The “I” Wants It

May 24, 2008 on 2:08 pm

Pronouns. They pour forth from us in daily profusion, expediting thought and speech, directing the listener to a point or place, or just sharing our lives. But even in these, the shortest of words, there can be more than we intend. Indeed, Marshall McLuhan, 1960s sage of the coming communication revolution, assured us that the medium is the message.

And so with pronouns. Now I do not claim here the authority of a survey in what follows. I do, though, claim the authority of active and objective listening in all things Election 2008. And in this listening I have discerned over the course of the campaign a distinction between the two Democratic contenders. Where one says we, the other says I. Of late, the latter, it would certainly seem, never, ever says we. It is I, I, I, I, and this I, i.e., me, cannot ignore it or what it seems to scream at us: This is not a person inclined to share.

In leadership, focus is essential, as is confidence, dedication and purpose. But leadership, if it is to have any meaning, requires a group context. Indeed, leadership is a plural thing, there needing to be more in it than one, i.e., a leader and at least one of the “led.” Leadership by its nature and purpose is a we thing. I is a me thing, and the antithesis of leadership in a practical democracy.

Listen once and you will hear. Listen twice and you will question. Listen thrice and you will understand, you will know. Go forth, then, and listen…thrice.


May 12, 2008 on 2:49 am

If politics requires anything in a democracy such as ours it is nuance. Indeed, how else is the process to encompass so many views and perspectives, such differences in need and circumstance? We are a continent of cultures built on and from four centuries of discovery and immigration from every corner of the earth. As such, our country remains without historical precent.

It has been by nuance’s brighter and darker sides – discernment and cunning – that the differences among us have been managed and packaged into national political parties. And the quadrennial selection of a President, done and sworn to the protection and rights of all, is the clearest measure of our sucess. Indeed, it is something of a miracle to have managed this as well as we have for two and a quarter centuries, the one glaring exception a war of some four years duration that, in lives lost, remains our most costly.

It is in being able to work and maneuver within and among the obscure and the understood, the accepted and the emerging, the presumed and the resented that the great majority of the people have been able to get most, if not all, of what was possible at any given time. Even still, for most of the first two centuries of this nation’s existence, it was not possible for a Roman Catholic to be elected president. And until this year in which we now live, it was not possible for an American of African descent to be so elected. This is now clearly possible, if not indeed probable.

The founding principle of the American experience is this: We are each and all of us born equal. We have struggled and labored to live in the light of this principle. We displaced and treated dishonorably those native to this land. We had bought and enslaved one in five human beings living in this nation at the time of its founding and kept them such for near a century more. We repressed and abused the wretched and tossed who sought liberty on these shores. But the they continue to become the we. Not perfectly, to be sure, but for two generations it has at least been the law. And more than the law, it is now the expected, even by the resentful.  

However, recently we were told by the governor of Pennsylvania that this country is not yet ready for one of its black citizens to lead it, to be President of the United States. More surprising than such a public uttering by so elevated an official was the near absence of reaction to it. Nuance in such a public contest as we now engage would work with and around this claimed reality, one so at odds with the principle on which this nation was founded. It is quite another thing to speak it, and with the clear purpose of its continuing self-fulfillment.

Nuance is how leaders in a democracy lead in complexity and crisis. It is how truths and needs find accommodation until a better day. Regrettably, George W. Bush, as he himself tells us, does not do nuance. Nor, would it seem, does Sen. Clinton. She, in fact, slanders blacks by citing white Americans as hard working. She then warns all in her party that only she, presumably as white, can draw these hard working whites to certain victory in November. And in the closing weeks of a contest in which she is given only the slimmest chance of winning, she drives a racial stake between two of her own party’s key and traditional constituencies.

No. Hillary Clinton does not do nuance, of a brighter or darker sort. What Hillary Clinton does do, and with uncommon purpose, is to want to be president. In this quest, though, she says and does things, the more recent the more egregious, that disqualify her from consideration for the position.



Indiana and North Carolina – Independents Split

May 8, 2008 on 4:22 am

While North Carolina may well have clinched the Democratic nomination for Sen. Barak Obama, exit polls there show him losing the Independent vote to Sen. Clinton by a 44 to 48 margin. Doing well with Independents throughout the campaign, Obama scored above 60 percent with this group in the mid-February primaries of Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin. His margins with Independents in the March 4 Texas and Ohio primaries, however, shrank to 52 to 46 and 54 to 46, respectively. While his 53 to 47 win among Independents in Indiana held at this level, his 44 to 48 loss in North Carolina may have been his first loss to date. (NB – Pennsylvania was a closed primary and there is no available data on Independent voters in that state.)

In six of the seven primaries noted above, exit polls put Independents at between 20 and 28 percent of those voting. This number is consistent with exit polling since the beginnning of the campaign and is on an order of magnitude with that of nationwide polling where 25 to 30% of respondents routinely self-identify as politcally independent. Making up approximately one quarter of the voting public, Independents will be key to victory in November. Interestingly, both Obama and Sen. McCain have been the preferred choice of Independents voting in their respective party primaries. 

And how have the Independents been voting overall, i.e., between Republicans and Democrats? In a February 26 posting (Independents in the Primaries), it was noted that of 24.5 million votes cast in Republican and Democratic primaries through that date, exit polls put 4.9 million as Independents. And how did they vote, Repubhlican vs. Democrat? Of the 24.5 million votes cast, 15.5 million were in the Democratic primaries and 9 million in Republican primaries, a margin of more then 3 to 2. (NB - Primary voting after February 26 is not relevant in this because Sen. McCain had by then won a majority of delegates needed for nomination and Independents no longer had a meaningful choice between voting in a Democratic vs. Repubican primary.) Using this 3 to 2 margin as a proxy as to which way Independents leaned in the primaries, and may again be inclined in November, Sen. McCain would appear to have his work cut out for him this fall.