Lemonade dep’t

What Barack Obama said today and what he might have said last night. He’s entitled to be proud of himself for not accepting the questioner’s invitation to beat up on Clinton over dodging sniper fire.

Barack Obama on last night’s debate:

[I’m told the shoulder-wiping gesture is a hip-hop reference; I’m not cool enough to understand it.]

One nice point from last night: when the questioners gave Obama a chance to stick it to Clinton over dodging non-existent sniper fire, having repeated senior moments, and being ready to function well at 3 a.m. but not at 11 p.m., he passed it up.

The fact of the matter is, is that both of us are working as hard as we can to make sure that we’re delivering a message to the American people about what we would do as president.

Sometimes that message is going to be imperfectly delivered, because we are recorded every minute of every day. And I think Senator Clinton deserves, you know, the right to make some errors once in a while.

I’m going to be disappointed if Obama loses. But whatever happens, I won’t be ashamed. After last night, can Clinton supporters say as much?

I’ve been thinking about how Obama might have responded when Clinton twisted the knife about Jeremiah Wright and 9/11. Here’s what he might have said:

Well, Hillary, maybe that’s the difference between us. I didn’t grow up on the Southside of Chicago, any more than you did. You grew up comfortable in a comfortable suburb. I grew up poor, but with a loving family around me, in Kansas and Hawai’i and Indonesia. But when you got out of law school you moved first to a fancy think tank in Washington and then to a fancy law firm in Little Rock. The Children’s Defense Fund was a worthy cause to work for, and practicing corporate law is an honorable way to make a living. But neither job put you in close contact with people whose lives aren’t as advantaged as yours and mine.

When I got out of college I moved to the Southside and started working with poor people in a very poor neighborhood, people who had lost their jobs when the steel mill closed. I lived among them and worked among them, and I wasn’t making much more money than they were. Maybe that gave me a sense of just how tough their lives are, and just how frustrated and, yes, bitter, some of them are about it. They don’t know much about people in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and the people in Latrobe don’t know much about them. Maybe the two communities are suspicious of each other; why not? But they have those tough lives in common.

Some people in both communities tend to let their bitterness get the better of them and start saying silly things. Some people on the Southside think the government is somehow involved in the drug trade. Some people in Latrobe think that Hillary Clinton is a socialist who wants to confiscate their guns and that Barack Obama is a Muslim and an associate of terrorists. Those are false beliefs, but it’s not hard to understand why people facing tough times that never seem to end, and finding that the politicians who ask for their votes don’t serve their interests, might wind up believing them. I try not to share their bitterness, but I’m aware of it, and I don’t condemn them for it. I try not to be like the noisily pious people Jesus makes fun of in the Gospels, saying to other folks, “Hey! Don’t touch my clothing, for I am holier than thou.”

So when you say that, in my place, you would have walked away from the 8000 people who make up the family of the Trinity United Church of Christ, walked away from the church where you had your conversion experience and got baptized and got married and had your children baptized, all because you didn’t like what the preacher said one Sunday, maybe that’s true, for you. Maybe you just don’t understand why people facing hard lives sometimes say bitter things. Or maybe you’re just pretending not to understand.

But I do understand. And I’m not going to disown them: not on the Southside, not in Latrobe. I’m going to fight to make their lives better, and I’m going to appeal to the better angels of their nature to rise above bitterness and to remember that we all love our country.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com