Leadership versus Policy Wonking

So, according to Paul Krugman in today's NY Times, "What are the lessons for today’s Democrats?" Apparently, Mr. Krugman seems to think one lesson is that successful leadership resides in being first and foremost a purveyor of policy. Mr. Krugman believes that Barack Obama's supporters are in for a big, bad surprise because "those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect... an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1). The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them. What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues."
I disagree. We had that for 2 terms of the Clinton administration, and yet in spite of the overall good years economically, the country never came together over anything, basically, and it in fact continued and heightened the divisiveness that began with Richard Nixon. My observations tell me that what the Democrats, and the country, need is a leader, not another policy wonk with a fatally flawed personality. (And make no mistake, while Hillary Clinton may not have the same impulse disorder that her putative husband has, her over-the-top-win-at-all-cost drivenness is a major problem in her character.)
Mr. Obama, on the other hand, shows many of the true signs of leadership, primarily in that he speaks eloquently and naturally of the oneness needed in the electorate and in government in order to move the nation forward into a prosperous, safe and respected future place in the world. Mr. Obama seems to intuitively understand that the ego and the intellect must be at the service of the heart and soul, and of one's intuition and genuine gut instincts, not the other way around. Those who have led with their egos and intellects, and that includes Bill Clinton and every Republican president for the last forty years, are either oppressively dogmatic or lacking in direction and integrity, or in George W. Bush's case - both!
We truly do need change in this country right now, and that change has to go beyond the current administration's disastrous and corrupt approach to government. We need to move towards a change in consciousness, now, in the ways that we see ourselves, individually and as part of the country and the world. The Clintons are offering policy changes at best, yet nothing that Hillary or Bill say ever truly elevates us. It is that elevation that genuine leadership is about.

A President Like My Father-Caroline Kennedy

A President Like My Father
Published: January 27, 2008

OVER the years, I've been deeply moved by the people who've told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn't that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

Most of us would prefer to base our voting decision on policy differences. However, the candidates' goals are similar. They have all laid out detailed plans on everything from strengthening our middle class to investing in early childhood education. So qualities of leadership, character and judgment play a larger role than usual.

Senator Obama has demonstrated these qualities throughout his more than two decades of public service, not just in the United States Senate but in Illinois, where he helped turn around struggling communities, taught constitutional law and was an elected state official for eight years. And Senator Obama is showing the same qualities today. He has built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country, and he has demonstrated a special gift for inspiring young people — known for a willingness to volunteer, but an aversion to politics — to become engaged in the political process.

I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents' grandchildren, with that sense of possibility.

Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

Tots at the Bar?

I have a column called “Au Contraire: The Occasional Note by Peter Loffredo,” on the “Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn” blog, run by Louise “Smartmom” Crawford (of Brooklyn Paper fame). I frequently rail on about the epidemic of parental over-involvement that runs rampant among so many enclaves of educated Baby Boomers these days. My over-involvement in this issue stems from my awareness as a therapist of the damage being done to so many children by these otherwise well-intentioned parents. I have said more than once to said parents that they are creating a generation of “cranky narcissists,” and I have, of course, gotten a lot of angry responses back. (I have also dared to suggest that parents should focus a little more on their sex-romance lives, and boy did that really go down like a lead balloon!)
Yet, this is no small matter from which I intend to back away, and here’s why: narcissism, which can be initiated in almost any stage of early childhood, and can be part of any character structure, is an insidious, crippling disorder.
The characteristics of narcissism include: an intense investment in a false self, with extreme efforts to live up to a grandiose, perfect, “special” self-image; an intense desire to be attached to an idealized other, who is objectified, seen as perfect and special and can be merged with in fantasy and used to bolster one’s own unrealistic, idealized self-image (“the special person of a special person”); others are related to as either sources of supply for emotional gratification and self-aggrandizement, or as extensions of the self, not as real, separate beings with their own needs and identities, so there is very little capacity for real empathy with others as a result; a self-righteous sense of entitlement with little ability to tolerate frustration; an intense underlying rejection of the real self, which is seen as weak, vulnerable, inadequate and imperfect and irreversibly flawed; anger, contempt and irritability felt towards others who display what has been rejected in the real self; an extraordinary dependence on external validation by others for one’s sense of worth, with the double-bind that those who do give such support are devalued, while criticism or negative feedback is reacted to with rage and deep feelings of woundedness; and finally, there is a deep abandonment depression underlying all narcissistic disorders.
Narcissistic injury can take an infinite number of specific forms, but essentially it originates when the parents need the child to be something substantially different from what he or she really is, and that includes a parent wanting a child to think of her or him as their “friend.” Children do not naturally think of their parents as friends. In fact, they need not to see their parents that way.
Which brings me back to the OTBKB blog, and the parents of Park Slope, where the latest controversy being bandied back and forth on the blog is over the fact that a bar in town decided to institute a ban on strollers recently. No, I’m not kidding! A bar. As in... a bar! Now, I like to have a drink as much as anybody, and certainly there are times when a few hours with my kids can increase that craving, but I haven’t yet had an impulse to go to a bar with my 6 year-old to knock down a few. I mean, why would I? I AM A GROWN-UP! (And yes, I am also a stay-at-home Dad, ladies, so don’t even try that one!) The local moms here in Stepford, Brooklyn, however, have tried to make this into a “Mommies rights” issue, whining about how they need places to hang out with other moms with strollers somewhere, especially since they were booted out of Barnes and Nobles a short time ago because their kids were wrecking the place and disrupting other patrons, and because recently someone dared to put a sculpture in Prospect Park that takes up about 50 square feet. That’s right – several parents have complained that in all the vastness of Prospect Park, this piece of art for ADULTS to contemplate takes up space where parents and tots might want to have a picnic! So, if bookstores and public parks are fair game for these parents who rely so heavily on the company of their children for self-esteem and value, why not a bar? Why not a fine restaurant? Why not a health club?
Listen, I love children, and children love me. This is not primarily a convenience issue for me. It is first and foremost an issue of mental health. Children are suffering at the hands of these parents who think that their enmeshment with their children is going to make up for the lack of gratification in their adult sex or work lives, or for the slings and arrows of their own childhoods, or for their own generalized anomie.
I’d like to end with this amazing prose by Kahlil Gibran:

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
 They come through you but not from you,
 And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
 You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
 For they have their own thoughts.
 You may house their bodies but not their souls,
 For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
 You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
 For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
 You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
 The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that 
 His arrows may go swift and far Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
 For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Frank on the sex lives of the candidates!

Frank's response to my post on Eros and politics (below) was so great, I'm putting it up as a post itself instead of as a comment. Enjoy!

Hey Peter,
l am glad l am not the only one thinking about this. l have been holding it in for a few months now. So l will start with the Republicans. l am not sure he is still in the race, but l have to go with Fred Thompson. That sexy little trophy looks like a total whore in the bedroom that will do whatever it takes to keep her old man smiling. The only other contender is the middle aged Mormon male model. l think we are only looking at about once a season ( yes, the big 4 ) for 7 minutes on a Saturday night (not too late ) and "don't you dare mess up my hair baby" for a real Mormon throw down. The rest of that pack makes me queasy when l think about it, like drinking too much coffee on an empty stomach, and besides if you read the NY Times today you know that Rudy will find YOU. So the other camp. Poor John Edwards, sorry dude, really. He brings to mind the Rod Stewart lyric " ...some guys have all the luck, some guys have all the pain... " Last year Jon Stewart summed it up for Hillary best: "... this is where penises go to die. " l think that has always been crystal clear. So that leaves Barrack and Koo-sin-itch. They are neck and neck. l think Cleveland has been treated to screams coming from the congressman's bedroom windows on more than one occasion. That Julianne Moore lookalike definitely has the look of love and she's red fuckin' hot. You just know she's grabbing those big ears and riding like the thoroughbred she is. He's always grinning, like he has a secret. lt's no secret dude, she's tearing the skin off that thing everynight and everyone but the blind and sleepy know it. Congrats. Too bad he can't see over the podium - people might know who he is and what he is saying. lf he looked like that Mormon clown, he'd be our next president. So that leaves Barrack. You just know those secret service dudes are nodding and winking at each other when those two are tearing it up. l wouldn't be surprised if early on in their detail they busted into the room thinking someone was having a limb severed. She's kicked the windows out of the back of the bus on more than one occasion l'll bet. Yeah, they got "it." Those smiles are real. l'll bet part of Oprah's deal was: " You gotta tell me what its like girlfriend, PPPLLLEEEEAAASSSE!! " Those two would have some party making over the White House, Chi-town style. Rock on. That's all l got. Frank

Start the year off right. Easy ways to stay in shape.

A Vote for Eros

What's up with politics anyway? Has anyone else found the current discourse to be so far below even a modest measure of enlightenment, or even just a simple level of adult maturity, that you feel like the inmates are running the asylum?
Listening to the pseudo-populist offensive of the radical Republican right, represented by Mike Huckabee and "Walker, Texas Ranger," trying to convince us that the 6,000 year-old world is indeed flat after all, makes me wonder if anyone is really paying attention. But Huck and Chuck's brand of lunacy is not going to cease as long as it is not confronted directly. Part of the problem is that by referring to the philosophical divide in our society as a ''culture war,'' pundits inadvertently give equal weight to ideas that are not deserving of such elevation. "Social Conservatism" sounds so intelligent and thoughful as a position, but in fact, the attacks on evolution, stem cell research, women's reproductive rights, modern education, racial equality and homosexuality are not rooted in rational thinking, objective observation or even intuitive understanding. The positions of these "righteous" radicals are based in superstition, primitive beliefs and fears of the Other, no different from the attitudes that once led ''God fearing'' people to burn women to death for supposedly being witches. Democrats and Moderate Republicans could stop empowering the far-out far right by no longer treating its arguments as just another part of ''American political traditions,'' but as part of a repressive, retrogressive movement that is ultimately doomed to obscurity. Will they? Ha!
Onto a related matter - I'm going to say this as a psychotherapist, as someone who has scrupulously observed the mental health of people for 30 years, Okay? Here it is: Mike Huckabee is crazy. Certifiable. So is Rudy Giuliani. Okay?! Look at their eyes the next time you see them on TV. Just check it out. The others on the right? Well, Romney's just your garden-variety psychopathic ad-man type, the kind of guy we all know and love to hate. He has no real philosophy, other than "Vote for me because I want to win and you know I'm handsome." And John McCain, though he borders on being the only adult among the Republican pack of whackos, is living in a bad B action movie, with himself starring as the real-life Chuck Norris.
So, why haven't the Democrats been able to secure the reigns of power for their party for so long? (Remember that even during the Clinton years, Congress was controlled by the Republicans.) Because if there's one thing even worse than craziness in a leader, it's insincerity, and for most people not trained in the mental health profession, insincerity is easier to read than madness. Bill "Slick Willy" Clinton made disingenuousness an art form during his run for the presidency, and his putative wife is attempting to follow in that tradition, even though so many people have come to hate "Clintonian" politics. (Unfortunately for them, when the likes of Al Gore and John Kerry tried the mealy-mouthed approach, they couldn't pull off the waffling and pandering without looking ludicrous.) John Edwards and Barack Obama started out fairly high on the sincerity meter, but every time Slick Hillary with the Crocodile Tears wins another primary, watch and see if they slide into prevaricating Clintonian blather.
How to choose who to vote for this year? For me and my wife, it's going to be easy, ultimately, because we have one foolproof method for assessing the best potential candidate to lead this nation. We're voting for the one who looks like they're having the healthiest sex life! Yep. We watch every debate, and a lot of news programs, and if you look carefully, you can see who is experiencing Eros on a regular basis, and I can assure you, that person will not precipitously get us into a war, or belligerently alienate the rest of the world or allow vast portions of our citizenry to live in poverty or without a decent, living wage or home environment or a meaningful education. Think about it. No one who has ever had a mind-blowing, soul-quenching orgasm with someone they're in love with has ever followed that up with an impulse to invade a country or steal someone's pension fund or dump some toxic waste in a nearby river. Right? Freud said it a century ago, and many enlightened spiritual teachers said it before him, and some have said it since - the greatest cause of most social ills in the world is sexual repression.
Think about it.

Bobby Fischer's "Window"... and Yours.

Bobby Fischer has died at the age of 64. America's only world chess champion and a true prodigy, Bobby brought chess into mainstream consciousness in America over three decades ago. He certainly inspired me in his famous match with Boris Spassky in the summer of 1972, right after I had graduated from high school. I watched every game on PBS, and then went on to start a chess club at Rider College in my freshman year. I once got to see Bobby work his magic, playing against 20 of Westchester County's best players simultaneously, winning all 20 games in about an hour. He even smiled wryly at one point when he recognized that one of the challengers was playing one of Fischer's own games against him!
As a budding young psychotherapist, I also knew that Bobby Fischer was probably a paranoid schizophrenic. That both saddened me and fascinated me. It saddened me because he became emotionaly too unstable to continue revolutionizing the game of chess. Instead he descended into madness and isolation over the years. It fascinated me because I wondered how one could be so innovative and brilliant (Fischer's IQ was purported to be 181), and yet also be insane. I pondered this question for many years, and often thought about Bobby Fischer when I did.
The conclusion I came to ultimately was that most people have at least a "window" open in their psyche to their highest self, no matter how pressing their other disturbances and conflicts might be. Each person comes into life with innate gifts to bear, some even monumentally so. From Mozart to Mickey Mantle, from Judy Garland to John Forbes Nash, we have plenty of examples of greatness co-existing with deep fatal flaws in the mind. In the lives of so many people I meet, in fact, I frequently see the same thing - areas of talent and light shining through the window of an otherwise "ordinary" life, constricted by the rigid belief systems and suppressed emotions we created in childhood and have not dismantled.
Is there a purpose for the existence of these windows? Yes. It is the soul's way of reminding us of who we truly are, of what we can and will become as we progress on our journey towards self-actualization. It is our inner inspiration to fulfillment. As Bobby Fischer inspired me and perhaps millions of others in the 1970's to explore the world of chess, our own flashes of creativity and brilliance can inspire us to do the selfwork necessary to explore our own inner world and advance our own evolution.
Thanks, Bobby, for the bright light that briefly shown through you.

Is David Brooks becoming enlightened?

Well, not quite, but... this will now be the third time in less than a year that I have had to speak supportively of an editorial piece by Mr. Brooks. Today's entry is called, simply, "McCain and Obama." (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/opinion/08brooks.html?ref=opinion)
The basic premise of Brooks' column today is one that I agree with. He states, "The central issue in this election is the crisis of leadership," and he points out correctly that Barack Obama and John McCain are candidates in their respective parties that are answering the call of that crisis. "Both ask their audiences to serve a cause greater than self-interest."
Indeed, as astoundingly backward as the policies of George W. Bush have been, his greater failing is that he has is too immature emotionally, limited intellectually and ego-bound psychologically to be a true leader. Whereas Mr. Bush is (sadly) best known for ridiculously self-referential quotes like "I am the Decider," the key word in any Obama speech is "you,” says Brooks. True. True.
Where I disagree with David Brooks, however, is in his implied conclusion that the differences between Obama and McCain are more about style than substance. He frames it euphemistically like this: "One man celebrates communitarian virtues like unity, the other classical virtues like honor." I think a more realistic way of describing the differences between Obama and McCain would be to say that one man is part of a progressive, forward-looking movement into a more enlightened, cooperative future for the world, while the other man is stuck in a world-view that is essentially adversarial, confrontational and self-righteous. As Mr. Obama has himself said, this election is not about black or white, male or female, liberal or conservative, but rather about old ways versus new ways of approaching governance. So, while I concur that both Barack Obama and John McCain are true leaders in their basic characters, what matters as much as having those leadership qualities is where the leader intends to lead to.

Russian Poem I saw on the Subway Today

If there is something to desire, there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret, there will be something to recall.
If there was something to recall, there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret, there was nothing to desire.

Two quotes to think about as you start the New Year

"Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be." - John Lennon
"The truth is that there is no journey. You are right now what you are attempting to be. You are right now where you are attempting to go" - Neale Donald Walsh

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