Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I watched as the television cameras scanned the faces at the Democratic National Convention. I saw men and women, old and young, African American, Latino, and Asian. I checked out the convention demographics:

White: 56.7%; African American: 24.5%; Latino: 11.8%; Men: 50%; Women: 50%

I watched the Republican National Convention. I saw mostly middle-aged white men. Their demographics:

White: 93%; African American: 2%; Latino: 5%; Men: 68%; Women: 32%

The U.S. statistics are: White: 74%; African American: 13.4%; Latino: 14.8%

The Republican Party is a monoculture.

Steven Nachmanovitch in his book, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art:

The conformity that is taught by the big school that surrounds us resembles what biologists call monoculture. If you walk in a wild field you see dozens of different species of grasses, mosses and other turf in each square yard, as well as a rich supply of tiny animals. This is nature’s insurance that changes in climate and environment will be matched by requisite variety in the plant life. But if you walk in a domesticated field you will see only one or a few species. Domesticated animals and plants are genetically uniform because they are bred for a purpose. Diversity and flexibility are bred out in exchange for maximizing certain variables that suit our purpose. But if conditions change, the species is locked into a narrow range of variety. Monoculture leads invariably to a loss of options, which leads to instability.

A metaphorical monoculture in society or a political party is a group where everyone looks alike and sees, does, wears, reads, watches, and thinks the same thing. The Republican Party composed primarily of white men cannot sustain itself as a vibrant system in a society that will be 54% minority by 2050.

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks provided an example of the Republican monoculture in action. Referencing the failure to pass the “recovery bill” on September 29, 2008, he wrote: “House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.”

John McCain tries to frame Barack Obama as an outsider, not really American in his values, not one of us: urban, subversive and even unpatriotic.

Obama’s story is the quintessential American dream in our rapidly approaching country of minorities: Born of an immigrant black father and a Kansas white woman, raised by a single mother and white working class grandparents, this bi-racial man rose to great heights on his merits and courage alone. His story is the best of America, and he reflects America’s near-term future: a nation that grows more racially and ethnically diverse daily.

Obama is like ‘the rest of us.” He just isn’t like the Republican Party. Obama represents the future of America--if not this election, then soon.

Republicans would be wise to understand this American future before they try to govern again. Instead of running fearfully to a romanticized past (Sarah Palin and white small-town America), they should move boldly to the future and embrace America’s diversity. Along the way, they must, as Brooks wrote, “…project a conservatism that emphasizes society as well as individuals, security as well as freedom, a social revival and not just an economic one and the community as opposed to the state.”

Republicans need to reinvent themselves for the future—not artificially as McCain is trying to do to win an election but for real.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


This commentary appeared in The Fargo Forum on Sunday, September 28, 2008.

I heard the term “low information voter” recently. Some definitions:

Individuals who are not knowledgeable and vote anyway, and
Those who rely on talk radio and less-than-factual hearsay from friends and family members to shape their political decisions.

Low information voters were, I believe, deceived by the “compassionate conservative” in 2000 (fool me once, shame on you) and were scared by “the decider” in 2004 and re-elected the worst president in our history. Republicans counted on their ignorance—the country paid the price (fool me twice, shame on me).

They are the folks John McCain targets with dishonest television ads—strongly criticized by even conservative columnists. They are the people who pass along and then parrot the lies in emails that tell us Barack Obama is a Muslim, a friend to terrorists, and isn’t like the rest of us white folks. The McCain camp counts on their mindlessness. Democrats do this too but pale in comparison to Rovian Republicans.

Thoughtless voters got hysterical about the invented Sarah Palin—a symbol of a romanticized past--before they knew a single thing about her experience, her belief system, or her policies, and some hastily decided to vote for McCain—no feminist he. Such silliness is wishful thinking at its worst—the regression of maturity. The solution to our nation’s problems isn’t a fearful return to the past—the remedy is a bold step into the future.

Ignorance isn’t reserved for low information voters. Some people have much data but little insight. Delegates at the Republican National Convention thumped their chests and yelled “drill, drill, drill.” Thomas Friedman, columnist at the New York Times, said that was like screaming “carbon paper, carbon paper, carbon paper” as the computer replaced the typewriter. As Obama said, “They take pride in being ignorant.”

We are told that these folks want a president they can relate to—someone like them. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said about Obama, “With people who have a lot of gifts, it’s hard for people to identify with them. Barack Obama is handsome. He’s incredibly bright. He’s incredibly well spoken, and he’s incredibly successful—not exactly the easiest guy in the world to identify with.” The most recent financial crisis should tell all but the most oblivious of us that “smart is in.”

I don’t want the neighbors next door to be my president and vice president nor them me. I want my president to be smarter than me. I’d like him to be more mature and even-tempered than me too. I don’t expect to relate to him or for him to relate to me. I want him to solve the problems we face: two wars, global warming, an economic meltdown, and universal health care for starters.

A role of citizenship is to pay attention to what is going on—to be mindful. Thomas Jefferson said that an enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a nation. Self-government is not possible unless citizens are educated enough to hold leaders accountable. New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks wrote, “Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.”

The elections this year are important and become more important weekly as crisis follows crisis. Will a large segment of voters be fooled again? Will the least informed or the least discerning again be manipulated by fear and nonsense to vote against their and the nation’s self-interest? Or will they become widely informed and put country first?

Obama expresses great faith in Americans to get this election right—to vote based on the potentially catastrophic issues facing the nation. McCain has a more cynical view of the wisdom of the electorate.

Fool us three times, and we deserve our fate.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


This commentary appeared in The Fargo Forum on Sunday September 14, 2008.

John McCain’s message in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:

"I was transformed when a prisoner of war. Now, 40 years later, my party has failed in its stewardship of America. We didn’t change Washington; we were changed by Washington. We became corrupt, out of touch, and incompetent. I am again transformed. After being part of the problem for the past 25 years, I am now a change agent and will rise above party and transform Washington. Trust me."


McCain acknowledged in his acceptance speech that America is in decline.

This decline takes place in a larger context of global warming and other daunting environmental challenges that call us to change how we live on this planet.

Barack Obama says repeatedly that we face “the fierce urgency of now.” We need massive change—today. How does renewal happen?

In decline, change grows increasingly difficult as the decline deepens and downward momentum accelerates. Leaders, heroes in more successful times, lose credibility in failure (George Bush), energy is low, apathy and lowered motivation prevail (congressional gridlock and public cynicism), and resources may be exhausted (a national debt of $8.9 trillion in 2007). It takes great leadership and effort to lift a nation from decline and most fail and civilizations die or fade to a mere shadow of their more glorious days.

Today America’s future is unclear—at home and abroad. Old paradigms and new ideas collide; we are in a place of confusion, uncertainty, fear and anxiety; a place of no rules; and a place of conflict between the status quo (McCain) and the new, emerging vision for the future (Obama). We feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and we seek quick-fix solutions--drill for more oil, Sarah Palin for vice president and gas tax holidays. We should be saying: invent, invent, invent. That would be real change.

Energy and commitment are needed to renew our nation. Experience in the old ways is not helpful—often it is detrimental. What is needed is a leader with the vision and courage to step into the unknown and learn as he proceeds—just like Lewis and Clark and explorers throughout time have done.

The leader needed to guide a nation through such renewal will be an optimistic and hopeful visionary with a clear strategy for transformation, a reflective leader who engages the nation, adapts to new information and circumstances, and who involves and inspires citizens. Barack Obama is that leader.

The key insight to understand: McCain is a rebel—rebels react against something—they solve problems generally with the flip-side of “either/or.” Soon the solutions are new problems—the flip-side of the one fixed.

Good and great leaders share one characteristic: the continually evolve a vision to make life better. Obama is a leader--a person who leads towards a vision of a new future—a new creation that makes the best of the “either” AND the “or.” Creativity is the answer to today’s issues, not problem-solving.

I don’t trust John McCain.

His effort to transform himself is disingenuous and too late. He is part of the problem and has lost credibility along with his president and party. His convention acceptance speech was an opportunity to convince Americans that he is capable of changing the system he is a part of. His challenge was to offer a compelling vision for America and show us that he can see beyond small fixes to the status-quo. He failed to do that.

Instead he focused on the past and offered a list of recycled Republican ideas. He offered reform which is the equivalent of putting a new façade on an old building—it looks good but underneath the wiring and plumbing remains outdated.

John McCain would lead America deeper into decline.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Have you ever listened to someone talk persuasively and felt confused: suddenly up was down, right was wrong, and you felt the rug was pulled out from under your experience of life?

Cognitive Dissonance is the discomfort we feel whenever what we know, value, or believe differs from what we experience. Sometimes the dissonance is the result of intentional manipulation by another person with ulterior motives. I call this “crazymaking.”

A few of the crazymakers repeated mindlessly on opinion pages by the minions of the far-right:

1. Obama can give a great speech but lacks details and, therefore, substance.

Obama is a brilliant and thoughtful thinker—at a new level in American politics. He is deep, broad, and nuanced. He understands that most things that matter are not either/or, black/white, or good/bad but are gray, complex, and both/and.

The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan advocacy group dedicated to balancing the budget examined Obama’s and McCain’s policy proposals and found Obama’s much more detailed.

A Washington Post editorial (August 25, 2008) said, “The suggestion that Mr. Obama is all rhetorical fluff is mistaken. In the course of his meticulously planned campaign, he has laid out a set of detailed policy positions—more detailed, in some key areas, such as health care, than Mr. McCain’s. He has set broad presidential priorities: getting troops out of Ira; expanding health-care coverage; promoting alternative energy and dealing with climate change. He is smart and thoughtful.”

2. Obama is motivated to be president by personal ambition not patriotism

John McCain is fond of saying he puts country first with the implication that Obama doesn’t. McCain wrote in 2002 that he sought the presidency not as some grand act of patriotism or because he wanted to implement political reforms he believed in but because it had become his ambition to be president.

Can any serious person believe that picking Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential candidate was putting country first?

3. Obama is an outsider, not really American in his values, not one of us, and is unpatriotic.

This is dark code for several things: Obama is black, he’s uppity and not part of the political “good old boys” club. In other words, he is not a middle-aged white guy from the Viet Nam era—neither a war hero (McCain, Kerry) nor a draft-dodger (Bush, Cheney, Clinton).

Obama’s story is the quintessential American dream: Born of an immigrant black father and a Kansas white woman, raised by a single mother and white working class grandparents, this bi-racial man rose to great heights on his merits and courage alone. His story is the best of America and he reflects America’s near-term future: a nation that grows more racially and ethnically diverse and a nation that will be 54% minority by 2050.

4. Other crazymakers: Obama is the most liberal senator (actually he’s a pragmatist), just another politician (just better at it than most), has no accomplishments (really? A black man as a presidential nominee—no small accomplishment), McCain is a maverick (who votes with Bush 90% of the time), and McCain is a straight-talker (who panders to whoever he is talking to at the moment). A couple more: McCain is a change agent and Palin is a reformer.

We are now fully in the theatre of the absurd where cognitive dissonance will be a constant companion and much of the information coming our way dishonest. The McCain campaign wages the most deceitful campaign in modern history. Immaturity flourishes in grown ups. The self-righteous extremists on the right will demonize Obama to retain power and divert attention from their lack of solutions to our problems.

Is this how we want to elect our next president?

Thoughtful people can have legitimate concerns about Obama as they can about McCain. Mature voters will pay close attention, ponder the assertions, weigh the evidence, separate crazymakers from legitimate issues, and seek the truth as to the right course for America.


John McCain doesn’t use a computer; he doesn’t know how to log on to the internet.

Some other things he may not know:

Humanity increases the search for knowledge by 50% a year,
There are 6 billion google searches a month,
Over two trillion text messages will be sent in 2008,
If MySpace were a country, it would be the 11th largest,
More information is added to the internet in one week than was available from prehistoric times through the 19th century,
By 2013 supercomputers may exceed the computational capacity of the entire human race,
By 2048 the power of a $1,000 computer will probably exceed the computational power of the entire human species,
This capability will create a world of instant communications and instant access to all knowledge for virtually all of humanity,
The fight for the future will be for the best education, best technology, and best business value.

Today computing power rides a curve of exponential change unprecedented in human history, and the exponential change itself will continue to accelerate. Moore’s Law states that the power of information technology will double every 18 months. In 2002, the 27th doubling occurred. A doubling means that the next step is as tall as all the previous steps put together. The potential systemic impact of such power translated to new technologies (genetics, robotics, nanotechnology) and on all of life staggers the mind.

We are on the verge of an almost unimaginable future: what scientists call the Singularity. At the point of Singularity technology evolves so rapidly that our everyday world no longer makes sense. We cannot escape this “perfect storm” of chaos (order without predictability), nor can we go back to an earlier time; we must go through this global transformation.

Author Vernor Vinge wrote of the essence of the Singularity: A super humanity--artificially created. Soon machines smarter than the human brain will be created according to Vinge.

Vinge wrote that this change will be comparable to the rise of human life on earth. This will be a unique transition with profound systemic implications for humanity fraught with unpredictability and unintended consequences.

Will we create a new heaven on earth with all problems solved? Or will a new hell on earth emerge where the technology goes bad and the machines rule and humans become their slaves? Or will life continue as it has in the past—imperfect and creative--just with new complexities to cope with?

Are our children prepared for this world?

McCain’s lack of computer skills is less a practical issue than a reflection of a worldview from another time—a worldview that no longer solves problems for America. His is a cold-war worldview that no longer fits the world of today.

The world is in the midst of a great shift. The distribution of American power is shifting in most all dimensions—industrial, financial, educational, social, cultural. The black/white thinking of McCain makes no sense in the world of chaos theory, quantum physics, and a diverse, alive, interconnected, and interdependent world and global economy where many nations are powerful and are global leaders. The world is in need of wisdom and intellect along with computer skills.

In his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, McCain said that he understands the world. Can a man who does not understand the internet understand the world?

I believe that a well-intended McCain will lead America deeper into decline and mediocrity because he doesn’t understand the world of the Singularity. Will we follow blindly?

McCain lives in a world that no longer exists. He is a “Smith Corona” typewriter in an iPhone world. Do we want our future in his hands?

Friday, September 05, 2008


This commentary appeared in The Fargo Forum on Sunday September 7, 2008.

Let’s put things in perspective: The United States faces many problems that threaten our way of life, our standing in the world, and the planet itself: two wars, a recession, an energy quagmire, an overheated planet, a health care crisis, unlawful immigration, and a loss of respect around the world.

Thoughtful Americans agree that this election is one of the most important in American history—the problems are massive, the threats to us are real, the differences between the candidates are great, and our future as a nation may depend on the choice we make for our next president. We need our best and brightest people to lead us into an uncertain future.

In these critical times and with John McCain’s age and past health problems, he called on Sarah Palin to be his vice-president--a first-term governor of Alaska who he met once before he offered her the job— a cynical display of gender politics—a political gimmick and a “laugh our loud” moment that insulted the seriousness of the times in which we live.

Have you ever experienced something and felt confused: suddenly up was down, right was wrong, sane was insane, and you felt the rug was pulled out from under your experience of life? Cognitive Dissonance is the discomfort we feel whenever what we know, value, or believe differs from what we experience.

I felt disoriented when I read that John McCain called Sarah Palin his soul mate. I felt like up was down when Cindy McCain said that Palin has national security experience because Alaska is close to Russia. I felt disoriented with I listened to Republican leaders assert with straight faces that Palin has “good judgment” and is qualified to be president on day one—a requirement McCain said was his first priority in selecting a vice president. Suddenly the Republican attacks on Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience became disingenuous.

I think David Gergen, advisor to many presidents, felt crazy too: “But what surprises me so much is that John McCain again and again and again has said the transcendent issue of our times is the fight against terrorism and that we live in a dark, dangerous world. And the most important thing is to have a commander in chief that’s ready on day one. So, here to reach out—and he’s criticized Barack Obama as not being ready—to reach out to Sarah Palin who has no national security experience, no national security exposure, and say you’re my standby and I’m 72 years old and I’ve had some bouts with melanoma….”

I began to feel more aligned with reality when Palin’s mother-in-law—in a moment of candor--said, “I'm not sure what she brings to the ticket other than she's a woman and a conservative. Well, she's a better speaker than McCain," Faye Palin said with a laugh.

I felt a little saner when I read a commentary in the Anchorage Daily News: “We're not sure she's a competent governor of Alaska. And yet McCain, who is no spring chicken, has decided she's the best choice to replace him as president if he should win and then fall afoul of the Grim Reaper. Sarah Palin?

Americans are not as dumb as politicians think: A Gallup poll shows that Palin is seen as less qualified to be president than any vice presidential selection since Dan Quayle in 1988.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was kind when she described McCain’s first presidential decision as “a strange choice.” I think it is an irresponsible act of by a man incredibly immature for his 72 years. McCain put his country last at a moment in history that calls for Americans to put excellence first. I hope for the good of the country that this folly fails.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Pastor Rick Warren asked Barack Obama and John McCain about evil at Saddleback Church on August 16, 2008.

WARREN: How about the issue of evil? Does evil exist?

OBAMA: Evil exists. I think we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil, sadly, on the streets of our cities. We see evil in parents who viciously abuse their children. It has to be confronted squarely. It is important for us to have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil because a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.

MCCAIN: Defeat it. If I’m president of the United States, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama Bin Laden, and bring him to justice. I will do that, and I know how to do it. I will get that guy. Of course evil must be defeated. We are facing the transcendent challenge of the 21st century—radical Islamic extremism. And we’re going to defeat this evil.

M. Scott Peck, M.D. defined evil as the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion in order to avoid facing their own failures and spiritual growth. Evil is the intentional infliction of harm on people. All of us do bad things--that is part of being imperfect human beings. That does not make us immoral people. Evil people are distinguished not by their sins but by the subtlety, persistence, and consistency of their sins. Wicked people kill the spirit of those they blame for their own deficiencies.

Healthy people see their mistakes, are responsible for the effects of their acts, and try to become as aware as they can of the impact of their behavior on others. Evil people, with an excess of self-esteem, deny their imperfections, run from their guilt, and perpetuate their cruel behavior.

We can see evil all around us, as Obama stated, not just in our enemies (real and imagined) abroad where McCain focused: parents who neglect and abuse their children, men who emotionally, physically, and sexually abuse women, supervisors who routinely mistreat employees, and in racists, sexists, and those who use rank in any form to disrespect others.

A common characteristic of evil people is scapegoating. Because they think so highly of themselves (with little to justify such an opinion), they must attack anyone who criticizes them. Often, in their own righteousness, they project what they don’t like about themselves onto others. Political leaders frequently demonize and scapegoat their opponents and other nations to justify violent and oppressive actions. Scapegoating allows evil to masquerade as good.

Men and women in business suits perpetuate more evil by far than most criminals in our jails—something I learned quickly as a young Secret Service agent in Chicago, Illinois. Our most dastardly people dress well, go to work on time, pay their taxes, coach their kid’s sports teams, and outwardly appear to be above approach. Unable to be good they excel at appearing to be good. And, the scapegoaters they are, they would be shocked and offended deeply to be characterized as inhuman. Evil people like to think of themselves as victims.

As long as people are imperfect, we cannot eradicate evil. We must, however, confront it with courage and humility as Obama said. For when each of us looks the other way in evil’s presence, we collude with it. We need to make wise moral judgments, and we must judge others. But before we do, we must look within our own hearts and see our own capacity for evil.

What do Obama’s and McCain’s words about evil say about what their focus as president would be?