Friday, November 23, 2007


This was supposed to be a week of celebrations for me, and Monday evening lived up to its billing. On that evening, we held a meeting of my beloved Washington Spinoza Society. The guest speaker, Professor Firmin DeBrabander, spoke about his book Spinoza and the Stoics and reminded me once again how refreshing it can be when a professional philosopher talks in a down-to-earth manner about issues that actually matter to people, instead of engaging in pretentious masturbation about minutia. When I see the jargon-loving academics in action, I feel so friggen smart for having gone into the practice of law. But when I listen to knowledgeable people like Firmin talk about “the great issues” in a way that is as accessible to teenagers as to professors, I can only shake my head at my stupid career choice.

Pete Townsend, you might recall, once wrote “Getting high, you can’t beat it.” Well, a good philosophy discussion led by a soulful philosopher beats it like a drum … at least for me.

Tuesday was a celebration of a birthday -- an 82nd birthday, to be precise. The date was November 20th, Steve Novick was in town, and that can only mean yet another ceremony commemorating the birth of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Every year, around twenty of us gather in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice on or around the 20th of November to remember RFK, who was once our nation’s Attorney General. Novick flies in from Oregon and leads the ceremony. He had the idea to hold this annual celebration back when he was a Trial Attorney for the DOJ, and when he left my home town to go back to the left coast, he vowed to return every year and keep the tradition – and RFK’s memory – alive.

For most people, the gathering on November 20th is a reminder of RFK’s life. It’s usually a time to think about how wonderful it was to have such a passionate, pragmatic, intelligent, hard-working and principled progressive in the position of Attorney General. It’s a time to recall, for example, how much he loved his big brother John, and how amazing a President he might have been -- almost certainly the greatest President in my lifetime for someone with left-leaning political views.

For me, however, Tuesday was a time to think less about RFK’s life than about his death.

As I stood in the Great Hall listening to people reminisce about Kennedy, I found myself harkening back to June 6, 1968. Your humble scribe wasn’t quite eight years old then, but I was already a political junky. And that night, I had been watching coverage of the Democratic primary in California, which RFK had just won. Seconds after his acceptance speech, he was gunned down by a man with the mysterious name of Sirhan Sirhan. I experienced that assassination as if it had happened to someone I knew personally.

To be candid, I had been hoping that Eugene McCarthy would take the Presidency – he seemed the greatest bet to end the war quickly. Still, I admired the hell out of Kennedy and was absolutely aghast that some creature would take his beautiful life … and right smack in its prime. That shooting struck me as the height of horror – more horrible, in fact, than anything Hollywood could ever produce.

On June 6, 1968, I thought about death. But all that thinking merely reinforced my love for life and hatred for violence. Returning now to the present, and having just lived through a week when two boys at my daughters’ school died in a car accident, I suppose it was only appropriate that I spent RFK’s birthday party contemplating his sickening demise.

The next planned celebration was to be on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, when we all get to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives … and for life itself. Then, on Saturday, November 24th, I expected to celebrate the 375th birthday of another slightly important person in my life – Baruch Spinoza. My celebration would, of course, be a solitary one – Spinoza’s birthday isn’t exactly a big news item in Bethesda, Maryland. But the next day, I am scheduled to deliver two sermons at the Silver Spring Unitarian-Universalist Church, and my topic for these talks is none other than “Spinoza and Unitarian-Universalism.” It’s the least I can do to keep the memory of Spinoza alive. For to quote Firmin DeBrabander, Spinoza is none other than “The Father of Secular Liberalism” – and that makes him just the role model we need in a time when religious fundamentalisms of different stripes are threatening to destroy both this country and this planet.

What does it say about a man who can at the same time be called “God intoxicated” (according to Novalis) and the founder of secular liberalism? I say that this must be a man who appreciated the holiness of freedom. Spinoza devoted his political and theological views to advancing freedom in all its forms. But he devoted his ethical and metaphysical views to the celebration of life. To quote the great 17th century philosopher, “The free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not on death.”

Well … let’s just say that in the last 24 hours, I haven’t been a very free man.

You see, my friends, my Thanksgiving was interrupted a bit. Not by death, mind you, but by the fear of death. Some would say that such a fear is among the greatest original spurs to philosophy and religion, but Spinoza would identify it as one of the most enervating facets of the human condition.

My family had just finished a marvelous Thanksgiving dinner when my mother – my last surviving parent -- reported a little dizziness. We took her blood pressure only to find that her systolic pressure, which a few hours earlier had gone up to 190, had dropped all the way to 60. Within minutes, we got her to the hospital, and that is where she is now. Her pressure is stable at the moment, but it has fluctuated wildly before, and if her doctor is to be believed, there’s no cure for her condition. To be sure, everyone’s blood pressure fluctuates, and fluctuates considerably, but once it starts bouncing around by 130 points or more, you know you’ve got some issues.

I mention this sad truth because I’m only now beginning to explore the raison d’etre for this literary device known as a “blog.” Its beauty stems in part from the fact that there are no rules of the game, no “adults” telling us what we can and can’t write about, or how we must go about the craft of writing. Perhaps the Rationalists out there would like me to continue talking about my favorite philosopher, or about the Kennedy Brothers, and all the things that we could learn from their respective examples and teachings. I’d rather, however, point out that sometimes a noun is less important than an adjective. And such is the case with the title of my blog.

Rationalists can be cold-blooded bastards. But Empathic Rationalists should always be benign forces in the universe. Right now, instead of concerning myself with great philosophical or political questions, I’d prefer to reflect on the fun I had today at the hospital (we enjoyed the LSU/Arkansas game together), or simply to hope that somehow, my mother can will her body back to health and buy a few more precious years on this planet.

You see, it is only during times like this when we really appreciate what Spinoza was talking about. A free man doesn’t like to think about death. Why should he? But when he must, he realizes that his disdain for death is precisely because of how much he loves to live. And when he sees his loved ones battle valiantly for life, that is when he most realizes how intertwined our lives are, and how much of the meaning in our own lives comes from loving other people.

Allow me to quote a somewhat lengthy passage from Spinoza's Ethics:

"As every man seeks most that which is useful to him, so are men most useful one to another. For the more a man seeks what is useful to him and endeavors to preserve himself, the more is he endowed with virtue ... or, what is the same thing ... the more is he endowed with power to act according to the laws of his own nature, that is to live in obedience to reason. But men are most in natural harmony, when they live in obedience to reason ...; therefore ... men will be most useful one to another, when each seeks most that which is useful to him. ...

"What we have just shown is attested by experience so conspicuously, that it is in the mouth of nearly everyone: 'Man is to man a God.' Yet it rarely happens that men live in obedience to reason, for things are so ordered among them, that they are generally envious and troublesome one to another. Nevertheless, they are scarcely able to lead a solitary life, so that the definition of man as a social animal has met with general assent; in fact, men do derive from social life much more convenience than injury. Let satirists then laugh their fill at human affairs, let theologians rail, and let misanthropes praise to their utmost the life of untutored rusticity, tlet them heap contempt on men and praises on beasts; when all is said, they will find that men can provide for their wants much more easily by mutual help, and that only by uniting their forces can they escape the dangers that on every side beset them."

We've all surely leaned on a number of people in life to escape the dangers that beset us on every side. But who have we leaned on more than our mothers? I'd like to take this opportunity to wish mine the strength and motivation to defeat this illness for as long as possible. And while I joke sometimes about how it is both weird and stereotypical to have lived 600 feet away from "my Jewish mother" for the past 17 years, I have never felt happier about that fact in my life. For all that my mother drives me nuts -- and those who have read The Creed Room can only begin to imagine the ways -- she, more than anyone else, has given me the spirit that I have in life, and the day that I forget that fact will be the day my mind has officially stopped working.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Lately, I've been writing new posts only on weekends, but allow me briefly to break that habit and thank each of you who have been reading this blog ... and a special thanks for those who have been offering comments.

When I started the Empathic Rationalist last year at the request of my publisher, I was not an avid blog reader and had no idea if I'd take to this format. What's made the process worthwhile is the feedback that you all have given me -- both in print and orally. It makes cyberspace seem a whole lot less lonely.

So again -- thanks to each of you for making this a place where empathy and rationalism can grow together. And in that order.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Tomorrow at one in the afternoon, I will get to enjoy an event that only comes around once every four years: my two favorite professional football teams will play against each other. The odds are that whoever you are, and wherever you live, you won’t watch it. Indeed, you won’t be able to. It was almost blacked out on TV in the city where the game will be played. I say “almost,” because a couple of days before the game, when 2,000 tickets remained unsold, the Miller Brewing Company stepped up and bought out the remaining tickets. That’s right: the company that sells the most watered down beer wanted to help out a football franchise that sells some of the most watered down football.

The truth is that the home team stinks. And yet they are a clear favorite to win the game. They don’t call this tilt “The Toilet Bowl” for nothing.

This game, my friends, promises to be professional football at its most pathetic – and I mean that in the sense of engendering true pathos, especially in the heart of yours truly. I’ve been rooting for these teams since the days of Woodstock. Since the time that Mick, Keith, John, Paul, Janis and Jimmy were at their peaks. I was rooting for these teams since before I even visited their cities. And hey, I wasn’t alone in not paying those places a visit. We’re not exactly talking about garden spots, you know. We’re talking about Oakland, California (about which Gertrude Stein once said “There’s nothing there, there”) and Minneapolis, Minnesota (as in “It’s not the North Pole, but you can see it from there”). We’re talking about two of the Rodney Dangerfields of professional sports: the Oakland Raiders and the Minnesota Vikings. Like I said, they don’t call this tilt “The Toilet Bowl” for nothing.

Some of you may know that my love for football borders on the fanatic. I bought a satellite dish so that I can watch the above teams – and my Stanford Cardinal – as often as possible. I schlepped my family to Mankato, Minnesota in the summer of 2006 so that we could attend the Vikings training camp. And after having completed 1.9 novels (the second is about to be edited by my publisher, but it’s done as far as I’m concerned), I realize that I’m incapable of writing at length about anything without talking about football.

When I watch football, I become a little boy again. Back then, I didn’t just watch, I played. In fact, I had the best hands in the neighborhood. If the ball was anywhere close to me, I’d hang on to it. Just as my least favorite nickname was Abner (based on the fact that Gore and I share the same name – his first, my middle), my favorite was “Biletnikoff.” To be compared to the greatest Raiders receiver of all-time, even if only in a small quadrant of North Bethesda, was one of my greatest honors. Needless to say, however, by the time I matriculated in high school, my playing days were over. Are you kidding? Did you actually think I would give up the chance to watch Star Trek every afternoon to beat up a blocking sled? Did you actually think I was a talented athlete?

Give me a break.

Back in the day – the day being the late 60s and early 70s – the Raiders and Vikings were both quite good. But neither could win “The Big One.” One of the cruelest ironies of my childhood was that by the time one of them won the Super Bowl, which was in January 1977, it was only by beating the tar out of the other. That’s right. The same God who gave my people the Holocaust made sure that I couldn’t enjoy a childhood Super Bowl because my Raiders would only be able to reach the pinnacle of their sport by thoroughly humiliating my Vikings. The Vikings had the opportunity to play in the Big Dance three times before they were destroyed by the Raiders. They’ve never been back since. But they have had a few close shaves.

In 1987, the Vikes were playing in the NFC Championship Game against my local team, the Redskins (who I hate), needing only to win that game to play for the World Championship. They lost when Darrin Nelson, a guy who lived three doors down in my freshman dorm, dropped a TD pass in the end zone that would have sent the game into overtime. You think that’s bad? A decade later, the Vikes were up by a TD late in the 4th quarter against the Falcons, needing only to connect on a moderately long field goal to earn a bid to the Super Bowl. The Vikes’ kicker hadn’t missed a kick all year. But you guessed it – he missed, the Falcons scored a TD on the next possession, and the Vikes would go on to lose in overtime. The only other time the Vikes made the penultimate game, they lost 41-0.

So what do you think – three parts schlemiels, four parts schlimazels?

I could sing the praises of the Raiders, who have won a total of three Super Bowls, but who would I be kidding? They’ve only played in one Super Bowl in the last two decades, and that was back in 2003 when they lost by 27 to a team led by Jon Gruden, their former coach. Since then, they’ve lost at least three times for every victory, culminating in last season, when they earned the title of “The NFL’s Worst Team.”

Tomorrow, the “once proud” Raiders will bring a 2-7 record to Minnesota where they are 5 ½ point underdogs against a 3-6 Vikings team whose wins have come courtesy of a running back who won’t even play tomorrow. In short, the Vikes are one of football’s worst teams, but the Raiders are even worse. Or at least that’s what the odds makers say. Personally, I’d bet on the Raiders. They at least seem to like their coach. I think the Vikes players would like to see their coach shipped down the Mississippi. The last straw was when Troy Williamson, one of the team’s stable of lousy receivers, said that he’d be missing a game to spend time with his family and the coach said fine, but he’d have to forfeit his game check. Sounds reasonable, I suppose, unless you realize that Williamson had just lost his grandmother, and less than two months had elapsed since his brother was severely injured in a car accident. Strangely enough, he needed a slight break from football. Go figure.

When I think about the Williamson story, or about the lunatic who owns the Raiders (moving the team twice, always being involved in litigation, etc.), or about how lousy these franchises have been on the field, or about how much time I have spent watching them over the years … the word “certifiable” comes to mind. Truly, I don’t think it’s about masochism. But what is it, then? Why do I keep watching so dutifully?

Loyalty plays a big part. As long as you’re not hurting anyone other than yourself, loyalty has always struck me as an incredibly important characteristic. Our collective loyalties allow us to count on what we love most – whether they are parents, children, friends … or in the case of professional athletes, fans like me. Loyalty gives us an emotional foundation -- a dry rock to stand on in a dangerously slippery world. But there’s more to this than loyalty, or than a man’s desire to summon the little boy that lies within. Somehow, the Vikings and Raiders have become integral parts of my self-image. When I was in an Israeli yeshiva and the Orthodox rabbis were trying to persuade me to “make aliyah” (immigrate to Israel), one of the reasons I decided to go back to the States was because I didn’t want to lose my football teams. I didn’t want to lose who I was.

I may not be the smartest person I could be, or for that matter the wisest, happiest, most time-efficient, or athletic. But I’ll say this for myself – the people I met 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago, or 10 years ago would tell you the same thing: in my core, I haven’t really changed. And that’s the way I like it.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from Star Trek – and specifically, the episode called “Balance of Terror.” It was spoken by Dr. McCoy to Captain Kirk, who was stressed out over a battle with a Romulan ship.

"In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And, in all the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that – and perhaps more – only one of each of us. . . . Don't destroy the one named 'Kirk'."

I’ve always lived my life by that sentiment. “The one named Spiro” (as Dr. McCoy might put it) has all sorts of problems, but he is what he is and needs to nurture himself. If there is something that he finds compelling, something that he has “enjoyed” for decades, something that doesn’t involve deceiving or hurting anyone else … why not nurture that too? Why submit it to the crucible of utility, that shibboleth of modern man? Why not accept it as part of that which makes us enduring … and endearing?

If you’re reading this post today, Saturday November 17th, please honor me with this request. Even if you hate football -- even if you totally don’t appreciate anything as crude and pedestrian as professional sports – do me a favor.

Tomorrow, before you go to bed, check out the score to the Vikings-Raiders game. And remember that in a tiny little nook and cranny of the galaxy, where a supposedly meaningless battle is taking place between two hapless sports franchises with rapidly diminishing fan bases, there are those of us who are deriving all sorts of meaning from this encounter. And if that is possible, if a game like that can take on such incredible meaning, just consider how much meaning resides in this entire universe. We might supply the meaning – we, not some overarching deity – but that doesn’t render it any less infinite.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


The sounds from last week’s Democratic debate still ring in my ears, and I cannot forget the role played by each of the candidates. Hillary was the defensive coordinator employing the prevent defense. The one who says, “Crap, we’re leading by 11 points and there’s only 5 minutes left. As long as we don’t give up the big play, we can’t lose.” Any football fan can tell you what happens next – the other team throws one ten yard pass after another, then a guy breaks a tackle and gets 20 yards, and the next thing you know the other team has the ball and the momentum, and is driving for the game winning touchdown … with plenty of time left on the clock. All the “prevent” does is prevent a team from winning; Hillary presumably has been told that by now. In future debates, she’s going to have to stop dodging every question. Do that, Hill, and you just might win the nomination (though I don’t see you winning the Presidency).

Next, there was Barack. He played the role of the earnest, concerned political observer who noticed Hillary’s increasing unwillingness to answer questions. He was critical, but in a detached, passionless way – much like you’d expect from a professor, one of his former occupations. Still, it was probably a pretty wise tack to take because the dirty work was being done by his new ally, John Edwards. Edwards played the role of trial lawyer. He finally looked to me like he learned something from all those years in the courtroom. He went for Hillary’s jugular and, like one of Michael Vick’s dogs, didn’t let go until he drew plenty of blood. Of course, in Iowa the attacker gets as bloodied as the person attacked. But that was fine with me, since I’m an Obama guy. Seriously, though, I was impressed with Edwards. As a litigator myself, I appreciated his skills.

Next came Richardson, who I’ve decided is every sane Democrat’s second choice – or at worst third. Richardson played the Den Mother. “Can’t we all just get along?” Well, Bill, no we can’t – especially when the one ducking all the questions is cleaning up in the polls. Does Bill have a job promised to him in the Clinton Administration? I don’t think so. I think he realizes his only chance is in a brokered convention, and he’s trying to position himself as the nice guy who everyone can live with as a “compromise solution.” Pretty shrewd, really.

Then came Kucinich. He played the role of Randle Patrick McMurphy – you know, the Nicholson character in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Actually, there was difference. McMurphy was institutionalized for being crazy, whereas in fact he was sane. And Kucinich? Let’s just say the inverse applies. OK, so maybe he’s not certifiable, but I don’t think the country is ready for a guy who can talk matter of factly about witnessing UFOs, and then goes home to a wife who is less than half his age and wears a tongue stud. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see those two in the White House. Oral sex in the White House? Never.

That leaves us with two candidates – Biden and Dodd. They played the role of the owl. They’re both under 65, only a few years Hillary’s senior, but they came across as being a generation older, a generation more experienced. “Trust me,” they both said, in their best avuncular voices. “I’ve seen it all in my career. At this point, I’m the closest thing we have to omniscience. Methuselah and I.”

So what did we learn from these wise old owls? That the most dangerous country in the world isn’t Iraq. Nor Iran. It’s Pakistan. That’s what we were told during the debates. And then, as if on cue, America’s favorite General/Dictator/Fuhrer, Mr. Musharraf, declared marshal law.

Score one for the owls.

Must I describe the goings on in Pakistan today? Our beloved Mr. Musharraf, who we count on to keep the nukes out of the hands of Bin Laden, has ordered Pakistani’s lawyers, judges, and human rights activists to be beaten and incarcerated. Meanwhile, our “friend” is releasing terrorists by the score – no doubt, to make room for the real criminals, the disciples of justice

Oh, those wacky friends of ours. Sometimes they get a little carried away with their fascistic tendencies. But that’s OK. Because they have their roles to play, and we have ours. In this case, our role is Benefactor. We continue to supply our buddies in Pakistan with monetary aid. That’s right, at a time when our national debt is reaching $9 trillion and when Musharraf is beginning to resemble Mussolini on one of his bad days, we have decided to pump him up with American largesse at a rate exceeding a billion dollars a year. Man, there’s nothing quite like Christian generosity, is there?

At times like this, I guess there’s nothing else you can do than point out how strange it is to be Uncle Sam these days. Essentially, we’ve become a Thespian-Superpower. Sometimes we’re funding military dictators who violently oppress any signs of dissent. Other times, we’re saying things like “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

That was a quote from President Bush, back when we claimed to believe in freedom. It was thrown back at us from Harvard trained Beazir Bhutto, who now lives under house arrest under the orders of our beneficiary, Fuhrer Musharraf. When Bhutto doesn’t realize is that our roles have changed. In our current part, we’re not just playing the Benefactor. We’re playing the wise, old practitioner of real politique. The scriptwriter in the sky – or in the bunker, as the case may be – is telling us that if we push back against Fuhrer Musharraf, we’ll somehow unleash the nukes of war. For practical reasons, then, we have to actively support tyranny.

Funny, but Hitler probably had his own practical justifications, didn’t he?

When I look at this mess in Pakistan, I can’t help wondering what a country like India is thinking right now. Forget about the idea that they would ever again trust our rhetoric. How can they possibly predict what we’ll do from one year to the next? They’ll surely think back to the days when we were friends with Saddam. Or Bin Laden. Maybe they’ll even remember that James Bond movie when our hero, then played by Timothy Dalton, was cavorting about Afghanistan with a tall, dark, bearded leader of the Afghan resistance and fighting together against the Soviets. You need a scorecard to figure out who our teammates are and who our enemies are from one season to the next. Thank God there’s not this much mobility in the NFL or the NBA.

Let’s leave aside the issues of shifting alliances, rhetoric, or even morality. Let’s see if there’s a greater lesson to be learned here. I say it’s this: given how friggen fickle and hypocritical all countries are, given how difficult it is to trust what a world leader says, and given how dangerous American weapons of mass destruction have become, it is incumbent on our nation to choose our wars very, very, very carefully. We can give this reason or that reason for invading, but who is going to believe us? And when we attack another country for reasons that aren’t readily apparent, but have to be unearthed from “secret intelligence,” you can believe that the world won’t support us and our enemies will fight us tooth and nail.

Then again, maybe we don’t care. What’s another 30 or 40 thousand American casualties? And what’s another trillion or two in debt? Once you’ve made this much of a mess, it doesn’t feel like you can dig any deeper.

Of course, no sooner do I say that than I see the grizzled faces of Biden and Dodd remind me of Dante. Just when you think you’ve found the deepest circle of Hell, there’s always another one deeper still.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


First it was Bill. He just wanted a little lovin’ from some big-haired women. And what happens? His Willie becomes a national obsession.

We all know the culprits – that nameless, and oh-so-vast right wing conspiracy. I guess I was part of it, even though I’ve never voted for a Republican, oppose capital punishment and virtually all American wars, and believe in using governmental tools to redistribute wealth to the poor. Yeah, I’m pretty right wing.

Anyway, right wing or not, I must have been part of the “conspiracy,” because I was mad at Willie. I blamed him for selling out liberal causes with his ambition-inspired triangulation. I blamed him once again because despite having basically promised that if we elected him he’d behave himself, and despite having later been sued for sexual harassment, he chose to get hummers from a young intern. Silly me, but I considered that reckless, deplorable conduct.

Willie’s wild rides – or if you believe his testimony, his pattern of hitting triples, but refusing to head for home – were perhaps the single biggest factor that elected George W. Bush. Al Gore, apparently another member of the “vast right wing conspiracy,” was so disgusted with his boss that he decided to campaign without him, essentially giving up the advantages of incumbency. In the closest of elections, that was all W needed to win Florida.

And then what happened after the Supreme Court selected our new President? We conspirators expressed our outrage at Willie for pardoning a fugitive, who happened to have given him lots of money. We thought that was a blatant misuse of the pardon power. Clearly, we weren’t being rational. Perhaps it was our “obsession” with Willie that clouded our judgment.

Now, here we are, 6 1/2 years later, and you’d think we conspirators would have found a new obsession. But no. We’re still insane when it comes to the Clintons. Who can think about anything else? Of course, for the most part, we’ve been giving Willie a rest and turned our attention mostly to his wife, who affectionately goes by the name of “Hill.”

Hill is a sharp cookie, fortunately for her, and she recognizes an obsession when she sees one. I can’t count the number of times during the past several months when she’s pointed out how utterly Hill-obsessed the Republican candidates are. They can’t stop mentioning her name. Truly, it’s like a mantra. And surely, their pathology has caused her to fear for her life, as one of those crazies is liable to go Postal at her expense. (My bet is on Romney. He’s the one who put the family dog in a crate on the roof of his car, and you know how most murderers start by torturing animals.)

Before Halloween week, poor Hill had a lot on her mind, wondering exactly which “obsessed” GOP candidate might finally lose it. But on October 30th, in a debate in Philadelphia, Hill’s week got positively Kubrickian. There she was, on a big stage, surrounded by men – friendly, liberal men, or so she thought. And what did they do? They went nuts! With the exception of Bill Richardson, they all ganged up on her – or to use the words of her campaign video, they “piled on.” Edwards, Obama and Dodd. Oh my! Edwards, Obama and Dodd. Oh my!

And only one night before Halloween.

Watching that spectacle, I was thinking back to A Clockwork Orange, and that scene when Billy Boy and his drugees were having their way with that weepy young devotchka. Fortunately, our hero, Little Alex, came to her rescue and helped her escape. But in Philly, there was no escape for poor lil’ Hill. One after another, her rivals demanded that she answer questions directly and decisively, and she … well, she did her best … but how’s a girl supposed to think clearly when everyone around her is obsessed with bringing her down?

And only one night before Halloween.

Part of the problem was that Tim Russert. He kept asking her follow-up questions, as if he had a right to know what she was really thinking, or to at least figure out the logic behind the answers she gave. Clearly, he’s also part of the vast right wing conspiracy. But after the debate was over and everyone had a chance to get a good nights sleep, a little sanity was allowed to emerge. ABC News ran a big story about a video that called out Hill’s rivals for breaking the rules of political combat. According to a statement that Hill approved, "With each attack, Senators Obama and Edwards undermined the central premises of their candidacies. The sunny speeches and rosy rhetoric that once characterized their remarks has now been replaced by the kinds of jabs one typically sees from candidates desperate to gain traction in the polls."

Imagine that – Obama and Edwards are so desperate they’re actually demanding that Hill answer questions. Some gentlemen! Now it’s true that Hill started a piling-on of her own last summer by ridiculing Obama’s statement that he’d talk to our enemies. But that was different. That wasn’t a bunch of men piling on a woman. That was only a bunch of white people piling on a black man. If you can’t understand the difference, just ask all the semi-educated women who are supplying Hill her big lead in the polls. They’ll tell you why what Obama is doing now is inappropriate, whereas what Hill did this past summer is just shrewd politics. For starters, Hill never said that she was nice, but Obama did, and we should hold him to that standard, right?

To be serious, I don’t know where we’re going next with this campaign, but at least it feels like a campaign now and not like we’re watching a bunch of old horses perfunctorily heading back to the stables. The October 30th debate, for the first time in months, reminded me that there’s actually a position being contested. Edwards, in particular, deserves praise for scoring debater’s points against Clinton, and she, for the first time in months, seemed to be off her game.

Also, I can now safely conclude that no matter how reasonable the provocation, whenever her rivals blast her, Hillary Clinton will play the victim. And she will play the gender card.

Perhaps that strategy will work with her core group of fans, but it only makes me even sicker of her than I already was. The truth is that few people are truly “obsessed” with Hillary Clinton. Men are usually obsessed by attractive women – and by “attractive,” I’m talking about personalities more than looks. In fact, far from being obsessed, the Republicans like to talk about Clinton because their party is falling apart and only a campaign against her could help save them from an inevitable loss next November.

Why do they consider Clinton so beatable? Because more than any other candidate in recent memory, she feels entitled to claim the presidency without even having to give one friggen direct and honest answer to anybody’s questions.

They used to call it the divine right of kings. For Hill, it’s the divine right of ex-first ladies. Or maybe it’s just another case of dyed-blond ambition. In any event, Hill is one woman who will say and do whatever it takes to get elected – except give a direct and honest answer to a question. If you want straight-talk, I think you’ve come to the wrong political process.