Leading from the Left

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Urgency of Now

Ted Kennedy's endorsement today of Obama is, well, amazing. Watch for yourself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Anniversary of Roe v Wade

Today marks the 35th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized access to abortion nationally.

North Carolina, which was the 2nd state in the nation to legalize abortion in 1967, has been a leader in the South in terms of addressing a woman's right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health without interference from the state.

I think that it's important to note the importance of this day and to recognize that a woman's right to choose is endangered in the US right now. Most observers believe the US Supreme Court now has enough votes to overturn Roe.

Because of this, it's more important than ever that we elect legislators who are committed to protecting choice. To that end, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina's PAC (political action committee) today issued our first round of endorsements for the upcoming election cycle. (NOTE: I recently joined NARAL's PAC board and served as a staff member for a brief time back in the 1980's).

Below is a copy of the endorsement statement issued by NARAL Executive Director Melissa Reed:

"I’m excited to honor the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade today with the release of our first endorsements for the 2008 primary election on May 6, 2008.

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina PAC endorses State School Superintendent June Atkinson, Representative Angela Bryant (House District 7), Representative Tricia Cotham (House District 100), and Senator Ellie Kinnaird (Senate District 23). These candidates face primary opponents and have a history of supporting NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina and our legislative agenda.

The 2008 elections coincide with the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which recognized a right to privacy that includes women’s access to safe, legal abortion. And when it comes to protecting Roe, we know that elections matter. NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina plans to lead the way in building a pro-choice voting block to elect pro-choice leaders who will stand up for women’s freedom and privacy.

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina is the political leader of the pro-choice movement and will reinforce the importance of the 2008 elections in protecting a women’s right to choose for future generations.

We need pro-choice elected officials who understand what access and privacy mean when it comes to reproductive freedom for women. You can help by making a gift to our PAC today!

With your support, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina PAC will deliver.

We will protect seats held by pro-choice officials,
We will elect more pro-choice leaders,
We will target districts where we can make pro-choice gains, and
We will organize voters on the ground.
And then We All Win, Women Win, and Families Win.

We have a long road ahead and less than eleven months to the finish line!"

If you'd like to support NARAl's important work, please follow this link and make a donation.

Mariah McPherson: The Passing of a Class Act

I sadly report the death of Mariah McPherson, a long-time local activist. There is no one I respected more in Orange County political circles than Mariah McPherson.

Mariah dedicated her life to helping others and to advancing civil rights. She was a citizen-activist in the noblest sense and emboddied strength, determination, and selflessness.

I first met Mariah through the Democratic Party back in 1986. She served as precinct chair, county officer and eventually as precinct chair. She was always very kind to me and took care to support my work whether it was within the party, as an elected official or as a candidate. She loved mentoring and guiding younger leaders and did so with both a firm hand and a wide smile.

I will miss her greatly.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gender & Race

Thoughtful quote of the day: "If pundits ever tried to understand what some female voters know about the complexity of women's lives, they might begin to comprehend the appeal of a female candidate whose ethic of caring and whose posture of femininity derive from responsibilities beyond the maternal."

The above quote is from an extraordinarily thoughtful and thought-provoking editorial in the LA Times. More, and the link, are below.

It's fascinating, really, to watch how gender and race are playing out in the Democratic primary. And I'm not referring to the horse race aspect, ie "How big a percentage of women voters is Hillary (or Barack) getting?" or "Is what is the African-American turnout going to be in South Carolina?"

Instead, I mean the perceptions, pre-conceptions, and stereotypes that are being applied and misapplied in this election. This being the first election in which a female candidate and/or an African-American candidate have had a real chance of winning, perceptions and stereotypes are being exposed as never before. The candidates are maneuvering through a minefield that no one's had to tip-toe through previously. While the candidates are doing so with varying degrees of sensitivity, the media seems downright oblivious, particularly with regard to gender.

Susan Faludi's op-ed in the LA Times is one of the most perceptive analyses I've yet seen about what's going on in this race with regard to gender. It's worth a read.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Interesting Article about the New Hampshire Results

I came across this article tonight. It tracks what I wrote in my earlier post today about the New Hampshire primary. Take a look for yourself.

Wow! So much for the Polls!

"Wow" is all I can say. Every poll predicted an Obama victory in New Hampshire yesterday...by an average of 8.3%. I watched the returns coming in last night with friends and none of us could believe what we were seeing. Hillary came back from way behind and snatched a victory that shocked the pundits and the pollsters alike.

How did she do it? How did she turn things around so quickly?

We will probably never know for sure what did it, but I have a theory. Here's what we do know: women voters, who only 48 hours earlier had been split between Clinton and Obama, returned to Hillary's side by a 13 percentage point margin. But what brought them home?

For what it's worth, here's what I think.

Hillary lobbed a one-two punch in the final days. First, in the debate on Saturday she fought back when 'the boys' ganged up on her; she had to raise her voice to break back into the conversation, but she did it and showed some passionate anger. You may not have seen the exchange, but at one point both Obama and Edwards were teaming up against her. I suspected at the time that women and men would see that exchange very differently. Women saw men unfairly piling on a woman who was down; and they saw a woman who had to raise her voice to be heard. Too many women have been in similar situations to see it any other way.

If that had been all that happened, I don't believe the impact would have been particularly great. But her emotional, voice-cracking explanation on Monday of why she was in the race ("Some people think politics is a game, but it's about our children, our future" and "I've seen what they're doing and I don't want our country to go backwards.") touched a chord in a way that almost defies words. Hillary gave a heartfelt rationale for why she's in the is race, and she did it in language that everyone could understand: not with mind-numbing facts and statistics, but rather with emotion and humanity.

People finally--finally--got a glimpse of the warm, caring Hillary that her friends and family see. And it worked.

She said it all in one sentence in her victory speech: "I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice." Indeed.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More on Gender & Race in politics

Last week I wrote that my grandmother, a feminist, poet, teacher, and intellectual, predicted that this country would elect a black man president before we elected a woman. Back when she told me that, sometime in the early 1980's, I was a bit skeptical. Racism seemed more deeply imbedded than sexism. Based what appears to be happening in the Democratic primaries, it looks like she might have been right.

Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted Obama is doing well. He's brought idealism back to America; he has an exceptional ability to inspire his audiences and to remind us of this country's great potential. And it's about time that someone broke through this particular glass ceiling.

But I also believe it's worth taking a step back and examining the broader question of racism and sexism. Is sexism somehow more entrenched in our culture? If so, why? Gloria Steinem has an op-ed in the New York times that examines this issue of gender and race in politics. It's worth a read. She and my grandmother would have seen eye-to-eye on this.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Don't Count Her Out

It seems that most of the national media and political observers have counted out Hillary Clinton, and reasonably so given Obama's extraordinary performance on the campaign trail, his decisive win in Iowa, and his predicted strong victory in New Hampshire tomorrow. He's got the O-mentum, no doubt about it.

But Hillary is a fighter, and the Clinton's--as a couple--have a long history of fighting best when their backs are against the wall. She's going to lose South Carolina, that is now clear, but an upset in Nevada (where she has a strong organization) could pivot her into a respectable showing on February 5th. Hillary is down, but not yet out.

While it might already be too late, she could regain her footing in this race by doing something that seems nearly impossible for her to do--connect emotionally with voters. Hillary needs to take a chance, open up, show passion and soul. She may have, accidentally no doubt, begun to reveal her core in New Hampshire earlier today, and I'm damn glad she did.

Today's emotional turn in New Hampshire may end up panned by the media (women candidates are 'allowed' to cry after all), but we see a side of Hillary she's kept hidden from us. For the first time this campaign, we get a glimpse of what drives this woman to seek the White House. We get a taste of her core personal values and mission.

And you can't help concluding that she's in this for the right reasons.

I for one hope we see more of Hillary; then this will be a race between two talented, passionate, committed progressives who sincerely want to make this country a better place. And what a race that would be!

Either Obama or Clinton would make an exceptional president. The Democrats are truly fortunate to have a wealth of talent running this year. But I for one hope this primary campaign continues for a few months so both candidates can be tested repeatedly and so the voters can get to both.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama's Great Night

Obama had a great night last night in Iowa. Not only did he beat Edwards and Clinton by 8 and 9 points, respectively, but he gave one of the best political speeches of the decade. His victory speech was soaring, inspiring, passionate, and infused with vision.

Now that I think about it, Obama has given the three single best political speeches of the decade: at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 (view Part 1 and Part 2), at last Fall's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, and last night's victory speech. This guy's got magic.

From here, this becomes a two person race between Obama and Clinton. (Unfortunately, it's only a matter of time before John Edwards is forced to leave the race; he's not doing well in New Hampshire and can't survive two back to back losses.)

So far, Obama is out campaigning Clinton. Presidential races are always about the future: Where will a candidate take the country? What is his or her vision for the future? How will he or she lead us? Obama's talking about his vision, about the future, about making this country whole again.

Clinton, regrettably, speaks more about the past than the future: her experience as First Lady, her 35 years working arm and arm with Bill Clinton, and her experiences taking incoming fire from Republican political operatives hell-bent on destroying President Clinton by destroying her.

You know, all of that is important but it doesn't answer the question voters ask themselves before pulling the lever for a candidate: How will my life be better if she's elected? What is her vision for the future?

The second mistake Clinton is making, and one that Obama has instintively (and correctly avoided), is that she's too narrowly targetting her message to her 'base.' Clinton's campaign focused very heavily on women voters in Iowa, while failing to make a broad appeal to ALL voters. In the week leading up to the Iowa caucus, men there were quoted in press accounts as stating they felt ignored by Clinton's campaign. Too much of her message seemed to be targeted to one group and one group only, thereby missing a large segment of the population.

Obama, on the other hand, has always gone beyond his base. When running for US Senate in Illinois and now for the presidency, Obama directs his message to everyone, not just what some might consider his 'base,' African-American voters. Some commentators have described him has being a transcendent figure, transcending race in much the way Oprah, Bill Cosby and Michael Jordan do. I agree, and believe that his ability to connect with a broad cross-section of voters his is greatest strength just as Hillary's narrow focus is her biggest weakness.

Finally, Hillary won't win this thing unless she stands alone. I love Bill Clinton, but this race isn't about him nor is it about his presidency. Hillary has made a mistake by binding herself too tightly to her husband. This race is about what she will do for the country, not what he did. For Hillary to win, Bill needs to step off-stage and be quiet while she finds her voice. She can't win this thing unless she finds a way to connect with the American people. And that connection must be created between the candidate and the people, not the candidate, her husband and the people.

It's an open question as to whether or not Hillary can revamp her strategy and tactics and, finally, begin to connect with voters in a meaningful and emotional way. But what we do know is that we Democrats have two exceptionally talented candidates still in this thing. Either one of these fine people would be extraordinary leaders for our country and either one would bring much needed change to Washington.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

2008: Will My Grandmother be Proved Right?

I'm wondering if my grandmother's prediction--made in the early 1980's--will come true....

Tonight is the Iowa caucus, and the most recent polls show Barack Obama with momentum and moving into the lead. While it's a tight race, and any of the three front runners could conceivably win, a third place finish seems possible for presumed front runner Clinton.

I've been troubled the past few months by statements I've heard from liberal women, women who might be considered feminists. Too many of them have described Hillary to me in, frankly, sexist terms: "too ambitious," "too conniving," and "power-hungry." Honestly, the women I know have been far harsher about Hillary than men. What's that about? Why are otherwise forward-thinking women describing Hillary in terms that harken back to the pre-feminist era?

Let's cut to the chase, by definition someone running for president is ambitious. Really, would a male candidate be described as 'too ambitious?' What male presidential candidate would be described as 'power-hungry?' We assume men running for president or other high office want power, and we don't fault them for it. Without power a leader can't implement his or her agenda: health care reform, ending the war, tax relief, addressing climate change.

A good leader, in a democratic republic, understands that power is pursued for a purpose, and that purpose is to do the will of the people. An objective reading of the three leading Democratic candidates should lead one to believe that all three are pursuing power and the office of the presidency because they want to implement changes to improve the country and the lives of average Americans.

So why, in the year 2008, do so many otherwise thoughtful women apply a different standard to a female candidate than they do a male? Why is a male, one term former Senator like John Edwards thought of as driven and strong, while Hillary is described as "power hungry?" Why is she viewed by some as "too ambitious" while a male Senator in the middle of his first term in office--Barack Obama--is just thought of as pursing his goals as a public servant?

I don't know the answer to these questions. But I recalled last week a statement my grandmother (a feminist through-and-through)made to me back when I was in my late teens. She said "I believe we'll elect a black man as president before we elect a woman." She may have understood something about racism and feminism that I, even today, don't fully appreciate. I guess I'm about to find out if she was right.