Saturday, May 19, 2007


It was a bad week for one of the two politicians from my law school class, but a good week for the other. On the negative side of the ledger we have the politician with what they call “name recognition.” Some know him as the most effective government regulator of our time; others as the sitting Governor of New York. I know him simply as the latest idiot who endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.

OK, OK. Cheap shot. I admit it. The fact is that I have a ton of respect for Elliot Spitzer. First of all, his wife’s great. She also went to law school with us and was surely one of the most impressive women, in all respects, on campus. Secondly, when he was Attorney General of New York, Spitzer seemed to get an incredible amount of results in reining in corporate malfeasance. Some called him a showboater, but I suspect that was based on jealousy. The guy got the job done over and over again and managed to handle himself with dignity in the process.

I can’t say I’ve followed his career as Governor quite as closely as his regulatory career, but I was thrilled when he honored his campaign promise to support gay marriage. Apparently, he has no Presidential ambitions, which is usually a good thing for a politician.

So, what’s a nice boy like that doing endorsing a woman like Hillary? Can we attribute it to the fact that they’re both New Yorkers? Ah, well, she’s not really a New Yorker. And even if she were, so what? With other more charismatic, more honest and equally capable candidates around, her place of residence should hardly be enough to earn his support.

Do you think Spitzer likes her vote in favor of a law banning flag burning? Or her support for the war in Iraq? Or her refusal to apologize for that vote? Or her shameless excuse that others hoodwinked her about our military intelligence? Or her ability to polarize the nation like no other politician today (save those in the Administration)?

I know. Maybe he just thinks it would be really cool for our democracy to see the same two families control the White House for forty or fifty years. What do you think – Chelsea in ‘16! Jenna in ’24! Jeb Jr. in ’32! Irving Lewinsky-Clinton in ’40! Is that what you want, Elliot?

Let’s face it, Governor, you’re no Steve Novick. Loyal readers of this blog should recognize that name, though it’s not exactly widely known. Hopefully, this soon will change.

Roughly one month ago, Novick declared himself a candidate for the seat in the United States Senate currently held by Oregon Republican Gordon Smith. Smith is one of those blue state Republicans whose raison d’etre appears to be to make sure the Congress can never enact progressive legislation. How a state like Oregon keeps electing a guy like this is beyond me. Presumably, he promises to bring home the bacon and not make waves, and in a society where most people have become cynical about the potential of an active government, maybe he has indeed found the winning formula.

Maybe. Then again, maybe the Soporific Mr. Smith has just met his Waterloo.

Given the vulnerability of the GOP in ’08, it has been widely rumored that Smith’s seat is vulnerable. And yet, in the past couple of weeks, one potential challenger after another has dropped by the wayside. We already knew that the Democratic Governor of Oregon has said that he wouldn’t run. But what we didn’t know is that every single Oregon Democrat in the U.S. Congress would pull out of the race as well. So that leaves only one challenger of note: Mr. Novick.

Who exactly is he? You can read a bit about him in the following link. That’s an article Novick wrote about Gordon Smith back before Novick threw his hat in the ring. Read it and you’ll see what prompted Novick to challenge Smith, but you’ll also learn a few salient facts about the challenger.

Please allow me to summarize in my own way precisely what Novick brings to the table:

(1) He’s 44 years of age.

(2) He comes from a relatively poor family. I don't mean poor for a politician (that's another word for upper middle-class); I mean poor compared to most of us.

(3) Because he’s so committed to working for the public interest, he’s not taken the many opportunities he's had to feather his own nest. This man, in short, is the Platonic Form of the non sell out.

(4) He's a policy wonk’s policy wonk. He can rattle off facts and figures about economics and politics the way Paris Hilton could talk about shoes or Mel Gibson about Jews.

(5) He isn’t interested in hearing himself talk; he’s impassioned about specific causes. Above all else, he fights like a Banshee for the economic interests of the average worker. He’s also a fervent environmentalist. And needless to say, whereas Gordon Smith was supporting the adventure in Iraq for years, Novick was a critic from the start.

(6) That said, Novick is not a knee jerk liberal. I have often been struck by the independence of his positions. Apparently, he thinks the issues through and listens to his own counsel, rather than following the political winds.

(7) He started law school at age 18, having skipped high school altogether. You see, where he lived in Cottage Grove, Oregon, the high school was closed for a while, so he had no choice but go straight on to college at age 14.

(8) At Harvard Law School, he was four or five years younger than most of our classmates but significantly more articulate and intelligent. Despite being outspoken, he had no enemies there and plenty of fans.

(9) He is 4’ 8” and has a metallic hook for a left arm. In fact, his own website touts himself as “the fighter with the hard left hook.” But unlike many others who style themselves “fighters,” his personality is not pugnacious. To know him is to understand that he is a kind and generous person – and would, no doubt, be warmer to his “enemies” than many politicians are to their friends.

(10) He was a successful litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice, having served as lead counsel in the Love Canal case that netted the government more than $100 million.

(11) He has worked for a number of political campaigns and has been active in fights centered on specific legislative initiatives.

(12) Until now, he has been known not as a professional “politician,” but rather as an “activist.” That’s another word for someone who fights political battles because they actually care, rather than because of their nice hair (see, e.g., Gordon Smith) and “electability.”

(13) He is plainspoken, has a great sense of humor, and directs his funniest barbs at himself.

(14) He is not the reincarnation of Paul Wellstone. We know that because there was a time when both men were alive. But he is the closest thing this species has to a living Paul Wellstone.

So, are you intrigued? If you’re not, either I’ve failed miserably in explaining what sets this guy apart or you must lack a pulse. Honestly, the real reason Novick must win has nothing to do with the Soporific Mr. Smith. Even if Oregon didn’t have an empty suit for a Senator, it would still have to find a place in D.C. for Steve Novick.

We desperately need men and women like Novick to come to Washington, bring their affability and sense of humor, and then speak the truth first and read the polls later. Perhaps it is precisely because of his disabilities that Novick is allowed to say what he’s really thinking without worrying about petty schmucks coming down on him swiftly and mercilessly. Just Google “Steve Novick + Senate” and read what’s being said about him in the blogs. Oh, you’ll find the occasional snipe (“He looks like a villain in a Mike Myers movie” is my personal favorite, and one that would surely get a laugh from Novick himself), but for the most part, the Oregonians seem to be warming up to the man pretty well. I think they recognize that if ever there were someone who represents what Oregon is supposed to stand for – down-to-earth, fun-loving, independent, environmentally-conscious – that person is Steve Novick.

But enough about Novick. Let’s talk about you. Are you prepared to read about this guy? You obviously have a computer, that’s the place to start. There are all sorts of info on the web about him. And surely, even if you don’t live in the great state of Oregon, you must know people who do. Spread the word, my friends. Don’t sit on the sidelines lamenting all the problems in the world. Bring Steve Novick to Washington! Make it happen. Then watch as he tells truth to power. Who knows, if he can win and if, perchance, there are other Novick’s out there in the country (perhaps a 7 footer who started Yale Law School at age 17), maybe we can actually regain some faith in our Government.


maurice_clayton said...

I knew Novick, Dan. And you're no Novick.

Bert Bananas said...

'...Runaway economic unfairness..." does strike a responsive chord within most of us who work hard to make a living while playing by the rules.

I worry that Mr. Novick is a bit too idealistic. I truly believe that most people play by the rules because they either don't have the wherewithal to bend them to their benefit. I did a study of Mexican governmental corruption in the 1960s. I came to believe that it was institutionalized and that those not in power didn't really fight against it because they were hoping that they would soon have their day in the catbird seat.

I've been told that Communism would have worked fine, that the theories behind it were just peachy keen, except that humans are too flawed to be proper stewards.

I both admire and pity people with the vision Mr. Novick displays. But his 'we gotta fight global warming' and 'universal health care' positions leave him, IMHO, vulnerable to the flawed human beings who think there's a way to get things done that doesn't take too much in taxes.

Making life 'better' in America isn't going to be cheap and most of us don't mind cutting corners if we're doing okay. I don't think there are enough 'green people' and 'welfare junkies' voting, meaning that not much is going to change at the local and state levels.

Daniel Spiro said...


I never professed to be Novick. Sorry, but since I don't know you and I just watched "Pacific Heights," your message was kind of creepy. Had I just watched a good comedy, I might have laughed instead.

Daniel Spiro said...


Don't pity Novick. Pity the U.S. if we have 100 Senators who lack Novick's idealism and passion.

Bert Bananas said...

Daniel, it's not in my nature to pity a country, which though flawed, still is something of a shining beacon on the hill top.

If the US Senate has 100 senators who lack Novick's idealism and passion, it's because the voters of this country either lack them as well, or were not given proper choices. I think it's mostly that latter.

I'm not knocking Mr. Novick, I'm just pointing out that even if Oregonians did have the gumption to send Novick/Mr. Smith to the Senate, he'd be outnumbered 99 to 1, and I wouldn't bet on a happy ending.

I think too many of us look in our mirrors and say to ourselves, 'boy, I'm glad I'm not a flawed human being.' So we don't change... And even if we do spot a flaw or two, we trivialize the flaws and tell ourselves that overall we're wonderful people. After all, don't our dogs love us?

If you're the Empathetic Rationalist, then I must be the Cynical Curmudgeon. If you want to posit that when our views differ, yours is the correct view, I shan't be upset, but I'm not likely to be convinced.

The knowledge that there will never unanimity on any issue is, among other things, important to learning how to achieve and maintain happiness, whatever the heck that is.

Daniel Spiro said...


I would never take the attitude that "I'm right" and "you're wrong" -- especially not in a blog entitled Empathic Rationalist. Rationally, we understand mostly how ignorant we are when it comes to political or theological truths.

All that I can say is that -- in my humble opinion -- it would be great to have a guy like Novick on the Hill speaking the things that most people wouldn't have the guts to say, and articulating the point in a way that most people wouldn't have the brains to conceive. I also think the guy is pretty down to earth, which is why I don't use the term "idealistic" for him though I admit that in certain respects it's undeniably apt.

Finally, as for convincing people, I long stopped thinking that I'm likely to do that. But that doesn't stop the fingers from clicking the keyboard.