Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Endorsements from Camelot

By now, we've all already heard the big news about the endorsements from the Kennedy family. Caroline Kennedy (JFK's daughter) made a huge splash by writing an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. Ted Kennedy announced his endorsement Monday in a speech at American University, the same location where John Kennedy announced the formation of the Peace Corp.

One of the things that I liked about Ted Kennedy's endorsement is that while he certainly places himself strongly in the Obama camp, he also points out that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are good and worthy presidential candidates. And that he will vigorously support whoever gets the Democratic nomination. Amen!

As talented as Ted and John Kennedy are/were, I'm told that Robert Kennedy was the most inspirational of all of the Kennedy brothers. That RFK was the one that truly inspired people across all lines, generational, ethnic, class and race. Since I've heard that from a few people who were actually directly inspired the man, I'll give Ethel Kennedy, Bobby's widow, the last words:
“I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did,” Mrs. Kennedy said in an interview that day, comparing her late husband’s quest for social justice to Mr. Obama’s. “He has the passion in his heart. He’s not selling you. It’s just him.”

see whole article here

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What You Can Do

A friend and fellow Obama supporter asked me today how she could help. Given how many calls I need to make, the answer is easy, help me make some calls! But she's busy and she travels a lot, so even making phone calls from a list can be difficult.

So here's my suggestion: be the change that Senator Obama is inspring us to be. Start the difficult political conversations with your friends, neighbors, coworkers. Especially if they support someone else.

When they talk, LISTEN! Don't just wait for them to stop moving their lips so you can make a couner point, listen for what they really care about, what they are afraid of. See the situation from their perspective. Tell them why you support Senator Obama, but do so in a way that respects their issues as well as your own.

No matter who wins this primary election, we have our work cut out for us in this country. But if we can work with our neighbors, even when we disagree, then we can accomplish anything.

More Obama on Israel

The following is the text of a letter that Senator Obama wrote to our Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,

I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza, and that a resolution or statement could be forthcoming from the Council in short order.

I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condenm the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel...

All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this... Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.

The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks... If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

As I've said before, it's not so much that Senator Obama always has the all right positions (I think that he almost always does), it's that he has the approach which enables him to arrive at the right position. His approach values the lives of all people, takes into account the current reality on the ground, and seeks to move it towards justice for everyone.

In Israel, I think most observers would grant that the daily life of the average Israeli is better than the daily life of the average citizen of the Gaza strip. But that's not the same as saying that Israelis are bad and Palestinians are good. It's more complex than that. And it's extraordinarily difficult, when missiles are landing on your home, to do anything other than to lash out. While I personally think that there is more that can be done to make the situation on the grond better for the average Palestinian, it's mighty difficult for Israelis to do anything other than retaliate, as long as missiles are landing on their homes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kucinich Support in Iowa Relevant in California

Here in Oakland/Berkeley part of California, where "Barbara Lee Speaks for Me", we have some pretty hard core liberals.

Just around the corner from me, at the Grand Lake Theater (a multiplex in a residental area of Oakland), the marquis is permanently emblazoned with a call to impeach President Bush.

So against that backdrop, it doesn't surprise me to find that some people that I call express a desire to vote for Kucinich. But they also know that in a race that is getting really tight, their vote for a protest candidate will forfeit their right to chose a viable one.

I am happy to point out to these voters that when it counted, and Kucinich had no reason to avoid endorsing another candidate, he picked Obama.

This is from the Kucinich campaign press release:

"... But in those caucus locations where my support doesn't reach the necessary threshold, I strongly encourage all of my supporters to make Barack Obama their second choice. Sen. Obama and I have one thing in common: Change."

Amongst the most progressive voters, Kucinich's opinion matters.

Why I'm Not a Great Precinct Captain

This evening, after the amazing, awe inspiring, 2 to 1 landslide win in South Carolina, I started making calls in earnest. My ratio of getting an actual person was wonderful, probably about every third call. Yesterday it was, at best, every tenth call, so this felt great.

And the calls were going pretty well, with most people were either strong Obama supporters or leaning Obama, so asking them to come out and vote was actually fun.

But then I ran into the Clinton supporter who wanted to talk.

The calling script says that when you find a supporter of another candidate, you should thank them for their time, wish them a good day and move quickly onto the next call. The script does NOT instruct us to remind them of the date of the election, or ask them to come out and vote, or in any way offer to be helpful.

So when the person on the other end of the line showed a willingness to talk, but had already expressed support for Clinton, the smart PC would have wished her a good evening and moved on.

But that's not me. I asked if she had any questions about the candidates that I might be helpful with. She said that she felt both Clinton and Obama have very similar positions on all of the important issues. Basically, I agreed. She pointed out that if Obama wins, she will support him, and I agreed that if Clinton won, I'd support her. She said she hated the way the two candidates were going after each other this week. Yup.

In the end, it was not obvious to me (or maybe even to her) why she supported Clinton over Obama. I told her that for me, the difference is that Obama has the ability to appeal directly to a greater portion of the country as a whole, and if we are to get anything done on the issues that we already agreed we care about, we need a president who can unify, rather than divide. We agreed that Clinton can't really do that and Obama can.

But in the end, after spending at least 15 minutes in conversation with this fellow member of my community (who I have never met), I still felt that she was "leaning Clinton."

In that 15 minutes I could have made another 10 calls. Maybe even talked to 3 or 4 actual Obama supporters. But given the same situation, I'd still have the conversation that I had. And that's why I'm not going to be the PC who makes the most calls or knocks on the most doors.

But this election is about bringing this country together. And if Democrats can't take the time to talk with other Democrats about our candidates, how can we expect to bridge the gap with Republicans and Independents when it really counts - when the next president is in office?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Question about Israel

This is my first day as a Precinct Captain for the Obama campaign. At this point, that means that I am the annoying neighbor that calls you just as you are beginning your dinner and asks you if you support my candidate. Since you've probably been on the receiving end of that call, you have to know that making the call is typically a totally thankless job.

Usually, no one picks up, and I leave the scripted message on their voice mail. Or someone picks up, hears the first few words and says no thank you (in an exasperated tone of voice). But every now and again someone engages you in conversation. That happened today, and I was caught off guard.

The person on the other end of the line voiced vague support for Senator Obama. We had a 10 minute conversation about the race, but then he said: "I have one question, what is his position on Israel." I was stumped, but I promised that I'd do some research and email my results to him. Here's the email:


Thanks for your question. You caught me short, and caused me to do a little research.

First up is the text of a recent speech on Israel here.

Followed by a blog in Ha’aretz supportive of Obama’s Israel position here.

Followed by a column in the American Thinker critical of Obama’s Israel position here.

Followed by a column in Electronic Intefada critical of Obama’s position on Palestine here.

Now for a little personal disclosure. I’m the son of a Jewish mother and an African American father, born in Philly in 1965, at the height of the cooperation between Blacks and Jews over civil rights. It gives me a slightly different perspective around anti-semitism, anti-black racism, support for Israel and support for oppressed people. I’m going to hazard a guess that from your name and your question, that you are also Jewish.

At the risk of alienating a potential fellow Obama supporter, I can tell you that all of what I see above is consistent with what I see in Senator Obama. His foreign policy stance is nuanced, too much for the hardliners on either end of the spectrum. It is not “yer either fer us or agin us”, it is not “kill em all, let God sort em out.” It is a policy born from the experience that the world, especially the developing world, can be an extraordinarily cruel place. And that when people are subjected to such cruelty and have nothing to lose, then they become extraordinarily dangerous.

In Senator Obama, I don’t think you’re going to find a leader who will entirely defer to the government of Israel’s wishes without some challenge. I expect that behind closed doors, he will demand that the Israeli government do more to create a just environment for all inhabitants of the region. He will do this because he understands, more than any other candidate, that you can’t threaten people with punishment that you won’t deliver. And really, is there anything that we in the first world (including Israel) are willing to do to the Palestinian people that their own leaders have not already done?

I’ve never seen this slogan on any official Obama communication, but I would guess that if you asked the Senator, he would agree with the following: “No Justice, No Peace; Know Justice, Know Peace.”

I hope that is helpful. And I hope that my opinion helps solidify your support of Senator Obama.

Best Regards,