Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hillary Clinton Meets Mr. Kim

Back in the 60's, I was a member of the Ohio State judo team. I was not a very good player, but I used to love the idea of the "Gentle Way", which required one to analyze and use the opponent's aggression to defeat him. During free practice (randori), we attempted to push, drag, and pull the other player, trying to find an angle of attack. One of my favorite senseis was Mr. Kim, a former member of South Korea's Olympics judo team and a sandan (3rd degree black belt). He never moved around. He just stood there and let others push and pull at him, which might make him move a couple of steps. Trying to attack him was like trying to pull down a brick wall. He would just wait, or mirror your steps like a graceful dance partner. And then it would be over. He saw his opening, waited for an attack, and performed a coup de grace in the blink of an eye. His opponent would crash down with the boom of his arm beat hitting the mat.

Watching the Cleveland debate last night between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I couldn't help but think of Obama as Mr. Kim. Most of the time, he sat there playing with his pen, writing the occasional note (or doodle) and appearing to listen attentively. Occasionally, he would hear something, smile a little, look at the moderator, and raise a finger. She felt he had not rejected the antisemite, Louis Farrakhan, forcefully enough? Fine. He conceded her point and used the word "reject". She mocked his inspirational style at a political rally? Great performance. He thought it was funny and effective. He wanted to bomb Pakistan without consulting its government? Not really. He just would act on actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda, which Bush had just done the week before. At the end of the debate, Obama lavished praise on her record and her candidacy, and then he went on to say why he thought his presidency would be better.

Of all the traits I admire in Obama's character, I admire the most his ability to empathize with an opponent and turn it to his advantage. He comes off as self-effacing, polite, and determined. He studies his opponents carefully, identifies a weak point in their movements, and throws them to the mat without much apparent effort. I don't suppose that he will always be the winner in his encounters with skillful opponents, but he understands the "gentle way" of fighting. He is the Mr. Kim of politics. I wonder how he will fare against Vladimir Putin, who is an avid judo player.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Barack Obama for Supreme Court Justice

In reading Barack Obama's book The Audacity of Hope, I was struck by how well he fit the stereotype of a politician. He is a waffler. He sees both sides of issues. He empathizes with conservatives and liberals. Having taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School for 10 years before being elected to Congress, he knows the Constitution backwards and forwards, and he sees the flaws in the men who wrote it, many of them slave owners. He understands the concept of strict constructionists, who want to see the document as an absolute template that can only be interpreted by rigid adherence to original intent, but he also sees it as a "living document", whose authors could not possibly have anticipated free speech in the context of a society with telephones, televisions, and computers, or gun ownership in the context of modern assault rifles. Barack Obama is a very complex man with a keen sense of what America is really about. He would make a president, I hope, much in the style of Abraham Lincoln--that consummate Republican liberal who kept looking for and discarding solutions to insoluble problems.

So I was thinking about where his career ought to end up, whether he gains the presidency or not. I would like to see him in the office of the presidency for the next 8 years--years that will see me rapidly approach the end of my life. I have a feeling that there won't ever be another president quite like him in the White House. Not while I'm alive, anyway. But whether he wins or loses the nomination, he strikes me more as someone who ought to be on the Supreme Court. He isn't really a liberal or a conservative. He is a pragmatist who understands the contradictions that pull Americans apart and together. Hopefully, he will be a president. Whether or not he is, I hope that some future president considers him for nomination as a justice on the Supreme Court.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Raucus Caucus in Washington

I hate caucuses, but I enjoy participating in them. What I mean is that they are a lousy way of picking a candidate for public office. Political parties use them to solicit donations and sign up campaign workers, so they are good for parties. But they involve too few people in the process, and they seem to produce skewed results--not always electing the most reasonable or electable candidates. What makes them fun is the interaction with other voters and the chance to debate the issues at a grass roots level.

The Democratic party in my home state of Washington was forced to accept a primary system a few years ago by popular referendum. Failing to win the popular vote, Democratic and Republican party officials went to court to get the primaries nullified. The courts agreed, and Washington therefore has tax-supported primaries that only the Democratic party ignores. The Republican party was more sensible about it. They decided to assign half their delegates to the choice made by the primary. Hence, I had to attend a caucus on February 9 in order to elect my choice--Barack Obama. On February 19, I will still vote in the primary, even if it is just a beauty contest. I prefer a primary, and I resent the state Democratic party for thumbing its nose at the voters.

Anyway, I showed up on February 5 and got myself elected as a precinct delegate for Obama. My wife and I arrived 10 minutes early, but we could barely squeeze in the door. The organizers seemed to have only a hazy idea of how to plan for a large turnout. My caucus was moved into an overflow room in the school where it was taking place. A young man volunteered to lead the caucus, but he had never been to one before. So a few of us older members had to kibbutz. We divided into 3 groups--Obama supporters, Hillary supporters, and undecided. The Hillary supporters were only a third of the caucus, so they got 2 of our 6 delegates.

After sitting in a circle, nobody in any of the groups had a clear idea of how to proceed, so most people, having already declared their candidate, went home. It was a very inefficient way to do what could have been done more efficiently with a primary. The remaining Obama and Hillary supporters converged on the undecideds to make their case. There was a lot of shouting back and forth until people settled down to taking turns. Some interesting pitches were made, and several got rounds of applause. Two of the most memorable were from independents. One was an Asian immigrant who admitted that he had always voted Republican, but he was there because he liked Obama. The other was the young son of Iraqi parents. He made an impassioned plea for Obama because of what he said was happening to his family in Iraq. The Obama and Hillary supporters made their case, mine being that Hillary's experience would count for less against McCain than Obama's charisma.