Factoid of the day: “Santa is the only guy born with a beard.”
Question of the day: “Does Santa give the Tooth Fairy presents?”
Dialogue of the day: “Can we visit the North Pole, Ada?”
“It’s very far away.”
“We cold take the T.”
Barack Obama has once again assured his place in the history of the American presidency.
Obama acted courageously, if carefully, this week in becoming the first American president to openly support gay marriage. In doing so, he took substantial risks – with religious black and Latino voters, who would normally be potential core constituents; with older voters, who grew up at a time in which gay-bashing was just as common and, in some quarters, at least as acceptable as racial bigotry; and in southern states like North Carolina and Virginia, where the fight for electoral votes will be central in the 2012 presidential election’s outcome. Obama’s words undoubtedly have energized the evangelical GOP base that didn’t care much for Mitt Romney but will now flock to the polls. And the president spoke to the issue just a day after North Carolina voters affirmed their opposition to gay marriage by an overwhelming margin.
But Obama did what was right. Give him credit for that. The denial of marriage rights to gay and lesbian Americans is every bit as much a civil rights issue as was Jim Crow in the South and laws barring interracial marriage that weren’t removed from the books in many states until 45 years ago. In doing what was right, Obama also took an astute gamble that just might help him politically. Surely his actions will energize a thus-far lukewarm liberal Democratic base; will play well among all voters younger than 30 or 35, and will help fill campaign coffers. It also may force Mitt Romney to placate the ugliest faction of the rigid Republican right by focusing more on social issues than he’d like in a year when being a businessman might play to his advantage.
What I don’t accept are those straining to interpret Obama’s actions in pure political terms. “Is Obama’s gay marriage stance all about suburban voters?” asked MSNBC.
“Obama campaign hopes marriage equality support a boon for fundraising,” chimed London’s Guardian. And “Obama’s same-sex marriage reversal rooted in principle or politics?” asked a Fox News headline (Since this came from the Sean Hannity show, you can guess that the answer is negative and inflammatory).
Much closer to the reality of the moment is this lead from the Bloomberg wire service, reprinted at washingtonpost.com.
President Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage marked a rare moment of risk-taking on the most divisive civil-rights issue in the nation, changing the dynamics of his race for re-election.
For all the criticism the president has attracted over time, on everything from the economy to his past timidity in the face of GOP bullying and intransigence, Obama on balance has much to stand on in this first term. Following the worst recession since the Great Depression, he has kept this country in a lot better shape than most of our European allies. He can reasonably claim credit for having rescued the American automobile industry. He tracked down Osama bin Laden, ended the Iraq War, and stopped discrimination against gay and lesbians in the military. Now, he has stepped to the political lead in speaking out on what is perhaps the biggest civil rights issue of the 21st century. A politicized Supreme Court may yet dismantle his moderate but important step forward on health care. A determined Republican ring wing may even succeed in denying him re-election in part by disenfranchising poor and minority voters.
But, at a time when a significant minority of Americans is working feverishly to roll back the clock to a time when a white, male old boys network called all the shots, the president has made clear that as long as he is in charge, he will not let them.
This blog also appeared in OpEd News.
My Mom had opinions on just about everything. And she wasn’t shy about sharing them either.
Ethel Lanson was a teacher — first biology and then, when I was growing up on Long Island in the ’50s and ’60s, a high school guidance counselor. And if her two sons sometimes didn’t do their assignments, in life or school, she’d let us know about it. Or she’d just step in and get things done herself.
Not that I always appreciated her — shall we say — enthusiasm. But, as Mother’s Day approaches during this National Teacher Appreciation Week, I look back at her life and influence with a smile and a touch of longing.
One of my earlier memories of Mom was at a dressy ’50s business affair at a country club for the Madison Avenue lighting company at which my Dad worked. She got into a lively conversation with some of the “ladies,” and protested loudly that I could marry whomever I wanted regardless of race, color or creed. That wasn’t the conversation of country clubs in those days (is it now?), and given that I was only eight or so, I had no plans on getting married just yet anyhow. I blushed, but it’s a memory I carry proudly.
Other memories aren’t so much about Mom as about how seamlessly she organized my life as I followed along, oblivious. This happened a lot.
She herself was a tailor’s daughter, an only child. She grew up on the stoops of the Bronx, read voraciously at the library and stood in the back of the Metropolitan Opera for a quarter. She met my Dad at a camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where she was a counselor with a friend of his from Germany. So I guess it’s not surprising that one of the first assignments in the education of Jerry Lanson was to spend summers between age six and 10 at Camp Lexington in the Catskills. There, I tipped a canoe or two, shot archery, camped in the rain, and very gingerly held the garter snakes that Ethel Lanson, nature counselor, was fond of handing me. To this day, I stay clear of snakes.
Summer at a farm camp in North Carolina followed, not Mom’s best choice. The owner was a gentle, elderly Quaker. But this was the South in the early ’60s. My counselor was from Ole Miss and bigotry, in his words and those of the townies with whom we’d play softball on Saturdays, intruded often.
Kinhaven, the bucolic Vermont music camp Mom picked out the next year, made up for it. There, I spent the three most wonderful summers of my childhood, barefoot but for the weekly trip to town to buy fudge, playing French horn by morning and capture the flag or, on rainy days, endless Monopoly games, by afternoon. The camp had no TV, radio or record players. And today’s “technocopia” was decades away.
High school eventually came to an end and Mom was ready with a list of six college choices. I shrugged and applied. I did at least pick which one I wanted to attend. Mom didn’t get to pick the girl I married either; I managed that myself. But she did have her say. During a college semester when Kathy was studying abroad and I started a semi-serious relationship with someone else, Mom stormed in the door of my brother’s New York apartment, where I had brought that other girl, and she made plenty clear that she did not approve. I always wondered about her impeccable timing on that occasion.
As Mom grew older and moved to Vermont, living there first with Dad, then after his death in 1980, alone on a 14-acre hillside overlooking the Connecticut River, she, ever the teacher, caught tadpoles and frogs with our two daughters in her pond, reminded me (more than once until I got it done) to cut the lawn or take out the trash, and volunteered in the local elementary school.
Sometime during the late ’80s or early ’90s, her weekly letters began. She’d always enclose clippings — for our girls, on acne and menstrual cramps, vitamins and summer camps, and for us, articles on education, politics, travel and, more than likely, knowing Mom, relationships.
I generally groaned when they arrived, but missed them more than anything else when she died in November 1999 at age 83, in her own bed on that Vermont hillside.
When Mom turned 80 she had asked for just one thing: letters from friends and relatives and their kids, sharing a memory of her. I remember being amazed at the outpouring and today pulled out and dusted off the big black binder we put them in with “Happy 80th Birthday” lettered on the outside in our daughter Betsy’s hand.
One of my favorites was written by a young woman who grew up on the other side of that frog pond in front of my parent’s house. She’s a music teacher today and was when she wrote, too.
“Sometimes, when I hear the buzz of the school, I think of ‘Aunt Ethel,'” she wrote. “How much she values education and always craves more. Her love of the arts has been a great influence on my life.”
Four years after Mom’s death, her house and property beginning to show the strain of disrepair, we sold her beloved retirement home to the writer of that letter and her guy. I know on Mother’s Day she’ll walk down the hill to where Mom’s ashes rest under the big maple and have a little chat with her.
Though I’ll keep this address for the occasional family piece or travel piece, I’ve moved most of my blogging to the Huffington Post. From there, I’ll push it out to those who are Facebook friends or follow me on Twitter. That way, should you see something of mine on Word Press, you’ll know it has not appeared elsewhere.
Here is my Huffington Post homepage address: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jerry-lanson
Nothing in politics should surprise me anymore. This, after all, is a country in which, polls suggest, millions of Americans still believe our president was born in another country and practices the Muslim faith.
That said, I was nonetheless surprised today to see this headline on politicalwire.com: “West says nearly half of House Democrats are Communists.”
This particular West would be Rep. Allen West, who represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. His charge was printed in the Palm Beach Post, apparently with no effort on the part of the Post to see whether there is one iota of truth to it (I’ll take odds there is not).
What’s alarming for those unfamiliar with the 1950s is that West appears to be pulling a page from book Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy used to wreck the lives and careers of thousands of Americans whom he labeled as Communists or communist sympathizers.
It all began on Feb. 9, 1950 when McCarthy announced in Wheeling, W. Va., “I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who nevertheless are still helping to shape our foreign policy.”
The speech catapulted him to prominence though he never produced a single name. And as McCarthy moved forward, trashing the reputations of Americans in the arts, in journalism and in government, the news media made a practice of printing his charges without demanding evidence or proof.
Given that communism is hardly the specter it was back then, West is probably picking the wrong enemy at the wrong time. But the news media should either ignore the man or force him immediately to provide detailed evidence of this preposterous charge.
The era of Joseph McCarthy was one of the ugliest in American history. We don’t need so much as an echo of this past.