Barack Obama

Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

PFAW

Gay but Equal?

By MARY FRANCES BERRY

(From the January 16, 2009 edition of the New York Times)

AS the country prepares to enter the Obama era, anxiety over the legal status and rights of gays and lesbians is growing. Barack Obama's invitation to the Rev. Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor who opposes same-sex marriage, to give the invocation at his inauguration comes just as the hit movie "Milk" reminds us of the gay rights activism of the 1970s. Supporters of gay rights wonder if the California Supreme Court might soon confirm the legitimacy of Proposition 8, passed by state voters in November, which declares same-sex marriage illegal -- leaving them no alternative but to take to the streets.

To help resolve the issue of gay rights, President-elect Obama should abolish the now moribund Commission on Civil Rights and replace it with a new commission that would address the rights of many groups, including gays.

The fault lines beneath the debate over gay rights are jagged and deep. Federal Social Security and tax benefits from marriage that straight people take for granted are denied to most gays in committed relationships. And because Congress has failed to enact a federal employment nondiscrimination act, bias against gays in the workplace remains a constant threat.

Click here to read more (login may be required).

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It's Our Moment, Let's Make the Most of It!

This Tuesday marks what I hope will be the beginning of a dramatic new direction for our country. The relevance of President-elect Obama's inauguration falling one day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not lost on any of us. The swearing in of the first African American president will be one of the great moments in America's history and a massive leap toward the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, not only because of Obama's race, but because the movement that swept him into office was born of the American people's desire to pursue a more just path as a nation. That in itself is something that Dr. King would have been proud to have witnessed.

I said that I "hope" this will be the beginning of a big change in direction because it's up to all of us to make sure that change actually happens, to make sure the new administration corrects the last president's worst mistakes in a timely fashion. And it's not just the Obama administration that needs to feel constant pressure from us, it's Congress as well. I've seen reports of senators and representatives showing some reluctance to make many of the bold changes we need. And as expected, we're seeing the resurgence of the Far Right as a backlash to new progressive power. The Radical Right is not only in a position to strengthen its grip on power in the Republican Party, it's ready to pounce on any anti-government sentiment that may bubble up in the coming months and years, especially -- and ironically -- as a result of the economic hard times their very policies have left us with. Long story short: People For the American Way is more needed than ever, and we need your support and your vigilance in the months and years to come.

When a group of activists confronted him shortly after his first inauguration seeking a list of specific reforms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." That is what grassroots democracy is all about -- making our leaders do what's right. January 20 is the end of our eight-year national nightmare, but it's just the beginning of a new chapter in which we must all do our part.

In the first two weeks of 2009, People For's been fighting the good fight -- our long-term efforts on two pay equity bills are paying off and the legislation has passed the House and is making its way through the Senate. And we've been answering the Right's attacks against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, whose Senate confirmation hearing I attended yesterday. Let me say that it was VERY gratifying to hear Holder clearly state that he believes waterboarding is torture, that renditions to countries where there reason to believe they will torture is wrong and that he is committed to restoring the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to a position of prominence and effectiveness). After this week's release of the Inspector General's report on politicization in the Justice Department, it's even more apparent that confirming Holder will be a great beginning to undoing that damage.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court handed People For the American Way Foundation (and the First Amendment) a victory by upholding the policy of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, City Council requiring that the official prayers recited at the beginning of its meetings be non-sectarian. Accepting one of the most important cases of the term, it also chose to hear an appeal of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Mukasey, in which People For the American Way is defending the constitutionality of an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.

We couldn't do any of our important work without your steadfast support. And with your continued support, People For the American Way will continue to carry the progressive flag and advocate your values on Capitol Hill.

Right now is a time to celebrate. Have an amazing Inaugural weekend, MLK Day and Inauguration Day. Congratulations to Barack Obama and congratulations, America!

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Department of Justice Will Actually Uphold the Law!

After 8 years of the Bush Administration, it’s amazing how low our collective standards have fallen. For instance, the idea that Barack Obama has appointed people to the Department of Justice who will uphold the rule of law -- as opposed to wantonly ignoring it for political purposes -- struck me almost too good to be true.

But by any standards the team he’s put together looks top notch. Elena Kagan is clearly the big news, but there’s a lot of depth in the slate of nominees. TAPPED points out:

One particular point of interest: Johns[e]n, the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel, has recently written articles entitled Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power and What's a President to Do? Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration's Abuses. Given that OLC was a hotbed of torture-justifying and illegal-surveillance-allowing during the last administration, it's nice to see that the new boss has a different set of ideas.

Be still my beating heart!

PFAW

Beyond the Sigh of Relief...

Earlier this week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted -- and I moderated -- a panel at the National Press Club to discuss what the election of Barack Obama means for the future of the Supreme Court and what kind of justices we should be fighting for. The event's title, "Beyond the Sigh of Relief," says a lot in itself, and it's fantastic that our conversation could focus on the prospects for a return to justice on the High Court rather than strategizing about how to forestall complete disaster.

I hope to have video of the full discussion to share with you in a week or two. The next day, Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamin Raskin (who was on the panel) and I were on Pacifica Radio in a very substantive joint interview on the same topic. You can listen to that segment here.

Sen. Raskin is also the director of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project and shares my passion for civic education -- I've known and worked with him for years, going back to my time at Justice Talking. The other phenomenal panelists were: Julius Chambers, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and founder of Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter PA; John Payton, President, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and one of the finest Court journalists out there, Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor of Slate.

Any conversation about the future of the Court needs to start with acknowledging the voter mandate Obama received on Election Day to appoint judges with a strong commitment to constitutional rights and values. Redefining the conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court is an issue that only the Right Wing cares about, this time it was Obama voters who said that the Court was extremely important to them.

Here were a few quick highlights from the rest of the event:

  • Julius Chambers made some great points about the Court's role in protecting the poor. It's not just disputes over civil rights for minorities, workers rights and environmental protections on which the Court must sometimes weigh in when the government or companies violate constitutional rights. The poor deserve to be protected by the Constitution like we all do, and too often, they certainly do not receive equal justice under the law.

  • There was much discussion about promoting racial and gender diversity on the Court and there was a consensus among us that race, religion, gender and even sexual orientation could be important considerations because they can bring different perspectives to the Court. John Payton in particular stressed just how vital this diversity of perspectives is in having a Court that functions for the best benefit of the people and the law. We also speculated on the pedigrees and career tracks of recent and not so recent nominees -- why should they all come from the corporate world or the major law firms? There are tremendous lawyers working to advance justice at places like nonprofit organizations and unions.

  • Dahlia Lithwick stressed that we need to make sure people know that the judicial philosophies we believe in are based on rigorous interpretation and a sincere love of the Constitution. The public debate over judicial philosophies has too often bought into the Right's claims that so-called "strict constructionism" is the only rigorous approach to the Constitution. But the ideals embodied in both the main articles of the Constitution and the amendments are what John Payton referred to as "aspirational" -- and it's that aspirational view of the law and justice that we subscribe to and that we think President-elect Obama does as well. It's an understanding that the Constitution is a guardian of rights and opportunity for all Americans, including those without much power in our society.

The stimulating conversation left me feeling optimistic about advancing the constitutional principles that have been under attack from right-wing organizations and the Bush administration. After eight years of seeing right-wing ideologues nominated to the federal bench, there is immense opportunity to restore constitutional values. The only thing standing in our way is the Right and the senators who are already gearing up to fight good nominees -- senators like John Kyl (R-AZ), who promised a filibuster of any Court nominee he deemed too liberal... only three days after the election.

People For the American Way will be ready for Sen. Kyl, other right-wing senators and the Right's media echo chamber. Together, we'll make sure President Obama fulfills his mandate to give Americans the Supreme Court justices they deserve.

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Kathryn Kolbert Discusses Obama and the Supreme Court on Pacifica Radio

People For President Kathryn Kolbert joined American University law professor Jamin Raskin on Tuesday to discuss Barack Obama and the Supreme Court on Pacifica's What's at Stake. Among other things, Kolbert and Raskin discussed what progressives should look for in an Obama nominee to the Court.

Click below to listen to the interview:

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Letter to Obama from Feingold: "Concrete Steps" to Restore Rule of Law

Following up on my previous post about Sen. Feingold....

My main man Russ yesterday sent a letter to the President-elect "urging President-elect Barack Obama to take 'concrete steps' to restore the rule of law after the eight-year assault by the Bush Administration on the Constitution. In a letter to the President-elect, Feingold offered recommendations for action in four key areas – the separation of powers, excessive government secrecy, detention and interrogation policy, and domestic surveillance and privacy."

Read it. It's good.

http://feingold.senate.gov/releases/08/12/20081210.html

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Obama Chooses Barnes for Key White House Position

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Melody Barnes to be Director of the Domestic Policy Council:

Melody Barnes is co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama-Biden Transition Team, and served as the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Obama for America. Barnes previously served as Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress and as chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from December 1995 until March 2003.
Healthcare reform, as part of an economic recovery plan that takes care of the middle class, will be a priority for Barnes.  We appreciate the work she’s done in the past, and we’re sure she’ll do great work in the new administration.
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A Good Day for Small-"D" Democracy

Yesterday was obviously a really good day for progressives, but it was also a pretty amazing day for democracy -- note the small "d."

The Politico reports today:

More than 130 million people turned out to vote Tuesday, the most ever to vote in a presidential election.

With ballots still being counted in some precincts into Wednesday morning, an estimated 64 percent of the electorate turned out, making 2008 the highest percentage turnout in generations.

In 2004, 122.3 million voted in what was then the highest recorded turnout in the contest between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Previously red states targeted by the Barack Obama campaign demonstrated remarkable turnout, setting records in North Carolina and elsewhere. Increased turnout was also reported in states including Virginia and Indiana.

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Pre-emptive Impeachment

In case you needed another reminder that the Right isn't going to go away quietly, here's a web site demanding impeachment procedures against President Barack Obama. (Via Ben Smith.)

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Farewell, Studs

Last week, Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize winning author and activist, died at age 96. Pictured above with Barack Obama, Terkel spoke at People For’s Chicago Spirit of Liberty event in 2004, and his stories about the blacklist and Mahalia Jackson had people hanging on every word. His message to the crowd was to “say NO” to the official line, the Bush administration’s abuse of the Constitution, etc.

I have to think that he took some great pleasure in his final days from the coming end of the Bush administration and the big changes that appear to be headed our way.

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Obama Endorsements and the Court

As the Editor & Publisher reported yesterday, Barack Obama is winning the race for newspaper endorsements in a landslide, 112-39.  Especially notable is the fact that at least 25 papers that supported Bush in 2004 have endorsed Obama this time around.

The Supreme Court consistently appears as one of the foremost concerns.

The Kansas City Star, a key swing state paper, touts a prospective Obama administration as a “safeguard for liberties”:

Obama wants judges who won’t favor the strong at the expense of the weak. He offers hope for a Supreme Court that would reject excessive executive power and protect precious freedoms.

The Santa Fe New Mexican writes:

At least as important is that we can also trust him to restore the credibility of our judiciary as vacancies occur at district and appellate levels, as well as at the Supreme Court. Civil liberties in particular, and justice in general, have suffered enormously in recent years.

Obama endorsers understand that the Supreme Court is on the ballot November 4th, and they understand the importance of repairing the damage done to the federal court system by the Bush administration.  Obama, if elected, will have a mandate to do just that.

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Powell Stands Up to the Real Muslim Smear

In all the effort to defend Barack Obama against the rumor that he’s secretly a Muslim, too may people have missed the real point. Why would it matter if he were a Muslim? The Constitution clearly states that ”no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” but the anti-Muslim smear is usually only addressed as an afterthought, with a Sienfeld-esque “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

In his interview on Meet the Press, Colin Powell elegantly swats down the rumor that Obama is a Muslim, without taking his eye off the real issue.

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.”

Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.

Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards -- Purple Heart, Bronze Star -- showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old.

And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross; it didn’t have the Star of David; it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.

A good reminder that the “correct answer” isn’t always the same as the “really right answer.”

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Uglier and Uglier and Uglier

In case you didn’t think that attacks against Senator Obama could get any worse, they, umm, did.

Barack Obama, the Democratic Party's nominee for President, has become a target for white supremacists and other extremists on various Websites and Internet forums since he began his campaign.

The Anti-Defamation League has been tracking these kinds of threats, and they’re pretty nauseating. 

I do not want a half-breed negro prancing around the White House in a loin cloth, smoking crack…I see no reason at all to allow a Communistic negro to occupy the most powerful political office on earth. I see no reason at all to allow a sub-human to do for the United States, what his sub-human pals have done in their countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa and other black-run failed states…Wherever blacks run things, those things are totally corrupt, grossly dysfunctional and ultimately, complete failures.

 Click through to read more, but it’s difficult to get through the whole thing.

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Undermining the Obama Presidency

Ezra Klein points out how the right is using the ACORN pseudo-scandal to undermine the Obama presidency – before the election has even taken place.

It's worth being very clear about what's happening here. It looks like Barack Obama is going to win the election. A directive has been sent down at Fox News that their shows should begin pushing a narrative that the election was stolen for Barack Obama by a group illegally registering poor minorities. In other words, Fox News is working to convince its viewers that the black guy won because a lot of black people voted illegally. Charming.
We’ve written about it before, but it’s worth saying again – an Obama victory won’t eliminate the far right, it will only embolden it.
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Building Progressive Power at a Dangerous Moment

The politics of Karl Rove are alive and well! As we near Election Day, we're seeing more smears and attempts at character assassination. The combination of win-at-all-costs politics and the growing financial crisis makes me nervous, because economic hardship has historically provided fertile ground for scapegoating vulnerable people.

People For is working hard to expose, refute, and defuse the kind of dangerous demagoguery the Right is pumping out. A number of pundits have blamed the housing market crash and subsequent drop in people's retirement savings on minority homebuyers who can no longer afford their predatory mortgages. They're trying to stir racial resentment and bigotry among voters who may already be uncertain about casting a vote for a black presidential candidate. The same candidate is falsely portrayed as a subversive Muslim extremist. Sarah Palin this week went so far as to accuse Barack Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists."

Sadly, these attacks work at whipping some people into a hateful frenzy. There were media reports, which were apparently serious enough that the Secret Service launched a threat investigation, that at that same speech Palin made her "terrorist" comment, a member of the crowd shouted "kill him" and another one yelled "treason" loud enough to be picked up by TV mics. It was unclear whether "kill him" was directed at Obama or William Ayers, to whom Palin was referring, but it really doesn't matter.

All of this shows what we are up against, and it shows that real progress means changing the culture as well as public policy. One of the main reasons I came to People For was that it wages the struggle for the heart and soul of America as fiercely as it fights for progressive policies. Two specific ways we'll do both are 1. winning at the ballot box, and 2. by sustaining a movement.

Winning at the polls: People For the American Way Voters Alliance is funding 24 progressive House candidates (all but one challengers) in close races against right-wing opponents in a very strategic way. The Voters Alliance issued a challenge on its ActBlue page pledging an additional $3,000 to the candidate who raises the most on that page by October 15. This encourages blogs to drive traffic to the site to support their favorite candidate, and it encourages the candidates to do the same for themselves (and it gives them the opportunity to ask for support in a different way). The page has already raised over $50,000!!! (Please consider a contribution to one or several of these great candidates and to the Voters Alliance, and spread the word!)

Sustaining the movement: People For the American Way Action Fund is using ActBlue to build the progressive movement's farm team by funding a group of bright young candidates for state and local office. The Right has engaged in similar efforts for decades — Sarah Palin is actually a graduate of GOPAC, the Right's primary candidate recruitment and training program. People For's Action Fund is running ads voiced by Rachael Maddow on Air America Radio starting next week in support of young progressives. Check out these candidates and again, consider a contribution (in these state and local races, a little bit can really go a long way).

THAT'S building progressive power.

Thanks to those of you who wrote in response to last week's note for the very warm and supportive e-mails. Keep the great feedback coming! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.
 

PFAW

Redefining Dishonorable

It’s not as if we didn’t see this coming, but the ugliness is still shocking.  McCain strategists, right-wing bloggers, and their Fox TV propaganda arm have decided that the only way to turn around the seriously slumping numbers for the McCain-Palin ticket is to knock aside discussion of the nation’s economic problems and focus on trying to destroy Barack Obama with charges that would make the Swift boaters blush.  Pitbull Palin is at the forefront, beaming broadly while telling crowds that Obama thinks the nation is so imperfect that he’s willing to pal around with terrorists.

The portrayal by Palin, Sean Hannity, and others of Obama’s relationship to William Ayers is so dishonest, so dishonorable, and so disgusting that it’s hard to imagine where things will go over the next four weeks.  Actually, it’s not so hard -- we can get a pretty good idea, based on the other elements of the new smear campaign: Obama’s criticism of war-fighting strategy in Afghanistan is misrepresented as a disrespectful attack on our troops, and Palin repeats the bogus charge that he voted to “defund” the troops – even though by the Mc-Palin team’s rationale, the exact same thing could be said of McCain’s Senate votes.

Over the past couple of days, news reports have documented people in the GOP ticket’s audiences shouting “kill him” and “treason” – and telling a black cameraman, “sit down, boy.”  If there’s any worry within McPalin’s team about unleashing this kind of ugliness and hatred, there’s no sign of it on the candidates’ smiling faces.  They seem to be fully embracing the savagery of the Bush campaign team’s win-at-all-costs tactics, which took McCain down in 2000.  And McCain, who has tried so hard and for so long to make his name synonymous with honor, has now welcomed the perpetrators of that dishonorable campaign onto this team and demonstrated his willingness to say and do anything to win his final run at the White House.

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Just in Time for Tonight's Debate: McCain Bingo!

McCain BingoJohn McCain and Barack Obama will meet in Nashville tonight for the second presidential debate -- and you know what that means. Debate games! Get your McCain Bingo here, courtesy Dan Vera, a friend of People For.

And as with the first presidential debate and the VP debate, we'll be liveblogging tonight's proceedings. Join us and submit your thoughts during the debate through the commenting feature. 


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"Macaca" Does Minority Outreach

Considering that George Allen's electoral hopes essentially crashed at the moment he called one of his rival's volunteers "macaca" during a campaign event in Virginia back in 2006, how does the Virginia Republican Party think this is a good idea:  

Northern Virginia Republicans, realizing they need to improve their appeal among the region's large ethnic population, will stage a "unity" rally Saturday that they say will draw 1,000 people.

Organizers said the annual rally, which has grown in recent years, is particularly significant this year because ethnic minorities represent an increasingly powerful voting bloc that will help decide which presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain, wins the state Nov. 4.

...

[Jim Hyland, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee] said he expects as many as 1,000 supporters to turn out for the event at Edison High School, where former senator George Allen and Reps. Tom Davis and Frank R. Wolf are expected to speak. Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III is planning to attend, as is a widely known surrogate from McCain's campaign, organizers said.

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Have They No Shame?

In an election in which so much is at stake, and so many crucial differences between the presidential tickets, our national conversation keeps getting stuck — and not by accident. It dawned on me this week that race and gender are the elephant (and donkey) in the room — they’re more often exploited in subtle and cynical ways than discussed honestly. You need only witness the side show about "lipstick" that Republicans are using to keep the campaign away from issues that affect Americans and our shared future.

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