Jeb and Murphy’s Law Wednesday, May 20 2015 

I have on my refrigerator a picture of a forlorn dog, one ear flopped over, with the message inscribed, DON’T BLAME ME – I VOTED TO TAKE A WALK.

That covers the 2012 presidential election. But for 2016 I think my canine friend will have a lot of company; that is, voters opting to take a walk rather than choose among the most uninspiring lot of candidates for high office I can remember since my adolescent days when more than a dozen would-be governors of Louisiana traveled the state, including one aptly described as “a voice in the bayou whose actual existence has yet to be proved.” (A fair description, come to think of it, of the current governor of Louisiana’s presidential campaign.)

Having once worked for George Bush the Elder, I held out hope that Jeb Bush might fill in as a serious entry. But given Jeb’s baffling performance of recent days that hope has gone the way of all optimism this political season.

Best known is his stumbling on whether he’d have followed his brother George’s course of invading Iraq in search of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. On that point Jeb took 24 hours to backtrack, saying he’d misheard the question. But though the political press has zeroed in on that gaffe because it happened on Fox, an upside of the interview was that it drew attention away from his answer to a question asked 48 hours before – one he didn’t mishear. From the Washington Post of May 7, under the headline JEB BUSH: BROTHER A TOP ADVISER ON ISRAEL:

“After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former President George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy . . . ‘If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,’ Bush said Tuesday, speaking to a crowd of high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club.”

Right. A crowd of high-powered investors, a majority of whom were ardent pro-Israel New York Republicans. The question asked was whether Jeb sought advice from former secretary of state Jim Baker. One would think that would be easy to answer, since Baker is a longtime Bush family friend who played a major role in getting both Jeb’s father and brother to the White House.

But wait: Because Baker strongly opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank when he was secretary of State – and still does – he is widely unpopular among pro-Israel Jewish Republicans, whereas brother George W., because he went to war against Israel’s foremost enemy, is wildly popular.

Call this Jeb Bush’s low-road moment of pander: distancing himself from friend and supporter Jim Baker and embracing “Mission Accomplished” George – all to massage a “high-powered investor” audience.

Jeb, keep in mind, was until now considered by many to be the best political mind of all the Bushes (with the possible exception of his mother, who didn’t think he should run). But with his opponents working overtime to tie him to his brother’s legacy, he suddenly does it for them. Why? Simple answer: Murphy’s Law took effect.

No, not the one that tells us “Everything that can go wrong will go wrong” – though that too would seem to apply to Jeb’s campaign – but Mike Murphy’s Law, the low-road opportunism seen in Republican campaigns managed by the professional handler running Jeb’s.

It was once said that the best way to determine what kind of president a nominee would make was by the caliber of his first real decision – the choice of a vice presidential running mate. Update that for the 21st century: It’s his choice of a professional campaign strategist who’ll help him get elected. Once those strategists were dedicated personal staffers, like Roosevelt’s Louis Howe; today they’re political privateers like Murphy, who moves from campaign to campaign, working for the highest bidder.
And what does the strategist who advised Jeb Bush to stroke the high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club have to recommend him as a political adviser to put a third Bush in the White House?

Just this: A New York Times story of a decade ago that describes him as a “GOP attack dog,” detailing his propensity to reach the lowest common denominator in communicating a campaign message. For example, advising Rick Lazio in 2000 to stalk across a debate stage and thrust a no-tax pledge in his opponent’s face, demanding that she sign it.

That attack-dog move, as New York voters recall, proved the defining moment in Lazio’s Murphy-run campaign, the one that assured Hillary Clinton’s election to the U.S. Senate.

Not to overlook Murphy’s masterminding Oliver North’s failed U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia, Meg Whitman’s embarrassing (but expensive) run for governor in California or, on the presidential level, his handling of Lamar Alexander’s losing campaign for the White House in 1996 as well as John McCain’s in 2000.

Of his role in the McCain campaign, the following item from the Washington Post sheds added light on the generating influence of Murphy’s Law:

Not incidentally, reported the New York Times in July 2000, “Mr. Murphy is also known for painting himself a central character in his endeavors. ‘Mike has a tendency of taking credit for things he only observed,’ said John Weaver, Mr. McCain’s political director, who was enraged when Mr. Murphy disclosed months of McCain campaign secrets for an article that cast Mr. Murphy as a star.”

This is the choice, of all available choices, that Jeb Bush made to direct his presidential campaign in the year 2016. Barbara was right. Given that kind of judgment, Jeb shouldn’t have run.

Sound bites to remember
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
–German Field-marshal Helmut von Moltke, circa 1870

“Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”
–Mike Tyson, circa 1980

Have You Called Your Mama? Monday, May 11 2015 

No Mother’s Day passes without anyone connected with the University of Alabama remembering Coach Bear Bryant’s indelible holiday commercial for Bell South Central in the mid-’70s. In it the Bear, on script, looked into the camera and allowed he always told his players to stay in touch with home, asking, “Have you called your Mama today?”

Then, off-script and to the utter surprise of Frank Lee, the ad agency executive in charge of the taping, Bryant added, “I wish I could call mine.”

Like the Coach, I am many years beyond being able to call mine. But this Mother’s Day, the Bear’s prompting in mind, I did the next possible thing. I paid homage to the best mother I know, the one who brought our three children into the world and gave them the love and guidance needed during those formative years when their narrow-focused father was on the political road intent on saving the country from the ravages of . . . I forget what.

A straight-A Phi Beta Kappa in physics, with a minor in biology, there is no telling how far Dale Solomon might have gone working for Sloan Kettering in cancer research had she not opted to partner with a middling law student of uncertain future. She had come of age as an apolitical Southern girl whose worldview was influenced by a Mississippi-born Birmingham lawyer, an Atticus Finch-type who, though hardly a civil-rights activist, expressed his opinion of local segregation laws by routinely passing the elevators set aside for whites each morning to take the one marked COLORED. David Solomon did not live to see those laws changed, but his daughter, up to the challenge of being a quiet contrarian, did.

So it was that when, years later, integration was ordered for the public schools of Virginia, our children’s elementary school principal called on Dale to help keep the peace and offset any incipient blowback from segregationist parents given to the state legislature’s philosophy of “massive resistance.”

And so it was that when change came across the broad political spectrum, she passed on to our children the quiet contrarian ability to think beyond the obvious to a larger truth: When Max Robinson became the first African American to anchor a news show, it was Dale who looked at the screen and asked, “Where have they been?” Seeing and thinking, while less perceptive viewers were wrapped up in the idea of progress, of the scores of qualified African American newsmen who had been ignored over the years by the self-congratulating “progressive” network suits.

And so it was that even in fields where her interest and experience are, to put it mildly, less than avid, Dale’s fresh, perceptive eyes take note of things that escape the experts (like her husband); as when, looking at a news photo of one of Bryant’s starting defensive lines – consisting of six African American players and one white – she could point to the white lineman and say, “He must be very good.”

And so it was on this particular Mother’s Day, going over a list of possible gifts I might ­­offer (a call, in this texting age being as our grandchildren say, so yesterday), I pulled out of memory a debt long owed her: Ten dollars received from Reader’s Digest, payment for a line credited to me but which was actually hers.

The context of our conversation I forget, but whatever it was, after I’d spouted off, my quiet contrarian life partner set me straight with the observation, “The squeaking wheel doesn’t always get the grease. Sometimes it gets replaced.”

A line so good I included it in my next article for Washingtonian magazine, without attribution. Readers Digest picked it up and the rest is plagiaristic history.

Debt paid yesterday morning, we had a happy Mother’s Day brunch. Our children approved, as I’m sure, did the Bear.

 

Sound bite to remember

I respect faith, but it’s doubt that gets you an education.
–Wilson Mizner (though often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain)

 

Hearings Point to Release of Hinckley Friday, May 8 2015 

HEARINGS POINT TO RELEASE OF HINCKLEY

–Headline, Washington Post / May 1, 2015

The medical official charged with custody of John Hinckley, arguing that he be released from a psychiatric hospital, says that requiring Hinckley to wear an ankle monitor if set free would be “stigmatizing” the would-be presidential assassin “for no good reason.”

Question re political correctness: On reading that quote in the Post, was it appropriate to (1) laugh, (2) cry, or (3) simply wince?

At the same hearing Hinckley’s lawyer, while admitting that his client has a “highly attenuated narcissistic personality disorder,” argued that Hinckley ‘has a right grounded in the Constitution to the least-restrictive environment consistent with public safety.”

Question for legal scholars: Conceding that the Constitution is a pliable document, under what attenuated clause is a right grounded regarding an “environment” suitable for someone with a “narcissistic personality disorder”?

As far back as my first year in law school – in the prehistoric days when lawyers weren’t allowed to advertise and Supreme Court justices didn’t hawk their books on TV shows – I’ve wondered about a criminal justice system rooted in ecclesiastical law.

Under this system, a societal hangover from the Dark Age, if a crime is committed the first question before the judge and jury is whether the accused was possessed by the Lord or the Devil. Did he know the difference between right and wrong? Or, in its modern psychiatric form, was he mentally aware of what he was doing?

Was John Hinckley in his right mind when he wounded President Reagan and a Secret Service agent and forever crippled the life of press secretary Jim Brady? Of course not, say his legal and medical retainers: He wasn’t responsible for his actions because, at the time, he had no “right mind.”

But that being the case, how do we differentiate between a deranged Hinckley, who is sent to a caring government clinic, and a deranged Charles Manson, sent to prison for life and “stigmatized” as an unredeemable instrument of the Devil?

According to the Post, D.C. Circuit Judge Paul L. Friedman seems inclined to release Hinckley, though his final release may take months; hopefully, as far as Hinkley’s retainers are concerned, before the next White House Correspondents dinner, at which time the only question to be answered is whether their narcissistic celebrity client will be seated in the least-restrictive environment of the CNN or the Fox table.

Sound bite to remember

Wealth is one idol of the day, and notoriety is a second. Never could notoriety exist as it does now that the news of the hour from all parts of the world is brought day to day to every individual by processes so uniform, so unvarying, so spontaneous that they almost bear the semblance of natural law. And hence notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world, has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground for veneration.”

–John Cardinal Newman (1849)

A Case of Mistaken Obscenity Monday, Apr 27 2015 

“I’m on television, I’ll f–ing sue you.”
–Britt McHenry, ESPN’s Miss Congeniality, to towing employee

 “That’s not who I am.”
–Britt McHenry, on being reinstated after a feeble one-week suspension from ESPN

The all-sports network’s poster girl for “I’m on TV and you’re a tow-truck peasant” is back on the job, with a lengthy apology for her slobbish behavior: The usual “second chance” drivel, plus a line increasingly used by miscreants, whether the behavior involved be choking your girlfriend or skipping out of a store without paying for lifted merchandise.

McHenry’s patronizing, foul-mouthed outburst? That’s not who she is, says Miss Congeniality. An old Humphrey Bogart rejoinder comes to mind. After being berated by a woman, Bogart’s character in To Have and Have Not is asked to excuse her because, explains her friend, “She’s not herself”; to which Bogie snaps, “Then who is she?”

A question ESPN, in Britt McHenry’s case, doesn’t think matters – so long as no tow-truck peasants are listed among its advertisers.

Book review to remember

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
–Dorothy Parker

The Voice and the Veep Saturday, Apr 11 2015 

“There are two kinds of people in this town,” my boss Sam Bledsoe advised when I first arrived in Washington more than half a century ago. “Those that drop names and those whose names are dropped.” His advice, obviously, was to try to be the latter.

Sorry Sam, I tried my damnedest…

About Frank Sinatra, whose life was celebrated this past week by an HBO documentary: I knew him, introduced him to (another name-drop coming) Bear Bryant, and even spent time at his place in Palm Desert, thanks to another employer after Sam, Vice President Spiro Agnew, and his personal aide Peter Malatesta, a Sinatra friend and (if you’re still counting name-drops) Bob Hope’s nephew.

The story that goes with all this empty-calorie self-aggrandizement has to do with the first time I saw The Godfather, back in 1971. Agnew was a guest at Sinatra’s Palm Desert villa and Frank (if you’re going to name-drop the first name is more impressive) asked if there were any new movies the Vice President would like to see. He’d have one flown in to show in his private theater.

Whether as a joke or to test the limits of their friendship, Agnew asked to see The Godfather – a movie Sinatra was said to get ballistic over because it alluded to the mythic rumor that the Mafia had muscled (1) Tommy Dorsey into releasing him from his contract, and (2) the producer of From Here to Eternity into giving him the Academy Award-winning role of Maggio.

Sinatra, to his credit, didn’t flinch at Agnew’s request. So it was that we gathered that evening – the Vice President, Frank, his mother, Dolly, and a few other guests to see the movie based on a novel that Frank hated so much he threatened to punch out its author, Mario Puzo.

Our host’s reaction? Not a murmur during the scenes in which his on-screen character, Johnny Fontane, appeared, but when it came to the scene where Clemenza talks about preparing spaghetti and meatballs, both Sinatras, mother and son, exploded. Clearly, we were led to conclude, whoever wrote the screenplay knew nothing about cooking Italian.

Asked by our host the next morning what he thought of the movie, the Vice President, pushing the envelope, told Sinatra it was okay except for Brando’s don, adding, “You would have been better for the part.” To which Frank, not missing a beat, narrowed his eyelids and, with mock guttural inflection, replied, “You’re right.” Agnew laughed.  So did another person at the table, whose name escapes me.

Sound bite to remember

“I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers, or a bottle of Jack Daniels.”

–Frank Sinatra, asked about his religious beliefs, circa 1963

Biden to Jews: Stay Packed Tuesday, Mar 24 2015 

“Folks, there is no place else to go, and you understand that in your bones. You understand in your bones that no matter how hospitable, no matter how consequential, no matter how engaged, no matter how deeply you are involved in the United States . . . there is no guarantee. There is really only one absolute guarantee, and that’s the state of Israel.”

–Vice President Joe Biden to a Jewish American group, as reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic.

I had always thought of Joe Biden, whether as a U.S. senator or Vice President, as a feckless, if influential crackpot. But on reading this statement made to Jewish American leaders last fall, I now see him as a mindless demagogue.

As a Jewish American who came of age in the 1940s, I am well aware of the argument that what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany and other countries over the centuries could happen in the United States. It is usually made by ardent Zionists, however, not by American Vice Presidents who, if nothing else, should have a deeper appreciation of what makes this country different from others – the fact that the United States is the only country in the world based on an idea, not ethnic bloodlines.

Or is it that this Vice President doesn’t, in his bones, believe in America’s singularity as a national haven for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free?

On this point, as a Jewish American, I have also visited Israel and found it, the enduring spirit of the Exodus aside, a foreign country. Other than sharing a Bronze Age faith, I have as little in common with its inhabitants (many of whom, based on my American dietary habits alone, would consider me an infidel) as I do with those of Romania, the country my father left over a century ago to become an American.

Not that I’m blind to the existence of anti-Semitism and discrimination against other minority groups in this country – or in the case of African Americans, of persecution. But as Frederick Douglass pointedly reminded Abraham Lincoln when Lincoln suggested that once the slaves were freed they might return to Africa, there is no turning back. However they arrive here, those who come to America become Americans, here to stay.

And so it is with me. Unless, of course, by some odd quirk of history, a patronizing dumbass like Joe Biden were to become president.

 Sound bite to remember

 “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

       –President George Washington in a letter to the Sephardic Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, August 1790

When the Satire Becomes Fact…. Saturday, Mar 14 2015 

The New York Times reports that Speaker/Toastmaster Boehner has invited the president of Ukraine to address the Congress — just as we satirically predicted in our last blog entry.

 

Sound bite to remember

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

 Mark Twain

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