Monday, November 13, 2017

A House on Gault Drive

If I may beg your indulgence, I would like to spend a few moments on a personal matter.

My Grandparent’s brick ranch house was where I whiled away many a pleasant hour in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.  It was a home full of warmth and poodles (the latter to be replaced in later years by many, many birds…not notably cockatiels I recall).  When I was quite young, in second or third grade, I would call Grandma and we would create stories…a radio show conducted via telephone.  Not remembering the details of the plots, I can’t imagine it was high art, but she was patient with me and quite a character actor.

Before our family moved in the summer of ’82, before I began the 6th grade, I was only a 15-minute walk (or 12-minute Big Wheel ride) away from her house.  During the summer, I visited a couple of times each week.  She would be grooming dogs, which was her gig, in the other half of the finished basement while I would peruse the World Book Encyclopedias and Year Books in the adjacent room.  It was in the latter space where our family would gather for the Holidays. While the ceiling was perilously low for the tallest among us, with one particularly height-gifted uncle having to angle his head sharply so as not to bump his cranium against the stucco paneling, I nonetheless remember the room as spacious.  Lions football on the TV each Thanksgiving Day and an ornately festooned tree each Christmas. No matter what else was going on in life, these were reliable and eagerly awaited delights.

She would often prepare lunches and we would sit and listen to the radio.  One local station would ask trivia questions and the first caller with the correct answer would win a small prize.  One day, they posed the predictable question involving Grover Cleveland.  I told her I knew it, and she allowed me to use the phone to call in to the station.  I recall being annoyed at the DJ’s question if someone told me the answer, I believe my response was a curt and mildly haughty “No” but the haze of time blurs such moments.  The important point is that she encouraged my love of reading. I am very grateful to her for that.

We moved away, and then I went off to college, and then moved out of state to strike my fortune in Washington DC.  I’ve seen her only a handful of times since 1989, and most of our correspondence was limited to Holiday cards and short notes. 

I will always remember her with her wry smile, that more-often-than-not would turn into a full, wide, and infectious grin. She adored her animals, her garden (which was impressive), and above all, her family.  Grandma Wallace, you will be missed.  Requiescat in pace.   

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ball In

Yesterday was a rather challenging day for reasons which I will not disclose here (not wanting to bore you, dear reader, with my trials and tribulations). 

Before I delve into Dr. Calvin Ball’s double-plus-un-shocking announcement, allow me a moment to talk about Lisa Kim’s cheap and snide comments about “the character of the community” as posted in a Howard County Facebook group.  Personally, I found her Trump-esque jeremiad against rental properties to be off-putting.  I am not precisely certain why she chose to inveigh against those who aren’t seeking to purchase homes, which include many young adults as well as working class families, but the underlying tone is ugly. I hardly believe that rhetoric calling for the functional equivalent of a wall around Columbia is representative of Howard County values.  She, in her capacity as a candidate for County Council, needs to explain her stance and, in probability, apologize.  We in the Fightin’ Fourth deserve better.

Turning now to Dr. Ball’s launch of his campaign for County Executive, it was a rather subdued event.  With hundreds of friends, family members, colleagues, acquaintances, hangers-on, politicos, neighbors, and others gathered in the grand room at Kahler Hall, I expected the energy level to be more pronounced.  For those anticipating red meat, it was mostly pescatarian fare. 

There were some individually solid lines and turns-of-phrases in his speech, including his thoughts on Howard County as a “beacon of love” and this being a “people’s campaign.”  His reminder that we must think about, and advocate for, those among us who are struggling, those who have not yet secured their “slice of utopia” (to borrow a phrase he employed last night) was precisely what this lefty wanted to hear, and rightfully so. 

Dr. Ball’s speaking style is mellow/cerebral.  I wasn’t expecting a fist-pounding, rafter-shaking oration.  That said, as someone who constantly scanned the room, I could not help but feel as though the assembled wanted to be stirred, charged, “fired up and ready to go,” if I must use that phrase, more than they were.  I didn’t get a sense that people were ready to charge through a brick wall following his summation.  Optimistic? Sure.  Intellectually inspired? More likely than not. Emotionally energized?  Time will tell.   

One of the major applause lines centered on running a positive campaign.  Consistent with the candidate, I can visualize a Ball-for-County Executive campaign adhering to the “Choose Civility” precept.  That said, when the crunch time comes and Team Kittleman and their allies decide to start throwing elbows (and some already have), I hope that Team Ball’s orientation towards “the nice” won’t impede their ability to embrace “the tough.”  In the fight for progressive values, sometimes it takes more than hugging it out.

In solidarity.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Psychic Recompense

November 8, 2017 – Merry Electoral Boxing Day.

It is challenging to not succumb to the baser instincts and gloat in the face of the formerly hubris-filled yet now cowed Trumpists.  Of course, that would itself be a manifestation of hubris.  Not today irony, not today.

I will readily admit, earlier yesterday afternoon, I was wagering that Gillespie would somehow pull it off – by hook or (more likely) by crook – by half a percentage point.  Upon arriving back in my Wilde Lake Election 2017 HQ a few short hours later, the networks had already called it for Northam.  The 8.6% margin for the eventual winner was clearly above the prevailing polling trend line (sorry, Brothers and Sisters) which was showing something closer to a three-point spread.  Note: credit where credit is earned: Quinnipiac nailed it with their final pre-election poll, released on the 6th, showing Northam +9.

May the name “Harris Wofford” be echoed across the land (see: 1991 U.S. Senate special election, see also: harbinger).

The (at minimum) 14 seat pick-up for the Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates is yet another (and probably far more ominous) sign for any Republican in a Congressional, state legislative, or other electoral district that is anything less than a safe GOP seat.    

Of course, hard work and a massive popular rejection of Trump Republicanism helped carry the day.  But looking to 2018, it will take more than that.  A Democratic Party that can produce, adhere to, and articulate a coherent and compelling set of principles will be essential if we wish to build upon yesterday’s victories.  This involves getting entirely past the 2016 battles and deciding the party of the people needs to focus more on engaging with…you guessed it…the people, and stopping with the internecine foolishness.  

In solidarity.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On Donna Brazile and "the Deal"

Of course, the downside of being an essayist of exceedingly moderate and highly localized renown is that I am oft beseeched to lend my Waterman pen in support or in opposition to one Howard County issue or another (without even the slightest hint of a promise of remuneration!).  So, my mailbox is jam-packed with entreaties to comment upon the wretched petit fascists swarming about in HoCo.  There will, rest assured, be time to discuss them and their ilk. But once again, this author feels compelled to offer thoughts on the national scene.

Of late, Donna Brazile has been excoriated (in many cases, rather ruthlessly and unfairly) for her book where she shared her thoughts on, amongst other issues, the Clinton 2016 presidential campaign and the DNC (insofar as those entities were “distinct”).  As a political operator and strategist, there is no disputing that she is top-flight.  Having enjoyed one of her earlier works, Cooking with Grease, I will most likely purchase her latest tome, Hacks.   

Frankly, I can’t fault the DNC for the arrangement they made with the Clinton campaign in 2015.  No matter how many Democrats supported Bernie (the current author being one of them), the good Senator from Vermont was not a Democrat.  That left the watery gruel that was O’Malley (clearly eyeing a Cabinet post or 2020), Chafee (clearly viewing Earth from Mars via Providence), Webb (clearly out of touch), and Lessig (clearly engaging in some form of performance art).  When you have a candidate who in 2015 (essentially) was the clear front-runner and likely eventual nominee, and who actually belonged to the party, that person is…well… primus inter pares comes to mind.

But, some may sputter, what about the supposed precious neutrality of the DNC?  While the image of the DNC as some sort of disinterested referee is quaint, it doesn’t square with the mission of electing Democrats to public office.  I still maintain that Senator Sanders would have been absolutely savaged by Trump and the Republicans in the General Election.  Possibly enough to lose the White House, and probably enough to burn the electoral dreams of many down-ticket Democrats.  Secretary Clinton, neoliberal that she is, and the Clinton campaign, as bland as it turned out to be, was the far safer bet for Democrats nationwide. 

So, arrangements were made; nothing illegal (unlike the allegations swirling around Trump, his family, and some of his top aides) and frankly, I am not having a ton of ethical issues with the deal, as I understand it.  I find it helpful to learn the rules of the game before playing it (a lesson forgotten by Clinton ’08 when it came to delegate math) and clearly, Clinton ’16 had the primary campaign rules all sorted out. 

With so much “righteous” indignation coming from the Republicans over this tempest in a Diet Coke can, I wonder if those Democrats offended by the deal are wondering why they have all of these new-found allies on the right…and who really stands to benefit from stoking the ashes of this “controversy.”

In solidarity.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

You Better Think (think)

Three thought experiments on a Saturday night.

Thought experiment I:  Hillary is elected in November ’16 & then proceeds, for months, to make ludicrous, inflammatory, and plain-old guano-infused nonsensical comments online and at public and private events.  How many Democrats within and outside of the Beltway would be saying it’s time to give VP and harmonica-enthusiast Tim-Bo a shot at the Big Chair?  I would wager far more Democrats than the number of non-alternate reality feckless GOPers who can barely manage to give America’s unhinged Chief Executive even a mild side-eye. 

Thought experiment II:  If our country had a parliamentary form of government, would Trump have made it this long?  As weak as he really is, I personally believe that Republican back-benchers would have ousted him a couple of months ago, just like Thatcher was bounced by a Tory revolt in ’90.   

Thought experiment III: A hurricane devastates Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ANY of the other 2016 presidential candidates, Democratic or Republican, resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  How would they be faring in terms of relief and recovery efforts for our fellow Americans: better or worse than the current occupant of the Oval Office?

In solidarity.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

F#$% “Civility”

From the Desk of Slats MacCune: Professional Dreamweaver.

Done clutching the pearls yet?  We live in times that are too brutal for more genteel phrases such as “de-select civility.” 

Civility should not be an excuse for pusillanimity in the face of fascism, or authoritarianism of any stripe.  Sometimes, direct action is the only way to roll.

Stripping ideology aside, bullies take comfort in the expectation of measured responses.  When I was in the 7th grade, a cul-de-sac tormentor named Frank put me in a head-lock and would not let go.  He thought that I would not react strongly to his aggression.  When I wheeled around and punched him in the face, the dynamic shifted immediately.  From that point on, I earned the wide berth I was given.  It wasn’t a time for a polite debating society.

Shifting to far more serious and systemic matters, Brittany “Bree” Newsome was a hero for climbing that flagpole in South Carolina and removing that evil Confederate flag.  The protestors were right to pull down the “Confederate Soldiers Monument” in Durham, NC recently. Those who call for moderation for the sake of moderation in word and deed are abdicating their moral responsibility to speak out against the hate mongers who have a) always plagued America and b) are re-asserting themselves quite vigorously in the Trump era.         

I know you folks in Howard County put a premium on (some might say fetishize) the concept of civility as an end in-and-of itself.  Civility should not be exercised automatically. Not everyone deserves it.  Nazis certainly don’t.  The “alt-Right” doesn’t.  Frankly, these fascists and their fellow travelers rely on “reasonable” people who choose to act “civilly” as opposed to taking a stand and fighting back. 

As Dante wrote about those who “in a time of moral crisis” opted to “preserve their neutrality,” there are people “who made, through cowardice, the great refusal.”  Now is not the time for equivocation or vacillation in the face of those who embrace the dogmas of hatred.  And if that means not turning the other cheek, then so be it.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

2016: Let Us Smash this Rehash

Frankly, the Republicans are the only ones who benefit from the constant re-articulation of a narrative that puts the blame on Secretary Clinton’s loss on the 12% of Sanders primary voters who went with Trump in the General Election.* 

What is particularly tiresome about this line of argumentation, although it possesses a kernel of truth to it, is that there absolutely would have been a significant number of Clinton primary voters that would not have cast their ballots for Bernie-as-D-nominee (and gone as far as voting for Trump) in November.  Would it have been 12%, probably more like 6%-8%, but I would argue that 1) Bernie would likely have not have turned out as many white Democratic women as Clinton, 2) the GOP corporatist machine (functionally aided by many New Democratic-inclined well-heeled fundraisers who would have sat at home) would have decimated Sanders with a predictable (read: socialist-baiting) and brutal line of attack in the Fall campaign, and 3) many of those Sanders primary voters-Trump general election voters possessed an anti-neo-liberal worldview (which, at times, seemed to be closer to where Trump stood on trade, if you believed what he said).  Without Sanders or a similarly situated candidate, most probably would have sat out the primary election entirely.

The current-day finger-pointing and blame-shifting is painful to witness when the threat to our Republic is so abundantly clear. Outside of personal ego trips, it does the Democratic Party (no matter where one resides within this noble faction) little good to criticize a substantial percentage of the Party’s 2016 electorate.    

Frankly, with high-profile Democrats, including potential 2020’ers like Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Elizabeth Warren, announcing their support for Medicate-for-All legislation, those who belong to the Party of the People should be overjoyed that we might be able to run on a coherent and compelling platform against what is likely to be a weak GOP nominee.

Yes, Virginia, the ’20 Democratic nominee is likely to be someone with backing from Establishment players.  Yes, this person will probably not be a social democrat.  But, given what our nation has experienced since 1/20/17, I for one would gladly take a half-loaf for stable, moderately progressive governance in the Executive Branch.  Right now, given the President we have, he makes Congressman Delaney and Governor McAuliffe look like very appealing options.    

In short, let us bury the unproductive arguments of 2016.  The stakes for the 99% are too high to worry about the past actions of the 12% of one sub-set of voters.  The right candidate, with the right message, can bring them into the fold.

In solidarity.

*For the record, I voted for Senator Sanders in the primary.  It was not an easy decision but ultimately, he was closer to where I stood on a variety of issues.  And yes, I “came home” for the general election and voted for Secretary Clinton, as she was, at the very least, qualified to hold the office, sufficiently progressive on enough issues, and not demonstrably insane like the GOP nominee.  So don’t refer to me “Bernie Bro.”