Category Archives: news

The President’s Speech: Obama’s New Deal–America’s Basic Bargain

(An excerpt from my blog post at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund website).

How good was President Barack Obama’s speech? In many ways, he’s hurt by the same thing that hurts all exceptional people of color who have done extraordinary things. You’re always hampered by such high expectations. And no one is expecting you to get there, again.

With Obama, we’ve been to the oratorical mountain top so many times before. But his acceptance speech this time around was just slightly different.  

At least, no one is struggling to offer such tepid praise like “it was as good as he could do,” as people did with Mitt Romney.

No, Obama gave a fine speech. But in Charlotte this week, his convention surrogates just happened to give a slightly better political speech (Bill Clinton), and a slightly better personal speech (Michelle Obama).

Considering what came before him, the president wasn’t on the ropes. He didn’t have to WOW us in Day Three’s finale.

But his message had to be a little different than the others, too.  He is, after all, the incumbent Commander-In-Chief (which he reminded us matter-of-factly, mostly by honoring our troops throughout his speech, something the GOP failed to do at its convention).

So here was Obama’s mission of the night: In a political season where the over-riding issue is a philosophical one about government, it’s size and its commitment to its people, President Obama simply had to make the case for government and our democracy.

More than just a policy speech, he was giving the civics lesson for our time, making the case for no less than liberty and justice for all— not the Republican idea of liberty and justice for some.

It became the framework of the speech, as the president laid out an “us vs them” choice  “between two fundamentally different visions for the future.”

Said Obama: “Ours is a fight to restore the values that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known, the values my grandfather defended as a soldier in Patton’s Army; the values that drove my grandmother to wrok on a bomber assembly line while he was gone.

They knew they were part of something larger—a nation that triumphed over fascism and depression; a nation where the most innovative businesses turned out the world’s best products, and everyone shared in the pride and success—from the corner office to the factory floor. My grandparents were given the chance to go to college, buy their first home, and fulfill the basic bargain at the heart of America’s story: the promise that hard work will pay off, responsibility will be rewarded, that everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules—from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, D.C.

“I ran for President because I saw that basic bargain slipping away.”

The basic bargain is Obama’s New Deal.

But we all have to believe we’re in this together and “part of something larger.” It was a sense of community you got from just looking at such a diverse and inclusive convention.  

For Asian Americans, you could see it in the crowd. We were a part of this. And then there was Konrad Ng, the president’s Asian American brother-in-law on the stage at the end looking for someone to hug.  You didn’t see anything like that in Tampa.

Nor did you hear anyone talk like the president did last night in a message to all Americans about what it means to be a citzen of this country.

READ THE REST OF THE ORIGINAL POST LATER TODAY AT THE ASIAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND BLOG

Bill Clinton’s whale of a speech, and more ruminations about #DNC2012, Day 2

In the 80s, a young Governor  Bill Clinton gave a speech at a DNC and the biggest  applause line he got was when he said ,”In closing…..”

This week he went over by about 20 minutes and no one would have minded if he took another 200.

Let that be a lesson about political fate and ambition. When you lose or have a bad day, you can come back, and have them all eating out of your hand.

Bill Clinton did that on day 2 of the DNC, making the case for Barack Obama like no other. He brought the Democrats back to a sense of moderation that used to get Clinton and his blue-dog  DLC gang a lot of  grief from “progressives.”

Now when the GOP and the Right have taken on the party of hate and extremism, take-aways and divisiveness,  the Clinton way doesn’t look so conservative.

In fact, when Clinton talked about “constructive cooperation” and admiration for Eisenhower and both Bushes, he expanded the Democrats to the middle right, and it still seemed far left compared to today’s GOP.

In the roll call vote, when Barry Goldwater’s granddaughter spoke for AZ and mentioned how her grandfather wouldn’t recognize the GOP, and she’s right. He wouldn’t. A moderate Republican of old would be right at home with a big broad Democratic Party–the kind Clinton was carving out on Day 2.

If Day 1 was about America’s diversity and Democratic family values,  Day 2 was about expanding the definition of inclusion to encompass the broad middle for all:  Not just minorities and Hispanics, but whites, working class,  capitalists, women, all who believe in liberty and justice for all.

No one else could have pulled it off  but Bill Clinton.

At first, Day 2 of the DNC seemed a bit dull. There was a slow build throughout the night, with platitudes rarely getting a rise.

It certainly was no Day 1, which was perhaps the most energizing and inspirational of all the conventions (RNC/DNC) because of Michelle Obama, Julian Castro, and the overwhelming diversity on display. (What? We didn’t see that at the RNC? Well, no, we didn’t).

Day 2 had moments: The preach speak of Emmanuel Cleaver, Cecile Richards, Cristina’s Si Se Puede reprise, Jessica Sanchez doing Aretha, Sandra Fluke, Elizabeth Warren. Conventions are a politics junkie’s “America’s Got Talent.”  But Wednesday just wasn’t the kind of sustained level of UP, that Day 1 was.
You could take a bathroom break on Day 2.

And then….the Whale showed up.

And that was it,  the water shifted and rose up, and the show began.

(Miss the speech? CSPAN has it here.)

What I liked most about Clinton’s speech is that he did something Obama and the Dems have really failed to do heretofore. No one has really spelled out why the Democrats are worth voting for.

If it’s all about a job creation score card, Clinton provided one: In the last 50 years, it’s Republicans 24 million. Democrats 42 million.

When it comes down to who has a better plan for tomorrow, Clinton had a one word test that the GOP’s plan can’t pass: Arithmetic.

When he talked about the GOP cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, he made the emotional sale. When Clinton asked what families cut off by the GOP plan were going to do, he struck a nerve.

“We can’t afford to give the reigns of government to someone who wants to double down on trickle down.”

Clinton was good on the record, but he also represented a time when Democrats had a good thing going. For those nostalgic of a stimulus that worked, of a country with a surplus, of good times, (the Clinton Days),  Clinton was clear.  No president  could have fixed what was left for Barack Obama in just four years.

Which leads to the ridiculous GOP argument, which Clinton said, was “pretty simple. We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in.”

The undecideds back home on the couch, could sense the truth in that.

But to close the deal, Clinton needed to sell a vision that people could wrap their heads around and see the critical nature of the choice before them.

“What kind of country do you want to live in?” he asked. “If you want a “you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all-society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility–a we’re-all-in-this-together society– you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

Some are saying Bill Clinton’s  was his best speech ever. It was just Clinton, relaxed, confident, with just enough facts to make his point in his folksy style that evokes the elder, the veteran of life, one who knows.

I’d say a speech’s impact has to do with the moment. I was on the floor of the DNC in New York in 1992 and I recall the Clinton acceptance speech to be his finest. After years of Republican governance, Clinton represented real hope, and people were eager for it. ( I just saw bits of it. You’ll find the DNA of last night’s speech in 1992’s).

This time around we are also  at a crossroads, a critical one as well. But Clinton is more loved and revered. He didn’t have to do any heavy lifting this week really.  That’s still Barack Obama’s job.  And we’ll see how he does on Day 3.

ASIAN AMERICANS AT THE PODIUM

I thought it was a rough night for all the Asian Americans on the podium except for Jessica Sanchez who nailed her Aretha cover. And she was 2nd on “American Idol.”

Rep. Judy Chu was fired up, but she could use a little bit of Michelle Obama’s fire. Sec.Shinseki was a general giving a political speech. I saluted, sir.

The image was one of good Asian American public servants. Not one of charismatic political leader.

Atty.General Kamala Harris (half-South Asian)  is always alluring, but seemed nervous up there and did not leave one thinking, “There’s our next Senator.”  She might be. Her placement on the program indicates she is far being in some political dead-end job. She’ll probably remember her moment her as Clinton remembers his moment in the ‘80s. A better day is ahead. She has the look of a real national political star when she finds her Michelle Obama chops.

Asian Americans looking for charismatic leaders? Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Rep. Maisie Hirono (running for Akaka’s Senate seat vs. ex-gov Linda Lingle) are two who come to mind. I’ve interviewed both. You want someone as Clinton would say, “cool on the outside, who burns for America on the inside”?  These ladies are tough ladies who don’t back down.

SEE MY POST ON MICHELLE OBAMA AND JULIAN CASTRO. IT’S ON THEASIAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND BLOG

 

In Eastwood’s chair: It wasn’t just Obama. It was all people of color

(For my convention wrap, see the full post on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog).

Invisible Obama in Eastwood’s chair? How about invisible you and me. That may have been the only time the Republicans really talked to people of color all convention week.

As far as people of color were concerned, it was a convention of model minorities, but without many Asian Americans. Sec. Rice, Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico’s Gov. Martinez were essentially just hood ornaments for this GOP. With Gov. Bobby Jindal tending to Isaac, Gov. Nikki Haley was the most prominent Asian American speaker. But she spoke more like a true Southerner than a South Asian, extolling the virtues of discriminatory voter ID practices and harsh immigration laws.

Here’s what surprised me most. Usually there’s at least one speaker who uses the litany that mentions “black, Latino, Asian American” in context of the diversity of the American people. But the rhetoric here was devoid of any of that in almost every speech at the convention. Indeed, it was anti-diversity. Even Romney’s speech would rather have a generic America, where race was whited out. 

When he spoke of an America he wanted to “restore,”  he said:

And does the America that we want succumb to resentment and
division among Americans?

 

“The America we all know has been a story of many becoming
one. United to preserve liberty, uniting to build the greatest
the economy in the world, uniting to save the world from
unspeakable darkness.

“ Everywhere I go there are monuments and now for those who
have given their lives for America.  There is no mention of
their race, their party affiliation, or what they did for a
living.”

That’s as close as we get to showing up on the radar at a GOP convention

The America Mitt Romney wants restored is really a step backwards in time, maybe to pre-1965, before immigration, before civil rights. Factory defaults, please.

That’s not the America we’re in. But that’s appears to be the kind of country Romney feels comfortable being a leader of.

Maybe that’s because of the kind of people who are Republicans these days. When Romney talked about restoring an America to one that “will care for the poor and sick, will honor and respect the elderly and will giving a helping hand to those in need.  That America is the best within each of us.That America we want for our children,” the line fell flat.

Made me nostalgic for George Bush’s compassionate conservatives. But those people are moderate Democrats by today’s GOP standards.

When the Democrats show up in Charlotte, they’ll likely seem a whole lot more reasonable, diverse, and understanding by comparison.

After this GOP convention, the message is clear. You’re as invisible as Obama was in Eastwood’s chair. That was you.

If you’re black, Latino, Asian, you didn’t show up in their convention.  You weren’t real. My big takeaway? Romney is all-gender all the time. He seems to have pretty much conceded the diversity vote.

 

Paul Ryan’s RNC speech: Selling ”little government”

The conventions are the official time when rhetoric wins out over facts.

The campaigners are in speechify mode—going for the emotional sale.

So what else could we expect from Paul Ryan Wednesday night but recycled half-truths, untruths, and gas, packaged in a nice thin inflatable polymer.

That’s the stuff that rises up to the bunting in a convention.

And no amount of fact-checking matters.

Of course, it’s much different in real life, outside the convention hall, where rhetoric rarely soars, and voters are left with deflated hopes.

That didn’t stop Ryan Wednesday night. Known as a wonky, number crunching ideologue, he departed from all that policy stuff, though he did set parameters for the opposite of Big Government.  What would that be? Little Government, of course. That’s what R and R is all about. Keep federal spending at 20% of GDP? “That is enough,” Ryan said.

Spoken like a true “central planner.”

But numbers are boring. So Ryan showed off  his political style. He rallied young adults still living in their childhood bedrooms staring at faded Obama posters. He outed Romney’s iPod playlist as elevator music while revealing his own (AC/DC to Zeppelin? Really? I would have figured him a Styx and Kansas guy).

He pandered to women by showing off his family, calling his mom his mentor. His softened his slashing of Medicare by talking about his grandmother. She relies on it? She won’t in Ryan’s little government.

Why little government should appeal to anyone is ironic, but especially among those on the margins who would probably like to rely a little more on government these days. More unemployment. More public works jobs. More mortgage bailouts. So when Ryan addressed those who’ve felt left out of the economy, I was startled when he said “you haven’t failed, your leaders have.”

The crowd cheered, but those outside won’t be cheering when Ryan tells them his little government is unable to do a thing for little people.

Maybe big business will get its share. It always does in a world where corporations count as people. As for you little people, you’ll just have to take responsibility for yourselves.

Speaking of responsibility, if Ryan was so quick to blame failed leadership, shouldn’t he as the Congressional budget guy take some “personal responsibility” for his own failure to reach compromise with Democrats on a plan that would work for the people?  How does he go without blame?

He can’t.

Doesn’t matter. He’s the little government guy who wants to be the No.2 public servant in the land.

Problem is, his ideas may be too little for all of us.

SPEAKING OF “ALL OF US”– RACE AND RYAN

One thing Ryan didn’t do is point out to  any of his black.Latino and Asian friends in the crowd. Maybe because there weren’t very many there.

Maybe his diversity angle came when he talked about his time as a dishwasher or mowing lawns. That was his time to show empathy. Hey, he actually did jobs that are usually available to minorities!  But he  then he brags about how he wasn’t limited by his situation. If he was truthful, he’d say,”being white helped me a lot. And my well-connected father got me my first Capitol Hill job.”

Ryan’s weakiness on diversity is so glaring, he negates any impact that Sec. Rice and Gov.Martinez had speaking just before him. If you were a minority GOPer, Ryan wasn’t reassuring.  He’s your forced fed young ideolgoue, with no message of inclusion or  compassion. Not in a  a little government themed campaign.

As he exited in “we can do this” mode, Ryan mentioned a bigger safety net? Bigger, you’ll be hard pressed to find one at all  in the little government of Romney/Ryan.