Monday, January 23, 2012

Talking With The Press

The other day, I was interviewed by a writer who is working on an article and possibly a book about Mark Kirk, Republican Senator from Illinois. She asked me a lot of questions about Kirk, who won reelection to his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004. He represented the 10th District, which at the time included both affluent Kenilworth, where he was from, depressed Waukegan, and a whole lot of other towns. She was asking me because I was the Democratic nominee in that race, so presumably I knew something about my opponent.

It was an interesting trip down memory lane. When she asked how I happened to run for Congress, I explained that I was asked to run because I had become somewhat known in the community due to my work in opposition to the invasion of Iraq. I told her I had continued to work on a variety of peace and justice issues since the election, right up to the present day. She didn't really seem to want to know much about me or my campaign. She wanted to know about Kirk. I tried to answer her questions as accurately as I could.

When she asked if I had gotten to know Kirk's family or staff I told her that I had. On numerous occasions over the years, I had gone to Kirk's office with other people who wanted to talk with their congressman. Kirk's staffers, Andy, Aaron, Eric, and others were generally polite when they would tell us that the congressman would not meet with us, and we were polite with them. Kirk never did meet with us, of course, but it wasn't his staffers' fault. They were just there to keep their boss from having to do his job.

When the reporter asked if I had heard the rumors about Kirk's personal life, I told her that I had heard all sorts of things. I explained to her that I had made it clear that I was not interested in my opponent's personal life, and that I refused to make it an issue in my campaign. When the reporter asked if I had heard one particular rumor, I wouldn't tell her. It is still his personal life, and I still don't care.

When the reporter asked about Kirk's lies being exposed on the front page of the newspapers when he ran for Senate in 2010, I told her that the lies that bothered me most were the ones that Kirk used to help bring the country to war. Among them, he had said repeatedly that he had seen the secret proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It turned out there were no such weapons, so there was no proof for him to see. He made it all up. Those lies cost thousands of people their lives.

When the reporter asked what the main issues had been in the campaign, I told her that there were a lot of issues, but that there were two things at the top of most people's minds – the Iraq war and health care. She expressed surprise that people in the 10th District, which she thinks of as a wealthy district, were concerned about health care. I reminded her that not everyone in the district is wealthy. I explained to her that there were more than forty million people in the country with no health insurance back in 2004, and many more with inadequate insurance, and that the situation has gotten worse since then.

The reporter told me that she was not recording the interview, just taking notes, and that I might be contacted in the future by a fact-checker. I'm sure she wrote down what I said reasonably accurately. She seemed professional and pleasant. There was only one odd moment during the interview, when she told me that I wasn't easy to interview. She said that talking to me was like talking to her husband. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I told her that I was trying to be helpful and offered to talk with her again if any other questions occurred to her.

I enjoyed the conversation. I was pleased that someone was making the effort to understand a bit of history and explain it to her readers. She said she thought Kirk was ambitious and would seek higher office. That was exactly why I was talking to her. If our country is given the choice in the future about whether to elevate someone whose lies cost so many lives, it is best that we have as much information as possible.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The High Road

Democrats across the country are having a wonderful time watching the Republican presidential nominees tear into each other. It's not so much fun, however, seeing candidates in your own party do the same thing, and in the long-run, it's bad politics.

Right now, two opposing Democratic candidates for Congress in the area where I live are in a spat. According to Greg Hinz, writing in Crain's Chicago Business, one candidate's chief campaign consultant is spreading the word that the opposing Democratic candidate is a “quasi-Republican” who has donated large amounts of money to Republican candidates. This is a charge that, to the extent it is true, could sway a lot of Democratic candidates to vote for someone else – someone who they feel is a real Democrat. The charge relates pretty directly to issues of political philosophy, so it is probably perceived by most voters as legitimate campaigning.

In retaliation, if the news report is correct, the candidate whose political loyalty is being questioned is striking back at his accuser by pointing out that the other candidate has had foreclosures filed against two of his homes in the last few years. It is a lot harder to figure out what this has to do with the candidate's qualifications to hold office. The accuser says that the foreclosures raise questions about the candidate's financial problems which could jeopardize his chances of winning the general election if he wins the primary. But unless some evidence materializes that shows that the the candidate's poor judgment led to his being foreclosed upon, rather than, as he claims, bank misconduct, it is questionable that voters will punish someone just because he is in the same unfortunate position that many of them are in.

It probably won't take the two candidates long to realize that their tactics are akin to spitting into the wind. If the charges were being made by low-level campaign volunteers, the candidates might be able to disavow them. By the charges are coming from the highest levels of the two campaigns, so the candidates themselves will be held accountable.

The third candidate has stayed out of the fight and is spending his time talking about his qualifications and the failings of the incumbent Republican whom he hopes to run against if he wins the primary. He is taking the high road. But it probably won't be long before one or both of the other candidates turns and attacks him. They have already shown their propensity for that kind of politics. They may already have made their plans of attack. They may be waiting until the last minute, to make it harder for their target to defend himself.

The pundits love to tell us that even though voters claim to want clean campaigning, the dirty stuff is what wins. There is undoubtedly some truth to that. But there have also been a few campaigns, including some recent ones in our area, which have failed specifically because the voters rejected their negativity.

There isn't much time left before the primary, but there is still plenty of time for all of the candidates to make clear to their campaign staff and volunteers that the object of their campaigns is to educate the voters so that they can choose a candidate who will be best for our country, rather than to destroy their opponents by any means possible, fair or unfair.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The "Jewish" Vote

Census data indicates that there is a sizable Jewish minority in the area where I live. Traditionally, Jews in this country vote, and as a general rule they tend to vote Democratic. So some political observers have difficulty understanding why the district keeps electing Republicans. The answer is that this is a relatively well-off community, and a lot of Jews, like a lot of non-Jews, vote according to what they think is in their own financial interest instead of letting their religious affiliation guide their voting.

Nationwide, Jews got a reputation for being politically liberal when they were recent immigrants. They tended to live in cities like New York and Chicago, where they worked sewing garments, rolling cigars, peddling goods, and in various other low-wage occupations. They supported unions, public education, non-discrimination, and other positions that are now considered “liberal,” both because those positions were relevant to their daily lives and because their religion taught them to be charitable, concerned with other people, and welcoming to other peoples.

Some Jews who moved from the factory floor to factory ownership tended to view unions differently once they achieved their successes. And when they moved from the crowded cities into splendid suburbs, some of them started to view other issues differently, too. The more money they accumulated, the more they worried about being forced to share their good fortune by paying taxes. As nouveau rich, they tended more towards Republican values, just as their non-Jewish counterparts did.

The problem they had was that they were embarrassed to admit to their Republican leanings when so many of their friends retained their democratic allegiances. It was difficult to be a Republican Jew, because Republicans had become the party of the greedy rich. Israel solved their problem.

Republican Jews found they could vote for and contribute money to Republican candidates without having to admit that they were Republicans simply by claiming that the Republicans whom them supported would be good for Israel. Once they invoked the name of Israel, no one dared to question their motives for supporting Republicans, because it could be made to seem that the questioner was not a supporter of Israel.

Jewish Republicans could therefore be against unions, tax equity, public schools, health care, and even peace, without becoming social outcasts, so long as they could find Republican candidates who claimed to be pro-Israel. It was never difficult to find Republicans who supported Israel, because nearly all candidates in both the Democratic and Republican parties supported Israel.

If the Jews in this area had followed the route taken by other people who have moved from modest means to wealth, they would simply have switched over to the Republican party. But Jews have been slow to do so, because making that switch would have alienated them from friends and family. It was easier to pretend to subscribe to traditionally Jewish values while actually supporting the other side.

As another election approaches, we should keep in mind that although the new district boundaries appear to favor Democrats, there may not really be as many Democrats as it would appear. Some of the people who have been voting in Democratic primaries, where they have had to publicly declare their party affiliation, have actually been voting for Republicans in the general elections all along and will likely continue to do so. Among those Republican voters will be some Jews who will continue to pretend to be Democrats and will continue to use Israel to camouflage voting against taxes and schools and unions. Any Democratic candidate who thinks he can appeal to those voters just by being pro-Israel is in for a surprise. Although there is a small group who don't care about anything except Israel, for a much larger group of voters Israel isn't really the issue at all. Money is.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Romney Doesn't Get

What Mitt Romney doesn't seem to understand or can't admit to himself yet is that the wealthy individual and corporate interests that control the Republican Party don't mind if Barack Obama wins. That's why there have been so many debates sponsored by media outlets and organizations that are sympathetic to or controlled by those powerful interests. For months those debates have put marginal candidates together on stages where they all looked like they were equally credible and gave them equal time to espouse their fringe views and tear each other apart. It was entertaining. It resulted in a fragmented Republican electorate. But most important of all, it distracted the public from what was going on in the halls of power.

While the debates and campaigning have been going on, the lobbyists, elected representatives, administrative agencies, and the President have been carrying on just as they have for years, happy that the public wasn't paying attention. The monied interests have been getting what they want from the Obama administration. He has proven to be a reliable ally who is willing to go along with their schemes and grant their selfish wishes. Theoretically, Romney might prove to be an even greater friend of the elite, but why would they want to risk that he wouldn't be as compliant as Obama has been? History has taught us that, once in office, Presidents can act in very unexpected ways. Just like Obama has.

Although most of the polls show that, among the Republican candidates, Romney has the best chance of winning an election against Obama, the polls also show that Romney might lose to Obama. The big money doesn't have any real reason to bet on Romney and risk losing. They are better off putting their money behind Obama and making sure he wins.

Romney isn't the first candidate who is going to have to come to grips with the reality that our politics, and therefore our government, are controlled by people who don't care about party affiliation or principles as much as they care about control. Over the years, plenty of candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties have been sold out by people who were more concerned with how they would benefit from an election than how the results of the election would affect the country.

Romney will probably view the defection of the aristocracy as a betrayal. He shouldn't. He is one of them. He knows how the game is played.

The bulk of Republican voters, however, probably expect more from the people who pull the strings in their party. But when Romney loses, they won't be angry at their own leaders, because they won't know or won't admit what happened. They will blame the liberal media, George Soros, Blacks, Mexicans who can't even vote, Jews, and the rest of their usual demons for misleading the voters and stealing the election, because that is who the wealthy individual and corporate interests that control the Republican Party will tell them is at fault.

Things could change between now and the election. If Obama's popularity slips, the power brokers could turn on him and back Romney. Some of them are already quietly supporting both candidates, so that regardless of who wins the election, their influence remains intact. But as it stands now, Romney is the designated sacrifice. He'll campaign hard and he'll win some votes. But he'll lose, because regardless of what the Republican Party platform says and regardless of what Republican voters want, the folks who really decide these things have already made their choice, Obama, a President who has proven that he will do what he is told to do.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Joy of Killing

A friend of mine who likes guns and thinks everyone should own them delights in posting news stories on his Facebook page about people who shoot and kill people and claim self defense. He recently pointed out a story about an eighteen-year-old woman who shot a man whom she said was breaking into her house.

My friend has also recently posted stories in which gun stores claim to have sold a lot of guns as Christmas presents and a story that said people are arming themselves in anticipation of the upcoming elections.

Other friends of mine point out stories like these, too. One such story said that so many people are applying for permits to carry concealed weapons in Wisconsin that the state can't process the applications as quickly as they come in. But there is a difference in the way people bring these stories to my attention.

The pro-gun people add gleeful comments to the stories. They view the shootings as evidence that people need guns to defend themselves. The anti-violence people, on the other hand, add sad comments to the stories. They view the proliferation of guns and their lethal use as an indication that people are reacting to the challenges of our time in inhumane ways.

In short, the pro-gun people think that guns solve problems. The anti-gun people think that guns create problems. Who is right?

Statistically, the picture is pretty clear. Of the nearly 100,000 people who are shot in the U.S. each year, very few are shot while they are committing a serious crime or any crime at all. Defensive shootings are so rare – from a few hundred to a couple of thousand a year – that the gun industry makes sure that every one of them receives the maximum amount of publicity. These are the shootings that my friend helps the gun sellers publicize. Neither he nor the gun sellers looks very closely at whether the victims could have defended themselves any other way, such as by calling the police. Nor do they care much whether the shooter was defending a person or just preventing the loss of a few dollars worth of property.

What the gun enthusiasts don't talk about is that every day, two to three people are accidentally killed by gunshots and another 30 are sent to the hospital with non-fatal injuries because they were shot accidentally.

The gun lovers also don't mention that every day in the U.S., nearly fifty people commit suicide by shooting themselves to death. That's about forty percent of all the shooting deaths, or about 18,000 gun suicides a year.

So, it looks like both sides are right. Guns are used defensively by a few people, they are used by a massive number of people to kill themselves, and they are the instrumentality of a huge number of accidental shootings and deaths. If you can't do grade-school mathematics, you may agree with my friend and the gun industry that more people should have guns in their homes. If, however, you look at the facts honestly, you will come to a different conclusion.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Neighborhood Shooting

A man was shot to death in his own home a few blocks from where I live. Here is what the newspapers reported: A woman had called the police. She was already outside her house when they arrived. She told them her husband was inside and that he had a gun. For four hours, the police tried to phone the man and contact him using a bullhorn. He never responded. Finally they stormed the house and found him dead inside.

After the shooting, the local government sent automated phone calls to everyone in town telling them that the public had not been in any danger. That's what they said after they found the man dead, but for four hours the police were pretty sure the public might be in very serious danger. They closed off the streets and told everyone to stay in their basements. They evacuated some nearby residents in an armored vehicle. They set up a command post in a nearby church to coordinate about seventy five police officers from about a dozen nearby towns. They posted spotters in the windows of the house next door to the dead man's house.

Whether there was an actual threat of violence to the man's wife or to anyone else, the fear of deadly violence was justified, and it had an effect. That effect did not vanish when the “all clear” phone calls went out telling everyone that the situation had been “resolved.” People will remember for a long time that one of their neighbors was armed and dangerous and that they had been confined to their homes so that they wouldn't get hurt by the man or caught in police crossfire. The coroner's report that the shooting was a suicide was not released until a week after the shooting.

A month prior to the shooting, a group of people in my town had started planning to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords by holding a meeting at a local church. Several area clergy agreed to speak. We all figured that it would be a good idea to talk about violence before there was a tragedy in our town and we found ourselves saying, “We never thought it would happen here.” Then it happened here, a week before our meeting was scheduled to take place.

The meeting will be this Sunday, January 8 at 2:00 pm at St. Norbert Church, 1809 Walters, Northbrook, IL. It is free and open to the public. I have no idea how many people will attend. Maybe people will come because the recent shooting alarmed them or maybe they will decide that they don't need to attend because the situation has been resolved. I'll be there. I hope you will, too.