Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Slingin' Sammy Baugh

The death of Washington Redskin legend and NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh earlier this month represents an end to a chapter in the early history of the NFL. Sammy Baugh played sixteen seasons with the Washington Redskins from 1937 to 1952. In the first nine seasons of his career, he led the Redskins to two NFL championships and five Eastern Conference titles. When he retired in 1952 he was the greatest passer in NFL history. In between Baugh redefined the role of the quarterback and made the forward pass a vital, essential part of the game itself.

Before Baugh came along the forward pass was a desperation measure to be solely when the offense faced a third and long situation and even then when the ball was thrown it wasn’t thrown with any particular grace or style. Baugh changed that. He brought beauty, power, grace, and style to the quarterback position and made the pass a viable option on first and second downs.

Before Baugh, NFL offenses used the single wing or double wing formations which were earlier forms of today’s shotgun formations that heavily emphasized running. When Baugh joined the NFL he changed that. Standing in the tailback position (in the single wing and double wing the quarterback was a mere blocking back) Baugh would take snap and look to pass to his ends or wing backs. Invariably Baugh would find the open man and sling a bullet to the receiver, usually for huge yardage. (In the 1937 NFL championship game against the Chicago Bears, Baugh connected for TD passes for fifty-five and seventy-seven yards). Whereas NFL teams used only three defensive backs now they had to use four or more defensive backs against Baugh thus revolutionizing NFL defenses just as Baugh was revamping NFL offenses.

Baugh was an incredibly accurate thrower. In 1945 he completed 70.3% of his passes; a record never to be broken. (Baugh threw 182 passes and completed 128 of them—modest by today’s standards but today’s NFL quarterbacks throw 180 passes by week four of the regular season).

Not only was Baugh accurate he was also supremely confident in himself. During Baugh’s rookie season Redskins coach Ray Flaherty was outlining a pass pattern on a chalkboard and he told Baugh, “When the receiver reaches here, you hit him in the eye with the ball.” Baugh shot back deadpan, “which eye?”

(Baugh wasn’t joking about hitting a player in the eye. Late in his career when he was a living legend, Baugh was given a cheap-shot hit by an opposing rookie defensive lineman. Baugh admonished the rookie to take it easy whereupon the impertinent rookie gave Baugh another cheap-shot on the very next play. Baugh told his linemen to let the rookie through on the next play—which they did—whereupon Baugh threw a line-drive pass that hit the rookie right between the eyes and knocked him out—remember football fans they didn’t wear face masks in those days).

And yet Baugh was more than a passer. In those days when players played both offense and defense, Baugh was a decent defensive back who once intercepted four passes in one game. Baugh was also one of the greatest punters in the NFL, averaging forty-five yards a punt—which is still exceptional in today’s game. Indeed Baugh was a master of the quick kick—a play never seen in today’s game. Many a time Baugh would fade back to pass only to fool the opposing defense by quick-kicking the ball thus trapping the opposing team deep in their own territory. In the 1942 NFL championship game against the Chicago Bears, Baugh launched an eighty-five yard quick kick that caught the Bears flat-footed. The Redskins would win that game 14-6.

Sammy Baugh’s impact on the game went beyond the football field. Baugh’s presence on the Washington Redskins made the nation’s capitol into the pro football capitol of America. In 1937 Redskins owner George Preston Marshall moved the team from Boston to Washington and desperately needed a big star who could draw big crowds to watch his team. Sammy Baugh was that star and when he won the NFL championship in his rookie season (only one of two NFL quarterbacks ever to do that if I’m not mistaken—the other was Bob Waterfield in 1945 with the Cleveland Rams) Baugh made the Washington Redskins a viable NFL franchise which it remains today. Baugh also was the first in a long line of great Redskin quarterbacks who would lead the ‘Skins to victory: Eddie LeBaron, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien. It was Baugh who laid the foundations of the iron covenant that exists today between the Redskins and their loyal fans.

Sammy Baugh should be revered by football fans because he was a vital link in the evolutionary chain of the quarterback position in the football. Before Sammy Baugh came along the greatest football quarterback was Bennie Friedman. Baugh took the antecedents that Friedman established in the realm of forward passing and elevated them to an unprecedented level. When Baugh retired in 1952 his standards would be taken up (and surpassed) by NFL legends Otto Graham, John Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Peyton Manning. Simply put, the achievements his successors made would not have been possible without Sammy Baugh paving the way.

All NFL quarterbacks today owe Sammy Baugh a debt of thanks.

As do NFL fans as well.

Thanks for the memories Sammy Baugh. Rest in Peace.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Because of the War, There Went The Shoe

I must admit that I had a very good laugh last Sunday when the all news shows aired the footage of Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurling his shoes as well as verbal abuse at President Bush. In terms of iconic political moments it ranks up there with the photograph of an egg impacting on the face Wendell Wilkie the G.O.P. nominee in the 1940 Presidential Election.

What al-Zeidi did stands as a very courageous act in that he did what the American press never had the courage to do since 2003: stand up and expose the base bloody hypocrisy of the Second Persian Gulf War and strike back at the perpetrator of that base bloody hypocrisy.

When President Bush stood there and tried to give his self-serving speech about the Second Persian Gulf War (essentially doing what Pontius Pilate, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon tried to do in the past: justify the unjustifiable) Al-Zeidi let the President—and the rest of the world—know that he (along with millions other people throughout the world) weren’t having any of it. For all of President Bush’s cant of “victory”, “democracy” and “freedom of speech” no other President did more to stifle dissent and civil liberties in his own country. When one also considers the thought that over four thousand Americans will not be allowed to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones because of the fact that they were killed in action in Iraq and the fact that thousands more Iraqis (innocent and insurgent) were killed also, it makes any decent individual want to throw their shoes in protest as well. What al-Zeidi did ranks up there with the image of the Chinese freedom standing in front of the tank when the Chinese Army crushed the 1989 Tian-a-men Square uprising.

From the aesthetic viewpoint I do have one criticism for al-Zeidi: he should not have yelled at President Bush before throwing his shoes at him. All he did was to give Bush a chance to duck. Instead he should have thrown his shoes first and then do his yelling. He would have had better odds of hitting his target.

Anyway, considering how depressing a year this has been, I have to give thanks Muntadhar Al-Zeidi for giving the world a reason to laugh and cheer this year.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jim Morrison: 65

Today marks the 65th birthday of the late Jim Morrison of the Doors. Somehow the notion of Morrison living to retirement age (and becoming eligible for Social Security and Medicare) seems alien considering the deliberate path of excess he chose for himself which culminated with his passing in a Parisian bathtub in 1971.

Why do I mark the birthday of a man who had a relatively brief musical career? (Four years).

It’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ to him.

It seems almost clichéd to say it but I became a Doors fans after I saw the opening sequence of the movie Apocalypse Now where director Francis Ford Coppola used the Doors song The End as musical background to a napalm attack. To paraphrase actor Martin Sheen, listening to Morrison sing those tortured lyrics really put the hook in me. Then came the book that did more to mythologize Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive.

I was too young to see the Doors in concert. I was a month shy of my eighth birthday when Morrison died (although it seems mysteriously intriguing that my personal life began unraveling right after his death). It was during the tail end of that emotional unraveling that I discovered the Doors and, through the Doors, an appreciation of Morrison’s life and artistic self.

To some it may seem fatuous but Jim Morrison saved my life.

How is that possible? How could someone who drank, drugged, had indiscriminate sex (pre-AIDS), and devoted himself to disarranging his senses save my life?

It was because Jim Morrison gave me the courage to write.

The blog you’re reading now is because of Jim Morrison. The song lyrics, prose, poetry, and social commentary I’ve been doing since the age of seventeen are because of Jim Morrison (well not solely because of him. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Byron, Keats, Shelley, and T.S. Eliot and various other writers had something to do with it as well) but Morrison ranks up there as a personal inspiration to put pen to paper; to make my fingers hit the keyboard; to put my work before the public and let it stand naked in the spotlight for better or for worse.

Before I discovered the Doors I was lost in a Roman wilderness of pain, having no sense of sanity or self.

Morrison gave me the courage to find my voice. To paraphrase one of his poems, he spoke to my heart and gave me the great gift of words, power, and trance.

His body of work allowed me to see my pain (and the causes of it) for what it was. He cleansed my doors of perception, allowing me to escape; to go on journeys through a primitive darkness before returning and telling others what I saw during the journey.

He gave me the courage to travel and discover new worlds and draw inspiration from those worlds.

If I didn’t have my writings then I wouldn’t be alive today. I would have died or gone insane or did both a long time ago.

My writing gave me a reason to live; a reason for hope (albeit a forlorn one). But like Morrison sang in Orange County Suite, “I’m still here and you’re still there and….”

Since that time I have always been on the lookout for Morrisoniana: I have most of the videos, books, and records. Even more interesting is that despite Morrison’s brief career and the lack of respectable critical acclaim that the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan received, Morrison endures as a cultural icon. His shade pops up in the most interesting places. Movies like Eddie and the Cruisers, Death Becomes Her, Wayne’s World Part Two have made allusions to him or had actors portraying him. (I think the Death Becomes Her portrayal was the best one). I even remember a short-lived TV series involving UFO investigators had an episode where a pre-famous Jim Morrison was featured as a doomed character. Miami Vice had an episode where the entire show featured the music of the Doors. And of course there is Oliver Stone’s revisionist and puerile cinematic bio The Doors. (I remember being disappointed with the film. I felt that Stone missed the point of Morrison’s life although there are a couple of scenes when the movie really capture’s Jim’s life. One is a shot of actor Val Kilmer (who portrayed Morrison) staggering silently, drunkenly through the streets of Los Angeles after a montage of scenes capturing Morrison’s dissipation; the other is the one where Kilmer as Morrison harangues his friends on the L.A. streets about whether they were really alive or not. Sadly the rest of the film failed in its mission. Like biographer Stephen Davis writes in his bio of Morrison, “He’s still causing trouble.”

I have spent nearly three decades trying to find his footprints. The first day I arrived in Paris, the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was go to Pere la Chaise cemetery and commune with his spirit. It was the 15th anniversary of his death and I, along with young kids from around world, kept vigil, passing a wine bottle around, and sharing our love for Jim. (The experience inspired me to write a song called The Graveyard Shift to pay homage to those who visit his grave). When I was in L.A. precisely seventeen years ago to film my Jeopardy! episode, I spent the day after the filming wandering the streets of Venice Beach where Morrison lived in starvation and poverty, gobbling LSD, and writing many of his great hits. When I returned to Paris in 2005, what did I do? I spent an entire afternoon walking the streets surrounding his apartment in the Rue Beautrellis in the Marais district of Paris, drinking at his favorite brasserie, and resting at the Place des Vosge. The last thing I did before going home was to visit his grave again and act as an amateur docent telling the young visitors about the time when the grave had graffiti and didn’t have security guards like it does now.

For me, my favorite Doors songs are as follows:

1) The End
2) Crystal Ship
3) End of the Night
4) Soul Kitchen (The Absolutely Live! Version)
5) Strange Days
6) Moonlight Drive
7) Unknown Soldier (the live version at the 1968 Hollywood Bowl concert. If Morrison were still alive today and performing methinks he would be dusting off this chestnut and performing it with great effect with the Iraqi war going on).
8) Celebration of the Lizard (to this day I can still recite all 133 lines of his epic poem. My favorite recitation came in 1989 when I was staggering drunk on Italian white wine through the streets of Glasgow, Scotland. Amazingly the streets were relatively deserted so I amused myself by reciting the poem at the top of my lungs. Even more amazing is that I didn’t blow a single line!)
9) Peace Frog
10) Queen of the Highway
11) Indian Summer
12) The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). I like both versions, the L.A. Woman album version and the 1968 live version which he performed on Dutch TV featured on the live album Alive She Cried.
13) Someday Soon (from the Doors box set)
14) Orange County Suite

Among his poems (there are some who dismiss his poetry as pretentious and others who feel that his best poetry was in his song lyrics) I’ve always loved Lament and An American Prayer and his Graveyard poem.

Jim Morrison was my road not taken but he also guided me to the road I’m taking now. I have no regrets on that score. He kept me alive and he kept me rocking.

Thanks, Jim. Happy birthday and Rest in Peace, Mr. Mojo Risin.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

John McCain: Bad Timing

When John McCain gave his acceptance speech three months ago for the G.O.P. Presidential nomination I remember thinking to myself, “if only this were the year 2000….If only this were the year 2000.”

The tragedy of John McCain’s 2008 campaign was that he was the right man in the right place at the wrong time. McCain had to carry the burden of eight years of political, fiscal, and legal amorality of the Bush Administration. It was burden that no G.O.P. nominee could have successfully carried: not McCain; not Mike Huckabee; not Mitt Romney or any other Republican candidate.

The zenith of McCain’s campaign was his acceptance speech at the G.O.P. convention. It was a marvelous speech and had McCain won the election it would have been seen as a landmark convention speech—remembered and celebrated by historians for decades to come. Had McCain given that convention speech in the year 2000—had McCain been able to win the G.O.P. nomination in the year 2000 then the past eight years would have been very different indeed.

A McCain Presidential campaign in 2000 would have been fascinating. First of all who would have been Veep in 2000? It wouldn’t have been Sarah Palin of course but who would it have been? George W. Bush as a sop to the Right Wing and would Bush have accepted the Veep nomination like his father did when Reagan won in 1980?

A McCain 2000 campaign would have been blessed instead of being cursed like it was in 2008. The economy in 2000 was in very good shape (although it was imperceptibly starting to slow down). There was no 9/11 with its attendant climate of fear and paranoia. McCain would have had the moral high ground since the Democrats were still reeling from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Also McCain’s fiery personality would have provided a compelling counterpoint to his opponent, Al Gore’s wooden persona.

If McCain had been able to avoid any pratfalls in the fall of 2000 then he would have had an excellent chance in winning on Election Day 2000. Instead of the politically charged re-count and the even more controversial Supreme Court decision awarding the Presidency to George W. Bush, McCain would have won a clear-cut decision with no room for protest. Instead of Bush Administration tainted with illegitimacy. McCain would have been riding high on a wave of change.

A McCain Presidency would have differed from that George W. Bush. People forget that McCain opposed the Bush tax cuts of 2001 because they were not backed by commensurate cuts in government spending. Those tax cuts coupled with massive deregulation and combined with the massive spending programs of the Bush Administration and the massive war effort pushed the American economy to the breaking point. (McCain’s biggest mistake in the 2008 campaign was in not reminding voters that he opposed the Bush tax cuts in 2001. If he had done so it would have gone a long way in refuting Obama’s strategy of linking McCain to Bush).

A McCain Presidency would have adopted a more moderate and flexible attitude towards global-warming and other environmental issues. (McCain drew more votes from Republicans who were strong on environmental and conservation issues than Bush did).

And there is 9/11….

McCain, unlike Bush, would never have allowed the bi-partisan spirit of those dark months following that terrifying day to dissipate. McCain’s ability to reach across the aisle would have reached full flower. McCain (unlike Bush) who had been blooded in combat would have done more to marshal and maintain the martial spirit to wage the war on terror. McCain (unlike Bush) would have been able to maintain our moral authority in the struggle. Most important of all: there would have been no war in Iraq. Without the costly drain on personnel and material brought on by the Iraqi war, our efforts in Afghanistan would not have been vitiated like they are now. The war on terror would have been waged more judiciously and effectively.

Indeed, McCain would have been poised to win re-election in 2004 by an even more substantial margin than in 2000. (People forget Bush narrowly won re-election in the Electoral College in 2004).

Simply put John McCain had he won in 2000 would have done what George W. Bush failed to do—assume the mantle of Ronald Reagan as the leader of American conservatism—but I anticipate myself. That’s material for another blog entry for the future!)

If these things had happened then John McCain would be leaving the Presidency now with a country that would have been in much better shape than it was. I don’t believe the present crises of today would have been as horrendous or even happening at all if McCain had won in 2000.

But, sadly, that didn’t happen. McCain didn’t win the G.O.P. nomination in 2000 and eight years later he went down in defeat against Barack Obama.

The one question I have about his 2008 campaign is this: was his expressed desire to achieve victory in Iraq genuine or was his militant rhetoric political camouflage designed to appease conservatives while allowing him the chance to find an alternative solution to the Iraqi war? In other words would McCain have done what Charles De Gaulle did in 1958 during the war between Algeria and France? Between 1954 to 1962, Algerian rebels seeking independence from France revolted against the French government. The war in Algeria literally brought France to the brink of revolution. Charles De Gaulle was summoned out of political exile to form a government which would resolve the Algerian crisis while at the same time enact constitutional reform in France proper. De Gaulle traveled to Algeria and, in public, proclaimed a French Algeria but in private knew that there was no way to keep in Algeria as a part of France; instead, demanding that the French army achieve a tactical victory which would allow De Gaulle to negotiate with the Algerian rebels for mutually amicable terms where Algeria would achieve independence.

Was John McCain thinking in the same terms? Providing enough arms and material to U.S. forces in Iraq that would help them achieve a face-saving, tactical success which in turn would provide the political justification to pull back re-deploy U.S. forces in Afghanistan and help American regain its strategic equilibrium undermined by the Iraqi war.

That question remains unanswered.

John McCain need not apologize for his campaign. Like Bob Dole did for the World War Two generation, John McCain now becomes the respected elder statesman for the Vietnam War generation.

Still…the tragedy remains: when America chose Bush over McCain in 2000 it lost more than it gained.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama: A New Approach

The election of Barack Obama as President represents a benchmark in American political history not solely due to the color of Obama’s skin but also due to the dominant issues that undermined and ultimately crushed his opponent John McCain’s candidacy.

Obama’s victory is significant in that he won more convincingly than Jimmy Carter did in 1976 or Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Obama broke new ground for the Democratic Party in recapturing states which had once been G.O.P. conservative strongholds: Virginia and North Carolina. Obama’s electoral victory has to be the strongest repudiation of an outgoing two term President’s legacy in American history since Warren G. Harding’s victory in 1920.

But when contemplating Obama’s victory one must remember that Obama’s campaign is not over (it never is in American Presidential politics). Even though Obama has sizable majorities in both Houses of Congress it must also be remembered that the last Democratic President to enjoy lockstep support from Congress was Lyndon Johnson. Carter never had support from Congress at all during his Presidency and Clinton’s support was extremely shaky during his first two years in office before losing both Houses to the G.O.P. in 1994. In fact Obama’s biggest enemy in Congress will not be a Republican but former Democratic (and now Independent) Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut. If anyone will be Obama’s chief gadfly it will be Lieberman unless Sarah Palin can convince Alaska Senator Ted Stevens to resign and be elected to fill his vacant seat—which is her intention despite her protestations to the contrary.

Even more likely, the Republicans in Congress will resort to the tactics they used during Bill Clinton’s Presidency: constant filibustering and the use of legislative tricks to stall key legislation; Cabinet, executive, and judicial appointments made by Obama for the next four years. Considering Obama’s mandate it is highly likely that the G.O.P. will adopt this strategy while they lick their wounds and start anew.

Another thing: those expecting another New Deal or Great Society from Obama will be disappointed. The days of massive liberal domestic programs have become passé. In reality the advent of supply-side economics as G.O.P. fiscal orthodoxy coupled with America’s transition from creditor to debtor nation along with the obscene rise in the National Debt (both of which did not exist in 1933 or 1965) along with the growing power of conservative lobbyists and media outlets makes any potential massive liberal domestic programming politically risky if not irresponsible. Bill Clinton’s failure to achieve health-care reform in 1994 is a prime example of this. Whatever spending Obama will do must be done with the revenues already present.

Will Obama’s Presidency be the dawn of a new Augustan Age (as the late poet Robert Frost heralded John F. Kennedy’s Presidency in 1961)? Only time will tell.

Actually it is the words of the late Civil War Historian Bruce Catton who best captures what America is feeling and experiencing right now in the wake of Obama’s victory. Catton wrote these words in his book Never Call Retreat, the final volume in his trilogy commemorating the centennial of the Civil War; with the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth due next year and the sesquicentennial of the Civil War due in 2011, Catton’s words are supremely appropriate.

Something had been won; but it was nothing more, and at the same time nothing less than a chance to make a new approach toward a goal that had to be reached if the war and the nation that had endured it had final meaning. The ship was moving through Lincoln’s dream, toward a dark indefinite shore, it had a long way to go, and the sky contained no stars the ordinary mortal could see. All that was certain was that the voyage was under way.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Phillies Win!: Twice in a Lifetime

When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series last night it felt great to see my favorite baseball team become champions again. It’s nice to see your favorite team become champions once in your lifetime but when it happens twice, it becomes doubly sweet. The Phillies did not win the Series by fluke. This is a finely tuned, well-balanced young team that has not yet reached its peak in terms of what it can when operating on all cylinders.

The Phillies made quantum strides since early last season when they seemed to be floundering and manager Charlie Manuel’s job was literally on the line. They coalesced into a contender, made the playoffs (only to be immediately eliminated) and renewed themselves to improving themselves this season. One has to give credit to out-going general manager Pat Gillick for making several shrewd trades and free agent signings. He put the pieces together all season long and it paid off in World Series rings.

Charlie Manuel deserves credit too. He was and is the right manager for this type of team. He kept his young players loose but focused; making the proper moves with the right personnel. The Phillies only had to do their jobs and they did.

When they won I couldn’t help but compare them with the 1980 Phillies and, interestingly, I find myself considering the 2008 Phillies to be the superior ball club. The 2008 Phillies were, by far, the more efficient team in terms of execution of the basics of baseball. Seldom, if ever, did this team ever beat itself. The 1980 Phillies weren’t called the Cardiac kids for nothing. Time and again they would dig holes for themselves only to work their way out of them until, finally, against all odds, they won the World Series. In many ways the worst enemy of the 1980 Phillies were themselves which explains why Dallas Green was able to wring a World Series title out of them. Again and again Dallas Green had to cajole, admonish, and whip the Phillies into overcoming their own self-destructive play. When the 1980 Phillies won against the Royals it was in spite of themselves.

The 2008 Phillies were the cooler team—which is more amazing considering the youth of the club. When the Phillies won they did so with the quiet grace of the old New York Yankees teams during their dynasty years. They dispatched all three opponents with the modicum of fuss and bother--their only significant foe being Mother Nature.

The 1980 Team had Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, two Hall-of-Famers and Pete Rose who would be in the Hall were it not for his gambling. Bob Boone and Garry Maddox were supreme in their own right as catcher and centerfielder respectively but the 2008 Phillies have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Cole Hamels—all of whom have Hall-of-Fame potential. The 2008 Phillies bull-pen was infinitely superior to the 1980 club and the 2008 Phillies were much better in executing the baseball basics such as moving runners, stealing bases, and making the defensive stops that needed to be made.

Dallas Green could never have managed the 2008 Phillies to victory and Charlie Manuel could never have led the 1980 Phillies to victory. Each manager was perfect for their respective teams.
Can the 2008 Phillies repeat as champions next year? The odds are against them. Only four times in World Series history has an NL team repeated as champions: the 1976 Reds, the 1944 Cardinals, the 1922 Giants, and the 1908 Cubs. The Phillies may not repeat next year but rest assuredly they will appear in a few more Fall Classics if they keep their noses clean and their inner core of stars together.

The best years of the 2008 Phillies are still ahead of them.

Way to go Phillies! Thank you very much!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Theodore Roosevelt: A Sesquicentennial

October 27 marks the sesquicentennial of the birth of one of the most complete Americans this nation has ever produced: President Theodore Roosevelt. (Interestingly, the next few months to come will mark other anniversaries in the life and death of the 26th President of the United States: next January will mark the 90th anniversary of his death and next March will mark the centennial of the conclusion of his Presidency).

If ever there was a renaissance man in American history it was Roosevelt. His Presidency alone makes him a landmark figure but to judge his life solely on his Presidency fails to capture the totality of the man. Roosevelt in his lifetime was a scholar, sportsman, naturalist, hunter, explorer, horseman, author, historian, cattle rancher, volunteer soldier, state legislator, governor, police commissioner, under-secretary of the navy, and Vice President (achieving excellence in almost all these activities) before becoming President. To paraphrase the late historians Will and Ariel Durant, Roosevelt packed a century’s worth of living into a mere sixty years of existence on this Earth. No other American President except for Thomas Jefferson could match such an enormous variety of accomplishments (and even Jefferson never came close to matching Roosevelt’s vaunted outdoor experiences and conspicuous gallantry on the battlefield).

Roosevelt brought American into the 20th century and set this nation on a course that would make the 20th century the American century. He modernized the Presidency by broadening the scope of the executive powers of the office in unprecedented ways and guided our country through its long awaited transition from a hemispheric power to a world power to be reckoned with in world affairs. America’s victories in World Wars One and Two and subsequent assumption as defender of freedom abroad would never have been possible without Theodore Roosevelt sowing the seeds of progress.

What is even more amazing when reflecting on Roosevelt’s unparalleled record of achievement (especially when it comes to his outdoor activities) is that he did so by overcoming his own physical limits. To paraphrase the late William Manchester writing about Sir Winston Churchill, Roosevelt was a man who triumphed over his own physiognomy. Throughout his life Roosevelt overcame near-sightedness, severe childhood asthma, (by today’s standards obesity), an assassin’s bullet while campaigning for President in 1912, and, later in life, severe malaria while exploring the Amazon river to earn his niche on the face of Mount Rushmore. More amazing still were the emotional and psychological battles he had to face to make his name. Roosevelt had to endure the death of his first wife Alice; opposition from his fellow Republicans when it came to reforming New York State and, later, American politics; the dissipation and premature death of his brother Elliott (father of Eleanor Roosevelt); and the death of his son Quentin who was killed in action in World War One. And yet endure he did, all the while persevering in the face of adversity and, for the most part, triumphing in the end.

When considering the obstacles he had to face, his attainments make him shine even more heroically in the pantheon of American politics. Today’s political figures are mere shades when compared with the monumental edifice of Roosevelt’s life.

One example of this was when President Ronald Reagan died. During the funeral services several conservative commentators compared Reagan with Theodore Roosevelt. In truth comparing Reagan with Theodore Roosevelt is a grave disservice to Roosevelt. As the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus once wrote, “He does not wish to seem but to be.” Reagan, in real life, deliberately portrayed himself in the Rooseveltian image of the cowboy, the rancher, and the heroic figure in the ultimate stage appearance. Roosevelt truly was. Personally I would have loved to see Reagan try to run a dude ranch in North Dakota Badlands where he had to rope and brand his own cattle and ride in a posse after cattle rustlers—which Roosevelt did. Unlike actors Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, Reagan did not fight in combat in World War Two. During the Spanish-American War Theodore Roosevelt resigned his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (where he served with distinction) in order to organize and fight with a volunteer cavalry regiment better known as the Rough Riders. I would have loved to see Reagan marching through a thick Cuban jungle in order to charge up San Juan Hill, all the while watching friend and foe die before his eyes while risking death himself. Roosevelt did all that. Reagan never did. (Roosevelt passed his dedication to fighting on the battlefield to his children—all of whom served in action in World Wars One and Two. Indeed his eldest son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. went ashore at Utah Beach at Normandy on D-Day, earning the Medal of Honor, and is buried at the American cemetery at Coleville, France). I would have loved to have seen Reagan explore the treacherous River of Doubt—a tributary of the Amazon River all the while braving a near fatal bout of malaria. Roosevelt did all that, Reagan never did.

The only similarities between Reagan and Roosevelt are that both men survived assassin’s bullets. Both men believed in a strong military and the vigorous application of American power in the realm of foreign policy.

The only area where Reagan exceeds Roosevelt is in vote-getting and gaining better support from his party. Roosevelt was at loggerheads with his own party whereas Reagan personally reconstituted the G.O.P., making it a mainstream majority party. Ronald Reagan represented the triumph of conservative Republicanism which arose in opposition to the Progressivism established by Theodore Roosevelt. Ironically Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive ideals would be co-opted by his distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt and given expression in ways and areas far beyond what Theodore ever envisioned.

But it is in the human realm that Reagan pales in comparison with Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a genuine prodigy who could hobnob with Wall Street aristocracy and bivouac with North Dakota cowboys at the same time. Roosevelt could converse with European monarchs and premiers in their own languages—which he did in 1910 when he represented the United States at the funeral of British King Edward VII—while simultaneously earning their respect.

Not only that, but one can compare and contrast Roosevelt and Reagan by looking at the people they chose to help them achieve their political goals. Roosevelt attracted the best and brightest during his political career. Men of great talent like Henry Stimson, Frank Knox, Elihu Root, Charles Evans Hughes and William Howard Taft. Reagan had one of the most corrupt and bizarre collection of characters in his cabinet in American Presidential history. Almost all of his cabinet members were tried or convicted on criminal charges.

If I were given a choice of interviewing Reagan or Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt would win hands down.

But the most important reason why we, as Americans, should celebrate the life of Theodore Roosevelt is because of the great gift he gave to his country: his decision to make America’s natural treasures into national treasures. Before Theodore Roosevelt, conservation was thought of only in terms of concerned individuals utilizing their time, money, and connections to preserve specific landmarks and treasures in America. The national park system that we know and love today did not exist before Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, when informed that certain natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and other areas faced possible exploitation and despoliation by business and industrial interests, made the unprecedented decision to use the executive powers of the Office of President to make many of America’s natural treasures into national parks and national monuments in order to prevent such exploitation and despoliation. Roosevelt did this because there was no specific constitutional prohibition banning him from doing such a thing. Not only was this one of the boldest assertions of Presidential power since Abraham Lincoln it also had the revolutionary effect of putting the Federal Government as the number one conservator of our national treasures. It expanded and gave new life to the National Park Service and, most important of all, it preserved forever the sacred beauty of our national treasures and, by extension, the sacred beauty of our nation itself. We, as a nation, are defined by the transcendent magnificence of our landscape: our rivers, plains, mountains, valleys, beaches, and forests. Roosevelt’s decision to preserve these wonders helped make America the America we love, revere, and defend today. Furthermore, his act of preserving the natural treasures of our nation helped future generations of American and foreign visitors understand and appreciate what we Americans take for granted today.

Theodore Roosevelt actions did more to define and preserve the American ethos than any other President before or since.

That is why his face is on Mount Rushmore—and rightfully so.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Inevitability of Barack Obama

When I began blogging three years ago I envisioned myself giving some sort of ringing endorsement for this year’s Presidential contest. Now that the moment of truth has come I find that any endorsement would be superfluous.

Ever since the lackluster first Presidential debate, G.O.P. candidate John McCain and Sarah Palin have tried to close the gap with Barack Obama caused by the sudden economic downturn—and not really succeeding.

The fact that the McCain-Palin resorted to smear ads at this late stage of the game reflects the desperation of their campaign. (McCain should have started playing the Ayers-Wright-Rezco card in July like Bush did with the Swift Boat Veterans ads against Kerry in 2004. If Jeb Bush had been the G.O.P. nominee, he would have done so—with a lot more worse ads to follow too). The belated negative ads merely represent the last shriek of retreat of the McCain-Palin campaign.

McCain did perform better in the two subsequent debates but the problem is Presidential debates are largely mutual canceling out sessions between the two candidates. Very rarely do the candidates in question make significant errors but when they do we remember them for all time (Richard Nixon’s refusal to wear make-up for his debate with JFK in 1960; Gerald Ford declaring that the Polish people were free when he debated Jimmy Carter in 1976; George Bush looking at his watch while brushing off a female questioner asking him to show compassion to the poor during the 1992 campaign).

There were no blatant debate gaffes. McCain pressed his attacks on Obama—sometimes scoring but Obama never lost his composure or command. He improved on his tepid performance and honed his message. In the second debate he scored heavily with viewers (especially female voters) when he discussed health care, education, and women’s issues. During the last debate he did the same again. This is significant. There was fear in the Obama campaign that his triumph over Hillary Clinton would cause female voters to defect to McCain. Instead by this late date female voters are rallying to his standard despite Sarah Palin’s presence.

It appears evident that Obama (barring the unforeseen disaster) will triumph on Election Day—the only question being what will the margin of victory will be. The signs are there. The fact that McCain is withdrawing resources from certain states; the fact that the pundits of the Fox News Channel are bemoaning the fates and Obama’s successes; the fact that certain U.S. newspapers are endorsing Obama’s candidacy where they had never endorsed a Democrat before. It’s the little signs that indicate that Obama will win.

Still, the other night, I was watching the Larry King Show and there was a panel of political experts including two black pollsters. One of them, a guy named Dyson suggested that if Obama were white his present lead would be even more overwhelming. I disagree vehemently.

If Barack Obama were a white man, he would never have won the Democratic nomination. No way. Despite his superb eloquence and excellent organizational skills, his skin color was the key card in his winning hand. If he were white he would have never have gotten the overwhelming voter turnouts from the African-American population—which before had been in lockstep with Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. If Obama had been white he would have run a creditable race, won fewer primaries while Hillary would have won heavily in the South—which she didn’t do. Hillary would have won the nomination and quite possibly a white Barack Obama might have been a running mate—maybe.

Now if Hillary Rodham could have beaten John McCain is another question altogether. McCain is a better stump speaker than Hillary. That’s not an aspersion on her but she is not entertaining on the stump like her husband. The race would be much closer now if she had gotten the nomination.

The nation is in bad straits both internally and abroad. The economy is in free fall (in fact it’s been tepid since 2001). Energy prices have aroused considerable consumer anguish (but have stimulated the vital need to seek out and exploit clean alternative fuel sources). Our financial institutions are collapsing and consumer confidence is low. Simply put this country is in a crisis unseen since 1933. Indeed one could say that our present crisis is even worse than 1933 whereas in 1933 America was in dire domestic straits at least we didn’t have the enormous role in world affairs that we have today or the massive military complex that we need today to maintain our influence in world affairs. In 1933 FDR could focus solely in trying to restore the American economy. In 2009 Barack Obama has to fix America’s fiscal house while simultaneously trying to restore American prestige and influence in foreign policy (both of which have declined precipitously under George W. Bush)—not a simple task.

John McCain and Sarah Palin can claim that Obama will raise taxes all they like—and they’re right. He will raise taxes—like Bill Clinton did in 1993 but guess what? If the G.O.P. led by George W. Bush hadn’t passed those massive tax cuts in 2001 and while simultaneously engaging in massive domestic spending at home and the tragically costly war in Iraq then our deficits wouldn’t be so huge so as to necessitate any tax increases to reduce our national debt. John McCain can propose all the tax cuts he wants but you can only cut taxes so much before you start compromising national security and internal domestic order. John McCain wants victory in Iraq but “victory” in Iraq is a very expensive proposition. How do you intend to pay for “victory”?

In a different time and place McCain’s platform would have been compelling but now is not the right time. The American people have been bled white and are tired. Like Bob Dylan says, “it’s time to strike a match girl, start anew.”

That’s why Barack Obama will be the man a majority of Americans will vote for on Election Day 2008.

I know I will.

Friday, October 10, 2008

O.J. Simpson: Justice Delayed But Not Denied

The conviction of O.J. Simpson by a Las Vegas jury and his impending sentencing brings to a close the improbable and oftentimes infuriating legal journey he led America ever since that brutally hot June night in 1994 when his former wife Nicole and a male bystander were savagely murdered at knifepoint.

The journey strained and confounded America’s faith in the criminal justice system. It enflamed the racial tensions not only in the greater Los Angeles area but throughout America. It set the standard for the 24/7 media saturation of all notorious criminal cases that are now the norm.

O.J.’s lawyers can complain all they like about the Las Vegas jury was seeking vengeance against O.J. for his acquittal in 1995 but they ignore the more important point: that O.J. should never have placed himself in a position where he would have to face a jury for his actions. When he led his compatriots into that Vegas hotel room, he was opening a door for law enforcement to intervene against him which should never have been opened. Having dodged the greatest bullet of his life in 1995, O.J. should have gone into retreat, living a life of seclusion and circumspection. Instead in the thirteen long years following his acquittal, he toyed with the American people, mocked his pursuers, flaunted his “freedom”, and, basically, was living off the kindness of strangers.

Like the moth to flame (or the electronic bug zapper) he couldn’t resist the spotlight. Ultimately amidst the bright lights of Las Vegas, he got zapped and he did it all by himself.

For me his trial and conviction brings back memories of the 1995 trial. I think all of us has played amateur detective and pondered the evidence and constructed our own version of what happened during that bloody night in June 1995.

In my mind’s eye, I’ve always envisioned the murder as being a two-act performance by O.J. I never accepted the thesis of the Goldman family lawyer Daniel Petrocelli put forth in the civil suit against O.J. that followed the criminal trial that O.J. killed Nicole and Ron Goldman simultaneously in a blitz attack. I’ve always believed that O.J. went to Nicole’s house solely to kill Nicole. In my mind’s eye, I think O.J. creepy-crawled Nicole, gaining surreptitious entry into house (something which he had done numerous times before the murder) and took control of Nicole at knifepoint. The question which lies hanging is whether O.J. spoke to Nicole inside and whether Nicole recognized O.J.’s voice. If she knew that it was O.J. holding the knife at her throat inside the house did she willingly allow O.J. to take her outside the house thinking that O.J. was merely trying to frighten her and all she was going to get was another severe beating or did Nicole realize that O.J. had finally crossed the line into murderous rage and that she was going die and, realizing that if she screamed and struggled inside the house that her children—who were asleep upstairs—might come down to intervene and be killed by O.J. alongside with herself. Knowing that, did Nicole sacrifice herself by allowing O.J. to take her outside the house thus getting O.J. away from the children?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that once Nicole was taken outside the end came quickly, brutally, savagely, her head almost severed from her neck.

So much speculation has been made about Ron Goldman’s presence at the house that night. What was he doing there? Some called him a paramour of Nicole Brown Simpson. I never bought that. I believe that Goldman was there simply to return Nicole’s eye-glasses which had been left at the restaurant she had dined at earlier that evening. In my view Ron Goldman was the intangible factor in the murder—the best living witness had he not been killed—the joker in the deck that O.J. never anticipated when he plotted to kill Nicole. Before Goldman’s arrival, O.J. committed the perfect crime. He had dispatched his wife quickly, efficiently. Ron Goldman’s arrival at the house altered the equation. What did Goldman see when he came up the walkway? Did he see O.J. finishing off Nicole? Did he see O.J. getting ready to leave the crime scene? Did he see O.J. walking away from Nicole’s corpse?

My theory is that O.J. heard Goldman’s arrival and took cover in the foliage surrounding the house. I believe Goldman innocently approached the house and then, to his shock and horror, saw Nicole’s moribund (if not dead) body. He may have bent down to check on her and once he did so, O.J. took Goldman by surprise and had him under control. During the 1995 trial forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee demonstrated how some of Goldman’s defensive wounds could have been caused. He showed that Goldman had been held upright from behind with the knife at his throat. When I saw Lee’s demonstration I had a vision in my mind that O.J., before he killed Goldman, may have spoken to Goldman, assuming that Goldman was a lover of Nicole before finishing off Goldman.

The thing is, though, his attacking Ron Goldman was what ultimately led the police to his doorstep. It was probably during his struggle with Goldman that he got careless, made mistakes, and left evidence: the bloody glove at the scene, the nick on his finger tip which left his DNA at the scene, and the show prints left by his Bruno Magli shoes. Killing Ron Goldman had upset O.J.’s timetable, delayed his departure. When O.J. drove back to his home (and his eventual flight to Chicago), he was late and he knew he had to get back before the limo driver came so his alibi could be airtight. The problem was, the limo arrived at his house early, buzzed O.J. and got no response, eventually seeing a mysterious figure skulking on O.J.’s property (it was O.J.) before, finally, O.J. came out to greet the limo driver.

That limo driver was a key witness in the civil suit against O.J. and it was his testimony that resulted in the civil judgment against him for causing the death of Ron Goldman.

The Los Angeles D.A.’s decision to try the case in downtown L.A. instead of in Brentwood (where the crime took place) doomed the prosecution from the start. The L.A. jury was a runaway jury, bent on striking a blow against the L.A.P.D. instead of seeing that justice was done for Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. I have often wondered if Nicole and Ron Goldman had been black would the jury have been so willing to acquit O.J Simpson? I do believe however that the jury was hostile towards Nicole. I remember vividly Nicole’s sister Denise Brown’s testimony about her dead sister. Denise Brown had been called by the prosecution to tell the jury about her sister and to give the jurors there a portrait of Nicole as a means of eliciting sympathy and understanding about her brutal murder—to show that Nicole was a human being not merely a crime statistic. Denise Brown (dressed immaculately) in clothes bought on Rodeo Drive and her coiffed by the finest Hollywood hairdressers told the jurors about her sister’s plans to take her children to Cozumel for a vacation and that she and her sister were going to do Club Med afterwards.

Denise Brown’s pain, devastation, and anguish were real, intense, and genuine. The problem with her testimony was that she was telling a jury composed of people who would never go shopping on Rodeo Drive and never have their hair coiffed at the finest hairdressers in Hollywood; who couldn’t possibly afford to take their children on vacation to Cozumel and would never get a chance to do Club Med. I cannot help but feel that instead of eliciting sympathy for Nicole instead Denise Brown’s testimony drew rage, anger, jealousy from the jury. If Denise Brown had testified before a Brentwood jury (Brentwood is an extremely affluent neighborhood composed of people who shop every day at Rodeo Drive; who vacation with their children to Cozumel and do Club Med regularly) then her testimony would have garnered the sympathy the prosecution needed to clinch the case against O.J.

In the end O.J. beat the rap but he couldn’t defeat his own worst enemy: himself. That’s why he walked into that Las Vegas hotel room, got himself caught on audio and videotape, got arrested, tried and convicted and condemned to a Clark County Prison cell.

Justice delayed but now no longer denied.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

McCain-Obama I: The Flatliners

Last week’s Presidential debate reflected the current state of this nation: lackluster. Despite what the press claims that the debate was an Obama victory, in reality it was a prime example of gridlock in action. Both candidates offered nothing new. Both relied solely on campaign trail boilerplate rhetoric to score points although no one really scored a decisive victory. McCain needed to win more than Obama did. His failure to nail Obama decisively is why Obama is seen as the “winner”.

Problem is Obama is not particularly effective in debate. This has been noted before in press circles but seeing Obama debating for the first time I can see why. The word which came to my mind was “shaky”. His answers lacked the confidence or maturity that Obama’s three Democratic candidate predecessors (Clinton, Gore, and Kerry) possessed.

Considering Obama’s weaknesses one would have thought that McCain would have mopped up the floor with him but McCain didn’t do that.

The impression I got from watching the debate was that Obama’s and McCain’s antenna have been blunted by the long campaign and that both men were off their game.

Both candidates lost golden opportunities to score big time against the other. McCain’s lost opportunity came when moderator Jim Lehrer asked both candidates in view of the present economic crisis in America what programs would they sacrifice in response to coping with the problem? This was no idle query. It’s a good legitimate question and a good test of Presidential leadership and courage for both liberals and conservatives. Both men flubbed it; Obama, the worst. When asked what he would sacrifice, Obama failed to list one program he would be willing to cut. Instead he sidestepped the question. McCain, to his credit, did list a couple programs he would be willing to cut but he failed to see (and seize) the greater opportunity: Obama by failing to list one program he would be willing to sacrifice in a time of crisis left himself wide open to being tagged a free-spending liberal. McCain could have scored enormously with conservatives and moderates if he had seized on Obama’s omission and pointed it out to the crowd. His failure to do so cost him dearly. (I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon letting Obama slide on that question. Even Mike Huckabee wouldn’t have let Obama off that easily).

A few minutes later Obama missed his own golden opportunity. Lehrer asked both candidates what the lessons of the Iraq war were for future Presidential candidates. McCain offered his staple defense of the war. Obama missed an incredible opportunity to articulate a cogent, potent criticism of the Iraqi war by demonstrating the recklessness, amorality, and dishonesty that motivated our invasion of Iraq and that condemned over four thousand brave American men and women to death. Instead he offered his standard political sound-bites. Obama had a golden chance to burnish his foreign policy credentials and offer America a new world vision and he failed miserably.

I was watching the CNN coverage of the debate and noticed the audience reaction meter throughout the debate. What struck me was the fact that the reaction lines never fluctuated. It reminded me of a hospital heart meter that was flat-lining and I realized that was the perfect metaphor for this debate: flat-lining because that’s what the debate was: slow, lingering death—another perfect metaphor for the present state of the Union.

If I had to advise both campaigns, I would offer the following things: for McCain’s campaign, I would advise Sarah Palin to play her role of Washington outsider to the hilt against Joe Biden. The first McCain-Obama debate merely reinforced the Capitol Beltway insider status of both men and the country’s collective disillusionment with both political parties. For the Obama campaign I would advise that Obama (when asked in the future what programs he would cut in a national crisis) be prepared to list one or two programs so he wouldn’t expose himself to the liberal tag. Bill Clinton did a much better job of evading the liberal tag in 1992 than Obama is doing now. Obama still has a lot to learn on that count.

What botherss me the most is the fact that either man will be our President in January and if what I saw at the debate represents the future then I am going very deeply concerned about our Nation’s future.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Campaign 2008: Kickoff

(Editor’s note: if you’re wondering what became of me since late May, I was busy preparing for a major trip to Toronto in early June as part of my ongoing research on an oral history of the NHL’s Original Six era. Also I was feeling burned out and starved for inspiration with regards to my blog so I decided to take a compositional holiday until the dust settled for me intellectually, artistically, and emotionally).

For all the talk of 2008 being a Democratic year it’s amazing that as Labor Day comes before us (and with it the traditional kickoff of the Presidential race) we are faced with a dead heat in the polls between Barack Obama and John McCain. And now that both candidates have selected their running-mates the Presidential race becomes a contest of steel-on-steel with broadswords and long-knives unsheathed. It could be no other.

Two night’s ago Senator Obama eschewed his customary poetic elocutionary style for a more steely-edged feistiness reminiscent of Harry S. Truman in 1948 than Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 or John F. Kennedy in 1960 (Obama invoked both the latter two’s names in his address). And yet that feistiness is badly needed right now. If Al Gore or John Kerry had been as feisty in 2000 and 2004, respectively we would not have suffered eight bloody hard years of George W. Bush. Obama needs to swing from the heels and his selection of Senator Joe Biden from Delaware (a combative orator in his own right) reinforces that need. Interestingly in Obama’s speech, Obama (as noted before) cited FDR and JFK as paradigms of the Democratic Party but refused to cite Bill Clinton too. (I smirked when I noticed that omission and couldn’t help but wonder if that was a subtle backhand to the Clintons). Even more interestingly I wonder if Obama took a page from Hollywood in his attacks on John McCain during his acceptance speech. Early on, Obama told the crowd that “McCain doesn’t get it.” In the movie American President Actor Michael Douglas, playing the role of the President used the same line to attack his political opponent played by actor Richard Dreyfuss in his climactic speech at the end of the movie.

And yet…

And yet despite all of Obama’s oratory and cool decision-making the race is still in a dead heat because John McCain has continued to effectively wage his stealth campaign. There seems to be reluctance in the press to accept McCain’s viability as a candidate but the fact that he has closed the gap and placed himself in a position to grasp for victory cannot be discounted. Given Obama’s inspirational and oratorical skills, McCain’s comeback must be seen as one of the finest examples of skillful political campaigning in the annals of American Presidential politics. Whether you approve his message or not, the fact that he has as close as he has at this moment is a testament to John McCain the man and it’s a testament he should be proud of for the rest of his life—whether he wins the election or not.

The fact that Obama has allowed McCain to come this close bodes ill for him and the Democratic Party.

McCain’s selection of the Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as his running-mate speaks volumes about McCain himself. McCain’s choice of Palin as running-mate allows him to go into the history as the first G.O.P. candidate to break the glass-ceiling for Republican women. Hopefully Palin will not be the last woman to grace a G.O.P. Presidential ticket.
McCain’s selection of Palin speaks of boldness, daring; a willingness not to be chained by orthodoxy in order to achieve a goal, and, most importantly, his personal ability to appeal to a broad range of voters—which is why he is in a dead heat with Obama at the present time.

Still I cannot help but wonder if Sarah Palin was McCain’s first choice from the beginning. I wonder if McCain wanted Independent Senator and nominal Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as his running-mate. Considering how the two have worked closely together in the Senate and have campaigned together, I wonder if McCain had wanted Lieberman but was dissuaded by G.O.P. insiders because they told him there would be a conservative backlash against him if he did so; i.e. they would do to McCain what they did to George H.W. Bush in 1992, sit on their hands and allow Bush to lose to Clinton in 1992?

If McCain had chosen Lieberman it would have been an even more daring decision than choosing Palin. A McCain-Lieberman ticket would have been America’s first attempt at coalition government in the European style. Considering the crisis state America is in today such a ticket might have had appeal if properly exploited by both men.

There is another disquieting aspect to this campaign that Barack Obama needs to consider (and overcome) in the weeks to come. Obama has run an anti-war campaign against our involvement in Iraq. McCain has supported the war from the beginning and has based his whole thrust of the campaign on attaining victory in Iraq. Given the unpopularity of the war one would think that Obama is on the right side of the issue and holds the winning hand. History however tells a different tale—a tale Obama needs to keep in mind. No American Presidential candidate who campaigned on an anti-war platform has ever won a Presidential election. In 1864 the Democrats led by George McClellan sought an end to the Civil War based on a negotiated peace with the South. McClellan lost badly to Abraham Lincoln. In 1968 Hubert Humphrey belatedly sought a bombing-halt against North Vietnam as a prelude to an American withdrawal from Vietnam only to lose to Richard Nixon. In 1972 Democrat George McGovern called for an immediate pullout from Vietnam only to be annihilated by Richard Nixon. In 2004 John Kerry tried to wage an anti-war campaign only to be beaten by George W. Bush. This is a factor of American history which cannot be ignored and if Obama does ignore it he does so at his own peril. It is also a factor which can help John McCain win in November—as long as he plays his cards right.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Myanmar: The Path of Indifference

The Myanmar government’s deliberate policy of callous indifference towards the tragic plight of its citizens ravaged by cyclones during the past few weeks is nothing new. This ruthless and disgusting variation on humanity’s inhumanity to humanity has been played out repeatedly in the annals of history. Here are two examples. In 1943 (during World War Two) there was a massive famine in the Honan province of China. The late journalist Theodore White was in China as a correspondent for Time Magazine. When he heard rumors about the famine he went to Honan to investigate for himself. What he saw can be read in chapter four of his best-selling book In Search of History. What had had happened was that the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-Shek had ruthlessly collected all the grain that had been harvested in the Honan province as a means of payment of that province’s taxes, leaving nothing for its populace to eat. Theodore White filed a story in Time that exposed the horrors of the famine and the Nationalist government’s unwillingness to aid its victims. (Indeed Chiang Kai-Shek, instead of taking action to assist the victims, tried to get Theodore White fired). It was only after a massive outcry in the world press that Chiang was shamed into taking action to aid the people of Honan (it was the same callous indifference that led the Chinese people to overthrow Chiang in 1949).

The other example took place in the Ukraine in what was then the former Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War Two. The Ukraine (Russia’s breadbasket) had already suffered greatly during World War I and the Russian Revolution. It suffered even more during the purges and the Five Year Plans ordered by Josef Stalin during the 1930s. It was further bled white by the Nazis when they occupied the Ukraine from 1941 to 1944. But if that was not enough it suffered even more when Stalin, having reestablished his authority over the Ukraine after expelling the Germans, ordered a new purge and reestablished his failed agrarian policies—this resulted in a massive famine which led to the deaths of millions of Ukrainians. Nikita Khrushchev (Stalin’s commissar for the Ukraine) later wrote in his memoirs that the conditions in the Ukraine were so dire that some of the famine victims were resorting to cannibalism to survive.

When governments treat its own citizenry as enemies then death is the inevitable result. The only question being what manner of death will its people be forced to suffer and endure before it succumbing?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hillary Rodham Clinton: In the Arena

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, if he wins, knows the thrills of high achievement, and, if he fails, at least fails daringly greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”--John F. Kennedy speaking about Theodore Roosevelt

Although it appears that Hillary Rodham Clinton will fail to gain the Democratic nomination for President, she has done more to advance the cause of women in national politics than any other female politician. Her campaign destroys forever the sexist notion as to whether women can endure the rigors of presidential campaigning. What has been forgotten amongst the endless prattling on prime-time political talk-shows is that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign managed to endure this long and this far despite the disadvantages she had to cope with along the way. She was forced to handle the excess baggage of her husband’s past personal misconduct; her own Senatorial vote approving the second Persian Gulf War resolution; Barack Obama’s oratorical skills and charismatic personality and the key fact that as an African-American he siphoned off millions of votes that would have gone to her otherwise (Clinton backer Geraldine Ferraro was not being racially insensitive when she told reporters that Obama’s race was a key factor in his successful campaign. She was speaking a well-based truth but in this hyper-sensitive politically correct atmosphere it brought her into disfavor. If Obama were white he would not be in the lead with regards to the delegates) and last, but no means least, the antiquated hostility towards her candidacy based on her gender.

Three times in the 2008 campaign her candidacy was written off and the post-mortems were being read and three times she came back and won key states which sustained her effort. What the pundits keep forgetting is that her persistence reveals the enormity of character and strength that Hillary Rodham Clinton has embodied all her life. Her persistence and refusal to surrender (when others were preaching surrender) or shrink in the face of adversity shows that she does indeed to possess the desperately needed qualities that America must always need for its next President.

Again, she will not gain the 2008 Democratic nomination for President but she should not be deemed unworthy of a future try for the Presidency. People forget that Ronald Reagan failed to win the G.O.P. nominations in 1968 and 1976 (being a very close defeat) and yet Reagan came back, defying the questions regarding his age and his hip-shooting rhetoric and won two terms as President while forever altering the American political landscape. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political journey is not finished.

We will see more of her…and we will.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Generalship of George W. Bush while contemplating Hitler's birthday

Ever since the war in Iraq began I’ve been dying to write the blog entry you’re about to read. When contemplating the generalship of President Bush and the decisions he has made as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military I’ve been striving to find comparisons between Bush and other historical figures who combined politics with war and after a relatively brief period of consideration I have stumbled upon the historical figure who reminds me the most of President Bush, military strategist: Adolf Hitler.

Today is Hitler’s birthday and how better to mark this ignominious anniversary than to explore the similarities in command style of Hitler and Bush.

Both leaders used false pretexts to invade foreign countries (Hitler manufactured a bogus border incident to justify his invasion of Poland in 1939). Both leaders had self-proclaimed messianic views of themselves and considered themselves Chosen Leaders. (Hitler although not spiritual by any means had a view that he was an instrument of Providence. After he survived the July 20 bomb plot he took his survival as “a sign of Providence that I must continue my work…”)

Both leaders used their military forces carelessly and thoughtlessly while imposing unreasonable expectations upon their armies. In the mid 1970s there was a twenty-six part prime-time documentary called The World at War. One of the best episodes in that Emmy award-winning documentary was about the battle of Stalingrad which took place between September 1942 and February 1943. That episode (more than any other) illustrated how Hitler’s lack of military sense and also reveals eerie parallels with President Bush’s tactics in Iraq. In the episode when the German armies were sweeping through the Caucasus region towards the Volga River and Stalingrad, a German general remembers how Hitler would stare at the map and give orders which moved divisions like they were chess pieces on a board, saying, “the Fuhrer’s hands would sweep over the map, saying ‘press here’ or ‘move there’ all without considering practical military difficulties.”

President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq so soon after committing significant portions of the American army in occupying Afghanistan has the same odor. If the War in Iraq has demonstrated anything it is that the all volunteer U.S. Army simply does not possess the enough personnel and equipment to effectively wage a sustained war on two fronts. Despite the “success” of the surge, it was obvious that the forces committed to the surge were stretched beyond the range of their endurance. The fact that weeks ago General Petraeus has urged a postponement of the scheduled scale-down of the forces committed undermines any assertion of “success”. Personally it is my earnest belief that inside the Pentagon there are probably innumerable files and memos composed by mid-level Pentagon officials which warned the Bush Administration of the potential problems and strains that an Iraqi invasion would pose on U.S. forces. Sadly those potential problems and strains became all too real and the U.S. military has been placed in the most ragged and over-worked condition in its long heroic history. Never in the annals of American history has a President run the military into the ground like President Bush has in Iraq. No President has done a greater disservice to the soldiers he has commanded.

Both leaders possessed overly optimistic natures—allowing themselves to be deluded that they had achieved their goals when actually the outcomes were still in doubt. The late William Manchester used in his biography of Douglas MacArthur a quotation from the Duke of Wellington on William Pitt the Younger to illustrate this weakness, “he was too sanguine….He conceives a project and then imagines it is done.”

In the World at War episode on Stalingrad there is a tape recording of a November 8 speech Hitler gave at a Party rally in Munich while the battle for Stalingrad was being waged. Narrator the late Sir Laurence Olivier did a sensation impersonation of Hitler’s remarks, “I wanted to reach the Volga…at a particular city. By chance it bore the name of Stalin himself (sounds of crowd laughter)….I wanted to capture it and, you should know…we have as good as got it! There are only a couple of small bits left. Some say: ‘why aren’t they fighting faster?’…Time is of no importance.” In reality the battle of Stalingrad remained at a fever pitch and the same night as Hitler’s speech, American and British forces were landing in North Africa and eleven days after Hitler’s speech the Russians launched a massive counteroffensive that destroyed the German armies that occupied Stalingrad and started the long bloody road of defeat and withdrawal which would culminate in Hitler’s suicide in the Bunker in Berlin.

And of course who could ever forget the May 1, 2003 ceremony where President Bush’s plane landed on an aircraft carrier and the President emerged brandishing a sign “Mission Accomplished” and that is before four thousand innocent Americans had to die in order to help the President live up to that claim.

The parallels could go on and on but I’ve had enough. Too many innocent people have had to die because of the egomania of both men. It’s a shameful record written in the blood of murdered innocents.

Give peace a chance.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Indictment of my Gender

If all these forms of abuse are added together, the percentage of women I interviewed who have been literally or more figuratively raped by men comes alarmingly close to 100 percent. I had not expected such a thorough indictment of my gender

--Mark Baker, Women

You read about it every day in the newspapers or watch it on the evening news or on CNN or the Nancy Grace Show. The victimization, abuse, and exploitation of women and young girls remain a relentless (like tooth decay) scourge upon human society.

The recent news about a police raid on a vast polygamist compound in Texas and the discovery of countless young teenage young ladies (many of whom just entering puberty) being forcibly married and impregnated by older men; being subjected to an emotional and spiritual milieu that reeks of subjugation, humiliation, and exploitation; stand as the latest item in the symbolic indictment of man’s inhumanity to women.

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell once wrote a song in the mid-1980s called The Three Great Stimulants and in the song she lists them as being: artifice, brutality, and innocence.

When you contemplate the Texas polygamist case you see all three stimulants in action. You see the artifice of luring or imprisoning young, vulnerable women and girls in a so-called faith that glorifies pedophilia and rape. You see the brutality of these young women and girls being forced to become adults when they should be at school studying algebra or playing soccer or going to the shopping mall with their friends. You see the innocence that is violated and corrupted and, eventually, gets tossed aside when the victimizer grows tired and bored with his victim.

Law enforcement with varying success tries to put a stop to this but the disease remains.

You see it on Dateline with Chris Hansen when he confronts those guys who drive 300 miles to forcibly rape under-age teens. It never ends. The compulsion never ends: the dehumanization where young girls and women are converted into blank screens upon which molesters can project their inner decay and depravity.

It is madness and it seems to be getting worse or else our willingness to expose this disease has improved. But what remains are the scars and they never go away.

And that the most savage indictment of all upon my gender.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Tibetan Protests: Beijing, Blood, and Money

The protests both in Tibet and abroad against China’s repression of Tibetan culture and the demands for greater autonomy for the region will probably not succeed but on another level the protests have served a useful and educational purpose: they have effectively re-exposed the brutal (indeed savage) policies against dissent that the Chinese government has enforced since June 1989.

The protests also have exposed what, in my opinion, has been one of the most shameful episodes in the history of American foreign policy: the policy of appeasement that the Bush-Clinton-Bush administrations have maintained with the Chinese government since the massacre in Tianamen Square in Beijing in 1989.

There is no better word to describe our tepid and ineffectual policies in reigning in the growing assertiveness of the Chinese in world affairs. That assertiveness has gone a long way in undermining our influence in the world and will pose an even greater threat to American security than Al-Qaeda or Iran poses at the present time.

Indeed if anything affirms our nation’s appeasement policies it has been the relative silence of the Bush Administration in the wake of China’s crackdown of the Tibetan protesters and the willingness of the Bush Administration to participate in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The Beijing Olympiad will, I feel, be seen as the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and the 1980 Olympics in Moscow were in the history of the Olympic games: a deliberate attempt by a brutal, sadistic regime to use the Olympic games as a means of gaining legitimacy while cloaking its repression of its citizenry amidst the pageantry and pomp of the Olympic games.

The protests in Tibet will not stop the Beijing Olympiad nor will it dissuade the U.S. from attending. The only time the U.S. boycotted an Olympiad was in 1980 in protest of the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Since then, the takeover of the U.S. Olympic program by the corporations makes the possibility of a boycott remote if not impossible. (The only way America would boycott another Olympiad would be if World War Three broke out). There is too much profit potential to be gained from participating in the Olympics. The lust for money has outweighed whatever moral integrity our government may have possessed before 1989. Since then China’s increasing role in the American economy has reduced us to a form of fiscal vassalage.

The Beijing Olympics will take place despite the Tibetan protests and the corporations will rake in their billions but remember this, ladies and gentlemen, the billions they make will be tainted with the blood of countless innocent people slain since 1989.

And that’s the real bottom line of the Beijing Olympics.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Consent of the Governed III: Bull from the Pulpit

Author Ted Morgan in his magnificent biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt writes, “In presidential politics, As FDR well knew, it isn’t what you’ve done but what you can be attacked for.”

Barack Obama is learning that lesson as this is being written. Actually, Obama is rather lucky in a way. The controversy is being aired while there is an intermission between primaries. The next primary content won’t be until April 22 which gives Obama lots of time of repair the damage the airings of his pastor’s past invective-filled sermons have caused to Obama’s presidential campaign thus far. This is his sternest test thus far and how he handles it will do much to decide whether he will win the nomination or not. His speech in Philadelphia addressing the race issue was well received by the mainstream press but whether it heals the wounds inflicted on his candidacy remains to be seen.

Obama’s pastor is not the first clergyman to inject invective into a presidential campaign. In 1840, a clergyman gave a speech that put President Martin Van Buren in a bad light in the wake of the economic crisis brought on by the Panic of 1837. There was Father Coughlin who regularly abused President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the pulpit. I have vivid memories of the late Reverend Bob Jones, Sr. who, in the early 1980s, supported Ronald Reagan while issuing “Christian” fatwas praying for the death of those who opposed Reagan’s (and Jones’) conservative values.

The crisis also reaffirms that the biggest headache for any presidential candidate is in making sure all your supporters are on the same message. This campaign has seen a lot of aides being let go from their respective candidate’s staffs for saying the wrong things to the press. Today G.O.P. nominee John McCain had to let go an aide for untimely remarks made about Obama. Actor Chuck Norris lost prominence in the Huckabee campaign for making statements that McCain was “too old” to be a good President. (If Ronald Reagan’s win in 1980 did anything for America it was to make the age issue in presidential campaigns a non-issue—and rightly so).

The main issue is how the controversy and Obama’s response to it affects the Democratic Super delegates who will be the true arbiters of who will get the Democratic nomination. It will be their reaction which will decide the fate of Barack Obama. (Personally, I think the Democratic Party should scrap the super delegate concept altogether and if there is a controversy arising as to how the super delegates choose the nominee then the super delegates will be eliminated in the future.

Obama won’t hear the end of this and there will be more to come—if he’s nominated.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Consent of the Governed II: The Republicans

The fun part about watching John McCain win the Republican nomination for President is to see the anguished outcries expressed by conservative TV pundits like Glenn Beck and Hannity & Combs on the Fox News Channel. Before 2008, I never gave the Fox News Channel a first glance let alone a second glance but now I watch it every night there is a primary just to see the collective gnashing of teeth and the hypocritical moaning from these paradigms of conservative values.

In their eyes it isn’t right that John McCain has freely and fairly gained the Republican nomination by the consent of the governed; it isn’t right that McCain has attained the nomination by appealing (unlike the other G.O.P. candidates) to moderates and even disillusioned Democrats to cross over and join his campaign; it isn’t right that McCain, if elected President—something not inconceivable—is the only Republican who has the potential to achieve a bi-partisan coalition that could get the necessary legislation passed to get the country moving again.

In many ways John McCain’s successful campaign is one of the most remarkable political comebacks in the annals of Presidential politics. To see a parallel one must go back to 1968 when Richard Nixon defied the odds and his own self-destructiveness to win the Republican nomination and the Presidency. Interestingly, Mitt Romney invoked the ghost of Richard Nixon when he was still campaigning against McCain in the race, saying that McCain was using Nixonian tactics (i.e. Watergate tactics) against him. Romney erred only slightly. Yes, McCain did use Nixonian tactics but not the Nixon from the Watergate era but the Richard Nixon who won the Presidential race in 1968. McCain, like Nixon, had lost a Presidential campaign eight years before and had been written off politically. McCain, like Nixon, had to go to great lengths to shake off a loser’s image. McCain, like Nixon, had to appeal to conservative voters by blatantly pandering to their core issues (Richard Nixon in 1968 packaged himself far more conservatively than when he ran in 1960. McCain’s rightward turn made pundits and supporters wince but, so far, it has worked to get him the nomination. Now whether this will get him the Presidency remains to be seen but McCain still has that ability to grab voters from the center and the left than his opponents). McCain, like Nixon, ran a vigorous grassroots campaign which resulted in key wins in the right states which in turn allowed him to receive those key endorsements that guaranteed future victories—each victory opening up new possibilities and new avenues of support for a campaign that had been declared dead one year ago. McCain, like Nixon, campaigned on a platform that supported an unpopular war and demanded a more vigorous and more effective application of American military forces in that war.

And what if John McCain loses in November? Then it’s a brand new ballgame for the Republican Party and that means there is a vacancy which either Mike Huckabee or Jeb Bush will fill in 2012. Huckabee’s campaign continued to amaze after Super Tuesday, winning Southern states and gaining conservative supporters (voting in protest against John McCain) despite low funding. It begs the question: if Huckabee had the money that a Jeb Bush or a Mitt Romney possessed, it would have been more likely that Huckabee would be the presumptive G.O.P. nominee and not McCain—a possibility which would have made Fox News Channel delirious with ecstasy. Huckabee’s failure to win the South Carolina and Florida primaries ensured his defeat. Even though he lost by narrow margins in both states, the winner-take-all rules gave McCain plenty of breathing space in terms of delegates. Had Huckabee won those contests then the tables would have turned. Although he cannot win the nomination, Huckabee remains in the race to make the case for himself as McCain’s running mate and, even more likely, to get a running start in 2012 campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Huckabee is asked to be the keynote speaker of the 2008 Republican convention. He would certainly do a great job in delivering the keynote address. Huckabee’s ability to articulate conservative values is excellent and he must not be underestimated. You will be seeing more of him in the near and far distant political future.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Consent of the Governed I: Democrats

At last! An interesting Presidential race! On both sides! Not since 1976 has there been a prolonged duel for both political parties in the Presidential primaries. Despite the predictions by the pundits that the massive front-loading of the primaries would result in a premature end to the campaign, the opposite has occurred with splendid results for the quest of enhancing political debate and voter participation.

I played my role in the political process by voting in the New Jersey Primary last February 5th. It was the first time in my memory that my vote actually counted for something. In the past the New Jersey Presidential primary was held in June and the nominations for both parties were usually resolved by that time which made my vote moot.

Not this time. To paraphrase a Maureen McGovern song, I was torn between two candidates. Don’t laugh. It wasn’t funny. For the first time ever I really had to think about who I wanted to run for the Presidency. In the weeks preceding the primary I had to do some serious soul-searching. Although I am anti-war I didn’t consider Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vote to approve President Bush’s use of force a significant reason to reject her. (Don’t forget Democrat George McGovern campaigned for President against the Vietnam War in 1972 even though in 1964 he had voted to approve the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which got America into the war in the first place).

Even though Barack Obama is the far better orator than Hillary is and I had the opportunity to listen to Obama speak on C-Span I wasn’t going to let Obama’s elocutionary talents to be the sole criterion for selecting him. I need more than eloquence to make a decision. (Although Obama is very good on the stump I don’t consider him in the same league as John F. Kennedy, FDR, or Abraham Lincoln: the greatest Presidential speakers of all time…or even the late Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X for that matter!)

And yet….

And yet my local newspaper The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Obama and the brother and daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy—Senator Ted and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, respectively--endorsed Obama for the Presidency. But part of me wonders about that endorsement? Do the Kennedys really consider Obama more worthy of the Oval Office or are they afraid that Hillary Rodham Clinton (as did her husband before her) will go a long way in eclipsing the rather thin Presidential legacy that the late John F. Kennedy left behind? A very distinct possibility if Hillary wins the nomination and the Presidency.

In the end my decision came down to who could best withstand the hellfire—and that’s the best word to describe it—of a Presidential election and being President itself. For all his attainments—Barack Obama hasn’t really been tested yet. It’s all well and good to run neck and neck for the race so far but what happens if he gets the nomination and has to face the Republican nominee in the fall? Even if he wins in November, does Obama have the inner fortitude to withstand the verbal putrefaction of conservatives and the political obstructionism that is soon to come? If you think the conservative attacks against Bill Clinton in the 1990’s were bad the attacks on Obama will be even worse—much worse. I don’t think Obama really knows what political opposition in the 21st century is really about. He thinks he knows but he really doesn’t—not yet.

Hillary Rodham Clinton does know; has known since 1993. People talk about the Bill Clinton administration. Actually it was the two of them together running the country. Bill Clinton could never have won in 1992 and 1996 without Hillary. There is no debating that question. He could never have survived the impeachment and trial in the Senate as a result of the Lewinsky scandal without Hillary at his side. The hellfire Bill Clinton faced Hillary faced as well.

The real root of conservative hatred for Hillary Rodham Clinton is based on this: both Bill and Hillary Clinton succeeded politically where others before them failed. They succeeded because they had the wisdom and audacity to beat the conservative movement by using their own weapons against them. There is a substantive legacy of achievement which came as a result of their success. We can only speculate whether Obama can move the country again. We know Hillary can because she and Bill Clinton did so in the 1990’s.

In the end, I chose for the person who has been tested by the hellfire and emerged strengthened, shriven, and sharper than before. When I entered the voting booth on February 5, I pulled the lever for Hillary. Even if she falls short of the nomination—a distinct possibility, I won’t regret it. If Obama gets the nomination over Hillary I will vote for Obama but my heart went with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Price of War

Despite President Bush’s optimism about the American economy when he gave his final State of the Union address two nights ago, the sad truth is that the latest economic downturn is a reaffirmation of the amoral bankruptcy of the Bush Administration’s economic policies.

Even though the American economy was already slowing down before Bush took over as President in 2001, it is also true that despite his massive tax cuts and the trimming of interest rates by the Federal Reserve, the U.S. economy has not regained the robustness it experienced during the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s or the Reagan years from 1983-1987.

In the case of Ronald Reagan, Bush’s failure to achieve the same results as Reagan did when pursuing the same fiscal policies poses an interesting question: why?

There are several possible answers: the U.S. dollar was in far better shape during the Reagan years as opposed to the present Bush Administration. The national debt wasn’t as huge under the Reagan administration as it is now under George W. Bush (although the national debt rose dramatically during the Reagan administration). Reagan also benefited from a glut in oil exports which kept energy prices down whereas energy prices have spiked to obscene levels in this decade. But I think the most compelling answer as to why the economy thrived under Ronald Reagan when it hasn’t under George W. Bush is this: Ronald Reagan kept the peace during his administration and George W. Bush didn’t.

For all the outcries about how the Iraqi war has harmed America’s image abroad and our ability to influence world affairs, the war has also had the most deleterious effect on our domestic economy. For all the money we throw at defending ourselves from without, the irony is that America is collapsing from within as a result of our own belligerent exertions. Even if we achieve a military and political victory in Iraq (a long shot if there is one) we will still remain undone by the financial and human losses this war has inflicted on the American way of life.

It’s a price we will be forced to pay for a very long time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wisdom and Wondering on the Campaign Trail

The past week has made for great theater both political parties. The American electorate may be in for a very rare treat: a truly interesting and competitive primary season. The result of Iowa and New Hampshire compels me to ponder the following issues: I was surprised that the pundits have not speculated what impact Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama had on his victory in Iowa. Was it a factor? Interestingly, the press has not raised the subject so far.

Mitt Romney’s failure to win New Hampshire ends whatever hopes he had in capturing the G.O.P. nomination. When a candidate cannot win a primary in his own backyard then you have to question his viability as a national candidate. A question that intrigues me is that Romney belongs to the wrong political party. If Romney were a Democrat his Mormonism would never have been as huge a factor for Democratic voters as it has for Christian conservative G.O.P. voters; also his moderate policies as Governor of Massachusetts would have stood him in better stead among Democrats than it has for Republicans. His flip-flopping on his past gave his opponents ample ammunition to destroy him.

John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire provides a wicked flashback to 2000 when McCain beat George W. Bush and, for a brief shining moment, seemed poised to capture the G.O.P. nomination (and the Presidency. Don’t laugh: if McCain had won the G.O.P. nomination in 2000 he would have won the popular vote against Al Gore. I remember being sorely tempted to change my party registration from Democrat to Republican just so I could vote for McCain). The problem for McCain is he doesn’t want to repeat what happened to him in 2000 where he was buried by George W. Bush in the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries. Yes, McCain won the New Hampshire and the Michigan primaries in 2000 and he has a solid chance to win Michigan in 2008 but McCain’s real challenge are the South Carolina and Florida primaries later this month. If McCain is to attain the G.O.P. nomination then he must win both primaries. He has to win the votes of Christian conservatives who form the vanguard of G.O.P. southern voters. If he fails then it’s déjà vu all over again.

And that’s where Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee comes in. Huckabee fascinates me and he seems to intrigue conservative pundits as well. Despite his lack of experience in foreign policy Huckabee has, so far, been the stealth candidate of the Republicans and his method of campaigning intrigues me greatly. He has avoided using the predictable tactics that other G.O.P. candidates have used. His decision not to air an attack on Romney was seen as a gamble but it paid off brilliantly for him. I watched an interview of Huckabee basking in the glow of his Iowa victory where he explained his reasons for not going negative on Romney and I sensed a great shrewdness and an intuitive feel for what G.O.P. voters want from their candidates. Huckabee articulates Christian conservative values without the muscular bellicosity that typecasts the Pat Robertsons, the Ralph Reeds, and the James Dobsons of the world. Huckabee, drawing from his Baptist faith, has the ability to calm the waters and in my mind, that quality can take him very far. If anything, it is my belief that the American people are tired of the partisan shouting and screaming from both sides; they are tired of the crescendo of chaos; they are tired of constantly living in the atmosphere of fear brought on by 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The American people want peace and quiet and a chance to breathe and reconstitute themselves after a long, exhaustive war.

Huckabee has the potential to offer the healing balm for that need—if he makes the right moves—which I believe he can do. The South Carolina, Florida, and Super Tuesday primaries are the vehicles for Mike Huckabee to make his statement in American politics and if he wins big in those primaries then he will be well on his way to attaining the G.O.P. nomination.

And now for Hillary Rodham Clinton: like so many others, I thought Hillary was finished after losing in Iowa but her comeback win in New Hampshire shows that she, like her husband, has the ability to re-invent herself when faced with adversity. The famous emotional display can be interpreted in many ways (depending on one’s political views). Was it calculated? Who knows and who cares? What is certain is that any display of emotional vulnerability on the campaign trail is always a crap-shoot. There is only a thin membrane of triumph and disaster when a candidate’s emotional state stands naked in the unblinking stare of the TV cameras. Hillary, gambling for her very political survival, stood emotionally naked, was shriven by the press, and emerged victorious to campaign anew.

Presidencies past have been won because of lesser gambles.

Interestingly, Hillary has outdone her own husband with regards to Presidential campaigning. People forget that Bill Clinton finished third in New Hampshire (losing to the late Paul Tsongas) only to win big in the South and attaining the Democratic nomination because Tsongas lacked Clinton’s financial resources to run a sustained and successful Presidential campaign. Bill Clinton won because he outlasted the opposition. Hillary won in New Hampshire because she triumphed over her public image of cool, ruthless efficiency—but don’t forget it was that cool, ruthless efficiency that helped Bill Clinton win in 1992 and 1996 and Hillary win in 2000 her Senate seat. Cool, ruthless efficiency can be a great asset if harnessed correctly.

As for me, I am left with an interesting dilemma. The New Jersey primary is coming up on February 5 and I still haven’t decided between Obama and Clinton! If Obama had won New Hampshire I was going to go for him but now the race has become interested and I still have to make a choice. Used to be by the time the New Jersey primary came around the primary campaign was already resolved by then. Not this time!

The best is yet to come.