My interest in politics goes back decades — I was in an SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) sit-in in my college days — and I don’t remember a presidential election as bizarre as this one. There have certainly not been candidates as dangerously buffoonish as the two currently leading the Republican Party (well, with the exception of Sarah I-can-see-Russia-from-here Palin). My European friends have bombarded me with questions about the Trump/Cruz phenomenon, on the order of “What has happened to America?” As Trump has gained steam — or should we say hot air? — emails have buzzed back and forth across the ocean.
One of my favorite right-of-center columnists David Brooks feels that Trump is the ultimate and exaggerated result of years of barely suppressed Republican anger about our country’s demographic and economic shifts. He feels that the Drumpf movement is the last gasp of the party and that a profound self-assessment will be needed before it can rise from the ashes with a new approach to policy. But if these voters think a Mexican-border wall and policing American Muslim neighborhoods will solve their problems, I have a bridge at Leadbetter Point to sell them.
In our villages, however, sensible politics were alive and well this past weekend when county Democrats gathered to caucus. Two things to note: first, caucuses were extremely well-attended — 10 to one over last time; and, second, every caucus I attended exemplified polite, insightful conversation. Folks listened to one another respectfully, and the congenial hustle and bustle of community, if a bit chaotic, was everywhere apparent.
It was nice to see all my Nahcotta neighbors in one place; although, as a friend posted on Facebook, a caucus-style primary does not as easily allow elders or those otherly-abled to participate. A by-vote ballot primary is more convenient for more citizens.
The first round in our Nahcotta precinct, which 70 people attended, indicated a vote spread of 20 for Hillary, 47 for Bernie, three uncommitted. That gave us six delegates for Bernie and two for Hillary going on to the South Bend country convention April 17th. (The vast majority in Washington voted for Bernie, 73 to Hillary’s 27 percent. Bernie won every county in the state.) In South Bend delegates will be selected for the state convention June 17-19; then some will venture to Philly in July for the National Democratic Convention.
As representatives counted the paper votes in piles at a small card table in the Ocean Park Elementary School gym, I thought “This is a hand-crafted process.” Sitting in the bleachers among other luminaries were Capt. Phil Martin, beloved of chickens and cats; Betsy Millard, the devoted guardian of our Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum; and Fritzi Cohen, owner of the Moby Dick Hotel and The Tabard Inn in the other Washington. Commissioner Frank Wolfe leaned against the gym door-frame. There is really something to be said for face-to-face politics like these.
I left early for family business on the way passing by other precincts. Ocean Park 2 had attendance that rose from four voters to nearly 50 this year. The cafeteria housing Oysterville and Ocean Park 1 precincts, almost too full to get into, was buzzing like a bee hive.
On the national front, though Mitch McConnell wants to cut Obama’s presidency short by eight months — why does he think he can pick and choose which parts of our Constitution to abide by? — I’m elated that we have more time with this inspired president and his elegant family. For his rapprochement to Cuba (where he tangoed with a local!), the Paris Climate Change accord, Iran nuclear deal, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — I say Bravo.
I was delighted to see Jeffrey Goldberg’s comprehensive article in April’s The Atlantic on “The Obama Doctrine.” (tinyurl.com/ObamaDoctrine). Goldberg gives us a behind-the-scenes retrospective on some of Obama’s critical decisions; it’s extremely impressive reporting.
Obama was roundly criticized for allowing Bashar al-Assad to cross the so-called “red line.” Obama and others in his administration said action would be taken if Assad used gas against his own people. So when Assad killed 1,400 in Ghouta with sarin gas, our allies around the world thought the U.S. bombing of Syria was days away. But Obama stepped back from the brink to mull it over, realizing that Assad would probably use human shields around the sarin manufacturing sites and that any bombing would release lethal gas. It was also likely that the US would be stepping into yet another spring-loaded war-zone in the Middle East.
So, days later, instead of drawing us into another deadly quagmire, Obama found another way. He pulled Putin aside at the G20 summit and said “if he forced Assad to get rid of the chemical weapons, that would eliminate the need for [the U.S.] taking a military strike.” Within weeks, Secretary of State Kerry “working with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would engineer the removal of Syria’s chemical-weapon arsenal — a program whose existence Assad until then had refused to even acknowledge.” It was a winning plan B.
I can’t do justice in this limited space to the subtlety and detail of Goldberg’s article. But suffice it to say that anyone on either side of the political divide who’s interested in statecraft should pour over this well-wrought essay. It not only provides insight into Obama’s character but outlines his view of the world and our place in it. As Goldberg writes, “Obama does not believe a president should place American soldiers at great risk to prevent humanitarian disasters, unless those disasters pose a direct security threat to the United States.”
Further, Obama feels that Isis is not an “existential threat” to the U.S., “however, Climate Change is a potential existential threat to the entire world.” Obama understood early in his presidency that “the Middle East could not be fixed — not on his watch, and not for generations to come.” His approach is to encourage “Muslims to address the…problems of governance and the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrine to modernity.” On the other hand, when Obama sees that direct action can succeed, he is unhesitating, as evidenced by the many drone strikes killing key ISIS leaders
Obama is a pragmatic realistic who knows well that the era of isolationism is over — we live in a global community — but, at the same time, that the U.S. can no longer be the world’s only policeman. He praises, and in many cases uses as his model, President George H. W. Bush and the deft management of his national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft. Obama wants us to limit our Middle East entanglement and look toward Asia, “the part of the world of greatest consequence to the American future.”
For us political animals, whether elephants or donkeys, there is much to be grateful for in Obama’s eight years of restraint and intelligence. I can only hope our next president understands the world as deeply.