Sunday, June 29, 2008


This commentary appeared in The Fargo Forum on June 29, 2008.

I learned as a child that patriotism is love of our country and devotion to the ideals we believe in. Patriots are people who act courageously for their country. I love America, but never thought of myself as a patriot—that title was reserved for those who sacrificed greatly for the rest of us—usually on the battlefield.

Somehow over the years the definition and symbols of patriotism changed for some to a narrow and shallow aberration disrespectful to true patriots: lapel pins, polarization, empty swagger, artificial conflicts, and a refusal to admit mistakes or errors of policy.

Patriotism became a bludgeon used to intimidate anyone who criticized these pseudo-patriots or their policies in an effort to silence dissent and to deceive, frighten, and manipulate citizens. Even obvious patriots like John McCain and John Kerry were not immune from vile personal attacks. Concomitantly mediocre political leadership became the norm, and our nation’s problems grew in number and complexity as gridlock prevails in Washington.

This year’s presidential election promises to be definitive for America. We face many intertwined problems that demand an end to obstruction: two wars, a recession, energy costs, an overheated planet, a health care crisis, unlawful immigration, and a loss of respect around the world.

Already the dark side of patriotism rears its ugly head as some try to frighten us about Barack Obama. Those who demonize him cry out: “He doesn’t wear a lapel pin! He’s not patriotic! His middle name is Hussein! He’s not like us, and his wife hates America!” Such foolishness. We can be better people.

Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate got it right, “Elections ought to be about elevating the best ideas and exposing the worst ones—not engaging in character assassination with half truths, innuendoes, and disputable ‘internet facts.’”

We need a broader and deeper definition of patriotism today—a “well-considered patriotism” that Alexis De Tocqueville wrote of in “Democracy in America” that is rational, creative, and enlightened.

Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer wrote an important new book, “The True Patriot.”
True patriots, they wrote, “believe that freedom from responsibility is selfishness, freedom from sacrifice is cowardice, freedom from tolerance is prejudice, freedom for stewardship is exploitation, and freedom from compassion is cruelty.” Each of us can get engaged and give of ourselves for love of country—to be a patriot—not just on the battlefield but also in everyday life.

We can pay attention, become informed, get involved, and tell the truth.
We can see through lies, distortions, partial truths, political spin, misrepresentations, and intellectual dishonesty. We can say “NO” to mock patriotism, unenlightened egoism, and its selfish ends. We can stand up to those who try to corrupt our political process.

The problem in the world is not the liars, the manipulators, or the fear-mongers. The issue is the good people who have gone to sleep. They need to wake up, stand up, and speak up against those who appeal to the most irrational of our fears. We can renew our public morality as we redefine what it means to be a patriot. Future generations demand this of us.

When someone sends us a dishonest email about a candidate, we can refuse to pass the message on and return it with criticism. We can refuse to listen to radio and watch television that tear people down. We can write letters to the editor and confront intellectual dishonesty on the editorial pages. We can make this election about ideas and solutions instead of character assassination. We cannot afford to be fooled again by the politics of fear-mongering and manipulation. We need aware, informed, and courageous citizens who raise our public standards.

Robert Kennedy said in 1968, “I am dissatisfied with our society.” Eighty percent of Americans feel the same today 40 years later. Kennedy stood for economic fairness, a thoughtful foreign policy, and justice and opportunity for all—principles in need of renewal today.

A well considered patriotism loves country always and from this tough love of country sees clearly and confronts our nation’s flaws and finds creative solutions to the problems that seem insolvable.

As the 4th of July approaches each of us might reflect on what patriotism means to us. Patriotism belongs to us all and each of us can be a patriot. If we say no to character assassination and attack our nation’s problems with the fervor of a patriot’s love, we will be energized, and we will evolve America.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


This commentary appeared in The Fargo Forum on Sunday, June 15, 2008.

Approximately half the states may be competitive in November’s presidential election. Barack Obama plans a 50 state campaign to take advantage of changed demographics, superior fund-raising, and his unmatched ground organization. A landslide Obama victory is possible.

I believe that Obama will break away from the recent statistical tie with John McCain and win an overwhelming majority of electoral and popular votes.


Brand--Obama will solidify his image: an inspirational candidate with a vision for the renewal of America that will “turn the page” to a new generation of leaders. His style, message, and the momentousness of his quest will swell passion for his campaign to more Americans and will bring out contributors and voters in record numbers. McCain will try to brand himself as a reformer with a vision that conserves the best of the past. But he cannot escape George Bush whose brand is one of corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent leadership. Only 28% approve of Bush’s leadership, 82% believe the country is going in the wrong direction, a majority of American want our troops withdrawn from Iraq, and 87% believe the economy is getting worse. McCain cannot separate himself: his Senate votes were consistent with Bush’s positions 95% of the time over the past year.
Issues—Obama is, I believe, on the right side of the issues of Iraq, the economy, health care, and global warming. Those who wonder what change Obama advocates need to become informed citizens.
Temperament—Obama models grace, patience, and calm under fire. He can take a political punch and can counterpunch fast and effectively. He will be tougher on McCain than he was on Hillary Clinton, a fellow democrat. McCain is an angry man easily provoked by Obama who has political killer instincts. McCain’s anger should concern us. Unable to win on issues or personality, McCain will take the low road and try to demonize Obama. Doing so makes McCain appear small and ungracious. McCain comes off as an immature and grumpy granddad, which raises concerns about his age.
Leadership--Leaders have a vision for the future that inspires people to get involved. Obama’s inclusive campaign is a new model and foreshadows how he will govern. His grassroots organization, organic and networked, makes use of the internet, volunteers, and social networks to create commitment and exemplify his leadership style. McCain is a rebel who reacts against problems and looks to the past for solutions but lacks a creative vision for a new future. So far his campaign has stumbled and fumbled failing to get even the basics of campaigning right.
Transform or reform—some change is reformation: putting a new façade on an old building but underneath the plumbing and wiring remain defective. This is John McCain and the Republican Party. To transform is to bring about fundamental and sustainable change in values, practices, and culture. This is Obama’s goal and what America needs.
Experience and Judgment—John McCain has been a Washington insider for decades. What has he learned? Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote that Bush lied to the American people about Iraq. Why didn’t McCain’s experience give him the insight and judgment to see through the Bush propaganda and faulty decision-making process? Obama demonstrated superior judgment in opposing the Iraq war from the beginning and has consistently shown that judgment during his primary campaign. Obama will challenge McCain on foreign policy and demonstrate his superior intellect and insight into a changed world. McCain’s thinking reflects his lack of intellectual vigor and his attachment to a military worldview that mirrors our historical past, not our present or future.

The 2008 presidential election is about Barack Obama. Americans recognize the need for dramatic change in direction from how we engage with the rest of the world to how we educate our children, to how we give every American the opportunity for success, to our stewardship of the planet. We are tired of saber-rattling and fear-mongering. John McCain cannot see the depth of change needed. He wants to change by reinventing the past—never a good strategy.

Obama’s challenge is to introduce himself to more Americans and to gain their trust and confidence—no small task in light of his newness and Reverend Wright. If he can do that, he will be our next president with the electoral mandate—up and down the ticket--needed to bring about the changes we need as a nation.