Well it didn’t take long.  The State of Massachusetts has filed an action to void the federal statute called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  It seems that, under DOMA the State would be required to treated married same sex couples differently in terms of federally funded programs than it would treat opposite sex married couples.  Who’da thunk!

One of the problems with a federal system is the ongoing conflict between state law and federal law and this is now presented full frontal!  So either states get to prescribe who is married or the feds do.  I’ll bet the Federalist Society is burning the midnight oil on this one.  We’ll keep you posted.

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As a resident of Nevada, I can empathize with South Carolinians on the maelstrom visited upon them by the media in the wake of their Governor’s ongoing disclosures.  While the nature of Governor Sanford’s infidelities is at best roughly analogous to Senator Ensign’s, the view from voter’s perspective tends to blur the distinctions between them and between those incidents and the recent Democratic embarrassments of Governors Spitzer and Blagojevich.  And of course, one’s own party allegiances and left/right leanings come into play in parsing any differences.

My own take on these affairs (no pun intended) is that there are two wholly divergent perspectives from which to view assess them.  One can sit back, pretend one has no vices and judge the participants from the point of view of the degree of imperfection demonstrated, reach a conclusion as to their fitness for ongoing public service in general and in their current elective office in specific, and then call forth the action dictated by those conclusions.  Alternatively, one can assess the circumstances from a strictly political perspective and judge not how the behavior weighs upon fitness for office but rather measure the likely impact on the actor’s political position, ability to impact on policy and his role as a leader within the political environment associated with his office.  Under the latter rubric, in assessing the politics of all this, one has to view not only the impact of the behaviors in question on the electorate as a whole but also on the electorate within the actor’s own party and  as well as the effect on the broader electorate’s view of the actor’s party in addition to the actor.  On a personal note, I like the line, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  I will not be casting any stones, let alone the first.  I offer my views only the political perspective.

As to the two Democratic governors, I note two distinctions:  both were the target of possible criminal proceedings and both were quickly out of office.  While one resigned and the other removed, both departures could not have been accomplished without the active participation of the respective state party machinery moving to assure its long term survival by cleansing itself of the offending governor.  In both state democratic parties, the risk associated with offending those that had voted for the governor appears to have been outweighed by the need to be seen as decisive in pressing for the removal of the cancer before any possibility of it metastasizing on other party candidates in upcoming elections.  In the esoteric environment of polls and non-elective politics, the two state parties appear to have taken the correct step.

On the other hand, the Nevada and New York Republicans do not appear to have reached the same conclusions.  As noted above, neither Ensign nor Sanford are currently charged with illegalities so the severity of the scandal can be said to be more moderate.  But one cannot ignore the political leanings of the two Republicans on ‘moral’ issues.  Both have been outspoken critics of other elected officials whose infidelities have become grist for the publicity mill and both were active in the efforts to have an unfaithful president removed from office.  (I will accede to the point that those efforts will in part predicated on the allegations of perjury not just on the underlying infidelity but note that both Governor’s lied in their efforts to avoid detection albeit not in a perjury context.)  An interesting side note is that both Republicans were included on most short lists for the Republican presidential nomination for 2012. 

While I suspect that somewhere someone is doing extensive polling on the precise nature of how various demographic groups are viewing the various storylines, the blogosphere shows its own sets of reactions that are telling.  My own unscientific review of bloggers views is that Republican and right leaning bloggers do not appear to be bothered by the apparent hypocrisy of the Republican Governors’ condemnations of  others juxtaposed to their own infidelity and cover-up, and they are quick to emphasize the apparent criminality associated with the Democrats’ scandals.  On the other hand, Democratic bloggers seem greatly offended by the apparent hypocrisy of the Republicans  but are not overly vocal in their calls for resignation.  Could it be that Democrats are taking the longer view on how all this will play out in 2010 and 2012? 

Blogosphere and polls aside, the real issue, in my view,  is the impact of all this on  the “silent majority” of Republican voters and what they actually think of all this.  Are they forgiving of their leaders?  Will the failure to cleanse their party shift some of those on the left fringes of the right, the so-called Reagan Democrats,  back to the Democratic Party?  Will the abilities and politics of Ensign and Sanford enable them to restore their own images sufficient to limit any spillover on other Republican candidates in 2010?  Will the far right/party base lose its enthusiasm as contributors and grass root supporters in sufficient quantities to deepen the Republican slide that started in 2006?  Will it turn out that the “11th Commandment”, in stopping Republicans from taking the actions that the Democrats took with Spitzer and Blagojevich turn out to be the metastatic force that the Democrats appear to have avoided?

No one can assert that the Republican Party is as strong as it would like to be is most states (South Carolina could be an exception) or on the national scene.  These two June disclosures obviously don’t help 

As a resident of Nevada, I can empathize with South Carolinians on the maelstrom visited upon them by the media in the wake of their Governor’s ongoing disclosures.  While the nature of Governor Sanford’s infidelities is at best roughly analogous to Senator Ensign’s, the view from voter’s perspective tends to blur the distinctions between them and between those incidents and the recent Democratic embarrassments of Governors Spitzer and Blagojevich.  And of course, one’s own party allegiances and left/right leanings come into play in parsing any differences.

My own take on these affairs (no pun intended) is that there are two wholly divergent perspectives from which to view assess them.  One can sit back, pretend one has no vices and judge the participants from the point of view of the degree of imperfection demonstrated, reach a conclusion as to their fitness for ongoing public service in general and in their current elective office in specific, and then call forth the action dictated by those conclusions.  Alternatively, one can assess the circumstances from a strictly political perspective and judge not how the behavior weighs upon fitness for office but rather measure the likely impact on the actor’s political position, ability to impact on policy and his role as a leader within the political environment associated with his office.  Under the latter rubric, in assessing the politics of all this, one has to view not only the impact of the behaviors in question on the electorate as a whole but also on the electorate within the actor’s own party and  as well as the effect on the broader electorate’s view of the actor’s party in addition to the actor.  On a personal note, I like the line, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  I will not be casting any stones, let alone the first.  I offer my views only the political perspective.

As to the two Democratic governors, I note two distinctions:  both were the target of possible criminal proceedings and both were quickly out of office.  While one resigned and the other removed, both departures could not have been accomplished without the active participation of the respective state party machinery moving to assure its long term survival by cleansing itself of the offending governor.  In both state democratic parties, the risk associated with offending those that had voted for the governor appears to have been outweighed by the need to be seen as decisive in pressing for the removal of the cancer before any possibility of it metastasizing on other party candidates in upcoming elections.  In the esoteric environment of polls and non-elective politics, the two state parties appear to have taken the correct step.

On the other hand, the Nevada and New York Republicans do not appear to have reached the same conclusions.  As noted above, neither Ensign nor Sanford are currently charged with illegalities so the severity of the scandal can be said to be more moderate.  But one cannot ignore the political leanings of the two Republicans on ‘moral’ issues.  Both have been outspoken critics of other elected officials whose infidelities have become grist for the publicity mill and both were active in the efforts to have an unfaithful president removed from office.  (I will accede to the point that those efforts will in part predicated on the allegations of perjury not just on the underlying infidelity but note that both Governor’s lied in their efforts to avoid detection albeit not in a perjury context.)  An interesting side note is that both Republicans were included on most short lists for the Republican presidential nomination for 2012. 

While I suspect that somewhere someone is doing extensive polling on the precise nature of how various demographic groups are viewing the various storylines, the blogosphere shows its own sets of reactions that are telling.  My own unscientific review of bloggers views is that Republican and right leaning bloggers do not appear to be bothered by the apparent hypocrisy of the Republican Governors’ condemnations of  others juxtaposed to their own infidelity and cover-up, and they are quick to emphasize the apparent criminality associated with the Democrats’ scandals.  On the other hand, Democratic bloggers seem greatly offended by the apparent hypocrisy of the Republicans  but are not overly vocal in their calls for resignation.  Could it be that Democrats are taking the longer view on how all this will play out in 2010 and 2012? 

Blogosphere and polls aside, the real issue, in my view,  is the impact of all this on  the “silent majority” of Republican voters and what they actually think of all this.  Are they forgiving of their leaders?  Will the failure to cleanse their party shift some of those on the left fringes of the right, the so-called Reagan Democrats,  back to the Democratic Party?  Will the abilities and politics of Ensign and Sanford enable them to restore their own images sufficient to limit any spillover on other Republican candidates in 2010?  Will the far right/party base lose its enthusiasm as contributors and grass root supporters in sufficient quantities to deepen the Republican slide that started in 2006?  Will it turn out that the “11th Commandment”, in stopping Republicans from taking the actions that the Democrats took with Spitzer and Blagojevich turn out to be the metastatic force that the Democrats appear to have avoided?

No one can assert that the Republican Party is as strong as it would like to be is most states (South Carolina could be an exception) or on the national scene.  These two June disclosures obviously don’t help

Leaving aside the make up of the current Supreme Court for the next generation, the courts are going to have to address the same sex marriage issue on a national basis in the foreseeable future.  As there are more and more state sanctioned same sex marriages, eventually some will need to have divorce, alimony and child support issues addressed by a state of in which same sex marriage is not recognized but in which one of the same sex spouses is a resident.  The full faith and credit issue will have to be addressed foursquare.  

While the issue is complex, the court of a state like Kansas may want to avoid granting alimony to one its residents because in its view, under its constitution, that resident is not legally married and absent some kind of “palimony” theory, is not entitled to alimony.  When that happens, the whole federalist house of cards will be up for grabs.  At one end of the possible spectrum of results, the courts may conclude that a state has the right to refuse recognition of the marriage, refuse to grant a divorce, alimony or child support, and wash its hands of the matter.   The concept of “forum shopping” would therefor permit a spouse in a same sex marriage to chose his obligations by picking the state in which the litigation occurs. At the other extreme is a decision that a marriage in any state must be treated as a marriage in all states.

While you would then you have a marriage in 50 states for purposes of enforcing rights in state court actions but under the Defense of Marriage Act, you still would not have marriage before the U.S. government.  Or worse, you might have a marriage in a state court proceeding but not in a federal court proceeding?  How would a state court enforce pension rights or handle spousal bankruptcy matters if parties are married under state law but not federal law?

Let the games begin.

The blogs have put a lot of time into the matter of the Los Angeles Times’ alleged suppression of a video recording of Obama toasting Rashid Khalidi in a way that is purportedly anti Israel.  The view in the pro-McCain blogs, and from the McCain campaign seems to be that showing such a video to the mass market would demonstrate Obama’s unfitness to be President.  For purposes of this post, I am going to assume such a recording exists and that Obama did in fact make anti Israel remarks in the context of a Muslim American event.  For purposes of full disclosure, I was not pro-Obama during the primary campaign and did not decide against McCain until the nomination of Sarah Palin.  Also, I am jewish and some might view that as relevant to my views on Israel.

By way of background. Rashid Khalidi is an American, a native of the U.S., a scholar, no “a respected scholar”, and his stature is such that one might very well use the word ‘elite’ to describe his place in American academia.  During the last quarter of the 20th Century, prior to the “Intifada” insurrection that started in October of 1999, and gave birth to the “suicide bomber”  therer was relative calm in the occupied West Bank despite the ever increasing level of the use of military force by Israel in support of  settlement construction in areas to which Israel has not the slightest legal claim but rather took on the basis of pure power over the local Palestinians.  While pro-Israeli writers might very well claim that Israel’s claim to the West Bank has some legitimacy based on its security needs, that claim is analogous to the “Bush Doctrine” supporting the invasion of Iraq, i.e. that a nation can invade and occupy another nation if it perceives the invasion/occupation to be in its national security interest.  The problem with the Bush Doctrine is that, while it might justify the invasion of Iraq, it also justifies the Russian incursion into Georgia, and a host of other actions by various nations that th US doesn’t support.

Back to Khalidi, many people around the world condemned Israel’s actions in the West Bank as state sponsored terrorism, essentially what Khalidi has asserted.  When one reviews the facts on the ground, such a conclusion, while politically incorrect, is actually quite justified.  Even if one reaches a different conclusion, it is not clearly unreasonable to describe Israel’s actions as terrorism.  So now the issue is, how do we as a people who claim to believe in free speech deal with a respected scholar who adopts the position that back in the latter part of the 20th Century, Israel was engaged in a form of terrorism?

For further context, lets review the policies and politics of US attitudes to Israel.  As a practical matter, no politician can take a clear anti-Israel stance.  Both Bush, a “conservative” Republican and Clinton a “liberal” Democrat have worked very hard on the creation of a ‘two state solution’ under which there would be two independent sovereign nations, Israel and Palestine, and one of the main sticking points has been Israel’s refusal to give up the illegal settlements in the West Bank.  Both Bush and Clinton have pressured Israel to withdraw and there has in fact been significant withdrawal from some settlements by Israel. Both Bush and Clinton have made statements to the effect that Israel’s use of force in the West Bank was counter productive and that Israel needs to discontinue the construction of new settlements and dismantle at least some existing settlements.  In simple terms, it has always been the official position of this country that Israel has been wrongly using force to estbalish its political objectives.  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

So now we come to the possibility that, years ago, a black politician, holding a state office from the south side of Chicago, toasted a scholar who had been critical of Israeli policies towards Palestinians, to curry favor with the attendees.  Granted this scholar did not use the politically correct vocabulary employed by presidents of both parties, but the substance of his criticisms is essentially the same as those of both our last two presidents. Lets make an assumption that the scholar being toasted in the video is not Rashid Khalidi but an American of european descent, with a name not associated with the middle east, say Professor Joel Benin, who has taken positions on issues which could be viewed as pro-Arab.  Lets also assume that the clergy in the room are not Reverend Jeremiah Wright and MInister Loius Farrakhan, but Reverend Pat Robertson and  Reverend John Hagee.   Does anyone believe that there would be any effort by the McCain campaign to find and exhibit that video?  But look at the the statement by the McCain spokesperson that “a major news organization is intentionally suppressing information that could provide a clearer link between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi”.  It just doesn’t make sense. Why do we need to establish a “clearer link” between Obama and a respected scholar? Is the scholar suspected of wrong doing that is somehow connected to his relationship with Obama that could rationally spill over to Obama’s qualification to be President.  Is it merely because the scholar, in positions not inconsistent with the policies of presidents of both parites, has criticized Isreal (albeit in a politically incorrect fashion).  Of course not.  There’s no ‘red meat’ in Obama talking to clergy and toasting a man who is viewed as taking pro Arab positions.  The value in the alleged video isn’t the philosophy of the people present, its the color of their skin, the ethnicity of their names, that they are non-christian, that they are muslims and the resulting ability to imply a link to support for al Qaeda and terrorism and to perpetuate the myth that Obama is, in reality, muslim.

No one of intelligence can seriously believe that a random comment at a south-side Chicago partisan political party could be meaningful evidence that any potential president of the US could ever take any action contrary to the interests of Israel. As discussed above, the pro-Israel sentiment in this country is so far beyond question that no politician could get elected dog catcher after taking an anti Israel position. So the need to establish the link between Obama and Khalidi is pure Rove politics. Pure fodder for more mud slinging.

I understand that PUMA’s, Blue Dog Democrats and Reagan Democrats want McCain to win. While I admit to be favoring Obama, I cannot for the life of me understand anyone would want the democratic process to turn on the perpetuation of a lie. That’s what dictators do. Thats what Rove did to defeat McCain in 2000. That’s what military rulers do to justify a coup. That’s a classic case of the ends justify the means.

I have no illusions that Obama is “the One”. He is presumably a typical politician with a giant ego who believes he alone can save the world (as does McCain). But whether you want a black man or a white woman (or a white man or black woman) to be president, whether you honestly believe in trickle down or just don’t want to pay more taxes, whether you believe Obama is less experienced at or capable of handling terrorist challenges than Bush was or McCain would be, regardless of why or even how much you prefer McCain over Obama, hopefully the democratic process of the electorate making a choice based on reality is more precious than any one election.

While I’m not suggesting that polls reflecting a close election (like in 2000) are gospel, polls suggesting a 7, 8 or even a double digit lead cannot be ignored. If, in the context of the polls remaining at current levels and absent some ‘game changing’ even, McCain were to win, the only rational explanation would be to believe that Robert F Kennedy Jr’s article “Block the Vote” in Rolling Stone was prescient and that we would be having a second Florida 2000 but on steroids. I must tell you how scarey that is, not just the possibility of civil disobedience that could ensue, but what it would say about the democratic process in this country. Basically one would have to conclude that the spoils go not to the winner but to the candidate that is better at voter suppression. Woebetide us if that is the case.

For those of you who are rabid pro-Obama, this is intended as possible focus for you.  And it might offend.  For those of you who are rabid anit-Obama, I won’t say “don’t chime in” but be charitable.

Okay, I watched the “closing argument’ last night and I was fascinated by the delivery.  No he wasn’t doing the African American sing-song delivery one sees in some AME churches but more of classic rabble rousing oratory.  Not the charisma of Bill Clinton or the warmth and charm of Jack Kennedy (yes I’m that old), but more like the footage one can some times see of Huey Long or, if one only measures body language and voice quality, dare I say it, like Adolf Hitler.  (No I don’t speak german and I’m not suggesting that he is saying the kinds of things that are atributed to Hitler and please don’t comment that I’m accusing him of Nazi sympathy.)  But I do want to focus on this ability he has to stir people.  And what it means that he has this ability.

If Obama wins, it will be in large part credited to his so-called ground game.  While a significant part of his ground game is attributable to the money he has to spend, and the resulting professional staff he can hire and use to organize, one has to acknowledge that any success from that ground game has based on the raw numbers of dedicated volunteers.  What fascinates me is why has he developed that number of dedicated volunteers.

I had occassion to meet with several of them that might serve as examples.  One is a young African American lawyer from D.C.  She came out west for the campaign to serve as an unpaid staffer, deputy voter protection coordinator.  Talking with her one cannot avoid seeing the dazzle in her eyes,  hearing the excitement in her voice and, reading between the lines, feeling her unbridled enthusiasm that she has embarked on a kind of mythic journey of righteousness in support of a great humanitarian cause.  (If I had an editor here, he would make me tone that down a bunch.)  Another is an older attorney from the Bay Area who recently started to coordinate legal services for the poor, after decades of private practice and very good compensation. She admitted to feeling like she needed to ‘give back’ and that despite her career change, wanted to be a part of a ‘movement’.

What makes bright, intelligent, hardworking people with satisfying, well paid, careers feel the need to give up (or at least temporarily set aside) those careers and take on the work of the Obama campaignf?  While one might think that it is based on a close connection between their liberal political views and those of their chosen candidate.  The problem with that conclusion is that most Democratic candidates, both in the primaries and general elections, have view which are fairly similar to large numbers of liberals and yet those candidates have not seemed to generate this kind of following.  That differences almost forces one to look deeper into Obama to see what attribute he has that might explain this difference.

Well my hypothesis is that politcial success in this country, especially at the national and state levels (less so at the local level) is dependent to a very large degree what I will refer to generally as “personality”.  Personality can include such disparate traits as the personal charm of the sort that took an unknown conservative Democratic governor from a ‘flyover’ state to two terms as president, as well as the  folksy delivery style of the female governor from large state with a small population currently drawing large audiences.  It can include the classic charisma of Jack Kennedy and the laid back candor of Janet Napolitano, a Democratic governor of a very red state.  In my view, a politician that has this ability to connect to a substantial portion of his constituency at an intangible level, and can do so without offending on the substance of the issues, will succeed with a high degree of regularity.  He or she need not be dead on with respect to the relevantissues.

If one compares the candidates in recent presidential elections, one sees the evidence of this.  While I am not suggesting that George Bush (Bush 41) was a nerd, he did not have the presence of his 1988 opponent.  Bob Dole, also a veteran public speaker in the mold of a long term Senator, just didn’t have that eye to eye connection and was generally viewed (if one believes the polling) as having a certain untrustworthiness about him.  Even George W. Bush (Bush 43), as the guy you wanted to have a beer with, was far more able to connect with voters than an Al Gore who, if he’d had the style in 2000 that he’s demonstrated since losing, would probably have won.  And Kerry too suffered from a kind of stiffness that made Bush 43 seem like Mr. Personality by comparison.

Please understand that I”m not suggesting that personality is always determinative.  To the contrary, Bush 41 did not, in my view, have the personality of Mike Dukakis.  But he had Lee Atwater (for those too young to remember, Atwater gave birth to Karl Rove) making Dukakis look like John Kerry on a sinking swift boat.   But in an election where there is no dramatic advantage on the issues in favor of one of the candidates, and no mud that sticks to either, the candidate that connects at a personality level will almost invariably win.

Which brings us back to Obama.  Yes one can say that the negatives of the Bush 43 record and approvals would drag down any Republican candidate, the reality is that, going into the conventions, before large numbers of previously undecided voters had significant exposures to the candidates, Obama was trailing.  Yes one can argue that Obama’s rise over the last 6 weeks has been pushed hard by the ever deepening financial crisis along with a view that McCain is hurt by his closeness to Bush 43 and inability to articulate a coherent plan to address the crisis.  But the reality is that those are probably partisan positions.   No, in my opinion, its not the substance of the economic issues, its not the experience of the candidates, or even the absence of mud that stuck to either candidate.  No, in my opinion its the Obama personality.  (I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming!)

So what does my theory mean, if I’m correct?  My response is two fold.  Firstly it means that we, as a people are probably choosing our leaders for the wrong reasons.  And secondly, it means that we as individuals have to be far more vigilant about ourselves and why we make the choices we make.   We have a democracy of which we have, for generations, been rightly proud.  We evolved from a “democracy” in which only white men that owned land could vote to almost universal suffrage (we’ll talk about voter suppression in another post) and where, but for low turn out, the majority truly does rule.  How much better would that be if, instead of voting based on that emotional connection we feel when a politician hits the sweet spot in our psyche, we voted based on a real understanding of the issues and their complexity, and the real record of the people running as relates to those issues.

Right now, I lament that we are the victims of almost universal demagoguery, from the left as well as the right.  Skilled politicians capture our loyalty by tickling our strongly held views of right and wrong.  If we’re conservative or poor, they scare us with the possibility of tax increases that will hit us hard.  If we are liberal, they point to the needs of the less fortunate that aren’t helped by a system that favors reduced budgets and/or tax cuts over social programs.  And once the politician hits us with that particular cupid’s arrow to our basic philosophy, the real and complex issues drift off into space and we see only that which conforms to our preconceived ideas of what works and what is right.

OKay back to earth.   I’m not saying Obama is evil or that he’ll attempt to do anything in particular.  I’m merely pointing out that he is a talented politician/speaker who has the ability to make his audience feel a connection, and to use that connection to move people, and that talent will enable him to lead us where he wants to take us, if we let him.  Our job as citizens, even on the left, no especially on the left, is to be vigilant that we are being led in the right direction, to listen to the substance of what is said and to educate ourselves about whether it is correct and appropriate and to object when we are being led someplace we ought not go.  And just as those on the left should not withhold objection just because the speaker has hit us in our political heart with his cupid’s arrow, those on the right should not object merely because Obama stands for general propositions that conflict with the basic philosophy of the right.

The bottom line here is that, as voters, we have a responsibility to be informed, to make informed decisions, to be vigilent and to act based on well educated analysis of the issues not on the basis of oversimplified sound bites that politicians want to use.  This is a difficult responsiblity.  First it goes against our nature.  It requires focus and work.  It does not allow us to base our decisions on simple concepts like “it’s socialism” or “that’s just trickle down”.  And it requires us to accept that our basic philosophies do not and should not apply in all circumstances.  In other words, democracy is not easy.