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.

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