Sweet Smell of Defeat Sunday, Jun 19 2016 

When last heard from Republican House Leader Eric Cantor was being ignominiously routed by a virtual unknown in his 2014 primary race for reelection. Unsurprisingly, given his record as a Wall Street yo-yo, he has moved on to bigger and better things with Moelis & Company, an investment firm at which his annual salary is $400,000, with stock options adding up to a $3.4 million payout.

All of which was revealed in a June 16 feature on Cantor in the Washington Post Style section, one paragraph of which, standing alone, reveals the Washington mindset that led to his defeat.

The telltale paragraph:

“Cantor earned $193,400 as majority leader; his wife, a lawyer and investment banker, was the real moneymaker. One of the reasons he took the Moelis job, he says, was because it was his turn to support the family. ‘Life is about balance. For 14 years, she had been basically the breadwinner,’ he says. ‘I felt that I needed to do this for her.’”

Let’s see now: He made $193,400 a year as a congressman but his wife was “the breadwinner.” Where do the Cantors buy their bread — at Tiffany’s? It was his turn “to support the family.” Right. How, after all, can an American family in this day and age hope to subsist on an income just short of $200,000 a year?

Any wonder why a Marxist demagogue like Bernie Sanders and a Foxist demagogue like Donald Trump have gone far this year with the message that our national leaders have fallen out of touch with workaday Americans?

Sound Bite to Remember

“There once was a very poor family. The mother was poor, the father was poor,  the children were poor, the maid was poor, and the butler was poor.”

Frank Mankiewicz, circa 1950, presciently anticipating the plight of families like the struggling Cantors. 

Citizen Frank Monday, Oct 27 2014 

Other than speaking the same language and observing the same national holidays Frank Mankiewicz and I had little in common other than a passion for politics and sports.

In politics we couldn’t have disagreed more. While he was working for Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern, I was working for Barry Goldwater and Spiro Agnew. But in sports we were blood brothers, lifelong followers of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Frank, who had grown up in Los Angeles, recalled rooting for the Cardinals as the westernmost major league team in the days when there were only 16 teams in both leagues. Growing up in New Orleans I recalled going to Pelican Stadium with my father on weekend afternoons, when the local AA team was a Cardinal farm club.

Together, recognizing the relative unimportance of politics next to the tribal pull of childhood fantasy, Frank and I organized the Stan Musial Society, an informal luncheon group that brought together the wide and equally passionate Cardinal fan base in the National Capital area.

With Frank’s passing last week the country and the capital lost one of the most perceptive, not to mention witty, observers of our political and cultural scene. Like his legendary father, Herman, whose gift for screenwriting gave us “Citizen Kane,” Frank was a treasure trove of incisive one-liners that spoke truth to pomposity in ways few in the world of entertainment and politics dared.

My favorite Frank one-liner came during the 1972 presidential campaign, when his beleaguered candidate George McGovern, accosted by an abrasive heckler, told the man to “kiss my ass.” In a dull campaign, comments like that are seized on by a gotcha press as candidate gaffes and the question was how McGovern’s intemperate (if justified) remark could be explained away.

Other, less resourceful campaign managers would have tried to squirm out with a trite and tired explanation to the effect that the remark was “taken out of context,” but not Frank. Easy to explain, he told the inquiring press the next morning. After all, “George is a Democrat. What would you expect him to say, ‘Kiss my elephant’?”

End of story. No, they don’t make them like that anymore. And even when they did, they made only one.

Sound bite to remember

“Imagine that, the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass.”

— Herman Mankiewicz at the Columbia studio lunch table, on being told by Columbia president Harry Cohn that any movie that made him squirm in his seat was bad (circa 1935). It was the one-liner that got Herman fired at Columbia.

Sports heroes (and more) Saturday, Jan 26 2013 

(Reader advisory: What follows is not about Lance Armstrong or Manti Te’o.)

Though we live to become old-timers, we still see our sports heroes, as my college friend Roland Swardson once mused, through pre-adolescent eyes; which, I guess, is why some sportswriter with a sociological bent (or a sociologist with a sports bent) came up with the term Role Model.

A Role Model, by definition, is an athlete who in his conduct both on and off the field sets a standard for young people to emulate. The standard in my antediluvian youth was exemplified by those athletes who were game-centered rather than self-centered. They didn’t boast, didn’t taunt, and let their on-field (or in the case of Joe Louis, in-ring) performance do the talking for them.

All of which, for many athletes who came of age after what Tom Wolfe called “the Me Generation,” made for a standard of conduct best ignored or in some cases scorned. NBA star Charles Barkley, for example, let it be known that he had enough on his plate in terms of salary caps and product endorsements without being burdened as a role model for other people’s kids.

Fortunately there are others – even in an age when ESPN exalts a new generation of swaggering I-Am-the-Greatest athletes – who don’t share Prince Charles’ (as Barkley calls himself) view.

In my time I’ve come to personally know two Role Models who fill the bill on standards you’d want your kids to emulate. One is Larry Brown, the Washington Redskins’ great running back, who won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award in 1972 – a player remembered not only for his hell-for-leather running style but the fact that after crossing the goal line he didn’t spike, didn’t dance, didn’t point to himself or the heavens (as if he were God’s Chosen Halfback). He simply handed the ball to the referee.

The other gifted Role Model I’ve been privileged to know was Stan Musial, the nonpareil St. Louis Cardinal outfielder/first baseman of the 1940s and ’50s who died last week at the age of 92. All I might say in praise of Stan – his gift, his modesty, his humanity – was summed up in the headlines run by the New York Times on Jan. 20, reporting his death. The first read, “Stan Musial, Gentlemanly Slugger and Cardinals’ Stan the Man, Dies at 92”; the second, above an obituary by George Vecsey: “The Star Who Stood Out by Not Standing Out.”

A cherished memory of Stan: Some years ago, after Frank Mankiewicz and I organized the Stan Musial Society, a Cardinals fan club in the national capital area, we traveled to St. Louis for dinner and a baseball game with The Man. All went smoothly until we approached the entrance to Busch Stadium where a crowd of youngsters – my estimate was between 30 and 50 kids, both boys and girls – swarmed in, asking for autographs.

We live in a time, understand, when celebrity signatures go for $25 a shot at autograph sessions organized and promoted by sports stars and their agents. That thought ran through my mind as Frank and I stood by and watched – for 15, 20 minutes – until every kid in that crowd went away happy.

Stan the Man. He remembered, he said, being a kid like that himself, back in Donora, Pennsylvania. Allow a nostalgic old-timer this well-worn cliché: They don’t make them like that anymore.