Tuesday, March 25, 2008
As I have seriously considered entering the race for school board in district 9, these tidbits of conventional wisdom about the decision have never been far from my mind. It will take too much time for too little improvement, said many. You will grow frustrated as you try to bring people together who have spent too much time apart. Getting the board to focus on a few priorities, set high and accountable standards, and hold the Director responsible for meeting those ambitious goals is simply not possible, said many.
And they may be right. But there comes a time when it is time to stop speculating and start finding out. I have spent the better part of my 40 years as an observer and critic of politics and politicians. I have lived in the world of ideas. Iknow how to listen, consider, and debate. Though I have tried to eschew harsh and divisive criticism in favor of more optimistic and cooperative dialogue, the gap between what I have believed to be possible and what I have acted to bring about has always plagued my thinking. Identifying a problem about which I felt qualified to advance a solution but stopping short of that public commitment that puts me and my loved ones on the line has kept me from being the change I want to see. The risk so seemingly great...the reward so frustratingly elusive.
I have, in particular, devoted my life to education. As a teacher, I like nothing more than the moment of realization when the student grasps the concept for the first time. As a parent I long for those meaningful relationships between my children and their teachers that will cultivate in my children the passsion for life-long learning that my own great teachers instilled in me. As an educational administrator, PTO member, Parent Advisory Council member, and active parent I want to see reasoned discourse, and data-driven decisions that can rally support for the broad mission of educating all the children of Nashville. As a citizen of Davidson County, I yearn for the pride that comes from living in a city whose reputation for excellent public schools is second to none, attracting all the commerce and community involvement that vibrant cities with that reputation enjoy.
Do I imagine that the grueling sacrifices associated with a political campaign will enable me to realize all of those aspirations? Not really. Will incremental progress be enough to satisfy me? No. Am I likely to be frustrated. Seems like it.
So why do it?
I guess it comes down to a simple feeling of responsibility to the children and families of this community. We have an obligation to be sure that each child in our community is educated and ready for the future he or she will inherit. We need school board members who can work together and generate meaningful cooperation and creative efforts not only to leave no child behind but to propel each child into the future. We need a school board who can hire a director whose grasp of institutional management is realistic and nuanced. One who recognizes that generating ownership in the system, communicating effectively, and inspiring enthusiasm to work hard (whether the workers in question are students, parents, teachers, administrators, custodians, PE teachers, arts teachers, special ed teachers, ELL teachers, principals, counselors, city leaders, community activists, or any of the multitude of others in this community with a direct stake in the education of our children) are the essential ingredients for success in the common goal of educational excellence that we all pursue.
Can I help with that? I think I have the perspective, the experience, the empathy, and the patience to help with that in many ways.
I don't think I can afford to wait until a more comfortable time. Now is the time, and if I am going to confront the challenges and do my part, now is the time for that.
What's the matter with Tennessee? Nothing that can't be rectified by the active and serious efforts of committed and caring Tennesseans.
Perhaps it is my turn to do something.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
The students worked hard and had a good time, but none of us were expert craftsmen when it comes to building a house. Nevertheless, we worked as hard as we could and did our best, and it was fun to see our effort produce results.
The reality of the situation is that even though we advanced the construction of the house somewhat, the homeowner gave us more than she could ever know. Not only did she insist on treating us to a craw fish boil, but she never stopped expressing her gratitude. And it was the experience of service that gave the students on the trip the greatest benefit.
Sometimes people are reluctant to help because they feel like they cannot do that much. My experience this week reminds me that it is the human interaction and the relationships that are the most significant outcomes when we work to help each other.
Relationships strengthen communities far more than any program ever could.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I have to say that the campaign for School Board #9 is taking an unfortunate turn. I have no personal opinion of Eric Crafton, because I have never met him. I do know, however, that his positions and his tendency to grab headlines seems more likely to divide and distract the school board than to move us closer to the central goal of an excellent education for the children of Nashville.
I am well aware of the need for dramatic change in the way the school system pursues its goals, but it is clear that we need a school board that can forge consensus and compromise so that change advances those goals rather than leading us further from them. We need a school board that can govern as a board should, hiring and maintaining high expectations for the Director, making sure that the District's priorities remain clear and well-focused, and representing the entire community's common interest in high quality education for the children of Nashville.
The school board has been drawn too deeply into the micromanagement of the system responding to personality and politics when sound judgement and direction were earnestly needed. We need more board members who help to clarify and pursue high standards of performance not people who grab headlines for their controversial pronouncements.
As I said, I don't know Eric Crafton personally, and I have no reason to doubt his intentions, but I do know the presence he has in the papers of this city. I am afraid that the bold move of resigning his council seat and joining the school board will move the board further into controversy and micromanagement rather than helping it to move forward in its proper role.
As we seek a new Director of Schools, I cannot imagine a worse time for that to happen.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
My first impressions of him turned out to be off the mark. Over the 7 months of Mr. Wright's tenure, he never lived up to the hopes we had for his job performance. Many found the information on his website questionable, and as he got further into his job at Bransford Avenue, he had difficulty finding his way.
How many more central office personnel will lose their jobs before a new administration is organized?
Thursday, February 14, 2008
It's been said that one benefit of the torturous process presidential candidates must undergo is that it gives voters an extended view of their managerial ability. After all, this line of thinking goes, if a candidate can't organize a national campaign, he or she can't run the federal government.
If that's true, there are four emerging reasons why voters may want to take a second look at Hillary Clinton. So far, in a number of key areas, her campaign is falling short - and she won't solve the problem simply by changing campaign managers, as she did earlier this week. (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/02/clintons_squandered_lead_can_s.html)
Margaret Carlson notes:
Clinton saw the New Hampshire result as her political resurrection, where she finally found her ``voice.'' But if the voice was different, the message was the same. Her Lazarus-like win kept her from looking any further into why she lost so badly in Iowa. It put off any move to change her insular staff and validated her original strategy in which the primaries were a mere formality.
Voters would coronate her partly because she had been first lady, because shewas a Clinton, and because it was her turn after all she had been through. It wasn't as much a matter of competing as it was waiting until Super Tuesday to accept the crown. (http://bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&refer=columnist_carlson&sid=azceW2G4gToM)
One of the principal concerns about Barack Obama is that he will not be able to lead effectively and that his plans for Iraq represent false hope. It is safe to say that there has been plenty of false hope spread around regarding the Iraq strategy from the start. Remember the claim that, "We will be greeted as liberators?" It was that miscalculation, based on false hope that seems to have kept the Bush administration from making contingency plans in case a more hearty opposition emerged. Failure to plan for contingencies and effective reconstruction are widely regarded as among he more obvious managerial failings of the Bush administration in the Iraq War. They assumed that their cause was unstoppable, and acted without thinking it through. The result was a strategy that miscalculated the degree of opposition it would face, failed to establish contingency plans, and stuck with a failing strategy long after its failure became clear.
The military and tactical side of war will always be the purview of the Generals. No need to fear an inexperienced young president moving troops on a whim. The principal of civilian control of the military is not based on the idea that the president is a military strategist; it is based on the notion that the president has the wisdom, foresight, and humility to think it through. Self-assured and arrogant leaders make their mistakes less by alienating others than by failing to think it through. There is no reason that the Bush administration could not have planned for stiff opposition or implemented a strategy to win the peace. Yet, even after the glaring absence of such plans became obvious, the administration refused to change course, remaining loyal to Donald Rumsfeld even at the expense of the 2006 Congressional Elections.
Reading this account of the recent changes at team Clinton leaves me with the eerie feeling of déjà vu. I realize that a political campaign and a war are vastly different, and while George Bush's poor planning has cost lives, Clinton's poor planning stands only to cost her a chance at the presidency. Nevertheless, a political campaign is a managerial challenge, and while the presidency is much more than just management, Sen. Clinton has grounded her campaign on her particular strengths in that area.
Perhaps the question of voting to authorize the war is ultimately only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the management experience that Clinton and her team have brought to the campaign is more reminiscent of the Bush administration than she would hope to admit. If management, foresight, wisdom, and the humility to plan for unanticipated contingencies are skills we should value in a president, is Barack Obama really the more risky choice?
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
They say Tennessee is a blindly Republican state.
They say that no one will challenge the third-ranking Senate Republican, especially not here in Tennessee.
They say that we are stuck with representation that uses fear of immigrants to justify its policy agenda.
They say we have to continue the culture wars of the Boomer generation even if we are younger than boomers.
They say that if we are younger than boomers, we are too young to understand.
They say that Tennessee is incapable of supporting a democrat state-wide.
They say that we would rather have laws encouraging discrimination against foreign speakers than health care for the sick.
They say that working people are greedy to expect a living wage for their time and effort.
They say that fear will keep us committed to a war that has done nothing to reduce our fear.
They say that we should deny aid to single mothers in the city so that they will take responsibility for themselves, but that the Iraqi government should remain on our dole 100 years or more.
They say that the improbability of change will paralze us, and that we will remain divided and cowered by fear until it is too late to act.
They said that a strong challenger to Lamar Alexander could not be found.
We say, "YES WE CAN!"
Monday, January 28, 2008
Sure, Mr. Gore may be a little gun shy. After all, he was early to endorse Howard Dean in 2004 only to see his potential influence as elder statesman and kingmaker in the democratic party evaporate with a scream. And, of course it is by no means certain that Barack Obama will win the nomination, but this time, Al Gore has nothing to lose.
He is now clearly established as an elder statesman and one with a Nobel Prize. He has established himself as a leading voice on one of the most significant challenges we face in the future Barack Obama is vying to lead. Al Gore would do us all a favor by linking the cause of combating global warming to a president with Barack Obama's vision. While we are going nuts with JFK parallels, it must be said that the Kennedy challenge of going to the moon is probably exactly what we need to address the challenge of global warming through technological advances sure to bolster our economic well-being rather than the inevitable and draconian conservation mandates that will emerge if we wait too long. It is possible that a clear conversation about the urgency of such an approach, combined with Obama's clearly established ability to inspire and motivate with great vision, could produce the "moon shot" that would make Gore's lifetime commitment to fighting global warming a reality.
And if not, what has he to lose? I suspect that the personal scars from his relationship with the Clinton's makes endorsing Hillary out of the question, and endorsing Edwards is so unlikely to produce a victory for him that Gore has only one choice left. It is a good choice.
Al Gore should endorse Barack Obama this week.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
The law that Mr. Alexander is proposing would bar the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from bringing discrimination suits against companies with English-only rules. Simple enough. The argument seems to be that businesses have the right to tell their employees how to speak.
Now, if such a rule were actually related to job performance (speaking Spanish to an English-speaking customer and blowing a sale, for example), anti-discrimination laws would not prohibit the rule. Bona fide Occupational Qualifications are not discrimination, and a "Protect English" law would be unnecessary.
So, Alexander's law could only apply to employers who want to discriminate based on the language ability of an employee in situations NOT related to job performance.
The Protect English law is a pro-discrimination bill. To prove that, consider these two cases in which the EEOC became involved:
Why is anyone in the Senate, let alone the person who is supposed to represent Tennesseans, spending time on legislation that protects an employer's right to pull a knife on a Spanish-speaking employee? And, if you can explain the safety issue associated with allowing Salvation Army clothes sorters to speak Spanish at work, I will be impressed. I remind you that if te Salvation Army can make that case to a jury, then they will be absolved. The only reason they need this protection is because the company must not be able to make a convincing job-related argument.
One was against a Houston ship captain who reportedly threatened sailors with a knife after they spoke Spanish in violation of his English-only policy on board. It was settled in December in favor of the plaintiffs for $31,000.
The other is pending against the Salvation Army, which fired two Spanish-speaking clothes sorters who violated the English-only policy at a branch near Boston. (The Tennessean, January 15, 2007)
What about the economic health of the state? What about getting the Fort Campbell troops back home? What about securing nuclear materials abroad? What about finding Osama Bin Laden? What about balancing the federal budget? What about caring for the health of citizens and reducing the burden of excessive health care costs on our small businesses? What about promoting renewable energy technologies to ensure the health of our economy as well as the health of our planet?
English is not threatened. Discrimination is. Spending time protecting discrimination that is unrelated to job performance ought to raise some criticism. Here's mine.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Of course, 2006 was a good election for Democrats, and Tennessee was the only place where that general trend went unrealized.
So, back to the question I asked at that time...the question on which I began this blog. What's the Matter with Tennessee? Has Tennessee become so conservative that anyone with a D by his/her name is doomed from the start? Surely not. What about moderate Democrats who believe in strong national defense (like Jim Webb) and/or who consider abortion worthy of limitation (like Bob Casey)? Couldn't a bipartisan who is not indebted to special interests, willing to accept reasonable limits on abortion rights, and strongly supportive of rationality in our national defense (that means avoiding over extension and sending troops into battles without a clear plan for post-war stability and reconstruction) do pretty well against Lamar? Sure Lamar is popular, and he is a good man who clearly favors discussion and compromise more than many of his GOP colleagues in the Senate, but he is a kind man in a bitter and divisive system. He is a leader because he knows how to operate in tat system, and he is popular, at least in part for all the earmarked funds he can bring to Tennessee from that post. It would take a serious challenge and a fairly significant vote shift, but don't the people of Tennessee at least deserve an option?
Partisan rancor is alot like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but nobody ever seems to do anything about it. The big question for Obama is can he? If he can do something about it, then he will need a new generation of Senators to help. Is Alexander up to the task? He may well be. I certainly respect his long record of service to the state of Tennessee, and he has always been kind to me, but a challenger is needed to force him to consider the new state of affairs and show us he is able to deliver what we increasingly want as a new tone in Washington.
Six years is a long time. He has not had to campaign since 2002. He beat Bob Clement that year. If he does not face a challenger this time, he will be able to serve 12 years without explaining to the people how he sees his job as our representative in the Senate.
If no one challenges this time, Tennessee will not even HAVE a Senate race until 2012 when Bob Corker's term finishes.
Is there no one available?
Friday, January 11, 2008
And if we are to believe the new voice will be a softer, more conciliatory and more engaging one, how to square that with what is going on at HillaryIs44.com, a Web site that is for all intents and purposes a back door to her war room? There you will see that federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will soon "destroy" Barack Obama in a "scandal" involving an "indicted slumlord" who is Mr. Obama's "friend of 17 years" and with whom Mr. Obama has been involved in "shady deals."
This isn't a new voice, it is the old one, the one we know too well. The item was posted on Thursday, two days after Mrs. Clinton announced her new approach.
Between sobs she is going to try to destroy Mr. Obama. She is going to try to end him. She will pay a price for it--no one likes to see the end of a dream, no one likes a dream killer. But she will pay that price to win, and try to clean up the mess later.
(Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120000928241482363.html)
The goals that Barack Obama has do not have to be different. Those goals are clear. No one can reasonable argue that the goals he stands for are not clear and unequivocal. For too long, though, a candidate's goals have been lined up as litmus tests to determine whether or not one belongs in either party. That is how ideology works in a politics of partisanship. But partisanship shifts our attention to the goals that divide us and connects all reasonable approaches to those conflicting goals. When all the policy goals are listed, the top goal remains: To advance the political fortunes of the party or the individual.
The Barack Obama difference lies not in the goals he would pursue (health care for all, strong and unwavering national security, powerful education, and job creation) but in the MANNER in which he would pursue them and consequently in the likelihood that he would achieve them.
Critics of Barack Obama must answer one point first. Can you point to significant progress toward these goals that has come from divisiveness, bitterness, and attack?
Why was Hillary Clinton unable to achieve significant expansion of health care availability in 1993? Was it because she was not divisive enough? John Edwards thinks so, but Hillary Clinton doesn't answer that question very well.
Our greatest recent successes in legislating to solve our problems came as a result of the genuine bipartisanship following 9/11. Since that good will has been undone by the Bush administration's aggressively partisan approach, little or nothing of substance has been accomplished.
Cooperation and collaboration may be naive. It may not work, but it is a process worth trying since little progress can be identified by those who defend the divide and stalemate approach of the past 30 years.
All politics is local, and the people in the Obama capaign seem to understand that in ways that have been out of vogue in presidential politics for some time. The inspirational theme of the Obama campaign draws people into political action who have previously stayed on the sidelines. People turned off by the process, too busy to get involved, and too cynical to begin to hope are now talking to friends, wearing buttons, and putting their hopes into words.
The news since New Hampshire has been slowly, but consistently in Obama's favor. The close second place finish was really a significant gain compared with all pre-Iowa expectations, and the post-Iowa expectations aside, those gains seem to be holding in South Carolina, while significantly well-organized unions (SEIU and Culinary Workers) in Nevada and prominent Democratic leaders (John Kerry) keep breaking for Obama.
While the national endorsements and other state organizations are significant, I am most impressed by the way in which the New Hampshire results seem to have energized the Obama supporters to work harder. The room at the meeting was packed, and the ideas were good. There are many ways to get involved using your own skills and abilities whatever those may be, and people across the city and across the state seem to be responding to the call.
There's something happening in Tennessee. There is something happening here.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Karl Rove is getting tough on Barack Obama.
The man behind President Bush's two successful presidential bids, who once offered advice to Obama on how he could defeat Hillary Clinton, is now taking direct aim at him — calling the Illinois senator "lazy" and "given to misstatements and exaggerations."
"Mr. Obama has failed to rise to leadership on a single major issue in the Senate," Rove writes in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. "In the Illinois legislature, he had a habit of ducking major issues, voting 'present' on bills important to many Democratic interest groups, like abortion-rights and gun-control advocates.
And in a rare move, Rove praises Clinton for her "humanizing" moments on the campaign trail, and calls Obama just "as calculating" as the New York Democrat.
"For someone who talks about a new, positive style of politics and pledges to be true to his word, Mr. Obama too often practices the old style of politics, saying one thing and doing another," he said. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/01/10/karl-rove-takes-aim-at-obama/)
Of course, Karl, praising Hillary's political genius now previously tried to advise Barack Obama on how to deal with that very "humanizing strategy."
The comments are the latest musings from the man often refereed to as "Bush's brain" on the Democratic race for the White House. In an "open letter" to Obama last month, Rove suggested he "Blow the whistle on Clinton when she tries to become a victim."
"Find a way to gently belittle her whenever she tries to use disagreements among Democrats as an excuse to complain about being picked on," he said then. "The toughest candidate in the field should not be able to complain when others disagree with her. This is not a coronation." (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/01/10/karl-rove-takes-aim-at-obama/)
Isn't there a Republican candidate who could use Karl's advice?
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
If so, this impression will go down as one of the greatest hoaxes in political history. Hillary Clinton is no doubt sincere in her support for people in need. Heaven knows that I would be very happy with the empathy she could muster as president, but to suggest that she is a better candidate than Barack Obama for dealing with broken communities is to misjudge the case dramatically and, if you will pardon the irony, to completely ignore his superior experience. Barack Obama is a community organizer who understands both the multifaceted causes and consequences of poverty while simultaneously understanding that neither fierce class populism (Edwards) nor extensive government programs (Clinton) can alone address the challenges of America's communities in need.
I almost want to stop writing my reflections about Obama on a blog, since that seems to lend credence to those pundits who label him the candidate of the elite blogosphere (How these random musings have anything to do with elitism is hard to see, but I do understand the critique). Just because our (to borrow Kleinheider's phrase) parallel universe supports Obama does not mean that he all of a sudden loses his genuine EXPERIENCE in building communities and fighting poverty.
A good analysis of Obama and Edwards on the question of poverty and approaches to need can be found at: http://freedemocracy.blogspot.com/2007/07/david-brooks-edwards-obama-and-poor.html.
Generational change is underway, and Obama speaks for it. Old politics, where taking a side means keeping the other side from accomplishing anything or even maintaining its dignity has to end, and as those of us born after 1960 come of age, we will increasingly be able to work together because we know that the challenges we face are more significant than the petty partisanship that keeps CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and a million polarizing Internet sites operational. I believe it was Bill Clinton who said, "That which unites us is far more significant than that which divides us." I bought it in 1992, but he was not able to deliver, and in the last 72 hours, his attacks on Obama have cast great doubt on his sincerity in having made that pronouncement.
Obama has really not wavered. Politics of unity and a refusal to vilify the opponent is called naive. It is taken as a sign of inexperience, but we have all had plenty of experience with the divide and stalemate approach, and Obama offers genuine hope that we can change that experience.
The politics of fear and division have done little to deal with issues that will impact our generation - warming, health care costs, social security, economic stability. I know that we need a unifying and collaborative politics to move forward.
When Barack stands up and says we can change the system, he is called naive and inexperienced. They say he needs to understand that only rancor and discord can ultimately win an election, and for too long, that has been true. But, as voters, we get what we pay for, and I for one am ready to shop for change.
Are Tennesseans ready to join me? I think they are.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
The Des Moines Register poll was the closest in Iowa, and I have heard it frequently celebrated since last Thursday. But the day of the caucuses, it was widely regarded as an anomaly when compared with the other polls. Today, 10-15 point margins for Obama in New Hapshire were predicted, so that the final 2% margin of defeat (something incomprehensibly fantastic from Obama's perspective just 1 week ago), is now reported as a crushing defeat for him. Is it possible the polls were wrong? Not if you listen to the pundits. The polls were right, and the people changed...maybe, but it is at least equally likely that polls are like broken clocks...right twice a day.
The campaign for this country is underway, and it is coming soon to your neighborhood. Who wins will be up to you and to me. Discuss, deliberate, talk with others, contribute, campaign, and vote. Leave prognostication to Chris Berman. Don't ever stay home because your candidate is supposed to win easily, or you will continue allowing others to make decisions for you.
Be the change you want to see. Get out of the armchair and into the game, because, unlike the Super Bowl, in this game there are no players but us.