Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This is what we love about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

When people discuss President Obama's legacy, it is important to include the fact that he brought us Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. We've all be significantly impressed with her tenure so far - especially her insightful repudiation of Chief Justice Robert's opinion on the Voting Rights Act. 

But she was in Utah today and reminded us why we don't just respect her...we LOVE her!
During an informal question and answer session Wednesday at the University of Utah, Sotomayor didn't discuss any of the key issues before the Supreme Court the next session.

She instead focused on imparting the lessons she's learned during her life that began by growing up poor in a Bronx housing project through her 2009 appointment to the nation's highest court.

Sotomayor walked around while speaking, hugging and taking pictures with students whose questions were chosen. Sotomayor also went into the crowd to sit among giddy students.
Here's some of the reaction on twitter:

This woman is the full package: intelligence, strength, vulnerability and empathy. When I grow up, I want to be just like her :-)

Quick Take (updated)

You want to know why Speaker Boehner has decided to engage in a second attempt to sue President Obama - this time over his executive action on immigration?

It's simple: he's trying to call off the lunatic wing of his party in order to get a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security passed by February 27th. In other words, now that they're in control of Congress - the whole hostage-taking thing is backfiring on them. They can't afford to bypass the deadline they themselves initiated and allow a shutdown of the Department that is tasked with protecting us against all those scary terrorists who are out to get us. < snark off > It's also why Boehner is going to allow yet another vote on repealing Obamacare.

I'm thinking there is a betting pool available here to be exploited. How long do Boehner/McConnell drag this all out before they recognize that they have to go to Pelosi/Reid to bargain for votes from Democrats in order to keep DHS open? That's the only way they've been able to pass legislation in the past and it looks like that hasn't changed in this new Congress.

UPDATE: During the Loretta Lynch confirmation hearings it has been noted that the current federal budget allows for the deportation of approximately 400,000 undocumented people currently in the country. Sen. Lindsay Graham asked Lynch to determine how much money would be necessary to deport all 10-12 million. We could suggest that he take the amount currently allocated and multiply it by 30. If Republicans want to "deport-em-all," that's how much they need to increase the budget for DHS. Think they can actually sell that?

2016 Republican Presidential Brackets

Charlie Cook has done a pretty good job of breaking down the 2016 Republican presidential contest into four brackets. Its helpful because the field is so crowded right now that it's hard to sort out - especially if you only think in terms of establishment vs non-establishment. I'd place a couple of candidates differently, but otherwise (just for fun), here's how I see it playing out.

1. Establishment candidates - obviously this one is a battle of Jeb Bush vs Mitt Romney. Since voters in this category aren't going to be concerned about the whole "political dynasty" thing, my money would be on Bush.

2. Governor/Former Governor candidates - I suspect that the voters this group appeals to are those who are skeptical of the whole dynasty question, but aren't ready to go full-on tea party. Scott Walker wins this bracket.

3. Tea Party candidates - no questions here, Ted Cruz wins this one - hands down.

4. Social/Cultural/Religious candidates - this one is also pretty easy to call. Its Mike Huckabee's bracket.

One place I part with Cook is that he puts Rand Paul in the Tea Party group to compete with the likes of Ted Cruz. I know it messes up the symmetry of a bracket analogy, but I'd but Paul in a 5th bracket and make him the winner of the Libertarian candidates (of course, because he's the only one).

What my picks give us is a contest between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul. With the amount of money Bush and Romney will be able to tap into - they will likely continue to compete as other candidates drop out. But the battle between the two of them could provide an opening for someone from the other brackets to break through. I suspect that's why Scott Walker got so much attention coming out of Rep. Steve King's clown show.

To be honest, this is all just fun and games right now. If history is any guide, we could forget about all this and simply assume that the nominee will be Jeb Bush. But I suspect that this contest is going to be a bit more unpredictable than that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sweet Little Old Lady? Nah!!!

I officially qualify as an "old lady." So today I'm announcing that this is my new goal in life.

Quick Take

Occasionally I have a thought that's too long for twitter but too short for a blog post. I might start putting them up here as "quick takes."

What struck me today is that, with things like Gov. Chris Christie's youtube channel, I'm not sure how Gov. Mike Pence is deviating that far from the current norm in creating his own news outlet. I'll bet Christie's short videos get WAY more eyeballs.

That's why I think the more important story is that Pence is going to be the next "red state" governor to expand Medicaid.

Some Progressives Are Confused By the Long Game

President Obama's "pen and phone" strategy (which he announced a year ago) has confused a lot of progressives. The title of this article by Markos Moulitsas pretty well sums it up: "Imagine that: Obama decides he'll fight for people, approvals soar." He's right that President Obama's approval rating has risen over the last couple of months and that the American people seem to like the fact that he is getting things done...despite Congress. Where the confusion shows is in assuming that the President has recently decided to "fight for people."

Moulitsas includes a list of things Obama has announced recently. But as many of us have been pointing out, a lot of them (normalization with Cuba, executive orders on immigration, etc.) have been in the works for at least 1-2 years. It's true that free community college is a new proposal. But it was preceded by a proposal for universal pre-K in his 2013 SOTU. The President has consistently said that he would stand by the process of the State Department's study of the Keystone Pipeline and would veto any effort to preempt it. His working group on police reforms follows a record number of police brutality investigations initiated by the Civil Rights Division of DOJ during this administration.

But Moulitsas isn't the only one confused by what's happening. Simon Johnson is one of the people who objected to the nomination of Antonio Weiss as Undersecretary of Domestic Affairs at the Treasury Department. And so its ironic to read him insist that President Obama needs to swiftly nominate someone to that position now that Weiss has removed himself from consideration. But Johnson shows his own confusion with this:
In the continuing absence of an Undersecretary for Domestic Finance, the administration has recently displayed an inconsistent – or perhaps even incoherent – policy stance on financial sector issues. On the one hand, in mid-December, the White House agreed to rollback a significant part of Dodd-Frank – the so-called “swaps push-out,” which was shamefully attached at the behest of Citigroup to a must-pass government spending bill...

On the other hand, the President has recently issued veto threats to protect financial reform.
It's important to note that both Paul Krugman and Matt Taibbi affirmed that the "swaps push-out" (authored by then-Senator Blanche Lincoln) was not "a significant part of Dodd-Frank."  For example, Krugman actually called it a "sideshow."
Now, this isn’t the death of financial reform. In fact, I’d argue that regulating insured banks is something of a sideshow, since the 2008 crisis was brought on mainly by uninsured institutions like Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. The really important parts of reform involve consumer protection and the enhanced ability of regulators both to police the actions of “systemically important” financial institutions (which needn’t be conventional banks) and to take such institutions into receivership at times of crisis.
With that in mind, President Obama and a lot of Democrats signed on to the cromnibus bill that contained it's elimination in order to remove one of the most powerful hostages Republicans might have used in this Congressional session (a possible government shut-down) to seriously undermine the truly significant portions of Dodd-Frank. That was the long game at play.

Finally, here's William Rivers Pitt writing about his confusion in response to the State of the Union speech.
The President of the United States gave a speech on Tuesday night that would, in parts, have gone over like gangbusters at any Occupy rally in the country, and then he turned on a dime to brag about our massively impressive oil and gas production, i.e. fracking and maybe the Keystone XL pipeline, and then went on further to give an impassioned aria about climate change, at which point my brain crawled out of my ear and slithered into the bathroom, where it wept piteously into the cold porcelain truth of the base of the toilet.
I've already written about President Obama's long game on climate policy...something Pitt obviously doesn't see.

Way back in December 2010, the President addressed these kinds of critiques and laid out his strategy this way:
And so, my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there - what is helping the American people live out their lives...And at any given juncture there're gonna be times where my preferred option, what I'm absolutely positive is right, I can't get done. And so then my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way, or tack a little bit that way, because I'm keeping my eye on the long term, and the long fight, not my day to day news cycle, but where am I going over the long term?
People like Moulitsas, Johnson and Pitt confused the tacking with the North Star. As more and more people begin to recognize that President Obama's strategy is paying off, we should make no mistake about it...this is where he has been heading all along.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

President Obama pays homage to the peacemakers:

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bishop Oscar Romero

Nelson Mandela

Cesar Chavez

Mahatma Gandhi

Kudos to Secretary of State John Kerry

The immediacy of our 24/7 news cycle tends to view events in the isolation of the moment rather than reflect on how we got here or where we might be going. I'd like to buck that trend.

Recently we heard about the historic agreement the Obama administration reached with China on global climate change. And then today comes this:
President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday that the two countries will work together to fight global climate change, laying out a set of goals that the two countries hope “will expand policy dialogues and technical work on clean energy and low greenhouse gas emissions technologies.”

While not a concrete emissions reductions agreement like the one Obama reached with China this past November, the deal includes efforts to cooperate on reducing emissions of fluorinated gases, invigorate India’s promotion of clean energy investment, and partner to reduce the debilitating air pollution that has plagued many of India’s cities.

The agreement also emphasized that the countries would “cooperate closely” for a “successful and ambitious” agreement at the Paris climate talks at the end of the year. During that conference, 196 nations are expected to meet and tentatively agree a course of action to respond to climate change. It is widely considered the last chance for a global agreement that could feasibly keep the rise in global average temperatures under 2°C.
I was reminded of something Coral Davenport wrote a year ago that demonstrates how we got here and where this is all going.
...while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution...

Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change. He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.

“He’s approaching this creatively,” said Heather Zichal, who recently stepped down as Mr. Obama’s top climate adviser and worked for Mr. Kerry from 2002 to 2008. “He’s thinking strategically about using other forums.”
That's the kind of behind-the-scenes effort that has gone into these two huge announcements with China and India. If all goes as planned, it is looking more and more possible that the nations of the world will reach a global climate treaty before the end of this year. Talk about a BFD!!!!

So let's give a big shout-out to SoS John Kerry for his vision and work with President Obama to recognize the long game on climate policy.

Dog Whistles from the Left (updated)

I've written before about how uncomfortable I am with the idea that Democrats need to figure out how to appeal to working class white voters. It's not that I object to building a bigger coalition. My concern is the often unspoken message that appealing to the unique concerns of people of color is the wrong message.

In an op-ed in the NYT today, Noam Scheiber makes that often unspoken argument overtly. He's writing about Mayor Bill DeBlasio's drop in the polls. But I don't want to get distracted with analyzing DeBlasio's performance. Instead, let's pay attention to the overall message.
From the get-go, Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fused two distinct strands of progressivism. The first was economic populism, not least his criticism that Michael R. Bloomberg had placed the interests of Wall Street and the wealthy above those of average New Yorkers.

The second was what some have called “identity group” liberalism, which appealed to black and Latino voters as blacks and Latinos, not on the basis of economic interests they shared with whites. The centerpiece of Mr. de Blasio’s identity-group agenda was his promise to win better treatment for minorities at the hands of the police.

The problem for Mr. de Blasio is that only the first approach has widespread appeal...

If you were to rank issues by their potential to unite whites and minority voters, the most promising would be populist economic issues like raising taxes on the rich. Somewhere in the middle would be an issue like health care, which has large economic benefits for both whites and nonwhites, even if opponents can portray it as a sop to the latter. At the very bottom would be issues with little economic content, but which different racial groups view in radically different ways.
What Scheiber is basically saying is that if you want to unite whites and minority voters, you have to focus on the issues that are a priority to whites. That's pretty much white supremacy in a nutshell. His big "tell" comes in what he leaves out of that last sentence. The reason racial groups view the issues he places at the bottom differently is because they affect racial groups differently. White people never had to be concerned about "stop-and-frisk" because it almost never happened to a white person. White mothers/fathers, wives, siblings don't spend much time worrying that their son, husband, brother will be harassed/beaten/killed because some police officer jumped to the conclusion that he was a "dangerous black/brown man." But that is exactly how police actions become a priority for voters of color. The fear of what can happen becomes a life-and-death issue for them - as we've seen lately.

White people were just as oblivious to the priorities of African Americans during the Jim Crow era. One of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King was so revolutionary and successful is that he believed white people would reject the treatment of African Americans if they could see it...really see it. Here's how Ta-Nehisi Coates talked about that.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.
For Scheiber, understanding and validating those priorities in today's America is a losing strategy for Democrats.
The real lesson is that Mr. de Blasio’s brand of liberalism isn’t a basis for Democratic dominance, as his boosters once enthused. Politically, economic populism trumps identity-group appeals.
I'll simply remind you that Scheiber himself described DeBlasio's brand of liberalism as a fusion of economic populism with things like a promise to end "stop-and-frisk." So it is that fusion politics championed by people like Rev. William Barber and the Moral Mondays Movement that Scheiber is rejecting - Democrats shouldn't embrace both. To rephrase what he said: "Politically, white people's priorities trump people of color's priorities." If it makes you uncomfortable to hear it said that way, you are tuned in to the dog whistle by which white supremacy is often communicated. Those messages are not the exclusive domain of people on the right.

UPDATE: On twitter Scheiber is responding to a critique of his op-ed (which I didn't make - but his response is still instructive) by saying that it was meant to be "descriptive, not normative." In a sense, he's right about that. What he did was describe how politics on the left looks these days from a white privileged perspective. I simply reject that perspective.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jeb Bush to Run as GOP's Version of Obama

While everyone is having fun poking at the lunatic wing of the Republican Party gathered in Iowa this weekend, I was struck by what Jeb Bush said at his first public address since throwing his hat into the ring for 2016. After reading about bits and pieces of his speech, I decided to watch the whole thing on cspan.

In the part I found most interesting, Bush said that there was a lack of leadership in Washington these days. Here is the solution he offered:
Two people can disagree and they can disagree vehemently. But if they see in each other an honest broker motivated by good intentions and sincere beliefs, they can find accommodation.
He also said he would offer the "adult conversations" that are lacking in our politics today.

That got me thinking immediately about what President Obama had just said three days before Bush gave this speech.
Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.
Of course these two men agree on almost nothing else (although Bush did talk bluntly about the need for immigration reform and investments in infrastructure). But it did strike me that - if they are both sincere in what they said - it would be fascinating to watch them actually engage in one of those "adult conversations." Too bad that is never going to happen. It would be one way to hold them accountable for these statements.

I have several thoughts about this as an overall message for a Jeb Bush campaign.
  1. The rumor has always been that when it comes to the Bush brothers, Jeb is the smart one. In the question-and-answer period following the speech, he talked about being an introvert - which means that he at least has the capacity for self-reflection. What I saw demonstrated in this speech is that he has the capacity to put together a thoughtful, smart campaign that would connect with a lot of voters in a general election.
  2. Jeb's challenge is going to be to get past the primaries and win the nomination. Not only will he have to deal with the Bush dynasty issues (which he does pretty well in this speech), but even uttering the word "accommodation" will be red meat to the lunatic caucus of his party. They have zero interest in having "adult conversations" with the opposition.
  3. While folks like me might appreciate the sentiments quoted above, it sounds hollow when his walk doesn't match his talk. Throughout the course of the speech and interview, Jeb took a few subtle swipes at President Obama and completely mischaracterized his approach to foreign policy. As I said in #1, Jeb is smart. Those were not simple misunderstandings. They were intentional. I didn't see much by way of "good intentions" displayed in this speech. 
  4. Finally, I'm old enough to remember when George W. Bush ran as a "compassionate conservative" and rejected an interventionist foreign policy. As we know now, that all turned out to be nothing but campaign rhetoric. That's another reason to be skeptical until Jeb demonstrates that he walks his talk.
I don't want any of this to suggest that I might be a supporter of Jeb Bush. I disagree almost totally with his policies. But - at least in rhetoric - he's making a big departure from the status quo of the GOP these days. 

Given that it has been Republicans who eschew discussion and compromise, if Jeb actually meant what he said, he'd be calling them to account - which is exactly what needs to happen for Washington to make the kinds of changes he is suggesting he supports. THAT would be real leadership!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Obama and Clinton: Strategies For Change

It is going to pain me to say this (a lot!), but I think Ron Fournier is actually right about something.
Friends and associates of the former secretary of State, including some who are preparing her for a likely presidential bid, say Clinton obviously will embrace Obama's progressive economic agenda. Middle-class tax cuts, judicial reform, paid sick leave, and free community-college tuition are the sort of policies that Clinton has previously supported—and would certainly push in the future.

Clinton is not worried about being associated with Obama's policies, associates say. Her challenge is to convince voters that, unlike Obama, she can deliver on her promises...

The Clinton team is discussing how to draw a contrast between Obama's leadership skills and hers—without overtly insulting the president.
The assumption behind this kind of strategy is that Clinton will lose if she simply runs on a "third Obama term." I'll leave that one aside for now because Fournier has tapped into the argument she'll likely make.

Way back during the 2008 primary (when the contest was still between Obama, Clinton and Edwards), Mark Schmitt wrote a masterful piece on their different "theories of change." While the GOP strategy of total obstruction was not in view at the time, he did define the status quo as Republican intractability. And then he examined the candidates' approach to overcoming the stalemate that would produce. Here's how he summed it up:
Hillary Clinton's stump speech is built around the speechwriter's rule of three, applied to theories of change: one candidate believes you achieve change by "demanding" it [Edwards], another thinks you "hope for it" [Obama], while she alone knows that you have to "work for it" [Clinton].

That's accurate as a rendering of the candidates' language: Her message of experience and hard work, Obama's language of hope and common purpose, Edwards' insistence that those with power will never give it up willingly.
Schmitt goes on to suggest that simply relying on "hard work" might not be enough.
Any of the three "theories of change" has to be tested not just as a description of the current political situation, but as a tactic for breaking it. Even the non-naive Edwards believes that the structure of power can be broken -- by a large, engaged social movement. Clinton's theory in a sense takes the status quo for granted more than the others, but it's appropriate in certain situations: I imagine her negotiating the fine points of a health care bill, having mastered every lesson from 1993 and every detail, and getting Senators McConnell and Grassley in the room, and them walking out having agreed to something they barely understand. Superior knowledge and diligence can be a tool of power...And while hard work and mastery of details is also indispensable in a president, work alone does not overcome unyielding political opposition. As Karl Rove would say, it's not a "gamechanger."
That description of how Clinton might have handled health care reform negotiations totally reminds me of the deal President Obama made during the attempt to avert a government shutdown over the FY 2011 budget. Initially conservatives went into celebration mode and liberals were incensed that "Obama caved." Eventually Republicans figured out they'd been taken.
So the budget deal is supposed to deliver $38 billion in spending cuts, including $20 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending...Based on news accounts, quite a lot of that $20 billion could be phony: $6.2 billion in unspent money for the Census; $2.5 billion of highway funds that couldn’t be spent; $3.5 billion of unused spending authority in a children’s health-care program. Is it possible that Republicans have gone from $61 billion in domestic discretionary savings all the way down to $8 billion?
As for the Edwards theory that the status quo can be broken "by a large, engaged social movement"... President Obama has been there, done that too.

Schmitt outlines what it is that President Obama added to the mix. Something I've called "conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy."
...perhaps we are being too literal in believing that "hope" and bipartisanship are things that Obama naively believes are present and possible, when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure. Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved... puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk...

What I find fascinating about his language about unity and cross-partisanship is that it is not premised on finding Republicans who agree with him, but on taking in good faith the language and positions of actual conservatism -- people who don't agree with him....

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear...One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.
President Obama has engaged all three theories - hard work, building a social movement, and conciliatory rhetoric - in an attempt to break through Republican obstructionism. For a while, he also tried to build a "common sense caucus." Now he's added his "pen and phone" strategy. In other words, when it comes to change, the President has employed an "all of the above" strategy. None of these things have been unquestionably successful - but they've all had their moments. And in the end, he's managed to accomplish quite a lot.

If Ron Fournier is right and Hillary Clinton wants to show that she can "deliver" in a way that President Obama has not, she's going to have to dig a lot deeper in search of something new. Otherwise it's just empty rhetoric that would come back to haunt her once she's in office.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

GOP Gridlocked With GOP

I predict we'll be seeing a lot of this over the next two years:

GOP gridlocked over DHS funding.
Top Republicans are exploring ways of escaping their political jam on immigration, with steps that could avoid a funding cutoff for the Department of Homeland Security while letting conservatives vent their anger at President Barack Obama.
Abortion bill dropped amid concerns of female GOP lawmakers.
House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation's restrictive language would once again spoil the party's chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.
For the past four years, the GOP strategy of obstruction allowed them to abandon policy proposals and simply be the party of "no." In order to end the hostage-taking situations Republicans created, Speaker Boehner was never able to put together a coalition in his own party to end the crisis. He always had to reach out to Democrats in order to do so.

Now, with control of Congress, we are going to see those divisions and gridlock writ large on almost anything they try to do.

If I'm right, President Obama won't have to order that extra ink for his veto pen - once again saving taxpayers the added expense ;-)

An Open Letter to Chuck Todd

Dear Mr. Todd,

After 6 years of watching President Obama from the vantage point of the White House Press room, you decided that he was "The Stranger."

In contrast to your conclusions, I'd like to offer a couple of examples of people who have watched/experienced him from a different perspective.

First of all, Joshua Dubois described how the President interacted with family members of those who had been killed at Sandy Hook School in Newtown. In other words, at the most profound moment of loss they're likely to experience in their lives.
Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss.
On the other end of the spectrum, here's how Ava DuVernay described her experience with Barack and Michelle Obama at the screening of Selma at the White House last week.
President Obama’s introduction of SELMA in the presidential screening room, the quality time he and the First Lady took with us before and after, the stories he shared with my editor and cinematographer, the praise she gave our dear cast, the handshake he gave my father, the hug she gave my mother, the laughter, the smiles, the extra time they gave us all long, long, long beyond when we were scheduled to go, the warmth, the respect, it was just beyond exquisite.
Now...perhaps the experience of families who have lost a loved one or those who have created a profound movie about one of the most important eras in this country's history don't strike you as important to the political assessment of a president. From your perspective, how he interacts with the press and movers/shakers of the DC establishment is probably much more significant. If so, that raises the question...A Stranger to Whom?

Offered for your consideration,


P.S. If you weren't aware of the events I described above, this might be why (more from Dubois):
And the funny thing is — President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

"Immigrants and Native Americans"

I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we’re a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen -- man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native American, gay, straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability. Everybody matters.

President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 20, 2015
I used that quote yesterday when I talked about President Obama's message that "Everybody Matters." But there's something else I'd like to mention today.

A few years ago I began to notice how often Native Americans are included when people list the racial/ethnic groups in this country. Let me simply report that it is a rare phenomenon. I can't even imagine what it's like to have to deal with the genocide/oppression Native Americans have suffered over the last few centuries. But to watch as - over and over again - your very existence goes unacknowledged is truly beyond the pale.

President Obama not only acknowledged the existence of Native Americans, he is the first one I've seen who took it to a whole new level. Let's break down the pairings he introduced.
  • man and woman
  • young and old
  • black and white, Latino, Asian
  • immigrant, Native American
  • gay, straight
  • Americans with mental illness or physical disability
Rather that listing black and white, Latino, Asian and Native American - which is what most people do when they are being inclusive - he introduced the pairing of immigrant and Native American. In other words, we're all either an immigrant (by choice or slavery) to this country or Native American.

Some might simply write this off as political correctness. But I think it represents the deep respect President Obama has demonstrated for both the gifts and challenges of this land's First Nations People.

A Better Politics: The Video

I just want to park this here as the part of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union speech that inspired this: A Better Politics.