Bernie or Biden – reflections on choosing a candidate

Living abroad, I have found it helpful to remain slightly detached from the drama of American politics. I still keep myself informed of what’s happening, but for the sake of my sanity, I find it helpful to avoid marinating in the day-to-day detail. This is especially true, given the 24-hour media’s desire to amplify (and maybe even construct) the smallest conflicts, fanning the flames into brimstone and indignant self-righteousness.

That said, the Democratic presidential primary has reached an interesting, and nearly existential, point. And since the state in which I am registered to vote has not yet had its primary, I find myself facing a difficult choice: Do I vote for Joseph Biden, representing the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party? Or do I vote for Bernie Sanders, representing the more progressive – or, dare I say it – socialist wing?

Credit to the New York Times

One concern I share about both candidates (and President Trump) is their age. I think we are at a point where we need a younger president, someone who is more in touch with the factors that are affecting all aspects of our life. When I listen to interviews with both Biden and Sanders, I get a sense that they do not have a deep, first-hand understanding of technology and the digital revolution that is affecting every aspect of our economy and our society. Trump may know Twitter, but when he doesn’t understand why the influenza vaccine won’t help us with COVID-19, he seems equally out of touch.

Another concern I have about the candidates, is that they are white men. White men have run this country for nearly all of our 244 years. It’s time for some fresh perspectives. Yes, this will likely be symbolically addressed in the choice of a vice presidential candidate, but I think it’s time for a woman and/or another person of color to be sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

What about Elizabeth Warren, you ask? At this point, it seems that she has fallen to a point where her departure from the race is imminent. Of the three candidates, she is probably the most appealing but I think that ship has sailed. So let me consider the two most likely candidates.

Looking at how our country has become increasingly polarized, and how President Trump has practiced an incredibly divisive, juvenile form of politics, I find Biden appealing because he represents a more centrist, more civil form of discourse. This may be optimistic thinking on my part, but I would like to believe that there is a path that could lead use back to a more civil way of governing and I think Biden is better positioned to lead us there.

I also feel, from a social justice standpoint, Sanders is addressing some very important topics and has been addressing them, with consistently bold language, for a long time. The increased inequality in our nation is a huge problem. The system is increasingly rigged so the wealthy get wealthier while the rest get left behind. Politicians of both parties have done a poor job addressing issues of health, education and inequality and a fraying of the social fabric cannot be the definition of making America “great again”.

One of my biggest concerns with Sanders, is that he and his followers seem to be the liberal version of Trump. That is, equally extreme, equally uncivil, and leading us further and further from a path on which the majority of Americans can tread. That seems dangerous for our country and for the world as a whole. Sanders’ grand revolution will be meaningless if he cannot get any legislation passed and his track record in this is poor.

I do think Biden will do a better job when it comes to foreign policy. Living abroad, I see how important our place in the world is. And with the significant changes that are happening in the world, especially with Russia and China, we need to have a more stable hand running America’s foreign policy.

But I do have questions about Biden. What is he offering that is a vision of the future? It seems like he is offering a repeat of President Obama’s greatest hits. A lot of good was accomplished during Obama’s eight years in office. But those days are over and it is time for us to move towards the future.

When it comes to November, I will support the Democratic candidate, no question. Trump has been a disaster for America. It is a daily embarrassment being an American abroad, trying to explain to people from all around the world, how so advanced a nation could elect so ignorant and uncurious a buffoon to the White House.

But on the question of who should represent the Democrats and challenge Trump, I need to ask your help. Could you please share your perspective on why one candidate or the other is a better choice?

The ground rules: please keep your points civil and constructive. Name-calling and personal attacks do not move the discussion forward and are not welcome here. Thank you in advance for sharing your insights.

Thank you President Obama

As January 20, 2017 approaches and, with it, the inauguration of President Trump, I want to thank President Obama. His was the first campaign for which I contributed money and time. Future generations will write his legacy and, just like any politician, he is imperfect. Nonetheless, I want to thank President Obama for three reasons:

barack-obama-farewell-speech

Thank you for conducting yourself unlike any president in my lifetime, with a dignity, intelligence and professionalism that brought honor to the office. There have been no real scandals and your conduct has been unimpeachable – literally “no drama Obama”. You showed love and respect for Americans of all origins and faiths, championed marriage equality and treated women as equals – in short, you behaved humanely and justly. As the leader of our nation, but also as a father and a husband and a man, we could do far worse than the model you set.

Thank you for your political accomplishments. It is easy to forget how dire the world economy was in January 2009. The economy is, by almost any measure, in great shape. Far more Americans have health insurance now than when you took office. In an uncertain world, you kept America safe and out of any new military entanglements. And you accomplished this with a Congressional minority for six years, where Republicans explicitly made it their mission not to govern but to stymie you. Yes, you could have accomplished much more in many key areas, but your accomplishments are significant.

Thank you for risking your life for the country. All presidents are targets for unbalanced people with extremist agendas – thus the constant Secret Service protection. But as the first president of color, you faced a level of hatred unmatched in modern history. Especially in an age where a large percentage of Americans are still convinced you are foreign-born, I am startled that there were no attempts on your life. That was a very real risk you faced and I thank your for doing so. My nieces and young people everywhere are growing up in a nation where having a president of color isn’t an unimaginable future but rather an unquestioned reality.

The third point reminds me that there are some other people whom I must thank:

In a crowded field of first ladies who have been positive role models, First Lady Michelle Obama especially stands out. Her class, style, intelligence and caring has been an inspiration for all of us. The loving partnership between her and the President is a joy to watch.

Vice President Joe Biden is a class-act example of public service. A humble, big-hearted man who has never sought power or personal gain, but rather has always sought to serve and contribute to the betterment of our nation.

And his wife Jill Biden so rarely receives the credit she deserves. While serving as Second Lady of the United States she has continued her primary job as an English professor at a nearby community college, contributing on a local level to the next generation.

There is no knowing how the next four years will turn out, but I invite you to join me in giving thanks to President Obama, the First Lady, Vice President Biden and the Second Lady for their service to the country these past eight years.

 

President Obama’s Motorcade in Bangkok

President Obama was in Bangkok Sunday as part of a three-day tour of Southeast Asia. The primary purpose of his visit is to attend the East Asia summit in Cambodia this week, but he is fitting in short visits to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) as well. As coincidence would have it, I was crossing Ratchaprasong intersection on the way to lunch at Central World Plaza just as his motorcade left the Four Seasons Hotel.

The thing that struck me as most interesting is that the police put fewer restrictions on traffic (see that commuter van hanging in the middle of the intersection, waiting to turn right) for President Obama’s motorcade than they do for the motorcades of some members of certain Thai VIPs. In fact, pedestrians are usually not allowed on the bridges when those VIP motorcades pass. That said, the entire block around the Four Seasons was full of Thai and US security personnel and there were checkpoints on the road heading both directions.

Obama and Yingluck

My friend Doug de Weese received an invitation to the reception and dinner for President Obama held last night at Government House. These pictures are courtesy of him. Here we have the President and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra posing with the performers from the reception. Notice how the children in the front row are dressed – it took me a while to figure out what was going on.

Obama

In this picture, the President is greeting the performers. Oddly, the caucasian students are dressed as Thai farmers and the Thai students are dressed, I guess, as how Americans children are perceived to dress. The boys are dressed as punks (along with the one boy wearing a “I heart Hugs” shirt). In the pervious picture, you will see that the girls are all dressed in some vaguely 1980s Cyndi Lauper / Madonna look. Curious.

 

When Did We Forget the Bill of Rights?

There is a great deal of furor going on about the proposed building of an Islamic community center and mosque a short distance away from the World Trade Center site in New York City.  On Friday, President Obama made a public statement about the issue, pointing our that “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

Republicans jumped right on him, accusing the President of “pandering to radical Islam” and saying he “caved in to political correctness.” 

I’d like to ask the Republican leaders a simple question: When did you stop supporting the Bill of Rights?

bill-of-rights

In case there’s any confusion out there, or Americans who didn’t get civics lessons because their teachers were busy ensuring no child got left behind, let’s quickly review what the Bill of Rights is.  Namely, the Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, and came into effect in December 1791. They include such “golden oldies” as the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Bill of Rights is about our civil liberties.  It is about our freedom, the freedom for which men and women in uniform are fighting and dying.  Protecting our civil liberties is not “pandering to radical Islam” or “caving into political correctness.”  Denying our civil liberties plays into the hands of terrorists, letting those who would undermine American values, win.

Conservatives go on and on about the importance of upholding the Constitution.  Their claim is that President Obama has been “trampling” the Constitution throughout his first 20 months in office.  But suddenly, when he explicitly upholds the Constitutional rights of Muslims to build a place of worship on private land, these “staunch defenders” of the Constitution are nowhere to be seen.

Let’s give credit to Flordia Governor Charlie Crist, the former Republican now running as an independent candidate for senator, who supported Obama’s statement.  Let’s give even more credit to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who actually led the way making a powerful speech in favor of religious freedom on August 3rd.  The video of this 7-minute speech is here.  Here’s the bit that I thought was most important:

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property, based on their particular religion?”

As we head into the midterm elections in November, before you make a decision about who deserves your vote, I’d ask that you take the time to ask the candidates whether or not they support the Bill of Rights.  Use this case of the New York City mosque as a litmus test, because there really is only one way to support the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution.  That’s to answer “no” to Mayor Bloomberg’s question: the government should not attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property, based on their particular religion.