Campus Construction Continues

September 24, 2008

Fitness CenterA busy fall of academics, recreation, and leisure on the campus of Saint Anselm College has been joined by the buzz of construction this year. Read more

New Video Highlights Student Involvement in New Hampshire Primary

September 17, 2008

Be sure to check out the college’s newest video, which highlights all the behind-the-scenes action on campus leading up to the New Hampshire Primary, including the CNN Debates, ABC/Facebook Debates, and Fox News Channel’s reporting from the college.

The video is available online at www.anselm.edu/nhprimaryvideo and includes many interviews with students who worked for CNN, ABC News, and Fox News Channel in 2007-2008.

Author Azar Nafisi Speaks at NHIOP

September 16, 2008

Nafisi speaking at NHIOPOn September 10, Dr. Azar Nafisi, scholar and best selling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books spoke at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. Read more

 
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Karma

September 5, 2008

Inside KarmaIt is fitting that my final blog should be inspired by ‘Karma’, the nightclub where I spent the last few hours of my two-week political excursion.

Citysearch of Minneapolis describes ‘Karma: “Dress to the nines and play high roller at this exclusive downtown club. Plush red carpet and a long line outside the door indicate that this is the place to be seen. The enormous glass chandelier in the foyer also sets the tone for an over-the-top evening. Plasma TVs tile the walls and purple velor couches fill up with people-watchers upstairs. Skilled DJs cut hip-hop beats as club goers let loose on a massive dance floor. There’s also Cristal and Louis XIII cognac at the ready.”

Before I left for Denver, one Saint Anselm alum who shall remain nameless told me, “You got to go to the parties, the convention is the parties. You can’t go to a convention without going to the parties.” So on the last night of the convention I went to Karma. Being the driver, I didn’t seek out what was ‘ready. ‘ Since I was certain that either a People Magazine photographer or super-sleuth Brian Lawson would capture the moment, I elected not to fill the dance floor, not for fear I’d be photographed dancing with someone, but merely for the fear I’d be photographed dancing.

Since the crowd was largely Hispanic and since we were celebrating the 2008 Hispanic Vote, I carried on several conversations in Spanish. The fact that I can’t speak Spanish was not much of an impediment since I couldn’t understand what was being asked and no one could hear what I was saying.

It was a rather surreal experience to stand to the side and watch the crowd dance against the backdrop of strobe lights and a Spanish language soap opera being shown on dozens of TVs throughout the room. Add to that the sound of the music and the smell of perfume, and it was indeed the case that every sense was stimulated.

As I stood there and took it all in, I recalled a lyric from a similar scene from long ago at a high school dance where I actually did. The lyric comes from Three Dog Night:

I seen so many things

I ain’t never seen before

Karma and Three Dog Night capture the essence of the last two weeks.

For two weeks, I have stood on the sidelines watching and I have witnessed over-the-top ‘politics.’ There were many times in which I found myself unable to understand the meaning of what was being said. There were moments when I didn’t know whether to watch (or not watch) the stage or the Jumbotron, because I couldn’t watch both. I felt out of place most of the time, and yet the longer I was in Denver and St. Paul, the greater yearning I had to be part of the dance. This was true, in spite of the fact; it was a dance with which I had little acquaintance. I realized these two weeks that there is nothing stopping me from raising my voice and requesting a different kind of music, but in 2008, like in junior high school, I stood on the side of the dance floor watching others request the music and do the dancing.

Convention 2008 may be gone, but 2012 is on the way. I have a chance to learn a new language, learn a new dance, and find a way to speak to the music that will be played. It was okay to come and sit on the sidelines of the convention once, but democracy needs more dancers (and a gluten-free platform).

It was extremely fitting to end my convention and this blog at Karma, because it introduced me to the future of American politics. The rising force in American politics is Hispanic. It is not a monolithic group, but it is becoming sizable enough to determine the direction democracy will take in these United States during the 21st Century. They have gotten off the sidelines, and while on this night in the Twin Cities they may go unnoticed, they will soon be taking center stage on the dance floor of democracy.

I don’t believe in Karma, but I believe that those within its walls tonight will have a large say in whether the future holds more good or bad.

Vaya Con Dios.

Danger Zone (God and Country)

September 5, 2008

2008 Convention Odyssey is at an end and this is my next to last post. As I drove around St. Paul and Minneapolis this afternoon and reflected on all that has taken place, Kenny Loggins’ song “Highway to the Danger Zone” filled my consciousness. It was played last night immediately prior to McCain’s acceptance speech. Coming from the movie “Top Gun” it works wonderfully as an introduction to John McCain. But as the lyric seeps further into my consciousness, it helps me put words to the two areas of both conventions that caused me the most personal discomfort: God and Country.

Some might be surprised God is on the list. Being a minister you might expect that I am pleased that the Democrats have ‘gotten’ it on religion and that both political parties made faith in God a central thematic element of their speeches, music, and prayer.

Others might be surprised Country is on the list. After all, living without Country is virtually impossible to imagine. Aside from God what could be so important? Indeed.

I don’t have a problem with God or Country. I love both and I wouldn’t be here without them. It is because I have enormous respect for both that I react adversely when either are politicized.

Hannah Arendt and Jean Bethke Elshtain have written about the limits of politics and the importance of boundaries. Not everything ought to be political and not everything ought to be public.

We need to be able to have the fullest debate about the ideals for which our republic stands, as well as every aspect of domestic and foreign policy, including the use of military force. Moreover, we need to bring our deepest beliefs, including all of our thoughts on God, to the public square when we engage the debate.

What deeply concerns me is when God and Country become ideological symbols used for political ends. When challenging an idea is depicted or derided as unpatriotic or unChristian, it doesn’t facilitate public debate, but stifles it. Both parties crossed the line at various points these past two weeks. When a Rabbi or a Minister gets up and prays for the election of a specific candidate, it crosses the line. When we are told that one specific way to think about foreign policy is patriotic, it crosses the line. Neither Obama or McCain crossed the line, but there were those at each convention who did.

Politicizing God and Country is dangerous. It stifles free speech and discussion by saying that any subject baptized with a religious or patriotic invocation is off-limits for discussion.

There is something sacred about free speech, and protecting it requires keeping it possible to discuss all things. It requires that we recognize that there are some things ‘higher’ than politics.

As I looked at St. Paul in the aftermath of the anti-war protests, and reflected on the anti-abortion protests in Denver I could not help but wonder to what degree they are signs warning us of the danger zone.

Raising McCain

September 5, 2008

A chill went through my being as John Rich’s new song, “Raising McCain,” serenaded the Xcel Energy Center, while John and Cindy McCain stood waiving to a cheering crowd while being covered in waves of confetti and balloons. 

Just one week to the night after seeing something unbelievable in Denver, I saw lightning strike a second time.  It was a different kind of lightning, but it was still the lightning of political excellence.

I will write at least one more blog entry over the next few days trying to compare and contrast the two conventions and candidates.  There have been few times in my memory when we have been presented with Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates of such contrast on so many levels 

The Republicans didn’t come close to matching the Democrats in terms of putting together a Presidential acceptance celebration.  Last Thursday at Invesco Field was a phenomenal achievement, but last night had its own excellence.  While this was a much smaller crowd and it was not a crowd that forgot itself, it was still a crowd that was genuinely moved to support John McCain.  John McCain received twice as many standing ovations than Obama received at Invesco Field.  Some of this is simply due to the fact that Obama spoke in flowing verse that lent itself to fewer applause lines, whereas McCain spoke in sentences with virtually every one an applause line.

Yet still, the ovations were genuine.  John McCain elevated his game on the biggest stage of his life.  Until tonight I had never seen John McCain give a good speech.  I had seen him perform at the highest level in town hall meetings throughout New Hampshire.  What Obama is to oratorical excellence, McCain is to Town Hall meetings.  He takes any and every question, and answers them clearly and directly.  He can do it so well that I’ve seen people leave the meetings deciding to vote for him even though they don’t agree with anything he said.  He has the ability to genuinely listen to people, show them respect, and people genuinely respond.

He can do this so effectively for many reasons, one of which is that his words have an authenticity that few possess.   It is an authenticity that is earned in 5 ½ years as a POW.  He draws on that authenticity when responding to any and every questions and he displayed that in his acceptance speech.  He spoken with such clarity, that it almost substituted for eloquence.  Like him or not, its hard to doubt his authenticity and sincere commitment.

The most riveting moment of the speech came when he proclaimed that the Republican Party had lost the faith of the American people in the way it had conducted itself for the last 8 years.  Immediately, an uncomfortable silence fell upon the auditorium.   He was criticizing the very people who had paid a lot of money to be delegates to the convention, and everyone knew it.

It was at that moment he announced that he was running for President of the United States and not the President of the Republican Party. 

This was an authentic moment and a risky move.   Authentic, because everyone knew it was true.   John McCain is not a party establishment guy, and hasn’t been for 2 decades.  Risky, because in point of fact he is not well loved within the party.  Given that Obama will be able to outspend him dramatically in the next 8 weeks (which is all that is left before the election), he will need all the good will and volunteers possible.

Yet after the audience pondered, they embraced him as their President.  It was at this moment that the Xcel Energy Center became electric.  He sealed the deal with the delegates tonight and based on the overnight polling, he connected with the American people as well.  In overnight polling CBS has him closing an 8 point gap so that he is dead even with Obama at 42%.  

As I come away from the convention, there is very striking contrasts between the candidates.   In Denver Barack Obama began the final phase of his campaign by running for President as a Democrat.  In St. Paul, John McCain announced to the Republican Convention that he is running for President as an American.

The race is now on.  Obama has behind him the largest political organization ever assembled.  He will be able to run a campaign in all 50 states and match McCain ad for ad.  McCain can’t compete in that fashion. But he wouldn’t do it if he could.

John McCain uses a playbook all his own: Raising McCain.

The next two months ought to be fascinating.   Since many of us don’t know enough about the candidates to properly evaluate them, it means that we will each have to think for ourselves over the next 2 months.  That is good for Democracy.  Alexis de Tocqueville would approve of that message.  

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