I finally got to hear Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention. Wasn’t that something! (I’m looking forward to Barack’s and Michelle’s and other’s as well—but I’m always a few days behind the news!). Amongst the many things that struck me:
- The Length. I’m so sick of these TV debates with 3 minutes on each side and nothing of substance ever gets said or more thoroughly explored. Back in the days of the Lincoln/Douglas debate, they went on for three or four hours, then took a break for dinner and came back for another few hours. And people stayed and listened!
Clinton’s 50 minutes was short by that standard, but long enough to follow several trains of
thought and develop a point of view. Might we recover a standard of discourse that can actually
handle this level of depth? As a teacher, I’m always asking my students to support their point of
view, do the necessary research and be prepared to back it up. Clinton did.
- The Arithmetic: There were a lot of numbers thrown around there, but again, numbers with a point of view. At the other end of them were real people that got real jobs, not only feeding their family but contributing something to the economy. I imagine Clinton was prepared had someone challenged the numbers and would have welcomed clarifying any on of the statistics. Unlike Romney pollster Neil Newhouse who said, “We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
And this strikes to the heart of the right-wing rhetoric, their faith-based notion that whatever they
so is true because they said it and they know how to spin it. Their whole approach is to bypass
the brain of the voter and go straight to their fear-center of people, encouraging them to jeer and
hate and protect their little corner of privilige, unencumbered by any bothersome facts.
If we're going to keep teaching math in school on the basis that it promotes rational thought,
let's elect leaders who pay attention to them.
- The Fair-Mindedness: (Hmm. Not sure if this hyphenated-word exists. Can someone please fact-check?) Clinton was both honest and generous in thanking various Republicans for bills they had sponsored and passed and work they had done. He admitted our human frailty and the fact that even the brightest of us and most far-seeing can still be wrong. How refreshing was that?! He held Republican feet to the fire as deserved for policies or failed policies, but not with hatred or excessive character assassination. The Bill O-Reilly /Rush Limbaugh mentality that has risen to the top of the GOP has lowered public discourse to pre-kindergarten level. As a teacher, I simply would not tolerate that kind of talk in my class. By vilifying all those who disagree (while excusing any behavior of their own, from adultery to drug abuse and far beyond), they create a climate that no school in its right mind would ever accept. Clinton’s speech was a beautiful model of how you can strongly disagree and even poke fun, but still maintain an underlying layer of respect, especially when deserved.
- The Values: For me, the center around which the whole speech revolved was the word “cooperation.” He gave several examples of bi-partisan initiatives where both sides rolled up their sleeves and did what was necessary to get the job done, because it was a job worthy of doing. Some of my disappointments with Obama’s administration (particularly education!) can be laid at his feet, but a large part of any failure he has had has come from the Republicans who steadfastly refuse to cooperate because they “lost.” As Clinton remarked, their job was not to work together to govern the country, but to do whatever it takes to get Obama out. That level of mean-spiritedness is so far below any standard which an American can be proud of that it’s a miracle that these senators are not impeached for treason. In teacher terms, so-and-so “does not play well with others,” especially at a time when it is more crucial than ever.
I always thought that Bush and Gore should have settled the controversial election results by
being co-presidents. That’s what we had have done at my school and what a difference that
would have made. When Bush allegedly won the second round (many facts point to both
elections being rigged), he shocked even me by proclaiming, “The people have spoken and given
me their mandate.” That is, by the most generous count, 51% of the people approved of his way
of running things and the other 49% didn’t count. The slogan; “America for Americans— who
think like me.”
I’m sure I’ve failed to capture what I’ve hoped to say here because the whole thing is so close to my heart it makes my head spin. I simply couldn’t endure another four years of a leadership that gives permission for soundbytes over eloquence, faith over fact, vitriol over empathy and cold-hearted competition over cooperation. As a teacher, it goes against everything I’m trying to teach the children. I want a leader who can speak, add and subtract, reach out and invite team-playing. I’ve had one for four years and I want him again. Time to get to work.