Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Could Foreign Policy Unravel the Inevitability, Again?

Which Virginia senator is the more 
likely Veep candidate in 2016?
My photo (2004)

In 2016, although Virginia will not have a senatorial or gubernatorial contest making headlines, once again it will probably be considered a battleground state in the race for the White House. With no Republicans holding statewide offices it’s hard to say who will emerge as the leader of their effort to put the commonwealth back in the red column. Still, as far as headlines to do with the next presidential election go, it will be the maneuverings of prominent Virginia Democrats that will bear watching the most.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a longtime Clinton confidant and can be expected to be playing a high profile role in the campaign of the Democrats’ most likely nominee, Hillary Clinton. My guess is the announcement about her intentions will come in early 2015. Sen. Tim Kaine couldn’t wait, so he’s already endorsed Clinton.

As a former governor, Kaine will probably be high up on Clinton’s possible Veep list, which will keep his name in the news. Sen. Mark Warner, another former governor, will also be on that list.

However, Kaine’s predecessor in the Senate, Jim Webb, may turn out to be the Democrat who will play the most interesting role in this story, at least in the early going. Webb has been appearing on news talk shows promoting the possibility that he might seek the nomination, himself.

On Oct. 5, Webb appeared on Meet the Press to answer questions from Chuck Todd about war and peace, and -- of course -- whether he will challenge Clinton for the nomination. In responding, Webb pointed out that the USA hasn’t really had a clear foreign policy for the last 20 years. Regarding the conflicts of the Arab Spring, Webb cited the lack of a clear articulation of the mission as a factor in mistakes that were made in Libya, when Clinton was Secretary of State. 

Regarding Iraq and Syria, Webb said, “We now have a situation where we're asking these freedom fighters, or whatever you want to call them, who were going after Assad, to help us go after ISIS ... And the elements that are fighting there are very fluid in terms of the people who declare their alliances. I would be willing to bet that we had people at the top of ISIS who actually have been trained by Americans at some point.” 

When asked about running for president, Webb kept his cards close to his vest. For the time being, he appears happy to provoke questions about his aspirations, without feeling obliged to answer them. It's safe to say he wants to force the early discussion within the Democratic Party to include the possibility of a peace candidate. Webb decried America’s Cold War-footing of maintaining military bases in too many places. 

Too much of that sort of talk could a problem for Clinton. Her 2002 vote as a senator, supporting then-President George W. Bush’s plan to invade Iraq, came back to haunt her in 2008. It opened the door for President Barack Obama to wrest the nomination from her.

Then, by serving as Obama’s Secretary of State for four years, it put her in harm‘s way to take the fall for any foreign policy mishaps on her watch. That played out most obviously with the howling aftermath of the 2012 raid in Benghazi. In weighing what she should and shouldn’t say about the current troubles in Iraq and Syria, in particular, Clinton is in a bind. She wants to own as little of what’s most scary in that region as possible. She wants to project a muscularity about her approach to the region that plays as right of Obama. But she doesn’t want to remind voters of her 2002 vote that authorized war in Iraq.

Moreover, I suspect some Democrats who are imagining other candidates are also watching to see how the polling goes in reaction to Webb's points about how and how not to use America's armed forces. With the shape of foreign policy as a front burner issue in 2016, one of the possible alternative candidates could be Massachusetts' Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Yet another might be our own Sen. Warner.

Is Hillary Clinton’s "inevitability" starting to unravel again? Is the first pulling of the thread happening here in Virginia?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Campaign Inkbites: The 1994 Senate Race

In the summer of 1994 O.J. Simpson-related material was on television round-the-clock. Meanwhile, a four-way race political race developed in Virginia, as three candidates emerged to challenge the incumbent Chuck Robb for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

Republican Ollie North was nominated by a convention at the Richmond Coliseum. Former governor Doug Wilder, a Democrat, threw his hat in as an Independent. Finally, Marshall Coleman, a Republican former attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate, ran as an Independent, too.

Naturally, both Wilder and Coleman were seen immediately as spoilers by many observers. The few members of the national press that weren't assigned to the story of Simpson's soon-to-begin trial were all over the circus-like story of the quartet of candidates in Virginia. Although Robb was the incumbent, North was easily the biggest celebrity in the group. Wilder might have argued that point.

In late August, I issued what was then my fourth set of collectible cards -- “Campaign Inkbites: The ‘94 VA Senate Race.”

After swearing he was in the race 'til the finish, the mercurial Wilder withdrew in October. The wooden Coleman stayed the course, with stubborn Sen. John Warner as his chief backer. North, ever the checkered-shirted dandy, raised and spent over $25 million; what was then a new record for the most ever in a U.S. Senate race ... any state. In the end the awkward Robb outlasted them all and won reelection.

Beneath the 1994 newspaper article about that card collection are scans of 12 of the 15 original cards from the set. With 20 years of dust on the cards, some of my attempts at humor may not work so well now, hopefully the caricatures are still fun to look at. As I produced these cards, it was an interesting challenge to try to write lines for the dialogue balloons that would hold up for a month or two, no matter what the developments.

Right out of the gate, this edition was lucky with publicity, the article reprinted below started it:
Sept. 6, 1994: David Poole and Dwayne Yancey (Virginian-Pilot)
Odds and ends from the past week of Virginia's U.S. Senate campaign: I'll swap you two Doug Wilders for a Tai Collins. The colorful U.S. Senate race has spawned a set of trading cards featuring the four candidates and a host of supporting characters - including the former Miss Virginia who gave a nude massage to Chuck Robb in a New York hotel.

There’s U.S. Sen. John Warner sounding defensive about his hand-picked candidate, Marshall Coleman: “Why should I strain to name an office he hasn't sought, or an abortion stance he hasn't taken? The point is: Marshall isn't Ollie.”

There’s conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh assessing the race: “The choice in Virginia is simple. You’ve got a stained, lap-dog liberal, a bleached and petulant liberal, a fair-weather conservative, and a genuine, world-class hero.”

There’s political pundit Larry Sabato reporting on the latest poll results: “Fifty-one percent said the race is so embarrassing they plan to leave the state.”
The “Campaign Inkbites” are the brainchild of F.T. Rea, a Richmond artist who a decade ago issued a similar deck of cards commemorating a massive death-row escape at Mecklenberg Correctional Center [by the notorious Briley brothers and four others]. The set of 15 Senate cards is available at Biff’s bookstore [also at Chickens, the snack bar in the State Capitol] in Richmond for $12 a pack.

The most unflattering likeness in the set is that of Sabato, whose green skin gives him the look of a vampire.

“Ironically, he’s my best customer,” Rea said of Sabato. “He bought 12
Then an AP story written by Martha Slud ran. Lots of newspapers (1, 2, 3) picked it up and printed various versions of it. Some ran the whole piece, as shown below, others edited it down. Click on the cards or the article to enlarge them.
Then came a five-minute report on the card set by Bob Woodruff that appeared on CNN. Previously, Woodruff had done a report on earlier card project of mine. As it happened, I just happened to run into him and he asked what I was up to. All that led to political memorabilia collectors from far and wide buying the cards through the mail.

All of this led to STYLE Weekly asking me to do a cover and a five-page spread of cartoons on the same campaign (Oct. 18, 1994).

It was a wild ride.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hillary Clinton vs. the Howlers

When President Barrack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize five years ago lots of people howled. Most of them were Republicans.

Democrats mostly smiled. At that point, it hadn't become clear that as the Tea Party's influence on the GOP grew it would have most Republicans howling reflexively, like Pavlov’s dogs, at every single move Obama would make. 

It may not be making much news now, but the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party is coalescing. Obama campaigned in 2008 as a peace candidate; he promised to bring the troops home. And, although he has pulled a lot of American military personnel out of Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama’s continued willingness to bomb installations and people in the Middle East troubles plenty of peace-loving Democrats. Consequently, almost six years in, the murkiness of Obama’s foreign policy has now been criticized roundly by conservatives, liberals and whatever else you‘ve got.

Many Democrats who applauded Obama’s prize-winning five years have been disappointed by his failure to deliver on his promise to close the prison at Gitmo, and horrified by his administration's use of drones. In 2014 the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party is coalescing.

Obama campaigned in 2008 as a peace candidate; he promised to bring the troops home. And, although he has pulled a lot of American military personnel out of Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama’s continued willingness to bomb installations and people in the Middle East has not set well with plenty of peace-loving Democrats. So, almost six years in, Obama’s foreign policy has been criticized roundly by conservatives, liberals and whatever else you‘ve got. Its murkiness troubles some people who continue to support the president.

As much as the beheading videos have put pressure on Obama to lash out at ISIS, they may be more of a problem for Hillary Clinton. Her 2002 vote as a senator, supporting then-President George W. Bush’s plan to invade Iraq, came back to haunt her in 2008. It opened the door for Obama to wrest the nomination from her. By serving as Obama’s Secretary of State for four years, it put her in harm‘s way to take the fall for any foreign policy mishaps on her watch. That played out most obviously with the aftermath of the 2012 raid in Benghazi. More howling.

With the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922-91) in the rear-view mirror for over 20 years, America still has military bases all over the world. As part of her presidential campaign, is Hillary Clinton going to map out how Uncle Sam  is going to move away from being the world's policeman. One day, she might win a Nobel Peace Prize if she does take the risk to say that, and then follows through on it.

Or, to try to get elected, will Clinton choose to follow suit and rattle the saber with more inside-the-beltway doubletalk about fighting a never-ending war on terror? If she does, the challenges will come from the right and the left.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Unplugged: Waking Up the Day After

Note: I wrote the piece that follows for a special post-Isabel collection of stories for STYLE Weekly in 2003. My photo.

On the Friday morning after Hurricane Isabel blew through town (Sept. 19, 2003), the sky was blue and the air smelled clean. The residents of the Fan District, at the heart of Richmond, Va., woke from an uneasy sleep. Day One of the unplugged life was underway.

Before the worst of the storm passed, about midnight, Isabel tossed huge trees around like a handful of pickup sticks. Power lines snapped. Cars were crushed. Roofs caved in and basements flooded. As the shocking devastation dealt out by the previous night’s onslaught of wind and rain was revealed to the stunned urbanites in the Fan, so too did the reality of widespread electricity deprivation.

Still, faced with all sorts of uncertainty and disconnected from the doings in the rest of the world, many wandering the streets like zombies on that morning faced the immediate problem that there was no hot coffee to be had.

For hundreds of his neighbors, Manny Mendez, owner of Kuba Kuba, took care of the coffee shortage on that surreal morning. Boiling water on the restaurant’s gas stove and pouring it over sacks (improvised coffee filters) in a big colander, Mendez and his staff doled out tasty Cuban coffee to anyone who stopped by.

While opportunists in other parts of town were marking up prices on candles, batteries, ice, generators and anything else for which the supply was short and the demand was great, Kuba Kuba was pouring strong coffee for one and all at no charge — free!

“What are we going to do [under these circumstances], charge people for coffee?” Mendez asked rhetorically with a shrug.

When word got around that Kuba Kuba — at Park Avenue and Lombardy Street — had hot coffee, the crowd on the sidewalk outside the small restaurant swelled. Into the afternoon the size of the gathering fluctuated between 20 and 40 people at a time. Many neighbors met for the first time. By the time the coffee-making effort shut down in mid-afternoon, 100 gallons of free coffee had been served in paper cups.

By then several of Manny’s tables were on the sidewalk, with chairs arranged around them. Out came the boxes of dominoes.

The marathon dominoes scene continued for hours under the lights of a borrowed generator. Players sat in for a while, then sat out. Neighbors appeared with what they had in the way of libation. They swapped stories and the laughter from what had become an impromptu party drove off the demons that lurked in the eerie darkness, only 50 yards away.

Dominoes shark Manny Mendez was all of sx years old when he boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket to a totally uncertain future in the United States. In 1968, for people such as the Mendez family, getting out of Cuba was worth the risk of fleeing into the unknown.

The day little Manny left Cuba, his father was thought to be in Spain, as he had been deported. His mother was crestfallen when told that there were no flights going to Spain on the day her family was offered its chance to flee what Cuba had become. Recently released from 13 months of confinement at an agricultural labor colony, she opted to board the Red Cross-sponsored Freedom Flight for wherever it was going.

On Aug. 2, 1968, that airplane took Judith Mendez and her two children, Manny and his sister, Judy, away from Cuba. It landed in Florida. Upon touching down, Judith Mendez called her relatives, who lived in Richmond, to tell them the good news.

To her surprise she was told her husband, Manuel, was already in Richmond.

After a spell in an apartment building at Harrison Street and Park Avenue, the Mendez family moved to the 3400 block of Cutshaw Avenue, where several other Cuban families had settled. There was one car, a ’56 Chevy owned by his uncle, for the whole group to share.

Manny’s father had been an accountant in Cuba; in Richmond his first job title was “janitor.” As time passed, Manuel Mendez improved his situation and became a leader of the growing Cuban community in Richmond by making regular trips to Washington, D.C., to buy the essentials for Latin cooking and other imported goods unavailable in Richmond.

“Papi, how often did we used to lose power in Cuba?” Manny asked of his father during one of the dominoes games.

In his distinctive accent, with the timing of a polished raconteur, Manny’s father rolled the “r” as he said, “Oh, about two or three times … a night!”

Those gathered laughed, having instantly gained a wider perspective of coping with bad luck. Manny’s mother and the Cuban employees of Kuba Kuba laughed the loudest. Then, too, that may account for why Kuba Kuba routinely carries candles for sale along with other sundries.

The dominoes party broke up about 1:30 a.m. Most of the crowd returned to homes without power — with strange noises in the anxious quiet — no televisions, no Internet, and refrigerators full of risky food. No doubt, some of those dominoes players that unusual night carried away a new appreciation for people who can handle hardship with grace. Some may have even gained a new sense of how it must be in places where millions do without power, in one way or another, most of the time.

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