Saturday, March 31, 2007


Lyndon Johnson famously asked his staff to find him a one-handed economist. He was so sick of hearing economists tell him “On the one hand … but on the other hand … .” Clearly, if you were an economist in the 60s, fence straddling was an occupational hazard.

Well if that’s the problem with economists 40 years ago, what should we call the occupational hazard for politicians today? How about extreme hypocrisy! It’s different from the old type of hypocrisy. We’re talking extreme. In fact, it soon might be in the X-games it’s so extreme. And believe me, whoever takes the gold, silver and bronze will have to come up with some pretty impressive feats.

Yes, extreme hypocrisy wasn’t just invented yesterday. Two hundred 31 years ago, a hero of mine named Thomas Jefferson wrote about how all men were endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that those rights included “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Then, when he finished penning those words and watching them used to declare independence for his country, he went back home to live like a king off the fruits of slave labor.

So sure, TJ was an extreme hypocrite. But he wouldn’t come anywhere close to today’s medal stand. TJ, you see, did what virtually every white Southern male did who was born to affluence. So his hypocrisy can at least be understood, if not excused. Today’s whoppers have you shaking your head. What are these politicians thinking? Why are they so blatantly contradicting the positions they’re espousing so publicly? Why are they going out of their way to undermine their public messages?

Consider, for example, two of the leading Puritans of the 90s – Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich. They claim to represent the party of “family values.” They lead the impeachment of a President because he dared to cover up his extramarital sex. And what do they do in their personal life? They schtup on the side, that’s what!

Sure a lot of married guys schtup on the side. But the point is that lots and lots of married guys don’t. And especially if you’re like Newt, and you’re not above changing spouses periodically, couldn’t you put off doing the nasty (and I do mean nasty) until you’re ready to go into your cancer-suffering spouse’s hospital room and tell her that it’s time for a divorce?

Newt is a guy who once said, during the 1992 campaign, “Woody Allen having non-incest with a non-daughter to whom he was a non-father because they were a non-family fits the Democratic platform perfectly.” Ah, but Newt’s and Tom’s Republicans are different. They play hide the salami with women other than their wives and then – and here’s the rub – they lament (in Newt’s words) that they’ve fallen short of “God’s standards.” That’s right, you read me correctly -- this dude’s invoking God in reference to his own little foibles? Are you kidding me? Does he really expect us to believe that he fears a “god?” Or that he cares a whit for that god’s commandments?

Nah, he knows we’re not that stupid. I think he was simply competing to be on the medal stand, that’s all.

But hypocrisy is hardly confined to the self proclaimed “conservatives.” What troubles me even more is what has been revealed about some of my favorite liberal politicians. Take Al Gore. This isn’t just Mr. Global Warming. It’s a guy whose movie about global warming had very little to say about how to solve the climate change problem except to drum into our head the notion that we the people need to conserve, conserve, conserve.

I found that message a little weak. I wanted to hear more about what the Government can do. But hey, it was a movie intended for the masses, and most of us can’t control the Government, but at least we can control our own behavior. We can stop buying SUVs. We can stop leaving the lights on all the time. So fine, I’ve got no problem with some environmental crusader telling us about the need to sacrifice for the greater good. I’m just not sure that crusader’s name is Al Gore.

Al, you see, lives in a 10,000 square foot mansion with a pool house and a heated swimming pool. Could you imagine him sharing those facts with us during his movie: “Now, Mr. Hoi Polloi, after you give up your comforts in support of the cause, please feel free to get in the hybrid you can barely afford and drive to my mansion and visit me living in the lap of luxury?” I don’t see it. Say what you want about all the good he does for the environment, but remember – this is Al’s gig. If he wants us to believe that this is something more than a way of gaining fame and fortune, he’d better set an example that he, too, is willing to sacrifice for the cause. And the fact remains that he burns up many times as much fossil fuels as the average American family, all the while lamenting the high fossil-fuel burning of the average American family.

Perhaps he’s never heard of treadmills and modest split levels. Even so, he has to realize that if he’s unwilling to cramp his aristocratic lifestyle, he can’t possibly ask the middle class to sacrifice one iota for the cause.

But Al’s not the only extreme hypocrite among the liberal politicians. I’m thinking also of John Edwards. Yes, Mr. Anti-Poverty himself. He who is calling on his fellow Americans to redistribute wealth (“from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” -- OK, that was Marx, not Edwards, but you get the idea).

Mind you, I don’t feel entirely comfortable in speaking about Mr. Edwards in this post in light of the recent news about his wife. One should not generally add insult to injury. Then again, when you run for the White House, you open yourself up to scrutiny – and do so willingly. So I’ll pay Mr. Edwards the respect of not patronizing him, and I will call the facts as I see them.

Prior to the recent revelations about cancer, there was a debate going on between liberals and conservatives concerning Mr. Edwards’s sincerity … and it’s been going on for years. He looks like a surfer, he talks like a game show host, and yet he’s been a consistently outspoken voice in support of the have-nots of our society. Phony or Mother Theresa? That’s always been the key question about the guy.

It was certainly the question a couple of years ago when he sold his house in Georgetown for several million dollars and built his own little place in North Carolina. And what a place it is.

If you think Al’s house is substantial, go visit Edward’s shack: 28,000 square feet of home built on a lot of over 100 acres. That’s right twenty-eight-thousand-square feet! What in the name of Thorston Veblen is that?

My house is 1/10th as large, and I feel my family of four lives just fine. How can you build a 28,000 square foot house and then have the chutzpah to talk about “two Americas”? How can you spearhead a movement to redistribute wealth while you create a monument to material excess? The truth is, we may have three Americas: the poor, the rich, and the Edwardian (i.e., the absurdly conspicuous consumers).

Frankly, it has gotten to the point where every time new American politicians come upon the scene, I’m just waiting for them to demonstrate yet again that the more politicians talk about something in public, the more blatantly they seek to undermine it in private. If they claim they’re big on national defense, they’re probably secretly funding Bin Ladin. If they claim they’re for closing our borders, they’re probably employing illegal aliens. If they claim to be advocates for children’s safety, they’re probably active pedophiles. Oh wait – that was actually revealed in the case of Mark Foley.

Yes, the Foley story was, indeed, quite a doozy … and it was surely responsible for the Dems taking back the Senate. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that Mr. Foley deserves the gold. For those of you who are parents, do I even have to explain why?

And the silver? I thought at first that it was a close call. Then I reflected on square footage: 4,000 is a big house, seven or eight technically counts as a “mansion,” 11,000 gets you a replica of Jefferson’s Monticello, 22,000 gets you a home like Hugh Hefner’s (minus the Playboy Bunnies) … OK, Mr. Edwards gets the silver. His house truly shocked me.

But what of the bronze? There are so many deserving contestants it’s hard to exclude any of them. Is it Tom Delay -- who has given new meaning to the moniker “the Hammer”? Is it Al “The Butterfly is a Stroke, not a Species” Gore?

No. I vote with Newt. He of the morals police. Just the kind of bloke I’d want one of my daughters to marry.

Anyway, to those who were left out, I’m sorry. But you should at least get ribbons, because believe me, you’ve earned them. And to those three on the medal stand, hearty congratulations! Your stature as world class Extreme Hypocrites is now solidified. Remember: no matter what else happens in your lives, no matter what else you can accomplish by preaching the truth to those who have learned to disassociate that from what you practice … nobody will ever take your medals away from you.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I’ve been listening to your voices lately about the Presidential candidates. I hear that you believe Giuliani is the best of the Republican bunch, for example. And I sense that some of you like Hillary, and maybe even more of you like Edwards, especially after he and his wife appeared this week to announce that their passion for the campaign will go on, despite cancer.

I am not posting today to criticize Giuliani as the best potential GOP Presidential candidate in quite some time. I am not posting today to call Hillary Clinton a future totalitarian dictator, as was suggested in that now-famous You-Tube video. And I am certainly not posting to criticize Edwards’ announcement about his wife’s cancer, which shows an incredible amount of positive thinking – the kind that I’m way too neurotic even to begin to fathom. So yes, if you have to choose who to vote for between Edwards and me, choose the guy with the Southern accent.

BUT … and it’s a big butt … I did want to point out one tiny thing about another candidate in the race. Maybe it isn’t important. Maybe what’s important is whether a candidate has spent years thinking through a seventeen-point plan on immigration reform, or a twenty-point plan on health-care reform, or a thirty-five point plan on energy policy. (Isn’t that what people know as “substance” – the ability to spew out programmatic ideas on those topics with the same facility that most us of urinate?)

What? Did I hear you say that “substance” refers to something different? It involves showing passion for an issue that really matters to the candidate? Issues like how to help children, in the case of Hillary Clinton, or how to help the poor, in the case of John Edwards? Fine. I for one have often said that there is no issue more important to me than eradicating poverty as much as possible. And yet … I made those statements during peacetime. When war is threatened, so too are needs even more basic than the right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness. I’m talking about the right to life … and I don’t have in mind the life of a fetus. I’m talking about the life of already-born human beings.

So, with that intro in mind, my liberal friends, I give you a link to a speech that Barack Obama gave in October 2002 at a rally against the Iraq War, at the same time that Hillary and John were preparing to vote in favor of the war, a war they never spoke out against until after “facts on the ground” went south. If you think this speech is less important than who has the best forty-two point plan on international trade … I guess I’m not quite sure any more what it means to be a liberal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Maybe it’s because he’s the only person running for President who I’ve actually voted for (in the ‘04 Democratic primary), but John Edwards has a special place in my heart among the wanna-be’s in ‘08. I’ll go further than that, even: I actually believe that unlike every other candidate aside from Obama and Clinton, Edwards has a real chance to win the Democratic nomination.

He’s smart. He’s polished. He’s good looking. He seems like a nice guy. He’s from a region of the country in which the Dems sorely need a foothold. And, he’s experienced at running for this job. In fact, because of that experience, he has wisely recognized the need to stand out from the pack, and I even like his chosen method for doing so: speaking out on behalf of on issue (economic equity) that deeply moves me and my fellow liberals.

Sounds like a contender, huh?

Indeed. I sense among some of my Democratic friends that Edwards is one guy we all could live with as our standard bearer. And yet … if I had to put money on a candidate – and I mean if I had to handicap the race – he’d still run a distant third.

Edwards, you see, has some major hurdles to overcome. The first of which is his initial vote to authorize the Iraq War. For a liberal, he sure didn’t vote like one. In fact, I suspect he voted out of cowardice. Then again, unlike a certain other pandering/calculating opponent, Edwards has at least apologized for his vote.

The second hurdle is the perception that he lacks gravitas, in sharp contrast to his two main rivals. Edwards seems like he’s perpetually 21 years old. OK, so maybe he looks 25, but he sure doesn’t look like a President. And I don’t say that because he’s short. There’s something about him that’s reminiscent of a game show host or a traveling salesman. Despite the fact that he doesn’t come from money and that he has had to deal with severe illness in his family, you still get the visceral impression that life has come a tad too easily for him. In short, you can help but wonder if, as a champion of liberal causes, he’s the genuine article.

That leads me to the third hurdle. I suspect it’s related to the first, only it’s more important. Most of us have memories of Edwards debating Cheney in ‘04 and not laying a glove on the guy. We kept hearing about what a great trial lawyer Edwards was, and yet when the chips were down, he couldn’t summon the balls to go toe to toe with Cheney in a way that could actually score some points. In Edwards’ defense, maybe he didn’t think he had to win that debate; maybe he thought a draw would suffice (and he did earn one). Who knew the Republicans’ get out the vote drive would be so successful? Still, Democrats have this lingering memory of John Edwards acting like a perfect gentleman in the presence of a man whose policies have been bare-knuckled from the get-go. If Edwards can’t fight tough under those circumstances, why should we believe he could be tough enough when an international crisis develops?

So there you have it, three hurdles. I presented them in increasing order of importance. But I have one more hurdle to mention, and I believe it’s the most important of all.

Allow me to hearken back to my days at Harvard Law School in the early 80s. I was a student activist then, and one of my causes was the lack of minority hiring on our law school faculty. I’ll never forget interviewing law professor and future Solicitor General Charles Fried. When I questioned him on why the school had hired so few minorities, he said that he would hate to see us lose our standards and turn the place into a school “no better than Berkeley.” Even a Stanford grad like me was offended by that comment … but I digress.

The point is that as a liberal, I recognized value in diversity. And I adopted the philosophy that if you have historically stayed away from hiring anyone but white males, you’d better hire someone else next time unless a white male is clearly the most qualified candidate.

And that is John Edwards’ problem. We liberals recognize that we have a historic opportunity in ‘08. We can actually elect a woman or a black man to be President of the United States for the first time. We have two candidates who are exceptionally intelligent and who even have gravitas. Some of us like Obama (me included!) and others like Hillary (ah … that wouldn’t be me), but virtually everyone would agree that there is no white male candidate who stands clearly above them in terms of the objective skills that make people qualified for the White House.

If you like an analogy, consider boxing. If it’s close, the decision should go to the champ. That’s an unwritten rule of the sport. Well, whether liberals would like to admit it or not, if it’s a close call between the contenders, most of us would want to see a woman or a minority get the chance to lead our country for the first time. I don’t apologize for having that sentiment either. In fact, I suspect that if John Edwards were in my position and not his, he’d feel the same way.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Today’s march on the Pentagon didn’t have anywhere near the same inspiring mood as the last peace rally in January. Mid-March is supposed to be warmer in D.C. than late-January, but the opposite was true. It was both colder and windier. What’s more, the crowd was smaller, the celebrities who made the speeches were fewer, and the press coverage was less. Heck, even the pro-war marchers were more abundant.

Still, I’m glad I went. I’m glad even though some in the press have been reporting lately that “the surge seems to be working.” It’s great that the number of American deaths in Iraq has been dropping, but that hasn’t changed my opposition to the war. I opposed it when everything seemed to be going swimmingly (say, in April 2003). I sure as heck am not going to start supporting it now. What would be the point? I didn’t understand four years ago why we started this God-forsaken war and nothing since has enlightened me in that regard.

Reflecting on today’s march, I was bothered more by some of the marchers than by the cold weather. The chants weren’t simply about Iraq. In fact, they weren’t simply about peace. Far from it. Marchers were chanting about Palestine almost as much as Iraq. They were calling for the end of the Israeli “occupation” (a sentiment I could understand) and an end to Israeli “imperialism” (a sentiment that I found laughable, Israel being about the size of New Jersey). But none of that shocked me. What was shocking were the chants in support of the intifada. That’s right, my fellow marchers were toasting the Palestinian liberation movement that has come to be associated not with peaceful protest but with terrorism and other forms of violent resistance.

Now, I’m not insensitive to the legitimate needs of the Palestinian people. I hate the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, I look forward to Israel giving up even more land than they have proposed in the past, and I yearn for the day when the Palestinians will never again have to live under Israeli rule. But … even more than I hate the settlements, I loathe the intifada. I loathe terrorism, I loathe violence, and I REALLY loathe the idea of being on a peace march listening to marchers toast a movement associated with violence.

Message to the groups who put on this shin-dig:

If you want to marginalize the peace movement, be my guest. But you have an opportunity here to make a real difference by leading hundreds of thousands of people to regularly come together in opposition to an awful war brought on by what appears to be a bloated, bully (namely, ourselves). Don’t dilute the message. Don’t allow it to be hijacked by every leftist cause under the sun, especially those that embrace violence.

United we stand … divided, we … well, we get pissed off at each other. I still marched, but I couldn’t help but think of all the others who would have liked to have come but were turned off by the prospects of listening to a bunch of anti-Israeli rhetoric. Israel didn’t get us into the Iraq War. Israel doesn’t control our White House and it doesn’t control our Congress. Nor do the Jewish people. If you don’t get that, perhaps you should leave the peace march to the peaceniks and go find a nice group of Nazis with whom you can blast Israel to your hearts content.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Let me see if I understand what people have been telling me over the years about our society: (1) everyone's out for themselves; (2) everyone's all about "the money"; (3) Jews, in particular, are all about "the money;" (4) if "they" say it's not about the money, then for sure it's about the money; (5) the society has gone litigation crazy; and (6) Jews, in particular, are litigious.

Did I get that right?

Well then, assuming I did, someone has to explain to me the behavior of the family of the recently slain New York Times journalist, David E. Rosenbaum. As reported by the Washington Post on March 9th, Rosenbaum, who was 63, died of a brain injury after "he was pounded on the head with a metal pipe by robbers who accosted him during an evening walk. He then was mistakenly treated as a drunk by D.C. firefighters and other emergency workers, who failed to notice his severe head wound." The Post reported that the event prompted the Rosenbaum estate to file a $20 million suit against the city, which legal experts thought could have been worth millions. Instead of pursuing the case, however, the family agreed to forgo any payment if the city overhauls its emergency medical response system in an effort to prevent future mistakes like the one that cost Rosenbaum his life.

Are the Rosenbaums crazy? They seem to be giving up millions of dollars that their family surely could have used. Rosenbaum had two adult children, and I'm guessing that they might have had children as well. Couldn't they use money?

I doubt that this is national news. I doubt that the media thinks the American public would want to hear much about the Rosenbaum family. But I at least find them interesting. They appear to value the welfare of faceless strangers (potential future victims of street crimes and accidents in the District of Columbia) above their own family's wealth. I'd like to know why they're doing this. I'd like to know whether other families have acted in similar ways. And I'd like to see the national media devote lots of air time to stories like this and not to all the latest scandals.

Just think how different our society would be if television news was more fascinated by the Rosenbaums -- and what the District of Columbia is doing to appease them -- and less by the Paris Hiltons of the world. We might actually watch TV to gain inspiration from unusually virtuous people rather than to stroke our egos by contrasting ourselves to yet another troubled celebrity or hypocritical politician.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


I have two favorite Jewish holidays . The first is Yom Kippur. Known as the Day of Atonement, it is for me the most spiritual day of the Jewish year. You don't simply fast. You spend the evening and all of the next day in synagogue. Yes, that's a lot of praying. But the fasting breaks down the resistance of your ego so that the prayer helps you get more and more in touch with your spirituality as the day grows old. It's also a great day for introspection, especially about the areas in which atonement is called for. I always feel renewed when the day is over. Plus, the break-fast is a blast. Food and drink never tastes so good.

My other favorite Jewish holiday is none other than Purim. We celebrated that holiday this weekend. Rather than talking more about it here, I'd like to ask you to go to my website ( and click on the page devoted to Purim. It will not only introduce the holiday generally, but it will allow you to link to several essays that I've written over the years to celebrate Purim. Please do me the honor of clicking on this year's essay and perhaps even some of the earlier entries.

Take care. And Happy Purim!