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[The Multiversity and Beyond takes a divergence from higher education topics to comment on the US Senate Race in Massachusetts]

Political coverage often has a breathless quality that highlights failure and diminishes success. In most cases, consumers of news would be wise to take any claim with a grain of salt, if not dismisses it entirely. However, if in Massachusetts tonight Martha Coakley loses her bid to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate, then there are not enough exclamations or adjectives to describe the magnitude of this defeat.

Considered an almost impossible outcome, a Republican (Scott Brown) seems poised to win today’s special election to replace the Liberal Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy. The Democratic challenger Martha Coakley had been the popular state Attorney General when the race began, having boasted a 30-point lead. However, a lack of hustle and some novice mistakes cost Coakley her lead and now a – dare I say – maverick Republican is pushing ahead in the polls.

So why is this bad? Consider a few points:

  • Massachusetts is one of the few states (possibly only) where being a liberal isn’t a badge of shame, but a tradition. This is the state that regularly and loyally sent Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to the US senate.
  • This is Ted Kennedy’s seat. The Kennedy image is deeply entwined with Massachusetts. While the Coakley camp overplayed the state’s loyalty to the Kennedy’s (Paul Wellstone anyone?), it is still hard to believe the Dems couldn’t secure Teddy’s seat.
  • Health care was a major issue in this election. Massachusetts is the only state that has an-almost universal health care policy. Also, it got a sweetheart deal in the current Health Care Bill – one that counts on 60 Democratic Senators to pass. If the voters of this state can’t be counted on to support the Dems, what are the chances anywhere else?

If the Democrats are not successful in Massachusetts tonight, they need to prepare for a bleak mid-term election in November 2010. This race will energize the Republican base, frustrate Democratic dominance of Congress and seriously threaten the Health Care Bill. The result will weaken the Dems seeking reelection and will seriously disrupt the domestic agenda of President Barack Obama.

The news isn’t all bad however. The Massachusetts race will provide the playbook for every election in November 2010. It shows how Republicans can win, but it also shows Democrats how they lost. They have time (thought not much) to analyze the results and develop a new strategy that can ensure a loss in Massachusetts is an isolated event, and not a harbinger.

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c/o New York Times

c/o New York Times

You have to appreciate the set dressing that went into Barack Obama’s visit to Parliament Hill today. Centre Block was awash in flags and stage lighting. It did provide some impressive shots. Most notable was the PM/Prez Presser in the Reading Room of Centre Block. In an innovation instituted by the Harper Conservatives, they have used the doorway as the backdrop in an attempt to simulate the better known East Room setting of the White House (notable for the long hallway the President walks towards the podium). This is a 180 vantage point from previous governments that used the west wall – notable for its historic murals – as the backdrop instead.

However, two facts struck me. One, to make this happen, Harper had to lock down the home of Canada’s government. Beyond necessary security measures, Harper had to freeze hallways simply to keep sightlines clear. Secondly, it seemed a little desperate. That every hallway in the Canadian Parliament was adorned with American and Canadian flags was a bit of unnecessary overkill. The truth is that you are hard pressed to find even a Canadian flag in these halls on a common day. A great hew and cry arose when former Speaker of the House Gil Parent ordered a second Canadian flag be paced next to his chair in the House Chamber to offer some symmetry (current Speaker Peter Milliken has reverted to only one flag to his right). Today, there was literally no side view that did not include an American and Canadian flag.  Too much. Too eager. Too obvious.

See full scenes of the day here.

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Rick Santelli rages on CNBC

Rick Santelli rages on CNBC

Rick Santelli, CNBC’s Chicago Mercantile Exchange Correspondent, gained new found fame today when he exploded in rage on live television. (Watch it here) His point was this: the US Government Bailout was rewarding bad behaviour. Too many, he felt, purchased beyond their means and failed to properly account for the risk. Now, instead of facing the consequences of their actions, the government is rushing to save people from the problems they themselves created.

He’s right. Absolutely. Positively. 100% correct-a-mundo! But, that misses the point.

During his tirade, he asked surrounding traders, “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbour’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”

Here’s my response…

Even in the most capitalist economy, no one exists as island onto themselves. We are all made interconnected, and more importantly, interdependent through the marketplace. If my neighbour’s bankruptcy makes him unable to purchase my goods, who is affected? If an over abundance of defaults causes my bank to go belly up, who is affected? If a lack of confidence results in credit being frozen, who is affected?

The fact is this: my neighbour’s bad decisions always affect my life. Now in most cases, so long as it is just my neighbour and a few of his deadbeat friends, I don’t notice. However, when my neighbour’s problems turn into my neighbourhood’s problem, then I feel the affects more sharply.  In today’s economy, we are facing our nation’s problems. As a result, indifference is not an option. We have to step forward and provide immediate relief or we risk getting taken down too.

Our best response, after bailing out our neighbour, is to ensure it never happens again. That means regulation. Too many will suggest that regulation is the slippery slope to socialism. As this experience has shown, the lack of regulation has brought us closer to socialism than we have been since the Great Depression. A free market has shown itself too susceptible to greed to properly regulate itself. It has also shown itself unable (unwilling?) to self-correct until it is already stepping off the precipice.

So I ask Rick Santelli and his trading floor friends this question: “Are you willing to let the government stop a company from lending money to your potential neighbours when they obviously can’t afford the house next to you?” If they had said yes to regulation earlier, there wouldn’t be the need for a bailout now.

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Blago’s Pluck

c/o The New York Times (Jonathan Kirshner/European Pressphoto Agency)

c/o The New York Times (Jonathan Kirshner/European Pressphoto Agency)

You’ve got to admire Rob Blagojevich’s pluck. His honesty and his veracity remain to be seen, but his testicular fortitude is available for all to view.

His dishonour has been a visceral and emotional experience.  Our disgust in hearing the charges against this man were profound and deeply felt. However, his spirited self-defence has elicited – at least within this writer – pity and… possibly… sympathy.

Make no mistake, I think he is guilty. He did it. He knew he did it. And given the chance, he would do it again. Yet his moxie in standing in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary in order to proclaim his innocence shows astonishing bravado.

Perhaps it’s his hair that provides his source of strength. Or instead, it`s his lack of morality that makes his bold-faced lies possible. But either way, I believe Rob Blagojevich to be one of the greatest performers ever to step on to the political stage.

If you doubt me, watch the 45-minute monologue he delivered in the Illinois senate today. If you have ever performed in a play, you know the difficulty of a five minute monologue, never mind 45-minutes. Yet, every minute of his wandering tirade through the charges against him was compelling and well delivered. He made O`Toole`s Hamlet seem tired by comparison.

Plus, his inspiring defence of drugs from Canada made my little maple leaf heart proud. If you criticize him for seeking cheaper drugs from Canada, then take down Rahm Emanuel too. Because, says Blago, it was all his idea! Sing it with me now: OH CAN-A-DA!

Despite one of the best political performances in a generation, Blago was impeached. While those who appreciate politics mostly for its performance may be disappointed. To the rest, and especially the people of Illinois, they will be glad of this result. Yet I can only hope this frees Rod from his official obligations in order to peruse a career in theatre!

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It’s very rare that you know in advance the time and place where history will be made. Often it’s only the reflective individual who can see the significance of an event in hindsight or the clairvoyant who can predict it.

Last Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America was one of those rare exceptions. I knew that by standing on the west side of the U.S. Capital building at noon that day, I would be witnessing history as the first African-American was sworn in to the nation’s highest office. It was an opportunity too great and a moment too important to watch on television. It was something to be experienced in person.

This realization came to me Monday at lunch. With less than 24-hours until the oath was to be administered, I hastily made my arrangements.  I agreed to depart with some of my hard-earned frequent-flyer miles and forgo sleep in order to get 12 ½ hours on the ground in Washington.

My view on the National Mall

My view on the National Mall

Once I arrived in Washington, and with roads shut down across the city, I depended upon public transit to get me to the ceremony.  As I boarded the bus at Dulles International Airport, there was a common sense of purpose amongst the passengers. We were all here to see the inauguration.

Aboard Metrorail, Washington’s subway system, spirits were high as we lurched slowly towards downtown D.C.  We traded personal space and comfort zones for the promise that we would reach the National Mall. I exited the train at Foggy Bottom and headed south towards the Lincoln Memorial along 23rd Street. At each intersection, I passed squads of Army men and women who were deployed across the city to reinforce the more traditional law enforcement agencies. Security was tight and ever-present, but it did not overwhelm.

As I reached the Mall, teams of volunteers were on hand to act as people-greeters. “Welcome to the inauguration,” chirped one. “Thank you for coming,” says another. Handshakes and high-fives abound. I headed east along the Mall before finding a comfortable spot at the north-west corner of the Washington Monument, which is two kilometres from Capital Hill. To my left was the White House where a large white moving truck was parked in front of the South Portico while marching bands practice their manoeuvres for the upcoming parade on The Ellipse. I had no direct view of the Capitol’s west side, but a large Jumbotron in front of me allows me to see the ceremony.

The crowd is eager to show their enthusiastic support for the new administration. Appearances on the Jumbotron by Obama, Joe Biden or their wives elicit large cheers.  Similarly, the crowd is unwilling to let the outgoing administration depart without noting their disapproval with sustained boos. When Marine One whisked overhead with George W. Bush onboard, many chose to salute the former Commander-in-Chief with a single digit.

The collective sense of anticipation peaked as Chief Justice John Roberts called upon Barack Obama to take the Oath of Office. Despite some confusion as to what that oath actually stated, those of us gathered on the Mall erupted in hoots and chants of “O-BA-MA!” at its conclusion.

We all soon fell silent to hear the new President’s inaugural address. His words were somber as he defined the challenges faced by the United States. However, his calls for cooperation and resolve were greeted with unqualified cries of support.  Perhaps the longest and loudest cheer came after Obama said, “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”

The Lincoln Memorial earlier in the day

The Lincoln Memorial earlier in the day

With the speech concluded, I left with many others who tried to get a spot on the parade route. They would have little luck as the few spots that didn’t require tickets had been snatched early in the morning. Instead, we choose to wander the city; giving ourselves up to the flow of the crowd in order to soak up the spirit.

The throngs of merchants throughout Washington hawking Obama products should allay the concerns of anyone who feared capitalism might be restrained by an Obama administration. Anything that could bear the image of the new president or his name was sold on street-corners by fast talking men and women.

While I could understand the significance of this moment, as a white Canadian, I am sure I couldn’t fully appreciate what it meant to see an African-American sworn in as the American President. Certainly I felt the rush of history seeing this event occur 146 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln and 45 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I felt a sense of anger that it had taken this long, but relief that the moment was finally arrived.

The inaugural celebration was more than the culmination of a successful political campaign or the start of a new administration. It was more than simply reflecting on the past. It was about articulating the kind of America this generation wants to pass to the next. It was more than history, but prologue.

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bushresignation

resign

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