Saturday, March 24, 2007

Presidential History

It is interesting to review the Presidents of the last century and see what sort of experience led them to the White House. We have to look back to Hoover to find what we would now consider the least experienced candidate. Hoover was appointed a minor cabinet position, the Secretary of Commerce, as a reward for supporting Harding. He lacked experience, but was able to be elected into the highest office.

Since then we have had Roosevelt who was a Governor, Truman who was a Senator and a Vice President. Eisenhower was a General, but one that was steeped in politics through his entire military career.

Kennedy was in Congress and the Senate. Johnson was in Congress and was Vice President. Nixon was in the Senate and a Vice President. Ford was in Congress, the Senate and was a Vice President. Carter was a governor and a Senator. Reagan was simply a Governor. George H.W. Bush was in Congress, Senate and was a Vice President. Clinton was a Governor as was George W. Bush.

As Americans, are we demanding our Presidents have past political experience? If so, why? Couldn’t we be better off with someone who was successful in running a big business? How about a seasoned diplomat? How about a clear thinker who knows how to resolve issues? Religious leadership seems to have fallen by the wayside with past candidates such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson. Is the American political party machine unable to accept presidential candidates who haven’t paid their dues to politics?

Ralph Nader never had a chance, nor did Perot nor would Trump, nor would Gates. The unpaid political dues of Giuliani will be his doom. Being a former Mayor and a US Attorney may not be quite enough to push him over the top.

As voters it is time to consider what qualifications are important to us to place a candidate in the White House. The race is on. Unfortunately the voters will only see what the major parties want us to see.

Is it possible that we will live to see the day when a political past hinders all candidates? Are Americans ready to try someone who would be considered out of the norm for that position? Will we elect someone who delegates well? Or will we elect a decider?

Sadly, who ever gets elected will face an up hill battle. They will more than likely win with fewer than fifty-percent of the population behind them. Other politicians will be left behind to lick their wounds and wonder if their characters were now beyond repair for a future run at the office.

Those who are not elected usually return to politics and continue to be scrutinized for the rest of their political careers. Those who were in business when they ran return quietly to the business world without consequence and continue with the success they fostered before throwing their hat into the political arena.

Past Presidents always seem to get a pass in politics. Maybe because they have been there and paid their dues and can no longer influence change on the level they once could. This elevates them to elder statesmen. Who would have thought that Nixon, Ford, Carter, Johnson and Reagan would be elevated to this status while they were in the White House.

As always, we hope that we will choose a leader who will lead us into peace and prosperity. As we vote we hope our ballots are cast for the betterment of humankind. If we don’t have this hope, we would be rendered hopeless in very troubling times. For now, we can only hope that the correct candidate for our times surfaces. We hope that things will be better for us and for the generations to follow. All we ask for is hope.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Dried Salmon Co. Prison Blues

A while back I was taking an online Criminal Justice class and was amazed at how many of my cohorts were already in the system or its edges: as officers or reservists, prison or security guards, parole officers and case workers. Within the first two weeks I was labeled: bleeding heart liberal. A tag that was strange. I have never been in trouble with the law, never had a friend who was. I have never done any illegal drugs. I am not tolerant of people of who incessantly whine about being a victim of circumstances. I was, therefore, startled and appalled to meet the shining white custodians of those who found themselves on the wrong side of the system. The side that doesn’t get to decide when to go home when the door clangs shut, when to leave the light on, when to kiss the wife, the husband, the child good-night.

These radiantingly self-rightous custodians, one and all, referred to those who were behind the bars as less than the rest of us, those of us on "this side" of the bars. It was their jobs to make the criminal suffer for their "crimes against humanity" those who were making life, "harder on the rest of us". They were full of these cliches, these shining white guardians of our virtuous society.

I say I was frankly appalled! What makes a criminal a criminal? At its most basest point? It is when an individual does an act which a society has determined to be detrimental to society as a whole. While society may need laws to govern interactaction with one another a careful balance must be maintained between those laws which protect and the freedoms that those laws can suppress, oppress, depress. Look at Iran and parts of Iraq where teaching certain parts of society about specific subjects can get you the death sentence. Those who choose to violate this law are seen as the most repugnant of society, are sentenced the harshest terms and sent to the meanest prisons. Can’t happen here? What was Ruby Ridge? Who was Malcolm X? What happened to the Chicago Seven/Eight? Are we so naive that we believe that only those famous incidents were the mistakes?

As most police departments are fond to point out, for every person who is caught and given a ticket usually 10 people go free. Conversely, for every person who we know about that is/was in prison for speaking out about injustice, or for their truth, there are ten more that we probably don’t know about.

Locally, I don’t believe that it is the duty, right or place of any person in the criminal justice system to further punish the people who society has deemed a criminal. Today’s criminals could be tomorrow’s revolutionaries, however, more than likely they’re just going to be your next door neighbor. I, for one, want them ready, willing and able to adjust back to “normal” society after “doing their time.” Our justice system, today, is not conducive to that. I hope whichever commissioner is sharing the job with the sheriff and the transition center manager keep in mind that it is our neighbors, friends and family members whose lives they are making decisions about. Decisions that most of us, naively, thought had already been made once –by a jury or a judge- but are now learning can be made over and over again, with verdicts and decisions interpreted willy-nilly.

A reminder to us all: If the United States had lost the revolutionary war, Washington, Jefferson and Franklin would be little more than curious footnotes, criminals in a poor attempt at a revolt against a great sovereignty. Did luck make them right or did right make them lucky?