Sunday, November 28, 2010


I hope your Thanksgiving weekend is going well. Mine certainly has. It was nice to see my 89-year old mother get well just in time to come over and spend the holiday with the rest of the family. And given that one of my daughters is in college and the other will be there next year, I don’t take it for granted when both of them are home. So yeah, it’s been a great Thanksgiving.

This time of year, it seems appropriate to turn this blog into an opportunity to express gratitude generally, for even in the darkest times (like the fall of 2001), there are always reasons to do so. Here’s my 2010 list of that for which I am especially thankful:

1. Second Acts

Americans see it all the time in the entertainment industry: some rogue actor, musician or athlete makes a comeback, and if they can produce high quality work, all is forgiven. Maybe we’re too forgiving. But that’s America for you. It’s not a nation of grudge holders, it’s a nation of dreamers. When we find people who inspire us, we tend not to look a gift horse in the mouth and inquire as to whether everything in his or her past has been exemplary.

Tiger Woods certainly has not behaved in an exemplary fashion. By contrast, Barack Obama’s ethical record has been spotless. But let’s face it – 2010 has been a year that both would like to forget. For Tiger, it has provided plenty of shame off the golf course and futility on it. For Barack, it has been a year of standing eight counts, during which the Republicans and Tea Partiers kept throwing body blows, and he seemingly had no answers at all, other than just to protect his face and hope for the end of the round (or in this case, the final tallying of the midterm election results).

Well, that round is over. It’s time for a second act if there is to be one. And in the case of a President in the third year of his presidency, that second act is often glorious because the other Party overplays its own hand after a victorious midterm. Look for that to happen again this year – the GOP seems to think it has a mandate to implement a hard-right agenda, which it clearly does not, any more than Barack had a mandate to govern hard to the left. Once the Republicans overreact, then we can see if Barack has it in him to identify a coherent vision that will appeal to most Americans, or if he truly is like a punch-drunk fighter who is ready for the showers. I personally won’t count him out yet – there’s still a lot of political talent in that mind of his, and the man does seem like a fundamentally decent person. So let’s give him a chance and hope for the best. We’ll likely find out his fate soon enough due to the budget crisis that will be coming to a head in the early spring.

As for Tiger, I wish I knew enough about golf to sensibly predict what will happen in his second act. Clearly, the imposter who has been walking the course over the past few months is not Tiger Woods. Once (the old) Tiger put together a decent round of golf, you knew for a fact that he would be solid for the rest of the tournament. It’s called getting in a rhythm – or as they say in sports, in “the zone.” But the imposter is just a run of the mill PGA golfer – one moment he hits a great shot and the next moment he looks like a bum, and that’s the way it’s been going from round to round, tournament to tournament. You can win money on the PGA tour playing like that, but not tournaments, and certainly not the five Major tournaments Tiger needs to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major titles. It was a record that seemed unbreakable before Tiger, but incredibly vulnerable from the minute Tiger won his first Masters. Now, nobody has a clue what’s going to happen, and that is what makes it so exciting for a sports fan. So Tiger, let’s see what you got. The Masters will be upon us at right about the same time that Barack and Boehner get to play brinksmanship on the budget. If nothing else, these second acts will be Must See TV.

2. Setting Suns

There are few things more beautiful than a sunset. My family is fortunate to live in a house with a western exposure that backs on to a 77-acre field. It makes for incredible moments at dusk.

Well, if you too like setting suns, I think you may be about ready to witness a doozy. I’m referring to the Presidential aspirations of the former Governor of Alaska turned reality TV star. I for one am thrilled about the prospect that her 15 minutes are just about up. She’s one of my least favorite politicians, and that’s probably as nice a way as I can put it.

To be sure, as a “celebrity,” Sarah is still a hot commodity. Most people find her to be quite the curiosity, and as a result, the media can’t talk about her enough. But the same could have been said about, say, Paris Hilton, two or three years ago. That hardly made Paris electable to high office. Eventually, her sun set altogether, and now she’s just a has-been, even as a celebrity. I’m not sure that Sarah will soon be quite as irrelevant as Paris, but I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that her fans are nothing more than a passionate fringe, and that most Republicans want little more to do with her as a politician than do the Democrats.

Think about it -- first, she gets dissed by Karl Rove, and then ol’ Barbara Bush takes a shot at her. Isn’t it clear that “momma grizzly” isn’t exactly the favorite of the Republican elite? What’s more, she is absolutely loathed by the Democrats, and presumably those who run the Tea Party are smart enough to realize that the one person most capable of waking up the Democrats from their slumbers is none other than Sarah Palin. She inspires both fear and disdain on the left – disdain that she thinks she belongs in the White House without paying her dues, and fear for the country and the world if she ever realized her dream. If you want a Republican elected to the White House in 2013, the last thing you’d do is let Barack Obama debate Sarah Palin and watch her talk about our North Korean allies.

So yes, I do see a constellation of interests conspiring to render Sarah Palin increasingly irrelevant in American Presidential politics, but what I can’t say is exactly how this sun is likely to set. More like Howard Dean screaming? Or more gracefully, as when Teddy Kennedy wisely satisfied himself with a career as a legislator instead of an executive? There is a shrewdness to this woman to suggest that she might well recognize her limitations before she declares her candidacy for the presidency and becomes fodder for the late night comics. For now, though, she seems determined to continue to make an ass of herself, most recently by taking on Michelle Obama’s efforts to confront childhood obesity. If she keeps this up, I’m going to have to find a new metaphor, because whether it’s sunny or rainy, cloudy or clear, I’ve never seen a sunset as ugly as Palin can be when she’s in full-demagogue mode. Imagine being unconcerned about the recent diabetes epidemic and the other side-effects of childhood obesity. Even the Tea Partiers have to be wondering if they have had a crush on the wrong girl.

3. Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck

On behalf of all of those who bleed Stanford Cardinal (the color not the bird), I wish to thank Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck for giving us the greatest year of Stanford football in nearly four decades. All of the talking heads are saying that Harbaugh will be coaching somewhere else next year, even though Stanford surely will want him back, and all of the talking heads are saying that Andrew Luck will be quarterbacking somewhere else next year, even though Stanford surely will want him back and he will not yet have graduated. If the yentahs are right, no sooner will those guys be gone from The Farm than Stanford football will take its customary place mired in Pac-10 mediocrity. Still, here’s one thing the yentahs will never be able to take away: the memories of 2010.

In the past several weeks, Stanford has defeated Washington 41-0, Oregon State 38-0, UCLA 35-0, Wake Forest 68-24, California 48-14, Arizona 42-17 and Notre Dame 37-14, among other victories. It’s pretty impressive stuff, considering that shortly before Harbaugh and Luck came to the campus, this team wasn’t 11-1 (like they are this year), but rather 1-11. Back then, we alums were reading in an alumni magazine about how Stanford couldn’t compete in football because the school was too good academically. It’s funny how easy it is to make excuses, isn’t it?

Let that be the lesson of this year’s Stanford football team: no more excuses. If you fail at something, begin by looking in the mirror. You’ll always find something there from which to learn.

So, to one and all, Go Stanford! And I hope you had great Thanksgiving -- even if you went to Berkeley.


YoungMan said...

What a hard week Dan

You've been stymied by Mr. Freeze imperonated by a Kobe Bryant wannabe with 12 stiches in his lip...but at least has a better pulse on the nation than you d (damnation of you both with faint praise :))

Daniel Spiro said...

Young Man,

I said my piece on the topic two or three weeks ago after Obama's deficit commission recommended a freeze of federal pay. I have no respect whatsoever for scapegoating civil servants. It will be interesting to see whether others with substantially greater incomes than federal workers are going to be asked to sacrifice.