Barack Obama flashed his million-dollar smile during the South Carolina debates and joked that he'd have to see Bill Clinton's dance moves before he could sanction him an official "brother," as legendary author Toni Morrison once did. Hillary Clinton told Tim Russert on one of the most-watched Meet the Press episodes ever (4.71 million viewers) on Jan. 13: "I don't think this campaign is about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race. It needs to be about the individuals."
Change is obviously the buzzword of the 2008 presidential race, at least where the Democratic nomination is concerned. But let's face it, change is the buzzword of every election (with the exception, perhaps, of the incumbent). It is the catch-all container for the American voter's outrage and frustration, the magic box in which each candidate swears they can turn that disappointment into gold.
So let's set aside the buzzword for a second and think about what's really on people's minds when they go into the voting booth. It's not policy. It's not past experience. It's not even values. For better or worse, it's personality.
As I ride the subway home, especially this time of year, I inevitably find myself looking up from my book and listening to a homeless woman asking for change to feed her kids or a teenager trying to sell candy bars to "stay off the streets." But I don't reach into my bag. I have decided -- after a lot of personal angst and conversations with my social-worker friends -- to save my change and, instead, donate it to outreach programs that do this work in a systematic way.
"I turn on Tape Nine, Omission/Partial Omission. When sadness-inducing events occur, the guys says, invoke your Designated Substitute Thoughtstream. Your DTS might be a man falling off a cliff but being caught by a group of good friends. It might be a bowl of steaming soup, if one likes soup…My DTS is tapping a thin rock wall with a hammer. When that wall cracks, there's another wall underneath."
For most of my childhood my father's Buddhist faith was little more than silence -- early morning meditations that I never even witnessed. But when I hit my mid-20s, it became real. I was looking for some kind of psychic comfort, some kind of larger explanation for all the suffering I saw in the world, so I started reading his old, dog-eared books -- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Beginner's Mind, The Power of Now. I gained insight into my own anxiety but still felt desperate for a faith that also offered a political analysis, a set of ethics, a worldview.