Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

It Might Be, It Could Be....

It's caught at the warning track.

Nothing anyone can say at this point can properly prepare us for tomorrow night. We are looking at either the greatest upset in modern American political history - and a gruesome rebuke of the entire polling industry - or the dawning of a new era in American history.

The time cannot go fast enough.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Smart Entertainment, anyone?

One of the things that I find genuinely inspiring about the campaign run by Barack Obama is that he really does treat us as adults. He acts as if voters are smart people, able to handle difficult and complex issues and sort through a complicated truth. (His speech on race was probably the best example, but really, just in general, the level of disingenuousness in his campaign is simply so much lower than any politician in recent memory, it's almost awe-inspiring...)

And the real test, coming in 6 days, is whether it will work or not. If he wins, of course, it won't just be because he treated us as if we were smart - more likely it will be because we want a change and our economy is in the toilet, swirling around with our truly putrid international reputation. But an Obama victory will be an undeniable boon to those of us who have tried to build our own careers on the idea that we can treat our audience -- our voters, our consumers -- as if they are smart. I've always wondered how it could be otherwise, given that we are our audience, after all -- but one more sign that we can do this and succeed is always a welcome thing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No Problem

When, exactly, did "No Problem" replace "You're welcome" as the standard response to "Thank you?" Did it? Or is it just with me? Because guess what? I don't like it.

When I thank you, sincerely, for something -- even if it's just some small, insignificant favor I've asked of you, I don't assume that it was a problem for you to fulfill my request. When you say "no problem," it makes me think, "well, why would it have been?"

Telling me "You're welcome" tells me that I am welcome, that I am worthy, that I am okay in your book. I like that. It makes me feel good.

Telling me "no problem" tells me that I am lucky you didn't think it was a problem, that you had to think about my request, that you fulfilled it with some hesitation and possibly even resentment. It makes me feel bad.

So cut it out. Please.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What An Audience Wants

I don't much care for the Boston Red Sox. I grew up a Yankee-hater, and so was forced to root for them a couple of times, most notably and frustratingly in 1978 (Bucky Dent, pop fly), but I couldn't really bring myself to throw myself into their legendary suffering with any real passion. After all, I had my own suffering to tend to...

By the time the Yankees hired Joe Torre and I'd gotten out of my childhood, my own Yankee-hating softened, so much so that when the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry heated up again, I was pulling for my home town Yankees now. No love for the Red Sox. Not now, nor ever.

And so I was rather pleased, last Thursday night, to flip on the TV and see that the Tampa Bay Rays were ahead, 5-0, in the seventh inning of Game 5 of their Championship Series, poised to close out the series 4 games to 1. I watched enough for the Rays to score a couple more runs off the Red Sox' truly hateful closer, the brilliantly intense frat boy Jonathan Papelbom, and then, with a rather confident and self-satisfied explanation to my baseball-not-understanding wife that the networks will be pretty displeased with the resulting Phillies-Rays World Series, I flipped the TV off. As I dozed off, I thought of my poor Dad, now inexplicably a Red Sox fan (explicable, really, because he lives in Maine now, but still inexplicable to those of us who think loyalty should outweigh geographical happenstance), and how it must be maddening to him to see the Sox go down without more of a fight... but for the most part, I just thought of how potentially boring the World Series would in fact be. But I would have said I was happy about it.

Until I woke up. And went out to the front door and got the paper, scanning for a final score. For a moment, I was surprised not to see some photo of Tampa Bay Rays jumping on each other, but then I saw it, the news stunning and inevitable and somehow right: Boston 8, Tampa Bay 7.

Boston had come back.

And I grinned. Smiled. Shook my head in a kind of wonder and joy that they'd done it. Why? Not because I wanted the Red Sox to win, no, far from it -- but because of one very simple fact:

It made a better story.

And that's why this election scares me right now. We - we Americans - we audience members - we crave, more than anything else, more than a good explanation of our financial meltdowns, more than a health care plan, more than ending illogical wars - we crave a good story.

And what's a better story right now? That Obama wins going away? Or that scrappy old warrior John McCain, left for dead so many times, makes one last stirring comeback? Pulls off the upset of the young century?

I don't deny that the overall narrative of Obama winning is just as good a story (and after all, the Rays did win the Series, but it took a full Seven games) -- but right now, in the immediate 24-7 culture that craves a good story all the time, I think what we need and want is a good comeback story, and looking at McCain the last few days, I get the sense he's got one in him.

Just don't turn off the set.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

For Those Of You Feeling Over Confident, Go Talk To:

1. the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers.

2. Thomas E. Dewey

3. Napoleon at Waterloo

4. the 2007 New York Mets

5. the 2004 New York Yankees. (Up 3 games to none, up a run with Rivera on the mound in the 9th inning of Game 4. If you think that isn't more in the bank than a 10 point lead with three weeks to go...)

6. the 1980 Soviet Hockey team

7. the 1972 US Men's Olympic Basketball team

8. The British Army, c. 1775

9. Goliath

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About Last Night

This blog has been tricky for me. For one, as I indicated in the beginning, I think I am constitutionally averse to talking in public about private matters like politics and sports fandom. But even beyond that, there is the matter of my professional life. I am, for lack of a better term, a small businessman. As such, I have clients. These clients need to be pleased. They need to feel like they are in good hands. They do not need to be confronted with half-baked political ideas from the people they hire, or ideas they themselves might disagree with.

The other day, a friend of mine, one of many who had been kept in the dark about the existence of this blog until recently, pointed out the very real possibility that some client might come upon this blog and decide not to hire me because he or she was, you know, voting for someone else. I made a joke about the entertainment industry being essentially Democratic, but she had a point. There really isn't any reason to rub my political beliefs in the faces of people who might hire me.

So my company did the film for a non-profit organization, and the function was last night, and I was talking to a very nice man there -- he's the uncle of a good friend -- and as I fielded his generous compliments about our little film, I was struck by the realization that he was a Republican planning on voting for McCain. One minute we're having a perfectly nice conversation, and the next I realize: hey, I like this guy, and he's really gonna vote for McCain! What can I do?

Well, I did what any self-respecting propaganda filmmaker would do; I got his email address and sent him, last night, the link to 'ENOUGH!'

And then -- the panic set in. Oh my God, how much do I really know about this guy? He may be the brother-in-law to the man who makes all hiring decisions for the Discovery Network! He may be sitting on top of some huge Documentary film fund.... He may be, I don't know, Dr. Powerful!!!

It became rather global, in the middle of the night: I have chosen a needless self-expression over my children's financial future; what kind of man am I!?

This morning, I received a very nice email:

Thank you for forwarding your film. I think it is very well done and compelling, but, obviously, selective in what is presented. Good luck with your documentary endeavors. You might try a similar film favoring McCain.


And you know what? I think I will. Look for it in a couple of weeks...

In the meantime, I'll continue to sit on the fence as to whether any of this is a good idea or not...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Final Game of Yankee Stadium

.... happened in 1973.

This stadium that is closing tonight -- it was opened, with great fanfare, on Opening Day, 1976. It stood on the same spot as the "old" Yankee Stadium, but the field had been moved, the three tiers had been reduced to two, and in every important way, it was merely an echo of the original Yankee Stadium. We called it, at the time, the New Yankee Stadium. People who had never been to the original never felt that coming to this new ballpark and seeing Munson and Jackson meant that had been to the real Yankee Stadium where Mantle and DiMaggio played any more than people who went to the new Madison Square Garden felt they had seen a fight in the same hall where Dempsey knocked out Tunney or Firpo, or Lewis chased Schmelling or whoever back to Nazi Germany.

In fact, the "new" Yankee Stadium that will open next April, 300 yards away, will be as close to the "original" Yankee Stadium as this last one, built over 1974 and 1975, ever was.

Can we please, PLEASE gimme some truth on this? Or have we become so used to mistruths and lies and bullshit in all aspects of our lives that we just kind of accept this kind of crap now?

It's simply NOT TRUE.

Would everyone SHUT UP about it?

Reason #473 I Could Never be a Professional Athlete

If I were a member of the New York Mets right now, I would be thinking "Hey, we don't deserve to get into the playoffs with a bullpen like this...."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Desperate Ambition; or, I Know You Are But What Am I?

I don't know whether it's kindergarten teachers or psychiatrists, or maybe both, who say this -- but a pretty good rule of thumb when dealing with people is: when you are really bothered by a trait in someone else, dollars to donuts it's what you're really bothered by in yourself. (ie, "She's so braggy, I can't stand it!" probably means the child is actually a little troubled by her own bragging....)

From all accounts -- hell, even by looking at the guy -- it's pretty clear that John McCain has nothing but contempt for his opponent. He can't stand Obama, hates him even. "Thinly disguised" is the phrase the press likes to use. (In fact, if Obama took McCain up on his offer of holding town halls, I bet Obama could provoke McCain into saying something really, truly, unpleasant and possibly not just Game-Changing, but Game-Ending. You know, something like "Oh what the fuck do you know, you goddamn uppity --" Although maybe now we're allowing 'Uppity' a seat at the table....)

And what does McCain so obviously hate most about Obama, what trait does he return to again and again, in his obnoxious mocking of his opponent's life story and record? His ambition.


The noble McCain hath told you that Obama is ambitious; and McCain is an honorable man...


Indeed.

So I've finished McCain's book now - the first one, written for the 2000 campaign. To me, it was always pretty clear that George W was gonna win that thing, so I never really took McCain all that seriously. Nor do I share the incredible nostalgia for his 2000 campaign. I gather he was treated badly in South Carolina, and that whatever lessons he learned from that sorry experience he has now been trying to put to use against Obama.

Okay, so you want some dollar book Freud?

What comes off from the book is: he has a simplistic worldview, he is essentially at war with himself, he has never come close to resolving his issues with his father or his grandfather (both of whom were huge war heroes and World Class A-Holes), he has enormous ambition but hates himself for it, he doesn't have any real respect for women, he apologizes frequently for his mistakes, knows quite well that he has a problem with authority, knows full well he has a temper that makes him do things he probably shouldn't...

From what I can remember, after Bush attacked him in South Carolina in 2000, he became enraged and after an initial, brief 'we're not gonna stoop so low' phase, began attacking back, equally viciously. After he lost, he said that had been a mistake, that that wasn't the real McCain. But from reading his book, and following this election, I think it's pretty clear: there is no real McCain. (And I'm not talking about just the issues: he poses as a maverick but is of course the ultimate Washington insider. He wants to bring reform to DC, but was wrapped up in the gruesomely obvious Keating Five scandal...)

I mean as a person, as a guy. He doesn't really stand for anything -- and in a way that could be a good thing -- that is a good thing, when we're talking about the members of the Armed Services. We don't want our Army standing for anything other than the interests of the United States. And I do believe that somewhere down deep, McCain does stand for the interests of the United States. Or thinks he does.

But what he really stands for is himself. Again and again in his book, the word 'ambition' comes up - the phrase 'glory for myself', even in a negative way (the McCain meme, for those of you who don't know: before he was a POW, all he cared about was himself; afterwards, he was all about service to country). But it rings hollow if you read the book -- the man is permeated with the idea of glory and ambition, and why else would he be so incensed by Obama if he didn't think the guy was cut from the same cloth?

(I am not saying Obama is NOT ambitious, of course; Obama regularly admits that no politician can be without some vanity... but Obama's faults have a lot more to do with, oh, I don't know, arrogance and thinking he knows all the answers, and maybe an tendency to over-think problems -- his problem is NOT that he is just trying to glorify himself.)

So pay attention: watch how much McCain talks about Obama's ambition, and realize: this is a man who wants more than anything else in the world to be President -- only then will he surpass his Dad and Granddad (my God! do we really want another Oedipal drama at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?) -- and as he sees it slip away, and fall into the hand of this, this, this _____, he is going to become increasingly desperate, making more and more outrageous statements, scattering his impotent rage into the atmosphere in a ravenous lunge for Power.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

He Didn't Ask Her What the Bush Doctrine Was

It wasn't a 'gotcha' question. It wasn't 'what's the capital of Upper Volta?' or 'Who won Wimbledon in 1974?' or even 'Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?'

The question was: 'Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?'

He wasn't testing her knowledge. He was asking for an opinion. He had no idea she wouldn't even recognize the premise of the question. 'Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?' is not a trick question. (It should be; anyone who agrees with it should be automatically barred from public office, but that's another discussion...) It's a question that is asked of all candidates for national public office these days -- nothing tricky about it. In fact, just an easy way for her to present her Republican bona fides: 'Yes, yes, I do! We need to bomb the hell out of anyone who even looks at us funny...!'

But Charlie - as we now know we should call him -- Charlie, a grateful nation salutes you.

The tide has turned. Mark my words: 'In what respect, Charlie?' was the moment the wheels started to come off the McCain campaign. Let's see where the polls are next Friday. If Obama doesn't have a nice 2-3 point edge back, I'd be very surprised indeed....

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Keep Hope Alive

A headline on Drudge just now said, "Palin, McCain to spend more time together than apart...." And when I read it, an almost inexplicable shiver of joy ran through my body...

Wouldn't it be wonderful in a kind of loosely ironic Allanis Morisette way if McCain's utterly shameless pick of Sarah Palin because of her gender and her extreme right wing views, rather than helping him win the election and ascend to the office he has dreamt about for probably longer than most of us have been alive, instead caused his final last chance of attaining that dream go up in smoke?

It's one thing to inject 'energy' into the race, to admire her 'amazeen' qualities and ability to connect with certain voters. But by tying his fortunes so dramatically to this uneducated reactionary, deciding to campaign more with her than without, he is now on the verge of embarrassing himself.

He's like the high school senior panting after the comely Freshman transfer student.

It ain't pretty.

But I'll take it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ten Things to Keep You Up At Night

I've tried, Lord how I've tried, to be optimistic in the face of these new polls - certainly there is much to take hope in, not the least of which are these two basic truths: 1) Obama himself doesn't seem overly concerned; and 2) we still have the debates ahead of us, which could change the game all over again...

BUT.

Without even breaking a sweat, here are ten things to be truly worried about, in no particular order:

1. Reverend Wright. The Republicans haven't used him yet. Not once. Think that will last, especially if they can keep it close into mid-October? And making matters worse, the good Reverend seems to be loosening his lips again....

2. Palin. She's not going away. The more we find out about her, the more certain of us will dislike her, intensely, and the more certain others of us will flock to her. There's no doubt, she's involved in quite a few scandals, she's very possibly a pathological liar (how many times is she gonna say she told Congress thanks but no thanks on the bridge after we all know she's lying about it?), and she's farther right than most people even know. To me, she's a lot like Nixon in 1952, and we all know what happened after the Checkers speech. (It only took 22 years after that embarrassment for Nixon to finally get off the stage....) Palin's no Eagleton, she's not going away - she's a star, and we all better get used to that, no matter what happens on November 4.

3. Hillary. Not entirely getting with the program. Her reluctance to take Sarah Palin on head-on is not a good sign. The news on the white women in the latest polls is discouraging in the extreme -- Hillary was supposed to be their savior. If Palin has stolen that from her, she better do a lot better than 'No way, no how, no McCain, no Palin.' She better attack, head-on, the Republicans' utter cynicism in placing this under-qualified woman on the ticket, and Palin's own record, such as it is, which is so counter to everything HRC claims to stand for.

4. The Bradley Effect. We still don't really know -- we've never had a Black candidate before -- exactly how American voters will respond when they get in that voting booth and have to pull the lever for a Black man. Let's not act like the polls are reliable on that point.

5. The newness factor. Obama is no longer new. Palin is. Those who just want change for change's sake, from a very superficial point of view, have a different way to feel about the election now. Leaving issues aside, it feels a helluva lot fresher and more fun to vote for Palin than Biden.

6. The Republicans will do anything to win. John McCain is a man of supreme ambition. (I am nearly finished with his autobiography, and will be reviewing it soon in full on this site -- but I have never read anyone who thinks and talks more about the nature of ambition than John McCain. As the son and grandson of two supremely successful military men, he felt himself under extreme pressure his entire life to measure up, and writes freely about these pressures.) It is not a stretch, at all, to say that John McCain (unlike, say, Bob Dole) will do anything to win this election. Those of us who think the Palin pick is the lowest blow, that a man of alleged honor and respect for the office he seeks could go no further in demonstrating his absence of moral scruples, are well advised to remember the Jolson Rule: you ain't seen nothin' yet.

7. Fear of Real Change. As ghastly as the last eight years have been, most voters are healthy; most voters have families who love them; most voters know, or think they know, that they live in the best nation on Earth. We've had 219 years of White Men as Presidents. Maybe a crazy, unnecessary war, its resulting free fall in our national reputation, and an economy in complete disarray are really not enough to get us the Change We Need, especially when it comes from a Black guy.

8. Joe Biden. Mr. Open-Mouth-Insert-Foot hasn't really been pressed yet, but he came close when he called Sarah Palin 'good looking' the other day. The man's just slightly unhinged, and it seems likely that before November 4, he will say at least one thing that will have pundits scrambling and falling all over themselves with glee.

9. The Press. For one thing, they are not doing the investigating of Sarah Palin that they should be. For another, they love a good story, and it's an awfully good story if McCain - the POW, counted out last summer, the old maverick - and Palin - the woman, ex-sportscaster, five kids blah blah. -- win. Not better than Obama, necessarily, but darn good. And also, and most damningly, the Press has this 'the Republicans say this, the Democrats say this' mentality, so that even those among them who who strive for "objectivity" will usually present a story that presents some kind of false "balance," even when the Republicans are distorting the truth ('bridge to Nowhere') and the Democrats aren't. What's more, a lot of them will bend over backwards to prove that they are NOT members of the "liberal elite" and so pretend that all distortions are equal, when in fact they are not. Basically, they're chickenshit.

10. An International Incident. It shouldn't be this way, but it is -- at times of crisis, we will rally around the flag, and that usually means Republicans. And this guy was a war hero. Do you really think when fighting breaks out in Somewhereistan that Americans won't turn to John McCain?



If all of that is not keeping you up at night, what are you taking?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Rolling in his Grave

We have 58 days now till the actual Election. 58 Days in which the American people, buffeted by the storms of political electioneering and ads and nonsense and absolute partisan bloggery (this included, I guess), will try to make sense of what it all means, and what the next four years could be.

You know what would help? It would help if the press -- and I don't mean the bloggers, because from what I can gather, there are a LOT of good bloggers out there (Sullivan, Nate Silver at 538, TPM, and the Jed Report, for starters), but there are always a lot of good, smart commentators who no one listens to, in coffee houses and on campuses and in dorm rooms and by water coolers nationwide -- but if the press -- the mainstream press, what's left of it -- the three networks (yes, three, not four, Mr. Murdoch) -- the ones who 'set the agenda,' who determine what we talk about -- the Times and the Post -- you know, The Press! the Fourth Estate! I think it would be fun to run a newspaper!... those guys....

It would help if The Press would accelerate the process of getting to know Sarah Palin. We don't have, as we had with Barack Obama, a 19 month campaign to get to know her, her background, her family, her policies, her religious views.... We have 58 days. We also don't have, as we had with Obama, a willing subject, someone who wants us to get to know who he is and what he stands for; instead we have someone who was chosen hastily and for strictly demographic and political reasons and who will be sequestered as much as possible, to keep us guessing at who she is and what she believes. (I also think it's quite clear that she's smart as a whip and probably a quick study and will actually do quite well in her appearances, but by keeping her in hiding, so long as she doesn't dribble all over herself and can manage to smile and speak relatively articulately and, more important, confidently, she will be judged a success. She is being sequestered, in short, to continue to lower expectations for her.)

So, Press! Get to it! I want front page articles every day, Gray Lady! I want 'Palin's Rise a Model of Political Inconsistency' or 'Palin's Husband Loaned Money to Himself, Never Paid it Back.' I want Nightline to keep running hard-hitting pieces on 'Troopergate,' I want Katie Couric to sit down with Palin's doctors (especially the one who delivered Trig), I want the Washington Post to rise to the occasion! I want Ben Bradlee storming in and yelling for Woodstein! I want Cronkite to choke back his tears and take off his glasses. I want Murrow blowing smoke and getting in McCarthy's big sweaty face!

Now is not the time for the Fourth Estate to get all timid. This is a golden opportunity for them to take back the reins, and let us all be thankful once more for their existence.

In truth, the one guy I wish were here -- and I'm surprised by this thought, and somewhat mortified, given what I wrote about him in June -- is Tim Russert. For all his flaws, Russert wasn't timid. He probably would have effused, as they all have, my God, over Palin's 'performance' the other night, her high-wattage star-power, but when het got finished with the effusing, he would have relished the thought at going after Sarah Palin on her record.

It was announced today that Palin will finally give her first in-depth interview to a network correspondent - Charles Gibson of ABC. I'm not a fan of Gibson, not at all.... He seems like a classic poseur to me, with his reading glasses perched so ostentatiously down there on his nose, almost like they should be wearing suspenders too, the old newshound.

Prove me wrong, Charlie. I beg of you, prove me wrong. One of you poor ink-stained wretches has a really good chance to win a Pulitzer, and it may as well be you.

Go for it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Drill, Baby, Drill!

I just realized something fascinating about myself. (Okay, I think there are about three places in the world you can get away with saying something like that... For ten points, name them!)

Here's what it is: I like to make predictions - especially about things I care about, like this election. I like to say things like 'Palin will give McCain a nice bump this week, and by the middle of next week, the race will have stabilized - basically, we're looking at a tie by Tuesday.' Part of why I do this, of course, is because it's fun; part of why I do this is because I like to think I'm good at it -- but I think the biggest reason I make predictions can be boiled down into one word:

Control.

When you predict something, you are trying to take control -- you are saying, in essence, that you know what is going to happen -- and more than that, you are inoculating yourself against the pain of what you don't want to happen actually happening. (For instance, I think the Palin pick quite clearly represents the most odious kind of political electioneering; it's not, as so many have pointed out, a serious choice; it's about winning the election, not governing -- and I think that she, as a political animal, is a dangerous, horrible phenomenon, quite capable of turning the election McCain's way. She taps into a deep-seated fear of Obama-as-Other, and she will quite demonstrably galvanize the Republicans' Christianist base, and yada yada yada and the bottom line is, I am terrified that McCain has, with this disgusting, cynical act, won the freaking Election and set us down a really horrible path for the country.)

But so, given that, I make predictions to guard myself against the pain of McCain's actually winning the election. This way, when he does, I will be able to console myself with the fact that I saw it coming - I knew this would happen and I even blogged about it - and 'by the way, I am so glad,' I will tell myself, 'that I didn't get my hopes up.'

But this kind of self-protection, of course, is the antithesis of the Obama campaign - a campaign that has reveled in placing hope over cynicism, in promoting honesty over the typical political gamesmanship and disingenuousness.

Which makes me and my need for control, when you think about it, fairly McCain-like.

And when you look at the Republican convention this week, as I forced myself to do, you see the same thing throughout -- the safety of cynicism, the easy comfort of 'control', of thinking clearly and uni-directionally about the world and its problems, a simplistic worldview that values the quick answer over the right response, the mean and snarky one liner over the complicated, inclusive reality that Obama, almost always, exudes and embraces. In other words, the same old thing.

So what to do? Stop predicting things?

I predict not.

Thank you very much, I'm here all weekend....!

The answer, I think, is to resist, no matter how hard it can be, the urge to fight cynicism with cynicism. What I continue to find remarkable about Barack Obama is that he does this: on The odious O'Reilly factor last night, when confronted with cynical, mean-spirited, supposedly knowing questions from Senor Loofah, he not only maintained his composure, he spoke forthrightly and with dignity; I clicked on a video this morning and saw him campaigning in Pennsylvania and in talking about the Republican convention, about his only 'polticial' action was adapting a mildly 'country' accent. He didn't fight fire with fire; he didn't snark back at the Governor for her crude twisting of his record, or lash out (as God I would have been tempted to) at the allegedly Honorable Rudolph Guiliani for his outrageously disgusting suggestion that Obama thought Palin's hometown wasn't 'cosmopolitan' enough. He spoke calmly, decently, honestly, with a genuine half-smile at the Republican's willfully ignoring both their own record and the sorry state of the Economy.

And I think that, more than anything, is the lesson of his campaign. It really is all about Hope. I have no idea if it will work, either in the election on November 4, or, more important, if he does somehow win. I am not sure how the country would respond to such an actual Presidency. I make no predictions, but I sure as Hell hope we get to find out.

Burn the Witch

No, that's not what I mean. Please. Give me a little credit....

Apparently, 'burn the witch' is a political phrase. I never heard it till this morning when my friend Mark, a really great television producer and partisan Democrat (in other words, a brie-eating, white wine-swilling member of the angry left Media elite), in talking about the election, pointed out that when times are bad, Democrats try to instill hope in the electorate, but Republicans turn cynical and decide to 'burn the witch.' They start blaming people and getting divisive... "Unemployment up? Burn the witch!... Gas prices high? Burn the witch! ... Problems in Iraq? Burn the witch!"

It's a great phrase. I just hope it doesn't work this time... For what it's worth, Mark has lost hope and thinks it will...

(Okay, I tried to avoid her in this post, but when you think about it, it's actually fairly easy to imagine Sarah Palin in Salem in 1692, leading a fire-wielding mob to the door of some young innocent woman, smirking madly and shouting at the top of her lungs, "Burn the Witch!")

Monday, September 1, 2008

"She was 18 when she had me..."

Barack Obama forcefully admonished his listeners this afternoon that we should all back off young Bristol Palin by reminding them that he himself was the offspring of a very young mother. Which made me think again about the young man growing up in Hawaii in the early 1960s....

Imagine that you are that young boy. Your father is black. Your mother is white. The state, Hawaii, is new. You are two years old and from all accounts a happy baby. Your parents received some kind of grant from the US government and you hear about that from time to time... You know that the President is John F. Kennedy, and your parents both talk about him a lot. You know that if it hadn't been for him, or the Peace Corps, or whatever it was that brought your father to Hawaii in the first place, Mommy and Daddy wouldn't have met. There wouldn't be any you. Such thoughts fade in your mind -- you mostly focus on swimming and playing and getting ready for birthday parties, which when you have one, turning two, in August 1963, is but one more great diversion and pleasure in a life that seems a non-stop joy.

Then, suddenly, a few weeks later, in the fall of 1963, your father goes away on a trip. It may not be clear to you immediately, but from your mother's response, it's pretty obvious: she's not happy, and Daddy isn't coming home any time soon. In fact, you will see him only one more time in your entire life, but that will be eight years from now. For now, and for ever, you will really have no Father.

And while this is dawning on you.... One afternoon, the entire state is suddenly mourning. You are whisked from home to home and from TV to TV. Grown-ups are crying, and the joy seems to have left your life for good. Your mother, who probably bottled up her emotions (at least in front of you) over her own dawning awareness that your father has abandoned her, now lets loose with torrents of despair and tears: The President is dead.

Is it any great surprise that an ambition is forged in this young boy to become President? That he should determine that the one way to reclaim that early, pre- Autumn 1963 joy is, in one step, to reclaim his Father and the President who made his very being possible?

We've heard a lot about the candidate's mother, and a lot about his father of course (even from the Candidate himself, who didn't go quite as deep as he could have), but I am not sure we've heard enough about how the forging of his young creation has led us all to this particular doorstep of History....

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Is this on?

"Hey, it's a roll of the dice, you bet it is -- but that's the kind of maverick, independent spirit this country was founded on -- taking a big chance! I tell you, my friends, it's true I didn't meet her for very long, but I could tell in an instant: she's got the right stuff. Call me crazy, but if God forbid something did happen to me, I have no doubt Sarah Palin would rise to the occasion. And yes, of course, there may have been others whose 'resumes' were better... but resumes don't speak to character, and my worthy opponent, Mr. Obama, knows that as well as anyone. I trust Sarah Palin's character.... On top of which, I love her politics. So she disagrees with me on Abortion, and Evolution, and Birth control. What do you think, I'm just looking for a yes man, or a yes babe? A healthy disagreement is the basis of a strong Democracy!

"And, let me make one other thing crystal clear: I am a very healthy man! The next person who mentions that I am a 72 year-old cancer survivor gets a knuckle sandwich!"

Something like that might have worked.

This Way to the Magnificent Egress

Quite a week.

Nothing will ever match, I don't think, the 24 hours that included both Obama's acceptance speech, and the announcement of McCain's running mate for the sheer, stark, black-and-white contrast between these two men and these two campaigns.

To put it too simply, it's Hope vs. Cynicism. It's a man in the prime of his life offering a true vision for where he wants the country to go vs. a desperate old fart trying to do whatever he can to win an election; it's experience (experience in thinking seriously about important matters) vs. judgment (bad judgment, if you are thinking about the realities of the the world and the little matter of governing; possibly brilliant judgment if you are thinking strictly politically); it's ambition on behalf of the country vs. ambition on behalf of the self... I am not sure I would go so far as it call it Good vs. Evil, but man, it's pretty darn close.

History, of course, will be the final judge -- or at least November 4 will be. Typically (for me), I find myself thinking this is one cynical gamble that is all too likely to succeed. Governor Palin is extremely appealing; her story is a great one; the underdog who makes good is a rich tradition, at least in show business ('Kid, you're going out there the wife of an Eskimo, but you've got to come back a star!'); and it has helped The Old Coot most seriously in the two most important things he needed to do in this election: namely, nailing down the Conservative vote (you know, the people who believe in the teaching of creationism in schools and don't mind their VP candidate being against all forms of contraception, even for married couples -- is it 1921?!) and, maybe just as important, distancing himself (or appearing to) from George W.

McCain likes to joke (mistakenly) that he has as many scars as Frankenstein (any third grader could correct him by pointing out Dr. Frankenstein had few scars that we know of; it's his monster that was disfigured), but in any event, it's a bolt of lightning that may well invigorate his whole cynical campaign.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Kick Off

As the polls tightened, I didn't worry. I thought, no one's really paying attention yet, and he hasn't begun to fight, really. The man had to go on vacation, he had to get away from the public eye if only because Obama fatigue was setting in, and unfortunately that gave old McCain the chance to look tough and Presidential (if moronic and Bush 43-like in his defiant pose of 'strength') when a now-inevitable-seeming foreign crisis broke out.

But no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

This 'houses' backlash is among the most incredible, through-the-looking glass type of political experiences I can remember and is starting to leave me inarticulate with rage, which is, as always, a good time to blog...

The idea that by pointing out that McCain's inability to remember how many houses he owns is somehow 'going negative' -- that this 'opened the door' to Republican counter-attacks on Obama's patriotism and ties to presumed 'past radicals'.... McCain's defending his inability to remember not with a simple kinda 'aw-shucks, you know, we live in 4, and have 4 as investment properties, so it's kinda complicated' but by reminding us all, yet again, that he was a POW there for a while and didn't have any house at all to call his own... it's not how many houses he has, though that's bad enough from a strictly Joe Sixpack point of view -- it's that you have so many you can't remember, you mean old coot.... the continuing notion (I refuse to justify the word 'meme''s existence) that Obama is beloved by the press while McCain gets harsher treatment when by any objective measure it's the other way around...

All of it has me feeling, for the first time since Hillary conceded, that Obama might actually lose this election, and lose it badly.

Now that's not a bad place to be, of course. There's clearly been evidence of over-confidence in Obama's camp, and if they're like me, that over-confidence has now evaporated. Now it's game on. I am ready to rumble, and I am sure they are too.

But my long-held prediction of how this thing would play out is no longer as firm -- for the record, since I never got it down here, that prediction went something like this: Obama will have a slim summer lead, see it evaporate by the time the conventions roll around, then steamroller into a nearly double digit lead after a well-orchestrated and Unity-rich convention, highlighted by a speech that, while it isn't anywhere near his best, is darn good enough for those just tuning in, and which will be enough to give him a big boost in the polls, which will almost certainly be whittled away but not quite completely by the Republican convention, at which McCain will 'surprise' people by actually being able to give a decent speech of his own -- for the rest of the campaign it will be neck and neck, but in the end, as with Kennedy only narrowly able to defeat Nixon (and through some definite possible shenanigans), the better man will prevail, though only slimly, and over some definite cries of protest from those watching for voting irregularity.

So there it is - or was.

Now, on the eve of Denver (or the morning it begins), I am less sure.

What I know is that more than ever, I care about this election, and I cannot wait to live in a country that is Presided over by someone with as much keen intelligence and understanding and intuitive grasp of the dynamic complexities of Life in the Global 21st Century as this presumptive Democratic nominee. But I also know that more than ever, I may not get to live in that world, I may have to live in a country Presided over by a crabby old military dick. He'll soothe a lot of morons, and the country will continue its inevitable decline...

Like I said, I am not feeling particularly articulate or hopeful right now. I think the next ten weeks are going to be brutal. This isn't a blog post I'm all that proud of.

Wake me when it's over.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Elie Wiesel was right

At dinner last night, my daughter asked me a troubling question: "How often are the Olympics held?"

Of course, when I was a kid, this was a no-brainer -- every four years, during election years. But now? I guess you could say every two years, since technically they do hold some kind of Olympiad every two years - Winter, Summer, Winter, Summer, etc... But since they hold the Winter Olympics every four years and the Summer Olympics every four years... well, very few Olympians compete in both (Eric Heiden? Who else?), it seems like 'every four years' is still the best answer.

Okay, but that's not what was most troubling. What got me was, when in Hell did they switch over, and why didn't we all speak out about it at the time? What was wrong with waiting every four years? Is the TV ratings monster that much bigger if they get to throw a Winter Olympics at us every four years in the off-year? (I know the answer, by the way -- Lillehammer, Norway, 1994 -- that's not the point. The point is, there should have been a massive outcry, and there wasn't. And I want to know why.)

So as I sat there, trying to explain it to Lily, it occurred to me that this is a phenomenon that comes up quite a bit: some relatively trivial, often sports-related, change is made to the status quo, and most of us, having adult lives of our own to lead and our own passions and concerns to muddle through, simply don't have the time or inclination to battle every little thing that upsets our apple cart. Thus: in baseball alone, three divisions, interleague play, the upcoming use of television replays to overrule umpires, etc., etc. I'm sure there are literally hundreds of examples of Little Unnecessary Changes that are Made to Things that are Perfectly Fine to Begin With. (Anyone wanna buy LUCTAMTTTAPFTBW.com?) And yet very few of us bother to speak out about such things, because it's so damn trivial, and who has the time, and wouldn't you look kind of silly leading the charge against, say, having a pro football division called the NFC North?

So after dinner, Lily had a birthday present she wanted me to open -- because, guess what, it was wrapped in one of those idiotic plastic things that are sealed industrial-tight to prevent someone from injecting anthrax into it. And I realized, here's another one. About a decade ago, they started packaging things this way -- and at the risk of turning into Andy Rooney, what the hell was wrong with a cardboard box with cellophane around it? Children's toys are the absolute worst, especially dolls, with these little plastic ties around the head, through the piece of cardboard on the back, through a little plastic doohickey, then all twisted around and taped to the underside of the cardboard -- and that's just the doll's head -- then there are the same things for the arms, the legs, the gowns, the purses, all the damn little accessories, to the point that it takes ten minutes to open a gift now, and the Dads of America have to be working like maniacs with the scissors just to keep up.

And that's when I cut myself, with the damn scissors, trying to cut alongside the sealed plastic edge of the packaging the digital camera came in.

Today, I wear a Barbie band-aid on my palm, a symbol of my failure to speak out.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

French Chocolate

Like probably everyone who does one of these them there blogs, in the back of my mind there is a tiny little dream that if I designed this thing a little differently, I might somehow hit on a magic formula that would draw hundreds, thousands, even millions of eyeballs to the site. You know, something like ‘Stuff White People Like.’ I’ve thought of doing ‘Things That People Know Are Great But Which Are Actually Underrated Anyway’ (Shakespeare, Spielberg, the Beatles, Woody Allen, Philip Roth), for instance, but I know I’d run out pretty soon and then I’d just be padding the thing and being totally dishonest, and who wants to make a killing being dishonest? (Okay, maybe that's a different entry…)

Which brings me to chocolate. I like chocolate. I do. I’d rather eat a piece of chocolate than I would a piece of fish, or rock candy, or probably most dessert-type options. But I am not in any sense of the word a chocoholic. (Actually there’s really only one sense of that word, I’m guessing…) But see, I know people who LOVE chocolate, people who mush up their chocolate cake with a fork to make the whole thing a delicious pudding that will last longer, people who steal their granddaughters' chocolate when it’s stored in the refrigerator and then have to replenish it later because they simply couldn’t help themselves, people who try to carry it with them everywhere at all times, people who go weak at the site of the stuff. I am not one of those people. (One example of how much I am not one of these people is that I really like white chocolate, in fact maybe even prefer it, which to a true chocolate lover is probably like someone who'd rather watch a baseball game on artificial turf.)

So whenever people used to ask me if I wanted a piece of chocolate, or if there was a piece of chocolate cake being passed around and we were all being given spoons, I would tend to feel slightly guilty – “sure, I’ll have some,” I would think, “but someone else would enjoy this chocolate a lot more than I’m going to.” For the longest time, therefore, chocolate was Item #1 on the list of ‘Stuff I Like that I Know Other People Like More and That I Therefore Feel a Little Guilty about Enjoying, or Even Wonder if there isn’t Something Wrong with me for not Liking more than I do.”

I’m not saying that’s a blog designed to get me a huge advance ($300,000 for 'Stuff White People Like'?!?!), but anyway there it is.

Which brings me to France. Fine country. Beautiful. The light. The food. Wine, if you like that kind of thing. The somehow sophisticated relationship between nature and civilization. And yes, a beautiful-sounding language. It’s all quite wonderful. Paintings. Manet. Monet. The whole bit.

Only guess what? I don’t really like France. I think France is too fancy. French food is too creamy and complicated, and I just basically think the whole place is a little precious. I didn’t buy it. And not that everything has to come down to comparisons, but you know, I liked England better. Always rooted for England in those mid-millennium wars anyway, and just in general preferred the English thing to the French thing. Better Sherlock Holmes than Hercule Poirot. (I know, he was Belgian, but you know what I mean…) Give me London and Churchill and the Beatles, and you can have your Louis Quattorze and De Gaulle and Edith Piaf …. (And I am not even getting into the whole issue of national character, or rudeness, or smell... I'm basically leaving the people of France entirely out of this discussion - just the country alone, it's not for me.)

So when I told friends I was going to France for work for a week, they‘d say things like “Ooooh, I’m so jealous,” and I’d be torn between the cruel sincerity of “Don’t be, I don’t even like the place,” and the purely assholic “Yes, I know.”

Well now I'm back, and you know what my greatest memory of the trip was? Sitting by a road in the middle of basically nowhere – I was told by Nigel the brilliant British filmmaker who was our cameraman that it was the equivalent of a small town in South Carolina – and having a dinner by the side of a country road while the sun was still fairly high in the sky at about 8:30 at night. I had a simple little egg white omelette with onions. (Go ahead, laugh – the lovely French woman who ran the place with her husband and took the order did, as my English was translated into French by David, our crack PA on the trip.) And as the three of us sat and had our meal with the light simply gorgeous, with a little church up the road 100 yards (or metres, sorry), the occasional car driving by, the clouds a glorious glowing yellowish pink overhead... the meal was the greatest egg dish of my life, and I washed it down with a Panache (half lemonade, half beer, all refreshing), and life was about as it good as it can get.

But it got better. Because at the end of the meal, this lovely round French woman brought me a CafĂ© au Lait, and, even though I hadn’t ordered it, she brought me something else: a small, perfect piece of chocolate.

Heaven.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Genius that was Dave Berg

He wasn't really very funny, Dave Berg. His people looked pretty much all the same, and he couldn't really handle anything resembling psychological complexity. When you think of the Giants of Mad Magazine, you don't really even think of him in the top five, probably. (Don Martin, Aragones and his unfunny but undeniably outstanding Spy vs Spy, Jaffee of course, Mort Drucker and whoever else did the satires.... okay, so maybe Berg's fifth, but really he's not in the top three, maybe just the Best of the Usual Gang of Assorted Idiots...)

But for my money, there is simply no comparison in terms of how often in this life, this real, Kaputnikkian life of adulthood and responsibilities, and being a husband and a father and Man in the 21st Century, a cartoon from Dave Berg springs to mind. It happens probably once a week, if not more. Whereas a Don Martin, or an Aragones... well, I'm never walking down the street and have the thought: "Geez, that's just like the time the black spy trapped the white spy by wearing a fake cone on his nose and trapping him under a cement mixer."

But Berg....

The killer, for me, was The Lighter Side of... oh, I don't know, Public Transportation or something. Roger Kaputnik, the Berg hero/alter ego, was sitting on a bus, alone with his thoughts, just pleased he had a two-seat row all to himself. Then he started worrying a bum would sit next to him - 'some bum with B.O.' -- the first I'd heard of B.O., I knew it was bad and pretty much thought it was the DT's, not that I knew what that was either.... Then, sure enough, a bum comes onto the bus and starts weaving down the aisle towards our man. Kaputnik is startled, dismayed - oh, no, he thinks, the bum is gonna sit next to me, and the bum will surely have B.O. But the bum doesn't. Wouldn't you know it, the bum passes him by, and Kaputnik, humiliated, thinks, "Why didn't he sit next to me? What, does he think I have B.O. or something?"

But as brilliant and frankly archetypal as that strip was, as often as I think of it in my daily life (and it's a lot, trust me), that's not the one that has me thinking of Berg this week. No sir, this week is one that drove me crazy as a child, because I didn't really get it, but something about it made me angry. In this, the male hero (not Kaputnik, interestingly - for you graduate students out there anyway) is with a rather knowing and smug black-haired woman, who we take to be his wife. The two are arguing - a rather sharp and unpleasant argument... and maybe he's making all kinds of threats, or all kinds of complaints anyway, about how he gave up his old life for her, he's got his old life he could go back to, all the parties and girlfriends. She tells him he's chicken, that he'll never do it. And the guy calls her bluff, storms out of the house and heads to a local bar. He goes to a payphone and calls up an old girlfriend, he'll show that woman who's boss! We see the guy's face as the girl walks into the bar. "Well," she asks, "what do you have to say for yourself?"

And then the final (of four frames?! Good God, the man was a genius of economy!) shot, the punchline reverse angle: we see the woman -- it's his wife, smirking beautifully -- and the guy, thoroughly emasculated, clucks like a chicken.

I am in the city alone this week. The family is in Maine, having a grand time, my wife and two adorable girls, and as I saw this date looming, this long separation from them (for me, anyway, 16 days but who's counting), I started to fantastize about all the fun I would have alone in New York, the movies I would see, the hamburgers I would eat, the books I would read, the old friends I would reconnect with...

Cluck, cluck, my friend.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Three's Company

I have waited, I think, a respectful amount of time - or at least I hope I have.

The near-orgy of self-love that swirled around the passing of Tim Russert has died down at last -- and to be fair, thankfully, there was a decent amount of commentary about the almost unseemly, well, quantity of Russertania that accompanied his passing. "As big as Reagan's funeral...." "A Modest Man gets A Grand Goodbye..." etc., etc.

I think a lot of people can agree that all of the media's worst faults were on display for the entire week -- foremost among them an incredibly distorted view of its own importance. But then there's also the issue of scope even within the profession itself -- where was the similar outpouring for Peter Jennings? David Brinkley when he went? What will have to be done when Walter kicks the bucket, for gosh sakes? Will Bob Scheiffer's family be bummed if he doesn't get, oh, one-third the coverage? What would happen if David Gregory suddenly keeled over? If the NBC Nightly News devoted its full nightly half-hour to Russert, how much for Andrea Mitchell? Does she get a full segment between commercial breaks?

The guy was the host of Meet The Press, people. So was Garrick Utley, who may be dead already for all I know -- if he's not, he's gotta be pretty steamed.

Now, I am quite sure he was a decent man, a great friend, clearly a terrific Catholic and a fine son, a great citizen of Buffalo, a Bills fan, or so I've been told 453 times the past week -- and poor old Big Russ, my heart goes out to the guy....

And yes he was pretty darn good at what he did, his commentary on MSNBC this election season was usually spot-on, and his enthusiasm for the historical nature of the Obama and Clinton candidacies was in general really infectious.

But he was too close to the forest.

The worst moment of recent American political life, maybe even recent American history, was without a doubt the Election of 2000. What happened in that travesty of an election cannot be overstated, and better, more astute political commentators have written far more probing indictments of the horrors visited upon the nation by both the press and the politicians during that sorry period.

But what I remember is this:

The Networks called it wrong.

THE NETWORKS CALLED IT WRONG.

They jumped the gun -- twice -- on Florida. With devastating consequences.

Had they not, had they not called Florida for George W. Bush prematurely, had they not, in their absolute insane and ridiculous but completely congenital desire to tell the story in advance of the story's actually happening -- it is almost a certainty that Al Gore would have won the election. Why? Because there would not have been, as there was throughout that brutal six week period, a sense that something was being taken away from George W. Bush. And all the votes would have been counted.

Imagine it: Florida would have been, all night long, 'too close to call' -- and, with Florida never in anyone's column, it would have been in everyone's interests, George W's as well as Al Gore's, to count all the damn votes. They would have had to count them -- because we wouldn't have known who won the election!

As in fact, though not in perception, we didn't.

We didn't really know -- but we thought we knew. We thought we knew that Bush had won, but that if the votes were counted, well, who knows what could happen? But that first part -- we thought that Bush had won -- that's what killed me. We thought we knew it because those fucking assholes at the networks had decided they had to call Florida! (And how could they have called it for Bush? When earlier in the night they had been burned by calling it for Gore? Once they realized they better pull back from that first premature call, how could they not have exercised a little self control?)

But what really gets me is this:

The morning after the election -- now that we'd all agreed that Bush had won but that Gore was contesting the election -- not now that we'd all realized we still didn't know who won, a crucial difference -- I was dumbfounded as I switched among the channels.

The networks didn't get it. They didn't understand the colossal role they'd played. The commentators were reveling in what a crazy night it had been, how historical, how crazy, with calls being retracted, and madness and oh Tom, did you even go to sleep last night? They were acting like a bunch of 13 year-olds after an all-night Fantasy Baseball draft.

And the worst offender, in my memory anyway, was Tim Fucking Russert. Sitting there with a big dumb grin, like he couldn't believe he was lucky enough to have been part of it -- with his damn 'Florida, Florida, Florida' whiteboard -- as if he hadn't helped create the problem, as if it was all just fun and games. Over and over and over and over, these morons on the morning after the greatest disaster to have befallen their profession since I don't even know, they delighted in retelling the blow-by-blow of their monumental ineptitude: 'And then NBC called it for Gore, and then CBS did, and then NBC took it back, and then ABC did, and then CBS and NBC both called it for Florida, and, and, and...!" The whole thing made Dewey Defeats Truman look like a scoop.

Well, we all know what happened as a result of this giddiness -- George W. Bush happened. An unnecessary and stupid war happened. Abu Ghraib happened. Katrina happened.

And I think Tim Russert, God rest his soul, went to his grave never even beginning to think about how he'd helped bring it all about.

So you'll forgive me if I don't add to the chorus of praise for the guy. Me, I'm still smarting for how quickly and unceremoniously we said goodbye to John Ritter.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Fantasy

John McCain really doesn't look that well, does he?

I know, the doctors gave him a clean bill of health and everything -- but he looks wan and confused, and I know he avoids looking stage right to keep us from looking at one of his melanoma scars... and I am not saying I wish this, I do not wish this, not on anyone, but after all, the man is 71 years old, and who knows what unspeakable and aging horrors were visited upon him in the Hanoi Hilton all those years back?

Let's just say he starts to age, seriously, in the next few months; and that his episodes of confusion and misplaced anger become more and more frequent; and that the rigors of the campaign start to get to him; and that having a less-than-totally glowing press pack following him brings out the truly grumpy old man in him; and that, you know, in late July he basically has a stroke which leaves him paralyzed on one side of his face but he insists on carrying on, dribbling and salivating his way through a few August appearances before the convention?

I'm just saying, is all....

Do the Republicans at that point throw him, as they say, under the autobus? Do they say, oh, hell, let's just go with Romney? Or Rudy? Or -- you know, Jindhal, or Pawlenty, or whoever old Mac had lined up for Veep? Or do they just say, well, screw it, we can't win this one anyway, let's just run the old man anyway?

Obama would obviously be in a somewhat tricky position -- you can't really run that hard against a man who can't take a sip of water without making us all clench in worry -- but for all kinds of reasons, this kind of scenario is pretty easy to envision, especially as the campaign heats up and we start to see Big Mac slip and slide all over the place.

And if the Republicans do jettison him - or, forgive me, quietly persuade him to step aside - then Obama gets to run a totally different campaign - either against a guy who lost the nomination like Huckabee or Romney - or against a relative newcomer who didn't run for the nomination? It would be like a sparring match for Obama, kind of just to keep him in shape. And he'd win, I would guess, at least 45 states.

Either scenario, I think, would underscore what some people have said about Obama -- that he is one lucky candidate, never had to fight a really tough battle. (They said that before he beat the Clinton machine, anyway...) But it also might spare us a really ugly campaign, and give us a President Obama who is able to send best wishes to his once formidable opponent as they wheel the old guy around on a patio overlooking a golf course in Scottsdale listening to the Inaugural.

Vetter Vetted

At first blush I thought, "Oh, no, this is precisely the kind of game Obama is running to end, and here he is, letting (or encouraging) this probably decent man Johnson to fall on his sword because he may have gotten a break on a mortgage. And anyway, what the hell does getting a mortgage have to do with trying to find a good Vice-Presidential candidate? Nothing! Obama shoulda told those people where they could stick it!"

But when I calmed down, I realized, thank God Obama doesn't let these completely petty things (like Ms. Powers labeling Hillary a 'monster') become a distraction in the all-important battle to win, actually WIN the Presidency. It's true, it makes no difference if the guy got a mortgage or not, should have absolutely no bearing on whether or not he can tell us about Ed Rendell's suitability on the ticket -- but if it's become an issue, and it's an issue that could go away in a second, let's get rid of it.

When it's time to govern, there will be time enough to stick around and fight these completely petty battles -- but for now, he's absolutely right, let's just get rid of this non-issue however we can. Obama's an absolutely brilliant politician in that sense, and as idealistic as he can sometimes be, and as inspiring and messianic and all of that -- let's not forget the guy's got serious game.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Fonz

The events of the last week have been dizzying, terrifying, historic, moving, inspiring....

Through it all, thoughts would whistle through my brain as possibilities for things to blog about ('As great as Obama is, he's a lot like the Beatles in that he is inspiring a lot of really God-awful stuff, and future politicians who will try to be like him -- Deval, Jindhal, Cory Booker etc. -- could end up being almost embarrassingly un-inspiring, answering him in pale imitation, no longer John and Paul but Liam and Noel Gallagher now...' or 'I can't pretend to know what it feels like to be on the other end of sexism, but...'), but nothing really jelled for me until I received the following email from one of you beloved readers, which read in part:

So I was looking on your blog for a sign of satisfaction at the results of the Democratic primary race...now that it is over, even by Hillary's own declaration.

Where is it? Nothing to say that in some form recognizes that your candidate has won this strategic primary race? Nothing to acknowledge the very excellent and superb concession and Obama endorsement speech that Hillary gave on Saturday? I know you didn't like the woman...and you folded your disdain into statements that she was the most hated person since Nixon...etc. etc., without ever really saying directly that you, Nick Davis, hated her guts. But honest-to-God, you gotta give it to her on that Saturday speech. (okay, she had someone write it for her, but she was the boss..the ultimate decider about what stance she would take and what attitude she wanted to convey...her "handlers" would not ever have been able to get her to say anything she didn't want to say...and had it not been sincere, we'dda picked it up immediately...she ain't that good an actress.

So give a little baby..a round of applause at least. She deserves it.

And my first response was in fact, yes, she did it. She did it beautifully and well, and with the proper amount of charm and graciousness and all that, and it almost made you forget most of the horrible things she'd done and said during the primary season. And I definitely feel, as I don't think I did in the heat of the Primary (now that we've decided to just singularize the damn thing), that she is going to be a solid envoy for the Obama campaign during the upcoming General Election, that she will campaign her heart out for the ticket (which I don't think will include her), and she'll do beautifully....

But.

BUT.

Then ask yourself: if she was going to be so good, if she had it in her all along to be so gracious, so smart, so well reasoned and thorough and yes even inspiring...

Then what the H-E Ell was she doing acting the way she was during the Primary? What was all that crap for? Was that just an act? Was that just 'let's do anything we can to win because this is all a game, and at the end of it we'll all shake hands and agree it didn't mean anything'? Because if that's what it was, I have news for you, Senator Clinton: this IS NOT a game. This is actually, you know, kind of important, more important than a game, more important than your ambition and ego and unapologetic shamelessness in pursuit of power.

Yes, I admit it: I hate this woman. I'm not proud of it, not proud of how she gets under my skin, but I also can't pretend that just because she said and did all the right things on Saturday, that somehow this makes it all okay. We know now who she is, and why does what she does - and it's no different than with her husband: they do it because they want power. Nothing wrong with that, either, of course. Doesn't make them different than about 99.9% of the other politicians out there (and I'm not even saying it makes them different than BHO himself), but it does mean that you can pretty much take what she says -- on any day -- with a kind of grain of salt. She does what she does to retain power. Period. The end.

The good news is, she and her husband have calculated that the best way for them to retain or regain power is to support Obama.

They are smart people, these Clintons. They rarely back the wrong horse. So that makes me happy, at last....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The House Began to Twitch


A few things that people aren't talking about enough:

1. This notion that our former President Bill Clinton is now propagating, and that, to be fair, some of the polls bear out - that Senator Hillary Clinton is winning more states against John McCain than is Barack Obama - is based on a set of unique circumstances that is harmful to Obama and easy on Senator Clinton.  Namely -- Barack Obama has, since March 5th if not a little before, been fighting two battles, on opposite fronts.  With one hand he has been battling against Senator Clinton, trying to close out someone he respectfully calls 'a formidable opponent' but who might just as easily be labelled 'a sociopath who knows not the meaning of defeat or grace or dignity'.  On the other, as the near-presumptive nominee, he has been taking on John McCain and the Republicans, who have been attacking him daily (as is their right, by the way - this is not a complaint).  Sometimes, McCain and Clinton have been attacking him on the same points (ie, 'bitter', Reverend Wright), which, though galling to many Democrats, has actually made things somewhat easier for Obama.  But more usually, she has been continuing to hammer away at things like electability and his appeal to hard working white men while McCain has been going after Obama on a host of issues, foreign and domestic.  That McCain has not been so much as mentioning Senator Clinton since the Texas-Ohio primaries might be something of a personal affront to Mrs. Clinton -- but it is also, most crucially, a huge gift to her approval ratings and her showing in head-to-head match-ups against him.  The fact is, Senator Clinton has been getting pretty much a free ride from both of the other candidates still running for President.  (I leave it to her and her surrogates to point out that she is getting continually buried in the press, but still, even there, the attacks, such as they are, have been personal and strategic -- how does she expect to win? -- as opposed to political or substantive.)  She is one of the most disliked figures in the history of American politics, and her opponents have stopped attacking her directly -- of course she's doing better in the polls!

When the Democratic race for President began shaping up in late 2006 or so, I was seriously worried.  Oh, no, I thought, here we go again.  Senator Clinton, the front-runner, had, it seemed to me, the same kind of inevitability as previous Democratic losers as Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry.  But she had something even worse than any of those guys ever had: she was hated by a significant portion of the electorate.   I looked at the other candidates and didn't much like what I saw - and I am speaking strictly in a 'can they win' kind of way here, not a policy way or a 'do any of these folks inspire me?' way.  Edwards I kinda liked, but after losing in 2004, he seemed like yesterday's news, the Senators Dodd and Biden were surely wasting their time, and Richardson was obviously experienced but seemed off somehow.  The wild card was Obama.  When he announced he was going to run, I rolled my eyes -- too young, too green, nothing to say... and worse, the country of course was not ready to elect an African-American man.  All through 2007, as it became clear that it would be either Obama or Clinton, I was furious at Edwards for not making his move, and I knew in my bones that it simply didn't matter which of the two came out victorious in Obama vs. Clinton, because neither was electable.

The point is, that may still be true.  Iowa began to convince me that it may not be -- I started to think Obama really could pull it off, and his grace, dignity, and sheer inspirational abilities may well bring us into that future we've so long dreamed of... But nothing Mrs. Clinton has done in this campaign -- not sniper fire, not 'so far as I know,' not 'he wouldn't be my pastor,' not the 3 AM phone call, not 'Senator McCain has passed the commander-in-chief test', not anything Bill has done on her behalf, not 'hard-working Americans, white Americans,' not Zimbawe-Florida-Gandhi-Michigan, not RFK -- no, nothing she has done has made me think that she is the least bit electable when the nation turns its attention to two and only two candidates in the General Election.

Another thing is, Obama hasn't really begun to fight McCain.  If and when he does, we actually could be looking at a landslide, and the Reps know it.  Whereas if it's Hillary, they will exhale and unveil the old guns that we have seen before -- Whitewater, Monica, all of it will come back, as well as who knows how many new things like Bill's foreign ties, etc... and the end of it will be, her running even with McCain will be a thing of the past.

2.  Her historical analogies are BS.  People have in fact made this point, but it's worth repeating: Bill Clinton had sewn up the nomination in March 1992, not June; and in 1968, the primary season did not begin until mid-March, so saying (or trying to say) that the primary season was still in full force in June doesn't really work.  But the larger point, larger even than the mis-step of using the A word in polite company, is:

3.  Referencing 1968 as a way to justify anything with regard to a Democratic nomination is completely wrong-headed and stupid.  One would think that all Democrats would know this, but it bears repeating in case those who were too young, not born, or were studying too hard at Wellesley, don't remember: the 1968 election nearly destroyed the Democratic party.  The famously fractured Chicago convention left the party more split than any time before or since.  Democrats would go on to lose the White House that year and would not win the presidency again, except for the post-Watergate gimme, for 24 years!  Is that what she wants?  Why refer to 1968, ever, in giving a reason for staying in?

4.  The media is STILL not making enough of a big deal about the crap she is pulling in Florida and Michigan.  We play by the rules in this country.  You do not change the rules in the middle of the game.  Period, the end.  As such, the only 'fair' thing to do is penalize Florida and Michigan for their decision to break the rules and seat their delegates as non-voting members.  Anything else -- even the somewhat generous (to Clinton) Michigan plan of 69-59, and/or counting Florida delegates as half -- is a fairly ugly political compromise.  I assume that is what will happen, but let's not act like it's fair.

5.  As awful as this all is, even if he is smart enough to avoid picking her as Veep (by promising her a cabinet post, or a nomination to the Supreme Court), I think we have learned enough this election cycle to know: the Clintons aren't going away -- President Obama will have a Clinton problem.  Period.  Managing the powerful head of a strong dynastic brand in his own Party.... he might well want to ask Jimmy Carter for advice on what not to do.  

There's more, much more, but we all have lives to get to....


Friday, May 2, 2008

The Meaning of May 6th

When I was a little boy, my favorite baseball player was Willie Mays. (He would be eclipsed by Tom Seaver, who would be eclipsed, incredibly, by a guy named Bruce Boisclair, who would hand the baton back to Seaver before the baton would finally dissolve in the hands of Darryl Strawberry, which pretty much ended my need for favorite players, all apologies to David Wright...)

Willie Mays' birthday, I need hardly tell most of you, was May 6th. 1931. So he'll turn 77 on the very day of the Indiana and North Carolina primary. And I can hardly think of a better birthday present for the Say Hey kid than a couple of primary wins for Senator Barack Obama to lock this nomination up once and for all. For those of you keeping score at home, Jackie Robinson may have broken the color barrier to become the first African-American, or Negro, to play major league baseball, but Willie was America's first black baseball God, the first player who 'transcended' race and was simply, for quite a long time, the Best Player in the Game. (Don't get me started on Mickey Mantle. Really. Don't.)

The point is, it didn't matter that Willie was black. He was great. He played the game better, with more verve, flair, and, yes, intelligence than anyone else, maybe ever. To those who saw him play, it wasn't even close. The guy was the best. And while he's been somewhat forgotten these days, what with all the steroid nonsense and record chasing -- Henry Aaron got the home run record and his quiet dignity in Willie's shadow somehow seemed to make him more popular than Mays post-retirement -- there's really no disputing how magically Willie changed the game.

But before we (or at least I) get too worked up about May 6th, and how fitting it would be if somehow Senator Barack Obama (the Willie Mays to Jesse Jackson's Jackie Robinson, if you will) finally put a stop to the crazy, discordant, Jekyll-and-Hyde like campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton ("if we played by Republican rules, I'd already have the nomination," she said with a straight face last week), let us all remember another May 6th on which we all, or again, at least I, felt some magical torch was being passed.

May 6, 1983. Darryl Strawberry has been called up to the big leagues at last and is set to make his major league debut. His career, we all know, will last twenty years or more, he'll hit 800 home runs, he'll lead the Mets to one championship after another. He is the Black Ted Williams to some; to others, simply the Messiah.

Yeah, right.

I was there, a Friday night at Shea Stadium. Darryl hit third, and was a woeful (but we would all soon grow to learn) typical 0 for 4. 3 strikeouts against the great Mario Soto of the Cincinnati Reds. One screaming, long line drive into the right field seats - foul by no more than three feet. But before we all say, you see, it all ends badly -- and Darryl's misbegotten career is hard to defend; even among those of us who rooted for the guy ("He had some great years! Have you looked at his on base percentage? I bet he never took steroids, either!"), the arguments in his behalf pale next to those against the colossal squandering of promise and talent, the years and millions of dollars he lost up his nose, or to women, or drink, or women up his nose -- but before we all say, "Let's not get too worked up about May 6th, let's remember what happened to him, both on that day and for the rest of his career..."

Let's remember what happened to the team that night.

A team going nowhere, the 1983 Mets -- that's why they'd called him up, remember -- they were giving up on the season in the first week of May, and wanted Straw to get his sea-legs under him that summer so that when the team got good in '84 or '85, he'd be polished and mature (ha!) -- a team loaded down with aging, unfriendly sluggers like Dave Kingman and George Foster, and a couple of good young players playing out of position ... already, by May 6th, they'd won only 6 and lost 15 games and were sinking fast.

But in addition to Strawberry, the Mets had one other good reason to attend the game that night -- Tom Seaver was on the mound. And that night, though they played on the same team, Tom Seaver gave Darryl Strawberry a lesson on Willie Mays Day, as if to say: this, this is how you honor Nick Davis, this is how you pay the kid back for his incredibly selfless devotion. (Okay, maybe that's a little self-centered, but hey, it's my memory, and my blog...)

Seaver was brilliant that night. Long past his prime, he outfoxxed the Reds, kept them off-balance all night, and he and Soto were locked in a scoreless tie into the 6th Inning. At that point, some clown hit a home run off a lousy fool-nobody changeup, and the mood was broken. Seaver ended up (I think) pitching eight solid innings, a good solid professional effort, while all Darryl had managed at that point was the long foul. Going into the 9th, we were down 3 to 1, but hope still lived in me. Darryl was due up third.

Sure enough, we got a man on, and the young kid came up with a chance to be a hero. One man on, one man out --

Three pitches later, I stood up from my seat, and my Dad and I and my high school girlfriend started edging toward the exits. Maybe it was too early, I told my girlfriend; maybe he should've stayed in the major leagues; maybe he's just too young, too inexperienced. With the Mets down to their final out, we kept our eyes on the scene below us, but my heart anyway had already left the building.

Batting now was Dave Kingman. The king of Whiff, or, as Bob Murphy called him, Sky King. A surly, deeply unlikeable man, he was somehow still in the big leagues despite a record breaking propensity for striking out. Quickly there were two strikes. Oh well, at least we saw Seaver pitch one last --

It wasn't one of Kong's monstrous shots, just a solid whistling line drive - but it was clear from the moment the ball left the bat. The ball rattled around in the Met bullpen, the crowd roared, and the building rocked -- Mets 3, Reds 3. And we resumed our seats...

Most of the crowd, though, filed out at the end of the 9th Inning. They had weekends to get to. And so they missed, or caught on radio and delighted in, the Reds scoring a run in the top of the 10th. Kingman's heroics notwithstanding, the Mets would lose 4-3, and so those who left early would be vindicated.

As for the Mets, they looked lifeless again in the 10th. Two up, two down - and two quick strikes on Hubie Brooks, our beloved but frankly inconsistent third baseman with the big high butt and the slightly exaggerated bat-held-high-like-a-Knight's -lance stance.

There may be some way of looking up whether a team has twice been saved from defeat by two out, two strike home runs, one in the ninth inning and one in the tenth, but I don't know what it is. What I do know is: delirium. Madness. The stuff of childhood games you play with your friend in a backyard and pretend you're not completely fabricating the last-second heroics -- but not a major league game played by a team that's 6 and 15 and going nowhere.

The crowd, what there was, was on its feet and roaring for our dear Hubie, who rounded the bases with his head down, soaking in the moment. But I must admit that as he did so, a thought raced through my mind, and it's the kind of thought that has dogged me my whole life: we should leave now, it's not going to get any better...

But that thought, that 'let's freeze time and stop right now,' that's precisely the kind of non-optimism that can destroy any real chance to change anything for the better, whether it's a ball team or a life or a country's politics. And I am glad that my Dad was there to prevent us from giving in to it, if I even voiced the thought (I doubt I did; luckily I had acquired such a reputation as a deep-feeling baseball fan that I am sure I didn't feel I could even mention the idea of leaving a game, any game, before its conclusion....) And my girlfriend, bless her stubborn soul, understood it was not going to help her cause if she started moaning about the lateness of the hour.

Extra inning games, though the fate of the world seems to hang in the balance, are also frequently extremely tedious, kind of like a political campaign that seems never to end. If someone would just end this already! You feel like you don't care as much, and then you realize you do, you care more than ever, you've invested more time and energy into this than you had any idea you would at the start... but God, would it just be over please!

The Mets loaded the bases in the 11th but didn't score -- the Reds threatened a couple of times -- I seem to remember a line drive hit right at someone -- but as the Mets came up for the bottom of the 13th, it really wasn't too hard to imagine the game never ending. The crowd had thinned way down - it hadn't been too big to begin with, much to my surprise. (I remember as we rode in, thinking we were probably going to get a sell-out because it was Darryl's first game. The official attendance was just over 15,000 -- probably down to about 5,000 by now...)

So here it is, 4-4 in the thirteenth, and the Mets come up and make, as you can probably guess, two quick outs. Only now, it is Darryl's turn. The young kid has grown up a lot tonight, he looks a lot less skittish now.... And I start telling myself that after all, he's not really in his first game now, now that we're into such deep extra innings. But can I think of any better way of ending this excruciating, fabulous night? I can see it so clearly, the ball arcing high into the dark Queens night sky, caroming off the scoreboard --

And does he homer? Does he answer young Nick's (and probably 4,999) other prayers? No, he does not. He's not playing in someone's backyard, remember. But what he does is maybe just as gorgeous: he works out a walk. He trots down to first base as the winning run.

What follows is inevitable. Another walk to Kingman's defensive replacement, Mike Jorgensen (you gotta love retrosheet.org), and now, with two on and two outs, it's time for George Foster, the second-most unfriendly, unloved sluggers the Mets have. And this time, there's no need to go to the final strike.

He ends it, with one mighty swing of his thin little black toothpick of a bat. Hits it deep into the Mets bullpen, and it's 7-4, and Darryl greets Jorgensen and Foster at the plate, the whole team comes out to shake hands (no high fives, none of that tossing your helmet in the air and jumping into the scrum like a moron business, this was, after all, still 1983), and the final scoreboard is a thing of beauty: Mets 7, Reds 4.

That's the lesson of May 6th. A team does not give up hope, so we as fans better not bail on them. We stay there, and we root for them, for all of them, and even when it looks bleak, when they're 6 and 15 and their pastor is revealed to be an egomaniacal race-baiting freak, we keep pushing and hoping and rooting, and in so doing we help them keep working, and we keep hoping that we're going to win because not to win is to do something we won't allow ourselves to think. We do not give up hope, not now, not ever.

May 6th.

Happy Birthday, Willie Mays.

Yes. We. Can.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bull Moose, party of two

Has anyone done any polls where all three run?

I think Andrew Sullivan is right: it's going all the way to Denver. It doesn't matter what happens in Indiana - even if Senator Obama manages to squeak by with a win, Senator Clinton has the money now to compete for a lot longer... and more than that, she has, after these wins in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the legitimate claim on the all-important blue collar white man (ie, the 'no way I ever vote for a black guy') vote.

So she is able, somehow, to convince the superdelegates NOT to go for Obama in June, to wait to decide until the convention -- and then we all gird for a showdown in the Rockies...

And then what? Do we really think she loses that fight gracefully, hops up on stage with Senator Obama, and the two grin at each other as the band plays 'Happy Days Are Here Again' and the balloons cascade down and the Democrats are happy and united again? Really? After the way she's run her campaign up to now, does it all just spin on a dime like that at the end?

No, it's a lot easier to imagine her deciding to bolt the party and go for a third party than conceding defeat... Think of it. "The Democratic Party is abandoning its base; it is disenfranchising two great states it needs for victory in November; and it is deliberately choosing an untested, untried newcomer who will polarize the electorate and keep the White House in Republican hands. Therefore, Bill and I are starting The New Democratic party.... Join us as we campaign to take America back to greatness...!" And they rent a hall in Philadelphia - where the nation began! - and begin the most audacious third-party campaign since another disgruntled ex-President started a third party to reclaim his hold on the White House...

The question is, could she win the Presidency this way?

I can't deny, it'd make for great theater. But we're well past the point where the country could afford it. Still, it's about the only endgame I can realistically envision at this point.

God help us all.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Charm

We've been here before. Twice. Once, in those heady few days after Iowa, when it seemed like maybe, just maybe, the lightning that had struck the cornfields might ignite a fire that would sweep across the country and consume the hinterlands of New Hampshire -- and then again, before Texas and Ohio, when all it would have taken, or so it seemed, was a split of the two states for her to decide, at last, to gracefully step aside.

But there hasn't been anything quite like this --

If he wins Pennsylvania, it's over. Period.

The only problem, of course, is that he probably won't. The recent polls have him anywhere from 8 to 12 points down, and it seems to be getting worse.

Now, the pre-game spinning is such that it seems like his camp will claim that anything less than a double digit win for her is a win for him, and her camp will take any win they can get, short of maybe 1 or 2 points, which even they concede will probably be too close.

My own feeling is that she will win big, probably 12 or more - and I am not just saying that to cushion the blow tomorrow night. (I mean, that's part of the reason, sure, but....)

What it comes down to is this:

Change is hard.

It's hard in politics, it's hard in life.

The therapists tell us there are two components to psychotherapy. The first is identifying the patterns that have trapped us in their grooves; it can take years.... But even harder -- once we've identified those patterns, once we see, for instance, that everything we do is based on a desire for the approval of the others rather than our own instincts as to what would be best for our lives -- even when we see that pattern, it can be nearly impossible for us to change it.

[So it is that when we go into that meeting with the network executive, for instance, even though we know we should just pitch the idea in such a way as to ensure maximum chance of success, we may, simply by reflex, be sending out signs of 'love me, love me, oh please laugh at my jokes, love me...' (Just as a for instance....)]

So it is with the country at large --

We know we need to change the country; we know we need to change our politics; we know we need to change our foreign policy; we know we need to fix our economy.

But when we get in that voting booth, and we see one name that is weird and vaguely foreign and we've heard he might be a Muslim or an anti-Semite and he doesn't wear the flag pin and his pastor was a kook and his wife hates the country -- and the other name is the name of a former President of the United States, and I've been seeing her on TV for almost two decades...

It's hard, but it's worth it.

My thoughts and prayers are with you, Pennsylvania.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Points for Restraint?

Another Presidential Debate is in the books in Pennsylvania, and the spinning is already enough to rotate a small planet. But a consensus seems to be emerging that it was a strikingly odd debate, with over half of it devoted to the so-called character issues like Reverend Wright, Senator Clinton's Bosnia tale, and Obama's "ties" to 60s radicals. No one would suggest, I don't think, that these issues are even within shouting distance of the economy or Iraq as issues that actually affect people's lives. But they sure are fun!

Except, last night, to one man.

Barack Obama didn't look particularly happy when the talk was on these issues. And some will say - and are saying - "Oh, look, Obama was on the defensive the whole night! He's got to learn to toughen up, the Republicans are going to be 100 times worse!" And it's true: they will be.

But that's not why he was unhappy. He was just as unhappy with the Bosnia question to Senator Clinton as he was with the questions he's answered, again and again and again, about his "ties" to his former Pastor.

He wants politics to be different, and unlike any other politician in my lifetime, he actually tries to practice what he preaches. It is, at times, incredible and inspiring to watch. Last night he was like a man on a tightrope in the circus, with dozens of people from the crowd below throwing fruit and vegetables up at him to try to knock him off his balance. A banana flies by his head; he ducks. An old head of cabbage whaps him in the knee; he shakes his leg and proceeds.

But there is something about this acrobat we in the crowd don't notice as we hoot and holler and jeer and throw our rotten fruit and hope to get him to fall off and land in a splat in the middle of the auditorium. It's the fact that in his pocket, he has a hand grenade. And no matter much abuse he takes, he refuses to use it. He refuses to take it out and pull the pin and drop it on the crowd -- even though he knows that if he does he will win. He knows that if he uses it, he will win, but the rest of us will lose.

Last night must have been awfully tempting. He even allowed himself, if only for the briefest moment, to place his hand on the grenade when he so elegantly and artfully brought up Senator Clinton's 'cookie' comment. He did it to prove his point: he remembered that manufactured 'controversy' from the 1992 election, and he thought it was silly, as silly as this 'bitter' controversy is today.

But it was also a very subtle reminder of the grenade itself, touching as it did on the explosive relationship that is the very foundation for Senator Clinton's candidacy, her relationship with her husband. And how tempting must it have been when she claimed, again, that she's been vetted, that we knew her baggage, rummaged through it for years, and she could take the heat...! How tempting it must have been for Obama to go further than he did, to say something like, "Really? How many questions have there been during this campaign about The Dress, or The Cigar, or blow jobs from 19 year-old interns? Do you really think the Republicans and their friends are going to leave that stuff out of their ads? If you succeed in somehow knocking me off this tightrope and you become the nominee, do you think the Republicans will wail and gnash their teeth because you've been vetted, or will they celebrate with glee because it will allow them to reintroduce a veritable parade of scandals from your husband's Presidency of failed promise: Vince Foster, Whitewater, travelgate, the Rich pardon, and oh yes that whole impeachment business?"

But he said not a word. Just fingered his grenade that once, and carried on, through the tomatoes and the rotten kiwis, and he somehow managed to get to the other end of the rope, where he hopped off as good as new.

We'll be lucky to have him.