Saturday, June 28, 2008


In the past, I have scrupulously avoided talking about this Administration’s position on legal issues generally and its Department of Justice in particular. It has been tough some times to follow that policy, especially when the topic concerns something like torture, about which I feel so strongly. (Let’s just say that, unlike some former DOJ officials, I can unequivocally announce my opposition to burying people alive … though I did really enjoy watching Uma Thurman dig herself out of a coffin in Kill Bill 2. ) Still, if you are going to take money as an employee of the DOJ, you ought to have the class not to publicly bite the hand that feeds you. Right?

Well, today I’m going to violate my own policy and talk critically about the practices at my Department under George W. Bush. My rationale is that the Administration’s official position is that the practices at issue are indefensible. Supposedly, we all agree that what took place when the Department hired attorneys under its “Honors Program” was inappropriate. And yet it happened. Over and over again, perpetrated by one DOJ official after another, it happened – 30ish right wingers pored over resumes of law students and weeded out those who sounded like maybe, just maybe, they could be liberals. They could have been top students at Harvard or Yale, but that didn’t matter. If they had something on their resume that demonstrated a commitment to something like planned parenthood or even “social justice” … let’s just say that they weren’t wanted at the Department of Justice. Better to take any fresh faced Southerner or Midwesterner from real America. Lower test scores? Fewer accomplishments? No problem. Political conservatives were in demand at my beloved DOJ and liberals were persona non grata.

You can’t find anyone today with the stones to go on TV and defend the practice I’ve just described. Clearly, though, that practice had its advocates at fairly high levels, otherwise it wouldn’t have been carried out by multiple officials. As a person who has to work with these new hires, I would sorely love to find out who is responsible for this outrage. Whoever it was (or were), these policy makers are nothing less than saboteurs of our nation’s Government. It’s really that simple.

Let me begin by saying that on this issue, I do practice what I preach. Routinely, I’m called upon to recommend the hiring of expert witnesses or consultants for the Government, and sometimes these individuals’ resumes indicate their political or religious views are likely much more conservative than my own. To me, taking those differences into account would be a violation of my obligations to this country. My job is to ensure that we hire the most ethical, intelligent, and accomplished people. Politics and religion have no part whatsoever in this analysis.

That attitude is easy for me to take, though, because I respect the institutions of Government. It’s much tougher, I suspect, when you come to the Department after years and years of drinking the anti-Government Kool-Aid spewed out by Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, and the other “philosophers” of the right. When Dittoheads find themselves working on Pennsylvania Avenue, they so often bring with them antipathy to the entire civil service project. They resent “do-gooders” who could be making bazillions of dollars working for law firms but choose instead to work to protect the environment, enforce laws against corporate fraud, or advocate the rights of consumers. To the Dittohead, these “paternalistic” do-gooders need to get the hell out of Washington and get a real job. And to Dittoheads, there are only two kinds of real jobs: private sector jobs and military jobs. The last I checked, DOJ jobs are neither.

The hiring practices that have caused such shame to the Administration can be directly traced to the level of anti-Government rhetoric on our airwaves. That rhetoric is harmful on so many levels – it has caused people to vote for unqualified politicians simply because they bash Washington or to mistrust the proposals of statesmen and women simply because they happen to be “liberal Democrats.” And now, it has caused professionals who find themselves in civil service positions to take steps to ensure that their colleagues are unqualified based on any traditionally accepted measure of merit. Perhaps even Rush would think that things have gotten a little out of hand.

The fact is that no matter how right wing you are, I suspect you support most of what the Department of Justice stands for. “Conservatism” doesn’t condone, for example, criminal or fraudulent conduct; read Adam Smith if you don’t want to take my word for it. So why then hamstring our ability to prosecute such conduct? Why refuse to accept the services of most intellectually accomplished law students? Like I said, the practices at issue are indefensible … but they’re unfortunately not inexplicable. They are signs of the times, an era when our nation has become so ideologically polarized that many on the right simply can’t bring themselves to respect those on the left. Hopefully, those of my fellow liberals who read this will take note of what happened at DOJ and remember that if and when the liberals return to power, we should be as respectful of our Heritage Society candidates as they were disrespectful of us.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Father’s Day is but 1/365th of the year, and yet at times, it can seem so much more profound. That was certainly the case this year – for me, and for many other people throughout the nation.

My Father’s Day began in a rather self-indulgent way. I updated my website ( to add a page for my newest “child”: Moses the Heretic. If you’re not familiar with that name, then for heaven’s sake, go to the website and check it out. The page is still a work in progress, but you will hopefully find enough there to pique your curiosity about my latest writing project. The “child” will be born on August 11, 2008, or at least that is the current plan. Wish it luck; it will need it. (It’s a tough market for philosophical novels, in case you just got off the boat and didn’t know that.)

After announcing my new novel, I spent some time celebrating the person to whom the book is dedicated, Julius Spiro. Julius is now a neighbor of a man who was hoping to spend Father’s Day celebrating his franchise’s 17th NBA title, Mr. Red Auerbach. Well, Red’s team (the Boston Celtics) lost the game that evening, but they won the title a couple of days later. So even though I’m a Lakers fan, I offer my heartiest congratulations to my dad’s most famous neighbor. Red was the coach of nine championship Celtics teams and the President and GM of seven others. He truly is “Mr. Celtic.” But knowing my dad, when he did finally meet Mr. Celtic – at King David Memorial Park in Falls Church, Maryland where the two are buried – dad must have told Red that even though he’s a huge fan of baseball and loves football and boxing, he never cared much for basketball. You see, my dad is one of those people who always told you what he thought, no matter how impolitic. Of course, he did a lot more listening than talking. He never cared so much for the cut of his own jib to dominate a conversation. And he always wanted to learn – from books, from people, and from nature. Especially from nature.

I would have loved to have seen Red’s plot this Father’s Day, but I didn’t. I don’t know precisely where it is. It’s difficult to locate grave stones at King David because none of them protrude from the ground, which is perfect for my father because he never cared to stand out in life … so why start in death? Fortunately, I do know where dad’s bones are buried, and my family made our way there at around noon. It’s always so nice to be at King David and think a bit about my dad’s life. I tried to encapsulate what my dad stood for in the dedication page of Moses the Heretic. If he could read that dedication, he’d surely say something like: “Enough about me, Danny. Why are you talking about me? I’m nobody.” He was hardly that. In fact, he was enough of a “somebody” to warrant the following tribute, which shall greet all who pick up a copy of Moses this summer: “To the memory of Julius Bertram Spiro (1912-2002) – A free thinker. And the most humble man I’ve ever known.”

What is so great about that quality known as humility? Consider that my book is largely about another man – the man you know as the Biblical Moses. We all are aware of so many great feats associated with that man. And yet, according to Jewish tradition, what made Moses the greatest of Jewish prophets was one characteristic: his humility.

While we’re on the subject of humility, the next Father’s Day tale I’d like to tell involves a man whose existence was likely even more humble than my father’s. It was certainly shorter.

I don’t remember the man’s name. But I won’t soon forget the story of his life, which ended abruptly on Father’s Day. No, he was not a father. He was, however, a son. And it is the phone call to his own father that I keep thinking about. The call would have gone something like this: “I’m sorry to break this to you, sir, especially on Father’s Day. But your son was shot in the back of the head today. And he passed away.”

The father in this (true) story lived in Iowa. But the son was shot in Philadelphia. He recently moved there at the age of 22 to pursue his life’s passion: to teach at an inner-city school in a place far away from the cornfields of Iowa. As I write these words, it is difficult for me not to weep, even though I’ve never known any of these people. My only link to them is through the son’s uncle, who participates with me in an Internet Newsgroup dedicated to my beloved Minnesota Vikings. When “Minniman,” as he called himself, recounted the story, I couldn’t help but think about the utter injustices that plague our world on a regular basis. Here is this young man who dreamt of doing a small part to help out the least fortunate among us in a section of this country that all too often gives us violence, hard drugs, abortions, broken families, homelessness, hopelessness … you name it. And what is this young man’s reward for his dreams? Getting shot to death in the back of his head, no doubt by someone who didn’t know anything about him. (Apparently, he had come to Philly so recently that he probably knew virtually nobody there.)

This young man likely never realized what happened. One moment, he was walking down the street. The next moment, unconscious of what had happened, he was dead. But I’ll tell you who understood what happened: his dad, that’s who. The Father’s Day phone call he received would have made even Mephistopheles cry.

Approximately 750 miles west of Philadelphia, another man was giving a Father’s Day speech. The speaker was himself a father, and he was addressing the topic of fatherhood. Like the would-be Philadelphia teacher, the speaker is deeply concerned about doing his part to nurture inner-city America. But unlike that would-be teacher, this speaker is in a position to do a whole lot to help – more, perhaps, than any human being alive today.

Perhaps you know by now who I’m referring to. His name is Barack Obama, and his Father’s Day speech was delivered in a primarily-black church on the South Side of Chicago. No, not that church – not the church that white America has shamelessly demonized simply because of a few sound bites on the television. (Truly, if you took the worst moments from any mosque, church or synagogue and blasted them on television, all those “houses of God” would look sinister – every last stinking one of them.) Obama selected for his venue a church that is unknown to most of us and that symbolizes generic black America. And his central point can be found in the following words, taken from the speech:

“We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled - doubled - since we were children. We know the statistics - that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”

When I look at an Obama candidacy and consider the plight of the inner-city, I see an amazing opportunity. Finally, the black men who have been abandoning in droves their responsibilities to their families, their neighborhoods, and their country may actually have an honest-to-God role model and hero in the White House. Ya’ think maybe, just maybe, the time for a President like Barack is long overdue?

Now I don’t mean to say there’s no value in old white, curmudgeons. Surely, John McCain can use his pulpit for good, for I believe that fundamentally, he is a decent man. But he’s no Obama. Obama represents hope for the hopeless. He represents youth, vitality, justice, dignity, class, peace, dialogue, intellectuality, and yes … racial equality. He can say things to the black men of America that no white man can get away with saying, and yet have to be said. And more importantly, I think he has the guts to say these things as many times as necessary. Remember – this guy chose to spend his first few years after college as a community organizer in inner-city Chicago. He actually cares about the same things that the would-be teacher cared about. What do you bet, in fact, that the Iowa farm boy turned Philadelphia martyr was a huge Obamamaniac? Any McCain fans out there want to bet against it? I didn’t think so.

Obama’s Father’s Day speech was hailed universally for what it said. The problem, though, is what it didn’t say. Right now, Barack can feel free to address with impunity all of the deficiencies of the inner-city males. And yet it takes two to tango, doesn’t it? Black men aren’t alone responsible for all of the children who grow up in Anacostia and Watts without fathers. They are being raised by women who might have considered waiting a tad before getting pregnant in the first place.

Can Barack address those women with the same sense of security that he can bring to a sermon about black men? Doubtful. Right now, the ultra-feminists who came to dominate the Clinton campaign are having a hard time adjusting to life with Barack. They still resent Barack for slaying their candidate, and they likely resent much of America for allowing this “less qualified male” to once again triumph over an even “greater” woman.

Part of me is sympathetic to their complaint. I certainly wish we would have had a Jewish President by now, and it’s even more appropriate that we soon elect a woman, particularly given the fact that women (unlike Jews or blacks) represent more than half of our electorate. Still, when push comes to shove, I believe in electing the person who appears poised to do the most for our country and world given all the circumstances. Affirmative action, in other words, never has held much of a place in my heart when it comes to electing our next President. It just so happens that this year, the person who is poised to do the most wonderful job happens to be a black man. And on Father’s Day, we saw a reason why he should be elected that happens to have to do with his blackness. Fortunately, there are a lot of other reasons that have nothing to do with his race, but deal instead with his intelligence, character, instincts, and charisma. Put all those together, and you can see that he is the most talented politician of his generation. That’s right, Hillary, he’s even more talented than your husband. (Did I mention “character”?)

So yes, Father’s Day was quite a day in Falls Church, VA, Philadelphia, PA, and Chicago, IL. But when all is said and done, I just can’t stop thinking about what happened all the way across the country. The magic wasn’t supplied by an old, dead-in-the-ground socialist sympathizer (yup, my dad was a lefty!), or a young, about to be dead-in-the-ground do-gooder, or even by the man who is mockingly referred to as “the most liberal Senator in Washington.” Nope. It was supplied by a man who might actually be a Republican. I say that because he plays a sport in which virtually all the participants are politically conservative, and he has never spoken out in favor of any progressive causes. But I don’t care. I’m still a huge fan of the guy. And after Father’s Day weekend, I can’t imagine how anyone out there can’t call themselves a fan as well.

To appreciate what Eldrick Tiger Woods accomplished last weekend, it would have helped to have been walking Torrey Pines, or at least to have seen the miracles on TV. But even a verbal recap should suffice to get the point across. Here’s this guy who hadn’t played 18 holes of golf since mid-April because he just had knee surgery. He was in palpable pain whenever he hit a drive, which isn’t surprising given that he had a double stress fracture in his left leg (to go with a tear in the ACL of his left knee). And he was playing one of the hardest golf courses in the world, at least once the USGA allowed the rough to thicken. Nevertheless, when all was said and done, if you take the entire Father’s Day weekend – which in this case stretched from Thursday to Monday -- and ask whether any other of the world’s greatest golfers broke par, the answer would be “none.” Just Tiger. That’s how hard a golf course that was.

So how did Tiger do it, all-the-while playing on one leg and playing through a ton of pain? On Friday, he made four birdie putts of 15 feet or more in five consecutive holes. On Saturday, he finished with a six-hole stretch in which he made two eagles (holing putts of roughly 35 and 65 feet) and a chip-in birdie from the rough. On Sunday, Father’s Day, he missed the fairway on the last hole, needing a birdie to force a playoff, and yet he put himself in a position where he could do just that. “All” he needed to do was sink a 12 foot putt from a position where the grass had been frayed all day from spike marks. Naturally, he drained it. Then, finally, on Monday, he was down once again on the 18th hole of the playoff, needing a birdie to force sudden death. Not a problem – he reached the green in two, and methodically two-putted for birdie. When his merely mortal combatant bogied the next hole, and Tiger made par, the tournament was his. That would allow him to glow in the moment for a bit … before having season-ending knee surgery and rehabbing his broken leg.

Are you kidding me?

Now, I understand that we live in a society where many people say that watching golf is only slightly more interesting than watching paint dry. But folks, we’re talking about genius here. Does it really matter if we’re talking about golf, football, music, painting or philosophy? If you’ve got it in your midst, then don’t you think it’s worth your time to check it out?

None of us will have a chance to watch Tiger until at least late November, if not later. That will mean we’ll have to satiate ourselves with near-geniuses like Barack Obama. But unlike in Presidential politics, in which our nation has to wait four full years to deal with a missed opportunity, we sports fans only to have to “wait till next year.” And next year, I’ll bet that Tiger comes back roaring louder than ever. He now is close enough to Jack Nicklaus’s record that he can feel it. Or, to be more specific, he’s finally in a position that when he tees it up in Augusta next April, he’ll know that by the end of the summer, he could actually be tied with the Golden Bear in major tournaments won. Lord knows, he can take off the next two years and still be ahead of Jack’s pace. And Jack won way more majors than anyone else. That’s how great Tiger’s stats are.

Inspiration comes from many sources to those of us who are open to it. People like my father and the would-be teacher are inspiring. They teach us what it means to have character – to be compassionate, intellectual, driven to heal the world, and above all else, to shine in one’s humility. At the risk of tweaking the words of Jesus, you could sum up my father’s philosophy in a single sentence, “it is easier to go through the eye of a needle than for a big macha to enter heaven.”

Well, Barack Obama may be that rare big macha who will actually qualify. He, too, is inspiring. Mostly, he inspires hope that our nation can come together and tackle our largest public policy nightmares – perpetual war with the Islamic world, rampant poverty domestically, a broken healthcare system, and a planet that is steadily warming up to one natural disaster after another. He also inspires me to think that our so-called “meritocracy” might actually have chosen a true superstar to lead the free world … and at the same time, answered all the critics who claimed that it would never be open to a man or woman whose skin wasn’t lily white.

All those folks are inspiring. But for pure inspiration, now’s the time to think about a certain athlete. The Greeks used to talk about the character trait called thymos, which can be translated as spirit. Plato said that soldiers need to dominated by their thymos, and apparently, Tiger Woods, the son of a soldier, has thymos in spades. Even when he’s hurt, he simply wills himself to a point where he can max out on his talent, especially in situations where the chips are down. The combination of precision under pressure and the fire of a warrior is not on display very often – except when Tiger is addressing a golf ball, in which case it has become routine. To witness that is indeed inspiring, even more so when one realizes all the thought that goes into his ability to play the game of golf at the highest level.

Still, when you put things in perspective, the story of the U.S. Open this Father’s Day may not have been Tiger’s genius, but Tiger’s mistake in judgment. It wasn’t hard to see, even before Tiger teed it up on Thursday, that he had no business playing that weekend. He should have continued to rehab and protect his long-term health. Sure, he ended up winning the tournament, but he easily could have lost – if his final shot of Father’s Day had rolled one inch to its right, he would have lost.

And what would the media have said had that putt moved one inch to its right? What would the media have said had Tiger announced later in this week after having finished “T-2” in the Open, that he was going to have season-ending knee surgery and would also be rehabbing stress fractures in his leg? I suspect they’d talk a fair amount about his lapse of judgment in playing at Torrey Pines, but they’d talk even more about what a great genius he is at the game of golf, an athlete the equal of which we haven’t seen more than four or five times in the 20th century, who is so talented that he could nearly beat every golfer on the planet with only one good leg.

Yes, athletes are allowed to make an occasional mistake of judgment if they are sufficiently skilled, accomplished, and beloved for their character. My wish, now that we have a week to reflect on Father’s Day, is that we cut the same kind of slack to our nation’s greatest statesmen (and women) that I would cut to my dad or that the nation’s sports fans would cut to Tiger. The next time the GOP attack machine is able to prove that Barack Obama has made a “mistake in judgment,” just remember – that’s no mortal sin. In fact, that just goes with being mortal. I think I’ve seen enough to say that Barack Obama may be “no Tiger Woods,” but he’s damned good at what he does. And with our help, he may yet do more for the world than Tiger could ever do with one structurally sound leg, or two.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


On the same weekend in March 1999, Stanley Kubrick and Joe DiMaggio died. I remember feeling saddened about the departure of the Yankee Clipper, but devastated by the loss of my favorite filmmaker. Yes, I was a big baseball fan, with two Harmon Killebrew-autographed baseballs and a dog named Kirby Puckett Spiro. But as you should be able to tell from my last sentence, I wasn’t a Yankee fan. And I knew that however hurt I was by the death of a Bronx Bomber, there would be millions of others – older fans, more rabid fans, and yes, Yankee fans – who would feel the loss of Joe D much more acutely than I would. Somehow, though, that didn’t seem to be the case with Kubrick. I had watched some of his movies countless times. I had playfully declared his twisted comedy/horror/social commentary, A Clockwork Orange, to be my favorite movie of all time. I had practically begged people to give 2001: A Space Oddysey a second chance … or a third, recognizing that most people are probably incapable of ever appreciating a film that moves so slowly and has so little dialogue. And I had been pining for the release of Eyes Wide Shut, which I would go on to watch on several occasions, even though many critics and fans thought it was crap.

Yes, there are some celebrities that each of us viscerally appreciate more than others. And yet there are other celebrities who are extremely popular, but we don’t see why. (In my case, Princess Di and JKJ Jr. come immediately to mind.)

Prior to yesterday, if you had mentioned the name Tim Russert, I would have thought that I was among a relatively small group who considered themselves big fans. I figured that, to most people, he was but one of a legion of TV newsmen who were much less compelling than the celebrities they covered. And if someone were to tell me that he would suddenly pass away, I would have assumed that his passing would garner no more notoriety than the untimely death of a relatively well known actor or athlete.

Apparently … and, may I say, thankfully … I would have been wrong.

The universal reaction to Tim Russert’s death has been nearly as moving to me as the tragic news itself. Quietly, unobtrusively, this overweight every-man from Buffalo had for years been warming his way into our hearts and minds. You really didn’t have to be addicted to politics to find him on the dial. He was a fixture on Sunday mornings, to be sure, but he was also ubiquitous on election night coverage and a frequent guest on such cable news shows as Morning Joe. So yes, the politics addicts could watch him almost daily, but everyone else could watch him too – including on some of the most important nights of our nation’s recent history. (“Florida, Florida, Florida.”)

It hardly seems necessary now to verbalize why so many of us are mourning today. But since Russert was a verbal guy, I’ll do him the honor of spelling it out.

To begin, Russert was a celebrity of uncommon intellect and drive, and yet equally uncommon humility. No matter what walk of life you’re talking about, that’s not a bad little foundation to create.

Secondly, Russert was that rare newsman who came across as being agenda-less but not robotic. Rarely did you see him as a “liberal” or a “conservative.” And yet he never seemed content merely to “objectively report” the news. You could detect in Russert an almost childlike enthusiasm in being a witness to one fascinating news story after another. In that sense, his emotion was much more authentic and powerful than the talking heads who bloviate nightly from “the left” or “the right.” Russert’s passion was wholesome; their’s is simply obnoxious.

Thirdly, at a time in history when “image is everything,” Russert was all about substance over style. His preparation for interviews was impeccable. He not only asked brilliant questions, but brilliant follow-ups. Equally impressive, though, was the fact that he could grill his prey without treating them with disrespect. He never, in other words, turned the knife, the way a Chris Matthews likes to do when he is obviously “winning” a debate. Russert, you see, unlike so many public figures, didn’t have the ego of a child. He wasn’t about “defeating” the politicians he interviewed. He was simply enchanted by the process of allowing events and ideas come into our collective consciousness. He was like the guy in the ballpark who turns on the lights during a twi-night doubleheader. Only in his case, he didn’t work in a ballpark. His playing field was the marketplace of public ideas. That’s what he enlightened on a regular basis.

Fourthly, Russert was the rare bird who celebrated the “everyman” without condescending toward the “elites.’ Quite clearly, this was a man who enjoyed hob-nobbing with the barons of Washington and who respected them way too much to suggest that they were somehow less than other Americans. And yet Russert was not of official Washington – he never saw the reason to leave Buffalo in spirit. No matter who you were, you couldn’t help but relate to Russert. Indeed, you could probably relate to him in multiple ways. I could relate to the man, in part, because I went to Harvard Law School and have met a number of the kind of high-powered professionals whom Russert dealt with on a daily basis. But I can also relate to him because I am a Minnesota Vikings fanatic who knows what it feels like to love a team that has been to the Super Bowl four times and never once won. Russert had the same experience as a diehard fan of the Buffalo Bills, the only other 0-4 team in Super Bowl history (there had been a third, but that was before John Elway won his two rings in Denver). I didn’t have to read his post-mortems to know that Russert loved his Bills. Or his Boston College Eagles. Or his Washington Nationals. The guy obviously worked a zillion hours a week, and yet he always seemed to have time to watch sports. That’s my kind of guy.

Finally, Russert was a man who practiced religious and family values to such an extent that he didn’t have to preach them directly. I’ve already mentioned his humility, his unwillingness to embarrass others, and his preference for hard work over flash. These are at the hub of what it means to be religious. In light of the above, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to read this weekend about how devout he was as a Catholic or how devoted he was to his wife, son, and father. (They never talk about Russert’s mother; maybe we’ll hear more about her in upcoming days.)

The Yiddish word for people like Russert is “mensch.” He honors his parents, his church, his country, and yes … all people … by practicing traditional ethics so thoroughly and profoundly.

So, you might be wondering, is this guy really as perfect as I’m making him out to be? Quite obviously, he is not. As I have learned in the last 24 hours, Russert’s death was not as shocking to those who’ve seen him in person as it was to me. To quote one of my co-workers who recently saw him on a plane, “Russert was a whole lot bigger in real life than he looked on television. He was nearly obese.” If you’re 58, you’re seriously overweight, you work like a dog, and you always feel the need to be on top of your game (whether that game involves your vocation, your avocations, or your family life) … you’re a heart attack waiting to happen.

When you think about it, though, Russert was such a teacher that even his death was instructive. It will serve as a warning to all of us to take care of our health, and not just our happiness. Russert, for all his workaholism, was clearly as happy as a clam. Work truly set him free. And yes, that was an inspiring vision for all of us who have enjoyed watching him over the years. But if we want to be around to worship God as devoutly as did, spend more than “quality” time with our families, or live to see the Minnesota Vikings or Buffalo Bills win a friggen Super Bowl … it’s time to take things a little slower, a little easier.

This morning, just like the morning after I learned of Kubrick’s death, I feel cheated. I wanted Kubrick around to make some more movies. And I wanted Russert around for a few more election cycles. I wanted that presence who seemed both more passionate and more objective than the other commentators. And perhaps if he had taken a few more vacations and put aside some “real food for real men,” we might still have that presence.

Well, it’s gone. But that doesn’t mean his memories are gone. And with those memories come the opportunity to learn and to hope. Here’s an example. My hope is that as many of these big mouthed idiots as possible on TV start to ask themselves what it was about Tim Russert that made him so universally beloved. And once they come up with the answers, I hope they can begin the process of trying to emulate him. They can pick and choose from any number of the characteristics that I mentioned before – his humility, his sincere religiosity, his every-man quality, his respectfulness, his diligence, his integrity, his authenticity … I’m being redundant, because in truly great people, character traits all seem to run together as part of a beautiful, unified fabric.

I’d even be willing if the talking heads emulated Russert’s workaholism and eating habits, if that’s what it takes for them to mind-meld with the guy. Yes, 58 years is too short a time to spend on this planet, but those 58 years have done more for this democracy than other newsmen and women have given us in 68 or 78. So whatever it takes to clone this man’s good qualities, I’m in favor it. And no time too soon.

That’s my hope for the journalists out there. What about the rest of us? I guess I’d hope that we can enjoy this potentially historic political campaign with the kind of joy and civility that Russert brought to the adventure. The civility part isn’t always easy for a blogger like me, but I’ll try.

Oh yeah. There is one more thing. To those of you who share my passion for football, show the man some real respect. Next season, take in an extra Bills game in his honor. It’s the least we all can do.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


The title of this post essentially summarizes how I handicap the upcoming Presidential elections. It explains why I think that there’s 50/50 chance that this election will be won by Obama in a landslide. In other words, if this were a football game, I’d put the spread at McCain + 8 or 9, and I’d give the points.

Admittedly, I spend most of my time on the coasts – either in the Mid Atlantic or on the West Coast. That’s not exactly Red America. But even when I contact my Republican in-laws in Indiana, some of them just love Obama. (They were probably dying to vote for someone who is NOT part of the current ruling party, and maybe even dying to vote at least once in their lives for someone who is not a white male … oh yeah, and they disliked Hillary.) By contrast, no matter where I travel, NOBODY seems to love McCain.

Strike that. I do know one guy – around here, of all places – who has been championing a McCain candidacy for at least a couple of years. His dream ticket has been McCain/Lieberman, and he even has suggested a motto: “Give War a Chance.” That’s no joke. This is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who is nonetheless enamored with Mr. Lieberman because he fervently supports the Iraq War, and he loves McCain for the same reason. So I consider him a big fan of the Republican nominee.

But seriously, how many Americans really adore the Iraq War? Or rhetoric aside, how many Americans agree with McCain that we should continue to fight that war for the next five years? I don’t even think the majority of Hoosiers fall into that category. It’s no wonder that Obama thinks he can win in places like Missouri (where he just outpolled McCain), Colorado (again, Obama is ahead), Virginia (McCain’s up by 1%), and other states that Bush has claimed in the last two elections.

McCain has had an almost impossible task of maintaining his appeal to independents as a maverick, without losing any semblance of enthusiasm on the part of the Republican base. How has he done? Difficult to say. His candidacy has bored the country to such an extent that the media has virtually ignored him during the last few months. Virtually all the attention has been devoted to Barack and Hillary. Hell, even Bill Clinton has garnered more attention than McCain – admittedly, though, I’d rather read about alleged trysts with Gina Gershon (who defines “sexy, in a sleazy sort of way”) than with some stinkin’ lobbyist.

Given that he has been ignored, McCain hasn’t really pissed off anybody. He still has the opportunity to try to style himself a maverick in appealing to Independents, or a solid conservative in appealing to Republicans. But there’s only one problem – he can’t do both! The guy isn’t exactly the most nimble-minded statesman in America. He’s not a terribly good communicator, he’s not unusually charismatic … frankly, from all appearances, he isn’t all that friggen smart. So can he really walk the tightrope and appeal to two groups of constituents who strongly disagree with one another on the issues? Doubtful.

When then can McCain do? He can point to his experience. He’s been a war hero and an extremely productive legislator. And in that latter capacity, McCain served as an exemplar of an independent maverick. That’s precisely why folks like me were so enamored of the guy when he ran for President in 2000. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. The Republican establishment crushed John Maverick McCain. So what did John do? He functioned for a few more years as a maverick. And then, blinded by the same ambition that infects any would-be President, he decided to make a deal with the devil: “I’ll renounce my opposition to tax cuts for the rich. I’ll renounce my support of amnesty for illegal aliens at the same time that we try to close the borders. I’ll renounce my unyielding opposition to torture. I’ll renounce much of my commitment to campaign finance reform. I’ll renounce my commitment to upholding Roe v. Wade. I’ll renounce my opposition to the political platform of Christian Fundamentalists. And above all else, I’ll continue to remind people about how much of a war monger I’ve been for years. And in return for all this, the Republican establishment will renounce their opposition to ME. Right?”

Well, John, it almost works that way, but not quite. When you make that deal, you can get the Republican establishment to vote for you. You can also get many leaders of the Republican establishment to spew their seemingly infinite venom against any Democrat who runs against you. But what you can’t do is get the Republican establishment to love you, or to think that you’re some sort of Godsend who’s going to save America. Reagan, could pull that off; you can’t. And what is more, you also can’t hope to continue to define yourself to independents and liberals as the same maverick candidate that you were in 2000. Sure, you can address us as “my friends,” but we now think you’re a sell-out as a candidate who, if elected, will “dance with the one who brung you” – the right-wingers.

Rest assured, John, you will never be a hated man among moderates and liberals. And you will always be somewhat liked among conservatives. But you are condemned to being loved by virtually nobody. And that means that if you hope to be elected President, you’d better make sure that the election becomes a referendum on your opponent and that the majority of America decides that they affirmatively dislike, or at least disrespect, that opponent.

That’s your one shot. And against some of the Democrats’ previous nominees, it might well have been enough. You could have had a shot against Michael Dukakis, a man who rode around in a tank looking like the “Great Gazoo” from the Flintstones and couldn’t even bring himself to verbalize that it would piss him off if someone raped and murdered his wife. Or perhaps you’d have done well against John Kerry, a legit-war-hero-turned-buffoon, who strangely had no response when some right-wingers mocked his military service. You might have even competed against Al Gore, whom the media decided was more of a pathological liar than a Los Vegas-based telemarketer.

But you’re not running against any of those guys. You’re running against an extremely attractive, extremely brilliant, extremely poised, extremely classy, charismatic speaker, who comes across as an agent of change at a time when Americans desperately want change, and offers Americans the historic opportunity to show the world that they are willing to put a black man in the highest office of the land. You’re running against a man who comes across as an antidote for so many things that have gone wrong in Washington over the decades. In other words, you’re up against someone who zillions of Americans flat out adore.

John, “my friend,” your candidacy is in some trouble.

Friday, June 06, 2008


In the upcoming months, I will explain why this country doesn’t just NEED Barack Obama, but more importantly, why it wants him. I will also explain why now is WAY past the time for John McCain, whose day should have come in 2000 but his political party had its head up its tuchus and cared more about getting elected than governing a nation. The consequences of that choice for the entire world speak for themselves, wouldn’t you say?

So, “my friends,” as Mr. Iraq War likes to say, you’ll get my pontification soon enough. Just not this morning. I’m going to save you my attempts at reading tea leaves, or speculating about the minds of old ladies from Lansing or young men from Columbus. I’m simply going to point out two numbers -- the current betting odds from Intrade.

Intrade reports the odds that candidates will win elections. has listed Intrade numbers for a while, and today, I saw them listed in The people whose bets are reflected on Intrade put their money where their mouth is. Unlike the political pundits you see on TV, Intrade betters can’t afford to simply spew their biased crap without considering reality – after all, losing money gets old pretty quickly. That’s what makes Intrade worthy of our attention.

Now, I’m not saying that Intrade is infallible. For example, at different points in the past year, it was predicting that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination. Then again, for much of 2007, so was I, and I’m an admitted Obamaniac.

In any event, recognizing that Intrade could be wrong, I still think its numbers are more reliable than most. So here they are: Obama 61.3 McCain 34.9.

I won’t reveal my bias by saying that Obama’s odds should even be higher. I’ll just leave you with the numbers. You can figure out for yourselves WHY Obama is such a heavy favorite even though those other numbers you’ll see (the polls) are so close.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Those are the words with which Hillary Clinton was introduced tonight by her campaign manager. Earlier in the day, Hillary decided to tell the nation that she was indeed “open” to the Vice Presidential job. So what are we to make of these inconsistent messages? That Hillary expects to gain the Democratic nomination for President in 2008? That Hillary hopes to be the VP nominee instead?

Personally, I doubt that either will happen. At least I’m hopeful that neither will happen. But this much is clear: Hillary is not ready to relinquish her position at the front of our political stage.

By any rights, tonight was supposed to be the night when all attention was focused on Barack Obama, who FINALLY reached the necessary number of delegates to claim the nomination. Hillary’s people moved back the goal posts this weekend to make it harder for Barack to clinch, but when we woke up this morning, we still had reason to believe that Barack might clinch before the end of the evening. Sure enough, the networks are saying that he has indeed garnered the necessary number of delegates to gain a new title: Presumptive Nominee. That means that for the first time in our nation’s history, a black man has attained the honor of being a Presidential nominee by a major political party. Time for a celebration, right?

It should be. But something still seems a bit off kilter, even if you love Barack (as I do). Until Hillary decides how she’s going to play her hand, this will still feel less like a celebration than the continued unwinding of a very bizarre drama, a drama focused on a married couple whose larger-than-life egos are on display 24/7. Yesterday was Bill’s day as he unleashed a barrage of vitriol aimed at a reporter. Today was Hillary’s. She made it known that, for the conceivable future, the story wouldn’t be McCain versus Obama but whether Obama would choose as a running mate the person “who has gained more popular votes in primaries than any candidate in American history.”

Folks, for as long as I’ve been alive, it has been the Presumptive Nominee’s prerogative to select his party’s VP nominee. Nobody has ever questioned that right. But now, I fear we are beginning the process of listening to one pundit after another strongly suggest that if Obama knows what’s good for him – i.e., if he wants to win – he will select Hillary. The pressure may well weigh on him like a block of lead. Still, this is a guy who rises to the occasion more often than not. My bet is that he’ll bite the bullet, nominate someone not named Clinton, and put up with the cries of “sexism” and the like.

To any Hillary fan who threatens to vote for John McCain as long as Barack doesn’t comply with all of Hillary’s demands, I have but one thing to say: don’t let the door hit your tushies on the way out. It’s time for Barack to show that he can stand up to Hillary’s rage-brigade. Later, it will be time for him to stand up to the world’s tyrants oversees. But just as there is a time to show courage, there is also a time to talk. Let’s pray that when Barack and Hillary talk, they can reach an agreement whereby Hillary can get what she needs (say, an agreement on paying down her debt), and Barack gets what the nation needs – a team player as Vice President.