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February 13, 2008
I think it’s worth at least a try to see if some non-emotional commentary can win some consideration in the wake of the whooping, shouting, rock-concert atmosphere which marked Democratic Party proceedings in Omaha last week.
The 38,000 who turned out for the presidential nominating caucuses in Omaha and across Nebraska last Saturday exceeded all expectations—a fact celebrated by party leaders as proof of their wisdom in bringing party caucuses into the presidential-candidate selection process.
But the facts are that the 38,000 caucus-goers equaled only about 10% of the number of registered Nebraska Democrats.
Thousands of Nebraskans were, obviously, impressed by Sen. Barack Obama’s appearance before an enthusiastic crowd of about 10,000 in Omaha two days before the caucuses. For my part, I was disappointed—but certainly not surprised—that so many Nebraskans, including some in the news media, were not only willing but eager to accept the style over substance characteristic which is driving Obama’s increasingly strong challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination.
One news story said that Obama’s 45-minute speech “touched on his trademark themes—hope and change—and many of those gathered said that is exactly why they are drawn to him.”
My reaction continues to be “change to what?”
Incidentally, I don’t think Obama’s cause was helped any by a Wall Street Journal front-page story Monday. The Journal reported that his wife, Michelle, during a strategy session preparing Obama for an upcoming debate, broke into the discussion with this advice (directive?): “Barack, feel—don’t think.”
The campaign theme—and speech theme—of “hope and change” apparently was more than enough to satisfy his Omaha listeners—some of whom had stood for hours waiting for a chance to hear him speak. “They roared and roared,” a news story said. A woman who had waited six hours to hear Obama told him after the speech, “We love you.” Obama thanked her and gave her a big hug.
There’s no question that Obama has achieved a sort of larger-than-life image in the eyes of a good many Americans, including some national media reporters and commentators. There are dissenting views, of course. One example:
Jonah Goldberg, a commentator for the conservative National Review, has written: Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton’s campaigns have substance. Oprah Winfrey supports Obama, for example, Goldberg wrote, because he has a “unifying, super-nifty-cool personality. Clinton, meanwhile, is staying afloat largely through her ability to guilt-trip female liberals into sticking with her.”
Goldberg’s bottom line: “If substance were water, the Democratic campaign would be a desert.”
Goldberg’s views are in sharp contrast to the level of voter opinion typified, for one example, by an Alliance, Nebraska resident, a former professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote on The World-Herald’s “More Commentary” page that Michelle Obama and her husband “are the hope for the future.”
And an editorial writer made this remarkable assessment of the significance of Obama’s visit to speak in Omaha: “How inspirational it must be to tell a class of youngsters in Omaha this week that anyone can be president and, at the civic auditorium, point to a serious contender as proof.”
The serious contender in question happens to be tall, good looking, charismatic, an inspirational, emotion-charged speaker, a Harvard Law School graduate whose appeal is partly based on the fact that he would be the first black elected president. I fail to see how this suggests evidence that “anyone can be president.”
The news coverage of the caucuses included a bit of perspective with this report from Daniel Worta of Wilber, who said of the caucus in Crete: “You don’t have even 10% of the county’s registered Democrats here.”
There was plenty of evidence that at least some of the larger caucuses were apparently more driven by feeling than thinking. The news stories said that at Omaha North High School, for example, speeches “were nearly drowned out by rowdy, raucous cheering.” The story also reported that the crowd “danced in the aisles with signs, led deafening cheers and screamed when Obama supporters spoke in favor of the candidate.”
An administrator for the Omaha Public Schools who attended the North High caucus commented: “What an exciting morning. I really feel like we’ve been making history here.”
Yes, but what kind of history?
* * *
The headline last Friday read: “If no electric chair, what?”
The Saturday headline read: “Death penalty is in limbo after ruling.” The subhead read: “Senators see no quick fix to carry out executions.”
The stories dealt, of course, with the fact that the Nebraska Supreme Court has held that electrocution in some cases “will unquestionably inflict intolerable pain unnecessary to cause death” and thus is no longer a legal way to carry out death sentences in Nebraska.
Some legislators seem to feel that prompt attention must be given to finding some other method of execution—possibly lethal injection.
But the most logical approach to the problem, it seems to me, is not to wait for the introduction and passage of a bill to change the method of execution but to try first a possible solution that is already at hand, in a bill that is awaiting consideration of the floor of the Legislature. That bill would abolish the death penalty in Nebraska.
Possible abolition of the death penalty presumably will be acted on sooner or later in this legislative session, and why not sooner rather than later?
The abolition bill includes language expressing legislative intent that the 10 prisoners currently on “death row” be moved by the State Board of Pardons to the same status as would apply to all future defendants found guilty of first-degree murder; i.e., life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
A possible scenario:
The death-penalty-abolition bill becomes law (possibly surviving a gubernatorial veto). The Board of Pardons commutes the death penalty sentences of the 10 prisoners on “death row.” Thus there is no need to find a new, legal method of execution.
Long shot? Perhaps. But, I suggest, worth a try, by promptly considering the death-penalty-repeal bill.
Keep in mind that if a legally-acceptable method of execution isn’t reasonably quickly found in this legislative session, no irreparable harm would be done.
As a result of repeated legal appeals, the delay between sentencing and execution drags on and on. Of the 22 death sentences imposed in the last 30 years, only three have been carried out. The others have been commuted by the Pardon Board, vacated by court order or nullified by the death of the prisoner or, in 14 cases, are on appeal to the courts. One of the 14 cases still tied up in legal appeals involves a death sentence imposed 22 years ago.
* * *
“Many now beginning to tighten their belts,” the headline read.
The subhead said: “Changing times are forcing more consumers to live within their means.”
What a cruel turn of events. Changing economic conditions forcing people not to spend money which they have to borrow, either, for example, by running up credit card debt or by taking on subprime mortgage debt—a “bargain” which proved too good to be true.
* * *
Fed up with the continuing periods of snowfall (in truth, probably no more frequent or heavier than in a good many winters I’ve experienced), I told my associate, Jackie Wrieth: “I no longer believe there is such a thing as a pretty snowfall. Enough is enough.”
Then the other morning I was sitting in our garden room, looking out at this scene:
A cascade of those big, fluffy flakes falling quietly on our formal garden area, with too many birds for me to count—including at least half a dozen red cardinals—flitting down to our two bird feeders and back to the snow-laden evergreen branches, making way for another three or four cardinals or chickadees or sparrows at the feeders.Squirrels were snacking on seeds dropped to the ground beneath the feeders.
All in all, I was forced to reflect, it was indeed another very pretty snowfall—especially if viewed from indoors.
* * *
We still call it “Nancy’s Room,” even though daughter Nancy has long since moved to Denver where she’s raising three fine sons.
It’s convenient for me to use the twin beds as a temporary (sometimes “temporary” gets extended into a couple of weeks or more) resting place for various miscellaneous articles, mostly clothing. Sometimes it’s hard to see the bedspreads through the various articles “temporarily” resting on them.
The other morning I found this note from Marian on the counter in my bathroom: “Have you considered picking up Nancy’s Room?”
My temptation was to reply to Marian, “Yes, I’ve considered that several times. But each time I went and laid down until the impulse passed.”
I thought that response would be pretty funny, but I also thought that Marian wouldn’t agree. So I “picked up” Nancy’s Room, and didn’t drop a single item of significant size on either of the beds for all of two or three days.
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