Our long national ordeal Sunday, Aug 22 2010 

You have no idea the feeling of relief that passed through my household the day it was announced that our leaders on Capitol Hill had finally come to grips with the cataclysmic threat facing our country: Roger Clemens’ use of performance-enhancing drugs during his career as a major-league baseball player.

My fellow Americans, our long national ordeal is over.

The war in Afghanistan, North Korean nukes, the national debt, illegal immigration? Back burner. First-things-first. What concerns me, however, is the euphemistic way our leaders got around to dealing with the problem: They charged Clemens with contempt of Congress.

Good God, if that’s become a crime, nine-tenths of the country is headed for prison.

Presidential wisdom (circa 1925) Sunday, Aug 22 2010 

“It is a great advantage to a President and a major source of safety to the country for him to know he is not a great man.”

— Calvin Coolidge

Fantasy Politics Tuesday, Aug 17 2010 

Fantasize, if you will, Meg Whitman’s winning the governorship of California come November. It’s a stretch, but should it happen you can also imagine that in the wake of the election the airwaves and op-ed pages would be filled with comment about the millions Whitman spent and how the democratic process was headed for hell on a fast-track of money-in-politics.

But back to reality: Whitman loses to Jerry Brown, despite the fortune she threw into the race. Any chance the True Believers in McCain-Feingold and campaign finance reform would have second thoughts about whether money dictates the outcome of elections?  Don’t bet me on it. Though they hold themselves out as believers in democracy, you have to wonder about people whose argument for reform is based on a vision of voters as mindless robots manipulated by whichever candidate runs the most TV spots, has the best-paid staff, and operates the biggest campaign organization in the field.

It can happen, of course. Voters often do get carried away. But if big money — even big corporate money — is all there is to it, Nelson Rockefeller would have served two terms as President and, after her then-husband Michael invested tens of millions to win office, Arianna Huffington would have reached the apex of her political career sharing finger sandwiches-and-gossip with Cindy McCain as a member of the Senate Wives Club.

Ultimate Celebrity Tuesday, Aug 17 2010 

“I’ll tell you when you’ve really made it big. It’s when you die and the newspapers keep running stories that you haven’t.”

— Bob Orben

Michelle and the Mostel Rule Tuesday, Aug 10 2010 

For the record, I spent five days last week resisting the temptation to join the chorus of commentary regarding Michelle Obama’s intimate gathering of 40 friends and 70 Secret Service agents on the unsoiled beaches of the Spanish Costa del Sol. Too obvious a target, a topic already covered by countless critics of the current White House scene.

It never occurred to me, however, that out of that wordsmog would come a line of argument actually defending – in a time of war and 9.5 percent unemployment – a president’s wife telling the people, in effect, “When my husband took the oath of office, our family didn’t take any vow of poverty.”

It came as no surprise that David Axelrod would tell Maureen Dowd that “if you have the ability to show your kid a part of the world…I don’t think it’s right that you have to defer it because of the politics.” (Absolutely. It’s outrageous to hold people living in the White House up to political standards, as if politics had anything at all to do with their living there.)

But no, it wasn’t any predictable White House spin that leads me to join the chorus. Rather, it’s the sycophantic musings of certain members of the Washington commentariat who, if anything, outdid Axelrod in their defense of Michelle Obama’s regal exercise of the Mostel Rule, i.e., “When you got it, flaunt it!”

Consider, for example, the following rationalization from the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus: “If Michelle and Sasha had hung out at home,” writes Marcus, “not one more American would have a job.”

Which, of course, is all too true, but for some reason brings to my octogenarian mind, for comparison’s sake, the way another Democratic First Lady spent her travel time during a period of mass unemployment and public anxiety over what the future held for their children: She went to coal fields, factory towns, and other down-on-their-luck heartland communities.

Conceded, Eleanor Roosevelt’s “vacation” trips during the Great Depression didn’t mean “one more American would have a job.” But they did tell us something about her and her husband’s – for want of a better word – “empathy” for their unemployed countrymen.

Understatement of the Century Tuesday, Aug 10 2010 

Sixty-five years ago this week: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

– Emperor Hirohito, breaking the bad news to his people

Tale of Two Kerrys Monday, Aug 2 2010 

That rumble we’re hearing — some would call it a surge — is the sound of a growing anti-war movement in search of a leader. Michael Steele? I doubt it.  Give the RNC chairman credit for speaking out, but it’s hard to see him filling that role. (Besides, he’s been muzzled by Sarah and her grizzly offspring on the Republican National Committee.)

Who then? Logic would tell us a natural leader would spring from a wartime veteran who experienced first-hand the bitter lesson learned the last time American lives were lost in a tribal war in which “winning the hearts and minds of the people” was the primary rule of engagement.

Someone, say, with the passion of the young Vietnam veteran who appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April, 1971, to decry the callous passivity of the country’s political leaders in sustaining a war in which “men charged up hills because a General said a hill had to be taken and after losing one or two platoons they marched away, only to see the hill retaken by the enemy.”

Yet the fighting and dying went on, said young John Kerry, because “we couldn’t retreat and …it didn’t matter how many American bodies were lost to  prove that point.”

“We found,” testified the impassioned Kerry, “that most of the people on whose behalf American troops were fighting and dying practiced the art of survival by siding with whatever military force was present at a particular time”;  and that “all too often, Americans were dying . . . from want of support from their allies.”

Sound familiar? The same words could be applied to what’s going in Afghanistan today.  (July registered the largest number of American deaths  in the Afghan-Pakistan war since its beginning nearly a decade ago.)

But there’s still more to hear from young John Kerry:  How, he asked those Senate elders in April, 1971, how could they “ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Fast-forward four decades to the same John Kerry, the subject of a Washington Post feature the day after the Afghan WikiLeaks papers were published. In flattering detail the Post describes Kerry as being passionate  about an issue he’s devoted full time to for the past year. Is the issue young Americans dying overseas “for a mistake”?  Guess again. It’s . . . climate change!

Not that Kerry, now himself chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has nothing to say about the Afghanistan war. In a separate story on the WikiLeaks papers he’s quoted as saying, “These documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

To repeat that passionate statement: “These documents may very well underscore the stakes” . . .  Oh, what the hell.  What else should we expect from the man who famously said that he was “for that bill before I was against it”?

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