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StatesideWith Rosalea: Views From The Road

Stateside with Rosalea:

2004 Presidential Election

Views From The Road

By Rosalea Barker

For the past two weeks I've been riding the rails, across the northern tier states, down through the heartland, and along the southern rail route back to LA. I made stops in Milwaukee, Fort Worth, and Oklahoma City for two or three days at a time, meeting all manner of people on the trains and in those cities. I met a retired Michigan auto industry executive, who felt there was no question the US should have gone into Iraq "because Saddam Hussein murdered women and children". A Texas truck driver surprised me by declaring that politicians of both parties are "corrupt", and gave the example of his own father not taking a war disability pension because he'd been proud to serve his country in WWII whereas many politicians - millionaires already - claimed that pension even though they were less disabled than his dad. In Oklahoma City a cab driver said the good ole boys in the state legislature like to keep the state poor, "the way it's always been", resulting in cheap rents but not much spent on education and health care. And on the final leg of my journey, a Southern California Democrat - "not as liberal as I used to be" - said she'd been treated by local townsfolk as if she were a communist for voicing her support for the Clinton national health care plan ten years ago.

The trip gave me a chance to watch cable TV and to read local papers - ones that aren't on the internet but are instrumental in forming opinions at the local level. Papers like The Journal of North Texas, a weekly community paper of the sort that has letters to the editor about the "firing" of a local official and a statement from the local authority saying he was "let go because the majority of the newly elected board wanted a change and for no other reason". On its editorial page, the Journal published syndicated commentary from Ann Coulter - who is making a career out of calling all Democrats traitors - and Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review. In her final piece before leaving for another paper, the editor thanked the Journal's publisher who had said to her when she began, "What is your dream, Kit? Here is your canvas."

In Oklahoma City an independent weekly paper, the Oklahoma Gazette, had commentary from Rick Tepker, entitled "Bush and Democrats both pass the buck". It was about the weapons of mass destruction speech fuss, and Tepker argued that the president is responsible for what he says. Not anybody else in his administration or in the agencies that report to it, nor anyone who works for them. He gave this quotation from Alexander Hamilton in essay No. 70 of "The Federalist" - the papers that are always turned to for interpretation of constitutional law: "It often becomes impossible, amidst mutual accusations, to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure, or a series of pernicious measures, ought really to fall. It is shifted from one to another with so much dexterity, and under such plausible appearances, that the public opinion is left in suspense about the real author."

In that essay, Tepker says, Hamilton explained that the framers of the Constitution chose a single, unitary chief executive to guarantee responsibility and accountability. By shirking responsibility and accountability for the Niger uranium statement in the State of the Union address, Bush has not served himself well, but neither have the Democrats by confusing "scandal-oriented, 'gotcha' politics with real foreign policy analysis", continues Tepker. Frankly, the column was the most sensible thing I've read about this whole ten-day wonder and I'm sorry I couldn't find it online at so you can read it too. A Google search did, however, turn up the information - not included in the paper's by-line, that Tepker is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

It was in OKC, too, that I saw a C-SPAN interview with Carol Moseley Braun in that TV channel's series on presidential hopefuls. It was a call-in interview, and I was surprised at the depth and range of the questions the callers asked from all around the country. She responded well to all manner of questions, even at one point mentioning her time as ambassador to New Zealand, "which is onto its second woman prime minister". If I could have gotten through I would have asked if she would support a move towards proportional representation as a way of having US political institutions more representative of those who live here. On another channel later that day, a pundit said that Moseley Braun and Jesse Jackson are both running into debt in their campaigns and won't last much longer, and that neither will Dennis Kucinich.

One really scary thing I saw, courtesy of a hotel in Fort Worth, was a Christian Broadcasting Network program in which a woman law professor railed against the "religious jihad" liberals in this country are mounting against potential nominees for the Supreme Court. By way of background, a video explained that judicial appointments are far more important than the election of a president because once they're made they last as long as the justices do, and affect the way the country is run for generations. CBN was making a very powerful appeal to its viewers to send politicians to the US Senate who will give the president the votes he needs to put in his appointees. It was the same sort of reasoning a leader of the Texas legislature made a couple of weeks back regarding redistricting in that state - he just wants to make sure the president has the votes he needs to accomplish what he wants to do.

Back home, a mountain of mail and email was awaiting me, including information from the League of Women Voters of California about its recent resolution to ask its national body to reinstate LWV-sponsored nationally televised US presidential candidate forums in 2004, and to ensure "that all candidates who qualify for the national presidency ballot be invited to have equal opportunity to present themselves and their views." And a press release from the Constitution Party regarding a move by Senator Orin Hatch (a Republican) to permit foreigners who have been naturalized to serve as president of the United States. James N. Clymer, chairman of the Constitution Party National Committee said that this is the first self-described 'conservative' of whom he is aware who has embraced the idea - perhaps with Arnold Schwarzenegger in mind. "So, one must wonder, is the GOP so hard up for decent candidates for public office that they have to begin importing them?"

The Constitution Party describes itself as the nation's third largest political party. Being a state governor is generally regarded as a requisite stepping stone on the way to the White House, and Arnie will announce on Wednesday's Tonight Show whether he will run for Governor of California in the recall election. The Tonight Show is, of course, an entertainment show not a political or current affairs one, which pretty much sums up US politics for the people, as opposed to US politics for the politicians, which is all about money.

On the subject of the California recall election, I have an idea that it has nothing whatsoever to do with ousting the present governor, Gray Davis, and everything to do with two other elections. Joe Lieberman's strategist for his Democratic presidential bid is the same person who got Davis re-elected in 2002 - perhaps he will be recruited back to the recall campaign at a crucial time. And one of the reasons the San Francisco electoral officer gives for not implementing a voter-mandated instant runoff election for this November's mayoral election is that his workers can't cope with that AND the recall election in October.

As Davis said on national television earlier this week, the recall campaign got under way just a few months after his election, which is about the time that voters in San Francisco approved a ballot measure to use instant runoff voting for mayoral elections. Believe me, I have seen enough of US politics now to know that it is totally plausible for both parties to work together at some very high level to keep from losing the power this two-party system gives them, while maintaining a public appearance of being at odds with one another. Even though local body elections are non-partisan, the candidates are endorsed by political parties and it is the candidates endorsed by either the Democrats or the Republicans who usually win.

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