Sunday, September 30, 2007

Human Nature 101

I've been watching some of the Eagles-Giants game on TV, and I just saw something that has something to say about human nature. I'm just not sure what it was.

But if someone in a political campaign can figure out what it is, it might hold the key to winning lots of elections.

Anyway, it was during the third quarter, and someone in the camera crew discovered that actress Cameron Diaz was sitting in one of the private boxes. You could see her clearly through the window. So the camera focused on her for a few seconds ... until the lady sitting next to her leaned over, nudged Ms. Diaz in the ribs and then, with a grin on her face, pointed up at a TV monitor that apparently was out of the camera's view.

To her credit, Ms. Diaz did not seem at all surprised that her presence had generated some interest from the video crew. In fact, I didn't even see her respond at all to her suitemate's nudging. Of course, the camera didn't linger on her box, either. It cut away to the action on the field about 2 seconds after the woman nudged Ms. Diaz and pointed at the monitor.

But Ms. Diaz's response seemed to be genuine. After a 13-year career in films, with a modeling career that led to her film career, it can be taken for granted that Ms. Diaz knows something about cameras and what motivates those behind them. It can also be taken for granted that she finds the presence of cameras -- anywhere -- to be of no surprise at all.

What I can't figure out is why the woman in the private box sitting next to Cameron Diaz would be so surprised that an actress' presence at a football game attracted attention from a TV crew. She acted delighted, as if being on TV because she was sitting next to an actress was literally the last thing she expected.

When I was growing up, it seemed that about the only reason that movie stars or popular music artists ever showed up at sporting events was to be seen by everyone else. Boxing matches were always good for that, especially when Muhammad Ali was the champ and network TV got to televise most of his title defenses. And big events like the World Series, the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals are always like magnets for celebrities.

Anyway, if the reason for being there was to be seen, congrats, Cameron. Mission accomplished.

On the other hand, if she's a Giants fan or an Eagles fan -- which would seem, on the face of it, a little unlikely, since Ms. Diaz is from the opposite coast, a native of San Diego -- I'm sorry if we interrupted her while she was watching the game.

What The Polls Say

National polls tell us that Hillary Clinton, senator from New York, and Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, are the leading contenders for their parties' nominations.

But presidential politics is really about momentum as much as it is about anything else, and momentum will be established by what happens in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. And the voters in both of those states have shown decidedly independent streaks in the past. They don't seem to care what people elsewhere are thinking. They are intent upon making up their own minds.

We're less than four months away from Iowa and New Hampshire. And, according to the latest Newsweek polls from Iowa, neither Clinton nor Giuliani have "the big Mo," as the first President Bush called it.

Newsweek reports that, on the Democratic side, Barack Obama is getting 28% from likely caucus participants, Clinton is getting 24% and John Edwards is getting 22%. Clinton had been leading in previous polls of Iowa Democrats, but every poll suggests that support for all three of the top contenders is soft and that anything could still happen there.

On the Republican side, Newsweek says Mitt Romney, whose father was governor of nearby Michigan, has 24%, while his nearest competitor, Fred Thompson, has 16%. Giuliani is polling at 13%, Mike Huckabee is getting 12% and John McCain is in single digits at 9%. Again, polls suggest that support remains soft, but Romney has been in front, by varying margins, in every poll I've seen from Iowa for a month or more.

The Iowa polls were conducted a few days ago, September 26-27. You can read more about the Newsweek polls in Iowa here.

If these polls continue to hold until the caucus in January, Obama and Romney, not Clinton and Giuliani, will have the momentum heading into primary season.

Or will they? Jonathan Martin, of The Politico, asserts that Giuliani is Mr. September after enjoying perhaps his best month as a candidate for the Republican nomination.

The question now is, will he be Mr. November of 2008? Or will Hillary be Ms. November?

Or will they both be merely memories of the political season after the parties' conventions next summer?

More On Immigration

A column in today's New York Times explains, at least in part, the problem Republicans are having with immigration, as discussed by Linda Chavez in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In the time that has passed since September 11, we have become like the proverbial generals who fight the current war as if they are fighting the last war all over again but with the knowledge they didn't have the first time.

What those proverbial generals don't take into account is that time has passed since that other war, developments have occurred and objectives (and methods for achieving those objectives) have changed.

It's true that the terrorist attacks made it necessary for us to take new precautions and erect new barriers. And the 9/11 Commission correctly pinpointed many of the deficiencies that made those attacks so ridiculously easy to carry out. Unfortunately, our government has failed to enact most of those reforms that were recommended by the 9/11 Commission and, thus, the loopholes remain wide open to be exploited again.

But Thomas Friedman of the Times is correct when he says America needs to regain its "old habits and sense of openness," and that's a big part of the problem with immigration policy.

America was built by immigrants. Most Americans come from immigrant stock. In fact, unless you're 100% Indian, you have at least a portion of immigrant blood running through your veins. So promoting policies that prevent entry into America for people who don't speak English or who don't look "American" enough (one Republican lawmaker famously suggested keeping out people with "diapers on their heads") frankly promotes the kind of country I didn't grow up in and certainly don't want to live in.

There are risks to that kind of openness, but there always have been. What is needed is common sense in our immigration policy, not bigotry and ignorance.

I don't always agree with Friedman, but he's absolutely right when he says that 9/11 "made us stupid." Our next president can't afford to forget the lessons we learned from the September 11 attacks. But our next president also can't afford to forget that there are certain things about America that made us stand tall for the rest of the world, and one of those things was our willingness to open our doors and our arms to people from throughout the world who wanted to come here to be free to be whatever they could be.

That's a quality of our national personality that we should never want to trade for security.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Double-Edged Sword

Linda Chavez points out, in the San Diego Union-Tribune, that the hardline posture on immigration could prove to be a permanent problem for the Republican Party.

The impending explosion of Hispanic citizens in this country and what it might mean has been discussed for a long time. It is a segment of the population that both parties have pursued for years, and it wasn't too long ago that Republicans talked about winning a permanent political majority in this country by securing about 40% or so of the Hispanic vote. But that talk went away after the 2006 elections, when Hispanic support for the Republicans fell into the low 30s.

Republicans have alienated many Hispanics, and they may be paying the price for a generation or more.

What's In A Name?

In one of his famous lines from one of his most famous plays ("Romeo and Juliet"), William Shakespeare writes, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

I had to think long and hard when I was deciding which name to give this blog. I didn't want to choose a name that was overly pretentious. I wanted it to be something that suggested the challenge involved in writing about the issues of the day and the intention of delivering thoughtful, rational perspectives -- combined with respect for the ongoing efforts to make this country what it was designed to be.

A name is not something to be taken frivolously. This is a topic that was addressed, in a way, on "Frasier" a few years ago. Niles and Daphne wanted to be on a waiting list for an exclusive school for their as-yet unconceived child, and they needed a name as a "placeholder." They tried a lot of methods but couldn't come up with anything that pleased both of them. In the end, Roz told them that she would choose a name, Niles and Daphne wouldn't have to know what it was, and it would serve its purpose.

Unfortunately, the name Roz chose -- "Ichabod" -- ultimately led the school's selection committee to conclude that Niles and Daphne didn't take the selection process seriously, and "Ichabod" Crane was rejected.

(Even so, I guess Roz's choice was better than the one Daphne came up with at random from a phone book. "Bob" Crane implied too many unsavory things. More unsavory than the "Headless Horseman.")

In making the same point many, many years ago, comedian George Carlin observed, "If Janitor in a Drum made a douche, no one would buy it."

I have a good friend who knows just about everything there is to know about the internet and computing. He believed I should choose a name that will jump to the top of the list when people run a search in Yahoo or Google or some other search engine.

But I was trained and educated as a journalist. Marketing isn't my thing. So the name I picked may not be the best choice for promotion, and it may not be easy to find, but I think it reflects the psychology behind this blog.

I chose "Freedom Writing" because it's a nice play on the name of the participants in an event of political and historical significance in America -- the Freedom Riders.

To test the Supreme Court's ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960), civil rights activists rode buses into the then-segregated Southern states. Those activists were called "Freedom Riders" and they embarked on their journey on May 4, 1961.

The Freedom Riders and their mission were overshadowed in the news at the time by the fact that astronaut Alan Shephard, on board Freedom 7, became the first American in space the next day with a 15-minute flight.

But the Freedom Riders have a place in the history of social justice in America, just as I hope "Freedom Writing" will have a place in the public debate about justice in this country.