Community Palette

Bachmann, West and the Rebirth of McCarthyism

August 2, 2012

How the nation and our political leaders deal with members of Congress like Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Allen West (R-FL), who talk as if they are the reincarnation of Senator Joe McCarthy, is our next test! Will we again allow the nation to go through the pain and suffering that McCarthy caused or do we stand up early and say, "Your brand of politics and intolerance is not acceptable in 2012"?

When Bachmann and four other ultra-conservative members of the House of Representatives made serious and unsubstantiated allegations against Huma Abedin, wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and long-time aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, only Senator John McCain (R-AZ) went to the well of the Senate and called out Michele Bachmann. He said, "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit, and they need to stop." While I applaud him, McCain didn't go far enough and neither did Speaker John Boehner, who said he hadn't read Bachmann's full statement but stated that "lawmakers shouldn't make such serious allegations without anything to back them up," saying, "From everything that I do know of [Abedin], she has a sterling character and I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous."

Where were the majority of the other members of Congress both Democrat and Republican and why weren't they lined up to speak and call out Bachmann after McCain and Boehner? It appears that most of the Republican Party is apparently willing to accept her and West, who sees communists under every bed, as part of their party and would rather not speak out against them and show them to be the extremists that they are.

This nation suffered greatly during the McCarthy era in the 1950s and many good people lost their careers and even their lives due to McCarthy's tactics. We are seeing those tactics used again today by the likes of Bachmann, West and their cronies. This time we should work to nip them in the bud before they get out of hand and before they can again take over our nation. Good people will listen to reason but it takes leaders who are willing to stand up to bullies like Bachmann and West and call them out now! If there is anyone who doesn't speak out because they believe this country can't go back to the days of McCarthyism they are fooling themselves.

I have heard some pundits say we should disregard the likes of Bachmann and West because when we give them airtime and talk about them we play into their hands. I for one believe we can't follow that path because they are too dangerous to be ignored.

There seems to be a palpable fear in the nation today of standing up to the worst of those who make bigoted statements, and they include some of the members and leaders of the Tea Party like Michelle Bachmann. The Republican Party accepted her as a presidential candidate and had her in numerous debates and it seemed that the other candidates felt that if they weren't overly polite to her they would suffer. One can be polite to her as a woman but should not accept the outrageous things she says without a strong rebuttal. Mitt Romney will likely, and from my point of view thankfully, lose this election because he took positions so far to the right to appease Bachmann's constituency. But thankfully as we have seen that constituency isn't yet strong enough to name a nominee of the Party and the Republican Party still has a chance to speak out and save itself from that eventuality.

Many like me believe that people are innately good. No one is born hating but rather hate is taught. Instead we need to teach tolerance and love of thy neighbor. We need to stand up to and call out fanatics like Bachmann and West and it needs to be done by those in both political parties as well as the clergy and all those who truly believe in diversity and a world where we can live together and respect each other.

If we give in to the Bachmanns and Wests of the world without a doubt we will see ourselves facing the next era of McCarthyism. Instead we need to stand up and be counted and take them on head-on. Bullies will always end up caving if one can only summon the guts to stand up to them.

This article was fist published July 31, 2012 in The Huffington Post.


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Vincent Gray and D.C. Government: What Happens Now?

July 18, 2012

If Vincent Gray knew about the "shadow campaign" during the campaign, he should resign and be punished to the full extent of the law. If he didn't and this all happened because of his late entry into the race and some of his erstwhile "friends" running amuck because they thought they needed more money to run against Fenty's $5 million war chest, he needs to work with his lawyer now and craft a full and complete explanation of how this happened. He needs to apologize to the people of the District. I still want to believe that the Vincent Gray I have known for many years is the decent and caring guy I have always thought him to be. If he didn't know and will not be charged with a crime, he shouldn't resign because that may be even worse for the people of the District of Columbia.

As mad as so many are at the Gray Campaign, and as furious and disappointed as I will be if it turns out that Gray knew about what was going on during it, that doesn't translate into a wish for the return to the past. There were many reasons that the previous mayor lost the election and those don't disappear with this scandal. If it is proven that Gray committed a crime and is forced from office, it is time for the District to move forward, not backward.

In my 34 years in Washington, D.C. there have been countless hours of volunteer time spent supporting local candidates for elected office from ANC Commissioners, to School Board, Council, Delegate and Mayor. In those hours I have met some of the most committed and honorable people who were involved only because they felt they could do something to help those in need and move the District forward. For me civic involvement was learnt from my family and it was ingrained behavior from a young age. It began at 12, manning a storefront for JFK's election and working on Robert Kennedy's Senate race, and with William Fitz Ryan and Abe Beame and for Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo among others. There was often pride in those who won but of course occasional disappointment as well.

It is rare for anyone to be totally satisfied with a candidate one supports and too often today the choice of candidates is picking the lesser of the evils. Just look at the disappointment some of his most ardent supporters had with the behavior of President Clinton. But then take a step back and realize how much good he did throughout his two terms and remember that we were happy that those that called for his resignation early didn't force the issue. In the District of Columbia we have survived Marion Barry's four terms as mayor, and the voters of Ward 8 continue to elect him today. While people in his administration were indicted and jailed his first two terms were undeniable successes for the District, including the Reeves Center to spur the rebirth of 'U' Street and then later the Verizon Center to kick-start the rebuilding of Downtown.

While the disappointment some feel may not fade if Vincent Gray is cleared of personal crimes, making him resign may not be the best thing for the District. While it may be difficult for many voters to buy into his claim to separate his campaign from his administration, it is something we should do.

By nearly every measurable barometer, the District is doing better than it has in years. The response time to citizen requests for government services is down; education reform continues; the reserve fund has been rebuilt and is the envy of many other states and cities; budgets are balanced as required by law; tax paying residents are moving into the city in record numbers; the economy is booming; major crime is down and the MPD is finally making progress on the burglary rates. This administration is focused and working on the issues of the LGBT community including hate crimes as none in the past and we have an internationally recognized blueprint for improving our environment. The 100's of empty commission appointments left after the last administration are beginning to be filled. All these successes and the progress that is being made have of course been built on the work of past administrations but they have continued and been strengthened by this Mayor and his Administration.

Now none of this will matter if the mayor committed a crime. But if he didn't, it does matter to the people of the District that we don't move forward into the unknown with an unelected Mayor and unelected Council Chair who would be sworn in if we force Mayor Gray to resign now without being charged with anything. Councilmember Mary Cheh said she did the hard thing by calling on the mayor to resign. I rather think it was the easy thing to do. Calling on someone to resign is simple. Looking at the ramifications of that and being willing to stand by someone you claim is a friend until it is proven they have committed a crime, is often the harder thing to do.

I have heard the last mayoral race called a 'sham' and that the people were fooled. Some even suggest that if this "shadow campaign" hadn't occurred that the result of the election would have been different. I think that is pure fantasy thinking on the part of some and not linked to the reality of the extreme dissatisfaction with the last mayor. According to U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Thompson and Jeanne Clark Harris, they have been working this type of election fraud going back to 2001. They have donated money to nearly every Council member and to every Mayor. Jeffrey Thompson benefited hugely from the Chartered Health Care Alliance, which provides health care to the poor in the District. But we need to remember that he got that contract, however ill founded people think it now may be. First during Mayor Anthony Williams Administration and then kept it all through the entire Fenty Administration and the contract was approved by the Council. No Mayor could award that contract without Council approval.

The corruption of politics needs to be stopped. It is epidemic across the nation. When individuals can donate millions to "Super PACS," which are in essence shadow campaigns, and there is a Republican candidate for president who thinks corporations are people and they should have unlimited ability to influence campaigns, we know something is rotten. We know that when a New York Mayoral candidate can contribute millions from his personal foundation to churches and causes and then get rewarded with endorsements, things aren't as they are supposed to be. When there will be over $2 billion spent on the current presidential campaign, we know something is wrong.

But as we work on changing the rules, let us never forget that sometimes, no matter what the rules are, there are thieves and dishonest people who work in campaigns that need to be rooted out and punished individually. But like all of us, candidates aren't always personally responsible for the misdeeds of their friends. They, like us, need to root out the bad and we should hold them to a much higher standard because of the public trust they ask voters to give them. But they sometimes do fail, even unintentionally, and when they don't commit personal crimes they need to be honest with the public when they find problems.

That is why I join with others who are now calling on the Mayor not to resign but rather to work with his lawyers and craft as full and complete a statement as he can, describing to the voters what he knows and what he did when he found out about the issues surrounding this investigation into his campaign and D.C. politics. But the time has also come for the U.S. Attorney to wrap up, or at least tell us when, this investigation will come to a conclusion, and stop dribbling out bits and pieces in a way that hurt the District of Columbia maybe as much as the crimes themselves.

This article first ran in Huffington Post.


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Political Animals: A Review

July 16, 2012

Until they advertised Political Animals, the TV mini-series or six episode special drama as they are calling it, I hadn’t even heard of the USA Network. But once I learnt about this show I had to see it.

So I scrolled around and found channel 65 on my Comcast dial and made plans to spend Sunday night at 10:00 pm ensconced in front of my TV. While I thought it would be a fun show to watch I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it and how good the acting was.

Over coffee this morning as I was raving about the show my friends kidded me that it was only because of my love for Hillary Clinton that I liked it. After all the show is about a Secretary of State who lost a presidential primary to the man who is now President and in whose Administration she serves. She is a former First Lady who was married to a womanizing ex-President. Sound at all familiar? So they figured that was the only reason I could enjoy the show. But as it happens, Sigourney Weaver who plays the lead role of Madame Secretary, Elaine Hammond, is great in her own right and exciting to watch.

Greg Berlanti who wrote the show admits he is a Hillary Clinton fan and like me supported her in the primaries in 2008. Rather than being a Senator Elaine is the Illinois Governor and instead of one well brought up quiet and charming daughter like Chelsea, Elaine has two sons, one who is gay and has attempted suicide and the other who works for her and is getting engaged to a young woman with bulimia. As if Hillary didn’t have enough issues to deal with in her own right.

Berlanti says the characters are an amalgam of those he has met and those he has read about. Bud Hammond the former President is more like Lyndon Johnson, big loudmouthed and crude a portrait drawn from the Robert Caro biographies of Johnson. Like some of its predecessors such as West Wing, whose Oval Office set they borrowed, this show is based on some reality but is still great entertainment. But then some think that is what Washington is. Ellen Burstyn is great as Elaine Hammond’s boozy sharp tongued mother and so is Carla Gugino who plays Susan Berg, who the Washington Post critic called that “pesky Washington Globe reporter” and someone else likened to Maureen Dowd.

There are some great lines in the script and a lot of women calling other women bitches in a complimentary sort of way. Her son’s fiancé can’t figure out why Elaine wants to do their engagement party at the Zoo as a fundraiser for the elephants. This gets solved later when Elaine meets Susan Berg, the reporter, in front of the Elephant enclosure for an off the record conversation and says she admires elephants because they are both strong and gentle and their families are a Matriarchal society.

The show opened with Elaine giving her concession speech in the primary she lost to the man in whose administration she now serves. It ends with her asking her Secret Service driver if he can keep a secret and tells him she intends to run for President again. Go Hillary, uh I mean Elaine!


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