Doing the Laundry

In college I was taught the difference between Reagan’s success and Carter’s failure was more about strategy than philosophy.

While that might seem obvious on its face, it has relevance to the question I ask now, which is “What should Obama do?”

Carter came to the presidency in 1976 with a long list of things he wanted done and threw them all at Congress and, by all appearances, Americans became convinced he was incapable of getting anything done well. I don’t know what his list of accomplishments are, other than the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt. What I do know is he was seen as a failure.

Reagan had a long list, too, but he decided to focus on a few. He got tax cuts, the big one. He was seen as a success.

So, based on news reports, we see that Obama plans to start closing Gitmo, work on his 16-month timeline for removal of troops from Iraq and steps to boost the economy. That includes another tax cut in addition to funding for public infrastructure projects.

Should he limit it to that? Can he take on healthcare, Social Security, and other items?

I’m not so interested in what you think he should do based on your own political leanings. I want to know what you think he can realistically get through on his honeymoon. Any takers?

History’s Eve

Some, I know, are tired of the mention of the history that will transpire at noon Eastern Time Tuesday. As the moment approaches I find myself struggling to say any more on it. Before the end of 2008 I got to meet a couple of people who will be there Tuesday, because they were also there in the thick of the civil rights movement.

Today Obama spoke to the Wall Street Journal of personal responsibility:

“Given the crisis that we’re in and the hardships that so many people are going through, we can’t allow any idle hands,” Mr. Obama said, taking a break from painting a dormitory at Sasha Bruce House, a shelter for homeless teens. “Everybody’s got to be involved. Everybody’s going to have to pitch in, and I think the American people are ready for that.”

While much of the criticism of Obama has come from those who believe what he will really issue in is an additional sense of entitlement among Americans, he has consistently said that Americans as a whole and individual Americans would need to do whatever work is needed to fix whatever needs fixing or improve whatever needs improving.

In a story I wrote in February that was one of the themes I pulled.

“Basically, Seattle, I was betting on you,” he said. “I believe change happens not from the top down, but from the bottom up.”

He said that Americans were decent and generous and would accept the challenge to be better.

“That was the bet I was making one year ago,” he said. “I am here to report the bet has been paid off and my faith in the American people has been vindicated.”

The lead that appears in that story was not what I wrote. It was edited, I suppose, to be clearer than what I put down. To me the starkest difference I saw in talking to Clinton supporters the night before and Obama supporters that morning was that Hillary Clinton supporters were saying how great she was, but the Obama supporters talked of how he inspired them to be great.

Here we are now, hours before the pudding’s proof begins to become evident. Americans took a leap of faith on a guy with as little history as any we’ve ever elected, because, I believe, he not only made them trust him, he inspired them to have faith in themselves. It’s one thing to do it as a candidate. So far, the signs I’ve seen are that Obama’s listening and that Republicans are not yet trying to yank the rug out from under him. As many have pointed out, there’s more resistance coming from his own party. But anything we’ve seen is based on speculative scenarios, because Obama has had sway without real power. Tomorrow we’ll begin to see if he can hang on to the sway when the power comes his way.

God Laughs at My Plans

How disheartening to be an aspiring author and to read a book that suggests that it takes a series of events to create huge successes. The “New York Times” is reporting that book publishers are getting more stingy. What this means is that the $5 million I expected to demand as an advance for my first book will have to be cut back to $100,000. All this, because the economy is in the tank and the people who take incongruous screeds and turn them into cash can’t hold quarterly retreats on the deck of boats made out of $100 bills anymore. Once a year, tops.

What makes this all the more discouraging is that I’m learning it just as I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest revelation, “Outliers.” In the book you read the stunning confession by Bill Gates that he got lucky, the startling truth that older kids are better hockey players than younger ones and that sometimes planes crash because people don’t want to offend their bosses.

Let me not make too much light of the book, because as usual Gladwell delivers solid and interesting evidence to back up his case. It’s at least as solid as anecdotal evidence can be. There is some data, at least enough to satisfy many with a scientific or economic bent. The basic thesis Gladwell makes is that those who are hugely successful get there through their work, but not their work alone. Almost always accompanying the hours of toil are a series of external events that would appear to be completely beyond the control of those who benefit from them.

Here’s what he said:

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What Love Is

Out of some curiosity the other day I looked up the band Death Cab for Cutie. The lead singer went to high school where my kids would go if they don’t go to the other one in the district (separate story). The band performed here several months ago and I had meant to look them up for some time. Now that I find out Sarah likes emo music (Finding out what “emo” means takes a few conversations for this adult. Sarah hasn’t gravitated to some of the troubling aspects of emo, but I’ve got my eye on her. I’m so lucky my parents didn’t have the Internet and had to rely on rumors to get the word they wanted on music we liked.) and that DC4C is considered by some to be emo, it made me all the more curious. Sarah hasn’t yet gravitated to Death Cab, though, favoring the musical stylings of My Chemical Romance, Panic at the Disco and others.

One day last week I had free time at David and Geeta Fyffe’s (brother-in-law) apartment and looked up the cab on YouTube. I found this video, called “What Sarah Said.” The piece is a bit advanced for someone my Sarah’s age, (She’s 10.) but not, I suppose, if I were to sit down and discuss it with her. In tone it reminds me of the movie What Dreams May Come, in which Robin Williams risks spending eternity in Hell to get his wife out of there.

After watching the video and not understanding the French in it, I found out what singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard (the Bremerton boy) was thinking when he wrote the song.

“Gibbard depicts the anguish and frustration of a hospital waiting room, and after the song melodically lulls to a gentle, hushed hum, he attests both mournfully and assuredly that ‘Love is watching someone die.’ Gibbard isn’t even sure that he fully understands the gravity and force of such a statement. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever really understand it until I’m in that situation,’ he admits, ‘but there’s something really dignified in a weird way about being with somebody and holding someone’s hand as they’re slowly leaving the world. I think that it really takes a lot of love to watch somebody you really care for deteriorate. The easy thing to do is walk away from it, or check out from the whole situation, and with the people in my family we’ve lost over the years, the most difficult thing was to be there. But you’re there because you love that person, and that’s what makes it difficult.'”

The Sarah in the song apparently really did say, “Love is watching someone die.” It was a woman, a friend of Gibbard’s, on a walk with her beau. She broke down when she realized one of them would likely have to watch the other die.

The video, to me, seems more like someone self-destructing, but that can’t be easy either.

In 1998 I watched my mother die of cancer. More profound to me, however, was watching my father watch my mother die. For days his hands were there to hold hers as he called her all the sweet nicknames he had created for her over their 50 years together. He was precisely the man he needed to be for her in her final moments. Never had I been so moved my father. For all the disciplining and counseling he tried to give me and my brothers all these years, nothing taught me more about him than seeing the tenderness of the man as the love of his life was passing on.

Congressional Seat Still Open

The campaign for the (Wait, I’ve got to check. That’s what I thought.) 32nd Congressional District from California continues, flying under the radar. By the looks of things, the campaign is flying so low under the radar that it’s under water. That’s fine, I don’t see a whole lot of buzz about other candidates, either. There is this speculation from something called “Informative Post,” on who will replace Hilda Solis when she becomes Secretary of Labor:

“The district that she is leaving is a Democratic stronghold and will probably be filled by a state legislator who resides within the district.”

The good news in that comment is that Informative Post is not naming names. No one in the district is a shoe-in, leaving an opening for me. Remember, you don’t have to live in the district to get elected to represent it.

I’ve decided that I’ll run as a Democrat. I’ll only do that, though, because the Democrats are in the majority. Once the Republicans get it back, I’ll join that side.

Does this mean I’m a feather in the wind? Call it that if you like, but you must first hear my second strategy. I’ll be gunning for a seat on some sort of appropriations committee from the get-go. I’ll generally do what my district wants me to do, so I’ll employ a sophisticated polling mechanism to find out just what that is. The larger point, though, is I want to be in a position to bring home as much pork as possible. My seat on appropriations in the majority party means my requests get approved whenever I want. So whether it’s a grant for costume manufacturing in West Covina or hotel repairs in La Puente, it’s on the House, the House of Representatives!

My future campaign slogans will be something like, “Making earmarks work for you us.”