and expected the US government to do so.
So the US sought and received a large measure of international support for the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan and its efforts to topple a Taliban regime which was providing a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The US government’s initial military response involving the use of a small number of Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan recognized that you can’t attack a network of terrorists like al Qaeda with a field army. Instead, the US military used 11 Special Forces A-teams totalling fewer than 200 troops to topple the Taliban and put al Qaeda on the run.
But this judicious use of a small number of US Special Forces troops didn’t do much to garner the kind of media publicity in America that the Bush administration was looking for. So Bush, Cheney and their neo-conservative allies decided to go after a bigger and much less elusive target, Saddam Hussein. Thus the decision to turn what was a Special Forces counter-terrorism guerrilla operation (which cannot possibly generate much media publicity) into a media heavy conventional war served a purpose but it was not one related to effective counter-terrorism strategies Rather it was an effective political strategy which helped Bush win re-election, but at a huge cost in terms of money, lives and military power.
The Bush administration began by seeking international support for the invasion of Iraq just as they had done in Afghanistan. President Bush and his minions basically manufactured evidence to justify a decision that had nothing whatsoever to do with fighting terrorism. When most other countries in the world questioned the rather dubious evidence and reasoning of Bush and his ideologues, Bush then decided to convince Congress and the American people to allow the US to act unilaterally if he felt it was necessary.
Of the eight major Presidential candidates including Republicans Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and John McCain as well as Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Bill Richardson, Barack Obama was the only one to take the politically unpopular stand of publicly and vocally opposing the US invasion of Iraq. Some of Barack Obama’s political advisors believed that he should remain silent because speaking out against a looming invasion that was very popular (because most American’s believed Bush’s fabricated evidence) would hurt his chances of being elected to the US Senate in the upcoming 2004 elections.
But Obama ignored this advice and in 2002 he spoke at an anti-war rally in Chicago and explained why he was against the war saying; “I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda (in Afghanistan), through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and with a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.” I believe Obama’s decision to speak out against a politically popular Iraq war was a clear demonstration of his strongly held principles, keen insight and good judgement.
None of the other Presidential candidates with the exception of John McCain have so publicly and repeatedly demonstrated both a commitment to principles and a willingness to tell Americans what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear. More than anything else that (to me) is the mark of a true leader. America and the world sorely need a true leader to propose and implement complex solutions for complex problems like political terrorism and global climate change.
Obama truly believes in the American proposition: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under a constitutional democratic government with limited powers. Obama has been quoted as saying “I believe in American exceptionalism, (but not one based on our) military prowess or our economic dominance. Our exceptionalism must be based on our Constitution, our principles, our values and our ideals. We are at our best when we are speaking in a voice that captures the aspirations of people across the globe. We can’t entirely remake the world. What we can do is lead by example.” These are powerful and eloquent words which reflect Obama’s belief in America’s unique capacity to inspire people both in America and around the world.
Someone asked me recently who I believed had been America’s most inspirational Presidential leaders in response to my statement Obama was a once in a generation inspirational leader. I quickly cited Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy as examples, when she stopped me and asked “didn’t they all die in office?” “Yes” I said “and two of them were assassinated.” Hmmm….. What a scary thought. Is that because I had never really thought of it that way before? Regardless, next week I will continue explaining why I think Obama is that once in a generation leader that both America and the world so desperately need.

January 3rd was a very important day

Republican Politics, American Style
January 10th 2008 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

January 3rd was a very important day. January 3rd was Election Day in America. It was the day that voters in the centre of the country, in the State of Iowa, caucused in churches, schools and public auditoriums to cast ballots in favour of the Republican or Democratic candidates who they believed should be the next President of the United States of America. It marked the beginning of the end of the Presidential nomination and election process which culminates ten months from now on November 4th 2008, when one of these candidates will be chosen to lead the United States (US) for at least the next four and possibly eight years. January 3rd was a very important day.
November 4th 2008 will be the most important day of this coming year. In America and the rest of the world, November 4th 2008 will also be the most important day of this decade and quite possibly the 21st century. I say this with all due respect for those who perished in the US and other parts of the world in spasms of pseudo-religious political violence in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. on September 11th, 2001, in Bali Indonesia on October 12th 2002, in Madrid Spain on March 11th, 2004 and in London England on July 7th 2005. November 4th 2008 will be the most important day of this year, this decade and yes, maybe even this century, because America stands at an extremely critical turning point in its political history. The direction US citizens choose to take when they vote on Election Day November 4th 2008 will affect the lives of every man, woman and child living on this planet. November 4th 2008 will be the most important day of this coming year.
There are many who may wish to disagree with me regarding the importance of America and the impact its future decisions will have on the rest of the world. Part of this is due to the fact that any hegemonic super-power is bound to stir up resentments among citizens and political leaders in the rest of the world who are jealous of the economic and military supremacy that hegemonic super-power possesses. But America has also disappointed and frustrated many of its own citizens as well as its allies and friends around the world through the injudicious exercise of its economic and military power over the past seven years and its failure to live up to its own moral and political ideals.
So for these and other reasons, I can fully understand why there are so many people around the world who truly believe the world would be much better off if America would just stay at home and mind its own business. Indeed, America’s stewardship in its role as the most powerful economic, military and political force in the world has been far from peaceful and far from perfect during this century. But if America’s many detractors are correct, then what other country or group of countries would you suggest represents a credible alternative to America’s hegemony?
Russia, a quasi-democratic country dominated by organized crime? China, an authoritarian capitalist state which has thus far been unable to cope with the rising income inequalities and environmental consequences of its drive for greater economic growth and power? India, a democracy with simmering violent religious conflicts in Kashmir and other regions, which has likewise been unable to cope with the environmental consequences of its unfettered economic growth? The EU, whose members are constantly squabbling among themselves and are loath to committing their military forces to intervene in conflicts even when they know genocide is being perpetrated? The United Nations, which has been unable to stop genocide in Darfur and other areas of Africa or conflicts in other parts of the world?
What other nation or group of nations would be willing to make the financial and military manpower commitments necessary to maintain a global presence and keep a lid on simmering tensions between long time rivals in Asia and Europe like South Korea, Japan and North Korea, India and Pakistan or Greece and Turkey? Maybe it’s just me or maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see any other credible alternatives to America in its role as the world’s only remaining super-power. Unfortunately, I’m afraid America’s detractors around the world would only appreciate America’s worth as a stabilizing influence if they actually had to live in a world without it for a time.
Thus I believe the world’s best hope is that America’s voters will choose to elect a President who remains committed to engagement with other nations around the globe on economic, environmental, health, human rights, peace and security concerns and who envisions America taking a leadership role in resolving problems related to these issues. America’s next President will have to work hard to shift the mindset of American citizens away from the current President’s rigid view of the world and foreign policy perspectives which are driven by and based on fear. America’s friends and allies will also have to be patient and stay focused on the big picture while the next President attempts to shift America’s foreign and domestic policies or initiatives in a totally different direction from the current President’s course.
While it pains me to say this, I believe Barack Obama is the only person capable of shifting America and its course of action away from current US policies rooted in the culture of “fear” that President Bush and Congressional Republicans have been cultivating for seven years. Unfortunately only one Republican candidate has called for a shift away from the unilateral, militaristic strategies of the President towards multi-lateral interaction with nations including ones the President calls his “enemies”.
Next week I will discuss why I believe that out of all the presidential candidates, only Barack Obama has the leadership skills and vision America will need to deal with its current and future problems.