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Uncompromised Simplicity

Despite studying fifteen years of violin when I was growing up, I rarely listen to classical music these days (yup, it’s still mostly jazz, as I’ve gone on about before…).

But I’m a huge fan of the New Yorker’s classical music critic, Alex Ross. Not only is he a fantastic writer, but he has an openness and innocence in his approach to music of all styles, which I think is a needed and refreshing perspective, especially for that magazine.

Recently he quoted a rule from a composer named Bruce Adolphe: “To say exactly what one means without complication but also without compromise.”

Adolphe may have intended his reflection for composers, but no mantra could ring more true for songwriters. Gotta post that one on my wall.

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Retortless

I’ve tried to claim, throughout my many posts endorsing Barack Obama’s candidacy, that I have not let foggy notions of hope and a selfish sense of liberal condescension cloud my independent judgment about the upcoming presidential election.

To wit, David Brooks’s much-emailed op-ed today in the Times, How Obama Fell to Earth. If nobody emailed it to you, essentially he says that the damage has been done and now Obama is a pedestrian pol with all the double-talk, false promises and pandering that entails. The unsullied usher to the promised land has been reduced to that basest of human life-forms: the politician.

Ready for my retort? Well, I don’t have one. I completely agree. It’s been hugely sad to me to watch Obama engage in all the games he said he wouldn’t play and the tactics he said he’d never use. All along I’ve been worried about his pledges to bring our troops home from Iraq unequivocally, thinking surely his lawyerly prudence would assess the situation from inside the Oval Office and make the best decision for our country and the world. And actually I think this is still the case, but now veering even slightly from his current prescription will mean he lied outright. And that’s really disappointing.

I still find him hugely inspiring as a leader, thinker, speaker, and yes, even as a politician. For as much as he has sadly succumbed to the lowest common denominator, he still stands head and shoulders above the field. As a supporter, one can only hope that Clinton’s unabated and opportunistic attacks have only tempered the steel of his electability and promise, and not done any permanent damage heading into November.

God help us, when we make it to November, that is…

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Bitter Irony

Okay, I thought it would blow over. A comment on my blog actually predicted that this little rain shower that began behind closed doors in the Foggy City would swell into a tropical depression, and whaddya know. We may even be heading for a full-grade tropical storm if the Clintons can’t find another self-defeating maneuver to stop the gracious amount of momentum the gaffe has received.

Now, loyal readers of course know that I’m an Obama supporter. Naturally, I was inclined to put the most positive spin on his statement. In retrospect I think he chose his words poorly, but it seems ludicrous that his mild comment could be used by Clinton or McCain to show that they are somehow more authentically in tune with rural voters.

Still, BO hasn’t done the best job killing this one. I think his intention was better stated by Lancaster, PA’s mayor, J. Richard Gray:

I don’t think he’s demeaning religion or guns. He’s saying the use of those issues as wedge issues plays on the bitterness that people have and diverts attention from the real economic issues, like the disparity between the wage earner and the rich.

The tragic thing to me about Obama’s now regrettable comment is that he was caught in the act of doing exactly what he pledges is his greatest strength: building bridges. He was at an intimate meeting of well-heeled Bay Area liberals, and he was explaining to them why they should care about what rural Pennsylvanians think, and why in the end, there are core social and economic goals they can all agree on. Just as he did in the race speech, he was able to step out of the room in a rural town hall with farmers and factory workers, and into a room on the other side of the country with left-leaning rich folks (and probably a few homosexuals, eh?) and share his same message of hope: simply, let’s come together and improve things. And he does it without the pandering or shape-shifting that has come to typify Clinton’s need to win at all costs or McCain’s fumbling attempts to court a divided electorate.

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Happy Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. But frankly, I felt a little sheepish about celebrating, simply because my life has been a non-stop celebration for the past month.

I’m not bragging. But I seriously have been luckier over the past month than at any other time in my life. It’s just plain eerie.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m psyched for all the good fortune. I just hope there’s no karmic retribution…

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McCain the Maverick?

Someone calling him/herself “Hombre” made a comment on the blog regarding the ongoing political debate. I actually have no idea who Hombre is, but I’m glad he weighed in on an important point.

If you judge candidates by their actions as opposed to their words, Obama is the LEAST likely of the three to bridge the gap, as it were. Oddly, John McCain seems to be the MOST likely to actually listen to and work with members of the opposing party.

I have to agree with Hombre that one of the defining characteristics of McCain’s long tenure is stepping across the aisle and breaking with party-affiliation in service of a particular issue. I’ve often said that I myself would break with my Democratic voting record to support the “maverick.”

But, quite frankly, after nearly becoming the Democratic VP candidate in ’04, McCain took pains to ally himself with not just the Republican party, but specifically the Bush administration. While I thought switching parties would have been extreme, I was sorely disappointed in his cowering conciliation. It seemed like he realized that if he wanted to be president one day, he had to play by the very rules he had become famous for flaunting. His tardy endorsement of Bush’s campaign that year came off as wan and defeated. And my hunch is that conciliation was only the beginning, as he strains now to pull the neo-cons and a soon-to-be-disenfranchised religious right into the tent with his challenging voting record.

He can still be unpredictable. He can still be volatile. And, lately, he can even be doddering. But is he really the maverick anymore?

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Start the Debate

As the debate thread begins over at my last post, I thought I should point out that the friend who sent me those comments often allies himself with the Republican camp, so his disagreement didn’t surprise me. But my reaction did.

It’s been so long since someone I respect challenged any of my core political assertions, I hardly knew how to respond. Back in high school, nearly all of my closest friends were rabid rightists, in a town where the Green party was considered middle-of-the-road. We listened every lunch hour to this new radio show hosted by some guy named Rush Limbaugh, and it quite literally blew my 16-year-old mind that there might be another side, that there might be some logic on the right. Our lunches in high school were dramatic, fact-filled, stat-ranting, pundit-quoting shout-a-thons. No subject was too sensitive, nor was any viewpoint unrepresented. “Politically correct” was just becoming a buzz word, and we were on a mission to voice any issue it might silence.

Though my own beliefs never drifted so far as to say that I was ever Republican, I certainly gained a more open and skeptical mind. I think I held on to some of that debating athleticism throughout most of college, too. But as I got older, politics got more personal. Republican values became conflated with religiosity and hawkish unilateralism, and the party of conservatism became the paradigm of fiscal irresponsibility. In 2004, it was no longer about left and right to me, it was simply about right and wrong. George W’s re-election was for me, and so many of my friends, a betrayal.

So I stopped arguing. I knew what I believed, and I wrapped myself in the security blanket of like-minded friends. It felt too hopeless to engage any Bush supporter in discussion, so instead the goal has been to fortify our own side.

This recent contention from a friend stirred the sleeping lunchtime debater so long dormant in the back of my mind. In fact, he often jokes that for all that liberals claim to be “open-minded,” the one thing they can’t abide is Republicans. For me, the greatest appeal of Obama is his assertion that there are no “red” ideas or “blue” ideas, there are good ideas and better ideas. People across the political spectrum are frustrated with our country’s health care, economy, foreign policy. Compromise is painful, but in the end, it’s the only way to actually get anything done (save for false intelligence and fear-mongering, but I digress…). And it is essential that we get things done.

I know that many Republicans fiercely believe that Obama is as far left as any, and his calls for coalition are mere rhetoric. So now is the time to dust off those analytical skills and engage in a true debate about how to move forward. There are three really good candidates for president. May the best person win.

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Obamulation

The other day I once again praised Obama on my blog, this time for his speech responding to Rev. Wright’s statements (a.k.a. the race speech). In my corner of the insulated, left-wing blog world, it was a pretty innocuous entry.

To my surprise, I received a considered rebuttal from a close friend of mine. To wit:

Personally, I have a problem with someone whose entire candidacy is based on “bringing people together,” yet whose “political and spiritual adviser” for the past 20 years is a person who spews hateful, anti-Semitic, anti-American, homophobic garbage on a regular basis. Even if Obama doesn’t believe those things, why would he closely associate himself with someone who does, and expose his family to it every Sunday? At best, it raises serious questions about his integrity and character. Ask yourself this: Would you give a Republican a pass who had a similarly close relationship with David Duke, and dismissed any criticism by merely saying he rejected his “controversial” statements about black people? I would hope not.

I left this buddy of mine anonymous, since he chose not to make his comments public. I don’t blame him, I can certainly understand his not seeing this blog or its readers as the safest of havens for open political debate (what, did the title “Even the Stupid People” seem somehow unwelcoming?). However, I happen to know there’s a few of you out there who would echo his criticisms, and perhaps offer an even more scathing rebuke of my Obama adulation (Obamulation? Maybe that one’s a stretch, sorry…).

Speak up if you’re out there.

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