samedi 24 mai 2008

The rain came, and words matter

Pink roses and lighter pink peonies
in yesterday's sun

Let's hope that "And the rain came" does not need to be amended to "And the rains came." Last year, they came, and like some are saying of the Clintons in the press today, went from being a welcome change to dragging a hose around to becoming the guest who wouldn't leave.

It rained hard and long. A downpour. Twice. Once during the afternoon, while I fell asleep next to Audouin, who was supposed to be sleeping, since he is the one who is sick (and has been all week), and again, after I came back in from a couple hours out in the yard working.

And what was I doing?

Close your eyes, Katie, you won't want to read this.

I was tearing up clumps of Poa annua and getting myself completely depressed, which is bad for my immune system, so I will probably get whatever Audouin has that I have managed to avoid so far. With every clump that came up, the roots were filled with... sand. I hate this. I hated it.

I creep around, alternately squatting and then on my knees to give my hips a rest. Forget my back. It just suffers. Audouin asked what I was doing when I came in for something at one point.

"Pulling up the bad weed grass from the lawn."

The groan was long, and had nothing to do with his sore throat.

The mosquitoes buzzed around my face and arms. I left my fleece jacket on to keep as covered as I could, and wilted in the humidity, overheated. I broke a finger nail on my right hand, and where it was torn it kept catching on blades of grass until I bit it off, sandy dirt on my teeth and tongue. A strand of hair came loose from the barrette and refused to stay behind my ear, sticking to my sweaty cheek, or to my hand every time I tried to push it back into place. I gasped when I caught site of a dessicated, recently dead frog next to me in the grass (one of the animals is guilty of frogicide, and I am loosing patience with the yet to be identified guilty party), and on and on I went, moving from clump to clump and tearing them out with my bare hands until I just couldn't take it anymore.

That was when I noticed that I had three points of blood on the inside of my left ankle.

Great. Flea-bitten, too.

I raised my spirits by reading the reader comments of the NYT Editorial Board piece, "Say What? Hillary Clinton Does it Again". That did it. Suddenly my unmowed lawn, now filled with bare patches in addition to the swaying seed heads of the remaining P. annua, seemed pretty good after all in a world gone nuts, and I managed to tear myself away to go take a bath and wash it all away -- dirt, sweat, desperation and disappointment, and disgust.

I think I preferred it when I was spared the temptation to see what the other readers think.


So, a word on the present political situation
(not that it matters or counts for anything)

I was heading home from my heath club in the Henri IV section of Mantes la Jolie (in France), when I ran straight into my favorite political pal, a gorgeous (Audouin thinks so, too), soccer-playing, politically-minded twenty-something.

"So, it's won chez toi!" he beamed. I hadn't seen him for a little while, so I was slow on the uptake, and because he said it in French -- the chez toi was what threw me off -- I actually thought he meant that I had gotten my way with the house renovations about to get underway, of all things. What is wrong with me? That explains my reply.

"Yes, but how did you know?"

"It's in the news, with what Hillary said." Suddenly, I got it. Not my house, but my country of origin. OK. He launched into a report of her comments and the firestorm they generated, and I realized that you can't not read the blogosphere and mainstream media for a day without missing something major. "You haven't seen it?"

I admitted that I hadn't, but now I have.


What I haven't done is seen her make the actual comments in context. The problem is that I don't think that anything explains the necessity to refer to the assassination, no matter which candidate I support. This isn't about being a supporter of Senator Obama because I was never against Senator Clinton, at least not until fairly recently. Worse, the historical factual basis of her comparisons was worse than specious. It nearly had to have been disingenuous.

I supported them throughout the worst of the 1990's. I spoke of my admiration of President Clinton all through the Bush II years.

I supported her run for Senator, although as a resident of Connecticut at that time, I couldn't vote for her. I read The System and of the admiration both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill had for her. But, I heard Barack Obama speak in 1994 and throughout the earliest months of the primary campaign, and I was for him, still not against Senator Clinton.

I have supported her right to stay in the race, as long as her support hovered in the 1-3% margin of difference in the popular vote -- as best as it can be measured -- and she had a chance of collecting the necessary number of delegates.

But, why mention the assassination if you don't have a reason? Why pick that example? How can you not include the Obama family in the apology if you are going to make a lame one to the Kennedys?

Why try to walk the infinitely fine line that she has tried to make between acknowledging the importance of the events of the 1960's -- of which Senator Obama has no problem identifying himself as the child politically and morally, and with which she was aligned in her own political beginnings -- but giving credit for their fruit to President Johnson, and now putting the assassination of RFK directly in the public's eye, raising, intentionally or inadvertently, the specter of an attempt on Senator Obama's life and her own readiness to step in and assume the nomination? To do what? To not alienate the white vote by avoiding being identified with the black interest?

Well, I'll tell you what, I'd rather lose the election than get that vote, by whatever strategy she and her campaign devises, to get a Democratic president in the White House in 2009.


In 2008, race eclipses gender, as it always should, because there are men and women of all races, and they suffer -- or benefit -- equally, and I am listening to what the candidates say and what it means to those of us listening.

I'll say again that it isn't only in The United States that people are paying close attention. It's of importance here, too, and non-Americans are very informed and interested because Senator Obama speaks to what is of importance to people everywhere. He has risen above lines on maps to talk to people around the world. He has achieved international stature through his vision, like John F. Kennedy did 45 years ago in Berlin.

"The West Berliners gave John Kennedy the most overwhelming reception of his career... The size of the crowd, their shouts and the look of hope and gratitude in their eyes moved some in our party to tears ... It was on the platform outside that City Hall -- from where I could see only a sea of human faces chanting "Kenne-dy," "Kenne-dy" as far as my vision could reach -- that he delivered one of his most inspired and inspiring talks."
-- Theodore Sorenson, Kennedy (

West Berlin, East Germany
June 26, 1963

"Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was 'Civis Romanus sum'.
Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is,

'Ich bin ein Berliner!'

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't,
what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world.

Let them come to Berlin!

There are some who say that Communism is the wave of the future.

Let them come to Berlin!

...And there are even a few who say that it is true that Communism is an evil system,
but it permits us to make economic progress.

'Lasst sie nach Berlin kommen.'

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect,
but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in... .

While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system -- for all the world to see -- we take no satisfaction in it;
for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history
but an offense against humanity...

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free...
We look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one
-- and this country, and this great continent of Europe --
in a peaceful and hopeful globe.
When that day finally comes, as it will,
the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact
that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin,
and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words,

'Ich bin ein Berliner.'"


Words matter

Everyone knows that words count and what you say matters. Even schoolchildren know that before they are shamed for theirs, or they wouldn't hurl insults and derision at the weak. Stick and stones may break bones, but names do hurt, as any child forced to chant that knows. The damage already done.

Don't talk to me about fatigue nearing the end of a long primary run. Every president puts on years in the White House (except Bush II). You have to be able to withstand the fatigue and never use it as your excuse, or allow anyone to do that for you.

No one forced 75,000 people to fill the lawn and water of Waterside Park in Portland, Oregon nearly a week ago, just like no one forced the people of Berlin to take to the street and chant "Kenne-dy!" millions strong.

Words matter, or we wouldn't make speeches. Words matter, or Barack Obama's at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 would never have pushed him to the center of our political and electoral life in 2008, nor would his two books have sold millions of copies.

Hillary had that to remember. If she is best as a policy wonk, then she belongs in the legislative branch or as an adviser. A president must be able to do more than write legislation. She must guide the legislative agenda, but she must lead the country, and for that, wisdom, courage, strength of character, vision and the ability to give presence to those qualities in words matters.


To those who would say "Enough already! This is trivial," no, I say, it isn't at all. Iraq, $4.00 a gallon gasoline, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Israel and health care reform are all important, but this is about the person we Democrats and those Independents who voted in the Democratic primaries are selecting to be our nominee for the general presidential election in November, the person we choose to take on every important issue we, and the world, face together.

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