Tribalism and Climate Change

It is obvious that politics has become tribal—which makes any sign of cross-tribal collaboration cause for celebration. But a recent op-ed in  The Washington Post (“The States Can Lead the Way on Climate Change. Let’s Get to Work.”)  co-authored by Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan, and Virginia’s Democratic governor Ralph Northam offers hope that we may not, after all, be destined for mutual assured destruction via bitter partisanship.

There is no doubt that Hogan, as an old-fashioned moderate, is a species of Republican sliding towards extinction.  (Perhaps biologists should set up a captive breeding program.)   It is also true that in Maryland, where Democrats control the state legislature, effective governance requires crossing the aisle.  But Hogan has seemed to enjoy governing as a moderate—it suits his rather Falstaffian demeanor.

An acquaintance who serves in the Hogan administration told me that the Maryland governor is pondering a primary challenge to Trump—and Hogan has done nothing to discourage this thinking.  A recent  article in The New Yorker noted that Hogan was the opening speaker at a recent conference in Washington titled “Starting Over: The Center-Right After Trump.”

In any case, the possibility that governors and other state-level politicians are willing and able to collaborate to address climate change and other critical issues deserves recognition.

NASA Goddard image of Hurricane Katrina August 2005

Growing up I heard my grandfather say that pessimists were happier because they were never disappointed and were sometimes pleasantly surprised. It now appears, however, that even the pessimists were too optimistic about the destructive potential of climate change. (See “The Arctic is Turning from White to Blue.“)  I see no compelling scenario in which those who would rather ignore science in the interests of short-term economic growth will be convinced.  It is, therefore, encouraging to see a genuinely bipartisan expression of willingness to take the problem seriously and work collaboratively on a solution.  As a pessimist, I find the Hogan-Northam collaboration a pleasant surprise.

I am not an Entertainment Critic…. but There’s No Business Like Show Business….

Years ago I wrote for a small free weekly newspaper whose main draw was that it gave prominent coverage to local little league, junior and high school sports. There was a sports reporter—and me. I covered crime, politics…. and local theater.  I soon discovered that donning the mental hat of a “critic” made it much harder to enjoy a show.  So I will never do a full-length critique of movies or other non-news media, but from time-to-time may indulge myself with a few comments.

I recently read two critiques of two shows that I very much like. One was “Green Book” which was panned as “patronizing” by the conservative website National Review. The other was a review of the Amazon Prime series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” which was panned in The New Yorker as “treacly and exhausting.”  Perhaps I have never recovered from my years as a “critic”—but I do not sit down in front of a screen with an ulterior motive. Both  “Green Book” as a once-and-done movie, and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” as an ongoing series, caused me to willingly suspend disbelief and fall under their spells.  Oh, yeah, and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is actually a musical, and the soundtrack is… well, you decide… Here’s a link to the version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” by Mary Hopkin used in Season 2 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” And that is all I am going to say….  

Meditation and Flying Coffee Cups

Lenny is a male red-sided eclectus parrot, hatched down in Homa, Louisiana in 2000.

While I hesitate to give life advice, I can say that in general, it is always good to feed your companion animals before sitting down to meditate. I was reminded of that this morning during my usual 10-minute guided meditation when my parrot Lenny became impatient and threw my empty coffee mug to the kilim on the kitchen floor downstairs. Since I did not hear the sound of shattering, I continued to meditate.  Anyone who has spent much time living with companion animals knows that not only do they have distinct personalities, but that they display intelligence in many different ways. Lenny has learned how to open cabinet doors, turn on light switches, and on a few occasions turned on my washing machine by punching a large round button.  It is interesting how hairless apes–aka human beings–so easily compartmentalize between our companion animals and those that we eat—although there is no reason to think that the capacity for suffering is any different between a parrot and a chicken and a dog and a pig or cow.  Although mainly vegetarian, I am selectively omnivorous, and have long wrestled with finding a balance between eating well and the dictates of conscience. At the moment I am reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals.”  I will write more on this topic at a future date.  At the moment Lenny is calling.

A Bit More Nonsense from the Punditry….

I am getting ready to turn in for the night, but in my online news scan caught this ridiculous headline from Daily Beast: “Beto is Old News Already: Here’s the Dems’ Best 2020 Bet.”

On the other hand, Rolling Stone had this to say: “Obama Met Beto. Then the Whispers Began.”

You decide.  Speaking of Obama…. back in January 2009, when it was 18 degrees in Washington,  I rode the MARC inauguration special and never got any closer than a jumbotron about a mile away—but you can actually read the captions on the Jumbotron:  “Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers…”

So I will leave you this evening with those warm memories from that frosty January day, and with a short video of Beto at a rally a few days before the 2018 mid-terms…

January 20, 2009… about a mile from the reviewing stand near the Capitol…..
Beto O’Rourke on November 3, 2018 speaking at a small record store in the Greenville section of Dallas.

Dreaming in Dallas

On November 7 I flew back from Dallas to Baltimore after a week knocking on doors for Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate run against Republican Ted Cruz. I was part of a group of about 40 people headquartered at a Beto pop-up office at the Marriott Courtyard at Spring Valley in Richardson—where staff  were incredibly friendly to the dozens of volunteers coming and going.  We were all dreaming that 2018 would be the year that Texas voters would show that Texas, was not a Red state—but a non-voting state that, when it finally voted, could be blue.  This mantra has basis in fact.  See: “Texas is Not a Red State–It’s a Non-voting State.”While ultimately Beto did not pull off a win, he came within 2.6 percent of Cruz, showing that things are changing in Texas.  It is no overstatement to say that in losing his Senate race, Beto drove turnout and helped many down-ballot Dems defeat supposedly entrenched Republicans in both federal and state offices.Some of the best—and worst—2018 Texas mid-term postmortems were in The Atlantic. I have selected some of those I think worth reading.  This commentary got it:  “What Beto Won“.  But David Frum, an often astute observer for the Reasonable Right, misconstrued the outcome–concluding that Beto’s loss meant he was not a viable 2020 presidential candidate. “Beto’s Loss was a Blessing in Disguise for the Democrats.” The reality is that Beto’s loss has left him free to run for President in 2020.  Perhaps the most wrong-headed commentary was by Elaina Plott, also in The Atlantic: “Beto O’Rourke’s National Celebrity was His Undoing.”

The turnout issues that were partially defied in this year’s Texas mid-terms are a study in how to legally discourage voting to keep power. A good analysis of just how difficult Texas has made voting—and how the landscape is shifting—was written by The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer on November 5—one day before the Election—captured the Zeitgeist better than anyone. “Something’s Happening in Texas.”

But back to my experience on the ground.  We canvassed daily in various suburbs around Dallas, and on Election Day, on the light rail (DART)  and elsewhere. I ultimately spent that last day walking around downtown Dallas talking to dozens of potential voters. That experience, and the many conversations I had on the doorsteps of other Texans, were encouraging in many ways. Despite the “Us vs. Them” narrative in the press, I found very little hostility—exactly ONCE did someone raise their voice and ask me to leave their property.  Considering I knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors, and spoke with people across the political spectrum, that is remarkable.

Beto’s unusual likability and authenticity did not go unnoticed—even by some who ultimately voted for Cruz. I had quite a few conversations that went something like this:  “I’m a Republican and I’m voting for Cruz, but I admire how Beto has run this campaign.”  I also had a number of conversations that went something like this: “I’m a Republican and this will be the first time I’ve voted for a Democrat.”  I did hear stories from some Beto supporters of getting their lawn sings stolen —but they were few and far between.

If you watched the last debate between Beto and Cruz, you could see that Beto was uncomfortable “going low”—when he trotted out how the label “lying Ted” stuck because Cruz often said one thing and did another. (While factually correct, it ill-suited O’Rourke—and it seemed clear to me that rather than relying on his gut, he had taken an advisor’s advice.) That was the only time that Beto went low—and it was dissonant.  Cynics may discount Beto’s natural idealism and warmth, but it was on display after the election, where he showed grace in defeat during a chance meeting at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

During the final leg of the campaign, Beto held a rally at a small, locally-owned record shop called Good Records in the Greenville section of Dallas—and while I don’t remember everything he said, I do remember him saying that while not everything he put forth would always “poll well” it was the right thing to do.  He also spoke enthusiastically about promoting wind and solar in Texas (did you know that Texas is the clear leader in wind energy and fifth in solar?).  He also pointed to the state’s lagging behind in marijuana policy, and made a case for compassion and law in how we treat immigrants and asylum seekers.  This is one of my photographs from the rally.

Beto rally at Good Records in Dallas’s Greenville neighborhood on November 3, 2018

As I sit in my kitchen in my small Baltimore rowhouse on December 4 with my parrot Lenny looking over my shoulder, I am starting to feel that things are beginning to settle.  The metaphor that comes to mind is that of watching muddy water slowly start to clarify.  It’s a slow process—and it is easy for the water to become cloudy again—but the end result will be clarity.

Two weeks ago I would have been hesitant to predict that Beto would throw his hat in the 2020 presidential ring, but that now looks like the way things are going. And if I am going to prognosticate, I predict that among the finishers will be Sherrod Brown. Those who worry about Hillary Clinton are wasting anxiety—she will not get any meaningful support. I don’t see Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders really gaining traction, either, and doubt that Kamala Harris will be the nominee.  My pick for the biggest sleeper candidate is U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, who is by far Minnesota’s most popular elected official—-and who blew away her republican opponent by 24 percentage points—and acquitted  herself admirably in the supercharged Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings.

That Klobuchar is mulling a 2020 presidential bid is well founded. On a Saturday on the first day of December 2018, she showed up in Iowa to speak to the Iowa Farmers Union. As Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported, Klobuchar alluded to the 2020 race, commenting that “Obviously people have been talking to me about this, including down here, but I don’t have any announcements to make today.”

As we get further into the 2020 primary season (and, yes, it has already started), I will share my reflections and predictions with whomever happens to tune into this blog. I will also share various and sundry other topics that I think may be of interest to someone out there in the blogosphere.