Hillary lacks that vision thing

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, August 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton reacts after...

Hillary Clinton reacts after her call for the nomination of Sen. Barack Obama by acclamation was seconded at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Photo: AP

Remembering the two great convention concessions of modern times – Ronald Reagan’s speech in 1976 after losing to Gerald Ford and Ted Kennedy’s speech in 1980, after losing to Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton’s Denver speech fell flat.

What was missing was what George H.W. Bush infamously dismissed as “that vision thing.” Reagan’s address, speculating about how future Americans would judge the Americans of 1976, inspired his supporters with a powerful vision of a smaller government but a more confident nation reviving economically, facing down the Soviets and managing the nuclear threat.

Kennedy’s oration eloquently argued the opposite, dreaming of a future liberalism as confident, humane and popular as his brothers’ ideology had been.

Both speeches helped shape the discourse of the times, allowing each candidate’s ideas to transcend the campaigning failures – and in Reagan’s case it launched his successful 1980 run. Both speeches can be taught decades from now as coherent and compelling ideological road maps that millions of Americans happily followed.

Instead, Hillary Clinton mostly provided a laundry list. She ticked off various programs she advocated, particular policies she liked, and specific individuals she met on the campaign trail. She did what she needed to do, getting in a few good shots against George W. Bush and John McCain, urging her disappointed supporters to vote for Barack Obama.

In fairness, she was also commanding, charismatic, and quite moving when she linked her campaign to women’s historic aspirations for equality. But even when she spoke about women’s rights – and quoted Harriet Tubman so effectively – she offered no vision of what women could do for America as women, she triggered no thoughts deeper than “it’s our turn,” and “our time has come.”

The speech once again illustrated one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the nomination failed in the first place. There was no overriding idea propelling her candidacy forward, nothing deeper than “it’s MY turn,” and “MY time has come.”

Observers can argue about whether Barack Obama is an old-fashioned liberal or a post-baby-boomer synthesizer transcending the black-white, red-blue divisions of yesteryear. But at least there is something substantive behind his various stands, some broader, deeper, thought-provoking and soul-expanding message.

Hillary’s speech was that of the diligent grade grubber not the romantic poet, of the hardworking ant not the soaring eagle. It was in keeping with her history as Bill Clinton’s dutiful behind-the-scenes supporter rather than a Clintonesque riffer who can at once charm and inspire, making Americans feel good about themselves while being challenged to think about how to better their nation.

And speaking of duty, Hillary Clinton fulfilled her obligation to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. In fact, she was far more gracious – and far less destructive – than Reagan was in 1976 or Kennedy was in 1980. Still, it was quite obvious that she was following the party script not speaking from her heart. She had specific compliments for Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, Obama’s life-mate and running mate, but was quite vague when it came to Obama himself. Hillary Clinton endorsed Barack Obama generically as a fellow Democrat not specifically as a candidate.

Of course, the whole scene must have been excruciating for her, and she deserves credit for handling it so well. In fact, watching her, it was striking how far she had evolved from the brittle, insecure, angry woman she was when she debuted on the national stage in 1992.

Hillary Clinton seems to be having a great time as her own woman, as her own politician – her opening riff about the pride she took in her various roles mentioned “mother” but skipped over “wife.” If she could only find a little more poetry in her prose-laden politics, if she could only learn to bring the various pieces of her policy jigsaw puzzle together into a compelling package, she could be an even more formidable politician – and a greater threat to both of the current candidates.

Just another conventional politician

JPost.com, August 25, 2008

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., left,...

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., left, talks with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., prior to the start of the first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2008 election
Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite , AP

It is possible that liberals, conservatives and centrists who are not blinded by Obamania may all be able to agree that Joe Biden was a terrible choice as a running mate. Despite his contempt for George W. Bush, Obama seemed to be channeling Bush’s Cheney choice with this pick – trying to show that he really was not as inexperienced and unprepared as critics suggested. But Dick Cheney in 2000 had at least one thing over Joe Biden – Cheney had not just run a presidential nominating campaign that demonstrated how unpopular he was.

It was one of the interesting anomalies of the 2008 Democratic race. There were three Washington veterans with decades of experience who went absolutely nowhere during the campaign. Senator Joe Biden, Senator Chris Dodd, and Governor Bill Richardson failed to get any traction, despite decades of governing and countless days and nights of hobnobbing with Beltway insiders. The three frontrunners, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had far better claims to outsider status – Edwards served only one term in the Senate, Clinton was just starting her second term, and Barack Obama was the most famous Senate freshman in decades.

Biden was a particular embarrassment on the campaign trail, shaming himself and his institution with his awkward, seemingly condescending remarks describing Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” After winning 9,000 votes and finishing fifth in Iowa, Biden left the race, proving how little American voters are impressed by a three-decade Senatorial resume. Obama’s ability to forgive Biden’s gaffe suggests a personal grace and generosity that is nice to see in politics; but this choice may fuel questions about Obama’s political and policy judgment.

Beyond this stunning – and recent – political failure, Biden’s supposed foreign policy experience may alienate both liberals and conservatives. Liberals will note that, unlike Obama, Biden voted for the war in Iraq – just as Hillary Clinton and John McCain did. Thus, in the future, Obama will have to be a little more cautious when he mocks McCain’s judgment about initially supporting the war.

At the same time, conservatives will note Biden’s failure to support the surge. This suggests that for all the media hype about Biden’s brilliance in overseas matters, he is just a conventional, finger-to-the-wind type, buffeted by the political trends of the moment. Holding fifty-plus Senate hearings and appearing repeatedly on Sunday morning television shows reveals a mastery of the Washington game not the intricacies of foreign affairs.

At the same time, centrists will mourn the fact that Joe Biden is neither a fresh face nor a bridge-builder. He lacks Obama’s outsider credentials and McCain’s track record in seeking bipartisan solutions. Biden is a good Democratic soldier, who has consistently stayed within party boundaries and helped create today’s destructive, angry, overly-charged Washington quagmire. In fact – and this we are told is part of his appeal – Biden knows how to throw hard political punches, as demonstrated by his partisanship during the Robert Bork and Samuel Alito hearings.

Regarding the Middle East, Biden is equally conventional – and unimaginative. In a reflection of just how standard it remains to embrace Israel from both sides of the aisle, Biden has declared his love for the Jewish State as enthusiastically as anyone. The fact that he has declared “I am a Zionist,” suggests that Zionism may be a less politically controversial term in the United States than in Israel itself.

But Biden has demonstrated no particular insight on the issue, beyond supporting “the peace process,” in whatever form the Palestinians appear ready to accept. And the fact that he has been among the Senators least alarmed about Iran, most open to negotiating with the Mullahs, and voted against declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group is worrisome – and a reflection of the potential direction of an Obama-Biden administration.

To be fair, Biden seems to be a decent man who has demonstrated tremendous personal grit over the years. The poignant story of the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter in an automobile accident shortly before he entered the Senate, his ability to raise his two boys on his own and eventually start a new family, his comeback from two brain aneurysms, and his record of thirty years in Washington without a major scandal – or it seems, a big payday – are all extremely admirable. But virtue does not always guarantee votes – as George H.W. Bush learned when Bill Clinton defeated him in 1992.

In fact, speaking of Clinton, Obama would have done much better had he learned from Clinton in 1992. That year, amid doubts about Clinton’s youth and inexperience, Clinton showed great moxie in refusing to nominate an elder statesman to compensate for his supposed weaknesses.

Instead, Clinton thrilled voters by choosing another young Southern politician, Al Gore. This vice-presidential choice reinforced Clinton’s message of change; Obama’s choice, unfortunately, muddied the waters, suggesting that, at the end of the day, 2008 is going to be another conventional campaign and Obama may be just another conventional politician, like his new best friend, Joe Biden.

The generational game

Adapted from Happy Birthday Obama — the Baby Buster, HNN, 8-8-08

By Gil Troy

Jerusalem Post, August 10, 2008

Barack Obama celebrated his 47th birthday on Monday of last week with minimal fanfare. The anniversary of his birth on August 4, 1961 highlights his campaign’s often-underappreciated generational dimensions.

Obama was not just born later than most national leaders, he imbibed a different sensibility. Demographers may clump Obama – and his wife Michelle who was born in 1964 – together with “Baby Boomers,” but those of us born at the tail end of that population explosion know we are more like the slipped discs of the Baby Boomers, split from the mainstream like the jellylike substance that ruptures from the spinal column and frequently causes great pain, as Obama imposed on the Clintons. Many of us slipped discers seek to revive some of the faith, hope, morality and national unity many Boomers scorned.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both born in 1946, represent the two sides of the political fault line that the Baby Boomers 1960s’ earthquake triggered (John McCain, born in 1936, pre-dated the Baby Boom). Clinton and his buddies were traumatized by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, tormented by the Vietnam War’s draft, yet inspired by their political and cultural revolution’s transformational potential. Others, like George W. Bush, enjoyed the “sex, drugs, and rock n’roll” moment, but, politically, triggered the conservative backlash.

As a slipped discer, or baby buster, born as America’s birth rate stabilized, Barack Obama was too young even to lie as so many Baby Boomers did about being at Woodstock in 1969 – he was only eight. Rather than being children of the 1960s, we were children of the 1970s. We stewed in the defeatism of Viet Nam, the cynicism of Watergate, the pessimism of Jimmy Carter’s energy crisis rather than the triumphalism of the post-World War II world.

Most of us did not experience “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” moments teaching us life was so simple; with the divorce revolution fragmenting families all around us, most of us watched Michelle Obama’s favorite show, “The Brady Bunch,” with knowing, pre-post-modernist smirks.

Moreover, thanks to Stagflation, that unique seventies combo of inflation and unemployment, we – and our Depression-era parents – were anomalies in modern America: we grew up doubting the fundamental American idea of progress, doubting we could fulfill the American dream of outdoing our parents and bettering our own lives. In college, many of us felt inadequate for being less radical and influential than our older peers, even as we considered them tiresome and self-righteous.

Surprisingly, after all the Baby Boomers’ experimentation, in our generation, the rebellious ones were the straight ones. For anyone in the left or the center who did not want to be tagged as – heaven forbid – a goody-goody – it was easier to “do it” than to abstain.

Even today, when Barack Obama talks about traditional morality and political moderation he risks being mocked by his peers and his usual ideological allies among the “let it all hang out” Boomers.

Of course, demography is not destiny; the generational game – which the Baby Boomers typically overdid – should not be overplayed. Still, it is not surprising that it was Jon Stewart, born in 1962, who has been among the few public figures to champion moderation, blasting the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire for dividing America. And it is not surprising that Obama came to prominence with an un-Boomer-like call for unity and healing.

In his book “Audacity of Hope” and during the 2006 Congressional campaign, Obama emphasized this generational divide. But the Baby Boomer cohort remains too large to risk alienating during a tight presidential contest, so he has done less Boomer-bashing lately.

Still, as he demonstrated in defeating Hillary Clinton, born in 1947, Obama is more nimble than many Baby Boomers. He is less starry-eyed and less battle-scarred, thus less doctrinaire, freer of the great Baby Boomer fault line and more anxious for national healing.

Unfortunately, many “slipped discers” lack the visceral love for Israel and understanding of the Zionist project that their elders had. John McCain’s generation of pre-Baby Boomers witnessed the devastation of the Holocaust followed by the redemption of re-establishing a Jewish State.

The Baby Boomers tasted the euphoria of the Six Day War, with liberals inspired by many of Israel’s communitarian ideals and conservatives appreciating Israel’s strategic importance during the Cold War. Obama’s generation was marked by the Yasir Arafat con, wherein the grandfather of modern terrorism was somehow able to be hailed as the protector of the oppressed and a man of peace.

Obama and his peers have seen an Israel of the “Zionism is racism” libel, of ugly apartheid accusations, of corrupt and ineffectual leaders. We see the fallout among Jews this age – it is not surprising to see it among non-Jewish politicians as well.

Those of us born in the early 1960s have long been upstaged by our louder, more self-righteous, older peers and siblings. Wherever we stand politically, many of us understand that Obama’s syntheses of tradition and innovation, his calls to transcend the usual divides in American politics, reflect a collective generational frustration. Many of us are fed up with the older generation’s media-hogging, polarizing, tendencies.

Demographers called Boomers the pig-in-the-python because they stuck out demographically. Their attitudes often simply stuck in our craws as we yearned for a less bitter, less zero-sum politics – which is what Obama the birthday boy, at his best, is promising.

 

Defending a Jerusalem oasis

Jerusalem Post, Gil Troy’s Center Field, August 10, 2008

The battle to save Baka and the German Colony is a skirmish in a long -overdue struggle. Center Field

Jerusalem’s German Colony is an architectural jewel a magnificent urban oasis offering historic houses soothing visual harmony intimate settings and even the sound of birds chirping amid the hurly burly of Israel’s capital. Neighboring Baka while less sculpted is also delightful offering an equally alluring sense of community. While the Emek Refaim cafes serving both neighborhoods attract crowds Baka and German Colony residents are also blessed by a friendly not-yet-overdone shopping strip along Derech Beit Lehem

Alas – surprisingly tragically foolishly – the delicate urban ecology of the German Colony Baka and Beit Lehem shops is now endangered. And the threat comes from civil servants who should be committed to preserving such urban gems.

In launching the light rail system Jerusalem’s bureaucrats plan to divert as many as 1 0 cars an hour from Derech Hebron to Derech Beit Lehem. Private cars will be banned from Remez Street near the old train station so huge buses can whisk commuters downtown from the outlying neighborhoods. But independent traffic engineers have confirmed what any intelligent person can see – this well- intentioned but poorly thought out automotive invasion will turn Beit Lehem into what one resident calls “the autostrada and bring urban blight to these lovely neighborhoods. The result will be traffic snarls, constant noise, polluted air, impossible parking, ruined shops, plummeting property values and, most disturbing, hundreds of pupils walking to the areas’ schools every weekday morning and afternoon

HAVING HAD the privilege of living in the German Colony since last July, and having regularly escorted my children back and forth to their schools, I have watched in horror as this fiasco develops. I have seen the work crews install the infrastructure for traffic lights and turning lanes, despite the municipality’s promise last year to freeze the plan. I have seen a small, noble group of concerned citizens try to alert their neighbors, while others flail about trying to get heard by someone in the vast urban bureaucracy. Last March, launching my own test of Jerusalem’s supposedly responsive bureaucracy, I contacted the authorities regarding this dumb plan. Identifying myself as an occasional columnist, I sought an official comment. I’m still waiting.

Fortunately, there are enough engaged residents to launch a grassroots campaign. Recently, some locals led by Itay Fishendler and Jonathan Kalman started raising money and awareness to save their community. They understand that to fight an indifferent city hall they will need a comprehensive campaign of public protest, attracting supportive media coverage. This is especially necessary because the bureaucrats are surprisingly gung-ho about this project despite the feared fallout. This campaign has been fully co-ordinated with the local community center and the head of the community council. These urban heroes can be contacted at bakaa.s.o.s@gmail.com

IF MORE neighbors weighed the pending threat to their quality of life and property values against what many of them spend on renovations, they would flood the activists with cash.

Frankly, residents have yet to respond as generously as they should with their time, passion, and money. Still, in other neighborhoods threatened by equally ridiculous plans the locals do not even have the resources to fight.

This debacle-in-the-making reveals a deeper problem. The legendary American politician Tip” O’Neill famously said “all politics is local.” O’Neill understood that although citizens in a democracy judge their government on the big things such as defending the country and managing the economy the little things also loom large. Unfortunately in Israel the national issues are overwhelming the entire political system is too centralized. The residents of the German Colony and Baka – along with Israelis from Metulla to the Negev – miss the local representation that makes so many other democracies function. If city councils and the Knesset had some locally selected district-based representatives at least one national politician and one local politician could represent grievances effectively passionately independently. In this case two leaders – each beholden to the people – would wake up every day wondering how to preserve protect and defend Baka and the German Colony.

TRUE A locally based system risks people shouting Not In My Back Yard and ignoring broader community concerns. But in a functional democracy the local and the national balance each other in an ultimately constructive dance. All too often in Israel the big overwhelms the small. We see this when traffic engineers arrogantly impose harmful plans on neighborhoods. We see this when educational bureaucrats prevent parents from raising money in a particular school to lower student-teacher ratios or block principals from doing what is best for their students.

The battle to save Baka the German Colony and the Beit Lehem shopping district is then a small skirmish in a long-overdue struggle. Israel desperately needs a more responsive political system along with more responsive responsible officials at all levels. These public servants would understand that democracies – like the threatened neighborhoods – are delicate ecosystems requiring thoughtful tending.

The generational game

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 8-10-08

Barack Obama celebrated his 47th birthday on Monday of last week with minimal fanfare. The anniversary of his birth on August 4, 1961 highlights his campaign’s often-underappreciated generational dimensions.

Obama was not just born later than most national leaders, he imbibed a different sensibility. Demographers may clump Obama – and his wife Michelle who was born in 1964 – together with “Baby Boomers,” but those of us born at the tail end of that population explosion know we are more like the slipped discs of the Baby Boomers, split from the mainstream like the jellylike substance that ruptures from the spinal column and frequently causes great pain, as Obama imposed on the Clintons. Many of us slipped discers seek to revive some of the faith, hope, morality and national unity many Boomers scorned.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both born in 1946, represent the two sides of the political fault line that the Baby Boomers 1960s’ earthquake triggered (John McCain, born in 1936, pre-dated the Baby Boom). Clinton and his buddies were traumatized by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, tormented by the Vietnam War’s draft, yet inspired by their political and cultural revolution’s transformational potential. Others, like George W. Bush, enjoyed the “sex, drugs, and rock n’roll” moment, but, politically, triggered the conservative backlash.

As a slipped discer, or baby buster, born as America’s birth rate stabilized, Barack Obama was too young even to lie as so many Baby Boomers did about being at Woodstock in 1969 – he was only eight. Rather than being children of the 1960s, we were children of the 1970s. We stewed in the defeatism of Viet Nam, the cynicism of Watergate, the pessimism of Jimmy Carter’s energy crisis rather than the triumphalism of the post-World War II world.

Most of us did not experience “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” moments teaching us life was so simple; with the divorce revolution fragmenting families all around us, most of us watched Michelle Obama’s favorite show, “The Brady Bunch,” with knowing, pre-post-modernist smirks.

Moreover, thanks to Stagflation, that unique seventies combo of inflation and unemployment, we – and our Depression-era parents – were anomalies in modern America: we grew up doubting the fundamental American idea of progress, doubting we could fulfill the American dream of outdoing our parents and bettering our own lives. In college, many of us felt inadequate for being less radical and influential than our older peers, even as we considered them tiresome and self-righteous.

Surprisingly, after all the Baby Boomers’ experimentation, in our generation, the rebellious ones were the straight ones. For anyone in the left or the center who did not want to be tagged as – heaven forbid – a goody-goody – it was easier to “do it” than to abstain.
Even today, when Barack Obama talks about traditional morality and political moderation he risks being mocked by his peers and his usual ideological allies among the “let it all hang out” Boomers.

Of course, demography is not destiny; the generational game – which the Baby Boomers typically overdid – should not be overplayed. Still, it is not surprising that it was Jon Stewart, born in 1962, who has been among the few public figures to champion moderation, blasting the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire for dividing America. And it is not surprising that Obama came to prominence with an un-Boomer-like call for unity and healing.

In his book “Audacity of Hope” and during the 2006 Congressional campaign, Obama emphasized this generational divide. But the Baby Boomer cohort remains too large to risk alienating during a tight presidential contest, so he has done less Boomer-bashing lately.
Still, as he demonstrated in defeating Hillary Clinton, born in 1947, Obama is more nimble than many Baby Boomers. He is less starry-eyed and less battle-scarred, thus less doctrinaire, freer of the great Baby Boomer fault line and more anxious for national healing.

Unfortunately, many “slipped discers” lack the visceral love for Israel and understanding of the Zionist project that their elders had. John McCain’s generation of pre-Baby Boomers witnessed the devastation of the Holocaust followed by the redemption of re-establishing a Jewish State.

The Baby Boomers tasted the euphoria of the Six Day War, with liberals inspired by many of Israel’s communitarian ideals and conservatives appreciating Israel’s strategic importance during the Cold War. Obama’s generation was marked by the Yasir Arafat con, wherein the grandfather of modern terrorism was somehow able to be hailed as the protector of the oppressed and a man of peace.
Obama and his peers have seen an Israel of the “Zionism is racism” libel, of ugly apartheid accusations, of corrupt and ineffectual leaders. We see the fallout among Jews this age – it is not surprising to see it among non-Jewish politicians as well.

Those of us born in the early 1960s have long been upstaged by our louder, more self-righteous, older peers and siblings. Wherever we stand politically, many of us understand that Obama’s syntheses of tradition and innovation, his calls to transcend the usual divides in American politics, reflect a collective generational frustration. Many of us are fed up with the older generation’s media-hogging, polarizing, tendencies.

Demographers called Boomers the pig-in-the-python because they stuck out demographically. Their attitudes often simply stuck in our craws as we yearned for a less bitter, less zero-sum politics – which is what Obama the birthday boy, at his best, is promising.