27 October 2008

Political Balance

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

If you are reading this in the hopes of finding an endorsement for a presidential candidate, here it is: I will be voting for Senator Barack Obama for president on November 4th.

That said, my vote for Obama will be as much a vote against Senator John McCain. McCain seems like a fine American, with no more—and certainly no less—sleaze surrounding him than any other American politician, Obama included. Neither candidate is perfect, but there are far more negatives attached to McCain, from his erratic and completely hypocritical positions on the role of government in managing the economy, to his flip-flop on immigration issues, to his support for the war in Iraq, to his choice of an extremely unqualified running mate in Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Then there is the hypocrisy involved in the McCain campaign having spent $150,000 for clothing for Ms. Palin, or more than $20,000 for two weeks of a make-up “artist,” or his wanting to run for president but failing to open his wife’s tax returns for public scrutiny, while ruminating endlessly about earmarks and taxpayer waste. Senator McCain may once have been a “maverick,” but he is no longer; at this point his authenticity is flaccid and he is difficult to take seriously.

Let me be clear: I do not like many of Obama’s proposals for his time in office. In some cases, I find his ideas so weak on detail that it is difficult to assess them, never mind endorse them. In other instances, his plans may be directly counter to my family’s long-term economic interest, such as his income tax proposals, which will do nothing to alleviate the financial challenges faced by middle-class Americans living in America’s big cities. And while I understand that much talk on the campaign trail is designed to address groups of voters with limited interests, I find Obama’s comments about globalization and international trade to be too regressive in the face of an intricately linked world economy. Repealing NAFTA or reversing the tide of global trade simply are not options.

Nonetheless, and despite all of the above, Senator Obama represents the better choice over John McCain. First of all, Obama’s demeanor throughout this long campaign has been impeccable, nearly Reaganesque in his poise, calm, and level-headedness, which has expressed itself at almost every level. This represents more than just Obama’s ability to stay on message; it suggests that this is a man whose poise, calm, and level-headedness would be working for him in office, not just on the campaign trail. Moreover, even if I do not agree with all of his positions, Obama has been consistent and unwavering; he has not flip-flopped on issues in order to accommodate the needs of different voter audiences. He has always seemed true to himself and his own beliefs, authentic to his his core. (As McCain has not.)

Finally, there is single the biggest issue: Obama represents the best opportunity to change the direction of the country broadly, and to change the nature of American involvement with the rest of the world—for the better. Why does this matter?

This matters because improving our role and approach to international issues will benefit the United States and its citizens in the long-run, more than any Bush-McCain tax cut ever could. The United States needs to be a place open to ideas and people from around the world—as it was for much of its history. It is as a result of that openness that we became a leader in everything from basic industrial development to higher education to space exploration to medicine to computers. But a nation at war with the world, a nation that tortures those in its custody, a nation bent on using military aggression to pursue its (poorly concealed) economic objectives—such a nation cannot and will not succeed. As proof, one need look no further than the demolished Soviet Union. The long-term health of the United States depends on the long-term health of the world, from environmental issues to basic foreign relationships. In almost every area in which these issues arise, Senator Obama’s proposals, plans, and basic attitude are better, stronger, clearer, and more desirable than John McCain’s.


I know there are American citizens who choose not to vote, and I hope that this year they will reconsider. I understand the deep cynicism some people feel, towards America’s political parties and its politicians, and towards the system as a whole. The system is, in a word, fucked. I also understand the conflicted feelings people have towards the different candidates, the sense that both are far from perfect. This is not a compelling reason not to vote for either of them. (And I truly do not understand the people who are genuinely undecided—but I’m not the only one.)

November 4th offers an opportunity to direct (and perhaps correct) the course of our nation’s history. I firmly believe Senator Barack Obama will make a better president and a better leader than his opponent.

Whether you agree or not, please vote.


UPDATES: Update: In the days since I wrote this, a number of additional links have come to my attention that deserve, in turn, to be shared here. These include:

- "This election is not about issues." Um...

- And here's one (non-)issue I referenced above, but did not link to.

- Conservatives for Obama. It's real.

- Speaking of conservatives, here are two on Palin. (Alas, a little late, ladies.)

- - And last but not least, the Associated Press has done some more McCain fact checking.

15 October 2008

The Accidental Rebel

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

In my column a few weeks ago, I made explicit reference to the traditional form of a business letter as it pertains to applying for a job. Such letters represent conventions that seem to be disappearing prematurely—and all too accidentally. Armed with a certain amount of intelligence and perspicacity, anyone could argue that social conventions are made to be broken. However, in order to do so—and in addition to intelligence and perspicacity—one needs an awareness of those conventions in the first place.

Alas, an accidental abandonment of tradition appears to be the norm these days with so many things. As a species, we seem to get lazy, and we allow new tools and technologies, not to mention fleeting fads, to dictate changes in our behavior without consciously evaluating the impact of these changes. Eventually, knowledge, often of the most basic kind, gets lost. For example, much has been written and said elsewhere about such challenges as the degradation of language as a result of text messaging on cell phones, or the social impact of e-mail and the sense of immediacy its speed sometimes dictates.

This problem is pervasive, and seems to start early. A friend who teaches at a prep school near Philadelphia tells me that his students have essentially no awareness of a pre-digital age; that makes sense, since it is all they have ever known. The impact, however, is shocking. Absent an understanding of what it means not to be digitally accessible all the time, they cannot imagine—and have not been taught—about a more formal, less “e-” friendly world, which might affect their sense of privacy, speed, or the (in)formality of their engagement with others.


The statistics I quoted in my jobs-related post seem to reflect precisely this phenomenon of unconsciously lost knowledge, and the five characteristics of recent applications affirm the idea of the “accidental rebel.” Of the people whose job applications I have reviewed, only a handful have carefully and consciously set out to distinguish themselves—in the positive sense of the term—from the crowd. Those people have done so not by throwing over convention, but by embracing it.

A few applicants followed-up an initial letter and resume with a binder that included copies of the letter, resume, and the kinds of portfolio materials an applicant might expect us to find reassuring. Another sent a formal letter, and included a fake press release announcing a desire for employment, outlining skills, and more. [N.B., I do not recommend either of the above approaches: the former because it may be significantly more information than has been requested, and the latter because overuse will make it trite in very short order.] Still another applicant found a way within the standard letter to move beyond just calling our attention to her strengths and her interest, using very direct and affirmative language.

All of these applicants understood that they had to demonstrate an ability to meet the needs of a potential employer, and not just their needs as an employee. That includes expressing an understanding that in a business environment, people are expected to act professionally, and to know what constitutes professional behavior and skills.

Why such a fuss over job applications? For me, they represent something larger than just the knowledge and motivations of the applicant. Fans of Mad Men may recall season two’s episode 7, when the firm’s new young creative advertising duo pitch Martinson Coffee: they propose a radical approach to capturing the younger market, but they do so with a true understanding of what is involved in throwing over the conventional approaches of the past. Indeed, they outline those old approaches as part of their pitch. Such knowledge is crucial, because it conveys to all involved that there is a reason for breaking with tradition.

That, to me, speaks of true rebellion: a studied understanding of the past in order to forge ahead with new ideas for the future. Without that knowledge, one is simply an accidental rebel—and the record of success for such rebellions is low indeed.

04 October 2008

Happy New Year

I did not get an opportunity to write something ahead of the Jewish New Year this time around - but I did write (and read) something as part of the service for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. You can find that on the other side.

Previous Jewish holiday posts include:
- Elul Thoughts (2007)
- Holidays 5767 (2006)
- Life, At First (2004)
- The Jewish High Holidays 2001/5762