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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

February 18, 2008


Bush's "Return on Success"

"The principle guiding his decisions on troop levels in Iraq is "return on success" – the more successful we are, the more American troops can return home."
-From "Fact Sheet: 'Return On Success' Guiding Principle For Troop Levels In Iraq", from www.whitehouse.gov

When one hears that, the actuality of John McCain's statement that "it would be fin with me" if our troops were in Iraq for "a hundred years" seems more like a certainty. As for the reduction in US deaths in Iraq, well, let's just say so much for the "good news", as President Bush might call it. After a month in which the US and its dwindling "Coalition of the Willing" saw deaths of our soldiers fall to a "mere" twenty-four lost lives (December 2007 - 23 US deaths; 1 UK death), our attention is turned to a new month's number - January 2008. The bad news, or worse news as it should be called, is that the number of lost Coalition lives has nearly doubled to forty with each and every one of those lives being lost by an American soldier. The forty American lives lost is the greatest number of American deaths since September 2007,

In a war where President Bush holds a press conference every time the death count recedes by one life per month, this news will be ignored. After all, no sense in telling us all the "not as good news". (The Bushies would never actually say "bas news".)

Another troubling statistic is the efficiency of the insurgents/ terrorists in Iraq. In months previous, the ratio of killed soldiers to wounded soldiers was much greater than the ratio just this past month. In December 2007, more than one out of every ten (10.2) US casualties resulted in death, while in January 2008, that number reduced to more than one death for every US casualty (6.8). It's a frightening number considering the number of troops still on the ground (130,000-150,000) and the number of wounded troops so far (29,080).

And still the numbers of dead soldiers continue to climb with no end in sight. To date, according to US Department of Defense numbers, 3,963 soldiers have lost their lives in a war waged on false pretenses. An that's just the US death count. That's over 34,000 (34, 043) US servicemen and women killed and wounded since the beginning of the Iraq war and it's simply unacceptable. The total number of dead US and Coalition soldier combined in 4,098.

During the Iraq war, four servicemen have gone missing (termed "missing or captured") and 135 members of the armed forces have taken their own lives.

In the first two weeks of February, the outlook doesn't get any brighter. 101 US soldiers have been wounded and an additional 19 have been killed. It will be both interesting and horrifying to hear President Bush tout his "success" in Iraq if there is even one less life lost from January to February at the end of the month. Another "trend in the right direction" is probably what he'll call it.

When one goes to the White House's web site (www.whitehouse.gov), there is no mention of Iraq in the home page, other than the word "Iraq" in very small print under the "In Focus" heading. As a matter of fact, when clicking the "Iraq" link, all one gets to see is that same picture of President Bush with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on a television screen in the background, along with two other Iraqi ministers, as the President signs the toothless "U.S.- Iraq Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation". That picture was taken in November 2007! Other than a the usual White House rhetoric and catch-phrases from his State of the Union Address, there is no real mention of Iraq other than the claim of a "Return on Success", a Bushism which hasn't quite caught on yet.

I wonder if John McCain will take that and run with it?

The refusal to acknowledge the loss of lives and the contribution of the wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan is insulting to our troops. Add that to President Bush's refusal to any fallen soldier's funeral and the abuses of his Department of Defense in affairs such as the "Friendly Fire" killing of former NFL star Pat Tillman and Sergeant York-like, made up escapades of Jessica Lynch and one sees an administration who cares only about perception, not results.

Unless, of course, the results we're talking about is the pilferage of our treasury and the tax dollars paid by the US middle class to fund the Iraq war and its occupation. After all, the Bush "base" of "haves and have mores" are successes, aren't they? Surely then the Bushies could claim their "Return on Success".

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

It’s been two weeks now since Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell was asked in a closed editorial meeting with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette what he thought about Sen. Barack Obama’s chances in the upcoming primary. Rendell said many things in the meeting. But the quote that was lifted and put into a bulleted column by Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman on February 12th ignited controversy. Norman, who is African American and an Obama supporter, quoted Rendell as saying, “You've got conservative whites here [in Pennsylvania], and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."

Local NAACP chair Jerry Mondesire, a longtime supporter and friend of Rendell’s, fired off a letter of indignation. Right-wing and left-wing blogs picked up the comment and ran with it, attributing whatever their own agendas demanded to Rendell’s words. The far-right Drudge Report used the quote to condemn Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, because Rendell, along with most prominent Democrats statewide, has endorsed Clinton.

Rendell’s comment was, as Norman himself acknowledged in a follow-up column on February 15th, taken out of context. The Governor said many other things about Obama and about Clinton. Norman began his February 15th column saying, “No one feels sorrier for Gov. Rendell than I do” and went on to note that he should never have put the quote into a column in an off-hand manner, but should have devoted an entire column to the issue of race in this election. Meanwhile, for the past ten days, Rendell has been appearing everywhere from MSNBC to CNN to Fox news explaining what he meant.

But why the controversy, why the need for explanations?

Norman, Mondesire and many other prominent African Americans in the state were all quick to note that Rendell is “no racist.” So if he’s not considered racist by African Americans (and Rendell did enjoy enormous African American support while Mayor of Philadelphia) and the statement was not a racist one, why the outrage? Could it be that Rendell, always known as a straight-shooter and one to speak bluntly, was simply declaring what many Pennsylvanians and people across the country–of all races–have been saying for months?

Pennsylvania is by no means a liberal state. Philadelphia is a Democratic city–it took Republicans months to even find someone to run for mayor in the last election. But the rest of the state, including Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, is definitively right-leaning.

Norman argues now that Rendell should have been thinking just about Democrats. But I have heard numerous Democrats, white and black, say the very thing Rendell said. It just didn’t make the news when they said it.

If the question is whether Rendell was trying to skew voters in the upcoming primary toward his endorsed candidate, that’s counterintuitive. Clinton has already been endorsed by Mayor Nutter and former Mayor Street, and other prominent African Americans in Philadelphia and statewide. Clinton already has a 20 point lead in Pennsylvania. If anything, Rendell’s comment would have damaged the Clinton campaign, not promoted it. No, Rendell’s remark and Norman’s initial outrage speak to a larger issue: Why can’t we talk about race in this election?

One close friend, who is African American, told me she and her father were debating Clinton versus Obama. My friend is supporting Clinton, her father, Obama. My friend said the debate got heated until she had to say to her father, “Don’t play the race card with *me.*”

The questions of race and gender are fundamental to this campaign, yet no one is supposed to raise them. The sexism surrounding Sen. Clinton has been monumental and egregious, culminating last week in a prominent newscaster from MSNBC calling Chelsea Clinton a whore. (He was subsequently suspended.)

The rapacious nature of the sexist harangues against Sen. Clinton have not led to a fuller discussion of misogyny in America, however. Quite the opposite. Many women have even declared “I am a feminist, but...” which is the sexism equivalent to the veiled racism inherent in “But some of my best friends are black....”

This campaign could have–and should have–been an opportunity to discuss both race and gender and how much of the nation still believes only white men are worthy of power in America.

George Bush has been a monumental disaster as a president. Yet no one says, “Well, what do you expect from a white man?” No one discussed Bush’s lack of qualifications to be president when he was running–and he had far fewer qualifications than either of the current Democratic candidates. He was white and rich. What other qualification was needed?

The reality is, race and gender matter. A lot. Women and people of color have to work doubly hard in America to get half as far. That is the subtext of what Rendell said. People tell pollsters one and friends another. Rendell is absolutely right: many Americans are nowhere near ready to vote for an African American for president. And we have already seen from the sexist vilification of Sen. Clinton during the campaign, most people aren’t ready for a woman to be president, either.

So why can’t we address the elephant in the room? Why can’t we say what many of us know to be true–that racism and sexism run incredibly deep in America and we don’t yet have the courage to talk about it, let alone address it in the voting booth?

Mondesire argued that Obama has broken the color barrier. Maybe Mondesire really believes that. But he seems to be forgetting that this race is not John McCain versus Mike Huckabee, where a small but valiant group of voters continue to vote for the underdog.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a dead heat for the nomination. Obama currently has the edge, but a week ago Clinton held it. Half of all Democrats are voting for Clinton. Is it beyond comprehension that some of the 12 million Americans who have voted for her did so because she’s the *white* candidate, just like some of the 12 million who voted for Obama might have done so because he’s the *male* candidate?

Let’s get real, here. I’ve spent my entire adult life living in places that were over 50 percent people of color. It would never occur to me to vote based on race. I only ever vote for experience and vision. Readers of this column over the past decade have seen me argue for John Street over Sam Katz, Michael Nutter over Bob Brady and Tom Knox. I want the best candidate, not the white candidate.

But I also don’t live in Erie or Carlisle or Lycoming county or anywhere else in what most of us call “Pennsyltucky.” I live in 65 percent non-white and 80 percent Democratic Philadelphia in a neighborhood that is almost 100 percent African American.

Rendell wasn’t talking about me when he made that comment. He was talking about the men and women in those other places who don’t know any black people and don’t especially want to.

Norman said in an interview on February 15th that he thought Rendell didn’t put enough faith in the ability of Pennsylvanians to change. Possibly. But Rendell has been fighting the very people I am talking about for the whole of his time as governor, attempting to make change where no one wants it. He can’t even get lawmakers in this state to agree to allow a one-gun-a-month limit on gun sales in Philadelphia which has the highest murder rate per capita in the country. To those people the murder problem in Philadelphia is a *black* problem, not a white problem.

Witnessing the outrages perpetrated against Hillary Clinton over the course of this campaign, outrages that have been solely gender-based, I know we are not in a post-feminist era. What makes us think we are in a post-racial era?

Can any African-American leader in this country honestly say that African Americans aren’t voting for Obama *because* he’s black? I have no doubt that some are voting for Obama because they have decided to go with his message. But I have spoken to far too many African Americans who have said flat out, “I want to vote for another person like myself” not to know that race has everything to do with this election.

Don’t get me wrong–I know this is also true for many women. As one woman I know said prior to her vote recently, “Oh please–I’ll be voting for the one with the vagina.”

For those of us who have been disenfranchised for centuries, this race offers us candidates who *look like us* for the first time. Those who want to espouse some kind of purity of politics need to recognize how powerful a drive that is for many of us. Overwhelmingly so.

But we also need to remember that there’s a flip side to that. Those folks who have long accepted that the candidates will look like them might not all be ready to see a face that doesn’t look like theirs in a leadership role.

In the Philadelphia mayoral primary there were three African-American and two white candidates. It was a very tough race and Nutter pulled it out at the last minute. Tom Knox and Bob Brady were very close contenders until the final days before the election.

Race *was* an issue. Rep. Chakah Fattah said Nutter wasn’t black enough. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell supported Tom Knox and people said she was deserting African-American candidates and her own community.

All this in a city that is over half black and predominately Democratic.

Like many Americans, I long for a time when it isn’t an historical first that a major party has chosen an African American or a woman as its nominee. But we are far from that point, despite the candidacies of Clinton and Obama. And anyone who thinks that the GOP will not take on the race or gender of whichever candidate wins the nomination, hasn’t been living in the same country I have.

Ed Rendell may have blurted out one of his characteristic shoot-from-the-hip comments to the Post-Gazette, but he didn’t mis-speak and he didn’t get it wrong. He said what many Americans have thought and many others still feel. That Pennsylvanians in particular and Americans in general have chosen to twist what he said when it could have presented such a perfect opportunity for discourse on race is to our detriment, not Rendell’s. We have to talk about it sometime. That is if we don’t we’ll remain in racial and gender stasis forever.

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-Noah Greenberg