Saturday, August 30, 2008


What a crazy couple of days it has been for us political junkies. First, on Thursday night, the Democrats conclude their perfect-pitch convention with a speech by Barack Obama that, at least to me, was brilliant. I sat in awe at the number of beautiful rhetorical flourishes in that speech and, just as importantly, I was reassured by Barack’s courage in calling out John McCain directly and powerfully, and yet never below the belt. When Barack entered the race, I was concerned that he was too much of a gentlemen and a pedant. Thursday night, though, he was as much Marvin Hagler as he was Adlai Stevenson. THAT was the Barack that I have been waiting for. If we continue to see the same persona during the debates, and if the Clintons continue to actively campaign for the ticket, the Democrats should win in November regardless of what McCain does from this point on.

So that’s what I was thinking on Thursday night. And then … came yesterday’s announcement. I’ll freely admit that John McCain shocked me with his choice for VP. Like most people, I had barely heard of Sarah Palin, and I certainly knew a whole lot less about her than I did about Michael Palin, the dude from Monty Python.

My first reaction was that the choice of Sarah was just a “head fake” – a decoy – because surely, nobody would be so crazy as to select her for VP when there were so many other more qualified women available. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, for example. Or Condi Rice? But Sarah Palin?

I can certainly identify some positives about this choice in terms of what it says about McCain. Once again, McCain has proven himself to be gutsy. It’s a characteristic you don’t see that much in D.C., and you almost never see it on the Democratic side of the house. McCain reminded me of that fact when he made this selection. I can see him making some bold moves if he were elected President, and given his ability to reach across the aisle over the years (notably, both Biden and Hillary call him a “friend”), I can see some of those moves resulting in bipartisan bills that would truly represent progress.

I can’t deny that there used to be a whole lot that I liked about this man. And I have trouble believing that “President” McCain would be the polar opposite of “Senator” McCain, who hasn’t been all that bad. In this case, McCain saw that his opponent was having a storybook convention, resolved that he wasn’t going to lose this without a fight, and decided to take a big chance. In theory, I can respect that attitude. It’s certainly a more refreshing way of dealing with life than cluelessly smiling your way to a resounding defeat without any apparent consideration of risk-taking – the path of Mondale and Dukakis, just to name two of my previous selections for President.

So let’s praise McCain for his willingness to take risks. But … and it’s a HUGE but … wasn’t this particular act of risk-taking just a tad meshugah? And more than a tad offensive.

What am I talking about? Let’s consider who this Sarah Palin is. Obviously, we’re all going to have to learn about her pretty much from scratch – and by “we” I’m referring to McCain as well. It’s been reported that he only met her once before he offered her the position last week.

Give Sarah credit for being a genuinely nice person – how else do you serve two terms as a small-town mayor – and a charming one. Credit her also for being a self-made woman. You have to respect her pluck every bit as much as her luck.

Frankly, there really is no reason to think ill of this woman. All she did in accepting the position of McCain’s running mate was answer the call of duty.

That doesn’t mean, however, that she is even a remotely sensible choice for the Vice Presidency, let alone the Presidency. Just consider the following facts, and you’ll realize that if she were any further in right-field, she’d be touching the foul pole:

1. She is anti-choice even in cases of rape and incest. Only when the mother’s life is in jeopardy would she permit abortions.
2. In 2000, when McCain was running as a maverick, Bush as a “compassionate conservative,” and Buchanan as the choice of the hard right, Palin was supporting Buchanan.
3. She doesn’t believe human beings are the cause of global warming.
4. She sued the Bush Administration for placing polar bears on the list of endangered species; apparently, this interfered with the “drill, drill, drill” mantra.
5. She claims credit for killing the “Bridge to Nowhere” when she became Governor, but she supported the project a year earlier … back before it became a national joke.
6. She supported a state Constitutional Amendment to bar health benefits for same-sex partners.
7. She opposed stem-cell research.
8. She supports tax cuts for the rich.
(Note that she may have received a bum rap as a supporter of teaching about creationism. That rumor is going around, but as far as I can tell, she never favored including creation science in the school curriculum, but only supported allowing debate on the subject. That hardly seems wacko-right-wing to me.)

Even without the creation science item, it’s still quite a list. The McCain of 2000 would have thought the woman was truly fringe – more like the choice of Dick Cheney than Maverick McCain. But that list, as off-putting as it is to a liberal like me, isn’t what makes the choice so meshugah. Here’s the problem: up until this week, there were only four clear reasons why someone would support a past-his-prime John McCain over an attractive ground-breaking modern-day Demosthenes like Barack Obama: (1) McCain’s the guy if you have solidly conservative beliefs; (2) Barack beat Hillary and some people resent him so much for that that they would support Atilla the Hun against him; (3) Barack is black and … well … you know … that makes McCain more “American” if you get my drift; and/or (4) McCain is qualitatively more experienced than Barack, and in risky times like these, experience is very important in a leader.

The first of these reasons wasn’t undermined by the Palin selection. Palin is obviously even more conservative than McCain, so if you swing well to the right, it probably makes sense to support McCain/Palin. But what about the other 70% of us? Before this week, the second reason was also pretty relevant, as many moderate or liberal Hillary supporters clearly resented the hell out of the Democratic Party generally and Barack Obama in particular. But then came the Convention, and the Hillary’s strong support of Barack, so perhaps now, the second reason isn’t that important. As for the third reason – racism – that one isn’t going away either. But will it really account for enough votes to make the difference? Especially given that a high percentage of American racists are conservative enough to vote for McCain anyway regardless of race, I suspect that this reason combined with the first two would still not be enough to get McCain over the top.

Until yesterday, it was the fourth reason – concerns about Barack’s experience – that made the race so damned close. It was the most valid reason available to moderates for choosing McCain. And then … came Sarah.

Let’s leave aside that her selection has reminded us all of how old and frail McCain is. It’s not just that he is a 72 year old man. It’s that he’s had cancer several times, and – as he loves to tell us in virtually every sentence – he spent 5 ½ years in a POW camp. He’s not just 72, he’s an OLD 72, or at least not a young one.

Months ago, McCain was asked by a reporter if his age made it doubly imperative that he select a running mate who is qualified to take over the Presidency on day one. McCain agreed that it did.

And then … came Sarah.

Sarah Palin appears to have no experience whatsoever dealing with a range of issues, including the entire topic of foreign affairs. Lamely, one of the hosts of the Fox Morning News show had to prop up her foreign policy experience by saying that she’s from Alaska and Alaska is near Russia, so she must be in the know. Is that really the best they’ve got?

Rather than go on and on expressing my disbelief about how unqualified Sarah is, let’s just look at the facts. And let’s look, in particular, at the one issue that had previously favored McCain – the breadth of the resume. I think all of us who have long favored Barack have done so because of his judgment and brilliance and IN SPITE OF his relative dearth of experience. But compared to Sarah Palin, Barack comes across as a veritable Winston Churchill.

Here is a look at their resumes. (I’m leaving out all the mishigas that People Magazine and Vogue might want to talk about and concentrating simply on their vocational and educational exploits.)

Through 1985 –

Sarah graduates from Wasilla High (1982) and matriculates at the University of Idaho.

Barack, having received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University, goes on to work for the Business International Corporation and the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Through 1988 –

In 1987, five years after graduating from Wasilla, Sarah receives an undergraduate degree from the University of Idaho, her last academic degree. After college, she works briefly as a sports reporter in Anchorage Alaska.

Beginning in 1985, Barack serves as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago for three years. Then he matriculates at the Harvard Law School.

Through 1991 –

Sarah, after getting married, works briefly with her husband as a commercial fisherwoman (she may also have continued to do some sports reporting in Anchorage).

Barack becomes the first African-American President in the history of the Harvard Law Review. He then graduates from Harvard Law School Magna Cum Laude, moves back to Chicago, and becomes a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.

Through 1996 –

Sarah serves two terms as a city councilwoman in the Wasilla City Council (the population of Wasilla was under 6,000). She and her husband start a snowmobile/watercraft business and kept the business for three years.

Barack continues to be a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. He organizes voter registration during Bill Clinton’s 1992 run for President. Barack also writes what has become a best-selling book, “Dreams from My Father.”

Through 2002 –

Beginning in 1997, Sarah serves as Mayor of Wasilla.

Beginning in 1997, Barack serves as a Senator in the Illinois State Senate (population of Illinois, 12,000,000). He gives his now-famous address opposing the idea of invading Iraq at a time when few were publicly speaking against such an invasion.

Through 2004 –

Sarah serves as Chair of the Alaskan Conservation Commission.

Barack continues to serve as a Senator in the Illinois State Senate. He campaigns for and wins the job of United States Senator. He also delivers the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention of 2004, which immediately catapults him to the status of the “Rising Star” of the Democratic Party.

Through 2006 –

Sarah campaigns for and wins the job of Governor of Alaska. She would become the first woman Governor and youngest Governor in Alaskan history.

Barack serves as a United States Senator. As a Senator, he is appointed to the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, the Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions. Barack also writes another best selling book, “The Audacity of Hope.”

Through the present –

Sarah serves for 1 ½ years as the Governor of Alaska (population 680,000). In that capacity, she serves as the chair of the National Governors Association National Resources Committee and the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission. She achieves an extremely high popularity rating within her state.

While continuing to serve as United States Senator, Barack campaigns for and wins the Presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. In the process, he oversees a huge 50-state organization that revolutionizes political fundraising and various other aspects of the electoral process. He wins more primary/caucus votes than any American who has ever lived. (I’m treating the Michigan primary as a non-event given that Barack’s name was off the ballot.) After January 2008, he becomes the central focus of media attention in this country and the subject of relentless negative attacks – first by the campaign of Hillary Clinton and later by the campaign of John McCain. In the meantime, he delivers numerous speeches that are widely viewed as among the best examples of political oratory in modern American history.

I look at a list like that and it appears clear that one of these individuals is far and away more qualified for President than the other. But even if I’m totally wrong and if the truth is that, between these two people, the experience issue is the proverbial “wash,” it would still remain the case that John McCain has effectively neutralized the one clear advantage that he had among sensible moderates. Why would he do it? Did he really think Hillary supporters were so stupid that they would support ANY woman, even an unqualified one, over the man who had the “audacity” to challenge Hillary in the primaries? Or does McCain think that by energizing his base with the choice of a solid right winger, he won’t need the support of many Democrats?

I honestly can’t answer those questions. But this I can say: John McCain still has a shot at the Presidency. Even without much support from others, the coalition of conservatives and non-conservative racists will be a powerful one come November. Still, they alone aren’t likely to tip the scales for the GOP. And with the selection of an unknown, untested, unprepared and unmoderate choice like Sarah Palin, McCain has now, incredibly, put the oxymoron “Democratic Landslide” in play.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Watching that speech tonight, I can only marvel at the difference between a professional who is merely competent and one who is truly inspired. As the GOP tries to figure out over the next few days precisely how to build a convention on mocking and otherwise disrespecting Barack Obama, consider this analogy: it would be a lot like a gang of crooks trying to figure out how to steal a masterpiece from a museum. The word "ugly" wouldn't seem strong enough to capture such a strategy. Slimy? Closer, but no. Unholy? OK. That works for me.

I can hope, I can pray, that the GOP Convention takes the high road as much as the Convention we've just witnessed. (Remember all the pundits whining that there wasn't enough "red meat"?) But something tells me that prayer won't be answered.

No matter. I don't think Karl Rove and his troglodyte tactics can bring down Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Al Gore, John Kerry ... and tens of millions of Americans who want honest to God change and are now willing to work together. Yeah, I acknowledge that there are a lot of well meaning, intelligent conservatives who prefer the GOP. And I know that there are a lot of other not-so-well-meaning racists who will never vote for Barack because of his skin. But that coalition just doesn't seem large enough to prevail. Barack is the future. Strike that, Barack is the present. And Americans, at the end of the day, usually rally around a winner.

No matter what happens in November, Barack Obama is a winner.

Tonight, we witness history. A black man will, for the first time, accept a major political party’s nomination for President of the United States.

When we all initially learned about Barack, we thought he was wonderful. Republican, Democrat, Independent, it didn’t matter. Everyone was extremely impressed with him. But that was before he began his run for President. Now, we have witnessed talking heads, competing politicians, and political advertisers relentlessly take shots at him. Most recently, we have heard him mocked as, essentially, an uppity man-child who doesn’t know that his place is at the bottom, not the top of the ticket. Kind of like at the back of a bus, if you know what I mean.

Barack Obama was a community organizer for years. He’s been a professor of constitutional law at one of our nation’s top law schools. He was the first President of the Harvard Law Review, an organization that only accepts the very best and brightest. (Trust me – as someone who didn’t make the Law Review at Harvard, those kids were damned smart!)

Barack served for many years as a state legislator, and then for several more years in the United States Senate. He has delivered many incredible political speeches. One such speech was his party’s keynote address at their previous Convention; another was a speech he gave arguing against a then-popular war of choice, which has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for our nation and our world.

Barack has put together a campaign staff that revolutionized American politics with its ability to organize the grass roots and take advantage of modern communications media. He has inspired young voters, black voters, and intellectual voters like no candidate in recent memory. And, in order to claim his Party’s nomination, he had to defeat one of the most formidable political machines in recent American history.

Barack Obama is now older than Teddy Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy and Ulysses Grant were when they were elected President. He surely has earned his place at the top of his Party’s ticket.

During the next several weeks, the haters will tell you that Barack isn’t ready for prime time. They will tell you that his time is in the future, not the present. They will mock him as politics’ answer to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton – a celebrity who’s all style, no substance.

Well, you can judge the man’s substance for yourselves. But on one point, please don’t let the haters convince you. Don’t let them convince you that Barack’s race is no big deal. It’s a plenty big deal.

If there’s one inspiring thing we should take from the campaign of Hillary Clinton, it’s the idea that now, finally, women feel that they are ready to enter the White House as Presidents, not merely first ladies. It’s about time, wouldn’t you say? But other major industrialized western countries have had women leaders. What they haven’t had – what we haven’t had – is a black leader. And we sorely need one.

We need to make a statement to all the young black boys and girls in America that ours is a nation of equality. They’ve heard the words before -- “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” – but they also heard that those words were penned by a slave owner who thought that black folks were, genetically, intellectually inferior to whites … or Native Americans. They or their parents have been forced to attend separate schools, drink from separate fountains, and urinate in separate bathrooms. They’ve been informed that they are welcome as athletes or entertainers … but not as physicists or brain surgeons.

But that was before Barack.

With the nomination of Barack Obama, I feel that “my team” has just won the Conference Championship game and will get to play for the Super Bowl. I say “my team” not because I’m black, which I’m not, but because I have had a visceral concern for the rights of black people for as long as I remember. My parents took me to civil rights rallies, like Resurrection City, back in the 60s when I was still young and impressionable, and that convinced me that my country will never be truly great until it rights the wrongs of racism.

Now’s the time to do just that.

Let’s think back to when we all first learned about Barack – before the haters took over. Let’s think back to how impressed we were with his core. His intellect. His judgment. His bearing.

And now, let’s remember what every sports fan and every athlete will tell you about the Super Bowl: it’s not enough to get there. The point is to win the damn thing. And now, we must all join together and throw our energies – our heart and soul – into doing just that. We must will Barack Obama to the White House, where he belongs.

What is at stake is not merely the chance to move past the sorriest chapters in American history. What is at stake is the opportunity to inspire those Americans who have lost hope and faith simply because of their race. To illustrate this point, I’d like to attach a small scene from The Creed Room. I call it the Metaphor of the Inverted Track.

The speaker, Scott Shaw, is an educated, but angry, black man in his late 20s.

“You can’t talk about justice in the U.S. without starting with the subject of race. Conservatives want to white-wash that word. They say bigotry's gone. A new day has dawned. I say they're not color blind, they're just plain blind!

“You know what the problem is? White folks just don’t understand the sport of track. At least I assume they don't, because I never see a white boy compete in the 100 or 200 meters.

“Since most of you are white, let me help you out with this one. We’re watching as they set up for the 200. If you’ve never seen that race before, it might look kind of funny, because the guy in lane one is standing several feet behind the guy in lane two, who’s standing several feet behind the guy in lane three. You get the picture. They’re all running a short race to get to the same place halfway around the track. What gives? Why the staggered start?

“They stagger it because the guys in the outside lanes have to run around a wider circle. So if we’re going to make the race fair, we’ve gotta do something to make it harder for the folks on the inside. We've got to move them further back from the finish line when we start the race.

“But that’s track. It’s a black man’s sport. Arthur was talking before about a white man’s game – the glorious competition for money, power and status. In Arthur's game, nobody but a white man has ever been elected President or Vice President. That's because the white folks rigged the game. In the white man’s race, folks line up in a staggered position, only the guys on the inside are starting several feet closer to the finish line, not further back. It kind of makes it easy to win when you’re starting on the inside, doesn’t it? When you’re on the outside, you’ve got to run a ways just to get to where the inside guy was starting, and then you’ve got to run a wider circle once you get there.

“In the white man’s race, the positions have names. The inside lanes are called Beverly Hills, Scarsdale, La Jolla. Or Art's Potomac, upstream from George Washington’s beautiful plantation. And the outside lanes, they’re called Watts, Anacostia and Harlem. Oh, and the South Bronx. That'd be Lane 8.

“We’ve talked a bit about Lane 1, remember? We said if you start in that lane and want to become an entrepreneur, maybe, just maybe, you don't need the guts of a burglar. What about Lane 8? In that lane, you get to attend integrated schools, or so they say. But I’ll let you guess how many White Anglo Saxon Protestants attend public schools in the South Bronx.

“What else do we know about Lane 8? You live in a shit hole. To get there from school, you’ve gotta walk past gang bangers and drug addicts. You see hookers too. Everywhere you look, the hos are out, just letting you know there’s still a few ways left to make money. When you get home, Daddy’s long gone. Mommy’s there, barely literate. Maybe even on drugs. She's trying to get you a square meal and hardly worried if you don't have all the books you need to master your social studies project. Computer? What’s a computer?

“If you’re lucky, you survive childhood. But even if you do, they'll say you’re stupid, though it turns out you might actually have become smart, if you hadn’t grown up in Lane 8.”

Barack Obama didn’t grow up in Lane 8. But – unlike John McCain and George W. Bush – he didn’t grow up in Lane 1 either. A child of a single mother, a man who carries with him the pigment that has for so many represented “lack of intellect,” Barack stands before us as a role model for blacks, Latinos, and other people of color. And a reminder to whites that racism must be torn asunder root and branch.

To the haters out there – the Roves and, yes, even the McCains -- who would seek to continue to belittle Barack as you have the last few weeks … remember how gracefully the speakers at Barack’s convention spoke about the Republican candidate. They questioned his policies, but they pulled punch after punch about his personal character. They treated him as a true American hero.

Well, folks, John McCain is an American hero. But so is Barack Obama. There have been many prisoners of war. And God bless them all. But there have been precious few men and women who have taken the civil rights movement as far along as has Barack Obama. When we criticize his character at this juncture in history, we don’t belittle his dignity, we belittle our own. In the name of all that is holy, let’s not allow that to happen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Just one week ago, John McCain had all the momentum. Then he strangely didn't remember how many homes he owned. That silly little mistake opened the door; it reminded the Democrats that two can play at the attack-politics game. After all, what is attack politics but the willingness and the ability to capitalize on silly little mistakes.

Of course, as we all know, a few little openings like that won't by themselves be enough for the Party of the Donkey to take back the White House. The Democrats first need to unify, and then they need to show WHY they're unified. That required two great speeches. The first would have to be delivered by Hillary Clinton -- she, divisive Hillary, would have to be the unifier. Ironic, but true. Two nights later, Barack would have to explain why all Americans should unify behind him instead of a former war hero who is also a more experienced, more accomplished statesman.

Blissfully, I can report that tonight, Hillary did her job. It was an excellent speech. I found myself wishing she would get off the stage and march right into the studio of "Morning Joe" and tell Mr. Scarborough that if he really thinks she wants John McCain to win this election (like Scarborough has been saying for months), he knows where he can stick it. The proof as to whether Scarborough has been right or not will be played out in the upcoming weeks. Will Hillary become a regular on shows like his and tell America why we need Barack Obama and why we can't afford to have John McCain? Or was this speech a won-hit wonder designed simply to maintain her personal reputation? I think she's earned the benefit of the doubt tonight. I think we can assume that she's going to take her new-found Obamamania on the road. We'll see.

In any event, now it's Barack's turn. Can he show us that he has a second act? Can he regain the same quantum of magic that he brought to his speeches in January? Or, at the very least, can he give us the sense that he is a good man of sound judgment who will identify the country's greatest needs and build one coalition after another in order to meet them?

For the moment, it's not about what WE can do, it's about what HE can do. I can't wait for Thursday night to find out.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Zero – The number of times that Yining Zhang, the eventual gold medalist in women’s table tennis, visibly smiled during the first couple of minutes after she won her semi-final match and clinched a medal. Watching this was absolutely creepy – like the fulfillment of all those sci-fi movies in which man evolves into machine. In this case, it was woman evolving into machine, or perhaps it was just the inevitable consequence of an authoritarian nation that values Olympic gold and de-values humaneness.

One – The number of truly significant tournaments that have now been won by Russian tennis player Elena Dementieva. She’s always had a wonderful game, except for one little thing – she has a pitiful serve. So how in God’s name did she win the gold medal in woman’s tennis? Got me – NBC doesn’t show tennis. They’re too busy showing things like the friggen gymnastics gala (on top of anything else that goes by the name of “gymnastics”). Screw gymnastics. And congrats to Dementieva. Now, if she only can learn how to serve, she might actually add to her 15 minutes of fame.

Two – The number of American relay teams to drop the baton. And on the same day, too. I was reminded of Alan Iverson. (“Practice? You’re talkin’ about practice?”) Yeah, I’m talkin’ about practice – as in that the US Track and Field Team obviously doesn’t see much need for it. This is not exactly the first year we’ve dropped the baton. But it hurt a bit more this year, since we were shut out of the golds in the 100 and 200 meter races. Something tells me that in London in 2012, we’ll figure out a way to at least finish the relays without getting humiliated.

Three – The number of golds won by the Jamaican sprinter aptly named “Bolt.” He certainly gets the “character” award this Olympics – not that he necessarily possesses character, but that he is one. Who slows down intentionally in sprinting the 100 meters? Doesn’t he realize that this little act of stylin’ might prevent him from holding the world record two, three, four, five or ten years down the road? Frankly, he probably did realize that, and quite obviously, he couldn’t care less. He came to China to win three gold medals. And to show the world that it has one bad-ass sprinter. Methinks he succeeded.

Four – The number of medals collectively won by the countries that spawned the following religions: Judaism (Israel 1), Christianity (Israel), Islam (Saudi Arabia 0), Hinduism (India 3), and Buddhism (India). India alone has a billion people and yet won only three medals. Exactly what is going on here – are spirituality and sports completely antithetical?

Five – The number of gold medals in races of 800 meters or longer won by Kenya, topped off by the men’s marathon championship. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing more cool in sports than entering an Olympic stadium as the man who is about to win the Olympic Marathon. No athlete could possibly feel such a high as one who runs in an essentially solitary state for 26+ miles, then goes into a tunnel, and finally emerges in the presence of dozens of fans screaming for him and him alone on the last day of an Olympics. These men must have utilized virtually every ounce of their heart and soul on the first 26 miles of the race … or so they thought … but the adrenaline rush supplied by the fans in the stadium couldn’t help but make the last few hundred meters as spiritually uplifting as the first 26 miles was physically depleting. How I envy those gold medal marathon winners.

Six – The number of gold medals won by the Jamaicans in races of 400 meters or less. How is this even possible, given the small size of the country? Is it the coaching? Is it the shoes? Have they upgraded the ganja from when I went there decades back? Crazy, mon.

Seven – The number of diving gold medals won by China. I didn’t even realize there were seven diving events, did you? The Chinese were so superior to the rest of the world in that sport they might as well change the categories: “Non-Chinese Men’s Diving,” “Non-Chinese Women’s Diving,” “Chinese Men’s Diving,” and “Chinese Women’s Diving.” Then maybe we’d see some real excitement.

Eight – Duh. In an Olympics that started on 8/8/8, Michael Phelps dreamed the impossible Olympic dream of eight golds, and damned if the impossible didn’t happen. He scored in every way possible – in blowouts, in a come-from-behind contest with a margin of victory of 1/100th of a second, by standing at the side of the pool watching his teammate outdo a more accomplished rival, and last but certainly not least, by making out with a gorgeous ex-girlfriend of a rival swimmer. This guy had one amazing fortnight. Congrats to my fellow Marylander!

Nine – The number of gold medals won by Japan, which placed them eighth among all nations. The significance of this, of course, is that it tells you exactly where Michael Phelps placed as a nation. In the top nine!

Ten – USA’s winning margin of victory in the total medals count (110 medals to China’s 100).

Fifteen – China’s winning margin of victory in the total gold medals count.

Seriously, we need a single score to determine who “wins” an Olympics so that two nations can’t claim victory when one wins the most medals and another the most golds. Should we count golds as three, silvers two, and bronzes one? Or count golds as four? Or five? Any way you count them – if you’re being reasonable – China “won” their Olympics – at least on the field of play. They made fools of themselves off of the field of play in terms of how they oppressed innocent people for the glory of the tribe, however. It’s difficult to think about the one without the other.

Twenty two – The winning streak of the American softball team that was broken in the gold medal game. But don’t cry. Our loss might have saved the sport from extinction. Apparently, the geniuses of the IOC had planned to get rid of it, in part because the US has won too much for their tastes. Forgive me for sounding like a patriot, but how can they include team handball and not softball? Have you ever watched team handball? Have you ever watched paint dry?

Thirty five – The number of Chinese-born entrants in the woman’s table tennis competition. That’s nearly half of all the athletes in the field. I watched two Chinese-born players compete under the flags of the USA and Congo. Do you get the sense that the “Chinese national sport” isn’t taken seriously anywhere else? It was actually my best sport as a teenager … which tells you a lot about me as an athlete growing up in America.

Seventy two – The number of medals won by the Russians (38 fewer than the US). The funny thing is, when you add up all the other former members of the Soviet Union, Russia would have kicked our butts! Do you think Putin took note of that fact? Sorry for bringing that up.

One hundred and eight -- The number of consecutive matches won by repeat gold medal winners Misty May-Treaner and Kerri Walsh. That is a ridiculous winning streak in any sport. How does one explain it? Have the other competitors been ogling them just like the rest of us? I have no other explanation, so that must be it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I know one person well who is a friend of Barack. Several weeks ago, I told this person that Barack absolutely, positively should select Joe Biden as his VP. There’s no need to explain my reasoning again – I hyped this choice on this blog just this past Monday night.

But then something happened – I read all the things Joe has said during the past several years: (a) praising McCain, as one who is qualified to be President; (b) belittling Barack, as someone who was not yet qualified to be President; and c) explaining why the United States needed to invade Iraq, even if the invasion kept us there for a decade. It became clear that the McCain campaign should be able to have a field day pitting these two Democratic running mates AGAINST each other.

At this point, I must confess to being confused. Yes, that’s right – a blogger admits genuine confusion. It’s probably not something we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to suggest that we have all the answers. We’re supposed to be loud and proud in our assessments. Right?

Well, it’s impossible for me to be cocky about the prospects of a running mate whose words can be constantly shoved up the you-know-what of my beloved Presidential candidate. And yet … I also cannot forget the reasons why I had for so long thought of Joe Biden as the perfect choice for VP.

Maybe Joe's pugnacity and credibility can reinvigorate what has been a moribund campaign as of late. Maybe he, more than any other American, can effectively reassure voters that Barack is qualified and ready to lead. Maybe he can figure out a way to spin his previous statements in a way as to minimize their force, and persuade middle-America that McCain’s reliance on those statements is mere “politics as usual.” In short, maybe Joe's stupid comments will provide a trap door for McCain, encouraging him to go even more negative than he might otherwise go, while at the same time allowing Barack to latch onto Joe's passion and ride the high road to victory.

One thing is for sure: Joe Biden possesses exactly what Barack Obama lacks. He complements Barack like no other statesman does. And if Barack were to somehow win this election, Joe Biden would appear to make an excellent Vice President. I’m going to keep that in mind for a bit while the media hammers away at the “electability” issue.

Hopefully, something can happen at the Convention next week to bring Hillary’s voters into the fold. If Barack has figured out a way to swing that, which would be no small feat but is not beyond the realm of possibility, maybe he won’t have to worry as much about campaigning in the fall as about governing in the winter. If he ever gets to that point, he’ll have one hell of an authentic, seasoned, articulate, respected, and knowledgeable voice at his side.

In short, Joe Biden's big fat mouth may yet sink Barack Obama's chances. But how can you not like the guy? And if people do like him, and they trust the thrust of what he has to say, more and more voters might just come to like Barack Obama.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Let me begin with a confession. I was wrong in suggesting that Joe Biden would be a decent choice for Veep notwithstanding his support for the Iraq War. I hadn’t bothered to research all the crazy things the man has said in the past two years which, taken together, would almost certainly sink the Obama campaign if they were attributed to his VP nominee. Now that Biden's comments are out in the open, only a fool would suggest that Biden and Obama could run on the same ticket. My apologies to the readers of this blog.

I still like Joe B as a man and as a statesman. But a VP for Barack Obama? Don’t think so.

The second fool is none other than the ex-Maverick turned right-wing suck-up, John McCain. Last weekend at Saddleback, I was impressed with his speaking skills. Today, though, he has me shaking my head.

How can a guy run for President at a time that could arguably be called a recession and not know how many friggen houses he has? I thought that his entire charm was that he was a regular guy – someone we can relate to. How can any of us relate to someone who has so many homes that he can’t even number them? This isn't even an issue of his being rich. I bet most billionaires know the number of their homes.

More importantly, how can a guy like this possibly understand what it means to be hurting economically? No wonder he’s already admitted that he doesn’t know much about economics.

Here’s my advice to McCain going forward. Find out something, anything about your personal assets, just in case the topic might come again on the campaign trail. It's frankly not enough to repeat the mantra "I was a POW, I was a POW, I was a POW," as if that means you know what's it's like to be poor in 2008. We all recognized that you did your time, but that was more than 30 years ago. A lot has changed since then -- including your wives. Apparently, the second one (the much younger, much richer one) has a habit of buying stuff. That's fine, but if it's jointly in your name, you might want to open your eyes to what your wife is doing, just like the rest of us married men do.

So OK. That’s it for the two fools. Now the prediction:

I’ve been thinking about this Democratic VP pick, and there really does seem to be only one sensible choice. His name is Jack Reed. War hero. Graduated first in his class at West Point. Democratic Senator who opposed the Iraq War in 2002. Someone who gets along with Barack. And a name that has been kept relatively quiet, which means that his selection should generate more buzz.

He’s the guy, or at least he should be. Watch and see if it happens. We'll know within a day or two.

Monday, August 18, 2008


You may have noticed my advice this weekend for Barack – that he refrain from nominating a VP who supported the Iraq War back in 2002, lest he inoculate McCain on the issue of his war-mongering. Well … I should have added one exception to that statement.

Senator Joe Biden was one of more than 20 Democratic Senators who supported the War. He also has a big mouth that at times loses control (note his own infamous comment about Barack being “clean” and “articulate”). Plus, he comes from a state – Delaware – that is hardly purple. Nonetheless, I think he would be an inspired choice.

Biden knows foreign policy better than any other leading American statesman, with the possible exception of Dick Lugar (not exactly a possible running mate). He speaks with the kind of authority that E.F. Hutton would be proud of: when Joe Biden speaks, people listen!

Most importantly, he speaks with passion. As I indicated earlier today, that is what has been lacking from Barack’s campaign as of late.

We don’t need candidates who are cooler than the other side of the pillow. We need candidates who have the guts to expose their hearts. In this case, we need a Democratic ticket that can viscerally convince swing voters that we absolutely can’t live with another four years of cowboy foreign policy, massive deficit spending, crappy health care, environmental neglect, and welfare for the ultra-rich. Biden can play a big part in getting that message across. He might even persuade Barack to throw caution to the wind and fight.

Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed in today’s New York Times calling for Barack to show passion when it comes to the economy. I might go further and say that he needs to show passion with respect to at least one or two issues involving the economy and at least one or two issues involving international affairs.

For a young statesman to inspire a huge portion of the American public, as Barack will need to do in order to be elected, passion is a must. He showed that passion in his stump speeches earlier in the year, but it has been largely absent from his recent performances. That much change.

Barack will win or lose depending on what he says in his campaign ads and his upcoming debates. The one big speech at the Democratic Convention can only do so much for him – the other performances, collectively, will be much more important.

When Barack enters a debate, is he prepared to show honest-to-God indignation – not merely professorial disagreement -- at the way the GOP has handled the war and the economy? Is he prepared to demonstrate with fire that John McCain has sold out and checked his maverick past at the door? Is he prepared to prove that candidate McCain and President Bush disagree on virtually nothing, and that McCain is rapidly assembling the administration of Bush III? Is Barack prepared to identify particular facets of his domestic and foreign agenda in which his heart is engaged every bit as much as his mind?

More to the point, would doing the above come naturally to him? That may be the single most critical question for the fall.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I normally don’t post twice in the same weekend, but this time I must. I don’t know how many of you watched last night’s forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren, but if you didn’t, please read this carefully and consider taking these points to heart:

First, as I said yesterday, this election is FAR from over. Those Democrats who assess Barack’s political talent well above McCain’s fail to recognize that Barack is still learning his trade. In light of his inexperience as a politician, this can yet become a dog-fight

Second, when Barack and McCain are giving speeches, the disparity in skill level is indeed mind-blowing. Barack is a brilliant orator. McCain is marginally competent at best. I mention this disparity in part because oratorical skills are extremely important for Presidents who hope to be inspirational leaders. So, too, is the ability to put together and oversee an excellent organization. For those reasons, among others, I suspect that Barack would make an infinitely better President than McCain. But … the issue of the moment isn’t who would make a better President; it’s who is more electable. There, as I indicated above, the call may become a close one.

3. In town-hall meetings – and last night’s meeting was almost like a town-hall meeting because there were no follow-up questions and essentially no rules as to how, and for how long, to respond to the questions – McCain has some definite advantages: (a) McCain tells stories and, in doing so, draws from 70 plus years of experience and a wellspring of accomplishments. Barack, by contrast, speaks a bit like an academic. By that I mean that he answers questions thoughtfully, relatively directly, and attempts to “instruct” us on his positions. Many people will prefer this latter approach, but I suspect it is less effective for the “swing-voters.” (b) Barack enters into an I-Thou relationship with the questioners … he faces the questioners, responds to them directly, and acts like he owes them personally an answer that is authentic and relatively complete. McCain, by contrast, processes the question, tersely and viscerally responds to it, and then quickly goes into stump-speech mode, which, as I indicated, often amounts to story-telling. Again, advantage McCain. What matters isn’t whether the questioner likes the answer but whether the swing-voters at home like the answer. (c) McCain is invoking a familiar archetype of the white, male, experienced, conservative, patriotic, God-fearing American statesman. Barack is trying to be a 21st century, third-way kind of politician. Unless Barack can get Americans affirmatively to distrust McCain as a person, or at least to distrust whether McCain is right for his times, McCain’s the one who is farming in a proven-fertile field.

The upshot of this isn’t much different than what I said yesterday, but my point was graphically illustrated by last night’s forum. Barack can’t simply run-out-the-clock on McCain like he did on Hillary during the final couple of months of the campaign. He must take some chances and show America why it REALLY doesn’t want McCain, not merely why it wants Barack.

It shouldn’t be that hard to expose McCain as wrong for his times. Listening to McCain talk about foreign policy last night was a perfect example of his vulnerability. McCain analyzes overseas issues like a ten year old. In his comic-strip world, there are heroes (like the leader of Georgia, who McCain extolled, even though his screw up is partially responsible for the violence with Russia) and villains (Putin, Saddam, etc.). Coming across less as a Christian than as a Manichaean, McCain suggests that our job – as the superheroes of the world – are to defeat evil every time it manifests itself. So we can spend a trillion plus dollars and many thousand lives on Iraq based on a justification that turned out to be a mistake, and then brag about it for years on end. And we feel obliged to wax eloquent about “following Osama to the gates of hell” even when, in truth, we strangely let him elude our grasp and don’t seem able to look for him.

To be sure, you don’t hear much from the media about McCain’s weaknesses on foreign policy. But believe me, they’re out there, just waiting to be exposed for everyone to see.

In short, John McCain, far from acting like the senile idiot so many Democrats make him out to be seemed last night like someone who could very easily be elected President. To defeat him, his downside must be made manifest to the swing voters who don’t read the Huffington Post or watch the Daily Show. Fortunately for Obama, McCain has serious problems – this man, who never bothered to take his studies seriously in college and frequently as an adult has been unable to control his temper, now, in his old age, appears to be influenced more by Superman and Batman (or is it Whack a Mole?) than by the great works of political theory. That’s the last person in the world you’d like to have ruling our military.

Are you going to expose him, Barack? Or are you going to play three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust and pray for luck at the polls? That’s pretty much your choice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


This is the second time I am addressing you directly. The first, which was face to face, lasted perhaps twenty seconds. Now, though, I feel entitled to more of your time. On Monday night, I became the proud owner of brand, spanking new Honda Civic Hybrid. After taking one for the (global) team with that purchase, I figure there are some extra privileges coming my way this week. I can think of no greater privilege than grabbing a bit of your attention.

Let me begin by thanking you for running such a superb campaign. I chuckle when I hear people tout John McCain’s experience over yours, because the last time I checked, the two of you have the same amount of experience in serving as the CEO of a major enterprise – your respective campaigns – and while he has made a mess out of his, yours has been a model of excellence.

I began to lose hope in your candidacy when Hillary started to pull away in the polls last summer, but I hadn’t realized how superior your campaign organization was to hers. How was I to guess you’d destroy her in such states as Idaho and Utah? How was I to guess that while she’d win decisively in California, New York and Massachusetts, you’d still hold your own on Super Tuesday? I expect that the amazing organization you’ve put together will pay major dividends this fall in states like Virginia and Ohio that have previously gone Republican. Just as McCain could “out poll the polls” because of the Bradley effect, you may well do the same by bringing new voters into the system.

Clearly, your advantages this November are not confined to your organization. You are an incredible speaker -- infinitely better than McCain. Your views coincide more with those of the American public. Your candidacy is truly historic because of your race. Being a Democrat, you aren’t saddled with the unpopularity of George Bush. And last but hardly least, you are the better looking of the two candidates … and have a much more likeable personality. Your opponent may best be characterized as the second coming of that crusty curmudgeon with the dry wit, Bob Dole. We all remember Dole as the last GOP candidate who got blown away at the ballot box by a much younger, livelier, more intellectually-vibrant opponent.

All these advantages cause me strongly to expect your victory this November. But you know, I may be less optimistic than many of the Democrats I know. And that’s because you’re starting to remind me of Livingstone Bramble.

Please tell me you know the name. It’s important that you do. After all, I continue to maintain that you can always predict the winner of a Presidential campaign on the basis of which of the candidates would do the best job providing color commentary on an NFC Championship Game … and I suspect that most half-decent football commentators over the age of 40 would remember the name of Livingstone Bramble.

For those of you who aren’t so knowledgeable about sports generally, or “the sweet science” in particular, Bramble could aptly be termed the “Prince of Boxing.” This isn’t because of his prince-like skills, but because the dude kept changing his name, much like a certain musician from Minnesota. Known alternatively as Livingstone Bramble, Abuja Bramble, and Ras-I-Bramble, this colorful character won a world title in 1984 after upsetting Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and kept the title for more than two years. Bramble was also known for his dread-locks, Rastafarianism, practice of witchcraft, and love of snakes – in fact, he enjoyed entering a ring with a snake around his neck. But what I remember most about the former champ is that he is probably the only titleholder in the history of boxing with whom I could have lasted fifteen rounds.

Yup. You heard me, Barack. I, Dan Spiro, who is nobody’s idea of an athlete could have lasted fifteen rounds with Ras-I-Bramble. Why? Because Bramble, at his peak, may have been a precise, poised pugilist, but he was a mere counterpuncher. I don’t recall ever seeing the guy initiate a punch on his own – he simply waited for guys like Boom Boom to throw a right, before Bramble dodged it and threw a combination of his own. It can be a dazzling approach – and for two years, it worked to perfection. But after 1986, Bramble’s counterpunching style netted a record of 16-24-2 … hardly what the doctor ordered.

If I fought Ras-I, my strategy would be quite simple. Never punch the guy! Never. I’d just stand there with my gloves up, and some bizarre force field would apparently prevent him from throwing the first punch. Maybe if I threw one with .1 seconds left to go in the last round I might actually win on points. Who knows? He’d knock me out for sure, but probably after the bell.

Counterpunchers mystify me, because if you don’t put a top puncher in the ring with them, they just dance … they don’t fight. It was a style that netted Ras-I the Lightweight Belt. But Barack, the last time I checked, you’re running as a heavyweight. And in that classification, we don’t tend to need counterpunchers. We need initiators. We need brawlers.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been watching your counterpunching style at work. It seems that you want the campaign to stay positive, but whenever John McCain throws a right cross or a left hook your way, you respond with a punch of your own. “Thou Shalt Not Be Swift-Boated” is the new Democratic mantra. That’s another phrase for “don’t forget to counter every big punch.”

Fair enough. But don’t you see what’s happening? John McCain and his team of slime-peddlers are initiating all the punching. They’re determining (1) precisely when you guys engage and (2) the general topic of the engagement. They always seem to be plotting the next flurry … and you seem content to dance, dance, dance … and counter when called upon to do so. Is that really the way heavyweights fight?

Now please don’t give me a “Muhammad Ali” analogy. Ali was no Ras-I. The Louisville Lip initiated one stinging jab after another. Would you honestly analogize the ads you are running this Olympics as stinging jabs? I see them as the kind of upbeat, friendly ads that are typically run by an incumbent with a big lead. I wish I were confident enough to think that these ads – combined with an occasional counterpunch – will really work.

While we’re on the subject of boxing, I find myself disturbed not merely by your counterpunching style, but by the nature of your counterpunches. They are more like counter-jabs. McCain compared you to Paris Hilton and Britny Spears – all pizzazz and no substance. And then, in an ad that was truly the height of sleaze (because it took certain of your comments out of context in order to fundamentally misrepresent what you were saying) he compared you to Moses. More specifically, he compared you to those pompous asses we all seem to know who think they’re Moses, when in reality they’re merely mindless narcissists … like so many celebrities.

And how did you respond to these ads? I can’t friggen remember. What I can remember is that Paris Hilton saved your bacon by putting on an excellent counterpunching ad in which she essentially compared McCain to Methuselah. She gave us a choice between young and sexy, and aged and cantankerous. By implication, you were included in the former category. Now that was an effective counterpunch!

So many of fellow Democrats are expecting a clear victory this November based on your track record in defeating Hillary. But when you think about it, once Hillary went negative, you didn’t really defeat her. Returning to the football context, you took a big lead in points (i.e., delegates) into the fourth quarter, and ran out the clock. I won’t second guess that strategy – it did earn you the nomination – but it’s hardly a demonstration that you’re able to defeat a relentlessly negative campaign. And, in fact, the “running out the clock” strategy may well have backfired, but the strategy always yields a close outcome – close enough, in your case, that you feel obliged to turn what should have been your convention into what is shaping up as a Clinton Nostalgia event.

As a guy who has backed you from the start, that prospect makes me wince. And yet, once again, I can’t criticize your decision to hand the mike to Hillary … and Chelsea … and Bill, all the while allowing the delegates to vote for Hillary in droves. Why? Because apparently, you still haven’t sealed the deal with her supporters.

All of this leads me to believe that you still have some work to do. In other words, this might not be the time to put the car in cruise control just yet. You might have a lead in points, and a huge talent advantage, but the score is close and the game is early. To win it, you still have to take some chances. You still have to throw some punches.

But when should you punch? And how? Those are the questions. I’ll answer the second first.

Your goal should be to turn this into an election about two people, not just a referendum on yourself. One of the reasons why you’re having so much trouble with the Hillary supporters is that they don’t seem to fear a McCain Presidency. They are anything but desperate about getting you elected. That’s because nobody on your side has bothered to mock and ridicule him, whereas he has made mockery of you the centerpiece of his campaign.

There are so many ways to mock McCain, you just have to choose between an embarrassment of riches. First, you have the man’s war mongering. McCain was a leading cheerleader for a “war of choice” that has turned into a disaster of epic proportions. He has spoken of this war like a crazed child playing a video game -- “I want to win, WIN, WIN!” The idea of him following Osama Bin Laden into the gates of Hell is comical, given that the war he has supported in Iraq has made it impossible to capture Bin Laden in the war we should have waged in Afghanistan.

You can practically turn this man into a real-life version of Jack T Ripper from Dr. Strangelove – the crazy soldier whose concern about his precious bodily fluids resulted in thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. At a minimum, you can make people nervous about having a hot-tempered, bellicose fool in charge of the Red Button.

If you don’t like that approach, here’s another: Ask women what they think about John McCain’s preferred choices for the Supreme Court? Or his likely choices for a cabinet? Comparisons between George Bush and John McCain may seem unfair until you realize that McCain is still a Republican, and if he hopes to get elected, he has to appeal to the hard right of the Republican Party. So who would he find to protect abortion rights on the Supreme Court? And who would he find to lead the Executive Branch departments? Likely, he’d be fishing in the same pool where Bush has been. The choice should be very clear: Do you want four years like the last eight? If so, McCain is your man. If not, vote Obama, or quit your complaining, but you’re merely another “enabler” if you won’t support him.

Want a third approach? Try calling the Republicans the party of high taxes. You heard me – label them the tax-and-spend party. Because truly they are.

You can mock the GOP as the height of hypocrisy in calling for “low taxes” when, in fact, they have consistently fought to increase the most pernicious tax of all: the national debt. Our debt is, quite obviously, a hidden tax on our children and grandchildren. Under the last few Republican Presidents, and especially under the current Prez, it has expanded wildly. But under the only Democrat we’ve had in the last 28 years, the country was actually running a budget surplus at one point. That should be a huge campaign issue. And you, Barack, can paint yourself as a true fiscal conservative who will have the stones to ensure some sanity in the budget. By contrast, you can paint McCain as advocating opening up one war-front after another and paying for it with our sons’ lives and our grandsons’ property.

Finally … there are the really dirty attack strategies. These are the ones your opponent would be using against you if the tables were turned. The attacks on character.

John McCain’s story isn’t exactly spotless, now is it? Need I detail how he screwed around in the Naval Academy, got special benefits in the military, dumped his wife as soon as she lost her looks, got embroiled in a financial scandal, completely flip-flopped on his principles (even to the point where he is now “moderate” on torture)? Any or all of these points could be major campaign themes.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you start hurling mud to destroy McCain’s reputation for character. But just keep that weapon in mind, because (a) he and his minions would be resorting to that against you, and (b) it should be a reminder that everything short of that is fair game. The point is that you must hit him and hit him hard on the issues to the point where Americans would be put off by the thought of a McCain Presidency independently of whether you were running against him. You’re not going to get most voters to thirst for an Obama Presidency. But if you can combine your fans with another large group of voters who are anti-McCain, then you’ll have a winning coalition.

As for “when” to attack, I’m satisfied with your decision to run a positive campaign through the end of your convention. I’m satisfied with the idea that you must come across as a “different kind of politician” who offers more hope than fear. But when, starting in September, he punches again, you should let him have it – and not just with one counter-punch combination but with a sustained offensive. That’s what’s critical. As I learned long ago when I became prosecuting fraud cases for the government, because of the primacy of ethics, a government lawyer has to tie one hand behind his back … just don’t tie both!

There is one final point to make. The Veep decision you’re about to make in the next couple of weeks will be critical to your ability to attack in the fall. Please do not inoculate McCain against criticism for supporting the Iraq War. Please do not neutralize your “judgment” advantage in opposing that war by nominating a Senator who supported it.

I won’t suggest who you should nominate. But allow me to suggest who you shouldn’t: anyone who publicly supported that awful decision to invade Iraq. That includes Biden (who I’d otherwise support), Bayh, and, of course, Clinton. If you can just stay clear of making that mistake and then wage a hard-hitting but above the belt campaign, you should come out victorious in November.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


I was raised to have disdain for reactionaries. As described to me by my parents, these were people who couldn’t accept that times have changed. They pined for an earlier era, a simpler era – when the man of the house ruled the roost … and whites and blacks weren’t so integrated … and government wasn’t so profoundly involved in lifting up the poor … and homosexuals were closeted … and big corporations were able to behave pretty much as they pleased … and entertainment was always wholesome … You get the drift. My parents told me that the people who espoused these values called themselves “conservatives,” but they were anything but. Conservatives want things to stay as they are, I was told. By contrast, these pseudo-conservatives want to go into a time machine and take the rest of our society along with them. They are right-wing radicals, my parents said, and we need to expose them as such.

Fine. So exposed. But I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t expose my friends on the left when they display the same tendencies.

Before I address my topic – sex – let me express my bias. Professionally, I enforce a statute called the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act prohibits misconduct by those who submit false or fraudulent claims to the Government. But in order to be found culpable under the Act, the defendant must have acted with more than simple negligence. By law, the defendant must have been at least reckless. And if the Government can prove recklessness, it is entitled to treble damages plus penalties.

I had this concept very much in mind when Monica Lewinsky came into my life. I had already lost faith in her boyfriend Bill by the time that their tryst was exposed, but at least I had thought that he would not recklessly endanger his entire Presidency. I had assumed that he cared enough about his country that he wouldn’t take the kind of chance that a drunk driver takes when he risks human lives on the highway – for in this case, if he had an affair with an intern and it was exposed, he would clearly have risked any credibility he had as a politician. Well, sure enough, it was exposed. The media seized on the story day after bloody day; Clinton was “impeached” (though not “convicted”); he became “still-President Clinton,” the lamest of ducks; his VP ran for President while understandably distancing himself from Clinton; Clinton thus couldn’t really help to campaign for his VP; his VP lost the election by the slimmest of margins, and surely would have won comfortably if only Clinton had not been so reckless; the guy who won the election decided a couple of years later to get us involved in a meshugah war in Iraq; and now the country has lost thousands of soldiers, hundreds of billions of dollars, and international standing. All because of blow jobs.

Were these events foreseeable consequences of what Slick Willie did with his willie? Obviously, you can never foresee a fact pattern so specific. But what he could have foreseen was that (a) the chances of getting caught were enormous, and (b) the consequences of getting caught were devastating. Did I mention drinking and driving? His conduct was even more reckless … much more devastating than taking out a single motorist or vehicle.

At the time Clinton was exposed, I was devastated. You see, back in 1992, I was a true believer. I even joined the Saxophone Club. I shook the man’s hand. And now, I thought to myself, he’s revealed his true colors. Night after night I was glued to the TV and I listened to the talking heads ruminate about what the President did and why. The Republicans who lambasted him – the same ones who had been pissing me off for years – they were the ones who were making sense to me. And the Democrats? One after another, they made excuses for Clinton. They would trivialize his misconduct – “merely about sex, so what?” Or “he made a mistake, fine, let’s move on.” Or, “he’s just a man with an overactive need for sex.” It’s that last one that really enraged me. This friggen guy was in his 50s, right? Well, when my friends and I were in our late-teens, I thought, we surely had five times the sex drive of any 50 year old man, and when we weren’t getting any – which was nearly all the time – we took matters into our own hands. If we could, why couldn’t he? The Democratic apologists never explained that one to my satisfaction.

All of that alienated me a bit from the leadership of the Democratic Party. Ah, but there were a few Democratic voices who reminded me that I wasn’t alone. Joe Lieberman was one of them. He spoke out in the Senate against Clinton – and I was thrilled to learn that he was later nominated for VP. (If only Joe had known that Clinton’s sexcapades would give rise to the stinkin’ Iraq War, maybe The War Monger would have applauded the Clinton scandal … but I digress.) Another Democratic leader also presented views similar to mine: “I think this President has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen.” Wonderful words – so concise, and yet so devastating. I’d say the speaker of those words hit the nail on the head.

And he did it again, this week, when he described his own, eerily similar conduct, as “egocentric and narcissistic.” That’s right; the speaker of those profound words was none other than John Edwards.

OK. I’ll spare you my thoughts over the years about Mr. Edwards. Readers of this blog know that even though I have written early and often about the need to address rampant poverty as perhaps the fundamental issue facing this country, I haven’t trusted Edwards as far as I could throw him. The idea of an anti-poverty activist building a 30,000 square foot house reduced him, in my eyes, to an absurdity. But this post really isn’t about Mr. Edwards. Hypocrites are a dime a dozen, and to some degree we’re all counted among their ranks.

No, the focal points of this post are my fellow liberals who persist in making excuses for men like Willie and Johnny – quinquagenarians who don’t know how or when to jerk off or what it means to be one. (Maybe they need to make masturbation classes mandatory for men if they wish to graduate from college. Or at least before they’re allowed to run for public office.) Just last night, one of my best friends sounded the same lame excuse: “This should never have been reported. Back in the old days, it never would have been reported. It’s none of anyone’s business.” There you have it. Just another reactionary, pining for the halcyon days – in this case, the days when the press corps winked at the politician when he took the bimbo up to the hotel room and did to her what he had been doing to the nation … and not to his wife.

Folks, get it. Maybe those were the good old days. Maybe the press shouldn’t be reporting about politicians’ trysts. Maybe it is disgusting to think of yourself – or a member of your family – working for one of those tabloids that collect trash on people’s sex lives. I’ll grant you all that. BUT THIS IS THE WORLD THAT WE LIVE IN, AND IT’S NOT CHANGING ANYTIME SOON! Clinton knew it, and I say that because his IQ is obviously astronomical. And Edwards knew it, and I say that because he basically said as much in the 1999 quote that I’ve posted above. The rules are simple: if you cheat, you stand a really good chance of destroying your credibility as a statesman. Period.

In spite of all that, in spite of the fact that Edwards supposedly told his wife about this little frolic back in 2006, one year later, the two of them – husband and wife – were shaking down their fellow Americans for tens of millions of dollars in campaign funds, presumably based on the assumption that maybe, just maybe, this bimbo-tryst wouldn’t get exposed in time for the election. Forget the fact that Edwards could have been elected and then it could have been exposed, thereby marring his ability to lead. Just concentrate on the fact that this couple knowingly requested and received tens of millions of non-deductible contributions from Americans without disclosing this “material fact” about their candidacy.

Last December, Elizabeth Edwards received the “Woman of the Year” award on this blog. That’s how much I thought of her. And truly, I do respect her in many ways. But she’s dead wrong in calling this a “private” affair. Quite the contrary, for all the reasons her husband enunciated in 1999, his affair was anything but private. It belongs to this nation as a reminder that when you seek the highest office in the land, you implicitly promise that you will not disgrace yourself according to the prevailing morality of your society. And it belongs to this nation as a reminder that liberals who shrug off this type of conduct are doing the same thing as right wingers who pine for the days of Ward Cleaver. It’s time for all of us to wake up and walk out into some 21st century sunlight. Gays are here to stay. Women’s lib is here to stay. Tabloid journalism is here to stay. And the respect for marital fidelity is here to stay.

And before we leave the topic, can I at least pine for something myself: Before I die, can at least one prominent politician’s wife please throw the bum out of your life? Back in the good old days, you see, cheatin’ men used to find their clothes thrown out on the front lawn instead of finding their wives standing next to them, all supportive, at press conferences. Now I’m not saying they deserve the Bobbit treatment, but seriously, can’t at least one politician’s wife tell us that they’ve had it with their perverted hubby? Or is that just another utopian, reactionary dream? Stay tuned – it shouldn’t be long before another politician’s wife gets to weigh in on the topic.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Last week, in a space of just a few hours, I went from reading about the philosophy of Martin Heidegger to watching Patrick Buchanan and Joe Scarborough on the “Morning Joe” program. Talk about a comedown.

Both Heidegger and those two Republican pundits were talking about mysteries. But Heidegger’s mysteries are truly worthy of the term. The Morning Joe mystery, which happens to be the one that political pundits have been ruminating about all summer, is no mystery at all. It is merely a sad commentary on the state of our political marketplace.

Martin Heidegger is a philosopher about which few Americans know anything. It is easy to dismiss him as a Nazi – much like it is easy to praise Scarborough and Buchanan as small D “democrats” – and there is no denying that Heidegger not only was a member of the Nazi party who publicly spoke in favor of Hitler’s break with the League of Nations and who later, after the war, had virtually nothing to say about the Holocaust, let alone an apology. To be sure, Martin Heidegger the man is no hero. But Martin Heidegger the philosopher is dismissed at a thinker’s own peril. If you, like me, equate God to Being itself, you dare not ignore Heidegger. After all, in the history of our species, it would appear that no philosopher has been as consumed with the meaning of Being – of isness – as Martin Heidegger.

Need I say more about why Americans find him so irrelevant?

Heidegger, like the other great philosophers, spends at least as much time evoking questions as he does answers. No question is more central to him than “What is the Being which makes possible all being?” This question can be asked in related forms, such as why is there something, anything, instead of nothing? Or why do we, as individual human beings, exist -- or for that matter, why does a particular stone exist – when we can just as easily conceive of ourselves not existing?

Heidegger views these questions as fascinating mysteries, and I must agree with him. After posing them, he goes on to lament about the history of western civilization as an environment where the question of Being has been more and more trivialized to the point where most of us tend to neglect it almost entirely. People who ask these questions, Heidegger points out, are in touch with their ability to view the world with wonder, or more precisely, with radical astonishment. That is the attitude that has spawned many a philosopher and many a mystic. But when you think about the “western” mindset, radical astonishment is not exactly the perspective that immediately comes to mind -- quite the contrary. We westerners are busy people, and well too involved in our “work” to admire the work of God, or the Absolute, or whatever name you choose to give to Being, when considered not as an It but as a Thou. We don’t behold with awe. We define and categorize. And then we take what has been defined and categorized and manipulate it for our own chosen ends. I heard yesterday that scientists are even attempting to manipulate the weather during the Olympics by firing some sort of projectiles into the rain clouds in order to keep Beijing dry. And yes, this isn’t even the “western” world. But scientists are westerners wherever they may reside, just as mystics are easterners.

It is not hard to guess how the profound writings of Heidegger would be “defined and categorized” by political pundits like a Buchanan or a Scarborough – or their fellow travelers like Lou Dobbs. Surely, these so-called “populist” pundits would approach Heidegger’s questioning of Being with little more than relentless mockery. From what I can tell of these pundits, they have contempt for so many types of academicians. Philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, sociologists, scholars in ethnic or gender studies departments … The list isn’t a short one. These people are treated with contempt by our talking heads. Their work is viewed as mental masturbation, and they themselves are dismissed as ultra liberal, out of touch, and ultra elitist. And it is to that “elitist” label that the Scarboroughs and the Buchanans of our society most commonly turn when they wish to mock just about every fascinating question that they don’t understand and don’t want to understand. To ask these questions is essentially un-American, according to the narrative of the populist pundits, because the questions are irrelevant to the “real” Americans – the kind that wouldn’t know the difference between ontology and oncology. And that, of course, is the ultimate sin of our talking heads: they elevate the uneducated over the educated to the point where the former are treated as authentic Americans and the latter are not. That’s why, just as I have trouble thinking of Heidegger the philosopher as a Nazi, I have even more trouble thinking of the Scarboroughs or Buchanans as small-d democrats.

And yet I listen to them anyway. They are, after all, part of our democracy, and their views reflect those of millions of Americans who share their biases and would find Heidegger as trivial as he is impenetrable. So, if the pundits haven’t been ruminating about the mystery of Being, exactly what mystery has been astonishing them? If you can believe what they say – and I’m not sure I do – the great mystery of the moment involves our Presidential campaign. Over and over again they’ve asked the same question. And they rarely try to answer it – or perhaps they prefer to leave the sense of ineffability in the minds of their audience. The mystery can be stated succinctly as follows: If (a) this is a year where Americans are so profoundly dissatisfied with the direction our country is going; (b) Americans associate that direction with the policies of the Republican party; (c) John McCain is viewed as an old man who is essentially arguing for a third Bush term and admittedly knows very little about the subject that most concerns Americans, our economy; and (d) Barack Obama, by contrast, is a brilliant, charismatic, fresh-faced, Democrat who is poised to take the country in a new direction but without the spirit of divisiveness … then why the hell isn’t Obama clobbering McCain in the polls?

There you have it. The mystery du jour – or more specifically, the mystery of the entire summer. Are you all as “radically astonished” by that mystery as so many of the pundits claim to be?

Please tell me the answer is no. For the above assessment of McCain and Obama’s relative strengths and weaknesses is characteristically biased and incomplete. Allow me to flesh out a few more details.

First, in the last 30 years, we’ve elected exactly one Democrat to the White House. In the same time period, the Republicans have elected three.

Second, the one Democrat who was elected was a Southerner with 12 years of experience as the Chief Executive Officer of a state – precisely the type of experience that people want in their President. Even so, he didn’t even receive 50% of the vote.

Oh, and did I mention that this one Democrat was not only extremely charismatic, but also extremely white?

Today, by contrast, the Democrats are offering up a Northerner who, in the oft-stated words of Joe Scarborough, had “only one year of experience in the Senate before he started to run for President.” Oh yeah, did I mention that this latter fellow is not only relatively “unaccomplished,” but also young and black? His Republican opponent is a revered war hero who has had an extremely accomplished career in the Senate (one that justifiably earned him the label of “maverick” because of his willingness to take on his own party).

So, given that assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of these combatants, perhaps the better question is: why isn’t McCain giving Obama one hellacious ass whipping?

I’ll tell you why – because Obama is indeed a brilliant, brilliant talent. And McCain seems to have aged three decades in the last eight years. And yet … did I mention that Obama is relatively inexperienced and relatively black? It is that last fact that the pundits don’t like to talk about when assessing the polls, but how can you not? Just consider the words of the two greatest white spokesmen for human rights in our nation’s history. One, wrote about holding as self-evident the truth that “all men are created equal,” and yet he privately mused about what it said about black people that orangutan males are more attracted to black women than to other orangutans. Yes, Virginia, our Thomas Jefferson thought that African-Americans were genetically inferior. As for Honest Abe, he made the following pronouncement when speaking before a Red State (South Carolinian) audience in 1858: “I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. … I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. … And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Those are the words of our human rights advocates. I need not bother to cite the comments of the George Wallaces, the Strom Thurmonds, or the Jesse Helmses. And do I really need to point out the various levels at which John McCain is communicating to Americans when he mocks Obama as a man who thinks he’s the new Moses and has the chutzpah to address adoring crowds overseas when he ought to be competing for votes here at home?

Obama cannot afford to tell the truth, but I can. McCain and his campaign are mining some pure gold here. They are speaking to millions of white people who have, for centuries, held some fairly defined stereotypes of African-Americans. You have your house blacks – your Stepinfetchits – and then you have your “uppity N----rs.” Barack Obama is being not so subtly portrayed as an “uppity N----r.” Nobody is calling him that directly – Mon Dieu! -- but they are hammering home the “arrogance” theme so frequently and so baselessly that I am hard-pressed to come up with another explanation. After all, once you stop taking Obama’s statements out of context, and especially once you consider the tone of his campaign taken in its entirety, how can he possibly be viewed as arrogant … unless you are expecting a member of his race to be ultra, ultra humble?

As long as the above stereotypes exist, and as long as McCain is determined to exploit them, this race will be relatively close. Indeed, the only real mystery about this election is how, in a realm that is seemingly packed with mediocre politicians and the occasional outsized talent with the equally outsized ego or libido, we have found a man whose talent is so brilliant that he can compete for President despite being young, male and black?

It is a credit to the sheer genius of Barack Obama that he is still given a roughly 62% chance of winning this election according to the betting markets, even though the polls are essentially even. Presumably, when he and McCain go toe-to-toe in the fall, the election will be decided. McCain will continue to rely on mud-throwing, mocking, and covert racism, whereas Barack will show the nation – and yes, the world -- just what it means to be the Tiger Woods of politics. Apparently, most betters are expecting that, faced with such a spectacle, a few more white voters might get their heads out of their butts and vote for the Democrat.

McCain’s only hope stems from the fact that Obama is still the Tiger Woods of 1997, not the Tiger Woods of 2007. In other words, Barack lacks some experience, and is still learning, for example, how best to respond to negative campaigning. But then again … a genius is a genius is a genius. Mozart at 4 was still pretty damned good.