Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obama Beats McCain

As the media has helpfully told us, ‘Hillary won West Virginia!’ (The exclamation mark is mine.) And as Clinton herself has helpfully told us “America is worth fighting for!” (The exclamation mark is hers.)

Both these points are worth making, though they barely qualify as news—more as reminders that the media must report many things, newsworthy or otherwise, every day and Hillary must end her speeches on a loud, if not entirely salient, point. Here’s a prediction I will make, complete with another largely irrelevant exclamation point: ‘Obama beats McCain!’

I read somewhere that a really good writer uses one, maybe two, exclamation points in a lifetime. I don’t remember who said that, perhaps George Will or William Safire making the argument that emphasis ought to derive from the use of language, logic and rhetoric in proper context. It is the reader, one or the other might argue, who should suddenly say to her or himself, “My god, George (or Bill) is right!”

In any case, in less than 200 words, I’ve managed to insert four exclamation points. It wouldn’t surprise me if at this stage a George Will or Bill Safire (or, even, crucial portions of my already vanishingly small audience) might say to themselves,
“Four exclamation points! I have had my fill of this writer! I’m done with him!”

So be it, writing is that odd human activity that both requires an audience and can hardly be engaged in public. So I’ll go the rest of this way myself.

Jeff (I tell myself), Barack Obama will beat John McCain in November because Barack will be the Democratic candidate for president, and this year a Democrat is going to beat McCain. It won’t even take a good Democratic candidate, although Obama will be one.

Let me list a few of the reasons why McCain will go down regardless of who the Democratic candidate is.

1. Even if McCain comes up with something better than staying in Iraq for 100 years, it’s too late for him to be a peace candidate in regard to a war that is the most unpopular in American history.
2. Whatever McCain might say in regard to the economy—he will face voters in November saddled with the “Bush economy,” which will almost certainly be worse than it is now.
3. McCain has already proposed measures that will virtually eliminate employer-provided health care. It would give insurance companies an even larger role and freer hand in providing health care and charging for it. The Democratic campaign against him, and the media, will savage McCain and his proposal. After that he will be lucky to get the vote of even a quarter of the elderly and the chronically ill.
4. McCain, i.e., “The Straight Talk Express,” will be exposed again in the fall, when a larger audience is paying attention, for pandering. He will have to defend tax cuts he voted against, nuance his position against torture, and fruitlessly explain how cutting gas taxes will solve energy and transportation problems in the United States.
5. So far this year, Republicans have lost three special Congressional elections filling vacant House seats in districts that have voted Republican for decades. One of the seats belonged to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. The other two were in Louisiana and Mississippi. McCain has bigger problems than worrying about winning Ohio. With an under funded campaign, he will have to worry about winning states like Virginia, Indiana and New Hampshire.
6. McCain is the presidential candidate Republicans never wanted for a presidential campaign they know they cannot win.

That’s six. I leave it to “Tonstant Weader” (as Gertrude Stein might say), if there is one out there, to add to the list. And notice not one of the six even mentions Barack Obama. Or Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Either one should defeat McCain handily.

But it is Barack who will make the better Democratic candidate in the fall, notwithstanding Hillary’s imitation of the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Obama, after all, has opposed the Iraq War, with minimal waffling, from the start. He also gave no support to Bush’s saber rattling toward Iran. And he also articulated a no-conditions approach to diplomatic contacts with any and all significant international figures and movements, including the likes of Hamas, North Korea and Iran.

It has been decades since an American president has refrained from demonizing enemies. In response, Clinton has been forced to modify her own pose of toughness, increasing the possibility that diplomacy might once again precede threat and intervention in U.S. international conduct.

Similarly, Obama’s stance on trade agreements suggests that labor conditions and protection for the environment will become more important features of future treaties. In this instance, as well, Barack’s leadership has forced Hillary to reframe her own positions. McCain has almost nothing to offer voters that would inspire confidence in his ability to recast international relations in pursuit of peace, or for the protection of labor rights and the environment.

In the general election campaign that will begin shortly after the Democratic nominating process finally concludes, these issues will become pivotal. At that point, Democrats will be reminded that political unity has the potential to bring enormous benefits, including a possible filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. (Imagine the impact the next president’s appointments might have on the judicial branch and on regulatory agencies.) And it is very likely the awareness of those dramatic opportunities to make change that has motivated Clinton to adopt her never-say-die approach to the primary.

The person who gets to be president in 2009 will have eight years to change how the government of the United States functions. Arguably, Ronald Reagan was the last president to take advantage of that opportunity. But Reagan, counter to his ideology, presided over a vast expansion of government. And that expansion came at the direct expense of working families in the United States. Obama can be the first president since FDR to remake government in a manner consistent with his political values.

By November, many more voters will see the transformative possibilities. In November, Obama beats McCain. Big!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ol’ Satch Sez

Satchel Paige said
“Don’t look back. Something
may be gaining on you.”
You could look it up.

You should.
But whatever was gaining
on me, caught me,
decades ago.

It’s in me. It’s in questions
I can’t answer. It’s in friends
casually betrayed,
in lovers never loved.

But absorbed, guilty, pleasantly
obsessed belongs to me,
and none to them. And unknown to them
My selfish dread

like cancer clanging in my bones,
like frozen joints
impatiently damning my name,
like anvils I’ve been toting.

Aging, I hallucinate.
Fine, I can imagine
better than I can see.
Grateful, I choose this vision

anvils dropped or left behind,
single moms catch a break,
wars easily averted, and reclaiming us,
making vibrant wishes of ourselves.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


We were possibility.
We were drifting motes
taking shape,
taking new shape,
made whispers and shouts,
made flesh.

We were repetitions of common dreams,
repetitions of common dreams.
First breath following
generations of fruitful labor,
tiring labor and plenty of pain.

No one born to certainties,
but smiled on. And though it now
may feel otherwise,
the smiles never diminish, are
never unsmiled, never frowned away
or cried away. Yes, the laughter of smiles
fades; the imprint endures.

Some plod onward,
some skip lightly,
but we are always loved.
Out of that,
or ought to be.
Begin, then,
writing our stories today.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Letter to the Washington Post, #3

This one was sent to the Post in February of this year:

So, property owners in New York City are selling land to developers who are demolishing existing supermarkets and building condos (Feb. 19, “Groceries Grow Elusive…”). The losers in such deals are neighborhood residents and users of public transportation who must go further and ride longer to shop for dietary essentials and may not even be able to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables.

This is not only a New York City story, but a story of 21st century urban gentrification everywhere. And omitted in the telling is the way the story fits in the context of the widening wealth gap in this country.

The upper-income residents of the new condos will need groceries, too. But upscale and internet grocers will deliver, and the smaller families of the new residents will shop for food less and eat out more, enjoying the variety of restaurant opportunities that will develop in the new storefronts adjacent.

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
Washington, DC 20017
202 506-7470

Letter to the Washington Post, #2

This one was sent to the Post on 12/24/07


Your article, “Jury Convicts Black Man in Shooting Death of White Teen (12/24),” raises numerous difficult questions about race and the role it plays in our culture and history. Reading it, I couldn’t help wondering how differently the story of the incident and trial would have played out if the shooter had been white and the victim had been an aggressive black youth.

The prosecutor’s quoted comments diminished the significance that race played in the incident and minimized the importance of a Ku Klux Klan attack on the shooter’s grandfather that occurred 85 years ago. The last word in the article went to the slain teen’s father, who claimed that the conviction clears his “son’s name [of all accusations of] racism.”

But the story (and the trial’s conclusion) does not settle such questions, only adds to the backlog that we, as a society, have long buried or brushed aside. Race and racism are perhaps the longest running unresolved issue facing the United States. The real, threatened and imagined violence (and sexuality and class questions) that have been entangled with race and racism since the first Europeans arrived on this continent manifest themselves differently in each of our lives and are rarely honestly confronted.

Of course a Klan attack 85 years ago matters today, as do slavery and Jim Crow, just as surely as do the American Revolution and the genocide of Native Americans and the U.S. Constitution and the WWII-era internment of the Japanese and the first Thanksgiving matter. History does not end, but is relived in our individual and social conclusions about its meaning.

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
Washington, DC 20017
202 506-7470

Letter to the Washington Post, #1

This one was sent to the Post on 10/29/07:

I read Sebastian Mallaby’s story, “Foreign Policy Grown-Up,” Oct. 29, with interest. Mallaby’s position that sanctions are preferable to war is inarguable, I believe. But everything else Malaby says seems eminently debatable.

Hilary Clinton is an apparent grown-up because she supports sanctions against Iran, says Mallaby. “Bush hatred,” has driven John Edwards to the point that he sees sanctions as a first-stage war tactic rather than a peaceful alternative. Barack Obama’s critiques of Clinton’s support for sanctions are similarly driven by Bush hatred, Mallaby writes. Further, Clinton was correct in supporting military action against Saddam Hussein because sanctions weren’t working, Saddam was out of “his box” and “it was worth taking the risk of unseating him by force.”

Had Mallaby based his support for Clinton and criticism of Obama and Edwards on a set of uncontested historical facts, perhaps I could agree. But there is ample evidence (including from Iraq) that sanctions can be murderous and affect the innocent most severely, substantial debate about whether Saddam was out of his box or otherwise, and skepticism about virtually all the claims of the Bush administration about the danger presented by pre-war Iraq.

As an Obama supporter, I am disappointed with Barack, too. I want to hear more substantial policy positions. In particular, I want to hear Barack say that no nation, including the United States, can be trusted to unilaterally decide what actions will be in the best interests of all countries. I want to hear that the Iraq War and its consequences are a perfect example of the failures of unilateral policy making and action and that an Obama foreign policy would proceed on the principle that action with global consequences will be based on decision-making that occurs in the most democratic and global forums available. And I want to hear Barack say that his administration will do everything possible to create and strengthen such forums.

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
WDC 20017