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August 2008

Convention & Palin

I didn't get a chance to blog my thoughts about the convention before the announcement of the Palin pick, though that pick will underscore some of my thoughts.

The two most successful, in my opinion, conventions which I have watched are the Demcorats in 92 and the GOP in 2000.  In both of those races the incumbent presented himself as more experienced and better able to govern.  In both of those races the challenger presented himself as the leader of a party of the future, with new, big ideas.  Each challenger attempted to redraw the political boundaries -- Clinton to regain some of the Reagan Democrats and GWBush to broaden the party's appeal to minorities and independents.  The 2000 GOP convention was all about the big tent.  Racial minorities, women, even gay people were featured speakers (the 2004 convention was shockingly different).

So, I expected the 2008 Democratic convention to do the same, to present the future, to propose big ideas, attempt to redraw the political map.  But, I didn't see that.  The majority of the featured speakers represented the past.  No big idea was really featured at the convention.  New energy policies and new health care plans seem to have been the big ideas, but I didn't get the sense that these have any new momentum coming out of the convention.  And though some Republicans were featured, the overall tone and language of the convention was bread and butter Democrat.  I was pleased that they mostly avoided the condescending, patronizing language that their conventions are prone to (1996 being the worst).

Maybe the big idea is simply the mobilizing of a mass of people, especially new people, into the political process.  Obama has been brilliant at this, and I'm told it should amaze me.  I find it to have been effective in the primary, less so so far in the general.  It could create fascinating new ways to govern, I agree. 

But this mobilization is about process, not content. As the policy decisions are made, how will this process work?  Will it break down?  Will the masses go along with every decision?  Probably not.  I'm told I'm jaded because I'm so critical.  I see it differently.  I'm frankly nervous about uncritical devoted followers, no matter who they are following.

Overall, I give the convention a C.  I thought the 2004 Democratic convention was better, as far as conventions go and even though it was ineffective in the end.  It had a clear message and theme that set up the Democratic campaign (a theme which the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was then able to exploit). 

And Obama's speech last night was competent and good.  It did what it needed to do.  And was a tought speech, because of all the expectations.  But it was not a great speech.  I was not wowed by it.  I was moved somewhat near the end, but nothing like the way Hillary's speech moved me on Tuesday.  Obama gave some good hints in the speech about things I hope he follows up on (like the theme of a new strategic vision; that needs to be articulated more).

Which brings me to the brilliant pick of Sarah Palin.  Brilliant because the McCain-Palin campaign can now run both themes from the 92 and '00 elections -- "experienced candidate who is better able to govern" AND "party of the future with big new ideas."

Palin's speech this afternoon was very good.  She hit all the right notes about her candidacy's historical import in an attempt to rally women to the ticket.  And she focused on two themes -- ethics in government and energy policies.  If she keeps hitting those three themes over and over again, she will be very effective.

I think the GOP convention will now develop around some key themes in order to give those themes momentum coming out of the convention -- governmental reform, energy policy, and bipartisan pragmatism. I suspect that they will put all their young, pragmatic governors and mayors up front in featured slots. 

What will sink them is that they must distance themselves from Bush.  But they risk the core base if they do that.  Plus Bush himself will have to be featured.  I think this albatross will prevent them from having the sort of convention they really need to have in order to gain the lead.  We'll see what happens.

A Brilliant Speech

Wow!  Stunning.  The best speech of her life, better than any speech her husband ever gave.  Incredibly well written.  Original and eloquent.  Flawlessly delivered.  Rousing and inspiring in spirit.  Completely appropriate, hitting every note.

DNC: Tuesday, so far

Tonight is even more unremarkable than last night.  Hillary has not yet spoken, but everything since 7 p.m. has been exceedingly boring with no clear thematic flow, poor stagecraft, and many missed opportunities.

I would have structured the convention this way:

Monday night would have been focused on critique -- where Democrats left the country and how poorly it has done under Bush.  Bill Clinton would have been the featured speaker.  I would have used that big tv screen to show charts and graphs of how the country has declined (ala Ross Perot's charts).  I would have also showed lots of videos of normal Americans and their problems, with lots of Katrina footage.  Some of tonight's speakers, like Lilly Ledbetter and the mill worker from North Carolina could have been featured.  I would have also used Bill Richardson to talk about foreign policy and Wesley Clark to talk about the military.  Maybe even Jimmy Carter, who has won the Nobel prize.

Tuesday night would have focused on the Democratic party and how it is working hard for the country.  I would have featured Nancy Pelosi and some Congressional leadership.  I would have used lots of the young, energetic governors and mayors to show the future of the party.  You could have used the women like Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sebelius, but to talk about very specific things they've done in their states.  Hillary Clinton would have rounded out the night, focusing on health care.

Wednesday would be focused on getting to know the candidates.  It is the night that I would have had Michelle Obama speak, and Joe Biden of course.

Thursday would have emphasized the dream for the future and calling America to its best days, with everything leading up to Obama.  Make it about mobilizing the people.  Brian Schweitzer would have been a good person that night (He just did an electrifying job, the first really fun speech tonight).  With emphasis on the practical solutions that will move the country forward to that dream, including drawing on people outside the political sphere -- business leaders (Bill Gates would have been good), philanthropists, scientists, ministers, writers, and artists -- all to draw the picture of who the country is and can be.

The Power of Stories

I keep meaning to write about the fantastic commentary on Exodus that I'm reading -- The Particulars of Rapture by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg.  More on it later, but I wanted to share this excerpt.  It is the end of the excerpt which is quite powerful, but I had to include the opening portions so you would understand where she's coming from.  By the way, this is in her section on the Ten Plagues.

"Those who hope for God shall renew their strength" (Isa. 40:31).  It is the indefinable experience of "hoping for God" -- basic trust, as Winnicott calls it -- that determines the freedom and energy with which the individual acts in the world.  In this sense, Rabbi Nachman emphasizes the vital relation of language, hearing and speaking, to sexual and emotional life.  Jeremiah describes the pathological alternative condition, "You are close to their mouth, but far from their kidneys"; this "dissociation of sensibility," to borrow a phrase from T. S. Eliot, that divorces intellectual from physical experience, runs counter to a natural and desirable integration.

According to Rabbi Nachman, pathology in this area is to be healed primarily by a therapeutic treatment of the ear: by telling stories that will arouse the sleeping self.  One might return to the idea of reverie: a capacity of imagination, which can be entirely stifled, must be liberated.  On this depend expressiveness and creativity, on all levels; and the means to achieve this awakening of imagination is by the telling of stories.  For the characteristic of stories is that they have endless facets of meaning; they gain admission to our inner world because they are polymorphous, plastic, familiar and strange at the same time.  Once within, they begin their work, turning around and around, inviting us to play with their meanings.  They are the scrolls of redemption, light, subversive, generating life.

DNC: Monday Night

What I saw I found to be pretty unremarkable.  Ted Kennedy was heart warming and inspiring, yes.  Michelle is articulate, yes.  But I expect more out of a convention than feel good schmaltz.  Hopefully things will improve over the next three days, but the tone of a convention is usually set on the opening night (when one would usually have a keynote address).

I wanted to see my DNC coverage in 2004, but it doesn't look like I blogged about it.  I have extensive blogging of that year's RNC and the rest of the presidential campaign.  But the DNC came during a summer when I was on mission trip in the Rio Grande Valley, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and deeply depressed and trying to hide it from my congregation after the break-up with John.  What a summer that was!  Looking back at those posts was interesting, included in there is My Most Personal Fear, which resulted months later in the worst day of my professional life.

Two Years Ago Tonight

Two years ago tonight I was sitting at my first OKC Pride Board meeting when Michael Cich walked in and I yelled 'Michael!" 

We'd met a few months before during the visit of the Equality Ride and had run into each other now and then.  I was always attracted to him, but wondered if he was interested in me.  Come to find out later, he thought the same thing -- was I interested in him.  The "Michael!" settled that for him.

Bratcher and I invited Michael and Greg to meet us out for drinks at the Boom, where Casey was still working at the time.  Bratcher and I had been there for awhile waiting on Michael and Greg to show, and they finally did.  They had gotten lost and Greg had wanted to drive back to Stillwater, but Michael was insistent that they show up.  Had they not, I would have taken it as a signal that he wasn't interested.

But he showed and we chatted.  That week the fourth friend in a month had told me I needed to be bolder when I was interested in someone.  So, a couple of days later I asked him to meet me for coffee that Saturday at the Red Cup.

20 years of preaching

Last Thursday was the 20th anniversary of the first time I preached.  It was a Sunday night at the First Baptist Church of Miami, OK.  Over the next few year's our pastor, Jerry Field, invited me to preach a number of times, including on Sunday mornings. 

Last night I recognized the anniversary in church here at CoH-OKC and surprised everyone with a video of the sermon playing during our fellowship time following worship.  My 1988 clothes and hair inspired various jokes.

The Volcano

In Travels with Charley in Search of America, Steinbeck rushes through Arizona and New Mexico on his way to Texas.  None of the slow moving, in-depth stories of his travels in New England and across the northern half of the country.  I suspect he was tired from the trip and ready to get it over with, having been on the road many months.

Michael and I knew that the last two days of our vacation would primarily be driving back across roads we had driven only a week before.  The next to the last day out did include the Vegas strip, the Hoover Dam, and dinner at the Pine Country Inn, but mostly a lot of driving.  We made it into Grants, New Mexico about 1 a.m. and found a room at a Motel 6, not having a reservation for the trip home. 

The next morning we were already tired.  We weren't looking forward to the long and boring drive left.  I was worried that we'd get a little grumpy and that this wonderful vacation would end on a down note.

We had decided that a day full of driving was too much, and that we would stop somewhere along the way.  Most of the interesting sites, though are there in western New Mexico, so it meant doing our sight-seeing early and then driving.  We weren't sure what to see and had grabbed a few brochures on some attractions.  I was interested in one of the many pueblos, particularly Acoma since it had featured in Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop that I read earlier this year.  Micheal wanted a volcano. We thought we might be able to do both.

Eventually we turned south off of I-40 to head to the Bandera volcano, which we had a brochure for.  This took us through El Malpais National Monument. 

Now, we knew nothing about this national monument and had no information on it ahead of time.  A sign suggested we turn onto an unpromixing little dirt side road and, after some discussion, we decided to see what was going on here.  Glad we did.  We spent hours there and never made it on to any of the other places we had discussed going.

The dirt road led to a trail head for a three mile trail which would take you to a volcanic crater.  We grabbed backpacks, water, and hats and headed out on the hike, thinking that for a day we would spend mostly in the car, a little walking would do us good.

El Malpais means "badlands" and is filled with the remnants of volcanic eruptions -- craters, collapsed lava tubes, sink holes, bat caves, lava bombs, etc.  It was these volcanos which made the strange lava fields along I-40.

California Vacation 198

Yet "badlands" is not a good description, for there is ample vegetation, including tall ponderosa pines and aspens, growing at a far lower altitude than usual.  It is the rich volcanic soil which makes this growth possible.

The hike led to an old crater.  The sides are basically a massive pile of cinders -- half red and half black, from two different eruptions.  You hike up over the edge and down into the caldera, where there are plenty of trees. 

California Vacation 199

Michael decided that instead of taking the trail back up, we should just hike up the side of the volcano.  Neither of us realized how slippery and difficult it would be walking on unpacked cinders!  The climb back up exhausted us.  And we also saw our first wild snake.  I'm not sure what we saw, as it scurried away quickly, but it was of a pretty good size, and I was glad it was moving away from me (It was not as big as the black snake that scared the shit out of me on the Appalachian Trail in 2004). 

And, so, we completed our adventure.  I've already written about dinner at the Big Texan and the final hours of the drive past the exit signs for Oklahoma towns.  I think I've told what stories there are to tell.  But if I think of another one, I'll be sure to let you know.


A delightfully amusing piece on the Veepstakes by NYTimes columnist Gail Collins.  An excerpt:

But we digress. Lieberman used to be a perfectly good senator, but somewhere along the line he began thinking of himself as being above the partisan fray, and it had a terrible effect. When he ran for vice president, he was so busy being pompous that he didn’t notice that Dick Cheney had won the debate. (Of all the negative achievements in Lieberman’s career, it’s hard to top making Cheney the most likable man in the room.)


These aren't predictions, just my thoughts.


If you want a dramatic pick that gets everyone's attention instead of the boring three names currently being floated at the top of the list, I would go with Sen. Chuck Hagel.  I think that would guarantee a win.  Since 9/11 I have been hoping for a Unity government.

At this point I think Hillary may be the best choice from the Democratic party.  None of the current crop of names is exciting in any way.  And Hillary brings the strengths that the ticket will need.  Yes, she brings issues, but this is the most effective ticket that the party could field.  And isn't that what the party should do?


The only bold, exciting choice for him in Condoleeza Rice, though she won't do it.  Plus I think she has been the worst National Security Advisor ever and an awful Secretary of State.  But the Right still likes her and she would be dramatic and historic.

For weeks I have been encouraging the idea of Meg Whitman.  The buzz on her has not been as loud as others, but McCain has a couple of times subtly referred to her.

Of the names currently be floated, Lieberman is the most dramatic choice, but I can't imagine it will happen.  Other than that, the other names at the top of the list are all really boring.

In this exciting campaign year, how can we end up with two boring VP choices?