Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why I will never forget March 30, 1981

Since the advent of television in the thirties and forties, each generation has had its’ very own date in history which can never be forgetten. The fifties had Sputnik; the sixties had the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK; and the seventies had Nixon’s resignation. My generation (growing up in the eighties,) actually had two such moments: the day Ronald Reagan was shot and when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the former. It’s a day I will never forget.

I was just five years old and living in a suburb of Miami, Florida. Like a typical Kindergartner, I was playing outside with some neighborhood kids when my Mom suddenly appeared at the front door of our house with a crestfallen look on her face. “Pauly, come inside now please,” Mom said in a tone of voice I’d never before heard. “Why, Mom?” I replied as I walked up to her. It was nowhere near dinner time yet and the sky was clear, so I was wondering what I had done. “Please come inside, the President has been shot!” I immediately started to cry and went inside as she’d asked, wondering why she was so upset. I now understand that the world had suddenly turned upside down and she wanted her youngest son close to her. In retrospect, I can’t blame her.

As was customary for me, I had a lot of questions for Mom that day. I was five and very inquisitive. As was customary for Mom, she eventually got sick of answering my volumes of questions and told me to go read a book. Instead, I glued myself next to her in front of the television. At the time, all I knew was that Reagan was the new President (he’d been in office less than three months,) and that he’d been hit once. I remember Mom crying a little when the television reported (erroneously) that Press Secretary James Brady had died at the scene.

Reagan was at the Washington Hilton that day when John W. Hinckley, Jr., the scion of a wealthy Texas family of Republicans, opened fire with a .22 caliber pistol. His motive (if it can be called that,) was to impress (lesbian) movie actress Jodie Foster, who had co-starred in the film Taxi Driver several years before. Hinckley, then 25, ironically shares a birthday (May 29th,) with the last President to die by an assassin's bullet, John F. Kennedy. Hinckley was later found not guilty by reason of insanity and remains at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in D.C.

The shooting made the effervescent Reagan more popular with a once suspicious electorate. Gone were the concerns about his age (at 69, he was the oldest man ever elected President,) after he pulled through with flying colors and a hardy constitution. Reagan even managed to crack jokes with his doctors before surgery, reporting telling them “I hope you’re all Republicans!” The suspect suddenly became an eighties icon and spent nearly all of the rest of the decade in the White House.

What March 30, 1981 meant to me

In case you can’t tell from reading my blog posts, I am not a Republican … not even close. So, my memories of that day have nothing to do with any particular feeling for Reagan himself. I will never forget that day for one simple reason: it was one of the very few times I saw my mother truly vulnerable and frightened. Mom is a senior corporate executive and I’ve seen her intimidate men twice her size and multiple times her strength. She’s survived the death of two husbands and countless other bumps in the road of life, and always came out on top. But that day, I saw something in her eyes and I knew all was not right. It was a look of fear and uncertainty, the very same look she gave me that morning when the Twin Towers went down. For that reason only, I will never forget March 30, 1981.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who's not who among the GOP hopefuls and why

I’ve already spoken aplenty about the current crop of declared GOP candidates for next year’s Presidential election – and who wants to beat a dead horse (or a dead elephant, for that matter)? Today, I’d like to take a look at those that seem to be choosing not to run and discuss how this affects the GOP’s chances. With the President consistently polling around 50% in approval ratings (the touchstone for his re-election candidacy,) and the Tea Party dropping like a stone in current national polls, the current crop of Republicans in the race becomes all the more important.

Unlike their counterparts, the GOP Presidential sweepstakes usually fills up with some head-scratchers early on and then thins out. Democrats would seem to attract more serious candidates to their Presidential plebiscites, perhaps because there are fewer ideologues among the blue crowd. This year’s laughable gaggle includes businessman Herman Cain, former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana, notorious nut-job Michele Bachmann, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Nobody (including myself) has ever heard of Cain, Roemer has been out of office for nearly twenty years, Bachmann is in just her third term in the House and can’t even crack the leadership ladder, and Gingrich has been on the sidelines since early 1999.

The GOP has a nice history of recycling candidates. Bob Dole had to seek the nod three times (1980, 1988, and 1996,) before actually winning it (and getting stomped by scandal-plagued Bill Clinton); John McCain had to run twice after running face first into the wall that was George W. Bush in 2000; and even Ronald Reagan ran three times before winning it (1968, 1976, and 1980.) This year’s second-timers are the co-runners-up from the last cycle: Former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. So, it’s been the exception that a first time candidate wins the GOP nod: Dubya took it in 2000 in his first try – prior to that, the last man to do so was Barry Goldwater in 1964!

The 2012 crop for the GOP is quite thin and could be a harbinger of some big wig stepping into the race later and claiming the prize. A recent vintage name (such as Sen. Rand Paul of Tennessee,) could also decide to give it a go, although it would probably just be to run as a way to build nationwide name recognition to try again in 2016. The crop thinned after two big rising GOP stars got caught up in very messy adultery scandals last year.

Gov. Mark Sanford was often rumored to harbor presidential ambitions, but abandoning the state to carry on an adulterous affair (in violation of state law,) while lying to your own aides yields an end to one’s political career. Sanford left office in total disgrace early this year and is presently licking his wounds in the political graveyard known as the lecture circuit. Sen. John Ensign was badly hobbled by his own scandal, where it was revealed that he was screwing a member of his staff (who happened to be married to another staffer,) and is limping out of the Senate next year. The twin killing left the Republicans short of legitimate contenders and the result is a nearly silly group.

Also shortening the list was the Republican debacle known as the 2006 mid-term elections. That (wonderful) year, then President Bush sank in the polls due to his bungling response to Hurricane Katrina and the Democrats took back the House and Senate in short order. Among the Democratic pick-offs that year were Senators George Allen (VA) and Rick Santorum (PA.) The loss left Allen to seek to restore himself to the Senate next year while Santorum is (for some odd reason) running for President anyway and getting widely ignored.

The 2010 mid-terms were a debacle of historic proportions for the Democratic Party, but those elected who might be of presidential timber are still several years away. The Tea Party revolution also put in place legislators that are WAY too far right to be of any consequence nationally. Nevertheless, pols like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio could have a future in the national arena if felicity smiles upon them. They just need to develop the experience portions of their respective rap sheets.

My question about next year’s GOP contenders is this: why aren’t any of the big dogs in the race? Sen. Mitch McConnell is nearing seventy and has always lusted after the Majority Leader position – but there’s no guarantee the GOP will take the Senate in 2012 (especially without a strong candidate atop the ticket,) and McConnell is your stereotypical Deep South Republican that won’t make it to the top of the ladder. McConnell’s #2, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, is stepping down after 2012 – so he’s out, too.

John Thune

Thune was the 2004 “Giant Killer” who edged out then Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle after three terms. He was re-elected in 2010 without opposition and his rugged good looks and folksy Midwestern drawl have gotten him some attention. The GOP Senate elders tabbed him for great things early on, naming him a deputy whip in his first term. Nevertheless, Thune, 50, has already ruled out a 2012 run without saying why and has also said he won’t be in the running to succeed Kyl as whip. He could change his mind on the latter to raise his profile for 2016, at which point he’d be just fifty-five.

Jeb Bush

I’ve said my piece about my home state’s former czar (um, Governor,) in previous soliloquies, so I won’t spend much time on him here. Bush would seem to be done with politics, at least in part because of the damage his big brother wreaked upon the family (and party) political brand. He left office in early 2007 a popular man, but has stayed out of the spotlight since. It’s said that Jeb is content to manage the future political fortunes of his son, George P. Bush, and remain under the radar. Had Dubya nosedived in historical fashion during his second term, Jeb might’ve made for an impressive candidate in 2008. There is no doubt that he could raise the money, but he didn’t bother with a 2010 Senate race that would’ve been over had he simply said he wanted it. So, barring the intervention of some (real, not political,) deity Jeb will remain a non-candidate.

John Boehner

The idea of a Boehner candidacy is almost amusing. First of all, the current House Speaker can’t get thru a speech without bawling and, second, he’s living his political dream as Speaker (now matter how difficult the Tea Partiers are to manage.) The Speaker of the House almost never runs for President, because there is too much risk. Boehner would have the support of the party elites, but is better off staying where he current resides. The people of Ohio’s 8th district will keep right on sending back to the House and that’s where the Tan Man should stay.

The Rest

The current Republican cast of characters is unimpressive to most. When former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah and Gary Johnson of New Mexico are throwing their hats in the ring and not being heckled mercilessly, you know the crop is thin. I’ve beaten that point to death, so I won’t dwell. Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi is considered a strong contender, but conservative Deep South candidates usually don’t run that well nationwide (George W. Bush was an extreme exception.) The GOP has little outside that base and their partners in the Midwest. The GOP may well take back the Senate in 2012; but outside of the Lord himself filming a campaign commercial for them, that will be the height of it.

Thanks to the Tea Party, the GOP is undergoing a further rightward shift that could marginalize them permanently. As Americans learn what the Tea Party’s true agenda is (killing what remains of our Middle Class,) they are less likely to keep on winning races. Governors Rick Scott, Scott, Walker, and John Kasich are so busy trying to kill every labor union known to man that they are forgetting the very people they were elected to serve. You can bet that bottom dollar none of the three will see reelection. The Tea Party “establishment” is getting exactly what they do NOT need: exposure. The more America sees of someone like Michele Bachmann, the less likely they are to be trusted with anything as precious as the Presidency of the United States.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The story of Connie and how Paul became Paulytics

Life is a funny thing - it almost never turns out the way we planned. That’s a good thing, though, because it makes for great humor and lessons learned. What is truly ironic is the way people you completely forgot about or don’t even really know turn out to be an influence on you. I’ll stop with the “sweet mystery of life” stuff now and share a truly ironic happenstance and how it has affected my life and politics.

The year was 1986, and I was in 5th Grade at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Plantation, FL. My father, Robert, had died of cancer early that school year and I brought his briefcase to school as a way of bringing him with me. I got picked on a lot for it - that’s what happens when a ten year-old sticks out like a sore thumb. To my credit, I had a big mouth and was lightning fast with comebacks – which meant I got my butt kicked occasionally. I had vision problems (I was born with a lazy eye that was later corrected through surgery, and wasn’t a fast runner, either.) This made me an easy and obvious target (deservedly so.) So that was not a great year for me. In retrospect, I could’ve helped myself, but didn’t.

Since I couldn’t see too well, I sat near the front of the class. My teacher that year, Mrs. Benson, didn’t like me very much. As such, in the latter part of the year, she moved me off to the side where I could see the blackboard and, at the same time, not bother her with my ADHD. I moved there and sat next to a little blonde girl named Connie. She just sat there, minding her own business and little smart-ass me decided to strike up a friendship the only way I knew how: by being a jackass.

One day, I walked up to Connie and said simply: “Good morning, Constance!” She ignored me at first, and quickly found that I was tough to ignore. She was a sweet kid, and didn’t know that this was my way of trying to be buddies with her, so she told me (repeatedly) to shut my trap. Needless to say, my little entreaty didn’t work. Connie and I attended school together for another seven years, but never really talked or became friends. We wouldn’t become friends until many years later.

Fast forward to 2008: I was working in the Investment Banking game back home in South Florida after attending college and graduate school. The financial panic of the recession had just kicked in and nobody wanted to sell their company in such an environment. That gave me precious little to do (my firm eventually went ‘belly-up’ and almost took me with it,) so I turned to the brand new diversion I’d recently discovered to while away my (now useless) time: Facebook!

As most of its denizens will tell you, Facebook is a wonderful place to find all the people you thought (or hoped, depending on your perspective,) you’d lost forever. After opening the account, I needed some “friends” or people I knew with whom to connect. I looked up my old high school, added some people I remembered, and decided I’d done a good thing. Now I could see what all those people were up to. For a guy with a career in an evaporating field, it was great. That meant I had something to do besides listen to CEOs complain about how their companies were dying and how could I even ask if they wanted to sell.

One of the first people I found was good old Connie from 5th Grade. By then, she’d forgotten all about my stupidity but had become quite vocal in her own little (conservative) way. I had degrees in political science that were going to waste with a career in finance, so I quickly decided to use Facebook as my personal bully pulpit to express my ideas and spread my personal (liberal) gospel. This was good, in that it gave me an outlet and a captive audience, and bad (I quickly found myself arguing with several of my vitriolic conservative former classmates.)

I logged on to Facebook one day to find a comment from Connie on one of my pictures. It was an opening salvo in the coming battle between two old acquaintances turned liberal and conservative – it started an argument that still has not ended as of this writing three long years later. The comment read: "You know, you didn’t grow up to be a bad looking guy and I just think that maybe if you weren’t such a Democrat that you wouldn’t be single still.” I was a little surprised, we hadn’t said a word to each other after 5th Grade (that I can remember, anyway,) but I was glad she seemed to be into politics – it gave me someone with whom to banter and debate.

The debates started then and there and have never really stopped. We’ve gotten to know each other a bit personally, so now I tone down the rhetoric and even defend her at times. At first, I was determined to “win” or at least to gain some ground. To her credit, I never did. For a little woman, she’s got a certain spunk that I’ve come to greatly respect and even admire. We debated endlessly on every political topic known to man: foreign affairs, welfare, unemployment, the Tea Party, Sarah Palin … you name it, we argued about it ... publicly!

Both Connie and I used to update our statuses regularly. Each one, in turn, turned into a debate on politics. We ran each comment stream up past the hundred mark, going back and forth. She once posted something about being frustrated with a long line at her local Wal Mart … it turned into an endless debate on welfare. I posted that I was at the dentist – that turned into a debate on health care reform.

My other Facebook friends all got sick of my little political rants and eventually either turned off my notifications or deleted me altogether. When that started, I decided to create a second account to air my politics – the new one would only have my political friends and be a place for my fellow liberals to rant. When it came time to give the new account a name, I quickly decided on using a nickname Connie had given me “Paulytics” (pronounced “politics,” and a play on my name.) Good ol’ Connie was my very first friend (which I’m sure she now regrets.)

It was only about six months ago that I created my little avatar, now known as Americus Paulytics ( It’s grown exponentially into something of a Facebook news service for liberals – offering commentary, punditry, humor, and all the liberally-slanted political news anyone could want. I’ve branched out into blogging (obviously) and am currently creating a website independent of Facebook where my friends and I will collaborate. I even incorporated it (yes, really) and created several political groups that offer people a forum in which to rant about different subjects (the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, John Boehner, and several others.) Through recommendations, requests, and word of mouth, “Americus” now has twice the friends that I (personally) do.

Today, Americus Paulytics is a small but growing little group of Facebook liberals who provide original content and share news stories with about 1600 people (the vast majority of which are liberals.) I even have a couple of partners who help and make suggestions. Not that I’m bragging, but it’s neat (even my mother likes it,) and is my very own creation. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments and some actually rely on us as a legitimate news organization. In that sense, I’m fulfilling my dream - for that, I have to thank Miss Connie for encouraging me. I’m sure she’s not going to be pleased when (and if) she reads that, but it’s my way of saying “thank you.”

Life is a huge mystery … you never know until you live it. After years of falling by the way side, it was the little blonde from 5th Grade that (successfully) encouraged me to do something with my education, trying where others had failed. She probably dislikes the result (she actually stays off the page now since there are 1590 other liberals that will comment if she posts anything,) but I certainly have to appreciate her tacit contributions. If this little idea of mine ever goes anywhere, I will have Connie to thank!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

RIP Geraldine Ferraro

When I was a little kid, I watched a show called “Maude.” Although I was young and didn’t quite pick up on all of the plot lines, I enjoyed the independent spirit of the main character (portrayed by future "Golden Girl" Bea Arthur.) The show' main character, Maude Finley, was a three time widower and a sassy, women's lib icon in a perennial battle with males and their egos.

Former U.S. Representative and Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine A. “Gerry” Ferraro was the very embodiment of the spirit that “Maude” had tried to capture: a strong woman with a can-do attitude battling men and their silliness on a daily basis while being successful in “their” world. Ferraro passed away this morning after a twelve-year battle with cancer, she was 75.

Ferraro was a brassy, sassy woman of the eighties with the typical big liberal heart and audacity to spare. Ferraro was no skirt-wearing princess in the Sarah Palin mold, but a blunt, brilliant, accomplished woman who blazed a trail for which she was never thanked. After raising her family and doing pro bono legal work for women in family court, Ferraro was appointed head of the now famous “Special Victims” unit of the Queens, NY district attorney’s office in an era where female prosecutors were an extreme exception. Once there, she became an advocate for abused children and women and gained notice for her effectiveness and tough fairness in plea bargain negotiations.

Never one to sit still, Ferraro decided to seek a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the somewhat conservative 9th Congressional district in Queens. At the time, the 9th was a conservative blue-collar area made famous as the setting for the television show “All in the Family.” Ms. Ferraro ran on a law and order platform touting her experience as a prosecutor and beat out two better known candidates in the Democratic primary. She billed herself as “conservative with a small ‘c,’” running on the slogan “Finally, a tough Democrat.” She easily won the primary and went on to an Election Day landslide.

Once in the House, Ferraro became a protégé of then Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil and quickly gained notice within the party. She would serve as a deputy chair of the 1980 Carter/Mondale re-election campaign and was elected Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus after just one term – a meteoric rise for a member of the slow-moving House. Her quick rise and reputation as a political moderate gained her the admiration of former Vice President Walter “Fritz” Mondale.

On July 12, 1984, Ferraro would make history when recent vintage Democratic nominee Mondale named her as his running mate. Ferraro was also the first Italian-American to be nominated to a major party’s national ticket; she was just 48 years old. Mondale and Ferraro lost in historic fashion on Election Day, as Ronald Reagan took 49 of the 50 states and even Ferraro’s 9th Congressional district.

Having not stood for re-election to her House seat in 1984 so as to concentrate on her Vice Presidential bid, Ferraro left the House in early 1985 but remained active in party circles. She ultimately decided against challenging then incumbent Republican Sen. Alphonse M. D’Amato, but would change her mind six years later. After a tough, divisive 1992 primary, Ferraro lost to then NY Attorney General Robert Abrams by less than one percentage point.

After the bruising loss to Abrams, Ferraro would join the Clinton Administration the following year as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights – a post she held until 1996. In 1998, Ferraro again ran for the Senate, this time losing badly to current NY Sen. Chuck Schumer. The primary was classy and not especially contentious, with Ferraro endorsing Schumer the following day. Schumer, who out-spent Ferraro 5 – 1, would go on to finally unseat the much hated D’Amato that fall.

After her second bid for the Senate failed, Ferraro mostly stayed out of the spotlight. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma shortly after the campaign ended, but didn’t disclose it until 2001. Ferraro would later assist Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful Presidential campaign in 2008 and continued her career as a political commentator, even joining Fox News (yes, really) for a brief time in the late nineties.

Gerry, as she was known, is gone now – and along with her another strong, trailblazing female figure who never “knew her place.” America is better for having known her, something not many people have written in their obituaries. I can still remember being a little boy watching her on television and thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s awesome!” Countless little girls also watched and were inspired. Ferraro was a big part of the reason why this country will eventually have a woman President. She was also proof that America was, and still is, the “Land of Opportunity.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bachmann? LOL!

Congratulations to Michele Bachmann, who aides say will be forming her Presidential exploratory committee by May or June. Bachmann joins Newt Gingrich, Buddy Roemer, Tim Pawlenty, and Herman “Who the hell is that guy” Cain in the thin but ever-widening field of entrants. An exploratory committee is the first step in a candidacy, and, although it is not a formal declaration, allows the prospective candidate to begin raising money and earns them the right to be called a “contender.” The move will also allow Bachmann, a third term U.S. Representative from Minnesota, to participate in early GOP candidate debates.

The most popular response on my Facebook page, where I have been spreading this joyous news today, has been the ubiquitous “LOL.” I’ll start the laughter with a trivia question: When was the last time a sitting member of the House was elected President? The year was 1880 and the candidate was James A. Garfield!! The reason for this is simple: a member of the House does not have a large enough political base, especially not since the advent of the primary system (1960) which made name recognition and fund-raising ability paramount to ancillary factors.

Why else is Bachmann a political “LOL” waiting to happen? Number one, the reason she claims she switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP was because she read a historical novel (Burr by Gore Vidal,) and disliked the author’s characterizations of the Founding Fathers. A novel is a work of fiction, folks – not a reason to change anything as important as your party affiliation! Reason number two would be the fact that, despite having graduated from law school twice (she had to, the first was unaccredited and she would not have been able to practice otherwise,) Bachmann recently gaffed twice in one day by saying the Revolutionary War started in New Hampshire! Yeah, and the Civil War started in Jersey!

Bachmann is a founding member of the House Tea Party caucus (further strengthening my endless arguments against them,) and has done nothing of any real importance in the House in her two plus terms there. She recently declared for, and dropped out of, a race for a middle leadership position! If your colleagues won’t even let you be House GOP Conference chair, why would you think you could be their nominee for President!?

Bachmann’s move today, after swinging through Iowa and New Hampshire recently, spells trouble for the potential candidacy of the Tea Party’s other fave, Sarah Palin. The pair would split the faction’s vote and ensure that neither femme fatale goes anywhere. The best either can hope for would be a spot in the Cabinet, because we saw what happens when such a person gets nominated for Vice President on the last go-round. Bachmann’s ploy is clearly ego-driven and is sure to muddy the already dicey GOP waters for the next cycle. This political cannibalism will ultimately run into the giant brick wall known as the Party Establishment, who would clearly be wise to cut Bachmann and/or Palin off at the knees.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Supreme Court: Then, now, and in the future

Let me begin by saying that the appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito were, to me, the “smartest” moves George W. Bush made during his White House years. I say smartest not because I agree with the appointments (I’ve never liked either man,) but because the moves accomplished what conservatives had been trying to do since 1969: they transformed the Court. The high-water mark of that transformation, of course, was the abominable decision known as Citizens United v. FEC 130 S.Ct. 876 (2010.)

In appointing Roberts and Alito, George W. Bush succeeded where several other Republican presidents failed. From 1953 – 1969, SCOTUS (under Chief Justice Earl Warren,) issued sweeping rulings that attempted to correct societal wrongs and expanded the role of SCOTUS into areas which many felt were none of the Court’s concern. Warren, a former law-and-order Governor of California, was appointed to the Court in 1953 by President Eisenhower. Ike would later refer to the appointment as “The biggest damn fool mistake I ever made.” It was under Warren’s leadership that the Court overturned the horrific Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling that called for legalized separation of the races and finally began dismantling the system of segregated schools that were turning African-Americans in to a permanent under-class a bare notch above the days of slavery.

The Court also began giving criminals rights (Miranda v. Arizona and Gideon v. Wainwright being the most famous examples.) Richard Nixon, Eisenhower’s former Vice President, had won the presidency in 1968 by selling his soul to southern segregationists, promising the nation that he’d remedy the liberal court by appointing only “strict constructionists” or judges who would interpret the Constitution literally and not find all kinds of “implied rights.”

Eisenhower, a moderate conservative with occasional liberal leanings, may have considered Warren to be regrettable, but his real “mistake” was appointing a “seeming” conservative, William J. Brennan, Jr., to the Court in 1956. It was Brennan who provided the legal rationales for the Warren Court’s liberal rulings and who was able to occasionally sway moderate Potter Stewart. It was also Brennan who would later manage to subjugate initially conservative Harry Blackmun, turning the former conservative into his eventual successor as the leader of the Court’s liberal wing.

In all, Eisenhower would get to appoint four members of the Court – only one of whom (John M. Harlan II,) would turn out to be a “real” conservative. Potter Stewart turned out to be somewhat moderate and voted for Roe v. Wade in 1973 and for expanding busing to integrate southern schools in several cases. Warren and Brennan would make a formidable team, combining with radical liberal William O. Douglas and later liberal appointees (such as Arthur Goldberg, Fortas, and Thurgood Marshall) to make the liberal activists a majority.

By the time of the 1968 elections, Warren was seventy-eight years old and in less than perfect health. The Chief Justice, not wanting to see his work subverted, had submitted his resignation to then President Johnson earlier in the year in an attempt to ensure that a liberal successor was named. Johnson, being Lyndon Johnson, attempted to appoint the capable but sycophantic Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace Warren. Fortas, a prominent figure in the New Deal and a close friend of Johnson’s, was hit with charges of cronyism and saw his nomination filibustered in the Senate. With no successor in place, Warren had, in toto, just handed Nixon a precious seat to fill on the Court.

Although considered something of a moderate conservative, Nixon was not about to make the same “mistake” Eisenhower had: handing a lifetime appointment to someone who might well not do as he wished once on the Court. After fan favorite Potter Stewart bowed out due to his wife’s alcoholism, Nixon appointed the crusty Warren E. Burger as Chief Justice in 1969. Warren, then a federal appeals court judge for the D.C. circuit, was certainly conservative and had the long paper trail of rulings which the conservatives now sought after Eisenhower had gone one for four with a home run, a walk, and two BIG strikeouts.

Were Nixon to truly change the character of the Court, he’d need another seat to fill. The somewhat corrupt Abe Fortas looked vulnerable as he’d (illegally) supplemented his income by accepting a retainer from millionaire/crook Louis Wolfson. A quiet investigation (and the threat of impeachment) led Fortas to resign in 1969, handing “Tricky Dick” another seat and threatening the liberal majority (at the time, the liberal majority was Warren, Brennan, Black, Marshall, Douglas, and Fortas – to go along with the conservative Harlan and moderates Byron White and Potter Stewart.) Two free, previously liberal, seats would give the conservatives a fighting chance again.

Nixon committed his own error in appointing Warren Burger to be the Court’s shepherd. A solid conservative judge, Burger did not possess the people skills to properly lead SCOTUS. Further, Burger’s brash, irreverent interpersonal style wound up pushing the others to the left and this scuttled Nixon’s best shot at remaking the Court. With Fortas out, Burger campaigned for the elevation of his closest childhood friend, federal appeals court judge Harry Blackmun of the eighth circuit, to replace him. Blackmun, who wound up authoring and later defending Roe v. Wade, would be Nixon’s Earl Warren. Burger’s pomposity drove Blackmun to the left and lost for a generation was the conservatives’ dream of their very own Warren Court.

The previously luckless Nixon wound up also getting to appoint four members of the Court: Burger, Blackmun, William Rehnquist, and Lewis Powell. The problem, as usually happened with Nixon, was that he failed to look at the big picture. Rehnquist, who would later become Chief Justice, was very conservative but spent his first few years on the Court as a loner. Lewis Powell, a former ABA president, was a moderate Democrat from Virginia (Nixon had promised the South its’ own seat,) and wound up disappointing the conservatives by becoming the ultimate swing vote (Powell, too, voted for Roe v. Wade.) Three of Nixon’s four picks would ultimately vote against in U.S.A. v. Nixon, the decision which forced the President to turn over the taped conversations with aides regarding the Watergate scandal. The decision led Nixon to resign the presidency in August 1974.

The often hapless Gerald Ford, Nixon’s appointed understudy, would get just one more SCOTUS pick when Bill Douglas was felled by a stroke in 1975. Ford, also something of a moderate, would tap another federal appeals court judge (John Paul Stevens,) and would strike out just the same as Nixon and Ike had – Stevens spent ten years in the Court’s center before turning solidly liberal and eventually becoming Blackmun’s successor as liberal-in-chief.

Truly luckless President Jimmy Carter would not get to appoint anyone to the Court before going down to Ronald Reagan in 1980. It was Reagan who, in his zeal to appoint the first woman, appointed swing justice extraordinaire Sandra Day O’Connor when Potter Stewart resigned in 1981. Reagan quickly found that he could do little to change the Court from the centrist institution it had become. Despite getting four picks himself, Reagan eventually replaced two moderates with moderates (O’Connor for Stewart and Anthony Kennedy for Lewis Powell,) and two conservatives with conservatives (Rehnquist as Chief in place of Burger and Antonin Scalia to replace Rehnquist.)

President George H.W. Bush would get two draft choices during his four years, and, like his predecessor, did little to change the Court. Brennan retired in 1990, but Bush replaced him with David Souter. Souter, a New England bachelor, quickly fell under the spell of his predecessor and became a reliable member of the Court’s liberal wing. Clarence Thomas, who was appointed in 1991 to replace Thurgood Marshall, is a solid conservative but is a loner and unable, or unwilling, to attempt to sway his colleagues.

President Clinton did manage to alter the Court some by appointing liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg to replace moderate Byron White in 1993 and tapping the brilliant Stephen Breyer to replace Blackmun in 1994. It was, of course, SCOTUS and its' band of Republicans who took the Presidency away from its rightful owner in 2000’s mind-numbing Bush v. Gore decision. Although the Rehnquist Court was somewhat moderate, it still had five Republicans (conservative or not,) and they managed to hold swing votes O’Connor and Kennedy. Had they not done so, it’s possible Gore, not Bush II, would’ve chosen successors for Sandra Day O’Connor and Rehnquist.

That brings us to President George W. Bush. Despite a lack of grammar and a speaking style that can only be considered laughable, Bush II placed some smart people around him. With both O’Connor and Rehnquist rapidly aging and considering retirement, Rehnquist lobbied O’Connor to resign after the 2005 term so that he could stay another year and guarantee that there would not be two simultaneous vacancies. O’Connor fulfilled her lifelong friend’s last request, but the Court got two open seats anyway when Rehnquist died that fall.

Bush, not wanting to repeat the errors his father had made with Souter, quickly appointed the brilliant and warm John Roberts to the Court. Roberts had a soft skill that so many conservative judges lack: the ability to sway his colleagues. With Roberts, the conservatives would finally be able to sway centrist Anthony Kennedy firmly to the right and would give them their first real working majority since FDR was in office. Alito, too, was a brilliant pick because he was solidly in the conservative camp and also able to work with others without alienating them. That said, the Court is now a firmly activist conservative institution, with five reliable votes – enough to break the back of the liberals and to guarantee that Kennedy wouldn’t stray as far as he had in previous years.

The Coming Liberal Majority

After achieving their generational goal of changing the Supreme Court to their liking, the conservatives must now hold their majority. Fortunately, that is not up to them. Everyone ages and eventually grows too old to sit on the Court. Despite tradition, most justices no longer choose to serve until death. Family obligations and the grind of the Court’s pressured nine-month terms usually lead modern members to leave several years before death, with several checking out before age eighty.

Barring another recession or war, President Obama is likely to be re-elected in 2012 - thanks in large part to the weak crop of GOP candidates. Obama has already made two shrewd moves replacing two aging liberal justices (Stevens and Souter) with solid young liberals (Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.) Both women were around fifty when appointed and should spend the next generation on the Court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has survived a bout with Pancreatic Cancer, but also lost her husband this year – so she may choose to stay as long as her health permits. She'd be smart to bow out before the next election when the Democrats’ control of the Senate will be threatened and to ensure that Obama names her successor. With such a move, the Court will have three solid seemingly young liberals teaming up with Stephen Breyer, who is a boyish seventy-two years old.

What the conservatives on the Court need to watch out for is the aging members of its’ current majority. Clarence Thomas is still young (sixty-three in June,) but has had some health problems and does not enjoy the love of his colleagues outside of (somehow) Breyer. I’d personally be willing to bet even money that the Court’s three women don’t enjoy his company much (Thomas helped push Justice O’Connor to the left at times, as did Scalia.)

Scalia, now seventy-five, has served on the court for nearly twenty-five years, is overweight and not exactly full of the fire he once possessed. Although the partisan, bombastic Scalia would be unlikely to voluntarily give Obama a seat to fill, the extra girth may eventually limit his choices. Should Obama be re-elected, Scalia would be eighty-one upon his check-out date - he may well not last that long. Should Scalia retire or die, the conservative’s majority would be broken upon the naming of his (likely liberal) successor.

Kennedy, also seventy-five, loves his job and still enjoys writing the bulk of the 5 – 4 (conservative) majority opinions for now, but may well tire of the grind. While little is noted about Kennedy’s health, he may also opt to leave the Court before his health limits his options. Should Kennedy do so, the conservatives can say good-bye to their majority.

Please note for the record that I do not wish death or disability upon either man, but am simply noting facts. A man with an appetite such as Scalia’s does not usually age that well and the ornery justice is already seventy-five. Kennedy is said to be in good health, but has a wife and family that may want to see him leave the Court sooner rather than later. Breyer, too, could call it a day, but Obama would simply replace him with a younger liberal and that reloading would simply harden the liberal wing.

In conclusion, the Republican’s dream Court, which they finally achieved in 2005 after decades of trying, will not be permanent. Roberts, et al likely sense this and have combined to push through as much of their agenda as possible. Roberts and Alito should each serve for another twenty years, although nothing is guaranteed. If Thomas, Scalia, or Kennedy leave in the next six years, it’s bye-bye Court for the neo-cons!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Paulytics Files: George Allen

When you follow politics and politicians for a long time, you find yourself more fascinated with some figures than others. Some of them just have names that shout at you; others have different attributes that stand out. Many of us are usually “fascinated” by members of our own party and repulsed by members of the other (assuming you’re not an indie,) but I’m fascinated by pols from both sides of the aisle. In recent years, few politicians have fascinated me more than former U.S. Sen. George Allen (R – VA.)

The first point of fascination is Allen’s résumé, which is enviable. Like all professions, a politician needs a résumé to show to prospective employers (voters.) As with most professions, a résumé isn’t everything but an impressive one helps. But politics is a microcosm of the real world, and so it is a combination of contacts, networking, and the aforementioned résumé that will actually give you a toe-hold. (While having attended an Ivy League institution may actually count against you in some corners of America, it’ll nevertheless impress national-level voters that have themselves obtained an education.)

Sen. Allen has an impressive political “rap sheet” (as I call it,) that once frightened Democrats. He was the one-time favorite son of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the son of a Hall of Fame NFL coach (George H. Allen,) who’d once led the hometown Redskins (Virginia has never had its own football team) to their first playoff appearance in a generation (1971.) Allen is a graduate (with distinction) of the University of Virginia (the Harvard of the Confederacy,) and its’ law school (among the best in the South,) and also (like many pols,) served as senior class president at UVA (as the locals call it to distinguish their institution from the University of Vermont. Oh, the horror of being confused with a YANKEE school!) So, Allen has the vitae without question.

Allen also has a set of intangibles that would make any opponent cringe: he’s smart, funny, handsome, in great shape (like the former high school quarterback that he is,) quick-witted, and gives a great speech. He’s also conservative enough to satisfy the wing nuts of the party while seeming moderate enough to attract his share of “Blue Dog” Democrats. Is that enough? No, intangibles and a great education are a guarantee of nothing in politics. We haven’t talked about the most salient qualification in American electoral politics: money!

If an ordinary citizen with an unrecognized name calls to meet you for coffee (and obviously to ask for a little contribution,) are you likely to say yes even if they share your political leanings? If you’re a well-to-do businessperson with limited time on your hands, probably not. So what’s the best way to get your foot in the door? “Well, my Daddy knew your Daddy and they did business together several times.” That has a better shot than a telemarketing-like presentation. Who wouldn’t want to meet the son of a NFL Hall of Fame coach for a cup of Joe? Among well-heeled Virginians, who wouldn’t write a little check to the son of the man that did so much good for their beloved Redskins? That fact alone made Allen a formidable fund-raiser before he did any networking on his own. In politics, money is like Popeye’s spinach – without it, you’re a ten pound weakling that is easily shoved aside.

As if that weren’t enough to make the guy a Senator, there is Allen’s political experience. Four years out of law school, Allen was elected to a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates (akin to a state House of Representatives) once held by none other than Thomas Jefferson. Allen then went on a string of (ever escalating) one-term gigs: U.S. Representative from 1990 – 92, Governor from 1994 – 98 (Virginia, unlike every other state, only allows it’s governors to serve one four-year term,) and finally the Senate from 2001 – 07.

Allen served just one term in the U.S. House before being tossed by his own party in redistricting. The state GOP then tacitly informed Allen that, had he any ambitions of being elected to higher office, he’d be retiring from the House instead of attempting to cannibalize another seat by taking on a sitting incumbent in a primary. After giving it some, Allen complied.

Once out of office, Allen immediately began campaigning to be Virginia’s next Governor. At first, his candidacy was a long shot. Attorney General Mary Sue Terry had superior name recognition, funding, and was up a whopping twenty-nine points in the early going. Also muddying the political waters that year was widespread voter dissatisfaction with then President Clinton’s health care reform plan (which was on its way to going nowhere,) and then Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. Wilder, the first (and only) African-American ever to head the state, was, at the time, embroiled in a bitter feud with (Democratic) Sen. Chuck Robb. The brouhaha got ugly, including surreptitiously recorded phone calls (a federal crime,) and it eventually contributed to the end for both men.

A contentious political environment in a state that wouldn’t normally elect a liberal as chief garbage collector combined with an unmarried female Democratic candidate who was pro-gun control breeds an electoral beating in the South. Terry came out for gun control in response to an early nineties spike the state’s crime rate. Allen, on the other hand, made a wise political move and instead proposed ending any parole for those convicted of violent felonies. The stark contrast made Terry appear soft on crime, the second “Kiss of Death” for any red state candidate.
On Election Night 1993, the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia spoke loudly and proudly for their Favorite Son. Allen, then just forty-one years old, claimed more than 58% of the vote to win in the state’s biggest gubernatorial landslide since 1961.

After making good on his promise of abolishing parole, the state crime rate dropped dramatically and Allen got the credit. Allen simultaneously pushed through a Truth-in-Sentencing law which required everyone convicted of crimes in the state to serve at least eighty-five percent of their sentence. In addition, the young rising star reformed the state welfare system and set rigid accountability standards in place for public schools. These actions, all decisions adored by the state’s conservative-leaning electorate, made Allen a force to be reckoned with in Virginia politics and set him up for what would be the greatest political victory of his career.

First on Allen’s agenda would be a brief break from elected office. Barred by the state constitution from succeeding himself as Governor, Allen’s choices were limited. Former governors don’t go to the middling House of Representatives (unless they’re from a state that, like Delaware, has only one member in the body.) That left the U.S. Senate and Virginia had no Senate race in 1998. Allen left office with high approval ratings and a reputation as an effective politician who was clearly ticketed for greater things. This meant the Senate was the next logical step, possibly on the way to the apex of American politics: the White House

One great way to build yourself up in the eyes of your own party in preparation for a national run is to become a “giant killer,” a candidate who takes out an entrenched incumbent. Allen found his Goliath in teetering junior Sen. Chuck Robb. Robb, a son-in-law of President Lyndon Johnson (he married Johnson’s daughter, Lynda Bird, in a ceremony at the White House in 1967,) was an impressive figure in his own right. A former Marine and White House aide, Robb had served as Lt. Governor and Governor of the state before taking 71% of the vote in his first race for the Senate (1988.)

A moderate Democrat who helped found the centrist Democratic Leadership Council that helped launch the 1992 candidacy of Bill Clinton, Robb’s political career had suffered at the hands of time. Despite being mentioned as a possible Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate in 1992, Robb’s aforementioned feud with Doug Wilder and an adultery scandal cost him the luster he’d once had among the state’s voters. In the overwhelmingly Republican 1994 mid-term elections, Robb narrowly survived a challenge from Iran-Contra figure (and one-time convicted felon) Oliver North. The narrow win, largely blamed on an Independent (former Republican) candidate, left him vulnerable.

As 2000 approached, Allen quickly set his sites on Robb. The Democrats would almost assuredly nominate their charismatically-challenged Vice President, Al Gore, as their standard-bearer. Despite Clinton’s record of eight years of economic expansion and relative peace abroad, Gore was handicapped by his boss’s scandal-a-minute administration and was not a shoo-in. Political experts were forecasting a close, expensive race (they were correct on both accounts,) and anyone could see that Gore was sure to have short coattails.

Despite being a fiscal conservative/social moderate, Virginians had tired somewhat of Sen. Robb. The Republicans had several seats to defend in 2000, with a near record number of freshmen back on the hustings. The GOP’s freshman class took a beating that year, with several (John Ashcroft, Rod Grams, and Spencer Abraham) going down in their attempts to return. Despite “winning” the White House in 2000, the GOP only managed to pick off one Democrat (Robb.) Allen’s much expected 53% - 47% victory was the party’s high-water mark that cycle.

Once in the Senate, Allen was quickly ticketed for the big time. Just two years in, Allen was appointed to a leadership position, heading up the National Republican Senatorial Committee. As head of NRSC, Allen oversaw a net gain of four seats for the party – good enough to hand control of the chamber back to the GOP after the defection of Jim Jeffords briefly handed it back to the Democrats.

A giant killer with a reputation for fund-raising and solid political skills, Allen had just one obstacle between him and a run for the White House: his 2006 race for re-election. The Democratic pipeline in the state was full, with Mark Warner and Tim Kaine then coming up. But Allen had it all: the cash, the name, the face, and the rep! Who was going to take him out? The path looked clear …

In the end, it turned out that Allen was his own worst enemy. Everyone knows the end of the story. Allen’s train was derailed by his own mouth. Knowing he was being filmed, he referred to an opposing campaign aide as a little known racial slur (“macaca,” an Eastern European slang word typically used to refer to brown-skinned people.) On film, Allen was disrespectful to a young man, S.R. Siddarth, on the campaign trail and many minority voters were put off by his arrogance.

Here’s the thing with racial slurs: if you use one, you’ll use the others, as well. Several former football teammates of Allen’s came forward to accuse the Senator of dropping an occasional “n-bomb” as a young man. Allen lost the race, and his heretofore fabulous political fortune, by 8,805 votes (or less than 1/3 of one percent.) Allen conceded the following day, not even bothering with the recount to which he was entitled under state law.

The man who beat Allen, current Sen. James Webb, was a former GOP (under Reagan) Naval Secretary who’d crossed party lines after one of his sons was called up to fight in the Iraq War. Webb recently decided one term was enough and announced his retirement. Allen was quick to declare that he would again seek his old seat and will likely face former Gov. Tim Kaine, the current chair of the Democratic National Committee. President Obama won Virginia handily in 2008, but the race is rated a toss-up for now. For that, and the end to his once endless ambitions, Allen has no one to blame but himself and his unfailing arrogance.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Michele Bachmann, the smart Tea Bagger?

In my family and circle of friends, I’ve always been considered something of an expert on politics. Given that I hold degrees (yes, plural) in the subject, this should come as no surprise. When questions arise, I’m the resource of choice for my loved ones (bite me, Google!) Recently, one of my closest friends came to me with a question: “Pauly, who the hell is Michele Bachmann?” That’s a great question, but not one that I could really answer in great detail (as is customary for me.)

The reason for my short file on Bachmann is pretty simple: there isn’t much to know. Bachmann is known more for her gaffes and “bat-sh*t crazy” reputation than anything else. At 54, she has served about five years in the U.S. House without much distinction other than having been a co-founder of the chamber’s Tea Party caucus. The Tea Partiers seem to love her, leaving everyone with an IQ above 75 to ask why. Bachmann recently found herself in the primary battleground state of New Hampshire, where she twice said the Revolutionary War started in the state (it started in Massachusetts, folks!) While it is true that the two states both have cities named Lexington and Concord, it is Palin-esque for anyone who fancies themselves a Presidential contender to make such a flub.

The ironic part is that Bachmann is not Palin, O’Donnell, or Sharron Angle. Bachmann actually holds two law degrees (the second from the prestigious William and Mary College of Law,) and once worked for the Internal Revenue Service. Were she any of the other three of the Tea Party’s pillars of female brilliance (in other words, were she lucky to have an undergraduate degree from a middling school,) then we could understand … but Bachmann is actually (among the four,) considered to be "The Smart One"!

To be sure, Tea Party voters are not known for their detailed, brilliant platforms and positions. Most of their (ahem) “positions” are based on their collective comfort with ignorance. It’s a virtue and they espouse it (check out the signs at one of their rallies some time.) The Tea Party reminds me a lot of the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who willingly referred to themselves as “idiots.” The difference is that the Sox had talent and the Tea Party has real idiots.

Bachmann is best known for voting against any kind of progressive legislation and for writing the occasional cuckoo bill. She recently proposed a bill that would bar the American dollar from ever being replaced as the national currency (which would be illegal and unconstitutional, anyway.) Her finest bit of legislative craftsmanship is arguably the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which hasn’t, as yet, passed and probably won’t get past the Democratically-controlled Senate. Bachmann has brought the bill up twice now.

Bachmann was not born into a Republican family. On the contrary, she was a Democrat until he Senior Year in college. That year, she read Burr, Gore Vidal's novel (that is a work of FICTION) about the late Vice President and accused traitor. Bachmann felt Vidal “was kind of mocking the Founding Fathers” in the book and decided “I don't think I am a Democrat. I must be a Republican.”

To sum up: five distinction free years in the lower chamber of Congress, a decent fund-raising record, a failed light bulb law, and a failed run at a lower-rung House leadership position is all that is on Bachmann’s rap sheet. She is popular with the Tea Partiers (which is a bit like being the kid in summer school that almost passed that remedial math class,) and was selected to give their response to Obama’s State of the Union address this year. That and five dollars will buy her a caramel mocha latté, but won’t get near the White House. I say we all thank God and move on!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why unions are suddenly under attack

Suddenly, public sector unions are under attack from Republican politicians like Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin (our nation's only Governor who does not possess a college degree,) John Kasich of Ohio, and Rick Scott of Florida (the only man among present governors to have taken the Fifth Amendment more than once in a single sitting.) This attack on unions, under the guise of fiscal conservatism, is the opening salvo in the GOP's newest battle to eliminate union representation in America, leaving our middle class truly powerless against the corporate moneyed interests. It is interesting to note that two of the three governors referenced were elected with significant backing from the Republican-in-disguise Tea Party. If they are successful in eliminating the bargaining rights of public sector unions, those of the private sector will assuredly be next.

The reason for these attacks are simple: in its landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision last year, the Supreme Court gave labor unions and corporations the same free speech rights as all citizens. Doing so, of course, means they are free to donate as much as they see fit to political campaigns and causes. The controversial 5 - 4 decision was hailed by conservatives as "fair" because both corporations and labor unions were included.

To call the decision "fair," is to ignore the gory details and to depend on the ignorance of those consuming the information (a typical Republican tactic, anyway.) First, as anyone can guess, corporations have infinitely more money than labor unions. Second, union membership has been declining since the 1970s. These two facts alone make Citizens United a ludicrous sop to the right-wingers who are now free to buy any American election they so choose.

This (short) blog article is not designed to be a bitch-fest, however. It is simply designed to show the malfeasance of the Republicans and as a testament to how well that evil intelligence works. Since 1989, the largest interest groups (including unions,) have donated $2,180,149,543 to political candidates. Twenty-eight percent of that ($619,535,364) were union donations. (These are donations of the groups and their senior officers, not the rank-and-file members.)

Here is where this gets interesting: Of the approximately $619,535,364 that unions donated, a full 90% went to Democrats. Of the thirty-one largest donating unions, only one donated a majority of their available funds to Republicans (American Maritime Officers.) The rest sent an average of 91% of their monies to Democrats. This alone is perfect motivation to attack labor union's ability to perform their duties. Without unions, the Democrats would be left with an even worse fund-raising gap.

The Republicans are utilizing the "Domino Theory" here to perfection. Safely written into Wisconsin's anti-union legislation is a little codicil that states that unions may no longer automatically deduct their dues from members' paychecks. Cutting off the flow of cash will starve the unions of their ability to do business. Eliminating their rights to collective bargaining will further erode the benefits of being in a union.

All of this means our unions, huge contributors to the very concept of a middle class, are in danger. They are being legislated out of existence by evil, surreptitious Republican business-owners and executives who will then be free to ship American jobs overseas without even suffering the mild consequences which exist today! This is why we all need to stay vigilant! People will tell you that labor unions are "socialist" or "do more harm than good" ... don't buy into it! By electing politicians such as Scott Walker and Rick Scott, any non-millionaire is voting against their own self-interest.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who wants to be President?

The pursuit of the Presidency is a topic that has always been near and dear to my little liberal heart. I’ve been watching with fervent interest since I was a little kid. I am thirty-five years old and have intently watched and followed every Presidential race since the age of four (1980.) I’ll be the first to admit that’s kind of an anomaly among children, but I never said I was a normal child – ask anyone that knew me back then and they’ll respond similarly.

To a young me, the most interesting part of the Presidential races was the “weeding out” process. It’s kind of like watching American Idol ®: almost anyone can come to the auditions, but they are usually laughed at and ejected from the building (George W. Bush was the extreme exception.) The Constitution is fairly vague about who can be President, so nearly anyone with money and some name recognition can give it a whirl. That makes our democracy great – and makes the process amusing.

History is littered with Presidential wannabes, especially since the primaries began in earnest in 1960. Primaries mean anything can happen! Governors and Senators usually make the best candidates, but that’s not a requirement. Members of the House are free to try their hand, but always fail because a House seat doesn’t give you enough exposure to the national media. A House seat is a nice stepping stone to a Senate seat or a Governor’s mansion, but not to running the country (just ask Dick Gephardt and Ron Paul.)

In Texas Hold ‘Em ®, when dealt some great cards that can lead to one of the best possible hands, it is said that player has the “nuts” to a great combination. Becoming a President nominee is a lot like that. To be a competitive candidate for President of the United States, you need a few criteria to be working in your favor: money, credentials, educational background, name recognition, contacts, timing, a clear schedule (which helped give Jack Kennedy the 1960 Democratic nod over then Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson,) and intangibles. Intangibles are attributes like charisma, energy, speaking skills, a good staff, organizational skills, and political adeptness. Being telegenic really helps, as well. One need not possess all of these qualities, but it really does help; and, of course, having much of one can paper over not having so much of another.

Another, lesser noted factor is if you’ve tried before. This builds contacts, fund-raising networks, and name recognition (the importance of which cannot be understated – we are all far more likely to vote for a candidate with whom we are at least somewhat familiar.) Many eventual nominees succeeded only after having previously lost. Al Gore won in 2000 only after having failed in 1988; Bob Dole won in 1996 after having lost in 1980 and 1988; Reagan won in 1980 after losing in 1976 and having been a fringe candidate in 1968; and George H.W. Bush won in 1988 after having failed in 1980.

Another factor is age. Although the Constitution doesn’t specify what is “too old,” there is what I call a “soft age limit” (recently somewhat adjusted.) The “energy” factor comes into play here as older people have lower energy levels that do their younger counterparts and running for the Presidency is grueling. It takes two or so years of night and day activity to mount a successful campaign. This makes national-level politics a relatively young person’s game.

Anyone that does not currently occupy the White House who is much past seventy probably won’t win a major party nomination unless the choices are just not all that appealing. Ronald Reagan’s age caused a bit of a stir in 1980 as he was just about seventy; but Reagan was a very hardy seventy and didn’t look it. John McCain and Bob Dole were both seventy-two when nominated and neither man came particularly close.

A last factor that many candidates of late seem to ignore is what I call the “window” factor (named after a Space Shuttle’s launch window, which is the time frame for a successful launch. Once it’s gone, so are your chances of making it into space successfully.) There is a finite time period for politicians to make the jump to the big time. They are difficult to predict and once they’re over, so usually are the candidate’s chances. Many candidates wait until too long past their primes to run.

A great example of the window factor is former Sen. Bill Bradley. Bradley was a Princeton grad and an NBA Hall of Fame player. Nearly straight out of the NBA, he leveraged his contacts and name recognition into a seat in the U.S. Senate. He was a media darling and, while he was winning in landslides, was considered a contender for the biggest prize. But, thanks to Christie Todd Whitman and an auto tax issue (over which he, as a U.S. Senator, had zero power,) he had a close scrape in 1990 that left him gun shy and out of the wide-open 1992 nomination fight. Bradley retired from the Senate after 1996 and didn’t mount his only shot until 2000, when Al Gore was all but handed the crown.

The window factor is a phenomenon with which Mr. Gingrich is about to become intimately familiar. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m saying it is unlikely; and even if the candidate wins the nomination, they’re even more unlikely to be elected unless the other party simply pits a terrible nominee against them. There was a time and a place that Newt Gingrich might have had the gravitas to be considered a serious candidate; that time was 1996 and it’s gone!

Ronald Reagan was well past his prime in 1980, but he was running against Jimmy Carter in a terrible economy – so the voters gave him a pass and elected him anyway. Bob Dole circa 1996 was well past his expiration date, as well, and the people didn’t bite. Dole’s best shot was 1980 or even 1988 and he managed to be an also-ran both times. John McCain’s best chance would’ve been 2000, but he came up against a well-funded and organized George W. Bush and fell by the wayside.

The window factor is big reason why people who start and win statewide races while young have a better shot later. Al Gore, Jr. was twenty-eight when he was first elected to the House and was thirty-six upon going to the Senate. He was at just forty the first time he sought the Presidency and set himself up nicely for a near-miss (victory, really) at fifty-two. Bill Clinton was just thirty-two when he was elected Governor of Arkansas the first time and that set him up nicely to become President at just forty-six. President Obama was a bit older (forty-three) when he was elected to the Senate for the first time, but he’s the closest thing electoral politics has to Superman.

Lastly, the window factor is a big reason why I personally feel that Hillary Rodham Clinton will never be President of the United States. Mrs. Clinton was a relative late-comer to politics, as she was fifty-three when she was first elected to the Senate (this isn’t her fault since she was First Lady for the preceding eight years and couldn’t, in all conscience, run for anything.) Hillary had her shot in 2008, but ran up against the Obama juggernaut (and her own severe lack of charisma and retail political skills.) She’ll be approaching seventy years old by the time she gets ready to give it another go, and, Secretary of State or not, she probably won’t be anymore successful next time. This highlights why it is so difficult to become President: even if you have the skill set, can raise the money, are young enough with enough experience, and hit your window perfectly, there is still the competition. You have to be good and lucky! Hillary, unfortunately, was not and likely realized this, which is why she held on so long to her 2008 campaign. Props to Mrs. Clinton for realizing this, but 2016 will be a time for younger guns to give it their best.


I’ve already written on the GOP’s still growing stable of 2012 candidates. They are not impressive and there just isn’t that much in the pipeline. There are more current and former members of the House in it this time (there’s usually at least one that ignores reality and spends other people’s money in vain.) Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former House Speaker Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and Rep. Hunter Pence of Indiana (who recently all but ruled out a run) are all in the mix. Past that, we have the holdovers: twin former Governors and runner-ups from 2008 are Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Some other former Governors include Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Buddy Roemer of Louisiana. Strangely enough, no sitting members of the Senate seem to be interested, as the GOP’s best hope there is Sen. Jon Thune of South Dakota and he’s already ruled it out. As usual, the loser’s running mate is giving it a look: that would be former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Palin is a strange figure, as she may well have helped cost McCain the crown last time and resigned her Governorship of the nation’s least populous state midway through her first term. Beyond that, her rap sheet includes time as a small town mayor and a seat on the state pipeline commission. Mrs. Palin lacks any real qualifications outside of being attractive, fund-raising prowess, and the ability to give decent speeches as long as there is no question-and-answer period. Her disapproval ratings are in the sixty percent range (!!!) and she is better suited to a reality show than the White House.

Roemer is a blast from the past: a former one-term Governor, a party-switcher, and a man best remembered for having been lucky to have been elected in the first place. Gingrich is a serial adulterer who recently blamed his multiple affairs on his love for country (good luck selling that one, Newt.) As stated, Mr. Gingrich had a time and place and it’s where it belongs: in the history books. Although Gingrich is a brilliant man, he’ll be lucky if the GOP lets him speak at next year’s convention. Ron Paul is this year’s John Anderson and probably should bow out early and clear the airwaves for his prodigal son (and somehow now Senator from Tennessee,) Rand. Hunter Pence is fooling himself as, luckily for the rest of us, is Ms. Bachmann.

At this point, the battle for the GOP’s 2012 nod looks to be a contest between former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Huckabee is a failed preacher whose only real virtue is a relatively scandal-free political and home life. “Huck” may play well with the tractor-as-a-motor-vehicle crowd, but the mainstream electorate will not be anointing the cum laude graduate of Ouchita Baptist University to run their lives unless President Obama is caught on camera committing bestiality.

Mr. Romney has problems, too, chief among them the fact that the evangelicals that will love Huckabee will cast a weary eye toward his religion (Mormonism.) Now, that isn’t fair, but neither is Presidential politics. Despite sterling academic credentials (Harvard undergrad and a joint Law Degree/MBA,) money (he’s worth around $200 million,) pedigree (his father was Governor of Michigan and Nixon’s Secretary of HUD,) Romney lacks any real political experience outside of his one term as Governor of a deep blue state (Massachusetts,) where his biggest accomplishment was signing into law (gasp) universal health care coverage.

The GOP field is still wide open and anyone could, and probably will, mount a bid. Pretty much anyone can give it a try. Heck, we live in a country where men like Howard Dean and Pete du Pont have gotten their dance cards punched! Even Alexander Haig, who never did hold an elected office, ran once. Why not? Who cares, it isn’t their money anyway!

In closing, the one person on the GOP side who bears close watching for the next year or so (but has tepidly ruled it out until the big wigs can talk him into it,) is none other than my least favorite former Governor of my home state of Florida, John E. “Jeb” Bush. His name recognition is off the charts; he’s also got nothing else to do. He’s said to be content planning for his son’s political future, but that could change tomorrow. The money would be there and who knows, maybe the electorate will forget exactly how stupid his brother is. Jeb is only fifty-eight and, although he lacks real academic credentials, so did Lyndon Johnson and he won in the greatest landslide ever in 1964. Bush is also still popular enough in Florida to all but guarantee himself the swing state and is much shrewder than either of the two former Presidents in his family, so he bears watching.

Friday, March 11, 2011

List of Celebrities that self-identify as Democrats (or have campaigned for/donated to Democratic candidates)

How do we define celebrity? A celebrity is a famous person that I have heard of at least once. If I hadn't heard of them, the person was Googled ... if I felt they were too "small-time," then I left them off. They must be a singer, songwriter, musician, actor, actress, writer, or cartoonist. Here is a (non-comprehensive) list of celebrities that either self-identify as being a registered Democrat or have campaigned and/or donated to Democratic candidates. The list was fun to compile (although it took a while,) and is not meant as an endorsement of any entertainer(s.) Please feel free to leave comments and add anyway of whom I am unaware.I also apologize in advance for any accidental duplicates.

Bill Bradley

Al Franken

John Glenn

Jerry Springer

Warren Beatty

Tim McGraw

George Peppard

Tom Morello (System of a Down)

Ben Affleck

Andre 3000 (The Outkast)

Kevin Bacon

Alec Baldwin

Jason Bateman

Boyz II Men

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Glenn Close

Kevin Costner

John Cusack

Sean Combs

Billy Crystal

Leonardo DiCaprio

Larry David

Melissa Etheridge

Janeane Garofalo

Helen Hunt

Wyclef Jean

Carole King

Norman Lear

Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger.)

Lewis Black

The Black Eyed Peas

Patti LaBelle

Wendy Malick

Benjamin McKenzie

Brian McKnight

Alyssa Milano

Demi Moore

Willie Nelson

Natalie Portman

Tim Robbins

Meg Ryan

Russell Simmons

Luther Vandross

Stevie Wonder

Peter Yarrow

Muhammad Ali

Jennifer Aniston

Jason Biggs

Jack Black

Michael Bolton

Jon Bon Jovi

Christie Brinkley

Steve Buscemi


Natalie Cole

Billy Crystal

John Cusack

Larry David

Dana Delany

Green Day

Robert DeNiro

Cameron Diaz

Theo Epstein

Michael J. Fox

Doug Flutie

Whoopi Goldberg

Dave Grohl

Jake Gyllenhaal

Melissa Joan Hart

John Leguizamo

Rob Lowe

Shirley MacLaine

Paul Newman

Brad Pitt

Diana Ross

David Spade

Meryl Streep

John Travolta

Robert Vaughn

Gene Wilder

Robin Williams

Stephen King

Seth MacFarlane

Hank Aaron

Andre Agassi

Woody Allen

Ed Asner

Candice Bergen

James Caan

Stockard Channing

Chevy Chase

George Clooney

Sean Combs

James Cromwell

Walter Cronkite

Tom Cruise

Billy Crystal

Matt Damon

Ted Danson

Ellen DeGeneres

Robert DeNiro

Alan Dershowitz

Kirk Douglas

Michael Douglas

Michael Eisner

Jane Fonda

Harrison Ford

James Garner

Jennifer Garner

Richard Gere

Melissa Gilbert

John Goodman

Heather Graham

Melanie Griffith

John Grisham

Larry Hagman

Tom Hanks

Ed Harris

Dustin Hoffman

Kate Hudson

Helen Hunt

Will Rogers

Allison Janney

Tommy Lee Jones

Michael Jordan

Ashley Judd

Nicole Kidman

Jennifer Lopez

Rob Lowe

George Lucas

Jenny McCarthy

John McEnroe

Bette Midler

Michael Moore

Paul Newman

Jack Nicholson

Leonard Nimoy

Gwyneth Paltrow

Sean Penn

Regis Philbin

Jada Pinkett Smith

Natalie Portman

Robert Redford

Rob Reiner

Chris Rock

Tim Robbins

Bob Saget

Susan Sarandon

Bud Selig

Martin Sheen

Christian Slater

Kevin Spacey

Steven Spielberg

George Soros

Ben Stiller

Barbara Streisand

Eric Stoltz

Sharon Stone

Charlize Theron

Marlo Thomas

Chris Tucker

Ted Turner

Alice Walker

Dennis Weaver

Owen Wilson

Rita Wilson

Reese Witherspoon

Hunter S. Thompson (Journalist)

George Carlin (Comedian)

Margaret Cho (Comedian)

Marshall Mathers (Eminem)


Bruce Springsteen

Sheryl Crow

James Taylor (not too proud of this one)

John Cougar Mellencamp

John Fogerty

Whew! The list is quite long, in part because celebrities tend to be liberal, as do journalists, academics, and smart people! Look out for the twin list of Republicans soon to come!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why education matters

In undergraduate school, I majored in Political Science and Sociology. I’d always felt the two were related as one is the study of politics and government and the other is the study of society. Well, you can’t have politics without a society, now can you? I can remember reading those little diatribes on sociology and thinking to myself, “Why does inequality exist?” After years of study, I came up with a simple conclusion: because some people don’t know any better. Not the most intellectual premise in the world, but it got the job done and I still agree with it today. The height of sophistication, it ain’t … but it’s pithy, and we liberals love pithiness.

What an education in such topics will give you, if you endeavor to acquire it, is the ability to turn off the ugliness of your own humanity. Education gives you the ability to stop your innate hatred in its tracks. When you have an education and you’ve put some thought into your thoughts, it’s much easier to ignore the voice that tells you that the homeless man begging for change in the street is a “bum.” It will remind you that you cannot just assume that the couple in front of you with twelve children do not have so many because they are Hispanic.

For much of my college and graduate school years, I worked at Domino’s Pizza in various positions: CSR, Pizza Maker, Delivery, Secretary, and Assistant Manager - you name it and I did it. We got some interesting customers, not all were college students and many were, like a lot of people, seeking something for nothing. What my education in sociology taught me was to ignore that annoying impulse to label them as some slur or stereotype simply because I could.

I’ll touch on a subject here that I typically like to avoid: racism. Many of the delivery drivers at the stores where I worked would sometimes grouse (to me, of all people,) that they disliked delivering to African-American customers because they felt they were certain to get “stiffed” (not be tipped.) If they were “stiffed,” that meant they only received the company’s small allotment for gas (then about $0.50/delivery.) They made their living off tips, so this was akin to taking money out of their pockets. They would often become upset and, if they didn’t know my ethnicity, would seek out what was certain to be a sympathetic ear (me.)

That’s usually about where “Mr. Sociology Major” came in and explained the inequality inherent in American society with regard to African-Americans. Once my lecture on the basic unfairness of property taxes funding education was complete, they’d usually curse at me and leave in a huff. My point was that if all people were given the same access to education (and the funding necessary to ensure its’ success,) then all people (regardless of color) would be doing better financially and would be a little freer with that last buck or two.

My favorite (true) story of those days: One such driver came to me, then a veritable stranger, and said “I don’t know about you, but I hate delivering to black people.” At that point I looked at him, patted my right arm, and said simply: “Do I look white to you, genius?” We both laughed at the awkwardness of the moment and moved on. He learned not to judge a book by its cover and I learned that my new friend wasn’t all that observant. (We remain close to this very day.)

My little lectures did not make me a popular guy; in fact, they made me a laughingstock. My (Republican) boss would often berate me (in public) by saying things like, “You’re the typical Democrat: you’re fat, you’re stupid, and you work for minimum wage while you go to school to learn crap that you’ll never use.” (That was a great lesson in Republican hypocrisy as he weighed about four hundred pounds and had studied engineering only to become the Pizza King of Gainesville, Florida!)

The point of this little diatribe, my dear readers, is to point out the value of education. Even if you don’t use it for the aim in which you intended, you can still use it throughout your daily life in an attempt to better yourself and those around you. So get one, encourage or help someone else to get one, and never say it’s useless.