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Obama & Warren: Way Too Cute


I’ve found myself since Friday posting a lot of comments on newspapers’ websites concerning the incoming President’s selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural.

I’ve used phrases like “megachurch huckster,” so you know where I’m coming from. I’ve also posted my displeasure on Obama’s “transition” website, change.gov.

This is not just an accidental mistake on Obama’s part, but deliberate strategy: “evangelical” votes are more important than Gay ones. Here’s how The New York Times put it:

Mr. Obama’s forceful defense of Mr. Warren, the author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” has signaled an intent to continue his campaign’s effort to woo even theologically conservative Christians. As his advisers field scores of calls from Democrats angry because Mr. Warren is an outspoken opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama has insisted that a range of viewpoints be expressed at the inauguration festivities next month in Washington.

Today Warren’s gone on a charm offensive, visiting a Gay-run thrift shop in West Hollywood and being photographed with his arm around one of the inmates at the zoo—you know, one of those Gay ones.

I’m not buying a minute of it. This means you too, Melissa Etheridge, who wrote a pro-Warren piece of fluff on The Huffington Post.

Part of Warren’s defense is that he does so much about AIDS in Africa, as if that helps even one person with AIDS in the United States.

It’s easy to pick “AIDS in Africa” as your charity; it’s a Straight person’s disease there, and it’s been woefully mismanaged by Straight people running the governments. Africans need the help. Most can’t afford the pricy drugs Westerners get.

So yes, it’s a good thing to work on AIDS in Africa—but it’s not the same thing as working on AIDS in your own community. Does Warren think Orange County, California, where his megachurch is located, doesn’t have an AIDS problem? That he has to go slumming?

His congregation can always go next door to Los Angeles County, where there’s a great big huge AIDS problem, especially among Blacks and Hispanics as well as Gay men. But I guess they don’t want to get their hands dirty; they think they can buy off their responsibility by sending money to a distant place.

I once criticized a Gay motorcycle club in Columbus, Ohio for making its big holiday project Toys for AIDS Babies. Babies are the easy choice too; who doesn’t have sympathy for them? Meanwhile Gay men with AIDS were sick, lonely, suffering and shunned. So I let the club have it.

They were quite offended. I didn’t give a damn. Anyone—a frigging PTA or garden club—could raise money for sick babies at Children’s Hospital; Gay people ought to take care of their own.

It’s not a question of doing a “good” thing, but of doing the right thing; doing the best thing. And that’s where Obama’s screwed up royally by inviting an anti-Gay bigot like Warren to give the nation’s prayer at the dawning of the new civil rights era.

Facing criticism of his choice, Obama says he’ll be a “fierce defender” of LGBT rights—though, of course, he still expects us to pay more taxes to subsidize people who are legally married.

I don’t believe him. We’ve just heard the first lie right out of his own mouth.

People who are married get tax breaks from the city, county, state and federal governments. Not married? You pay more.

Stay-at-home mom? No Social Security for you, honey, no matter how much your partner pours into the system. Barack Obama thinks that’s just fine.

“Kept boy,” partnered with a rich lawyer while you study or work on your art? You better hope he doesn’t get sick, because without him you might end up with nothing. Obama says that’s good too. He and Warren agree, no marriage for Gay people. They want to keep the tax breaks for themselves!

I worked my ass off to elect this man; I was the county coordinator. Our efforts made a difference in one of the most closely contested states. Obama got a 4% higher vote total in my county than the two nearest comparables. I told my team we wouldn’t win this county, but every vote mattered, because voting is done by states, not individuals. Obama carried my state with its 11 Electoral College votes by 26,000 ballots, 50%-49%. A full 10% of his winning margin came from my county, 2600 votes, a record turnout for local Democrats.

We did it by making it safe to vote for the Black man. This place is 99.8% White, and Republicans were saying he was Muslim, or the anti-Christ, or there’d be a race war if he won—every scare tactic they could think of.

So what’s my reward? Rick Warren to give the nation’s prayer. Rick Warren, who says if you let Gay people get married, pretty soon you get incest and child molesting.

That son of a bitch. And I don’t mean Warren, I mean Obama.

He isn’t even in office yet, but I’m done with him.

I’m proud I helped elect the first African-American president. But do I believe in him? No. As far as I’m concerned, the picture on the top of this post is identical to the one on the bottom.


The Green Church


Solar panel at St. Anselm’s, Lafayette, California is just one of the Episcopal Church’s responses to global warming and the energy crisis. We are quietly refitting our buildings all over the country, from cathedrals and seminaries to high schools and church camps. Now it’s time to be less quiet about it.

The Episcopal Church needs to radically reposition itself to help 21st century people with the death-defying 21st century problems we now face, as well as the vexing quandaries that are perennial to human existence.

We are becoming the Green Church. Environmentally friendly. Cutting our carbon emissions in dramatic and meaningful ways. We are the leaders in this, because our unique history and ethos help us understand a little better than the competition that human beings are just not allowed to mess up God’s Creation.

While other churches are still screaming about evolution and the sanctity of marriage and all the other Falwell leftovers, Barack Obama just swept the White House. I bet he carried Episcopal “precincts” 3-1.

There are no such exit polls, of course; the media are only interested in “evangelicals,” Catholics, Jews, familiar racial and gender groups—not the views of mainstream Protestants. I haven’t heard of any Muslim or Hindu exit polls either.

Episcopalians have been moving the Green way for 30 years now. We didn’t just catch the Obama wave, although most of us probably welcomed it.

Further, although we’ve got much in common with other mainstream Protestants, we’ve been working through human rights and ecological issues for long enough that we’re able to do some real teaching and sharing on them now. I think of Eugene Sutton, the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, who’s not only Black, he’s Green.

Episcopalians have slowly been working through the racial divide that was sadly in evidence in this presidential campaign, and we’ve come to consensus on it. We still have work to do and we always will have; but there’s no racial controversy anymore. The most overt racists walked out on us in protest 30 years ago.

The same is true of women’s issues, and it’s increasingly clear that we’ve done the same with LGBT issues; we’re not done yet, but we’re ready to move, while other mainstream Protestant denominations have lagged behind watching what Episcopalians do, because they’re even more afraid than we are.

The other day the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, Illinois decided to secede from the rest of us because we’re too liberal for them on Gay people. I doubt anyone outside Quincy said a word about it at church on Sunday.

We know we still have anti-LGBT folks in our churches, but they’re opting out now, leaving the rest of us to keep doing what we’re getting halfway good at, learning to really welcome human diversity and celebrate our commonalities.

Church politics, which has garnered a lot of publicity the past few years, is now just background noise. They’re here, they’re queer, we’re used to it — heck, we’re over it! Meanwhile we have real issues with how we treat this earth and whether God’s Creation can survive humans’ ignorant and greedy self-destruction.

Yesterday in The New York Times there was a blogpost about an open letter sent to Obama by two well-known ecology professors at Stanford, Paul and Anne Ehrlich. (Read it all here.) I don’t necessarily endorse their predictions or prescriptions (one about Afghanistan really got to me as presumptuous, as if they’re experts on war strategy), but I found their questions fascinating.

I also felt like many are the exact same things we wrestle with every day in church. That may surprise you, but see for yourself.

The Ehrlichs’ Prescriptions (edited by me)

1) Put births on a par with deaths. …As been done in many family planning programs, the happy family should be promoted as one that limits its numbers. But the change should be in the motivation. Traditionally the small family was supposed to supply a higher standard of living — including more stuff for each individual. The new approach could be to promote it as a multi-generational unit that in each generation limits its size in order to maximize the chances of each following generations’ retaining a happy, sustainable life style.

To move in that direction, humanity must rapidly expand programs to educate and give job opportunities to women, make effective contraception universally available, and develop public support of population policies.

2) Put conserving on a par with consuming. At any given level of technology, there is a trade-off between how many people can be born into a society and the level of per capita physical affluence that can be sustainably supported. The more people there are, the smaller each one’s share of the pie. One way of dealing with this trade-off would be a cultural shift away from creating ever more gadgets to creating more appreciation and better stewardship for Earth’s aesthetic assets.

3) Transform the consumption of education. (snip)


5) Rapidly expand our empathy. We’re a small-group animal, trying to live in large groups…. People are gradually gaining more empathy toward those others distant from us in skin color, gender, religion, class, culture or physical space, but our ability to inflict harm on them has also increased. Cultural evolution is not rapidly enough reducing this discounting by distance (caring less about situations the further away they are). The same can be said about discounting by time — not caring enough about the world we will leave to our children and our descendants in the more distant future.

6) Decide what kind of world we all want. What are the ultimate goals of our lives? Are Americans really happier traveling to work an hour or more each day wrapped in a few tons of steel and breathing smog that threatens their lives?

7) Determine the institutions and arrangements best suited to govern a planetary society with a maximum of freedom within the constraints of sustainability. …In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, states are a recent invention, existing for only a tiny fraction of our existence. In their modern form as nation states, they are only a little more than 200 years old. We need to look closely at possible alternatives that could combine greater awareness of the problems of living at a global scale while regaining family-style psychological comfort. More cooperation at a global level is clearly necessary for civilization’s long-term survival.

In the Episcopal Church we talk a lot about human rights, consumerism, peace and justice issues, and the ultimate goals of our lives. As Christians we believe we’ve got some real clues about them. All of these questions have religious and ethical aspects, and we deeply believe that the Biblical record speaks with remarkable clarity today on timeless issues which people have always faced. No, the Bible never says, “All churches should now switch to compact fluorescent bulbs and decrease their carbon footprints.” But it does say, “The earth is the Lord’s” (and you better not screw it up).

Because we don’t read Scriptures with literalistic or legalistic lenses as other Churches do, the Bible opens up a vast treasure trove of ancient holy wisdom to apply to new discoveries. And we’ve simply been applying it a little better and a little more widely than anyone else, because we’re no longer wasting our time over whether it is moral to distribute condoms for AIDS prevention. We don’t have a foreign dictator to keep happy till he’s 90, and we’re not busy building our megachurch supermall/media empire.

The Episcopal Church is not the Mensa Society, but we do attract highly-educated, involved people actively finding ways to live more simply, more generously, in harmony with each other and the universe, and the Holy Spirit whom we believe hums through every human body, every rock and rill.

It’s time we shared these resources much more widely.

Let us engage our theologians and artists and marine biologists and economists and businesspeople and soldiers and teachers to develop Christian ways of life in this century.

And yes, let’s find a marketing hook the general public can actually understand, and keep repeating it till it becomes familiar: the Green Church.

Tom Friedman has some interesting things to add in an interview with the Huffington Post about the massive international effort going Green will take human society, as opposed to environmentalism as a fad. I don’t want the Episcopal Church to “jump on the Green bandwagon”; I’m saying we are early adopters, and that Christians should be among the earliest leaders precisely because we bring some views that secular economists and engineers and entrepreneurs don’t necessarily share. We help connect the newest technology to the oldest human aspirations.

Take my next-door neighbor Tony, a machine operator who breaks big rocks into little rocks for a living. He’s just as concerned about the air his daughters breathe as a bunch of Starbucks Episkies are. He voted for Obama too. I guarantee Tony worries about what happens when the oil dries up and the price of heat goes through the roof and the Chinese add a new coal plant every week and Antarctica melts and the world economy collapses.

What he doesn’t know is what to do about it besides voting—how to alter the human attitudes, power structures and frank desire for sin that keep us on this destructive course we’re on.

No, we’ll never substitute “politics” for Jesus Christ, much less Barack Obama. We need sacraments and Creeds, community and prayer to keep us from jumping off the nearest bridge, much less opening a door to real spirituality. But consider this equation:

S=W²DW³G (∞)

“Stewardship is what we do with what we’ve got, all the time.”

I can understand it, so can Tony, and it came right from an Episcopal Church.

We are sitting on a 2000-year inheritance earning compound interest every day. Our magnificent storehouse of resources makes Wall Street in its heyday look dingy and drab. Conservative rejections and defections have made us keep our doors shut for a long time, wondering why no one comes to our fabulous feast.

Now Episcopalians are learning to share, to speak out, to invite, to organize from the grassroots up, and it’s time we opened the big green doors of God’s mansion and invited everyone in.++

Debate 2: Start of the Obama Landslide

(Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

I watched the second presidential debate tonight online, from some outfit called hugo.com which carried the NBC coverage, including the last half-hour of analysis and reactions. Kudos to hugo, because usually the live streaming online cuts off as soon as the moderator says goodnight. (And thanks to HuffPost, which provided the link to hugo.)

I was disappointed in Obama after the first debate, but not this time. He showed some controlled fire and didn’t let as many McCain attacks go unanswered. McCain scored some points, but not nearly enough to reverse his disastrous slide in the past two weeks.

So this is the start of the Obama landslide one month from now. I expect him to win the popular vote by 10% (the technical definition of a landslide) and the Electoral College by 2-1.

Tonight’s format, a supposed town meeting, allowed the candidates to walk around and engage with their questioners. That didn’t work out too well for McCain. He looked old and small and waddled around limping. (Some commentators say his gait is caused by old war wounds, and if so, I sympathize.) But the limp just reinforces the image that he’s an old man. He can’t compete with a guy 25 years younger, obviously athletic and comfortable in his own body, with a smart, gorgeous wife and two adorable little girls in grade school. What were the Republicans thinking?

The nomination of McCain runs completely counter to where America is at right now, the emotional truth that underlies the choice voters are making. That psychology is simple and lies deep in the gut: we are sick to death of George W. Bush and can’t get rid of him fast enough. We wanted him gone two years ago; that’s why both houses of Congress went Democrat in 2006. For 80% of voters, it has been excruciating to have to wait two long years to get rid of a president we’ve come to despise. Now with only a month to go before the election, when we’ve finally entered the home stretch of this marathon race and the world economy is collapsing all around us, we have no patience left, zero, none. What Obama calls “change” is really a collective shout from Republicans and Democrats alike, No More Bush!

Not even Nixon was so despised—and he had the common sense to get out of town before people ran him out.

So in an atmosphere like this, where 80% of people have simply stopped listening to anything Bush has to say, a 72-year-old cancer patient from the same political party doesn’t stand a chance, much less the graceless, Falwell-snuggling, George Bush-hugging John McCain.

I’ve never seen so strong a national mood to “throw the bums out” as this year. An example: my home state of Indiana elects its governor in presidential years. The current incumbent is a Republican named Mitch Daniels, a former director of Management and Budget for George W. Bush. The Democratic nominee is a former Congresswoman named Jill Long Thompson, who has run a listless campaign. A new poll out today has the race too close to call. When even Indiana threatens to go Democrat (McCain and Obama are neck and neck here), all hell’s breaking out.

Tonight McCain unveiled a new plan for the government to buy people’s mortgages and renegotiate terms based on what the house is really worth in this deflationary environment. It would have been easy for viewers to miss this new proposal, because he didn’t announce it with any fanfare (or provide any details about how it might work). Just like McCain’s jokes, it went over like a lead balloon. Does anyone think that bailing out distressed homeowners, by itself, will turn the world economy around?

Obama on the other hand was forceful on foreign policy, his strongest statement yet. He’s committed to hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden, and no amount of McCain claims that “I know how to do that” (win wars, create peace, reform the economy, abolish greed, fix Social Security, he knows how to do it all apparently) stands up to Obama’s vow to destroy bin Laden. It is a goal the whole society will rally around when Obama’s the commander-in-chief.

That’s what he looks like and sounds like, a man you wouldn’t mind following into battle if a war must be fought. He also wouldn’t hesitate to call on every American to sacrifice for the common good—a question McCain blew off tonight.

Finally, what was McCain’s “this one” remark about? It’s bad enough McCain can’t look Obama in the eye, now he can’t even utter his name?

The spinners assure us McCain meant no disrespect by the remark. I’m sure Obama can handle it, but the people McCain disrespected were the voters.

Starting tonight it’s Obama in a landslide. Check out today’s map at Electoral-Vote.com. It shows Obama leading in every swing state but two: North Carolina (dead even) and Indiana (McCain by 4). I bet Obama wins them both, with a final Electoral College tally of 375-163.++

Holy Roller in the White House: Palin “the Perfect Woman”

America’s Hottest Governor, according to Alaska magazine; not the smartest, not the best, just the hottest. Hillary Clinton canceled a potential appearance with her today.

The New York Times, in a report today by David D. Kirkpatrick titled “Abortion Issue Again Dividing Catholic Votes,” came up with this gem from a retired social worker in Scranton, Pa. named Paul MacDonald:

The choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as Mr. McCain’s running mate had clinched it for him, Mr. MacDonald said. “She is anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage, anti-Big Oil, a lifetime member of the N.R.A., she hunts, she fishes — she is the perfect woman!”

Quick, hand me a barf bag. She’s a holy-rolling, tongues-speaking religious extremist who thinks the Iraq War is a “task that is from God” that will hasten Armageddon, at which she and her fanatics will be “raptured” and plucked from the streets for immediate ascension into heaven while the rest of us poor mortals suffer at the hands of an angry and sadistic God.

And Republicans accuse Obama supporters of messianic fervor? Puh-lease. Someone teach Mr. MacDonald some Catholicism.

Social workers might also want to show him their Code of Ethics. He’s obviously unfamiliar with its demands for justice for the poor.

His claim that Palin is “anti-Big Oil” is ludicrous. Like all Alaska politicians she wants someone else to pay the cost of state government, which taxes its citizens harder than any other state. So she made a deal to charge the oil companies more; that doesn’t make her anti-Big Oil. She can’t wait to climb into bed with Big Oil, she just charges them more for their fun. So guess their response: they just jack up the price in the other 49 states. Alaska’s been running this scam for decades. Every taxpayer in the United States subsidizes Alaska.

There is so much in her nomination to object to—Troopergate, her soap-opera plotting, her meanness, her cronyism, her rapacious greed for earmarks, her complete lack of foreign policy credentials (“You can see Russia from an island in Alaska”)—that I won’t attempt to field-dress her here. My focus is on her religion, which appears to be so far over the edge that Catholics in Scranton would be appalled if they knew. Obviously they don’t know; they don’t read, they watch TV.

But first, this caution: we don’t really know Palin’s personal religious beliefs. All we know is who she’s associated with, a bunch of far-out Assembly of God churches with the most bizarre beliefs imaginable. Nico Pitney and Sam Stein of The Huffington Post report:

The [Wasilla Assembly of God, where she was baptized at age 12] church runs a number of ministries providing help to poor neighborhoods, care for children in need, and general community services. But Pastor Kalnins has also preached that critics of President Bush will be banished to hell; questioned whether people who voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004 would be accepted to heaven; charged that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and war in Iraq were part of a war “contending for your faith;” and said that Jesus “operated from that position of war mode.”

Kalnins, as reported again by The Huffington Post:

What you see in a terrorist — that’s called the invisible enemy. There has always been an invisible enemy. What you see in Iraq, basically, is a manifestation of what’s going on in this unseen world called the spirit world. … We need to think like Jesus thinks. We are in a time and a season of war, and we need to think like that. We need to develop that instinct. We need to develop as believers the instinct that we are at war, and that war is contending for your faith. … Jesus called us to die. You’re worried about getting hurt? He’s called us to die. Listen, you know we can’t even follow him unless you are willing to give up your life. … I believe that Jesus himself operated from that position of war mode. Everyone say “war mode.” Now you say, wait a minute Ed, he’s like the good shepherd, he’s loving all the time and he’s kind all the time. Oh yes he is — but I also believe that he had a part of his thoughts that knew that he was in a war.

Oh yeah, everyone say “war mode.” Amen, hallelujah, praise da Lawd! Yabba yibba yabba yibba, boogie doogie bumble bah, supercalifragilistic, bibby booby bobby doo!

(And please don’t forget the “expialidocious,” because I’m a Julie Andrews fan.)

The “unseen spirit world” is what marks this guy as a nutcase Reconstructionist (a theology repeatedly condemned by the Assemblies of God, though it infects many of their churches). Reconstructionists believe there are demons lurking everywhere, seducing individuals, cities, nations, the whole world—and that God wants people to fight Satan by invading Iraq, curing homos, accumulating wealth and voting Republican.

Kalnins makes Obama’s preacher problem look like child’s play. But let’s stick to the facts. Gov. Palin cannot be guilty by association. What matters is what she herself has said.

In June 2008, long before anyone in the Lower 48 had ever heard of her, in a speech at Kalnin’s commissioning (graduation) service for lay missionaries, Palin asked people to pray for her $30 billion natural gas pipeline proposal, as if that’s something God’s concerned about.

“I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that,” she said.

Global warming? Not man-made, she claims. Polar bears? Not endangered, she wrote in The New York Times (as she was suing the Federal government for saying they are indeed in danger of going extinct).

John McCain’s lust for the presidency has already caused him to change every position he took in 2000, when he actually was a maverick who challenged his own party on taxes, campaign finance and the toxic influence of Fundamentalist bigots. Now he’s done a 180; everything he used to be against he’s now for.

He realized from his defeat eight years ago that Fundamentalists control the Republican Party. So if he’s going to win, he has to give them everything they want. He gave them Sarah Palin; he didn’t have to vet her. That’s the part the national media have missed. Troopergate? Irrelevant. A knocked-up teenage daughter? She’s keeping the baby and marrying the father (though he’s not looking for longterm commitment). Palin is a talented politician, comfortable with cameras and microphones, and she provides the Christian Reconstructionist boost he needed (though his convention bounce was short-lived and Obama’s back ahead).

Hey, how many copies of the “Left Behind” series did Tim LaHaye sell? Some 75 million since 1995, according to one source. That’s a lot of voters.

It’s interesting that when McCain doesn’t have Palin with him, he draws paltry crowds. He generates very little enthusiasm by himself. After all, he’s the oldest presidential candidate ever, a cancer patient who’s suffered repeated bouts of melanoma. If, God forbid, it kills him, he’ll bequeath us President Palin, ready to do battle with Iraq, Russia, Iran and all those other demon-dominated countries in “the spirit world.”

“She is anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage, anti-Big Oil, a lifetime member of the N.R.A., she hunts, she fishes — she is the perfect woman!”

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Obama: Reminiscences of a 13-Year-Old Boy

The Democratic Convention opens tomorrow, and on Thursday Sen. Barack Obama will become the nominee for President of the United States.

I’ve already reserved my front-row seat in front of the TV at my friends’ house. We will watch history being made. For many it will be an occasion of national rejoicing.

A half-Black, half-White senator from Illinois, who has bookended his campaign with appearances in Springfield, will have an entire political party behind him as he seeks to take the White House from Darth Vader and his puppetboy.

Oh, if only Martin and Thurgood, Lyndon and Hubert, Jack and Bobby, Shirley and Barbara, Ev and Charlie were here to see this moment!

If only Barry were here; I think he’d appreciate it. If Margaret Chase* could see this, I think she’d wear a fresh red rose.

For me this all started 44 years ago, when I became aware of pervasive and violent racism in the South and the North. I’d just turned 13, and every night the TV news was full of civil rights protests, water cannons, shots fired, cops on horses, old ladies beaten, houses and churches bombed, children bleeding just because they tried to go to school.

They were kids my age; they had a right to go to school.

None of this made any sense compared to the textbooks I read extolling the virtues of American democracy.

I wasn’t getting beaten up for going to school; why were these kids? It did not make sense, it didn’t then and it doesn’t now. My skin is lighter than theirs, true, but I bleed red and so did they.

Children! Why would adults beat on children?

Those TV images formed my politics and determined much of the course of my life. In later years they made me a Gay activist, but that’s another post.

What’s funny to me in 2008, or ironic anyway, is that 44 years ago I lived two doors down from where I live right now. My mother and I blew this town in 1968 never to return; but by a strange twist of fate here I am, same street, same builder.

I remember the 13-year-old I once was. I remember that my bedroom then was decorated with every political poster, banner, bumper sticker and photograph of Lyndon Johnson I could get my hands on. My parents, lifelong Republicans, figured I must have gone crazy like teenagers always do.

I became a Democrat that year, and still am one. Civil rights fever, pro and con, swept the country. It was the only thing people talked about, the biggest thing they avoided talking about.

Lyndon Johnson, with help from Martin and Hubert and Malcolm and Thurgood and even ol’ Ev, got the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. It was completely the right thing to do. It meant fewer Black kids got their brains beat in, and fewer old Grandmas got their legs broken by billy clubs. There stopped being quite so many house bombings and church bombings and car bombings.

President Johnson won the election that November with the biggest landslide in history. America turned a corner.

Since then there’s been a lot of backsliding. Black kids no longer fight to get into school, they fight to stay out of it. White racism is less visible and more insidious. So-called “conservatives” gave up on race as an effective motivating fear and bulls-eyed Gay people instead.

Now, in just a few months, we will see whether America is ready to turn another corner by electing Sen. Obama.

Sunday’s New York Times has a fairly predictable and predictably fair article, “Blacks Debate Civil Rights Risk in Obama’s Rise.” Several members of the African-American intelligentsia see dangers ahead; Obama may not by himself “heal the nation’s racial divide,” in the current and overused phrase, and may actually be prevented from taking steps that might benefit poor Black folk.

This seems to be the work of professional worrywarts. If we elect a so-called Black (actually mixed-race) President, that by itself is a game-changer.

How the game will go from there no one knows, including the speculators in The Times. But it changes the game, the competition for power in the USA. For the first time in my life it will mean anyone can get elected—including Hillary Clinton, or any other female with more discipline, less baggage and a faithful husband.

Sen. Obama is not the Great White Hope or Great Black Hope or even Great American Hope. He is a man. He has flaws. He will compromise. He’ll make mistakes. He’ll be forced to change course. He’ll screw up half the things he touches—which is a lot fewer screwups than we’ve had for the past eight years.

His nomination will force us all to decide: do we want the kind of democracy our social studies textbooks said we had, but didn’t have, back in 1964? Is this a nation of fairness, with liberty and justice for all?

Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave—or the land of big corporations and the home of the fearful?

Here in my hometown, the reports and anecdotes are not so good. A friend’s daughter heard Obama is a Muslim. Another friend’s mother-in-law says that if Obama wins, “the Blacks will take over.” (Listen, honey, they can’t screw it up any worse than the Whites have.)

Mostly what I sense is that my neighbors are afraid to take a chance, afraid to turn the corner. I think they actually want to, but they’re busy eying whether their neighbors are turning the corner with them. I think they’d love to embrace the New America, but they need help and encouragement and leadership.

Most of that will have to come from the candidate; but a little of it has to come from me. He doesn’t live here; I do.

I was too young in 1964 to sit in at Woolworth’s lunch counter. I was too little to register people to vote. I needed my parents’ permission to go to the movies, much less to Selma. I missed all the action, but I followed it on TV every night.

The opportunity comes only once in a lifetime. This is our moment; this is our time. Either we take back America and live the dream—of those social studies texts, of that Man from Springfield, of that Orator and Organizer on the Mall—or we lose it for another 40 years.

When I watch Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday at Invesco Field in front of 75,000, I’ll be thinking of a 13-year-old Gayboy two doors down; of kids and old ladies on the Pettus Bridge; of gang-bangers and addicts in Gary and East Chicago; of migrant workers in tomato fields and exploited children in Postville, Iowa; and of soldiers in Baghdad and Kabul, fighting like hell but wanting to come home.

No one knows what will happen in November, but I pray that Americans get permission to stop voting their fears and start voting their hopes. We need Change We Can Believe In, the optimism of Yes We Can.++

* People mentioned in this article: Martin Luther King Jr.; Thurgood Marshall; Lyndon Johnson; Hubert Humphrey; John F. Kennedy; Robert F. Kennedy; Shirley Chisholm; Barbara Jordan; Everett Dirksen; Charles A. Halleck; Barry Goldwater; Margaret Chase Smith; Malcolm X.

Hilary Rosen: Why No National Conversation on Gender?

(Tim O’Brien/Mother Jones)

Today on The Huffington Post, columnist Hilary Rosen, in a piece called “Why Do We Stick With Her?”, nudges along the conversation about sexism and gender in the presidential campaign. It’s about the only sensible comment I’ve seen yet, and really does help us all a bit.

Rosen gets the question wrong, but I admire the column. A better question is why no national conversation on gender, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign would seem to have been a perfect time to have one.

Rosen tries to explain the passion of Hillary supporters at this late date, when Barack Obama all but has the nomination sewn up.

After establishing her own bona fides, Rosen quickly starts invoking the “sisterhood,” but before your eyes glaze over she actually says something enlightening—by comparing the impact of Bill Clinton’s seemingly racist comments on African-Americans to the impact of other commentators’ openly sexist remarks. It’s the impact, not the intent, that matters, Rosen says; one more layer of slime after all we’ve been through (as females and/or Black folk).

So this “passion” of Clintonites, in the face of bad news, comes from a hope that they can be heard, so that we have a real conversation about gender.

Rosen credits Obama with stimulating a helpful national discussion about race, and I agree; his Philadelphia speech was masterful.

But there’s been nothing similar out of Clinton on what the actual experience of American women is and why we need to go beyond the status quo by electing her.

I wouldn’t want her to give a big Feminist speech (I doubt my mother would like that), but it would be great to have her take a serious look at the lives, experience and history of women in America.

But she doesn’t seem able to give that speech. As smart as she is, I’m not sure she’s able to craft a speech sufficiently balanced, nuanced, principled and generous for a group as huge as “American women.” For all they have in common, they’re also an incredibly diverse group, while the experience of African-Americans is framed on all four sides by slavery and racism.

It’s one thing to decry that we haven’t used this year’s opportunity for a national conversation on gender; it’s another thing to point out that she hasn’t made it happen. She’s actually avoided it.

Look at how she’s run: as a macho, pro-war Commander in Chief; as an anti-war liberal; as a weepy female in New Hampshire and a gun-toting hunter in Pennsylvania. In Indiana she even tried being a boilermaker for a day, and got praised for her “testicular fortitude.”

Her role model in this campaign isn’t Susan B. Anthony, it’s Margaret Thatcher. There’s no other way to explain her vote to invade Iraq on trumped-up claims, propaganda and war fever. Hillary decided long ago that for a woman to be elected, she had to be tough, like Thatcher, a right-wing warmonger who ended up hated by the British.

When Clinton got elected to the Senate, her top priority was landing a seat on the Armed Services Committee.

If we look back on 2001 we can see her strategy for 2008. But it didn’t work. That’s why she’s lost to the anti-war Black guy.

The Clintonites are right that sexism has been a constant undercurrent in the campaign, although they’re way off the charts in blaming it for her woes. Yes, it is demeaning to have airport souvenir shops selling steel-clad Hillary nutcrackers. I saw them a year ago, but the “joke” just filtered down to smalltown Indiana, as a woman friend gleefully told me about a week ago. It may have been mildly amusing 18 months ago, but please.

Who does Hillary have to blame for it, those mean sexists or her own machismo?

That said, there’s no excuse whatever for male hecklers at a campaign rally to interrupt her with an order to “Iron my shirts!” Jeez, what idiots. I’d have admired her if she’d turned to them and said, “I might iron your shirts if you could prove to me you’ve got anything in your pants.”

And yes, there have been too-frequent mentions of her looks, her hair, her pantsuits and all that. It’s undoubtable she faced a double standard—but she wasn’t prepared for it. We’ve also been subjected to occasional outbursts from White males on MSNBC, from Chris Matthews, David Gregory and others. We’ve had TV comedians saying anything for laughs, but that’s their job.

Again, there’s been no national conversation about why it’s in our economic and political interest to eliminate gender bias. The problem with discrimination is, it costs us money. We should be freeing up every girl scientist, astronaut, poet, mathematician, teacher, engineer and entrepreneur to do and be the best they can; we need the contribution of everyone here.

I haven’t heard that out of Hillary Clinton, have you?

Wangled a seat on Armed Services. Voted to invade Iraq and never apologized. Sent 4000 working class Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis to their deaths. All so she could be the first woman president.

Then went weepy. Played the victim card. Played the race card (“working Americans, hardworking Americans, white Americans”). And now has a rabid following of really pissed-off women and the men who love ’em.

My only reply: she let women down.++

Hillary & the RFK Assassination

There is one thing that every African-American has worried about since Barack Obama came on the scene: that he’ll be shot.

In fact, they were initially reluctant to support him, partly so he wouldn’t get hurt.

Newspapers wrote about this, asking whether he was “Black enough.” As if 50% Kenyan blood isn’t enough.

There were also concerns that he wouldn’t get enough White votes to be viable. Black folk didn’t want to get their hopes up about the new kid in town.

But he won in Iowa, one of the Whitest states in the Union. That changed some people’s minds. That got some people excited, across the spectrum of so-called “race.”

(There’s only one human race. We just come in colors, that’s all.)

Obama had some selling to do; he had to introduce himself, make the pitch and close the sale. He is not as good a closer as I would like; but he is one hell of a pitchman. He can sell ice cubes to Inuits.

As the campaign progressed, he sold more and more voters of every race, color, creed and nationality. His win in South Carolina was huge. The Black folk in S.C. believed in him, and that sold African-Americans in other states.

It also raised hopes among White folk that maybe we could end our long national nightmare. He reeled off 10 straight wins, and by huge margins.

Then Hillary Clinton found a way to stop him, in collusion with the media, by raising doubts that he could win among the “White working class.”

She even said this out loud, to the nation’s largest newspaper, citing a questionable report that he was weak among “working Americans, hardworking Americans, White Americans.”

I have written previously how much this statement disgusts me.

But just look at it aesthetically; “working Americans” wasn’t good enough, she had to make them “hardworking.”

And “White Americans”? Is that a club I can join? Is it like the Rotary or the Lions? Who are these White Americans? Why has nobody ever invited me to a meeting? Is there a secret handshake I have to practice? Do they wear special White underwear?

Well, that obscene remark was good enough to give her an 11,000 vote win (out of 1.2 million cast) in Indiana, but not good enough in North Carolina. She won by landslides in West Virginia and Kentucky, but he carried Oregon convincingly.

So now she raises the spectre of assassination.

It isn’t even the first time; she’s done it at least twice before. This time was in front of a newspaper editorial board; there is no chance she didn’t know what she was saying.

(Interestingly, the all-White, all-male editorial board didn’t bat an eye.)

I’ve seen most of that long interview; she was actually quite impressive most of the time. She really does know the details of public policy, and she can be quite charming. The one time they threw her a curveball and she had to back off without committing herself concerned the perennial Western question (this was in South Dakota) of water rights. I was glad she didn’t promise to dam sixty-leven rivers just to pimp for votes.

But assassination! She brought up Robert Kennedy’s assassination as a reason she should stay in the race!

My God, this person is heartless. How dare she mention such a thing.

Hillary Clinton, with all the studied casualness in the world, stuck a dagger in the heart of every Black American, every Baby Boomer, every Kennedy fan and everyone who hopes for racial peace and justice in this country, which is most of us.

She’s worse than a bottom-feeder; she’s a predator.

I remember where I was in June 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was killed: watching ABC News coverage of the California primary. He won, gave a nice little speech, then didn’t even make it out of the hotel.

This was less than two months after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; less than five years after President Kennedy was killed.

It seemed as if the racists would kill everyone who stood for justice; that they’d stop at nothing. That year it felt like the United States would collapse.

And yesterday, Hillary Clinton invoked the very destruction of American society to pimp for votes from South Dakot’ns.

It is time for her to retire from public life. Not just quit the presidential race; she needs to get the hook.++