Wednesday, November 04, 2009

November 4, 2009--The Ladies of Forest Trace: Now That Would Be Change

The phone woke us. The LED clock on the cable box said 11:45. As usual when there was a call at such a late hour, I assumed it was bad news. From the emergency room in Florida, or worse.

“Answer it,” Rona said in a sleep-husky voice. She sensed my worry and hesitation. “Not answering it will not make the reality—whatever it is—go away.

And so I did. Trembling with concern. It was in fact from Florida; but on the phone was my-very-much-alive, more than 101-year-old mother.

“Have you been watching Anderson?”

Relieved but confused I managed to say, “Are you all right mom?”

“If you mean my health, yes; but if you mean politically, no. A very big no. The girls were right over dinner. CNN just declared what’s-his-name in New Jersey the governor.”

“Christie? It wasn’t looking good for Corzine when I feel asleep. After McDonnell won in Virginia I was so depressed that I shut the TV off.”

“And your mayor, Bloomberger, it looks like he may lose, though I think he’ll squeak through. Not that I like him. Enough with him already. But even it he wins it’s the same kind of news.”

Knowing I would have trouble falling back asleep and with a big day ahead of me on Wednesday, I tried to encourage her to get whatever it was that was on her chest off her chest so I could try to get some rest. “OK, you have my attention, why is it the same kind of news?”

“Remember how we felt almost exactly a year ago today?”

This was the very kind of elliptical conversation I was hoping to avoid and, a bit snappy, said, “You tell me you are having difficulty remembering things from less than 50 years ago, so how can you expect me to remember something like that?”

Rona was gesturing to me not to take that tone with my mother and so I quickly added, “Sorry, mom. You caught at a bad time. We were just getting to sleep. So tell me what . . .”

“It will only take a minute. What I see going on, and this is what they are saying on Anderson,” I realized then that she was referring to Anderson Cooper on CNN, “is that people are so frustrated and angry that there is a powerful anti-government sentiment in the country. And not just among those tea party people. Thus every incumbent, or anyone who feels like an incumbent, is in big trouble.”

“I agree with that,” but couldn’t restrain myself from adding, “And to tell me this you called me at midnight?”

“It’s not midnight yet. Check your clock. Maybe you didn’t turn it back right last weekend.”

Put in my place, I said, “Sorry mom. You’re right it is a big day and I know what you mean about last year. How we were feeling when Barack Obama was elected. How hopeful and inspired we all felt. Or at least most of us.”

“My point exactly because, no matter how they will spin it tonight or tomorrow morning, the big loser last night was the biggest incumbent—Obama himself.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that,” though I had been feeling that during the evening as the results pored in.

“Just take a look at how big the numbers are that the winners got. I forget what they call it on TV.”

“I think you mean the margins, the margins of victory. By how many percentage points the winners won.”

“Yes, them. In New Jersey, in Virginia, and for sure in New York City, the pollsters got it wrong. New Jersey was predicted to be neck-and-neck and he won by what nearly 10 points; in Virginia he was going to win by 10 to 15 points but got 20; and look at what happened to your Bloomberger . . .”

Bloomberg, mom, Michael Bloomberg.”

“Yes, him. He was supposed to win by 15 points and it looks to me that he’ll be lucky to get five.”

“I agree, that’s amazing. How the polling people missed how people would vote.”

“With all respects, that’s not what’s amazing.”

“Go on.”

“It’s not that they miscalculated, it’s that all the incumbents did so poorly. Everyone who was in office or had money or was associated with Wall Street—that would be Corzine and Bloomberg. Or whose party was in power—that would help explain why the Republican won so easily in Virginia with the Democrats having so much power in Washington.”

“But what happened in upstate New York? When I was falling asleep it looked as if the Democrat was winning.”

“I don’t think they counted all the votes yet. It’s very close, but it looks to me as if he will win. That Republican woman’s name remained on the ballot even though she withdrew, and I think enough people are still voting for her that that Democrat, Owens I think his name is, will manage to win.”

“And if he does, and it looks as if he will,” I had turned the TV while speaking with my mother and saw from the still-incomplete results that she was as usual right—the Bill Owens would likely win, “if he wins won’t this contradict your theory—isn’t he an Obama person?”

“Yes and no.”


“They said on TV that Obama carried that district last year and so he may still be popular there. Though like everywhere else, less so. But to me the real story up there is how the Republicans made defeating the incumbent from their own party into a national crusade. That Sarah Palin and the governor from Minnesota who has no neck . . .”


“Him. They went up there, or at least send messages and money to that district, to defeat a member of their own party.”


“And the voters up there rejected this out-of-state interference in their local affairs.”


“And so this is another case of the public not wanting people who they see to be in power telling them what to do. It was a rejection of that.”

“But as we said Obama on that district last year. Doesn’t this maybe mean that he is still popular in upstate New York? Less so of course; but perhaps this was a bit of a referendum on him?”

“I’m sure that’s the way his people will try to interpret it. But as you know, I have my own views.”

By then fully awake and resigned to not getting much sleep, I asked, “And those are?”

“That they should, if they are smart, the Obama people should take this as an early wakeup call, if they haven’t had a few already. A wakeup call about how frustrated and angry people are with anyone in power, anyone in government. Very much now including Obama.”

“I agree with this. He may still be personally popular, but all the polls and other evidence show how people are becoming doubters. Did you see that article in the New York Times two days ago about people who voted for him in Iowa, where he was launched, how they are feeling disenchanted?” (Linked below.)

“I did see that and was not surprised. Most people here at Forest Trace who voted for him are feeling the same way. ‘Where’s the change?’ the ladies are asking. Including tonight at dinner before I came up stairs to watch the results.”

“I’m of course hearing more and more of this in very liberal New York City.”

“Isn’t a year enough, or the ten months he’s been in office, to have evidence that his promises to bring about real change are being realized? Or that we are at least on the right track? I know what you’re about to say—how difficult it is to get anything through Congress, even one controlled by Democrats, maybe because it is controlled by Democrats. That Obama can’t just make a wonderful speech and they will all vote to reform health care or clean up the banks or the environment.”

I indeed was about to say that, but instead added, “This could all change in a few months. Especially if they do pass health care legislation. But I know what you are going to say, that it is not likely to be the kind of real change we need—that the primary winners will be the insurance companies, just like Wall Street was the big winner from his bailout program.”

“Yes, that is exactly what I was about to say. But only part of it.”

“So what’s the rest?” I noticed that it was well past midnight and that Democrat Owens had in fact won up in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.

“All the girls here know that no president these days can get Congress to do what he wants them to do. It doesn’t work that way. We can live with that. No one here is younger than 80 and so we’ve seen a lot to disappoint us. But when it comes to foreign affairs, when it comes to being commander in chief it’s another story.”

“Go on,” though I knew where she was headed with this.

“You remember what Ronald Reagan, who I so disliked, not personally of course, you remember what he did with the airline pilots?”

“I think you mean the air traffic controllers.”

“Yes, them. He had been president for only a few weeks or maybe months and when they went out on strike, as government employees he fired every single one of them. Now do not misunderstand me—I am a strong union person and I hated what he did only to show how tough he was. But he also showed what he stood for. I disagreed with that too, but when he did that it was clear to everyone where he stood on issues. And of course that he was not to be taken lightly. He may have been smiling and charming, I’ll grant him that, but he also showed he was not to be fooled around with.”


“And now Obama is faced with what to do in Afghanistan. By taking so much time to figure things out, and from things he has already said about why we have to be fighting there, he has raised what he is about to decide to such a height that what he eventually announces and does will define his presidency. Maybe even in history. As what Johnson did in Vietnam. And Bush in Iraq. From this I suspect you know where I’m going with this.”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“We know what the generals want. They always want more soldiers to do more fighting. We know this again from Vietnam. And what have presidents always done, or at least most of the time--to look strong they always give them what they want and since Vietnam at least this has proven to almost always be the wrong decision.

“So now we have Obama’s generals—and that’s who they are: his—we have them asking for what 60,000 more troops. Forget for the moment where we’ll get them. But to Obama this should sound like déjà vu again. Shouldn’t it? He knows his history. No one says he doesn’t.”

“He is for sure very smart and well read.”

“Then what will he do? It looks from what I am hearing and reading—though my eyesight isn’t what it used to be—that he is looking for some sort of compromise. Maybe to agree to 20,000. But, and this is my point and then I’ll let you get back to sleep, this is not something to seek a compromise about. With Congress when it comes to something like heath care you have to make deals. I hate it but about something so important that’s the reality. But about sending our beautiful young people to fight and die is totally different.

“I suspect, or at least hope, that he understands this. That it is not a decision about which he should try to make everyone happy, which seems to be his inclination.”

“Again, I ask ‘and’?”

“And he should say no. No more troops. He should stand up to his generals, as Johnson should have, including letting them quit if they want to, and reject their recommendations. In fact, he should say, we’re going to begin to bring soldiers home from there. He should tell us the truth—he can do it and we can handle it—that we cannot win a war of this kind and so we are going to reduce our forces there and fight against terrorists, just terrorists, in different ways. More through the Green Berets and using those robots, or whatever they are.”

“Drones. But they kill so many civilians.”

“What in war, even against just the terrorists, doesn’t? It’s dirty. It is and always was. But you’re distracting me.”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“Think, if he did this, what it would mean. First, we would be doing the right thing. But then wouldn’t it also help fulfill some of the hope that he raised during the campaign? For change. It would show that he isn’t about business as usual. Yes, he would be saying, when it comes to things like health care I have to deal with Congress and lobbyists and big money interests; but when it comes to the way we act in the world, especially when it involves the lives of our young people and the lives of others, I am a different kind of president. One that not only believes in change but also, more important, acts as if I do. Can you imagine what that would mean? How it would make us feel? Even if we are still worried about the economy and our family’s future.”

“I agree, that would be magnificent. And, as you say, it’s the right thing to do. And, also maybe then I would be able to get back to sleep!”

“Pleasant dreams my darling. And remember, I love you more than anything.”


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home