Saturday, July 28, 2007


Stop your whining, my fellow sports fans. I know we’ve taken a few hits lately, but quality action is right around the corner. Trust me.

On the surface, this past fortnight has been one of the worst in sports history. In baseball, arguably the greatest record in sports is about to be taken down by a man, Barry Bonds, who constantly sticks his middle finger in the face of the media and is considered by virtually everyone to have taken more drugs than Timothy Leary and Tommy Chong combined. And, speaking of drugs, the handful of Americans who were watching the Tour de France were treated to the sight of the race leader, Michael Rasmussen, being dumped for taking steroids of his own. Imagine that – a sport that actually deters cheating. Clearly, the league isn’t based in America.

The really bad sports news lately had nothing to do with drugs, however. In basketball, a professional ref has been exposed as a cheater who bet on his own games. Allegedly, the dude would literally nudge players when they were camped in the lane to ensure that the other ref doesn’t cite them for illegal defense – talk about your guardian angels. Now, for years on end, every time some ref makes a couple of boneheaded calls, fans will start asking altogether different questions than in the past: Did he take the over/under? The outcome? The points? Talk about adding a whole new dimension to a sport.

Ah, but none of those stories matter compared to what’s happened to my game. This was supposed to be the start of training camp in the NFL. Last year at this time, I was preparing to head up to my team’s camp in Mankato, Minnesota to watch some drills. But this year, nobody’s talking about training camp. We football fans are talking about a certain former first pick in the NFL draft and his Virginia home, replete with a “rape stand,” “pry bar,” “fight pit,” syringes … you know, all the equipment anyone would want for a little dog torturing. When the news came out that Michael Vick may be a “sportsman” off the gridiron as well, a couple of prominent Redskins came to his rescue. Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels are their names. Those Einsteins thought that all this dog-fighting talk was much ado about nothin’, and even laughed about it. For some reason, though, nobody’s laughing now. Maybe it’s the pictures we keep seeing on TV of one dog ripping his teeth into the neck of another and twisting about over and over again while the other dog writhes in pain. Whatever the reason, if there is humor to this idea of taking the animal species that loves us more than any other and repaying that love with gleeful torture and murder, that humor escapes me. I’ll laugh at the rednecks in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I’ll laugh at some twisted scenes from A Clockwork Orange … but even I have my limits.

Anyway, enough with football, basketball, baseball, and riding bikes; screw all that. Let’s talk real sport. Let’s talk politics.

Hillary has finally made a mistake. It took her about six months, but her inner robot slipped up. She needlessly picked a fight with Barack Obama in the area where she’s most vulnerable – foreign policy. Worse yet, she gave Barack the opportunity to move to her left flank at a time when even Utah Mormons are beginning to admire Trotsky. Why she did this I don’t know. Perhaps she never heard the old adage. As Michael Vick could tell you, let sleeping pit bulls lie.

Seriously, until this past week, Barack Obama had been anesthetized as a candidate. He reminded me more of one of my old philosophy professors than a guy running for office. His campaign theme had been “why say it in 20 words when 200 could suffice.” Perhaps he wanted to show himself off as smart, thoughtful, reasonable, wise ... But really, this is America we’re talking about. Since when are those qualities admired in a candidate?

We want candidates who are fighters -- macho candidates who won’t take no bull from fur-in dictators. Hillary knew that. And that’s probably why she decided to pick a fight with Barack. He, after all, suggested that as President, he would meet with the Ernst Staflo Blofelds of the world in his very first year in office. She took that to mean that she could portray him as weak on national defense – or to use her exact words “naïve” and “irresponsible.”

Bad idea, lady. Bad idea.

Here’s the problem for Hill. She gave Barack Obama just the shove he needed to get up and stand … for something! No more professorial lectures. Now it’s time for snappy, hard-hitting sound bites. Barack fired back quickly with the idea that Our Hillary is really just “Bush/Cheney lite.” And while she protesteth that moniker, you’ve got to wonder if he had a point. Here’s a woman who has (a) supported a law banning flag burning, (b) supported entering the Iraq War without even bothering to read the intelligence report, (c) championed that War for years after it was discovered that the WMDs never existed and until the “coast was clear” to oppose it, and (d) sided with the Administration on its refusal to meet with bad guys until they first demonstrate their willingness to be good.

Why, then, is it so wrong to compare Hillary with her uncle Dick?

But I digress. The real issue here isn’t whether or not we support our President meeting with foreign dictators (I’m not talking about those dictators we prop up, but the ones we’ve declared as evil). The real issue is what will happen now that Hillary has encouraged Barack to wake up and fight for his right to win the Presidency. Methinks she has showed him the one and only way to win as a relative newcomer to the political scene: by letting America see who he really is. Barack Unplugged, meet Barack Amped Up! Sometimes the amp will turn people off. Look at Howard Dean – he got bold enough to scream himself to punch-line status. But Barack is a heck of a lot more intelligent than Howard Dean, and his personal story is far more compelling. I suspect that the more we know about this guy, the more we’ll like him.

This past week, we’ve learned that the dude likes to talk. He’ll talk to the American public. He’ll talk to the American nemeses. He’ll talk and he’ll listen. But he never said that he’ll make concessions to evil – and those of you who infer weakness from a willingness to meet and confer are truly creating a strawman argument. I say that in the past few years, our Administration has done way too little talking to our enemies. We’ve lived in a secret bubble. Barack wants to tear that bubble apart and approach the world like a member of a true, if dysfunctional, community. I like that idea. And I look forward to getting to know more and more about his vision of governance in the months ahead.

But that’s not all I’m looking forward to in the world of politics. This past week, across the continent from the Hillary-Obama cat fight, another battle was joined. I’m referring to the entry into the Oregon Senate race of one Jeff Merkley. Merkley, the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, is according to some reports the man the Democratic establishment in D.C. would like to see challenge the only Republican Senator in any of the three west coast states, Gordon Smith. Merkley is, from all reports, a serious challenger for Smith’s seat in ’08. I welcome his entry to the race. And I hope he gets his butt kicked all the way back to Salem.

Loyal readers of this blog know who Merkley is up against – not just Gordon “I loyally supported Bush/Cheney until election time” Smith, but Steve Novick. Novick is, quite simply, the reincarnation of Paul Wellstone. It surely cheapens Novick to suggest that he is not an original, but the U.S. Senate desperately needs at least one Wellstone, and Novick is the closest thing we have to Wellstone in American politics today.

I’m sure Merkley is just fine, don’t get me wrong. But as a fighter, compared to Novick, he’s like comparing one of my bichon frises to one of Michael Vick’s … OK, you get the picture.

I have no inside dirt as to whether the DSCC promised Merkely that if he ran, they would sufficiently fund his primary race to squelch any opposition from Novick. If that’s true, and I pray that it isn’t, it would be nothing short of despicable. The DSCC need not fear a primary campaign in which both candidates would spend, spend, spend on fighting each other, rather than on battling the GOP next fall. Novick, for one, has suggested that he and Merkely tour their beautiful state together, making joint appearances and telling the Oregon electorate exactly why each one thinks that he is the best suited to fight Gordon Smith. In other words, this could be a Lincoln/Douglas style campaign in which the candidates would carve out their own positive vision for the future and carve up the uninspired politics of their GOP rival. It’s precisely the kind of campaign that this nation needs – a campaign about ideas, not money.

Watch that election, folks. It’s a referendum on the health of our democracy. Here we have this reincarnation of Paul Wellstone – 4’ 8’’ tall, born with one arm, coming from no money, graduating from Harvard Law School at the age of 21, and devoting his life ever since to fighting like a banshee for the little guy. Can Novick get his chance to at least make his case to the people of his relatively liberal state? Or will his party’s “machine” stomp him down before he raises the need for real change? I can’t wait to find out.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Let me begin by pointing out that after this post, the Empathic Rationalist will be taking a two week break (I’ll post your comments if they are sent today or tomorrow, but not thereafter). It’s vacation time, and the high point will hopefully be the Spinoza workshop that I am teaching in Blacksburg, Virginia at the Southeastern Unitarian-Universalist Summer Institute. I can think of few things more enjoyable than spending hours at a time talking about my favorite philosopher. If that makes me a geek, so be it.

Now, for the business at hand. Bethesda, my hometown, may be in Maryland, technically, but it is truly just an extension of our nation’s capital. That’s why when Tiger Woods decided to host a DC-based golf tournament, he chose to hold it at Congressional Country Club in southwest Bethesda.

Loyal readers of this blog know that I’m a huge Tiger fan. When he’s playing on a business day, I typically will check the scores off and on to see how he’s doing. And when he’s playing in my city, I’m sure as heck not going to let the opportunity go by without paying my respects in person. On Friday, July 6th, I took my wife and younger daughter – the older one would have rather spent the day having oral surgery than attending a golf tourney – and we all had a really nice time.

For those of you who don’t follow golf, Tiger wanted his event to honor the military, having grown up the son of a Green Beret, so he announced that 30,000 free tickets would go out to active members of the military. But that’s not all. He also wanted his event to be affordable, so for the rest of us who aren’t part of the military, he honored us with cheap prices. Parking was free, and the event itself cost only $20 on weekdays and $25 on the weekend – with teenagers being half price and little kids getting in without charge. Buying tickets, I felt for the first time in a while that I wasn’t being gouged by the producers of a major entertainment event. The upshot was that the three of us, ages 14, 39+ and 39+, were treated to a day of marvelous golf for a total of 50 bucks – about the cost of one ticket to a basketball, hockey or baseball game (and let’s not even talk about football).

The crowd was appreciative, believe me, and throughout the tournament, the players and announcers simply raved about us. It was the first time in years that I’ve heard the people of Washington, D.C. praised in the mass media – they talked about how many of us showed up, how enthusiastic we were, how supportive we were of the players … if there was a kind thing you could hear about patrons of a golf event, we heard it on the TV or read about it in the papers. That might not sound like much to a non-Washingtonian, but you’ve got to understand, we’re normally treated like a leper colony. Politicians in particular love to talk about how much they’re looking forward to going back to the “real world” and away from the inside-the-Beltway atmosphere that is oh so poisonous. I call it Beltway bashing. Washingtonian concerns are considered to be somehow less legit than the concerns in Des Moines or Charleston, and Washingtonians are considered to be somehow less than “real” Americans. The people – mostly black – who actually live in our nation’s capital and not near its suburban country clubs don’t even get to select an honest to God congressman. Sure, they get to drive around in cars with cool license plates bearing the inscription “Taxation Without Representation,” but that’s hardly a substitute for having the right to vote, now is it?

I’m not suggesting that Tiger’s tourney will be singularly responsible for bringing congressional voting rights to D.C., or stopping politicians from segregating our nation into “real” America and Macaca-ville (to paraphrase George Allen), but it’s a heck of a start. Every year, American golf fans – a GOP bastion if ever there were one – will be treated to one comment after another about the wonderful people who actually breathe Beltway air. Golf fans throughout the nation will begin to associate this town with our men and women in uniform, of whom we have no small number, and gradually, they might also start to realize that we have tens if not hundreds of thousands of civilian residents who earn much less than they could command in the private sector but choose instead to devote their careers to public service. It’s certainly true that civil servants aren’t as palpably heroic as active members of the military, but they may be equally vital to our security. I have in mind individuals like those who conduct medical research at the National Institutes of Health, or who treat wounded soldiers at Walter Reed or Naval Memorial. They don’t wear uniforms, but man do they serve. And they, as much as any resident of Peoria, appreciate a publicly-spirited golfer with a brilliant short game, an uncanny 3 wood, and a cannon for a driver.

Tiger “lost” the inaugural AT&T tournament, finishing tied for six out of 120 participants, if you want to call that losing. But by the time the weekend ended and the capitol dome-like trophy was handed to Korea’s K.J. Choi, not a soul involved, and certainly not the tournament host, felt like a loser. Everything about the event exceeded pre-tournament expectations – the size of the galleries, the love from the galleries, the course itself, everything. You’d think that would have spurred us on to one heck of a work week here in Washington, right? Wrong. It was time for our Congress to reignite a debate that’s been waging here for five, count-em five years: whether to commit our troops to Iraq.

During the days leading up to this latest round of Iraq War deliberations, all the buzz was about the Republican Senators who were jumping ship. During recent weeks, Senators Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich have all joined the chorus regarding the need to change course in Iraq – meaning to start withdrawing American troops from the Iraqi Civil War. And yet, this past Wednesday, despite all the public expressions of war fatigue, the Republicans in the Senate effectively blocked not one but two legislative initiatives to limit troop deployments to Iraq, and thereby to decrease the number of American soldiers in that country. First, they stopped the Democrats from requiring more time between deployments for troops who have already served either in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secondly, they blocked a measure to place a ceiling on the amount of time soldiers could spend in Iraq.

Thus, as of now, “the surge” rages on without any effective limitation by Congress, despite the so-called “Democratic majorities” in both Houses. The fact is that our Senate is set up so that forty Senators can prevent action any time they want due to that wonderful device known as the filibuster, and the GOP leadership continues to produce more than forty Senators who will support this God-forsaken war year after bloody year until Kingdom Come (or until the Cubs win the World Series, whichever happens first).

I don’t get it. We’ve already been in Iraq longer than we fought World War II. We’ve already watched Al Qaeda’s leadership escape our grasp in eastern Afghanistan and set up a safe haven inside the homeland of our “ally,” Pakistan. Why then is it in our national interest to continue to fight in Iraq? Someone needs to explain the justification de jour, because there have been so many that I’ve lost track.

So there you have the good (Tiger’s generous tournament) and the bad (the GOP’s addiction to the Iraq War). But yesterday, the trilogy was complete. I was treated to the ugly.

The backdrop of the spectacle is this: my younger daughter Rebecca has planned for months on taking a trip, beginning on Monday, to Europe. Her itinerary takes her to Bosnia, Croatia, and possibly Hungary and Austria. But first, she needed a U.S. Passport. Not wanting to leave things for chance, we applied for her passport three-and-a-half months ago. And when we periodically checked on the application, we were told not to worry – it should arrive well before her trip. Needless to say, as of two days ago, it still hadn’t arrived, so we called the Passport Office and were told that we should show up for an “appointment” yesterday morning at 8:00 and we would be able to pick up her passport right away.

Sounds simple enough, right? My wife and daughter showed up for that appointment, only to find themselves on a line that lasted over two hours. Then, when they reached the front of the line, they were told that they should come back at 2:00 in the afternoon and would then be able to pick up their passport. We picked it up alright – but not until after we stood in another line, this one taking 3 ½ hours to get to the front. It was yours truly who got to work the afternoon shift with Rebecca. In line, we heard stories about people literally flying from Atlanta to D.C. or driving all night from Tennessee to D.C. just to pick up their passports (which presumably had been ordered months before). That’s right, folks – this was but another example of government bureaucracy run amuck.

My daughter, being an idealistic teenager and the child of two liberals, naturally has socialistic leanings. So I took the opportunity presented by the United States Passport Agency to educate her as to why socialism stinks. The work of the Passport Agency clearly illustrates what happens when a particular service is provided by a Government monopolist … or, for that matter, any monopolist. Just spend a day at the MVA or a municipal parking office, and you should be able to refute Karl Marx without having read Das Kapital or, for that matter, The Wealth of Nations. While I’m proud to have devoted my career to busting corrupt corporations, I’m even more pleased to have lived in a country where competitive markets generally govern the production and distribution of economic goods. Yesterday’s experience was but a momentary – or not so momentary – reminder of how appreciative we ought to be that our economy is capitalist.

To a person, everyone waiting in line at the Passport Agency was talking about how needlessly inefficient the whole process had been. “Why don’t they just hire more staff?” people asked. And, of course, nobody had an answer. As I stood in line, I realized that scenes like that one are largely responsible for what “real” Americans think of my city. They, too, deal with bureaucracies. They too are fed up. And while I was shaking my head at the thought of Government inefficiency, I looked up and saw that the seal of the U.S. Passport Agency bore the words “United States Department of State.” That’s right – Condi Rice, the Secretary of State, is the Cabinet Member who’s ultimately in charge of the Passport Agency. She has surely heard the plethora of complaints that have been lodged lately against the Agency, and presumably, has the power to direct sufficient resources in that Agency’s direction. And yet … she’s chosen to direct those resources elsewhere.

When I pointed out to my neighbor in line yesterday that the State Department is responsible for our plight, she started to laugh. “Maybe Condi should spend less time on the golf course and more time dealing with her work duties,” she said. And now I had to laugh. One of the things that created the best vibes at Tiger’s tourney was the fact that on the same day that my family came to the course, Condi had lunch with Tiger and then was in Phil Mickelson’s gallery when Phil had a pair of double bogeys to miss the cut. It was kind of cool seeing Condi on the course – she is, after all, a true sports fanatic – and I’m sure it made golfers like Tiger and Phil more appreciative of the whole D.C. experience. But then, yesterday, as my daughter waited 5 ½ hours on line -- Condi’s line – I realized that D.C. will never become America’s favorite city. We’ll always be associated too much with partisan legislators, inefficient bureaucrats and blasé administrators.

In The Creed Room, I spoke about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who at 65 years of age looked like he was 95 – the result of a life being empathically tormented by the world’s deepest problems. Maybe the problem with my city – and our world -- is that it doesn’t have enough Heschels. Our leaders are too busy watching golf to attend to the gross inefficiencies of their agencies, too busy sculpting their images to read the intelligence reports that supposedly justify trillion dollar wars, and too busy feathering their electoral war-chests to stop pigging out on one disgusting piece of pork legislation after another. This is the Washington that the media used to like to talk about 52 weeks a year. Perhaps Tiger has given us one week of glory, but we have plenty of work to do if we’re going to take back the other 51.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Are all Republicans pundits slime? No really, are they? It’s contrary to my philosophy to even think of that question, let alone to ask it. I’m all about unifying this society, and to hurl an insult like that hardly seems like the best way to find common ground.

But seriously, are they? I ask that not because they’re always wrong. I agree with them on the importance of border security, the need for mandatory moments of silence in school, the notion that handouts aren’t the best way to lift up the inner city poor, the incredible value of spirituality for those who avail themselves of it, the notion that fighting al Qaeda should be one of our nation’s highest priorities, the view that Bill Clinton wasn’t simply a victim of a witch hunt but brought a lot of his problems on himself …

But seriously, are they?

I could point to a lot of things about the GOP that drive me crazy, like causing insane wars to go on indefinitely, fighting the principle of progressive taxation, or ignoring the environment. It’s not surprising those stances upset me because those issues are all profoundly important. What’s notable is that every now and then, the GOP pundits pull something silly that really gets on my nerves. And when I say the pundits plural, I mean all of them, in lockstep, as if there’s something in the water Republicans drink that causes one mouthpiece after another to say the same petty, but annoying thing over and over again. Just recently, another example cropped up.

I’m referring to the joint “decision” among America’s conservative spokespeople to anoint Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for President. For months now, these talking heads and columnists have spoken as if the Democratic primary season was history. It hasn’t been “if we run against Hillary,” it has been “when we run against Hillary.” Even though Obama has been kicking her tuchus in fundraising, and even though Gore has most Democrats salivating at the prospects of his candidacy (which could conceivably begin in earnest once the Nobel Prize committee announces the winners in October), the GOP mouthpieces speak as if Hillary’s running unopposed.

Surely, you’re probably wondering why I even care, and yet I do. In fact, I find it fascinating. Why are they doing it? Or more to the point, why are they all doing it? Do they really believe she’s so inevitable, or are they just trying to increase her chances by talking up her inevitability? I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this time, I have my suspicions. Clearly, Hillary has some pretty formidable primary opponents, especially if Gore enters the fray. If the GOP faithful truly thinks she is inevitable, perhaps it is because they had an Ahab like obsession with the woman, much as they seemed obsessed with her husband for eight years.

Perhaps. But I doubt it. Being obsessed with Uma Thurman? That I can understand. Being obsessed with Hillary Clinton? I don’t think so. Michael Moore might think she’s sexy (ah, thanks for that image, bud – it’s even less appealing than the one you gave us of Wolfowitz), yet I’d guess even Mr. Moore wouldn’t deem her obsession-worthy.

More likely, we’re watching the fruits of one of those infamous GOP power breakfasts. I have no firsthand knowledge that such breakfasts’ exist, but google “Grover Norquist weekly breakfasts” and you’ll see all sorts of references to them. Allegedly, the GOP muckety mucks get together at these weekly events and pick up their “marching orders.” One of those orders, I suspect, was to talk up the chances of Hillary Clinton until the point where she gets the nomination. Then … and only then … will the GOP machine turn on her, and I mean swifter than the fleetest swift boat. This is just speculation on my part, but is it really so far fetched?

You can certainly understand why the GOP would want to face Hillary in November of ’08. Just look at the polls. We haven’t even seen negative campaigning begin in earnest, and still roughly half of the people polled say they would not vote for her. Few Republicans would consider supporting her. Many Independents can’t stand her. But what might be most tell-tale is the number of ABHers.

What, you might ask, is an ABHer? The letters stand for “Anybody but Hillary,” but these words don’t apply to as many people as you might think. Sure, there are Democrats – and I know plenty of them – who really don’t want Hillary to be President and would prefer any other Democrat in the race to her … but they’d reluctantly vote for her if she were to get the nomination. That’s not an ABHer. To be one, you’d have to be a Democrat who is committed not to vote for her in the general election. That doesn’t mean you’d vote Republican; it just means you wouldn’t vote for her.

There can’t be many ABOs (Anybody but Obama), nor ABEs (Anybody but Edwards). Lord knows that with all the publicity about the evils of global warming, there aren’t too many ABGs. And none of this is lost on the GOP leadership. Moreover, they have to know how weak their own candidates are and how much weaker they’re likely to be after eight or nine more months of pandering to the hard right. It’s getting to the point where Mitt Romney’s dog is soon going to strap Mitt to the roof of his car, and not vice verse.

If under these circumstances the GOP is going to keep the White House – assuming they want to – they’ll need to depend on Hillary … and the ABH’s. There are more of us around than you might think.

Go ahead, my fellow Democrats, question our sanity. But if any of you still don’t know about the dangers of electing a leader who is seriously integrity-challenged, more monarchic than democratic, and who refuses for reasons known only to Mephistopheles to admit a mistake, perhaps you’re the ones who need help.

As an ABHer, I have to say that I’d love to vote Democratic in ’08, and the prospect that I might not do so has nothing to do with hatred for Hillary, who I think has been a reasonably good Senator. I simply don’t think the White House is a good fit for her – and that is an understatement. But even stronger than my distaste for her candidacy is my dislike for the idea of one political party trying to manipulate who’s nominated by the other. Personally, I’ve always shown the GOP the respect of listening to what their candidates have to say and hoping that the best one wins – not scheming about how to screw up the process so that the least appealing candidate can get the nomination.

I don't ever recall a previous situation where the GOP pundits went out of their way to proclaim a winner of the Democratic race before it was decided. Let's face it -- if my conspiracy theory is correct, it simply attests to the GOP's desperation. All that I can hope is that Democrats and Independents, whenever they encounter conservative voices in the papers, over the Internet, on the radio, or on TV, will remember that they may be listening to spin, not honest analysis. The GOP has one chance in this race and one chance only -- her name is Hillary Clinton. Hillary might indeed beat them in November '08, but she might also be beaten. I'm starting to think that there is hardly another Democrat in the race, save Kucinich and Gravel, who can make that claim.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


It was such a nice label, “Compassionate Conservatism”? Who doesn’t believe in both concepts? “Well sure,” you might say, “we all support compassion. But many of us are liberals, and for us, conservatism is a dirty word. Right?” Not exactly. Liberals generally extol conservative principles as well – principles like justice, dignity, charity, strength, security, peace … I can continue, but there is hardly a need. When conservatism is coupled with compassion, it sounds pretty darned good. Deep down, whether we voted for W or not, we had to appreciate the moniker he assigned to himself.

For me, the bloom fell off the rose at around the time of the first tax cut. That didn’t sound like compassionate conservatism. It sounded more like a way to dance with the ones who brung ya’, as they say in Crawford. The prime recipients of that tax cut were the same ones who financed the President’s campaign. And the victims of that tax cut were the children and grandchildren of everyone else. Something tells me they’re the ones who needed a bit more of the President’s compassion.

But that’s just me. The President continued his honeymoon throughout his first several months of office, and his popularity went off the charts after the planes smashed into the buildings. That’s when he taught us all that Compassionate Conservatism involves two parts compassion and three parts resolve. That resolve continued when our first warplanes entered Afghani airspace and even after our GIs stormed Iraq in route to seizing WMDs and liberating a thankful nation.

OK. It didn’t exactly go down that way, now did it? As a result, with the passage of years, more and more Americans joined the opposition. But still, until recently, there remained a core group of roughly 30 percent of American citizens who continued to support the President and admire his philosophy of governance. President Bush, they felt, is consumed with preserving democracy throughout the world and security here at home -- good conservative stuff. And while he has compassion for the thousands of fallen American soldiers and their families, he has even more compassion for the millions of families who would be torn apart if he were to leave Iraq to the terrorists and allow them to train with impunity in the open as they once did in Afghanistan. To the “base,” Compassionate Conservatism was never vindicated better than in the President’s resolve to continue our Iraq adventure even after the American death toll in and around Baghdad exceeded the toll a few years back in the Financial District.

Personally, I think the Iraq debacle has demonstrated neither compassion nor conservatism, but merely stubbornness. When people are in holes, what do they do? Well, if they’re bullheaded, they keep on digging, and so have we. But a strange thing happened as our President decided that the war was going well enough to be accelerated. In the middle of his bizarre little surge, he decided to try out Compassionate Conservatism in my kind of way. He decided to throw his remaining political capital behind a bill that would increase border security in the future – surely a conservative value – and would also naturalize 12 million illegal aliens, which sure sounds compassionate. Not surprisingly, his great domestic legislative initiative would bear the name of Mr. Progressive himself, Teddy Kennedy.

That’s right. The Compassionate Conservative met the Bleeding Heart Liberal and saw for the first time in seven years what’s it’s like to stick his neck way out for those who don’t have power. I’m getting the impression he learned the lesson. It’s easy to be a conservative politician. It’s a whole lot harder to be a compassionate one.

Now I know what many of you are thinking: “First, since when did W prove his compassion for illegal aliens? He supported the bill to help out the business owners who want cheap, Mexican labor. As for the laborers themselves, he no more cares about them than he does the poor black people of New Orleans. Second, even if I were to grant that he gave a damn about the illegals, what kind of moron would support a bill that would ensure amnesty prior to border security? Isn’t that bass-ackwards? I mean seriously, who’s going to trust that border security would become a reality if it’s seen as the tail wagging the bill’s dog?”

It’s easy to be cynical, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not buying it. As I see it, this bill was the only way to achieve amnesty for the illegal aliens who are already in the country. The clear quid pro quo for such amnesty was implementing border security, and I have every reason to believe that this Government would have taken that responsibility seriously. As for the idea that the President didn’t really care about the welfare of illegal aliens, I really think that’s missing the point. The fact is that he worked hard to make immigration reform his greatest domestic initiative and that the bill he supported was essentially progressive – at least in its effects. I, for one, can’t read the President’s mind on this issue any more than I can read his mind on why we need to spend the next 50 years (or is it 100?) fighting Iraqis.

So if mind-reading isn’t in order, what do you say we take stock of the consequences of what has just transpired. First of all, we have seen a sitting President of the minority party align himself with the mainstream of the opposing, majority party and still lose -- pretty amazing, when you think about it. Second, that same President, with more than a year and a half to go in his Administration, is now viewed as the lamest of lame ducks. It’s difficult to imagine him pushing through any meaningful program at this point. Third, the Congress comes out of this looking every bit as impotent as the President. Other than conducting investigatory hearings, what exactly are they trying to accomplish on that hill anyway?

The fourth point merits a new paragraph, because I still frankly find it mind boggling. What transpired with respect to this immigration bill further drums in a point that I discussed in The Creed Room. When the conservative base gets together on a political point, they fight like hell to get their way. By contrast, when the liberal base gets together on a political point, they continue to show how little they care about it. All you had to do a month ago was turn on talk radio, and you heard one pundit after another ripping W a new one for supporting amnesty. But there was hardly any way to detect liberal passion on amnesty’s behalf. Those of you who think that amnesty is just not that important an issue might want to think about the Iraq War. When marches are held against that war, how many liberals show up? I go to those marches – religiously – and I can tell you that I’m always amazed at the low turnouts, especially when compared to the reaction during the Vietnam War. Moreover, even the so-called “anti-war” politicians seem tepid in their opposition. Just watch the Democrats debate. They’re so damned intellectual when they talk about the war. None of the top contenders bring to the table any visceral emotions, unlike the way right wing politicians display their hatred for amnesty. Once again, if there’s a truly liberal pulse in this country, it’s awfully faint.

Fifth, and finally, this latest episode has me thinking that the overall level of cynicism with government has reached the point where it will be so much easier to oppose major government initiatives than it will be to support them. Compassionate conservatism – true compassionate conservatism – deserves our support, and I suspect that the majority of Americans believe in it. But right now, who would trust any group of politicians to govern with such a philosophy in mind? It has come to the point where even when a bill emerges that would clearly have a compassionate result (in the form of amnesty), many people wanted to kill it because they didn’t trust its conservative bona fides (in the form of ensuring border security). That, my friends, is cynical.

Somehow, we have to find a way to restore the people’s trust in their leaders. We need to think of them as sincere, passionate, and willing to persevere through difficult times. We probably need leaders on both sides of the aisle who fit that description, because they are going to have to rally their respective troops to hammer out the kind of compromise that failed this past week.

It won’t be easy to find that assemblage of talent. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure not seeing it on the horizon.