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What Is the Fundamental American Promise?

Carol Smaldino   |   September 5, 2012   10:10 PM ET

Michelle Obama gave a great speech last night; that's what I heard and what I read. My husband and I, still in Italy, are devout Democrats -- me longer because he came to America when he was 29. So the last thing I want to do to Michelle or Barack Obama is to add to any negative liberal sentiment at the moment. I just have to put in my own vote for a more holistic awareness of America, including the vitriolic tone and the basic divisions that haunt our ability to have due process. With that, I vote for far greater honesty about our confusions and mistakes as well as for efforts to understand the intensity of hate at home.

Mrs. Obama began her speech with talk of our soldiers overseas and those who fight the fight not to walk but to run marathons, the hope "in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said simply, 'I'd give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I still can do.'" She then used the special words many Americans seem to want to hear, after she added that every day she meets people who inspire her. Ready? "Every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth".

I have to object to the exceptionalism for many reasons. I think it's divisive in the midst of a need to respect not only ourselves but others on the planet. I think it's destructive because it leads to avoiding the conversations we need to be having so we can intervene in present wars and learn from history. Afghanistan continues to be a bloody and savage war (see The Savage War: The Untold Battles of Afghanistan, by Murray Brewster, 2011; see the film Charlie Wilson's War for historical background on U.S. involvement). For all the veterans and soldiers Michelle Obama may meet, there are others dead and maimed also psychologically -- forever, with no pride about their "mission" or what they did and saw.

The fact that the Taliban still is so violently present and devastating and that missions to get necessary safety, health services, education and jobs to Afghan citizens have been interfered with by Afghan internal corruption, doesn't really help us resolve what many see as an interminable situation. Yes, we can pull out troops, but who will govern in their stead? This isn't just also about acts of torture committed by soldiers but by the Afghan police as documented by Brewster, a senior defense journalist from Ottawa, Canada.

We are human, and I speak as someone who loves the human side of America, the festivals of light and art and music and the creativity and community in so many of our cities and smaller counties elsewhere. We are just not above the other nations, and many -- too many of us -- are not blessed at all. In fact, many are becoming either so overwhelmed by the hardships of life or on the other end of the spectrum, cold to the needs of the less fortunate.

I desperately want Obama to win, to not lose the gains of women's reproductive choices and not lose the possibility of a coherent health plan. I hope I become blessed enough to understand it. It's not any of that. I just feel that Obama owes us the leadership to face problems head on, to say we are in a tough war in Afghanistan that has been faltering and has been tragic. I want him to say that not enough young people are feeling hopeful about their future and about their bringing wisdom to ours.

The election will be a set of sales pitches, and now that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama seem closer than ever in their purpose of Obama's re-election and who knows what for the wives, he might have a better chance. But there is a lot of resistance to Obama (and there will be that if he wins) from people who demonize him and see him as the terrible socialist he is surely not. And the one thing I understand about leadership that is therapeutic, healing in a general way is and maybe therapeutic to our nation, is to bring the resistance to the fore and discuss it.

Okay, Carol, let's be realistic, it won't happen now. But if Obama does win, and in my way I pray he does, I hope he lifts his head, all of his body and his humanity and begins to discuss not only the distortions the conservatives are heaping on him -- as in he is the cause of the economic downturns and a danger to business -- but other issues along the same lines, out loud. We are in grave need, not just of winning an argument or a vote, but of accepting the challenge of a country that is filled with acrimony and accusation.

The way to solve problems in life and maybe in politics is to study them, to study the why and to come together to compromise. We as citizens can't afford to let politicians at whatever level, settle disputes through golf dates and temporary alliances. We need help, leadership, to organize ways for us to come together and humanize our stories of each other and of our country.

Every time I study the complexity of superstitions, I find my own. In reading this book on Afghanistan, I realize how ignorant I've been, how detached from the war as well. But now in addition to increased knowledge I gain, not only respect, but empathy for most contingents not purposefully involved in brutality -- the Afghan civilians as well.

One way of seeing the fundamental American promise, is that we include the use of our freedom and knowledge to humanize issues and one another, so together we can devise and invent solutions that work. Wow -- if we could start to make that promise.

  |   September 4, 2012    9:06 AM ET

CHARLOTTE -- Four years ago in Denver, Bill Clinton was given the assignment of making the world believe that he liked Barack Obama and wanted him to be president.

Building a World of Greater Freedom and Less Violence, Mr. Romney

Frank Vogl   |   September 2, 2012   10:58 PM ET

Speaking to the Republican Party Convention, Mitt Romney said, "A free world is a more peaceful world." He provided no explanation. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to support his assertion.

Where there is scant freedom, there is also abundant violence and rampant governmental corruption. Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, consistently trail in the global rankings of freedom by Freedom House, of perceived corruption by Transparency International, and in the Global Peace Index published by the Vision of Humanity organization.

Mr. Romney has failed to provide how he will promote greater freedom across the world, while Condoleezza Rice, speaking to the Convention in Tampa, ridiculed the Obama Administration for failing to provide leadership. In fact, President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have taken a courageous stand in supporting civil society campaigners in very difficult, autocratic countries, to the anger of the host governments.

Indeed, there was no mention in prominent speeches at the Republican Convention of the Arab Spring -- a seminal event that inspired public protests in dozens of countries. Tens of thousands of Tunisians and Egyptians started it, overcoming their fears of vicious state security forces, to denounce their illegitimate governments. Their courage has given anti-corruption, pro-democracy campaigns unprecedented momentum in many parts of the world.

Supporting this momentum is vital. When it comes to backing civil society's ability to speak truth to power, the Obama administration has displayed vital leadership. The president set the tone and the strategy early in his administration when on a visit to Moscow in July 2009, he attended a high-profile meeting of civil society leaders.

Typical of the leadership, for example, was a meeting with international civil society groups that Secretary Clinton had in Krakow, Poland in mid-2010, where she stressed, "For the United States supporting civil society groups is a critical part of our work to advance democracy." And, on the same overseas trip a few days later in Yerevan, Armenia, she told another group of civil society activists that, "Democracy requires not just elections, but open dialogue, a free exchange of ideas, government transparency and accountability, and above all, an empowered citizenry, who constantly work together to make their country fairer, juster, healthier and freer."

The rising energy behind many civil society campaigns for justice and personal freedom owe an enormous amount to the efforts of rising numbers of activists, investigative journalists, public prosecutors and swelling ranks of academics in dozens of countries. They have been raising public awareness of corruption, building networks to pool research and ideas, and exploiting the full potential of social media, to encourage protest and reform. U.S. support for those leading campaigns for democracy and against corruption is important.

Too often we fail to fully recognize the courage of those on the front lines. In 2000, as the Vice Chairman of Transparency International, the global anti-corruption non-governmental organization, I had the honor to present our annual integrity award to investigative reporter Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka. On Jan. 8, 2009, he was gunned down when driving to work. He was 52. His last article, penned the day before his death, was titled, "And Then They Came For Me."

Lasantha had consistently investigated and reported on government corruption. His friend, J.C. Weilamuna, who has faced kidnapping, death threats and office bombings, heads Transparency International, Sir Lanka. He knows the dangers, yet he and his team of colleagues persevere convinced that their efforts will secure rising public support and contribute to both freedom and peace in his country.

I believe that in a rising number of countries today we are at a tipping point where bribe-takers and bribe-payers have ever fewer places to hide, where the prospects of sustainable reforms to curb corruption are improving significantly, and where the skeptics can now be sent packing. Yes, huge challenges remain and none are greater than sustaining civil society movements in many countries, from Russia to Egypt, where democracy and personal freedom are under serious threat; and in countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Venezuela, where activists are under daily threat.

The Obama administration has understood how important it is for the U.S. to support civil society, despite risks to government relationships. At stake is the prospect -- now more real in many countries than ever before -- of reducing barriers to freedom and creating less violent societies. Mr. Romney was right to connect freedom and peace; now he needs to show that he will follow the Obama example, if elected, and boldly support civil society led movements for freedom and against corruption.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 10, 2012    3:40 PM ET

COTONOU, Benin — On an epic journey through Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton braved an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda, escaped a swarm of angry bees in Malawi and witnessed a rare snow in South Africa. She even shimmied on a dance floor, gaining the nickname "Secretary of Shake."

As she wrapped up her nine-nation African tour Friday in Benin, Clinton shattered her own travel record, logging 865,000 miles and stops in 108 countries – 10 more countries than her nearest competitor, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 7, 2012   11:06 AM ET

PRETORIA, South Africa — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting the country with the world's highest rate of HIV infection, said Tuesday that American-sponsored efforts to stop the virus "have saved hundreds of thousands of lives" in South Africa.

In the capital of Pretoria, Clinton met with Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and other senior officials in the second cabinet-level strategic dialogue between the two nations. She also participated in a summit of leading U.S. business executives and their South African counterparts with the aim of boosting trade between the two countries.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 4, 2012    1:39 PM ET

NAIROBI, Kenya — Looking ahead to Kenya's national vote in March, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday warned leaders and citizens in the East African nation not to repeat the deadly violence that plunged the country into chaos after disputed presidential elections five years ago.

Clinton said Kenya had the potential to be prove its democratic maturity and be an international model for free, fair and transparent elections. But she made clear that further election unrest would damage Kenya's economy and global standing.

MATTHEW LEE   |   August 3, 2012    7:34 AM ET

ENTEBBE, Uganda — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she hopes drones will soon be able to see through jungle cover so they can locate warlord Joseph Kony.

Clinton made the remark in Uganda as she watched a small U.S.-made drone that the Ugandan military uses in Somalia to fight al-Qaida-linked militants.

KEVIN FREKING   |   July 27, 2012    3:48 PM ET

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama raised nearly $2.5 million Friday at three fundraising events, including one where he crossed paths with President Bill Clinton. The other two were hosted by a Virginia businessman and philanthropist who helped hundreds of struggling Americans attend Obama's inaugural in 2009.

Obama met Clinton at a hotel where Obama was attending an intimate fundraiser with 25 donors that brought in $1 million for his re-election bid. Clinton was there hosting a fundraiser for Rep. John Lewis, the Democratic congressman from Georgia. The White House said the two presidents had the opportunity to say hello.

My First "Neighborhood House Party"

Ruth Neubauer   |   July 23, 2012    6:55 PM ET

My First "Neighborhood House Party"

As a very young faculty wife with two babies in two years, I was more involved with the second diaper pail disappearing than I was with meetings we hosted for graduate students from various disciplines as they organized themselves against the Vietnam War. The 1960s.

It wasn't until a couple decades later, divorced and living in the Washington, D.C. area that I felt the call to march for real. The Million Mom March was on Mother's Day that year. When asked by my adult daughters what I would like to do that day I asked that we all go march for CHOICE. All decked out in white like everyone else on the Metro, we spent the day on the Mall looking around at the women and the signs they held feeling like this was a very big extraordinary party knowing, without saying, we felt at home.

I had my first "political" home celebration the day Clinton was inaugurated -- red, white and blue streamers and homemade patriotic cookies. I just graduated with a master's degree in Social Work and worked in the community as a case manager on the front lines trying to find a place to live for homeless men and women in the richest, most well-educated county in the country -- Montgomery County -- I experienced Reagan's depletion of affordable housing by 80 percent during his eight years in office first hand.

The inauguration of Democrat Bill Clinton needed to be celebrated.

At the very end of George Bush's years I moved to Denver to be near my youngest daughter, her husband, and their two delicious daughters. I got to Denver in time that summer of 2008 to get a ticket for the Convention in Coors Field at which Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination. As I looked down the row of the seats way up in section H, no face the same color or shape, I felt I was at a party of seventy thousand people each of whom I knew I would like. The energy that day is only to be found in the particles. And unforgettable.

What a feeling that was.

Not since JFK had I felt that sense of hope, hopefulness.

It is 2012.

I am now 70.

I hosted my first "neighborhood house party" here in Denver recently and had a lovely conversation with the two wonderful young women, graduated high school seniors, spending this summer fully dedicated to the gritty ground work of grass roots campaigning. It's just what it sounds like. Down to the roots with bare hands bringing sign posts and stickers and lists for emails and copies of position papers even a red-white-and-blue pinwheel turning my kitchen and living room into the campaign headquarters of the neighborhood that night. I took pictures as it unfolded.

Turns out the two women who led the meeting and know the local political system have been doing this for years, are experienced and articulate, and lovely and strong beyond imagination so I learned a lot about how much I don't know and what it takes, and how hard they work and how much they know, and that anything at all one can or wishes to do is helpful. Just offering my house for meetings is helpful and fills a need.

Every single piece of cheese and bottle of wine donated to these occasions means something.
"Participating" does really and truly mean "do what you wish, do what you can". Give.

In whatever form is comfortable.

It will be appreciated.

You will feel good.

And Obama must win.

Electoral Emissions: What If Presidents Treated Our Cars Like Our Country?

Brian Crewe   |   July 16, 2012    5:34 PM ET

I love political cartoons. The good ones depend on the reader being intelligent and well read. The more you know and the harder you look at the details, the funnier the cartoon gets. It's wonderful to have art with humor that doesn't talk down to its audience. Whether you agree or disagree, your reaction helps you define your stance on current events. I've always thought it'd be fun to create a film in the style of a political cartoon.

In January 2012, my friend America Young e-mailed me some very basic dialogue for what would become Electoral Emissions, the short film embedded in this blog, which I encourage you to watch before reading the rest of this post.

America wanted to know what I thought of her developing script, which started with a conversation she had had with her mother.

America: One common theme I hear from people attacking Obama is how much money he's spending and that we aren't out of debt yet. True, he did promise to fix us up in four years, which was not realistic, but he was handed something that was broken. It takes money to fix something that is broken. I was talking with my mom about this and she pointed out, if you wreck a car, you have to pay to get it back to working condition. Which then got my mind going. I came up with the scenario of a woman getting her car back from the valet and it being wrecked but the mechanic is the one who gets yelled at, by the valet, for charging money to fix his mistake. It was amazing how easily the metaphor worked for this particular defense of Obama.

What I loved about America's idea of the Valet vs. the Mechanic was that it was like one gigantic moving political cartoon. As we layered in visual details and incorporated the thoughts of our brilliant and opinionated actors, Justin Welborn and Joe Holt, the funnier and more interesting it got.

America's premise also provided a chance to not talk down to an audience. I'm not a huge fan of impersonators showing off how good they are or having actors pause to wink at the audience to make sure they got the joke. I liked that the script was flexible enough for us to layer in the humor and commentary for the audience to find on their own.

As a viewer, you may agree or disagree with our stance, you might interpret this short film differently than we intended, or you might decide it's just the same old political rhetoric and start calling us a bunch of idiots. Honestly, I'm okay with all of those responses. As with a good political cartoon, America and I simply want Electoral Emissions to provoke a reaction, to make you think about your personal political stance, and ideally inspire you to dig into your choices a little more deeply.


  |   July 13, 2012    8:23 AM ET

WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton said Mitt Romney's financial record is a matter of legitimate campaign scrutiny because he's been selling himself as a fix-it man on the economy.

Clinton told NBC's "Today" show Romney's hesitation to release all of his tax returns "struck me as a little odd." Romney has released a full tax filing only for 2010.

He explained, "I am a little surprised he only released a year's worth of tax returns. That kind of perplexed me, because this is the first time in, I don't know, more than 30 years that anybody running for president has only done that. you know, it's typical we all release 10, 11 years. I think Senator McCain released over 20 years of tax returns."

Clinton said Romney's record as the head of private equity firm Bain Capital is fair game and says taking a microscopic look at Romney's finances is "just as relevant as going over my record as governor when I ran for president."

He said voters "ought to make up their own mind" whether they support someone who apparently sought to minimize his federal tax liability by parking large sums of money overseas.

On extending the Bush-era tax cuts, he said, "If we're going to have long-term debt reduction, we're going to have to have some spending cuts and some more revenues and that's the fairest place to get it. What the Republicans are trying to do is to put him in a position of giving all that up for another year, which I think would be a big mistake."

  |   July 12, 2012    9:49 AM ET

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and "pattern of provocations" are a serious threat to Asian and world security.

North Korea released a statement later Thursday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' annual conference in Cambodia saying Washington's "never-ending nuclear threat" against the North has forced Pyongyang to build atomic weapons.

BRADLEY KLAPPER   |   July 11, 2012    1:23 PM ET

VIENTIANE, Laos — Decades after the U.S. gave Laos a horrific distinction as the world's most heavily bombed nation per person, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged Wednesday to help get rid of millions of unexploded bombs that still pockmark the impoverished country – and still kill.

The U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on the North Vietnamese ally during its "secret war" between 1964 and 1973 – about a ton of ordnance for each Laotian man, woman and child. That exceeded the amount dropped on Germany and Japan together in World War II.

  |   June 12, 2012    3:21 PM ET

From Fox News came the exultant headline: "Once shunned Clinton emerges as GOP's election year ally."