Saturday, April 28, 2012


Talk about your love-hate relationship. My city is a place to which Americans flock, especially during their high school years. They eat up our monuments, museums, and especially that one regal mansion known only by the color of its paint. Then again, every four years, my city is also subjected to public ridicule. It becomes associated with gutless politicians, mindless bureaucrats, and soulless lobbyists. In fact, it’s one of the truest paradoxes in American politics that if you’re a prospective statesman who wants to live in Washington, you’ve got to run against it. The fact is that candidates aspiring to national office can’t possibly vilify the city enough. Willard “Mitt” Romney is taking that lesson to the next level – he’s promising not only to change the way we Feds do things but also to dock our pay … and that’s on top of President Obama’s decision to deny us a cost-of-living increase. Call it threatening to add injury to insult. It’s still likely to play well outside the Beltway.

By all the usual measures, this being an election year, Washingtonians should be suitably indignant of the treatment we’re getting by politicians. But this year, we don’t care. You see, this Company Town has suddenly forgotten that we’re supposed to be all politics, all the time. We’ve turned our attention to a different sphere of existence, one that in the last couple of decades has been even more depressing.

Let me give you a hint: they used to say that Washington is “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” But at least back then, we had a major league baseball team. The Washington Senators moved out when I was a kid (not once but twice), and for most of my life, we Washingtonians were forced to drive up I-95 to watch games in Baltimore. As for professional football, the insensitively named “Redskins” were good for a while, but they’ve spent nearly the last 20 years in one giant funk – in fact, they’ve been so bad that most Washingtonians have started to care more about the Baltimore football team than their own. Then there’s the basketball team, the one formerly known as the Bullets. They were good in the late 70s, but have been horrid ever since. So finally, figuring that the city has only enough room for one perpetually horrid franchise with a politically incorrect name, the basketball team changed its name to the Wizards. They figured that name would be less offensive to the legions of Washingtonians who have lost family members to gun violence. Unfortunately, the product on the court is every bit as horrible as the Bullets; Wizards, they’re not.

And then there’s the Capitals. They’re the real champs of this city of losers – precisely because they’ve NEVER won a championship. In recent years, the Caps have taken to teasing the locals by having a great regular season, and then losing in the first round of the playoffs. It is just the latest, and not necessarily most creative, way that the franchise has found to break the hearts of its fans. Personally, my favorite was the so-called “Easter Epic” of 1987, when the Capitals hosted a game 7 against the Islanders on a Saturday evening, but the game didn’t end until well into Easter morning when, finally, the fates decided that the Capitals and their fans can do what the franchise – and the city – does best: lose. Everyone knew it was coming. They just didn’t expect it to take a record FOUR overtimes.

But that was then, this is now.

With all due respect to Mel Brooks, Springtime for Hitler and Germany is so five minutes ago. Today, its Springtime for Washington D.C., and Winter for any demagogue who dares to take the city on. There’s a different mo-jo in this town. I can just feel it.

Open up your newspaper – assuming you still know what a newspaper is – and you’ll see that atop the National League East standings are the Washington Nationals. That’s right, the team we were finally given a few years ago after all those decades in the wilderness (and on I-95), only to watch them lose over and over again, has started this season with a 14-6 record. The Nationals, armed with one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, are tied for the best record in the National League.

As for football, Washington is afflicted with RGIII fever, an illness attributed to the uber-infatuation with this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin the Third. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s agile, he’s accurate, he’s articulate, he’s respectful, he’s a winner. It’s hard to imagine how the schmuck that owns that franchise lucked into this guy, but however it happened, the Redskins are relevant again.

Even more than baseball and football, though, the sport that truly has this city abuzz is hockey. The Capitals just played a seven game series in which no game was decided by more than one goal. Believe it or not, that has never happened before. But what is truly unbelievable is that the Capitals actually won. Let me repeat that – the Capitals won. They were the team that was outshot, and yet they came out on top when it comes to goals. It’s precisely the opposite of the way things are supposed to work when that franchise takes the ice. But like I said, something is different this year in Washington.

Do I attribute this change of fortune to divine intervention? I thought about that possibility, but in the end I had to reject it. If the Wizards were no longer awful, I might actually suspect conscious tampering from the heavens, but they’re still rancid. Truly, some things never change. Anyway, I have decided to attribute all the good fortunes of the Caps, Nationals and Redskins to natural forces. Still, whatever the cause, nobody here can doubt the effects. Somehow, Washington no longer means “Loserville” when it comes to sports. Will that somehow influence the dynamics of the city’s favorite sport of all, Spectator Politics? That I don’t know. But the Mittster might at least want to note these developments if he considers doubling down on his proposals for a federal pay cut.

Watch out Willard. We Washingtonians have the Big Mo on our side. You mess with our pay, and we’ll do to your chances what the Caps just did to your Bruins.

Well, I’m assuming he’s a Bruins fan. Surely, he must be friends with the team’s owner.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Last weekend, I attended an interfaith Passover Seder at a mosque. The attendees were peace activists, and we were all given opportunities to say a few words about peace, justice or some other lofty topic. The talk I found most interesting was given by a Jewish man, who spent much of his time quoting a Palestinian colleague from Gaza who had spent years in an Israeli prison before he reformed himself into an advocate for a peaceful win-win solution to the conflict.

Purportedly, whenever this Gazan peace activist engages in peace dialogues, he lists three topics that he doesn’t want to talk about. The first is religion. Paraphrasing his comments, “You say that God promised you the land 3000 years ago. I say that 1500 years ago, God changed his mind. How is this going to lead us to an agreement?” The second topic is perfect justice. “If you want peace, you can’t have perfect justice. The only solution involves compromise, and once you start compromising, you give up the hope for perfect justice.” And the final topic is history. “We have our historical narrative. You have yours. They’re different. They’ll always be different. But even though we can’t agree on the past, maybe we can agree on the future.”

Indeed. That Gazan is saying exactly what I have been trying to verbalize for years. He’s put his finger on what is keeping us from embarking on a path ahead. We keep getting side tracked on a different path -- the idea that we can ever form an agreement based on religion, perfect justice or history. So far, those topics have only led to discord and mutual disgust. It’s no wonder that this conflict is as polarized now as it has ever been in the last 64 years. At this rate, Israelis and Palestinians will be fighting 64 years from now. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

 I wasn’t the only person at the Seder who appreciated the Gazan’s comments. They spawned a number of other statements, including the remarks of two speakers who said essentially the same thing. Both reminded us of the profound impact the Holocaust has had on the fears and concerns of the Jewish people. And they wondered if, once the generation that experienced the Holocaust has passed away, perhaps then, the Jewish people will be more willing to make the compromises necessary to make peace. As one speaker put it, we learn in the Torah that the Jews had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years after the Exodus before they could reach the Promised Land. Why was that? Because the generation who experienced the horrible memories of Egyptian cruelty had to die off before the Jewish people would be ready to settle their homeland.

So there you have it: peace will come only after the Holocaust generation has died, and the memories of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen have faded. If I heard these kinds of comments twice in one Seder, I wondered, how many others in the peace community must believe them? And are these thoughts being passed on to the Palestinians who interact with peace activists, fueling their willingness to hold out for a better deal in the future, a future in which supposedly, Jews won’t be so paranoid, so worried about security buffers, so … Zionist.

The Seder took place on Saturday, April 14th. Five days later, the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was privileged to speak about the Holocaust at two different venues, and each time, the words of those peace activists rang in my ears. Here I was, trying to explain to these audiences how the Holocaust has been by far the most seminal historical chapter in my life. I learned about it in vivid detail when I was only about six years old, and almost from that point, it has left an indelible mark on the way I’ve thought about God, justice, peace … you name it. As a result, I have made sure to teach my children about the Holocaust and its central significance. And I’d be sickened if they didn’t steep their own children in lessons from the Holocaust, or if their own children didn’t do the same for my great grandchildren, and so forth.

We remember the Holocaust not because we celebrate paranoia and xenophobia. Quite the contrary, the Holocaust should breed contempt for paranoia and xenophobia, for it was largely those attitudes among the German and Slavic populations that led to the destruction of Eastern European Jewry. We who remember the Holocaust should be learning to practice an altogether different ethic – one of love, universalism, and respect for diversity and dignity. In fact, there are few better lessons for such an ethic than those that come from the Holocaust, where the full range of human practices, from the most noble to the most barbaric, were on display.

On some level, I do appreciate the point that those two peace activists were making when they suggested that memories of the Shoa may be getting in the way of peace. There are surely Jews in Israel and elsewhere who have turned more insular and fearful as a result of that terrible tragedy. But I’ve got news for the peace community, and for anyone else who waits for the Jewish world to “forget” – it won’t happen. It won’t happen when the final “survivor” dies out. It won’t happen when the final child of a survivor dies out. And it won’t happen five generations hence, either.

The Holocaust has become one of the most transformational events of Jewish history. There is the Exodus. The Revelation at Sinai. The Destruction of the Second Temple. The Holocaust. And the Birth of Israel. Some of those events date back not dozens of years, but thousands. If we haven’t forgotten them, we won’t forget the Holocaust either. That’s not what Jews do.

Now, to be fair to the peace activists, they’re not asking for us to “forget” the Shoah so much as to avoid remembering the wrong lessons. And they are correct in speculating that it is difficult for anyone who spent time under Nazi rule and watched their relatives die to refrain from learning some of the wrong lessons. We are, after all, human. Maybe, for psychological reasons, the Jewish people did need to turn Israel into a bit of a spiritual “wilderness” for a couple of generations, while the wounds healed from the Holocaust and from the tumultuous birth of the new nation. But this is what the peace activists need to understand – once these wounds do heal, the fundamentals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain, and some of those fundamentals are based on Jewish history.

No issue is more central to that conflict than whether this world should embrace a Jewish State in the strong sense of that term, a state that is permitted to maintain immigration restrictions that favor Jews over Arabs in order to keep a stable Jewish majority. For much of the peace movement, such a state is reminiscent of a pre-modern mentality. Discriminatory, nationalist, racist, unjust … the list goes on. But whatever derogatory words you want to use in that context won’t change my views. Not only do I remain a Zionist, but I remain a Zionist who recognizes that due to Arab/Jewish demographics, discriminatory immigration laws are part of the deal.

Frankly, I don’t know how a person can spend much time contemplating the Holocaust specifically and Jewish history generally and not develop a strong sympathy for Zionism. But I also can understand why some of my Palestinian friends, steeped as they are in the history of their own people, have been so impassioned against having a Jewish state with discriminatory immigration legislation occupying so much of their own homeland. That is another way of saying that both peoples have legitimate claims to the land. What Palestinians and peaceniks need to appreciate is that Zionism isn’t going to disappear with the generation who experienced the ovens. The children of the survivors, and their children, and their own children owe it to our ancestors to make sure that there is a place free of anti-Jewish genocide, where those Jews who are persecuted elsewhere in the world can seek refuge. But even more importantly, we who have survived centuries of discrimination owe to the world our support for a civilization that has been built primarily on Jewish values, Jewish aesthetics, and Jewish customs.

I celebrate the Gazan’s words because I appreciate that he is not asking Jews to avoid learning the lessons of the Holocaust or of Jewish history generally. He is merely saying that extensive dialogues about such lessons can sidetrack peacemakers from our essential mission: identifying the road ahead. That road is paved with an understanding of the future wants and needs of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. Specifically, we must help the two people’s focus on their legitimate needs, and help them jettison any other unnecessary wants. It’s no easy task. But it can be achieved, as long as we keep our eyes on the ball and remember that it is bouncing toward the future, not the past.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


It’s almost impossible to find anyone in DC these days who is expecting a Romney victory in the Fall. Sometimes, you’ll hear a warning that the election might be “closer than people think,” but nobody is actually willing to predict that Obama will lose. In fact, for every person who suggests that the race can’t be over because it hasn’t even started yet, you’ll hear two or more people snicker at the mere moniker of Mitt. Just ask Howard Dean – once you become a punch line, your political career is on life support.

Clearly, Romney lacks Obama’s natural talent as a politician. But perhaps the President’s greatest advantage is less about the relative skill set of the candidates than the attitudes in their respective parties. That change in attitude reflects a major turnaround from the last election, which tells me that what we are witnessing may say less about the inherent differences between the parties than it does about the power of incumbency.

Consider the situation in 2008. George W. Bush was President and had served in that capacity for eight long and often painful years. His party nominated a man with a history of serving as a maverick and a moderate, even though his party’s majority was well to his right. Why? Because they saw him as electable, and the thing that mattered most to them was electability.

On the Democratic side, we had a clear front runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was as “establishment” as it gets. She was part of the most powerful Democratic couple in recent memory, was by far more experienced in statecraft than her closest rival, Barack Obama, and had a formidable organization behind her. But the Democrats had been out of power for eight years and their rank and file thirsted for a leader who would take us in the OPPOSITE direction from the Republican incumbent. In Clinton, they found a woman who supported the Iraq War, and who thus could be seen as an opportunist who lacked progressive principles at her core. Obama, by contrast, said all the right things about the war, and appeared to be a true progressive change agent (or at least that’s what he told us he’d be). As a result, Obama became a darling of the left, the young, and the restless. Put that coalition together in a Democratic primary, and not even the Clinton machine can stand in your way.

Was Barack truly as strong a general election candidate as Clinton would have been? We’ll never really know the answer to that question. When it came time for the general election, America spent a few weeks obsessing about the merits of Sarah Palin, and then, shortly after we realized that Sarah belonged on the Sci-Fi rather than the Romance channel, the market crashed … and the race was over. What choice was there? The incumbent party gave us a doomed economy, and the new face promised us hope, change, and the making of history in the form of our first non-white President. By Inauguration Day, only the true die-hard conservatives weren’t thrilled at the choice we made.

That was then, though, and this is now. The Democrats are the incumbents, and the Republicans are the ones who are desperate for a leader who will chart the country on a new course. Just like the Democrats demanded their own progressive litmus test in 2008, the Republicans are returning the favor. They’ve already assembled a mass, grass-roots movement called the Tea Party which is hell bent against big government. Largely fueled by that movement, the GOP was only prepared to support a leader who is ruthless when it comes to government spending, unwilling to raise taxes, opposed to health coverage mandates, callous to the cries of illegal aliens, and passionate about American exceptionalism. Anyone who doesn’t fit that bill could expect to be renounced as a RINO – a Republican in Name Only. And while it’s true that the man they nominated for President was once a “Massachusetts moderate,” the Mittster hasn’t spoken like a moderate in many years. Besides, his Party made every possible attempt to dump him, embracing one comedian or comedienne after another. The only problem was that none of the alternatives possessed the gravitas of Larry, Curly or Moe. At the end of the day, Mitt and his nouveaux conservativism would have to do.

As for Obama’s Party, now that they are the incumbents, they’ve become fat and happy. You won’t see many Democrats take to the streets any more. Oh sure, they had this so called “Occupy” movement, but the truth is that the folks who manned the tents and railed against the “99 percent” were really just the one percent -- the one percent most committed, that is. For the most part, shortly after the Obama inauguration, Democrats went back to their kids’ soccer games, their shopping malls, and their workplaces, and didn’t lose much sleep about public policy.

On the surface, Democratic apathy would appear to be a curse when election time rolls around, but such appearances can be deceiving. To begin, the President has noticed that his own Party will cut him all sorts of slack if he stays away from controversy. Bush tax cuts? No problem – we’ll just leave those alone when our own Party has the hammerlock over Congress. Gay marriage? Nah. We can ignore that issue too. In fact, this past week, when the President announced that he won’t sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination by Government contractors against homosexuals, there was barely any outrage on the left. Moreover, this Administration took years to leave Iraq, is still knee deep in Afghanistan, and has never closed Gitmo … and again, he’s hearing little kvetching from the progressives. All Obama has to do is get on TV and say “I am not a Republican. I am not Mitt Romney.” That’s enough for his troops to rally around him with all the passion he needs for reelection.

He won’t admit it, but I bet that our President actually takes pity on his rival. First, Romney had to kowtow to all the Tea Partiers, Ditto-Heads, and others who view the state of Massachusetts as more a part of Canada than the Good Ol’ US of A. Now, every time the suggestion is made that Romney will have to pivot to the center for the general election, he gets lambasted as a total phony who lacks any principles. Obama hardly had to cast him in that mold – Mitt enjoyed several months of constant head-banging from his fellow Republicans.

At this point, Mitt can’t win. Anything he says will be portrayed as a political stunt, and by election day, nobody in either Party will have any confidence in how this man would govern. As a result, many moderate Republicans and independents will likely either vote for Obama or stay away from the booths, reasoning that “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”
By contrast, Obama doesn’t have to do or say much of anything. Just by serving as President, he’ll have one “happy happy, joy joy” photo op after another. He can take to the TV and talk about basketball, the movies … you name it, if it’s fluff, he can knock it out of the ball park. And when it’s time for nastiness, Democratic super-PACs can do the dirty work for him. Trust me, barring some October surprise, unless Obama shows up in his debates with a Newt, Rick or Mitt mask, he is golden. We Democrats have become so accustomed to looking at the horror show that was the Republican campaign that everything else looks like a sunny day by comparison.

In short, Presidential elections largely turn on the relationship between the particular candidates and the principle of incumbency. If you are the incumbent party, you do have certain natural disadvantages. Your troops might lack the hunger of the other guy’s troops. And if the other guy is popular enough, he and his troops can run right over you. But with a lack of passion comes a forgiving spirit. And as long as the incumbent plays it safe (like this one has) and stays away from controversy, his constituents – and perhaps those in the middle-of-the-road as well -- are likely to give him a pass. That means that the election would turn into a referendum on the other guy, the guy from the party that is NOT in power. When his name is Mitt Romney, and he has been savaged for months by his own troops (not to mention his own statements), it’s not surprising that everyone in DC seems to agree on where that referendum is headed.

Don’t believe what I’m saying? Just remember – George W. Bush got re-elected. It wasn’t because many people liked him, it was because the Democrats lost the referendum on John Kerry. ‘Nuff said.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


“The offered me the office, offered me the shop
They said I'd better take anything they'd got
Do you wanna make tea at the BBC?
Do you wanna be, do you really wanna be a cop?

Career opportunities are the ones that never knock
Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock
Career opportunities, the ones that never knock”

Joe Strummer and Mick Jones penned those words for the Clash, back in the year I graduated from high school, 1977. They were probably sincere, for they appeared on the Clash’s first album, and thus were written before the band hit the big time. For Joe, Mick and the boys, however, those career opportunities knocked quite loudly two years later when they released London Calling. Today, just about anyone who knows popular music can tell you that the Clash were the greatest punk-rock band of all time.

The Clash had both style and substance. They looked the part of authentic punks – rebellious Cockneys, lifting their middle finger to all the corporate drones and beautiful people. They had, in short, the same vibe as the Sex Pistols. But with the Clash, you also got intelligent lyrics and catchy tunes. Combine that with the “attitude,” and the result is timeless. So yes, the band had talent, but let us not forget that talent alone will only get you so far. To be known by just about everyone as the “greatest … of all time” in any portion of popular culture, you need a whole heaping helping of luck. You need to be one of those select few who are favored of the gods.

Mozart was favored of the gods. He proved that at the tenderest of ages. Pure talent, right? But imagine that same kid with the same talent living, not in the 18th century, but in the 8th century. Would he be known today as perhaps the greatest musical genius of all time? Would we have even heard of him? Mozart’s luck wasn’t only to be born with such prodigious talent, but to live in a time and place (Austria) where classical music was king. In the movie Amadeus, the composer Salieri clearly recognizes his own luck at being the court composer in Vienna at this time in history. But tragically, the character of Salieri also recognizes that compared to Mozart, his skills were meager and his work ultimately forgettable. Salieri had met his match. And for this, he would view himself as a “mediocrity” worthy of mockery. Yet what Salieri really couldn’t bear was knowing that it was Mozart, and not he, who was favored of the gods.

That expression goes back as far as Plutarch, and a time and place when people believed that the deities were plural, whimsical, and all-too-human in their behavior. By contrast, the peoples of Abraham, who collectively came to dominate the Western world, think of the divine differently – as being singular, rational, and transcendently just in his decisions. Of course, that only makes it sting worse when you realize that you have been passed up for the divine largesse in favor of some other. In the case of Salieri (at least the character in the movie, if not the real composer), he was passed up in favor of a silly, foul-mouthed, irreverent twit. What kind of God would reward such a person with the ability to create such heavenly music practically from the crib? How can such a God be worthy of our worship? For Salieri, the Lord became worthy of contempt.

Increasingly, I think, that’s an attitude that folks will begin to experience in the Bible Belt of 21st century America. Because they are in the process of witnessing a politician who is truly “favored of the gods,” and they are not liking what they see any more than did Salieri.

Everyone, even the Red State ditto-heads, would have to tip their hat to the talent Barack Obama displayed when he was running for office in 2008. Beating the heavily favored Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination required one inspired speech after another, and that’s precisely what Obama delivered. He had the ability to stir people who had been previously disaffected by politics – and stir them, for the most part, with platitudes. "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." "Hope is what led a band of colonists to rise up against an empire; what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation; what led young women and young men to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through Selma and Montgomery for freedom’s cause. Hope is what led me here today–with a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas; and a story that could only happen in the United States of America. Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have courage to remake the world as it should be."

Those were stirring words, especially when delivered by a handsome, youthful, intelligent U.S. Senator who was poised to make history as the first African-American President from a country that once wrote into law that African-Americans shall be treated as three-fifths of a person (part human, part ape, in the view of the white majority). That was the primary stain on our history. In Barack Obama, we had a walking, talking, smiling disinfectant. Even in the Bible Belt, people comprehended the appeal. They didn’t like it, they didn’t trust it, but they understood it. They knew that as a political candidate, he was formidable as hell.

Now, four years later, Barack Obama is running again. He has the same good looks, the same intelligence, the same winning smile. And while he isn’t nearly as youthful – four years in the White House aged even that imp, George W. Bush – Obama remains completely comfortable in his own skin. That he is indeed a “natural” was on display this past week during halftime of the NCAA Championship college basketball game, when Obama was interviewed by CBS Sports Analyst Clark Kellogg. Our President clearly loves and understands the game of basketball, and it was especially nice to see him talking about his own daughters, who have taken up the sport themselves. Watching Obama give an interview as if he were relaxing with friends in our own living room, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those two other American political geniuses of the last 40 years, Reagan and Clinton. They too were favored of the gods (though in Clinton’s case, the gods showed their raunchy sense of humor).

In the Bible Belt, Obama’s halftime interview must have been watched with horror. Here you have this guy, racking up votes just by smiling and talking hoops, when in fact, he’s a socialist, a foreigner, a Muslim … . Well, OK, I don’t really believe that this is the majority view. But I do think the clear majority of white people in the south and the lower Midwest see Obama as a phony, an inept leader, a garden-variety tax-and-spend liberal, and a serious drag on our nation’s prosperity and freedom. In other words, they think he is a failed President, just as Salieri thought Mozart failed as a member of the moral community. But Salieri also recognized Mozart as the quintessential composer, and I suspect that in the Bible Belt, at least the brighter right-wingers see Obama as a born political candidate. He’s almost impossible to beat – particularly given whom the gods provide as his challengers.

In 2008, Barack went up against Grandpa John McCain, Prom Queen Sara Palin, and the Party that gave us a Wall Street meltdown. Today, Barack is about to go up against a patrician who is the life of the party – but only if the party is in your town’s most exclusive country club.

Nobody would deny that Mitt Romney is one hell of a punch line. In fact, Romney’s biggest problem is that he’s the butt of way too many jokes. We can make fun of how little he gives a damn about the working class. Or how he has been on both sides of every issue. Or how he comes across as agoraphobic – reacting to being around people the same way I react when I’m looking down from a high cliff.

We could make fun of how Mitt seems to want to pretend that he’s a northerner one week, a southerner the next week, and a Mexican the week after that. Or we could joke not only about what Mitt is pretending to be, but what he is pretending NOT to be. Consider, for example, that just two days ago in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Romney gave a speech saying that Obama may have spent “too much time at Harvard.” To be sure, Obama did spend three years there getting a law degree. But Romney spent four years there, earning degrees in law and business, donated tens of thousands of dollars to the University, has three sons who are Harvard Men, and has all sorts of advisors with Harvard ties. Hey Mitt, do you really need to make fun of Obama for his Harvard connection? Next thing you know, Mitt will be making fun of Obama for being rich, or for associating with Mormons.

The gods convey their favors in all sorts of ways. Sometimes, this takes the form of inspiring people to create a great work of art or miraculous inventions. Sometimes, this takes the form of pushing someone into a position where they are “first” at achieving an accomplishment. And clearly, in the case of Obama – even more than Clinton and Reagan – the latter applies.

But perhaps when it comes to politics, you can’t truly be “favored of the gods” unless your legacy includes being compared to the ideal opponent – ideally fallible, that is. Reagan had Walter “Eat Your Peas” Mondale. Clinton had Robert “I’d Rather Be Pitching for Viagra” Dole. And Obama has Mitt “Everyone is Jealous of Me Even Though I’m a Geek” Romney.

Obama should have no trouble beating this guy. Hell, I’m beginning to think I could beat him – and I’m an only child who’s only a little more comfortable being around people than he is.

Hey Mitt, pick me as your running mate. Not only will we avoid kissing babies – we’ll tell their mothers that we don’t even especially like babies! OK. I’ll tell them that. You’ll just think it.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Excommunication of Spinoza Has Been Lifted -- At Least Symbolically

This evening at Washington, D.C.'s wonderful Jewish theatre, Theatre J, the community held a trial lasting several hours, at the end of which a vote was taken as to whether to revoke the excommunication (cherem) that was placed on Spinoza by the Amsterdam Sephardic-Jewish community on July 27, 1656. After 149 votes were cast and counted, it was announced that 78% of the voters present opted to revoke the cherem. Thank God.

Yes, I realize that this is a merely "symbolic" act. According to traditional Jewish law, only the particular community in Amsterdam that imposed the cherem can revoke it. But sometimes symbolism is important. And this vote provides a pretty good idea about what a typical modern-day Jewish community thinks about the decision to excommunicate one of the greatest philosophers of all time who was born a Jew.
As to whether he was one of the greatest "Jewish philosophers," I will let you decide that after reading the the lecture I delivered at Theatre J immediately prior to the trial. You can find a copy of that lecture on the Spinoza Society page of my website.