2007-01-01

OBAMA SHOULD RUN FOR PRESIDENT (Post #7)

A few closing thoughts on 2006 ...

- Thank you to all who gave or offered assistance to my Congressional campaign. I will never forget your support.

- We all owe James Brown our gratitude for his contributions to popular culture -- and for defining a truly Black sound in the rock 'n' roll era. Brown was a tortured hero in many ways, but a hero nonetheless.

- Farewell to former President Gerald Ford -- a reasonable man who believed in public service and humility. I had my issues with his political choices, including his attacks against Harlem's Congressional Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., in the 1960s. But perspectives on some things evolve with time and my opinion of President Ford's most significant act has changed. After the demise of apartheid in South Africa -- and in the aftermath of that nation's amazing handling of "truth and reconciliation" -- I have a new appreciation of and respect for Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon and allow history to deliver a sentence of condemnation no court of law could improve upon.

- And then there is Saddam Hussein. Bluntly put, he probably got better than he deserved. His nation did not deserve him, nor did Iraq deserve us. In the aftermath of Hussein's execution, I can't help but remember, however, God's admonishment of the Israelites for their celebration after the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea. According to the Passover Haggadah we have used, the Lord acknowledges the Eqyptians as divine handiwork as much as the Israelites were. The Israelites may have been rescued and liberated, but the Lord did not approve of their celebrating the high cost of the victory. As we muddle through international affairs, Americans need to consider that Old Testament concept.

- I salute the lost lives of 3,000 servicemen and women in Iraq as well as those who have died in Afghanistan. I respect them, appreciate them and mourn their loss. Courage and commitment to things greater than ourselves is always praiseworthy. The violence in Iraq will not end soon. I just hope our nation does not continue to make things worse. We need to get out now!

- I salute the life of a young woman I never knew -- Liz Warke Brem. Liz was a fellow graduate of the Bronx High School of Science (more than a decade later), a graduate of Barnard and Yale Law School, and one of the only Hispanic partners at California's largest law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP. I received an email that this rising star, devoted mother and community servant recently died while rock climbing. She and her cousin were doing something they loved to do. One slipped, the other attempted to assist; both fell and died. Liz, only 35 years old, accomplished much in her life and was loved by many. Like those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, this was a tragedy for all.

We don't know what tomorrow may bring, so let's try to enjoy our lives and celebrate the good things while we can!

May 2007 Be Heavenly For Everyone !!!

My hopes for the new year are simple: peace on earth and good will towards all. Nothing more. Yeah, built into those two concepts are all of the world's problems and all its history. No one ever accused me of being pessimistic.

So here is one New Year's wish.

I hope Barack Obama runs for President.

Yes, I am going on the record with this one -- despite being a New Yorker, a politico, a media wannabe and a very wary admirer of Senator Hillary Clinton's. I have a few strong criticisms of our junior Senator -- particularly regarding her handling of the Iraq disaster -- but I am unlikely to withhold my vote to make her my President if she becomes the Democratic nominee. She has earned serious consideration in her own right.

Whether or not or not she should be the nominee, however, is determined by a process greatly improved by higher-quality opposition during the primary election season -- and before. And who better to challenge the queen of "common ground" pleas than the junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who has himself declared that "no one is exempt from the call to find common ground." Obama provides quality opposition and should be subjected to the same testing as Clinton. After all, the flawed Democratic winner will have to beat some tough -- if flawed -- Republicans, so the practice rounds should start now.

Obama has nothing to lose by running -- not even his Senate seat. He could win the nomination for President or Vice President, or even win the Presidency -- fortune can favor the bold. Senator Obama is as smart and charismatic as JFK, he's from a state that is not in the northeast, he's tall, and he has his own crosses to bear, so to speak. JFK had religion; his Catholicism was a burning issue for some. Obama has race -- and he knows that race is an issue with both whites and Blacks. And he also has his name -- Barack Hussein Obama -- something various bigoted Americans have chosen to focus on.

The Democratic Party's most loyal supporters are African Americans; everyone knows this. It is about time that not one but two candidates with great appeal to these voters -- Obama and Clinton -- seek the highest office in the land. Vice President Al Gore's 2000 candidacy for President was not weakened by the challenge of former Senator Bill Bradley's campaign. Neither Gore nor Bradley, however, had the appeal to Black voters by the end of their respective efforts that both Obama and Clinton already have before theirs even start. The other Democratic candidates, including former Senator John Edwards, have a long way to go.

Obama's campaign would be special to so many Americans. As Minnesota Congressman-elect Keith Ellison has broken new ground for "Islamic Americans" seeking higher office, even if unsuccessful, Barack Obama will be the pioneer for future African American, Latino and other immigrant candidates for our nation's top offices -- and particularly for moderate progressives. Obama is the natural next level from the Jackson-Sharpton Presidential campaign efforts. (And for those of us of multiple racial heritages, he is already a shining star.)

There will be no Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket. We all know that. It's too "liberal" a combination for most of America at this point in time. But Mark Warner, Evan Bayh and others understand that they could end up as valuable VP choices to either of the Big 2 -- or even to neither of the Big 2 (Democratic Senators have been less successful than Democratic Governors at winning the Presidency -- as Bill Richardson and Tom Vilsack would like us to remember). The election is just under two years away, and history tells us that early stardom does not guarantee the nomination to anyone. Money certainly helps, however, and each of the Big 2 have it and can raise it. So let's test how they spend it.

The huge challenge for the two Senators is to be more than simply civil to each other -- they have to be really nice to each other. Each cannot afford to alienate the primary constituencies of the other. Each should simply make the best case for their leadership. Vision and experience matter in this race, so let Americans really get that sense of who each candidate is. There will be many conflicted Democrats who should make their decisions based upon every possible issue except for negative campaigning. (For in the end, an effective negative war between the Big 2 will certainly prevent the winner from getting the biggest prize of them all.)

Personally speaking, I can't wait for a one-on-one debate between Clinton and Obama. That will be a treat for political junkies and the general public alike. A Clinton-Obama-Edwards debate will be equally compelling.

Neither Clinton nor Obama will prove perfect, however. Each has baggage (significant or otherwise). More importantly, the current corporate culture in Washington is an issue for Obama and Clinton alike. Clinton has been roundly criticized for her past affiliations with Wal-Mart and the contributions she has accepted from health care's corporate interests. And the campaign finance and political allegiance issue is a problem for every Washington inside player who seeks higher office.

In the November 2006 issue of Harper's Magazine, Washington editor Ken Silverstein raised red flags regarding Obama's political maneuverings -- particularly with regard to the perceived influence of big money on his voting behavior ("Barack Obama Inc.: The birth of a Washington machine.") There is great irony here, given the strong relationship between Obama and Citizen Action with its clean elections campaign, for example.

"Gone are the days when, as in the 1970s, the U.S. Senate could comfortably house such men as Fred Harris ... who called for the breakup of theoil, steel, and auto industries; as Wisconsin's William Proxmire ... a crusader against big banks who neither spent nor raised campaign money; as South Dakota's George McGoern, who favored huge cuts in defense spending and guaranteed income for all Americans ... Today, money has all but wrung such dissent from the Senate."

Silverstein quotes a long-time political Democratic strategist, Carl Wagner. "Today, [senators] are creatures of the people who pay for their multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. Representative democracy has been largely been taken off the table. It's reminiscent of the 1880s and 1890s, when senators were chosen by state legislatures who were owned by the railroads and the banks."

After disgust over Iraq, disgust with Washington is bubbling and ready to burst.

In the "Politics" chapter of his best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope, Senator Obama dwells on the insidious manner in which the need for money in politics has possibly altered his behavior -- if not his positions. Obama then offers a response of sorts with the following (Page 128): "From what I've observed, there are countless politicians who have crossed these hurdles and kept their integrity intact, men and women who raise campaign contributions without being corrupted, garner support without being held captive by special interests, and manage the media without losing their sense of self."

This dilemma is not unique to Obama, as noted, but such matters can easily tarnish one who is viewed as potentially different -- a role model for the new approach to politics.

We know that Senator John McCain and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani have plenty of baggage as well. And so the 2008 November election will be a bloodbath. All the more reason why the Democratic nominee should be the psychologically and spiritually equipped survivor of worthy opposition.

So, Barack (we like to use first names, you know), what do you do now? Some advice from the peanut gallery:

1. Don't miss your Senate votes while you are campaigning -- at least not during 2007. Take every opportunity you can to speak on the floor in a less scripted manner. Highlight for the unconvinced the blend of passion and oratorical elegance that has brought you thus far on your way -- and add a strong dash of spontaneity. Force yourself to stay fresh on the issues and keep people talking 'bout you -- for free.

2. Be "the progressive" and consolidate "the left" and it's grass roots voter appeal. Your position on Iraq has yet to crystallize or resonate with anyone -- let alone the Democratic progressives (after all, you supported Lieberman over Lamont!) You cannot simply compete for Clinton's voters, you need to win all of the Clinton doubters and, more importantly, the disaffected progressives who may look to former VP candidate and "new populist" John Edwards or to perennial working class progressive champion Dennis Kucinich. It was leftist icon Alexander Cockburn who blasted you in The Nation (4/24/2006) for endorsing the re-election bid of Senator Joe Lieberman (CT), declaring: "What a slimy fellow Obama is, as befits a man symbolizing everything that will continue to be wrong with the Democratic Party for the next twenty years." Why be outflanked on the left? You are a progressive; it is in your blood. Don't run away from it. Bridge the unnecessary gap between leftist whites and the heart of the African American community. You can do it like no one else.

You also do not need Rev. Sharpton to replicate his 2004 candidacy and muddle African American focus. Don't give Sharpton any opening on key issues such as Iraq, the legacy of Condoleeza Rice, police brutality, support for public education, and the Democratic Party's commitment to urban youth. In addition, African American critics of your voting history have rated you (along with many Congressional Black Caucus colleagues) as far less progressive than might be considered appropriate by the Black community -- or others. In The Audacity of Hope, you yourself identify the challenge of being either too angry or not angry enough when dealing with racial issues and with American whites who have "exhausted" their reservoir of guilt. When these tough conversations take place, are you an American citizen who happens to be black? Or will you blend your attractiveness to white voters with your potential status as political royalty within the Black community?

3. Make sure your Senate Committee work provides you with as much foreign policy and intelligence exposure as possible -- and immediately bring onto your brain trust the best experts in these areas that you can. The Presidential media will test you on every question -- as will academics. The need to be prepared is an understatement.

4. Personally call every African American leader you can -- everywhere -- and ask for their support now. Define "leader" broadly. Start with New York, North Carolina and Louisiana, then do every primary state. Start the volunteer organizing now; you've been there before, so you know what to do. If you don't have at least 40% of those you reach on board with you by July 1, you will have a problem.

5. We all know a stump speech is an essential part of every campaign. Please abandon certain stories and humor lines, however, that have been overused to date either through speeches or in your writings. You can't be the fresh, new and inspirational candidate if we know by heart all the lines about your name, your King "arc of justice" references, etc. You've got to be different in many, many ways.

6. You have already mastered almost everything else ... times ten thousand.

7. Remember that Clinton & Edwards et al are doing the same things. But you are the celebrity of the moment.

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Well, there's my first salvo on the 2008 Presidential election.

I wish you, dear readers, all the best in the new year. I wish all the new elected officials the strength and integrity they need to move America forward. Good luck to New York's new Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.

Happy New Year!

5 comments:

The Christian Progressive Liberal said...

I understand that the concept is for Obama to cash in on the wave to run for President. However, if, as you say, he is a true progressive, then surely he can raise the necessary financing he needs without compromising his integrity.

I agree with your advice that he not miss Senate votes while he's campaigning, especially since the Congressional Black Caucus Monitor will be closely monitoring his voting record, to see if he raises his grade from the steady "C" (Underachiever) status he currently maintains

jamesmonroe said...

Chris,

Great job on the article. I agree with what you say in quotes below and I'm sure that you agree that this comparison is a kiss of death to a real drive for the presidency.

"Obama is the natural next level from the Jackson-Sharpton Presidential campaign efforts. (And for those of us of multiple racial heritages, he is already a shining star.)"

What Barack Obama has to be is a different breed of cat. I think he can pull this off if two relatively simple (conceptually) things are done.

One, is money. I wonder if Joe Trippi is available?

The other is the idea that I would like to discuss with you or someone else from the campaign.

Jim Monroe

Chris Owens said...

Thanks for the compliments thus far. Yes, part of posting this piece is to get the discussion going regarding the merits/demerits of both Obama the Senator and an Obama candidacy.

I am, however, NOT an Obama campaign staffer -- or even an "endorser." I am part of that nebulous media world, at the moment, so my desire to see the Senator run should not be interpreted as a guaranteed vote for him.

We've got a long way to go before I finalize my preference for the Democratic nomination.

But the pressure is on to start those wheels rolling NOW!

Ahmed Butt said...

Hello Dear friend Chris !

I think you probabbly remember me by seeing but I am the one who met you at Church Ave, Brooklyn's subway. Unfortunately you could not know me better but I wish you would have known me. I was wondering all these appreciations I receive from you are just a political or there is any sincere feelings involve too! The reason which made me curious is your typical ignorance toward "Muslim Community". I read almost all the things in your website but very very sorry to say that you wished everybody not a single muslim for our biggest Muslim Holiday which was December 30th and it is called "Eid-ul-Addha". Then I see your different comments which actually turned me off from your political personality as well. I am sorry but these were my real sentiments which I put it on the web.
Very sorry

Your former supporter.

Chris Owens said...

Hi, Ahmed!

Yes, we met on a few occasions and I believe you also interacted with several campaign staff members. I am sorry if my ignorance offended you. I am indeed ignorant of many details pertaining to the life of someone who follows Islam. In fact, my family and I were discussing this recently and expressing our collective embarrassment and dissatisfaction with this situation.

Unfortunately, a political campaign is not the best time to first become acquainted with important aspects of another culture. It is my hope that in this new year -- and beyond -- that will change. In the past, I have relied upon friends to educate me but that has not worked particularly well (e.g. - I found out about the holiday you referred to from newspapers and after-the-fact). There is work I have to do for myself.

I hope you will understand and forgive. One can be sincere yet still ignorant and God is not through with me yet.

Regarding the other political positions I have taken, I would be happy to discuss those in more detail as it is not clear to me which issues concern you.

I am still recovering in some ways from what was an arduous three-year and unsuccessful effort to get elected to Congress. I am spending much more time with my family and giving myself a chance to breathe while I look for employment and determine what sort of community work I wish to do in the future.

It is my hope that during the next few months you and I will get a second chance to start a relationship.

Happy New Year!

Chris