13 January 2008

Character is the real issue

Character is the real issue
John Maxwell

It’s a really good idea to write down for the record, statements you think deserve to be in your book of quotations One such statement, by former Field Marshal Donald Rumsfeld, I did scribble down but have since lost. It went something like this:”I cannot tell you at this moment what is going to happen.” The impression was that in another hour or so, his prophetic talents would be back up to speed and he would then be able to tell the interviewer what would be the result of whatever lunacy he was planning at the time. Or perhaps, the prophecy was a state secret and not for public circulation.
Some people assume that public opinion polls are prophecies. All they can do is describe what a particular group of people intend to do at the time the poll was taken. Unfortunately some people and most of the media believe that polls are the word of God and denounce the pollsters when people don’t behave as they said they would a day or week before.
Freedom to change one’s mind is probably the one significant freedom not under attack by the present US administration. But their accomplices and abettors in the Press are trying to make it harder and harder for people to believe that changing their minds is a sane procedure and not a betrayal of the media’s Right to Know.
Public Opinion polls are merely the societal equivalent of a blood test: if the sample is properly designed, you should get an approximation of what the society thinks at the time the poll was taken. it is nothing more than that. And, to use a brand new cliché – the road to hell is paved with voters’ intentions. Since is is January, and the sinners among us are busy deciding which New Year’s resolutions to break, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people do enjoy changing their minds – it’s about the only thing they can do without paying tax.
So, after the exhilarating win in Iowa, it probably was no surprise to Barack Obama that he didn’t ‘win’ in New Hampshire, where the demographics, the traditions and the culture are different. I confess that I expected Obama to win based on the trends in the rolling polls done by John Zogby. The problem of course, is that Zogby can’t ask people on election day who they intend to vote for. And, of course, some people make up their minds in the polling booths. And of course, voting machines tend to have minds of their own.
In Iowa, where there is not a primary election but a number of local caucuses, last minute decisions are likely to be less decisive, since the caucusers get to argue with each other about the merits and demerits of each candidate. And there is the possibility of last minute change when candidates whose totals don’t reach a certain level are knocked out and their supporters are free to vote for their next favourite candidate.
Although the press was full of warnings that people shouldn’t take Iowa seriously, because only about 300,00 people caucused, I am inclined to take it more seriously than New Hampshire where emotions ran wilder and spot decisions were easier. And a sample of 300,000 people is a pretty good sample.
The Iowa preferences for Barack Obama are therefore to my mind, more likely to be an accurate reflection of what Americans are thinking right now. This is in my view, confirmed by the fact that majority of those voting in New Hampshire FOR Clinton, also said that they though Obama would be the best candidate fir the Democratic nomination.
Punditry of any kind is dangerous, and long range punditry as practiced by people like me, is even more risky, tending to provoke abusive letters, mainly explaining why I don’t understand American politics and why I have no right to be speaking about something so sacred. I am cheered, however, when I read what I predicted at the time of Mr Bush's selection as president by the US Supreme Court , my prognostications immediately after 9/11 and by my warnings on the Iraq misadventure, before it began. The first one, with a few changes of tense, sounds as if it could have been written last week, predicting as it did Mr Bush’s assaults on the justice system including the Supreme Court and predicting that the world was in for a rough time at the new president’s hands.
As I said at the time, it would be nice if Americans understood how important their choice was to the rest of us. Naturally, in a country so deliberately safeguarded from the truth, most people go for the bread and butter issues and are fertile ground for hysterical appeals to chauvinism and other idiotic prejudices.
Which is why the success of Obama is so surprising. I freely confess that John Edwards was my preferred choice with Obama second. First I knew much more about Edwards and felt, and still feel, that Obama will be forced to give more hostages to fortune than Edwards. Unlike many people I know, I really like and admire Hillary Clinton, but her steadfast commitment to Clintonian politics, including an unswerving belief that Israel is always right, put me off.
It’s not that I believe that Israel is always wrong, it is simply that if the US president is to be an honest broker in the issues of Palestine, he or she must be able to look at both cases impartially. And this becomes particularly important when we remember that the major issue fuelling anti-Americanism and uniting so-called ‘militant Islam’ is Palestine. If the Palestine issues were to be solved, a great deal of generic ‘Islamic militancy’ would disappear. Similarly, the Clintons and their backers continue to believe that the USA must be the policeman of the world and since it can’t do that job well it concentrates on people like the Colombians, the Venezuelans, the Haitians and the Cubans not to speak of the Jamaicans and all of Africa, which are conveniently dismissed from the ranks of the civilised by describing them as failed states or states about to fail.
I once read an economics textbook by Paul Samuelson in which he said that a country can export successfully, only those commodities that satisfy its own market first. In the United States and in most other countries of the world, Freedom is not an exportable surplus.
In the United States they marvel at the success of barack Obama, carefully described as a bi-racial man, rather like Tiger Woods. They cannot be black and be heroes at the same time.
As Senator Joe Biden, a bright, likeable and civilised American Senator said last year "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, ... I mean, that's a storybook, man."
The obvious but unconscious denigration of people like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and perhaps even Martin Luther King, escaped Biden. What was reassuring about the new America was how hard people even including the media, came down on Biden for that remark.
The fact that someone like Biden can make a remark like that tells us more than any research study into racial/ethnic/colour attitudes can reveal. In advertisements for eHarmony.com – a service for finding mates, there has never been as far as I know one example of a trans-racial couple, and there is never on television, except sometimes in the news, anything which could suggest that in the United States that are millions of people ‘miscegenating’ like crazy. Despite their problems, this is not true in Britain or Europe. There is still on America’s most potent socialiser, television, a colour bar.
And this is part of what makes Obama’s political odyssey so fascinating.
Bill Clinton has said that the media treats Obama lightly, sparing him the examination it focuses on other candidates. This is true but is largely die to the fact that, like John Kennedy v Nixon half a century ago one candidate has much less controversial baggage than the others. But this is not true of the bloggers and the poison pen experts of the rabid right, who are busy circulating email on the internet accusing Obama of being the ‘Manchurian candidate’ of the militant Muslims and of a host of other high crimes including disrespect for the American pledge of Allegiance.
Not a Candidate but a Movement
The US Press has discovered a surefire way of discrediting the enemies of the right. The Press does not originate most of the scandals, it simply passes them on. The scurrilous and utterly untruthful Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry would have gone nowhere, had it not been taken up and magnified by the Press. On CNN, for example, the video was played over and over. On the other hand, the video which destroyed Howard Dean, showing him apparently to be an hysterical and unbalanced person, was carefully edited and graphically analysed to produce that effect. Dean had to shout in the auditorium in which he was speaking. he was also hoarse. If you subtract the background noise and remove a few of the lower tones, you get an attack weapon of tremendous megatonnage. That too, was amplified by the Press who knew that it was a fabrication.
I’ve had the same treatment. After the 1980 elections in Jamaica there was a huge thing about the fact that I was sweating profusely as the results came in showing the PNP losing. Nobody pointed out what they knew, that the temperature in the studio was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit because the air conditioners had failed with five times as many people in the studio as the systems were designed to serve; and I was the only person deputed to remain at the commentators’ desk while all the others came and went freely
Dan Rather, the one mainstream journalist who tried to discover the truth about George Bush, had his throat unceremoniously cut by his poison-peddling colleagues and employers.
Journalists have powerful tools and they use them. Talk-show hosts can turn you down and tune you out without your knowing – and so on.
The problem for the US Press is that they can’t turn down or tune out Obama. As someone said last week, Obama is no longer simply a candidate, he’s a movement.
That movement is a direct response to the barbarities of George W> Bush.
It has taken the Americans seven years to get the measure of the disaster that he has been, in lost liberties,lost jobs, lost homes, lost pay rises, lost pensions and investments, and children lost to an unnecessary and unconscionable war.
When he goes, as I predicted seven years ago, he will leave behind him a Supreme Court dedicated to reversing the democratic and social gains of the American people over the last sixty years. Like a lost fish pot, it will go on catching and killing prey long after its owner has disappeared.
People are beginning to understand these things. It is taking them longer to understand what happening to the message and reputation of “America” outside of the Unite∂ States. They don’t know about Cuba and Haiti or all the other crazy misadventures of US power in Latin America, Africa and the Far East. But they do know that there are many people outside the ranks of ‘militant Islam’ who hate, fear or despise the foreign policies of the United States.
Ron Huckabee, no foreign policy wonk, stated in the journal Foreign Affairs recently, that US foreign policy is based on an arrogant, bunker mentality. For this he was roundly criticised by Mitt Romney, the Plastic Man of the republican candidates.
The most interesting thing about the candidate struggle on the republican side is that it reinforces what’s happening on the Democratic side. All of a sudden, character is important and it is the one area that the Press cannot interpose itself between the candidate and the people. That was why John McCain in New Hampshire and Mike Huckabee in Iowa sent Plastic Man packing. That is why Obama won in Iowa and probably won New Hampshire.
This poses immense problems for the media and the Republicans. They are confused at the moment, not knowing who to attack. Believing all along that Hillary was bound to be the democratic nominee they had their toxins all prepared. When Obama won in Iowa, they were thrown into confusion. If Obama is indeed the eventual nominee, which I believe he will be, the republicans will have to fall back on their old standbys, race, sex and poisonous innuendo.
The problem is that Obama does not give them much space. His marriage is obviously happy, his children adore their father, unlike Giuliani’s, and, like McCain and Huckabee, he seems to be a really nice person, a good human being.
Electorates, below the patina of pseudo-sophistication, are always looking for people they can trust. That is why the Press and the republicans went after Al Gore and misrepresented him as an aggrandizing liar who claimed to have invented the Internet and claimed to have been the hero of “Love Story” among other things. Even so, Gore won that election although the Supreme Court decided otherwise.
Kerry also had strong positives going into 2004, but the press and the Swift Boaters turned even his heroism against him as they did against a paraplegic war veteran in the Georgia Senate race. .
If you really want to judge the worth of the US press remember this: In 1997 when the Pope was visiting Fidel Castro in Havana the stage seemed set for an unprecedented Great Debate on the world stage. But then the Drudge report came out with a story about semen stains on a little blue dress and the entire American Press Corps decamped like a flight of cuckoos, to luxuriate in scandal.
There is scandal aplenty surrounding at least one of the republican candidates, Giuliani. But do you think the Press is interested? Despite the fire-fighters he will go on being “America’s Mayor”; despite the concealed expense accounts and the sex scandals he will go on being ‘America’s Mayor’ and he will despite the Bernie Kerik scandals and whatever else might surface between now and November.
Meanwhile, CNN has been busy investigating, showing Barack Obama’s paternal grandmother peeling cassava in her hut miles from nowhere in Kenya and no doubt we will hear serious investigations into his father and stepfather, both black, both dead, and his mother, who was white but is fortunately now dead and impossible to misquote.
A few days ago, George McGovern, about whose character there is no doubt (and which may be why he lost to Nixon,) declared that George Bush had committed higher crimes and greater misdemeanours than Nixon and was more deserving of impeachment. Here was a senior and eminent statesman making serious allegations about the behaviour of the President of the United States
Do you think that made the headlines?
You must be joking.
There was no attempt even to check whether McGovern had a case. The fat lady had already sung as far as the US Press was concerned.
Perhaps though, it simply was not NEWS.
Dual Citizenship
I must confess than I was more than a little surprised –before the elections by the vehemence of Danville Walker’s response to Abe Dabdoub’s cautionary note to the people of West Portland.
Now that it has been revealed that Walker, like Darryl Vaz, is an American citizen, I have been waiting for comment from the Press and the Government. Perhaps I’ve simply missed them. Since Mr Walker’s job description explicitly excludes non-Jamaicans, I cannot see how he can continue to hold it for another minute. The whole affair reeks of undemocratic special privilege demanded by one class of Jamaicans and denied to others.
In the first place the US law does not admit of dual citizenship. Therefore it seems to me that there must be powerful forces which have allowed Vaz and Walker among others, to effectively exercise dual citizenship.
Under American law a citizen can lose his nationality for voting in another country’s elections. Here we have one American citizen presiding over our country’s elections and others running as candidates.
How is that possible?
The American Embassy owes us an explanation and Walker and Vaz owe us – and their American compatriots –their resignations.
Copyright © 2008 John Maxwell

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