Saturday, March 29, 2008


While Democratic Party forces savage one another throughout much of America, Shiites from Iraq seem intent on doing the same to each other in their own home country. It’s not yet a story that captivates us here in the US of A – we’re falling back into our “It’s the Economy, Stupid,” phase, which is more or less our equilibrium state – but it might be a story that captivates us within a month or two if the Iraq Civil War deteriorates any further. You can attribute this not to our empathy for Iraqis but to the fact that the soldiers who are now primarily responsible for keeping the peace are Americans. The Iraqi Army, the one we have spent the last five years building up, is obviously not ready for the battle. If you took those boys and my beloved Stanford basketball team and sent them to Houston to fight Texas, I’d still take the Longhorns … and give the points.

This story should be a further reminder that some of my fellow liberals can be pretty glib when they talk about sternly wagging our fingers at the Iraqis, telling them that they better police themselves because we’re getting out of their country within a year or so. I’ve frequently heard the suggestion that the Iraqis should be able to handle such an exodus of US forces, and we should be able simply to wash our hands of the conflict without leaving the country in a Hellish state. That is way too Pollyannaish. As soon as we leave, the forces of chaos will come back to fill the vacuum and there will be civil war in Mesopotamia. Even we were to leave at a time of relative peace – like Basra was when the British left – as soon as our troops leave, whether it’s in ten months or in ten years, a killing field will replace us. You can bank on it.

So what’s my solution, then? McCain’s never-ending occupation? Not at all. I’d get out, just like my other fellow liberals suggest. But I’d do it with integrity.

We liberals often talk about the Iraqi Civil War like it is the Iraqis’ problem. McCain talks about it often like it is America’s problem. The fact of the matter, however, is that it is the world’s problem. Instability in that country can only lead to instability throughout the Middle East, not to mention a greater threat of terrorism worldwide. But the United States is in no position to police the place indefinitely. To begin, our military can’t take the pounding of a never-ending war. We can’t afford to do so and still hope to maintain morale in our forces, let alone to fight other wars in different countries (like Afghanistan, for example). Even if we wanted to stay indefinitely and continue to sacrifice our men and women in the Middle East the way they once sacrificed animals to the gods, we don’t have the military wherewithal to do so. Secondly, we don’t have the moral standing to police Iraq … at least not effectively. We’re not wanted there by huge segments of the population, and why should we be? After all, it was our ridiculous offensive, which was perpetrated for reasons known only to the neo-Cons, that fueled the flames of chaos. To McCain – who stupidly supported the offensive – that gives us the responsibility to finish the job, no matter how many years or decades that might take. But to me, it gives us the responsibility to apologize and get the hell out of Dodge, while leaving it in the hands of someone else.

But who? That’s the question, isn’t it? Who can we trust to put the genie back in the bottle?

I see two alternatives. Neither is any good. But both are preferable to the untenable status quo. First, after we publicly admit the absurdity of our own offensive, we can participate in a true multinational force, which would have as its goal overseeing a partition of the country along the lines previously formulated by Joe Biden. Yes, America can participate in such a force if it chooses to, but I don’t think we should take the lead in it. Even here in America, I’m used to hearing charges that our involvement in Iraq is motivated by imperialism and lust for oil. I can only imagine what percentage of Iraqis believe that. If an international force is to be respected and trusted as one that is interested simply in peace and justice for the region, it should be led by forces OTHER than Americans. I hate to type those words, but we’ve made such a mess of that area that I have no choice. That’s the price of being a superpower that invades a country for no apparent good reason.

The other alternative is one that should be attractive to the neo-Cons, if only they took off their “imperialism” hats and put back on the hats that they normally wear in discussing economic theory. Call it laissez-faire, call it social Darwinian, call it might-makes-right. Under this approach, we would simply leave the country, the Iraqis would then pursue their own individual or tribal interests and fight it out for a while, and at some point, the struggle would end and some group would prevail. Perhaps it would be loyal to Iran. Perhaps not. But the point is that we would deal with the victorious power the same way we now deal with Tehran and once dealt with Saddam Hussein – with disgust, to be sure, but also with the trust that it would be able ruthlessly to police its own dissenters.

Neither of these options thrills me. I have no idea that the internationally-overseen partition idea would be effective, and I have every idea that the social Darwinian idea would be horrible. But the idea of simply staying in Iraq for years on end, hemorrhaging soldiers, destroying our reputation internationally, and serving as witnesses to a never-ending civil war strikes me as absurd. We must take some decisive action. We cannot simply elect John McCain, pronounce him George III – or John McSame – and go back to “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” For starters, such an approach will, ironically, destroy our economy. The Iraq War is as expensive in dollars as it is in limbs. For every possible reason, “out of sight, out of mind” is no longer a tenable option.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian B.S. is lampoonable, but to do so is beneath me. So I’ll just state some facts straight up.

Hillary wasn’t simply “mistaken” when she claimed to have landed in Bosnia under enemy fire; she flat out lied. Consider her statement. “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

Pretty specific, don’t you think? Pretty graphic. It’s not the kind of thing that you can be innocently “mistaken” about when the truth is that you got off the plane, strutted over to meet with some big shots from the native country, and then had a nice photo-op with an eight year old girl. The only time that Hillary’s head was down was when she bent over to shake the little girl’s hand.

Hillary’s “apology”? A non-apology, of course. “I made a mistake. That happens. Proves I’m human, which for some people is a revelation.”

She said it like a true New Yorker, caustically shrugging it off like it’s no big deal. And then ending her comment with a put-down of her detractors. She conveyed no sense of remorse whatsoever.

Why did she tell the lie? She wanted to establish the purported basis for her candidacy: that her opponent is all talk, but she’s so experienced. This Bosnian “profile in courage” was supposed to establish that her experiences enable her to take that 3:00 a.m. phone call and excel … like John McCain could … but not Barack Obama. But why tell this particular untruth? Because she figured that since it happened twelve years ago, who could prove that she’s lying?

What she didn’t count on was that CBS News would have in their possession the equivalent of the semen-stained blue dress. Video tape doesn’t lie. So Hillary had to admit a mistake. What she didn’t have to admit – apparently -- was that the mistake mattered.

Does it really matter? Not to me. What matters to me is that Barack Obama won eleven primaries and caucuses in a row to take a roughly 160 pledged delegate lead, and he did it all fair and square and without hurling slime at his primary opponents. Then, when Hillary had her chance to close the gap in her chosen states of Texas and Ohio, she threw the kitchen sink at Barack – even comparing him unfavorably to the Republican candidate, a definite no-no – but still couldn’t close the gap at all. In fact, she might have lost even more delegates but for the fact that she was buttressed by “Operation Chaos,” which is what Rush Limbaugh calls his campaign to persuade Republicans to vote for Hillary in order to cause chaos in the Democratic Party. As a result, Hillary is left without any meaningful chance to win the pledged delegate race.

In the past two weeks, two things have been established. First, when Barack’s back is against the wall, he can deliver an intellectually stimulating and courageous speech. Second, when Hillary’s back is against the wall, she can flat out lie and not bat an eyelash when she’s caught. One thing, though, was already established even before this fortnight began: for Hillary Clinton to win this nomination, she will have to – in the words of her most powerful supporter, Rush Limbaugh – “steal the nomination.” Why are so many Democrats fighting for her to do just that? Seriously, why? I truly don’t get it. Maybe someone out there can explain it to me.

It will be interesting over the next few days to see if the Big Lie will cost Hillary some traction with the Superdelegates. Rush Limbaugh had to plead incessantly with his supporters today to ignore the Lie and continue to stay with Operation Chaos. If the Superdelegates continue to sit on their hands and idly watch Clinton stab at Barack's knees, I’m going to be flat out of explanations ... other than that Rush is even more powerful than I had thought.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


This past week, America has grappled with the “sin” of Barack Obama. It seems that he has been caught red-handed. No, not in the same way as Elliot Spitzer, but in perhaps a more disturbing way in the eyes of many. Spitzer, I recently read, was merely suffering from a “sex addiction,” and is now in the process of getting cured. (Of course it’s B.S. – nearly all men are addicted to sex, but most of us don’t abuse innocent people and live lies in order to procure it.) By contrast, Obama, it has been said, has revealed himself to have, not just a flaw in his character, but a flaw in the trait that was supposedly his best feature – his judgment. That’s right, boys and girls. The talking heads have passed judgment on Barack’s judgment. He might be able to deliver great speeches at the drop of a hat, but there’s no debating that he grievously erred in associating himself for twenty years with that Monster of the Midway, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Obama has been criticized lately by just about every commentator who associates himself with the party of the elephant. But what is especially notable is that he’s being criticized by certain liberal commentators as well. Most recently, I was listening to Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen decry Obama’s judgment in connection with the Wright scandal. This is a new kind of sin for a politician, folks – attending the wrong kind of religious services, and attending them too often. If only Obama were like most politicians and didn’t give a crap about religion, he would never come under Cohen’s scrutiny. He could go to church on the odd occasion, press some flesh, smile for the cameras, and declare himself “Christian,” when in fact he thinks it’s all a bunch of B.S. That’s OK. But what’s not OK is for him to be a sincere Christian who frequently attends the services of a church where one of its ministers says thing that he doesn’t agree with. Now that shows bad judgment. He should quit … and keep moving from church to church, all the while searching for the minister who says just the right, politically correct things. That would show good judgment for a politician … at least according to Obama’s critics.

Personally, I suspect that most of these critics, liberal or conservative, have one thing in common – they probably aren’t very religious. Why do I say that? Consider the following quotation, which comes from the one Presidential candidate who made spirituality the central theme in his campaign. And I’ll give you a hint – it’s not Hillary “Throw the Kitchen Sink at Him” Clinton.

"[Y]ou can't hold the candidate responsible for everything that people around him may say or do. It's interesting to me that there are some people on the left who are having to be very uncomfortable with what ... Wright said, when they all were all over a Jerry Falwell, or anyone on the right who said things that they found very awkward and uncomfortable, years ago. Many times those were statements lifted out of the context of a larger sermon. Sermons, after all, are rarely written word for word by pastors like Rev. Wright, who are delivering them extemporaneously, and caught up in the emotion of the moment. There are things that sometimes get said, that if you put them on paper and looked at them in print, you'd say 'Well, I didn't mean to say it quite like that.' …

"As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say 'That's a terrible statement!' ... I grew up in a very segregated South. And I think that you have to cut some slack -- and I'm gonna be probably the only conservative in America who's gonna say something like this, but I'm just tellin' you -- we've gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names..."

Those, my friends, were the words of Mike Huckabee, himself a minister. He knows full well that just because you attend a church doesn’t mean that you agree with its clergy about matters of politics or theology. Huckabee also knows that just because a black minister says some stupid, angry words about the white American establishment, doesn’t make him a monster. Truly, there is no such thing as an inspired preacher who hasn’t said stupid, angry things on occasion. It goes with the territory.

When I think about all the non-religious people piling on Barack for his relationship to Wright, I can only laugh at my own relationship with a certain Senior Rabbi. I’d still be listening to this guy preach if he hadn’t helped to lead a coup to get rid of the cantor and Associate Rabbi who were the real reasons why I loved the synagogue so much. The Senior Rabbi once said to me that he and I agree about “practically nothing.” And I’ve heard one person after another tell me how furious the Senior Rabbi was with me about things that I’ve done or said. But still … if the Board of Trustees at the Temple had merely stood up to the guy and kept the other two clergymen, I’d still be at synagogue a couple of times each month, listening to this guy preach one thing after another that I found fundamentally wrong. Why? Because I don’t go to a synagogue primarily to listen to a guy spout out wisdom. I go to feel the unique sense of spirituality that is only possible when large numbers of people come together in prayer. I gather that in the case of Reverend Wright’s church, a truly large number of people came to pray together. For anyone to second guess Barack Obama in choosing to remain at such a church … well, let’s just say that Thomas Jefferson, who aimed to create a “Wall of Separation” between church and state, is probably still rolling in his Monticello grave.

Political scientists and sociologists will, for years, look back at this past week and think primarily about the incredible speech that Barack Obama gave about racial relations in America. And perhaps it was just as well that Cohen and Geraldine Ferraro joined their new right-wing buddies in slamming Barack for his connection to Wright, for if not for those slams, Barack would likely have avoided giving such an important speech. Still, to a guy like me, even Barack’s speech is missing the main point here. Eradicating racism is vitally important, don’t get me wrong, but nothing is more crucial than protecting our freedom of religion. I want to live in a country where anyone – politician, pediatrician or pawn-broker – feels free to walk into a church, synagogue or mosque without fear of being condemned for that decision. I want to live in a country where people are encouraged to speak viscerally from the pulpit, without fear that anything controversial that comes out of their mouths will someday come back to haunt their parishioners. And finally, I want to live in a country where every time a truly inspired leader expresses the willingness to throw his or her hat in the political ring, the media doesn’t search desperately for scandals that would bring down the candidacy, especially when that scandal is based on nothing more than walking into a pew at a large, mainstream church and attending a service.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


I first heard the news about Eliot Spitzer in the form of an e-mail from a friend. There was no link provided to a published news story, just the bare fact that the Governor New York was caught in some sort of prostitution sting operation. My initial reaction was that this was some kind of joke. Spitzer was probably the most successful law enforcer of my generation. And he was, from all appearances, happily married to the same woman for two decades. He would be the last person to get involved in a tawdry mess, right? Uh … guess not.

Typically, I don’t care too much about these much-hyped scandals, but this one is different. Spitzer, you see, is someone I’ve admired for quite some time, despite the fact that he’s symbolized my own sense of inadequacy. If you go to the Harvard Law School Class of ’84 yearbook, you’ll find his picture next to mine. He looks like an upstanding, clean cut young man; I look like a friggen terrorist (no exaggeration). But there we are, next to each other, and for years, the juxtaposition of the two faces has been a reminder that there are actually people in the Class of ’84 who have really made something of their lives.

Frequently, I look at celebrities and scoff at their contributions to society. What has Britney Spears meaningfully contributed? Or Paris Hilton? Nada. What about Karl Rove? Or Lee Atwater? A lot, really, but most of it has been pernicious. But then you have people like Eliot Spitzer. From my perspective, which admittedly was somewhat from afar, Spitzer did an amazing job of cleaning up the excesses on Wall Street. Yes, I’ve heard law enforcers whine about the guy being a show boater and a glory hog, yet at the end of the day, I suspect that he has done more to deter corporate fraud and abuse in the last twenty years than any other American. From a sheer utilitarian perspective, he truly was a hero, especially to those of us in the law enforcement community who have toiled in similar directions but without the same results. It was no surprise when the good people of New York – Republicans as well as Democrats -- elected him as Governor by a huge margin. There were those of us who thought that he might actually turn out to be the first Jewish-American President in our nation’s history.

Uh … guess not.

As I began devouring the news stories this week, I realized just how poorly I had understood this man. I’m not just talking about the “double life,” I’m talking about the extent of the machismo that he brought to his trade as a law enforcer. I don’t like bullies of any stripe, but I’m particularly offended when I see bullying in government. Those of us who are paid by taxpayer dollars should always be respectful of those who pay our freight and trust us with protecting their welfare. As regulators and law enforcers, once we start losing our humility, it’s time to start looking for another job.

The Elliot Spitzer I read about this week – the one who referred to himself as a “F___ing steamroller” – was probably better suited for a public defender’s job than that of a prosecutor. Utility aside, I want my prosecutors to be more gentle. But I will never deny Spitzer his accomplishments. The Wall Street of the 80s did get out of hand, and we probably needed a “F___ing steamroller” to shake things up and control the excesses. So, I’ll forgive Spitzer his own excesses and congratulate him for a job well done as Attorney General. What I can’t congratulate him for – what I can’t yet forgive him for – is what he did to the woman known to me as Silda Wall.

Silda was one of the first people I met in law school. She was the coordinator of my Orientation Group, or O-Group as it was commonly known. Back when I was at the law school, Harvard broke up its classes into four sections of about 135 students, and broke up each section into about 8 O-Groups. The purpose of the O-Group was to give 1-Ls an opportunity to meet one another in an environment other than those alienating, stifling classrooms that have become immortalized in movies like The Paper Chase. The members of each O-Group would have two or three get-togethers in the first semester of law school, and then would go on their merry ways. I don’t know whether this was customary or not, but several members of my O-Group became lifelong friends.

Every O-Group was coordinated by a 2-L or 3-L whose job it was not only to plan the events, but also to give us some sense of perspective about what was about to hit us at Harvard. I considered myself fortunate that our group was led by Silda Wall. She was clearly a breath of fresh air on that campus. In contrast to the typical uptight Harvard Law student, Silda was a nice, friendly girl-next-door type who hailed from North Carolina. She was, by anyone’s definition, physically beautiful. As for her intelligence, I had no way of knowing this at the time, but she ended up graduating Magna Cum Laude from the school, meaning that she finished in the top eighth of the class. Yeah, I’d say Elliot got himself one hell of a catch, wouldn’t you?

Silda must have taken a year off from school, because she ended up graduating in ’84 in the same class as me, Elliot, and my own wife, Kathy. Kathy and I were married 20 years ago, Silda and Elliot got married a year or two before that. I simply assumed that they were the ideal couple – filthy rich (thanks to Elliot’s parents), extraordinarily powerful, public spirited, and, presumably, very much in love.

This week, we all saw pictures of Silda standing by her man as he “accepted responsibility” for the misdeeds that he called “private.” Looking at those pictures, I was a jumble of emotions. Mostly, I was shocked. Somehow, this hero of mine had turned a beautiful woman into a portrait of despair – for that’s what she looked like, someone whose spirit had died. To a lesser degree, I was also angry. “How dare he do this?” I thought. “How dare he put his family through this humiliation? And once he got caught, how dare he create this ‘mug shot’ of his wife for all of us to remember?”

But those weren’t my only emotions. The next one was disgust – this time with Silda when I heard it said that she was the strongest voice who was discouraging him from resigning his position as Governor. That emotion went away quickly, however. I can only imagine what Silda is going through and how unbearable it must be simply to push herself out of bed and face the world every morning. I wouldn’t even begin to second-guess her judgment for another month or two when it comes to advising her husband on career moves. To those who condemn her for “standing by her man,” I only remind them of the old Indian adage – “Do not judge people until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.” I doubt you’ll find too many volunteers for Silda’s moccasins right now. What he did to her is unspeakable.

Most of the commentators who have looked at this situation have fixated on the concept of “hubris.” Another HLS classmate, the Washington Post Op-Ed writer Ruth Marcus, focused on Spitzer’s hubris in comparing him to a character from a Greek tragedy. True enough. But Marcus’ real point was that figures like Spitzer have been around for thousands of years, making the same kinds of awful mistakes. More specifically, powerful people have, time and again, decided that the rules of morality don’t apply to them and that – being omniscient as well as omnipotent – they’re too intelligent to get caught. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That’s why Silda’s tragedy is Letterman’s comedy.

“Hubris” probably is the key word here. But, to me, “private” is a close second. Spitzer brushed off his responsibility to the public by saying that this was a “private” matter. And in doing so, he evoked memories of Monicagate, when one Democrat after another blasted the “vast right-wing conspiracy” by saying that the GOP was making a mountain out of a molehill, elevating the “private” matter of Bill Clinton’s sex life into a grave affair of state.

I don’t buy Spitzer’s “privacy” point now, and I didn’t buy it back in the 90s when it was cited on behalf of Clinton. Back then, I was one of the few liberal Democrats who hoped Bill would resign, and I am happy to see that Spitzer ignored Silda’s advice and did just that. In the ideal world, prostitution would be decriminalized, consenting adults would be able to do whatever they care to do with their bodies, and the rest of us would mind our own business. But this isn’t the ideal world. This isn’t even libertine Europe. This is America, or “Amurica” – however it’s pronounced by those who live in it – and both Clinton and Spitzer understood full well the ruling morality in this culture when they decided to run for high office.

Whenever a Bill Clinton or an Eliot Spitzer campaigns to be the head of state, he implicitly pledges that he will do nothing to undermine his ability to work for the best interests of his electorate. And that, in turn, means that he will never destroy his own credibility in the eyes of that electorate.

As he took office in the face of the Jennifer Flowers scandal, Bill Clinton knew that his sex life would be in the public sights. In his appearance with Hillary Clinton on 60 Minutes, he had all but assured us that he would behave, and many of us (stupidly) believed him. Then, when the Paula Jones suit was filed, he had to know that his sex life would be the subject of continued scrutiny. And still, even then, he took up with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” It was hubris, folks – pure, unadulterated hubris, just like his decision to stay in office afterwards. And just look at the results of that decision -- (1) the Iraq War (the margin of victory in the 2000 Election in Florida was surely provided by the distance that Gore felt he must place between himself and his boss), and (2) quite possibly, 9/11 (Clinton couldn’t afford to take decisive military action against Al Qaeda, lest he be accused of “wagging the dog” to take people’s minds off of Monica). So to those who say that they’re glad that Clinton didn’t resign in the face of such a phony, Republican-created scandal, I would remind you that the price of defending that reckless, arrogant man was many thousand lives and literally trillions of dollars. Was it worth it?

Elliot Spitzer, no doubt buying into the traditional Democratic Party B.S. that the Clinton scandal was virtually all the Republicans’ fault, refused to learn from Bill’s mistakes and keep his pants zipped. But at least he learned one thing – when your dick gets stuck in the zipper, it’s time to get that dick out of the public domain. I wish him the best, now that he has resigned, in fixing his private life. As for his wife Silda, I’m still a fan. And for all of those people who would criticize her as an “enabler” for the way she handled her first week as a shock victim, perhaps they need to walk a mile in her moccasins. Call it shock therapy.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


On Wednesday morning, Barack Obama will have a choice. The Mississippi primary will be over – the blacks there will vote for him, and the whites against him – but there will be enough blacks among the Democratic primary voters to give him a victory, which will make it two victories in a row, three out of the last six contests, and 14 out of the last 17. Real Clear Politics will indicate that his pledged delegate lead exceeds 150, or perhaps 160, and he will seem like the inevitable winner of the “pledged” delegate contest. Intrade, the political betting market, which presently lists him at roughly 72%, will likely place him at 75 or higher. In short, some of the MoJo that the Spin Doctor Evils of the world had temporarily taken from him will have returned. Somewhat.

So, he will have a choice. He can follow his heart, and jet off to Europe, Israel, Arabia, and the Far East. In that trip, he could meet lots of world leaders, deepen his appreciation for world conditions as they exist right now, not as they appear from some stale briefing book, and … well, and take in some incredible museums and other historical treasures. Man, that sounds good to me.

Alternatively, he can follow the dictates of his mind … and jet off to Scranton, and then Harrisburg, followed by Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh, Pottstown, and … isn’t there another town in Pennsylvania beginning with “P”? Oh yeah, Portage. Once there, he can hang out with “real Americans,” the kind who, according to the Governor of the Great State of Pennsylvania, refused to vote for gubernatorial candidate and Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann because he was black. And somehow, he could figure out a way to talk their language so that, by April 20th, he could seal the deal … and then go to Europe!

What do I think Barack should do? The answer is found in the title of this blog – “Empathic Rationalist.” As you all remember from The Creed Room, Empathic Rationalism holds that no human characteristic is more sacred than empathy, which must become the fundamental rudder that guides us through life. Comparatively speaking, the voice of reason calls us less often and is difficult to hear. But whenever it does call us, we must listen. And this time, it ought to be calling Barack. Stay home, brother. Fly to Philly, and then take that winding, congested, miserable road known as the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Pittsburgh. I still don’t know how I have survived 47 years given the number of times I’ve driven that thing. That road – and not Hillary Clinton – is the real monster.

So why should Barack put Pennsylvania over Pakistan? There are multiple reasons. First, he needs to stay competitive not merely in the overall delegate count but also in the overall popular vote. His lead in that category can eviscerate rapidly, assuming Hillary gets a do-over in Florida (Michigan should be close, but Florida shouldn’t), if she can take him down badly in PA. Right now, his lead is 590,000, having lost 325,000 in Texas and Ohio – and Texas was really close. If he loses the popular vote, that will give the Clintonistas the argument they sorely need to steal the election. The “Big State” argument or “Swing State” argument doesn’t resonate with anyone except the already-biased, but the popular vote argument will resonate more with an electorate who is still steamed about Gore v. Bush. Believe me, I still think the argument is B.S. – this game was supposed to be about delegates, before Clinton’s people tried to rig it – but others might buy into it. That’s why Barack needs to fight not merely for every delegate, but for every vote.

Secondly, and more importantly, Barack can’t be seen for what he really is – which is the dirtiest word in American politics. He must go to Pottstown and show everyone there that he belongs, that he eats what they eat, drinks what they drink, watches what they watch, and drives what they drive. He’ll have plenty of time to see the Sorbonne later, but now, he must go to a different classroom, and incorporate into his rhetoric the lessons learned in the land known for high school quarterbacks and college linebackers. This may be his last chance to learn the most important lesson of American politics. Never, I mean never, come across primarily as an intellectual.

Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, the winner of a 1964 Pulitzer Prize, describes an America that is very recognizable 40-odd years later. During the interim we have seen such events as Ronald Reagan rope a dope the Democratic establishment with a simpleton act, and George H.W. Bush, the Yalie, ridicule Michael Dukakis for being an intellectual from Harvard. Hoftstadter carefully examined America in the 50s, which political junkies may recall as the time when the intellectual Adlai Stevenson flamed out not once but twice as the Democratic Presidential nominee. Here’s how Hoftstadter described the way intellectuals were perceived by the public:

“Intellectuals, it may be held, are pretentious, conceited, effeminate, and snobbish; and very likely immoral, dangerous, and subversive. The plain sense of the common man, especially if tested by success in some demanding line of practical work, is an altogether adequate substitute for, if not actually much superior to, formal knowledge and expertise acquired in the schools. [T]he discipline of the heart, and the old-fashioned principles of religion and morality, are more reliable guides to life than an education which aims to produce minds responsive to new trends in thought and art.”

One of the things that most characterizes an intellectual is the recognition that the ends do not justify the means. In other words, true intellectuals are devoted to principles – whether they involve the principles of logic or those of ethics. It’s that devotion to principles – and not the absence of “toughness” – that prevents Barack from copying the approach that the Clinton campaign has termed the “kitchen sink,” which is just another term for wallowing in the mud. Intellectuals don’t do that. They have too elevated a sense of self, too much pride, to behave in a way that violates basic ethical rules. An intellectual is willing to tie one hand behind his back in order to comport with ethical guidelines, but he isn’t willing to tie both. Barack is willing to fight Hillary – and even take her on at times – but the kitchen sink? I think he’d rather lose an election than lose his pride.

And that’s how it should be. Personally, I don’t want to see Barack lower himself like Hillary has. I don’t want to see him question her religion, or compare her unfavorably to John McCain (however apt those comparisons might be). But I do want to see him learn a bit more about how to connect with the NASCAR crowd. I’m not just thinking about what he needs to win the nomination, or even the general election. I’m thinking about what he needs to make the same kind of sale among the American people that Rush Limbaugh and Company made when they sold “Amuricans” against amnesty for illegal aliens. It would sure be nice if Barack could engage in a Vulcan mind-meld, like the one that Mr. Spock used to connect telepathically to a creature made of silicon. I’d love it if Barack could meld with the blue-collar, high school educated, and (in many cases) racist citizens that abound in so many rust belt and southern states. That would go a long way to helping him communicate effectively on such issues as health care reform, global warming, and the use of American armaments or diplomacy overseas.

One of Barack’s best moments in this campaign – and one of the Clintons’ slimiest – was when he praised Ronald Reagan, and she attacked him for that praise. Reagan elevated to an art form the way you have to communicate to the very voters that have eluded Barack so far. You need to come across as honest, speaking from the gut, and guided by common sense above all else. Remember the Hofstadter quotation – the “plain sense of the common man” is viewed as the highest of all oracles in mid-America. Barack has impeccable judgment. He should have no trouble connecting with that plain sense. He just needs to learn a bit better how to communicate that connection.

But let me not end this on a quibbling note. Barack is doing an amazing job in this campaign. Yes, he had a bad day or two just before the New Hampshire primary, and yes, he had a worse few days just before the Ohio and Texas primaries, and yes, he must be absolutely exhausted at the moment – if not shell shocked by the prospect that the Democratic establishment is allowing a candidate who lost 11 primaries and caucuses in a row to skewer her opponent viciously. Still, when you take the view from 30,000 feet, it is incredible that he is now, according to Real Clear Politics, 437 delegates away from clinching the nomination with 1,015 delegates yet to hear from. And he’s accomplished what he’s accomplished in the face of a huge institutional advantage by his competitor (reflected in the Super Delegate totals at the outset of the race) and as a result of both profoundly inspired speeches and increasingly solid debate performances. In the process, he has brought an incredible number of new voters into the political process and has ignited the passions of voters of all ages. What he’s done to inspire my 15 year old daughter is priceless.

Does Barack still have stuff to learn? Sure. Might he learn some of it in Altoona and Erie? I suspect so. But even if he jets off to London and points East, he will still have my support, and my faith in his chances. One thing’s for sure – when the Clintons try to turn this Pennsylvania primary into a “do or die” for both candidates, I will crack up at the idiocy of that suggestion. The “intellectual” in me is too devoted to the rules of the game to take seriously the idea that one candidate can claim victory by deciding, halfway through the contest, that only a few states matter, and particularly those states in which the polls gave her an advantage from the start. The truth is that there is no one do or die state for Barack. If, as I suspect, he wins Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oregon, and holds his own in Indiana (which collectively will involve 272 delegates, or 70 percent more than Pennsylvania), he’ll be fine. Remember, to an intellectual, there is nothing more beautiful than math.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Why don't we only seat delegates from the big states at the "Democratic" convention?

Or better yet, for those states with especially large populations of African-Americans, why don't we only allot them only 3/5ths as many delegates? That sounds like the proper proportion, especially for Southern states, wouldn't you say?

Seriously, though, if Clinton loses the pledged delegate count but wins the nomination, here's my suggested olive branch to the Obama supporters -- could the Party at least have the class to change its name?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Those are the questions all Americans should be asking this morning. Are we witnessing a momentary downturn in the inevitable path to an Obama nomination? Or has Hillary Clinton figured out a way to take down her rival once and for all?

I could be glib and answer your question, but the name of this blog is called "Empathic Rationalist." So I must tell you the truth -- I don't know the answer.

Most likely, Obama will win. That's what the betting markets say, and they're logical in saying so. He has a big enough lead among pledged delegates that, barring a truly bizarre twist, she won't be able to catch him there, even if they do a re-vote in Michigan and Florida. Ultimately, the pledged delegates SHOULD BE what matters, at least if this party is worthy of its name. After all, could you imagine the Democratic Party issuing a battle cry in Gore v Bush other than "let's re-count the votes in Florida to see which candidate deserves the most delegates from the people's vote?" Once you depart from that pledged-delegate standard, you're opening up yourself to charges of arbitrarily changing the rules in the middle of the game.

But, and it's a BIG but, the Democratic party leaders may not care so much about following the rules of a truly democratic game. They may look for a pretext to select the candidate that they feel is strongest at the time of the convention. If they're so inclined, they would love to find a pretext that smacks of being democratic, and what sounds more democratic than looking at the results of the aggregate popular vote? Assuming they do a re-vote in Michigan and Florida, Hillary really could overtake Barack in the overall popular vote. As of now, she's down 600,000, and she caught up by more than 300,000 in last night's contest alone. I could see her catching up another couple of hundred thousand in Pennsylvania, and even more in Florida. Get the picture?

In fact, even if she loses both the popular vote and the pledged delegate contest, I still wouldn't put it past the superdelegates to look at the overall trend line. Barack won twelve in a row, Hillary has now won three. I expect that trend to stop momentarily, with elections in Wyoming and Mississippi, but if she wins Pennsylvania (in which she's favored), then who knows how far her momentum might carry her in the months of May and June. In short, given that the party elders aren't likely after last night to step in to support Barack, the Fat Lady isn't even warming up, let alone singing, just yet.

Let's leave aside the trees for a moment and look at the forest -- or, to return to the metaphor at the top, let's look at this from 30,000 feet. Barack built a huge lead in the count that matters most and it's still his to lose. He's like a football team that's up by ten points reasonably late in the game. All he needs to do is figure out a way to come close to holding his own going forward, and he should win. My concern is that he's never been in this situation before, so I just can't guarantee that he can get the job done. To be specific, he's never been in the situation where he's been getting relentlessly bashed by everyone and anyone other than the minority of the talking heads who are firmly in his quarter.

Just think about it. McCain and Hillary, and especially the latter, are taking on Obama full bore. Hillary feels justified in mocking him, maligning him ... and throwing out every kind of disgusting innuendo she can envision, and she's getting a free pass in doing so from the media. Why? Consider that half of the talking heads are Republicans, and they want to see Hillary steal the election so that they can mop up the Democrats in the fall. Rush Limbaugh is even telling Republicans to vote for Hillary so as to throw the Democratic Party into chaos. He, like the other Republican talking heads, surely realizes that if the Democratic party elders ignore the results of the pledged delegate count, a number of us will reflexively cast protest votes for McCain.

As for the Democratic analysts, many of them back Hillary, so they're going to let her throw mud and see if it sticks (which it has so far). Many others are intimidated by the Clinton argument that because the media has bent over backwards to help Obama, it's time to see if he can take a little pounding. And still others just want to see a "horse race." (It's good for ratings, right?) The result is that Obama has been getting bashed relentlessly and Hillary has been rewarded for doing so.

Yes, I know. I'm forgetting the obvious. Why hasn't Obama fought back? Why does he continue to persist in acting like he's running against McCain, and not Hillary? Aren't those the $64,000 questions? Five months ago, I might have speculated that he simply didn't have the belly for an intra-party fight. But I don't think that's the case any more. I truly believe he's trying to take the high road because he's concluded that if this becomes an intra-party blood bath, he might win the nomination, but McCain would win the election. Nobody can deny that that proposition is true. The problem is that the media might be giving Barack no choice. I don't see how he holds Hillary off is she continues to be given a free pass in her campaign, which is about as relentlessly negative and slimy a primary campaign as I've seen in my life, at least on a Presidential level. (On top of everything else that she and her husband said, didn't you just love her how she equivocated when asked if she thought Barack was a secret Muslim? Yes, folks, that is slime -- John McCain would never stoop to that, nor would Obama.)

I predict that Barack will look to see how the party elders respond to this last round of campaigning, consider how much momentum he can generate from Wyoming and Mississippi, and then re-assess whether he is gathering superdelegates at a pace consistent with his clear pledged-delegate advantage. If he does not see a major momentum change in his direction, I think he will fight back. And I believe he can do it effectively enough to hold off Clinton. But yes, there could be a price. Fortunately for me, as much as I love Barack, I could live with McCain ... much more easily than with Clinton.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Yes, it still makes me laugh to see the Clintonistas and the right-wing columnists join together to mock me and my fellow "Obamaniacs" as cultists. If that is a cult, it is a movement of moderate and progressive people who are simply sick and tired of living in a country where, to be a moderate or a progressive, you're supposed to be cynical, fearful of change, and essentially uninvolved in the process of political change (other than to whine and, on occasion, to vote). Nobody thinks Barack is the be-all-end-all of politics. He simply is the vehicle for gathering people together who remembered how right-wing talk radio singlehandedly killed the immigration bill, and would like to see moderates/progressives get off their butts and fight back. Whether it's a fight for health care, to minimize climate change, or to work for peace in the Middle East, we want to join together and DEMAND progress. In the past, progressive changes have only taken place when the leaders who supported such changes were backed by an outspoken citizenry. The top-down model advocated by the Clintons might get us a conservative welfare-reform package or a NAFTA, but not the kind of things that Hillary likes to promise to her Democratic voters. That's why the intelligent right-wingers hate Barack so much. They realize that, because he can lead a mass movement of active citizens, he might actually get something done.

But enough. This is supposed to be the calm before the storm, right? In two days, we will have "Super Tuesday" -- as opposed to Super, Duper Tuesday, which occurred last month. This Tuesday should either be the day that locks up the nomination for Barack, or emboldens the Clintons to fight all the way to the convention. (Yes, there is a scenario where she quits after the late primaries, but I'm thinking that if she soldiers on much past March 4th, she'll take her shots with the superdelegates ... ugh!) Maybe we who don't live in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island or Vermont can take a break from the festivities to think about something else ... at least for a couple of days. I know. Why not think about Oregon?

For those of you who have forgotten, we have a Senate race out there among two people who are trying to unseat the only incumbent Republican Senator on the West Coast. One of them, Jeff Merkley, is well ahead in the fundraising contest and has the most endorsements from party leaders. The other, Steve Novick, is ahead in the polls. Novick, my old friend from law school, is making that happen with the help of some advertisements conceived by the same braintrust that helped Russ Feingold storm through Wisconsin. They saw in Novick the kind of candidate who can truly inspire people -- with his intelligence, passion, courage, and above all else, his sense of humor.

I'm curious if you all have gone onto You Tube and checked out Novick's political ads and other videos. For example, have you seen the Fox News show that featured Novick's "beer" ad? What's quite amazing about Novick is that the guy is further to the left than I am -- if that's possible, right? -- and yet the right-wingers love him. Why? Because he doesn't take himself too seriously, and he has the kind of playful approach to politics that is so rare among liberals, who generally talk as if conservatives are evil people who should feel ashamed of themselves.

In the era of Obama, Novick is an altogether different politician than Barack. His rhetoric is sharp and pointed. He doesn't try to be everyone's friend. He speaks against the forces of conservatism with sharp political rhetoric, and yet they still don't mind him, because he spends the rest of his time making fun of himself. Novick is the kind of guy that you really can see yourself having a beer with, regardless of your political views, and you know that after he tosses a couple, he'll start speaking out against the wimpiness in his own party every bit as much as the wackos in the GOP.

Anyway, I'd rather not sing his praises any more today. I'd rather you discover him for yourselves. Just go to You Tube, search for Novick videos, and enjoy the shows. Then tell me what you think? Am I exaggerating, or is this just the kind of guy America needs to tell truth to power? I don't always agree with Steve, but I always trust that he's speaking from the heart and with the best interests of the "little guy" at heart. I've never, in fact, met a person more devoted to the interests of the working class than Steve Novick.