UNINVITED GUEST: Hurricane Sandy left many things topsy-turvy at the Jersey Shore.
Hurricane Sandy did a whole lot of mischief here at the Jersey Shore. So much so that Halloween has been canceled* by order of the governor. I doubt anyone cares. We’re too busy looking for power, gasoline, and cell service to celebrate anything more than our safety and that of our loved ones.
Any Jersey Shore native worth his or her salt has lived through a few hurricanes and many a nor’easter. Few of us has seen anything like this. Where I live two miles inland from Mantoloking, New Jersey, we lost power and saw a lot of downed trees. A mile east and all the way to the bay, the water was four feet deep yesterday. The main road is clear today, but the smell of diesel fuel is strong closer to the bay that separates us from the barrier island. Boats that were knocked off their boatyard perches and found their way into the street and onto people’s porches.
I won’t lie. I was badly frightened Sunday evening as Sandy came barreling toward us. I watched the big, old trees swaying and worried that one in particular would come crashing down in my living room. As I considered that tree, I was reminded how often we fear the wrong things. I worried, for example, about many potential threats when my children were young. Mental illness was not one of them and it killed my child.
So I didn’t let the fear of that tree get the better of me. I stayed out of the living room during the witching hour and woke up Monday to find trees down in my neighbors’ yards, but only a large branch in mine.
I’m about to lose hundreds of dollars worth of food in my freezer as the 48-hour window for freshness closes and ice is a distant dream. The temperature is supposed to go down to the 30s tonight, so who knows, perhaps that problem will be solved by an uncomfortable grace.
No matter what happens, like millions of other people on the East Coast, I’m reminded again how uncertain life is and how little control we have over it. What we can control is how we prepare—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually—and how we respond. Nerves are frayed and tempers are short, my own included. But generosity and kindness are strong.
At the Hilton Garden Inn in Lakewood, New Jersey, where many are awaiting news of their island homes, the staff has been extraordinary, even to those of us who aren’t staying in the hotel. Business has been suspended in a sense and replaced by community service and compassion. Disasters, as we repeatedly learn are common grace moments. We should treasure them, even as we mourn and struggle through. I don’t have any thoughts more profound than that today.
*Correction: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie postponed Halloween until Nov. 5. He didn’t cancel it.
*Photos courtesy Explorations Media, L.L.C. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.
TIE BREAKER: Will one candidate take the lead after tonight’s foreign policy debate or will it be a race to the finish on Nov. 6?
The Goal: No Missteps
“After an estimated $750 million in television advertising targeted at voters in nine battleground states, the national conventions, and two prior debates, the race is winding up much as it began, in a dead heat,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in advance of tonight’s final presidential (foreign policy) debate in Boca Raton, Florida. “Foreign-policy issues have been secondary to domestic economic concerns for most voters, but strategists for both sides know that any misstep or triumph in the 90-minute debate is likely to be magnified in such a tight race and with an expected audience of about 60 million,” the article said.
The Reality: Foreign Policy Matters
“Listening to the last presidential debate, you’d think the only foreign policy issues President Obama and Mitt Romney have to discuss is when the word ‘terror’ was first used to describe the attack on the Benghazi consulate and which man has invested more money in China,” opined The Washington Post editorial board. “In fact, within months the occupier of the White House will have critical decisions to make on entirely different issues, from Afghanistan and Iran to Syria. We’d like to believe Monday’s debate will force the candidates to talk about some of those choices.”
Obama’s Challenge: Fight the Headwinds
“For months the one reliable constant for Barack Obama was the public’s approval of his handling of foreign policy and terrorism,” Associated Press reported. “But with 15 days left before Election Day, the landscape has changed” and “the president will be facing headwinds from abroad instead of the breezes that once had been at his back.” The reason? Libya and more.
There are five things the president needs to do to solidify his second debate rebound from his first disastrous performance, wrote Keli Goff at The Root: “win back women … mobilize minorities … fight for a few white men … own foreign policy … re-energize young voters.” I’m not sure how he does four of those in tonight’s debate, but he is a gifted politician, so we’ll see.
Romney’s Challenge: Swing Voters Don’t Care
“Romney’s top advisers authentically worry that the swing voters they need to woo care little about foreign affairs right now. And, even if they did, the differences between the two men on many of the highest-profile issues — ending the Afghan war and the bloodshed in Syria — are too slight to draw sharp distinctions,” Politico reported.
The Questions: Do They Matter?
At The Atlantic, meanwhile, James Fallows said debates have always been more “atmospherics and performance” than policy position enlightenment, but they have their place. “What we do have in these encounters is a chance to see how two candidates deal with each other, and with real-time pressure, and with sometimes unexpected questions or challenges,” said Fallows. And, by the third debate, candidates are pretty comfortable, so policy points sometimes get sussed out. In addition to journalist Bob Schieffer’s proposed list of questions about “America’s role in the world,” the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, the Middle East and terrorism, and the rise of China, Fallows (quoting a friend) would like to hear the candidates talk about defense spending, the criteria for the use of force, war powers of the U.S. president, and civil/military relations.
What do you think?
Will the candidates’ foreign policy positions influence your voter or will domestic policy take priority in the voting booth?
‘Alive but Ailing’
“Affirmative action is alive but ailing, the idea of ‘critical mass’ to measure racial diversity is in very critical condition, and a nine-year-old precedent may have to be reshaped in order to survive. Those were the dominant impressions at the close of a one-hour, nineteen-minute argument in the Supreme Court Wednesday,” said veteran U.S. Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, after the Court heard arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.
Embarrassed for the Court
“Critical mass” is the idea that there need to be enough students of color attending a school to overcome a sense of “racial isolation,” explained Linda Greenhouse at The New York Times. Greenhouse was embarrassed for the court after acquainting herself with its questions, she said. “Of the four justices most intent on curbing or totally eradicating affirmative action — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas — the three who spoke (minus Justice Thomas, of course) failed to engage with the deep issues raised by Fisher v. University of Texas. …It was impossible to avoid the conclusion that ridicule rather than a search for understanding was the name of the game.”
Plaintiff ‘Failed to Meet Threshold’
The plaintiff in the case, Abigail Fisher, “failed to meet the threshold of being in the top 10 percent of her graduating high school class — which would have automatically guaranteed admission to UT,” said Edward Wyckoff Williams at The Root. He went on to argue that “four decades after legalized discrimination was still codified in law, racial disparities persist at nearly every level of American society. From criminal justice to education, employment to housing, minorities in general and African Americans in particular continue to face an uphill battle toward social and economic equity.”
Affirmative Action for Whites
Williams also mentioned a new book, What’s the Matter With White People? in which the author, Joan Walsh, reminds readers that “white Americans enjoyed the benefits of the Great Society social welfare programs, in particular the postwar GI Bill, expansion of public universities, FHA mortgage-lending guarantees and union jobs … amounting to affirmative action government policies for poor and low-income whites — and often, almost explicitly, excluded African Americans and other people of color.”
At The Huffington Post, Steve Nelson accused Fisher of having her cake and wanting to eat it too and he accused the court of appearing “ready to hand her a fork.” Said Nelson: “The young white woman, a recent graduate of Louisiana State University, filed the lawsuit now being considered because, she claims, she was unfairly denied admission to the University of Texas. One might argue whether the distinction between these two institutions is so great that Fisher had standing to bring the case at all. She claims that this allegedly diminished pedigree has done her grievous harm. Whatever. Lots of kids don’t get into the colleges they most desire. Did Fisher, or those who advised her to sue, choose to complain that some other white student of ‘lesser qualification’ won the spot she so dearly coveted? No, it was only the allegedly ‘inferior’ black applicants whom she apparently resents.”
Court’s High Bar Cleared
Noting that “the Supreme Court has [previously] insisted that any affirmative action plan must meet the test of ‘strict scrutiny’ — that is, that the plan must be ‘narrowly tailored’ to serve a ‘compelling interest,'”Greenhouse said “the justices obviously know that the court has concluded that affirmative action in higher education admissions can clear that high bar — as it did nine years ago in Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan Law School decision.” So, she concluded, “There was a context in which the Regents of the University of Texas, following upon the Michigan decision, chose to act, a history they sought to acknowledge, and a better future they hoped to achieve for their diverse state by supplementing the unsatisfactory and mechanical ‘top 10 percent admissions plan with one that considers each applicant as an individual — with race as ‘only one modest factor among many others.'”
‘Temporary Measure’ to Permanent Entitlement
At Forbes, Bill Frezza wondered how “a set of ‘temporary measures to level the playing field’ become a permanent entitlement advantaging even minorities from wealthy backgrounds over white kids who grew up in poverty?” Frezza advised readers to take the approach that blond-haired, blue-eyed U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren did when she identified herself as a Native American on a Harvard Law School job application. Said Frezza: “Suppose enough of us chose to adopt the Warren standard? After all, every human being has ancestors that came from Africa, however remote. Who’s to say we don’t identify with them?And therein lies the fastest way to put an end to affirmative action without relying on the courts or the ballot box.”
Clever, isn’t he?
Downside for People of Color
Frezza and Fisher are obviously not alone in their disdain for Affirmative Action. Some however, are uncomfortable about it for entirely different reasons. At CNN, for example, LZ Granderson said, “If I had a nickel each time a white guy e-mails or tweets that I have my job because I’m black, I wouldn’t need the job, because I’d be rich. This is at the heart of a little talked about secret regarding affirmative action: A lot of black professionals don’t like it either. Not because they think the playing field is necessarily leveled, but rather their skills and talents are constantly being slighted by whites who think their jobs were given to them solely because of their race.”
Big Business Backs It
Big business, meanwhile, is on the aside of Affirmative Action, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. “Some of the biggest corporations in America say that having a diverse payroll helps boost sales, and they want the Supreme Court to keep that in mind as it considers this term’s affirmative-action case,” the article said.
What do you think?
Should Affirmative Action become another entry in the history books or is it still necessary for leveling the playing field?
ROUND 2: President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will spar amidst questions from undecided voters at tonight’s debate.
Undecided voters will get a chance to ask questions about domestic and foreign policy at the second of three presidential debates tonight at Hoftstra University in Hempstead, New York. This bout will be moderated by CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley in town hall meeting format and will air at 9:00 p.m. EST.
It will be the last chance for the candidates to debate domestic issues like immigration reform and the foreclosure and student loan crisis, noted Jason Linkins and Elyse Siegel at The Huffington Post, because the final debate will be about foreign policy. “The good news, however, is that ordinary people think differently from political reporter types — the amount of untrod ground they cover, along with the quality of their questions, could surprise you,” the duo said.
Seventy-one percent of likely voters think Romney won the first debate, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, so The Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake predict that “the pressure will be on the incumbent to show he has a pulse (and probably a bit more) tonight.” The president may need to up his game, but not, some say, with a demeanor as pugnacious as Vice President Joe Biden’s was in his debate last week with his “friend” Rep. Paul Ryan.
The challenge, says Dan Turner at The Los Angeles Times, is: “How do you interrupt your debate opponent, contradict everything he says, strike a pose of amused disbelief while he rants on about your rotten leadership, and hit him with zingers that the pundits are still applauding the next morning, all without coming off as rude? And, in President Obama’s case, how do you do all this while still looking presidential?”
The stakes are high for both candidates, if USA Today’s polling roundup is any indication of how tight the race is three weeks out from the election. “Obama leads by a single point — 49%-48% — in the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll released Monday morning,” but “Romney leads 50%-48% in the poll’s 10 top ‘battleground states’: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.” However, “a Washington Post-ABC News poll gives Obama a 49%-46% lead among likely voters” and “various polls also show a tossup race in the Electoral College.”
Crowley has her own performance to worry about, given the fact that both campaigns have already (and self-servingly) complained about her plans for conducting it, how biting the critique was of her predecessors in the first two debates, and the fact that she is only the second woman to moderate a general election presidential debate. I’m exhausted just reading that.
The most important question in my mind is: Will voters get the information they need about domestic policy to make a wise choice on Nov. 6?
What do you think?
Have the candidates adequately debated domestic policy? If not, what do you want to hear from them tonight?
WOOING RELIGION REPORTERS: CNN Belief Blog editor Dan Gilgoff (left) moderates panel discussion with (left-to-right) Romney adviser Mark DeMoss and Obama surrogates Broderick Johnson and Michael Wear. (Photo by Explorations Media, L.L.C.)
Personal questions about faith should be off-limits, but questions about how faith informs policy shouldn’t, representatives of the Obama and Romney campaigns told reporters at the Religion Newswriters Assocation annual meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, October 5.
Speaking as an unpaid senior adviser to the Romney campaign, Mark DeMoss said he concluded six years ago that Romney, with whom he shares “common values” but “different doctrinal or theological backgrounds,” is “uniquely qualified and competent to be the president.” The fact that Romney (a Mormon) is “a man of faith” is a “bonus,” said the evangelical DeMoss.
“I feel strongly that no one should vote for any candidate at any level because of their faith. … That mindset, in my view, is similar to a Christian yellow-pages mentality … where you would just patronize Christian-owned businesses,” DeMoss explained. People generally look for quality and competence in daily life decisions, he said. “If the selected competent choice happens to be a person of faith, that might be seen as a bonus. If they happen to be a person of similar faith, maybe that’s a double bonus.”
DeMoss alone represented the Romney campaign at the discussion moderated by CNN Belief Blog editor Dan Gilgoff. Two representatives spoke for the Obama campaign: senior Obama campaign adviser and head of Catholic outreach Broderick Johnson and national faith coordinator Michael Wear.
“It’s fundamentally important that we can’t tell reporters what to ask and we can’t control those factors, but from our campaign … and Governor Romney’s campaign, personal faith is off-limits,” said Wear.
“Barack Obama has been more willing than many Democratic candidates to talk about how his faith informs him,” said Johnson. But, he said, neither candidate talks about how they practice their faith. Johnson seemed to contradict himself when he later said, “How they practice their faith and their values does matter and gives people an important set of barometers to make decisions about who they’re going to vote for.”
Wear also referred journalists to President Obama’s convention speech as evidence that his faith informs his decisions. In that speech, Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln’s statement about the pressures of the presidency sending him to his knees. “That wasn’t an off-hand gesture; it was actually a reference he made in his [National] Prayer Breakfast speech. … So this is something that he’s talked about, but he talks about it on his own terms,” said Wear.
After the panel discussion UrbanFaith asked Wear if the Obama campaign’s tone has changed from 2008 when then-Senator Obama spoke eloquently and personally about his faith during a Saddleback Church discussion with the Rev. Rick Warren and Senator John McCain in Lake Forest, California.
“I’d say our priority on the faith vote is in talking about the choice that people of faith have in this election,” said Wear. “The president doesn’t think that it’s his job to go out and convince folks about his faith. …It’s something very personal to him and it’s something that he’s not going to be tried about. He’s not going to manufacture things.” The best “on-the-record statement” about the president’s faith can be found in his recent interview with the National Cathedral magazine, Wear said.
Asked why President Obama was so forthcoming four years ago at Saddleback, Wear said the president didn’t bring the subject up and was “introducing himself to the American people.” “[They] wanted to know who he was,” said Wear.
Coincidentally, the Pew Research Center distributed a quiz to RNA journalists in Bethesda that included a question about whether more or less Americans question President Obama’s faith identity in 2012 than did in 2008. The organization reported earlier this year that in 2008, 55% of survey respondents identified the president as a Christian, while only 49% do so now. Four years ago, 12% thought the president was a Muslim. That figure has risen to 17%.
All three campaign surrogates advocated a broader range of issues that are informed by faith than so-called “culture war” concerns like abortion and same-sex marriage. Among those mentioned were the economy, tax policy, immigration, and heath-care reform. Wear said that if faith is a daily part of politicians’ lives, “they’re going to be looking through that lens on all their decisions.”
What do you think?
Should questions about the candidates’ faith be off-limits?