Jan 31, 2008

January 30, 2008: Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, A Lonely Voice, A Poorer Nation


After finishing a distant 3rd in what amounted to a ‘beauty contest’ on the Democratic side of the Florida Primary, former Senator John Edwards announced that he was bowing out of the presidential contest. His time upon the national stage was altogether too brief. Many, with far less justification, have been given greater roles in our national pageant; but few, in our time, have touched our soul as has the Senator from North Carolina. John Edwards became our conscience; a voice we can ill afford to lose.

He came out of nowhere in 2004, talking about poverty in America. He talked about two Americas, the wealthy and the rest of us, and the growing polarization of this country as the middle class shrinks back into poverty. He captured the imagination of those who had grown weary of pseudo-Democratic administrations serially ratifying the slow dismantling of the New Deal. He was the first candidate for president to take his campaign into the ghettoes since Bill Bradley, and the first since Robert Kennedy to “dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

He rose to prominence by capturing the imagination and breathing new life into what remained of the Robert Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party. Latching on to John Kerry’s rising star as the Vice Presidential nominee in 2004, he unfortunately could not bring his home states into the Democratic column. Moreover, he did not frontally challenge Cheney over secrecy, torture, or energy policies in his debates with the Vice President. While an able advocate for social justice, John Edwards has not proven himself to be adept at the rough and tumble of politics necessary to give life to change. Nevertheless his was a lonely voice for social justice, in a country where there have been too few such voices, inspiring us to reach out to what Michael Harrington called “The Other America” and to once again seek a newer world. His departure diminishes our public discourse, and leaves us a poorer nation.

January 29, 2008: Follow the Money, Mayor of Gomorrah, Trouble at Daytona, That's a Fine Machine You Got There Orville...


It is voting day in Florida and as of this writing the returns are not yet in. The last polls had McCain and Romney neck and neck with about 30-32% of the vote each followed by either Huckleberry and Giuliani, or Giuliani and Huckleberry, depending on which poll one cites, each with support in the mid teens.

This was not the way it was supposed to go. Six months ago Giuliani, on the strength of name recognition as “America’s Mayor”, had commanding leads in the polls and was seen by many as having the inside track to the nomination. He had captured the support of the Bush family’s Texas connections and big oil money that promised to fund a juggernaut that would sweep him to the presidency. But something happened on the way to the Speedway.

Giuliani, after leaving the Mayor’s office, had started several successful businesses on the strength of his political connections, foremost among them was a partnership with Bracewell & Patterson called Bracewell & Giuliani. Bracewell is a mid-sized Texas law firm described by Ari Berman (The Nation, October 29, 2007 “Rudy’s Dirty Money” page 11) “with a client list as long as the plume from a smokestack”. Bracewell represented such clients as Southern Company, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (which represents more than 450 oil companies), Chevron Texaco, Valero Energy and Enron. It was this lobbying firm working with former RNC chair Haley Barbour that pressured the incoming Bush administration to reverse its campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide. According to Berman, Bracewell “offered a gateway into the lavish world of Texas Republican fundraising and easy access to the same titans of industry who helped make the Bush family rich and propelled W. into the White House.”
By the middle of last year Rudy had raised more money in Texas than any republican candidate, over four million dollars, and recruited 37 of W’s Pioneers and Rangers, those who raised at least $100,000., and $200,000. respectively for the Bush campaigns. And Giuliani had “accepted more money from the energy industry--$477,208 through the first half of 2007—than any other presidential candidate” (Page 14). With such backing, Rudy built the ultimate campaign bus, a machine that would take him all the way to the White House.

Larry Hamp is an old friend of mine. We met in college, where we spent the hours between classes talking about politics and life; he being eleven years older and at the time more experienced in the ways of the world. One afternoon he related a tale about one of his former incarnations when he was an award-winning salesman for a Massey-Ferguson farm equipment dealership. On a bright August day the sales manager took his force out into a field to show them the brand-new combine that the company was introducing. As Larry told the story, it was a magnificent machine. It had all the bells and whistles, air conditioning, and latest sound system. It was bright, clean and polished, glistening in the morning sun. After laboriously explaining all the changes in engineering and all the new features of this latest model, the sales manager then had an attendant start it up to demonstrate its prowess. The machine began its perorations, shaking, rattling, with blades furiously moving back and forth. It was, by Hamp’s account, a magnificent spectacle. As the hot noon sun began to bear down on the newly initiated, the sales manager asked his charges what they thought of this majestic addition to human technology. “That’s a fine machine you got there Orville,” Hamp blurted out, “but you’ll never get it off the ground”.

And so it is with the Giuliani Machine. However smooth and shiny, however expensive, however powerful, it was a machine ill suited for the task at hand. No amount of money, no technological advances in polling and communication, and no Madison Avenue advertising agencies could mask the fact that this was a candidacy of a big city mayor for President of the United States, seeking the nomination from a party that loathes urban America. Nothing could mask the fact that Giuliani had stood, as any big city mayor must of necessity stand, for gun control. In addition Giuliani had compromised positions on abortion and gay rights. Intolerance is not a luxury that a mayor of a large city can indulge. Moreover, New York City, Gotham, the Big Apple, is to rural, conservative, Republican America second only to San Francisco as a hotbed of sin and iniquity. If it is not Sodom it is at least Gomorrah. The point here is that it seemed ludicrous on its face, and now with near 20/20 hindsight, that the Republican Party would nominate as its standard bearer the Mayor of Gomorrah. Ask John Lindsay, a much more articulate, attractive and successful figure who likewise found that being the Mayor of Gotham gets you no traction on the Republican circuit. And Lindsay was not up to his ass in Big Oil, did not have an ethically challenged police chief, and did not announce his impending separation and divorce with his wife at a mayoral news conference.

Richard Nixon used to ask, as a gauge of public acceptance, whether something would “play in Peoria”. Here Nixon was recognizing the natural base of the Republican Party: rural and suburban rather than urban, conservative, and Main Street. Clearly there is no way in hell that Rudy was going to “play in Peoria”; no way that the Giuliani machine was going to get off the blocks.

There was trouble right out of the box as rural America early registered its revulsion. Rudy campaigned in Iowa and withdrew well before the caucus sensing humiliation in the wind. In New Hampshire he spent 3 million dollars and hosted over 100 campaign events—more than any other candidate-- only to again withdraw well before the primary, finishing down in the second tier of candidates. He chose not to compete in South Carolina saying he would meet whoever emerged from the early primaries in Florida where he would make his stand.

As the campaign in Florida was heating up to a final climax, and the big guns from the Northeast and the West came south to duke it out, Rudy was seen driving his campaign bus on a ‘victory’ lap around the racetrack at Daytona, before largely empty seats. It was a sad metaphor for what had happened to “America’s Mayor”. Emerging triumphant from his bus, and speaking in the pits to a small group of reporters about the victory at hand, Rudy was approached by a mechanic. “That’s a fine machine you got there mayor,” he said, “but you’ll never get it off the ground.”

January 27, 2008: The Empire Strikes Back, Politics in Black and White, South Carolina Snake Pit, The Once and Future Queen


Syndicated Columnist Mark Shields, appearing last Friday on his weekly segment of PBS’ “News Hour” with Jim Lehrer, made the point that former President Bill Clinton has consciously and intentionally worked to diminish Obama by maneuvering to make the Democrat from Illinois increasingly the ‘Black Candidate’. Through surrogates such as the founder of the Black Entertainment network who referred to Obama’s drug use as a teen and through frontal attacks where the former President openly questioned Obama’s credentials and vision. Clinton, playing the Spiro Agnew to his wife’s Richard Nixon, continued to spin the events in South Carolina saying that Obama had a lock on the primary because he was the ‘Black’ candidate in a state where half the primary voters are black.

It got a lot uglier. In a heated exchange at this week’s debate, Hillary touted her fight against misguided Republican policies “when you were practicing law and representing your contributor…in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago”. Referring to ‘Tony’ Rezko a longtime Obama contributor who has been charged with fraud, attempted extortion and money laundering in what prosecutors charge was a scheme to get campaign money and payoffs from those seeking to do business with state government. (AP story posted on Charter cable news 1/22/08). There it was—out in the open: slum landlord business, inner city, Chicago. Like Jesse Jackson before him, Barack Obama springs from the ‘inner city,’ the South Side. He is, in a word ‘The Black Candidate’. He is no longer a candidate for president who happens to be black.

Hillary also got some help from the media. In the debate at Myrtle Beach sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus and CNN, Obama was asked by the moderator if he agreed with the famed black novelist Toni Morrison who called Clinton ‘the first black president’. Obama stepped right into the trap. “I would have to investigate more of Bill’s dancing abilitities and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother”. Here, in a sound bite that was endlessly repeated through the following day’s news cycles, Obama reassures us that he is a ‘brother’, here defined in the most stereotypical terms—how one dances--leaving Bill’s acceptance into the ‘hood’ as uncertain. The distinction had been drawn in black and white for all to see. When the debate was over Hillary and Bill laughed all the way back to the hotel, kicked off their shoes, leaned back, sipped some red wine and began singing “Happy Days are Here Again.”

“The one where the players are acting surprised
Saying race is just a four letter word
Between forcing smiles, and the knives in their eyes
Well their actions become so absurd”

Last night’s election returns gave Barack a sweeping victory, 55% to Hillary’s 27%. Today the buzz concerned Barrack’s smashing victory and the momentum leading up to Super Tuesday on February 5. Everyone had expected a hotly contested and close race, the late movement toward Barack and the margin of victory surprised and delighted the insurgents. But there is trouble in the numbers.

Beneath the general election returns lurks the meaning of yesterday’s South Carolina Primary. Barack won over 80% of black votes continuing a trend of recapturing Black support from the Clintons, but he won only 1 of 4 white votes with Hillary splitting the white vote with John Edwards. By Election Day in South Carolina, Barack had truly become the Black champion, a much less transformational figure, a much more diminished candidate.

Back in the icy snows of Iowa, as the Clintons were mulling over their defeat, a hard decision was reached. Hillary would trade becoming the woman’s candidate for Barack becoming the ‘Black’ candidate. Women are, after all, a majority of the population. Blacks make up 11 per cent of the electorate. In a war of attrition, where each candidate risks marginalization, the Clinton’s had the numerical advantage. And so, ruthlessly, relentlessly, purposefully they went about to ‘marginalize’ Obama by using the race card.

CNN, in it’s build-up to the coverage of the South Carolina Primary announced that not since its creation in 1980 has a Republican gone on to win the nomination unless he has won in South Carolina. On the Democratic side the results are not so stark but on this night Hillary may have won the nomination by losing the primary; Barack may have lost the nomination by winning it. Such is the snake pit of South Carolina politics where 6 is 9 and Hillary emerges as the once and future queen.

“So keep your auditions for somebody
Who hasn’t got so much to lose
‘cause you can tell by the lines I’m reciting
That I’ve seen that movie too.” ---Elton John “I’ve Seen That Movie Too”

January 26, 2008: Blood Lust in The Rat’s Mouth, Easter Eggs of Mass Destruction, I've Seen That Movie Too


Boca Raton—translated, “rat’s mouth”—Florida. The Republican candidates met at Boca Raton for another in the long series of debates agreeing to not disagree. In fact they fell over each other praising ‘Ol Two-Cows’ vying for the right to carry the party standard unadulterated by either reason or inconvenient truth. Marshall McCain led the pack declaring success in Iraq thereby committing his party, through nomination, and his country, through election, to an open ended commitment to endless war. Openly declaring that not a single general has found fault with the present military campaign, the good Marshall of Tombstone called for vigorous military operations. Not to be outdone, Huckleberry Mike looked into the camera and with a straight face told us bluntly that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, we just didn’t find them. Having hid them like Easter eggs on the White House lawn, he spirited them away to ‘Jordan’ as we invaded the country. This was a complete revelation to the intelligence community, not to mention King Abdul of Jordan—a staunch ally of ours—who is either rolling in laughter or terrified beyond imagination at the prospect of radical groups harboring such weapons, heretofore unbeknownst to him, within his own borders. No one present challenged such boldface assertions. Romney simply nodded and Giuliani muttered ‘ditto’ into an open mike.

“I can see by your eyes you must be lying
When you think I don’t have a clue
Baby you’re crazy
If you think that you can fool me
Because I’ve seen that movie too”

Flashback to 1966-67. General Westmoreland assuring the President and the nation that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. The President lifts these statements uncritically from the General’s remarks and repeats them to a wary nation desperately wanting to believe that the worst had passed. Then, in early 1968, came the Tet Offensive shattering the illusions of war and forcing the nation to realize that we had not taken the first step toward a solution. So much wasted life, so much wasted treasure, so very far to go.

Historically this country has not done well when dealing with insurrections. It took decades and, by some estimates, over a million lives to establish some kind of stability in the Philippines. Nor were we a marked success in Nicaragua or Cuba. We are not alone. The British experience in Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere; the French experience in Algeria and Indochina; the Belgian experience in the Congo, reveal the long and bitter struggles of the Western powers to impose their will by force. These wars exhibit surprisingly similar characteristics: low intensity urban conflict, unconventional warfare, political and economic destabilization, immense loss of life—especially to the civilian populations—and they go on for very long periods of time.

The military has now been stretched, by some Pentagon estimates, to the ‘breaking point’. All know, including our adversaries, that this escalation—this so-called ‘surge’—cannot be sustained. Troop strength must be reduced to pre-surge levels by the fourth quarter of this year. It remains to be seen what will happen when our force level is reduced. Will the Iraqi government step up and take our place? Will we be able to ‘stand-down’ as they ‘stand-up? Our experience in Indo-China, Afghanistan and elsewhere is not encouraging for we have not, historically, been very good at counterinsurgency—at least not since the days of Kit Carson.

What is troubling about Marshall McCain is that he leaves no room for diplomacy; no room for negotiation. Historically the British ended up negotiating with Collins and the IRA; the Israeli’s ended up negotiating with Arafat and the PLO; the French ended up negotiating with the insurgents in Algeria; and both the French and the Americans ended up negotiating with Ho Chi Minh, and the Viet Minh, in Viet Nam. There are no military solutions to our quagmire in the Middle East; there are only political solutions. In the absence of supporting or establishing a genuine regime enjoying popular support we must talk with our adversaries. Instead, Marshall McCain—who has never met a war he didn’t like—led the republican pack in the blood-lust for continued war.

Meanwhile, ‘Ol Two-Cows’ made the predictable pilgrimage to the Middle East, in an erstwhile effort to establish some kind of ‘legacy’ by searching for the ‘Holy Grail’—that ever elusive peace accord. His trip was cut short as he rushed back to Washington to soothe a jittery investment community. It was announced last week that an agreement had been reached with Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on a 150 billion dollar stimulus package. All the Republican candidates expressed support, except Congressman Ron Paul who was a Libertarian in a former incarnation. Indeed most of them called for greater spending to head off an impending economic downturn. Romney headed this discussion but the most telling and perceptive comment of the night came, perhaps, from Huckleberry. Pointing out that we will probably end up borrowing the 150 billion dollars from China and spending the 150 billion dollars on Chinese imports, the Arkansan rightly asked “whose economy is going to be stimulated”? A very prescient point once again demonstrating that out of the mouth of babes comes an occasional word of wisdom; for such is our present predicament.

And such was the high-point of the Republican understanding of our economic troubles. Romney held the stage with long digressions on his economic experience genuflecting before the free market and chanting the Republican tax cut mantra promising that if Hillary is elected she will raise taxes and spending. This is red meat to the party faithful but does nothing to further the conversation about precisely how one gets out of this woeful economic mess. It does nothing to explain how more corporate tax cuts are going to help the struggling middle class. It did, however, give Romney a chance to hold the stage, demonstrate superior mastery of conservative economic misunderstandings and look presidential. He also got a chance to lead the Republican pack in savaging the Clintons who are not contestants in this race. This latest audition, straight from the rat’s mouth, left me empty-handed. Romney and McCain looked slick, Huck played the court jester, and Giuliani looked like he wanted to be back in the swamps.

“So keep your auditions for somebody
Who hasn’t got so much to lose
‘Cause you can tell by the lines I’m reciting
That I’ve seen that movie too.” ----Elton John, “I’ve Seen That Movie Too”.

January 21, 2008: No Gold in Nevada, Snorkeling in the Cesspool, Politics Can Be Such a Demeaning Business


Last weekend’s voting in Nevada and South Carolina produced no clear frontrunner on the Republican side, and has left the Democratic race in a stalemate. In Nevada, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, defeating Obama 51%-45%, with John Edwards garnering a mere 4% of the vote. However, because of the way the delegates are allocated, Obama actually received more delegates. The election here began what promises to be a trend toward the constituent groups of the party lining up behind their favorite candidate. In this case Obama garnered 80% of the black vote, with Hillary winning women and the lion’s share of the party regulars. In South Carolina, polls now show Obama has reversed the situation of last October getting 60% of black support to Hillary’s 40. Each candidate is beginning to look less and less as a transcendent figure as the constituent elements of the party line up to do battle.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney, coming off his victory in Michigan won more than 50% of the vote in a multi-candidate field. Libertarian Ron Paul finished second, narrowly edging out John McCain for second place, followed by Thompson and Huckabee. With over half his support coming from his Mormon base, Romney cruised to an easy victory. Not so in South Carolina, where John McCain prevailed with 33% of the vote to Mike Huckabee’s 30%.

The lesson in last Saturday’s ballots was that no candidate has yet to forge a coalition of the willing. Romney, while leading in the delegate count, has had to rely heavily on his roots, his family name and his religion to get this far; McCain is only now beginning to emerge as something other than a flash in the pan, and Huckabee has reached the limits of his fundamentalist base.

The losers in last Saturday’s polling were John Edwards who barely made a dent in Nevada and Mike Huckabee who in the process of whoring for votes has revealed himself the worst kind of charlatan since Elmer Gantry. Campaigning in the snake-pit that is Republican South Carolina politics, Huckabee postured as a “progressive, compassionate conservative” called for the enactment of the so called “Fair Tax”, a flat sales tax proposal that savages the working classes. Spouting Bible passages about the need to take care of the least of us, here was ‘Ol Huckleberry Mike” posturing as a disciple of a new fundamentalism while lending support to the most regressive tax proposals.

It got uglier. There is something unseemly about a man of the cloth snorkeling in the cesspool of what are racial politics in America. Huck’s campaign quickly became a race to the bottom, the kind of race-baiting that would have made Strom Thurmond proud. Once again raising the state flag issue, an issue the good people of the Palmetto State had thought they had put away years ago--- Huck sought to re-open that wound for short-term political gain saying that in Arkansas if people “came down here and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell them what to do with the pole”. This is what happens, I guess, when you have Chuck Norris advising you on matters political. Then there were the dark murmurings about the need to change the Federal Constitution so that it would more readily comply with “god’s laws”; whatever the hell that means.

So we have Huckabee in South Carolina laying out the Christian Conservative agenda of flat tax and constitutional amendment, and Willard Romney speaking of the need not to divide church and state with each now reduced to messages that increasingly speak only to their limited constituencies. In Nevada it gained Romney a victory but left him well down in the pack in South Carolina. In South Carolina it could yield Huck only second place. This leaves John McCain as the only candidate now leading the Republican pack who has a chance at building a national coalition.

It’s too bad. Both Huck and Mitt could have taken a page from John Kennedy. When confronted with heated religious issues, Kennedy campaigned and won in heavily protestant West Virginia and demonstrated his ability to represent all Americans. He also went down to Houston Texas and addressed a group of fundamentalist and protestant ministers. There he spoke of the need to separate church and state, and that as a practicing catholic he would take no instructions from his church. He would not be a catholic president but a president who happened to be catholic. Given the secular constitution of our republic and the plethora of religious practices in this country it is important for our leaders to be so understood.

What Kennedy did in Houston and what Obama did by not involving himself with the crisis in Jena Mississippi is put some distance between themselves and their core constituencies. This is necessary if one is to become a truly national candidate. What Willard and Huck should have done is assume the support of the Mormons and the Baptists and go about the business of addressing the larger nation. Instead each has now been tagged, and rightly so, as the Mormon candidate or the Christian Conservative candidate. Each may, though it is increasingly unlikely, gain the nomination but it is hard to see how each would prevail in a general election unless either they are confronted with a Democrat with similar limitations or they soon begin to speak to a national audience.

This week did not look promising. A few short weeks ago Hillary and Obama and the hapless Huck had broader support crossing gender, class and racial lines. The votes in Nevada and South Carolina have shown a re-alignment rendering them less transcendental. The same is true on the Republican side with Romney and Hucklabee winning support of greater shares of smaller parts of the whole.

Politics can be such a demeaning business.

January 20, 2008: The Ballad of Rudy


“He was tall and thin and rode out of the East
With a Mogen David on his silver breast
He was mean and nasty right clear through
Which was kinda weird, ‘cause he was yellow too

They called him Rudy

Big Rudy
Big, tall Rudy
Big, tall, scrawny Rudy
The hundred and forty-second fastest gun in the race.

He came from the old Bar Mitzvah spread
With a 10-gallon yarmulke on his head
He always followed his mother’s wishes
Even on the range he used two sets of dishes.

Rudy
Big, tall Rudy
Big Sissy Rudy
The hundred and forty-second fastest gun in the race.
A hundred and forty-one could draw faster than he,
But Rudy was looking for one forty-three
Walked into Sols Saloon like a man insane
And ordered three fingers of two cents plain

Rudy
Big, tall Rudy
Big Sport Rudy
The hundred and fort-second fastest gun in the race.


One day Mike Huckabee came to town
His aim was to shoot that scarecrow down.
Mad Mike said “Draw, and draw right now!”
And Rudy drew, drew a picture of ‘0l Two-Cows”

Rudy
Big, tall Rudy
Big gunfighter Rudy
The hundred and forty-second fastest gun in the race.

Marshall McCain’s boys was comin’ to New Hampshire at first sun,
And the people said “Rudy, we need your gun”
When the Marshall arrived at the break of dawn,
Rudy’s gun was there, but Rudy was gone.

Rudy
Big Tall Rudy
Big help, Rudy
The hundred and forty-second fastest gun in the race.

Well, finally Rudy got three slugs in the belly
It was right outside the Gator Deli.
He was sittin’ there twirlin’ his gun around,
And butterfingers Rudy gunned himself down!

Rudy.
Big, tall Rudy
Big, Dum-dum Rudy.
Big, Dum-dum dead Rudy.
The hundred and forty-second fastest gun in the race.
---- Parody of “The Ballad of Irving”, by Frank Gallop

January 18, 2008: Stay of Execution, Health Care and Steel, We Can’t Give Up Our Jobs the Way We Should, Our Ancestors Were Never Such Fools.

Mitt Romney gained a reprieve last Tuesday. The stay of execution was administered in the good state of Michigan with a victory of nine percentage points over Marshall McCain, who hobbles south with a now bandaged foot, brandishing a now tarnished badge. This was a must-win situation and Romney knew it. Heralding his roots in Michigan and the auto industry, railing against intrusive government regulation, blaming Washington’s CAFÉ standards for the current predicament, and invoking the memory of his father, Mitt was able to prevail in this shootout with the Marshall from Tombstone.

Oh if it were only that easy: a mere trade off on global warming to keep those jobs. But this canard must not be allowed to stand, it is the kind of shameless nonsense that propelled Reagan to power and has since been the main course on the rubber chicken circuit. Actually had Washington enforced rather than relaxed the CAFÉ standards, had we compelled automakers to develop fuel efficient technology, had we followed Republican Senator Howard Baker’s advice and issued a “clarion call to reinvent the automobile”, we could have restored our global competitive edge. While foreign auto companies put money into research and development our domestic auto manufacturers put money into top notch legal firms and lobbyists to oppose any new regulations and to rid themselves of old ones. The result, as in the 1970s, is that we are once again well behind the curve as the industry adjusts globally to the changes in fuel prices and environmental concerns. And so Romney, ever reading yesterdays papers, tore a page from an old Reagan press release and made it his own. The problem is that we are a quarter of a century closer to a global catastrophe with little time now to spare.

A few weeks ago it was announced that Toyota sells more automobiles in the United States than Ford. This speaks not only to the lack of competitiveness, but of the results of decades long practice of allowing foreign imports to flood our domestic market. Clearly someone in the world will meet the demand for global surface transportation by way of automobiles and trucks. In our youth, this demand was largely met by American auto manufacturers. We have forfeited our advantage by allowing our domestic industry to languish; to buy it’s way out of upgrading and making itself more globally competitive; and by underwriting our foreign competitors by allowing them not only to infiltrate but to inundate our market.

The American industrial order is characterized by two salient facts: First we are the only industrialized country that does not have a clear, compelling and cogent economic policy. Instead we are left, in the words of economist John Kenneth Galbraith, to rely on “incantation, admonition and prayer”; kneeling in the church of “free trade” and genuflecting before the stock markets while imploring distant gods to save our collective ass. This has, predictably, led to incredibly stupid and ignorant policies of opening our borders to foreign goods that have gutted the old industrial base of what was once the “Arsenal of Democracy” and the wholesale flight of jobs and capital as those markets have been globalized. Secondly, we are the only industrialized country in the world that does not have socialized medicine. Ford regularly tells us that when figuring the cost of producing an automobile more is spent on health care than on steel. Ford, Chrysler and GM must compete in an international market that now not only favors foreign producers, because ‘ol two-cows’ has destroyed the value of the dollar in international markets, but they must also carry the additional burden of health care for their workers. Imagine the improvement in competitive advantage of what is now left of the old-line manufacturing sector—steel, autos—furniture—appliances—if these firms, like their international competitors, could be relieved of the burden of maintaining the cost of the health care of their workers and their families. Any Democrat now seeking the presidency should be busy about the business of lining up the executives of Ford, Chrysler, GM, General Dynamics, General Electric and many, many others and announce the nationalization of health care as a means of reclaiming our competitiveness and restoring America’s position as the greatest industrial and commercial power on earth.


“This place has changed for good
Your economic theory said it would
It’s hard for us to understand
We can’t give up our jobs the way we should
Our blood has stained the coal
We tunneled deep inside the nation’s soul
We matter more than pounds and pence
Your economic theories make no sense”----Sting, “We Work the Black Seam”

Let me repeat: there is no reason on earth why we should give up our auto industry— or any of our manufacturing base—to foreign competitors. We need to establish a clear and cogent and compelling national industrial policy. We will protect and foster our national industries. We will impose import duties on foreign products, we will subsidize those industries deemed critical to our national interests, and we will assume as a nation the cost of health care for the workforce. In exchange we will demand that the export of capital and jobs cease, that ownership by foreign nationals in any company under the aegis of protected industry be limited to less than twenty percent, and that the companies in question agree to meet the guidelines concerning environmental protection, worker wages and safety, and research and development targets in order to improve global competitiveness. If we can put a man on the moon we can certainly build automobiles and other durable goods in these United States.
In those areas where industries, such as the clothing industry, have fled wholesale, we must move to foster start-up projects and nurture them as we did in the past. Our ancestors were never such fools, they freely chose winners and losers in the marketplace; they never would have stood passively and watched the markets alone decide questions of such importance. They understood the need to protect and nurture domestic enterprise and so invoked the imposition of tariffs to protect everything from shoes to machine parts; they used land grants to build railroads, and price supports to save the family farm. By the middle of the twentieth century they had, by these means, built an economic engine that would not only dominate but feed the world.

Romney is, of course, not on the road to Damascus and is not likely to experience such an epiphany any time soon. He is, in fact, the very product of Wall Street, an investment impresario who made his billions by creating ever greater concentrations of wealth. He did not create the wealth; he was simply a parasite that created ever greater concentrations of it. He made himself rich doing it and it is not likely to see anything wrong with it, regardless of how much pain he witnessed walking through the boarded up main streets of Michigan. His answer: More of the same old bromides… But Romney, thanks to the good citizens of Michigan who last Tuesday exhibited more heart than sense, will live to fight another day…..it’s on to Nevada where his prospects are suddenly much brighter.

January 15, 2008: Race Card, George Wallace Teaches a Lesson, Giuliani Slithers South


As the contest for the presidency spills out now over the landscape from Michigan to Nevada to South Carolina, it is becoming increasingly ugly on the Democratic side. This week the race card was played by the supporters of Hillary Clinton with the former president musing about Barrack’s lack of experience, and the founder of the Black Entertainment Network introducing Hillary by pointing out that while Hillary was fighting the fight for civil rights, Barack was doing what all teenage boys in the projects do at that age—referring to his admitted use of cocaine. This has set off a firestorm and has caused some serious back peddling by the Clinton operatives trying to insulate the candidate from the worst of it. This does not portend well and will probably produce a backlash in places like South Carolina giving Barack a boost.

I must admit that I am not an enthusiast of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although she will be hands-down preferable to any conceivable Republican nominee, it is difficult to see her candidacy as anything than an open invitation by the Democrats to the Republicans to take the presidency.

The problem with Hillary is not that she is a woman. I have supported and managed political campaigns for women, helped get them elected to office and when elected happily followed their leadership. My problem with Hillary is that she is a Clinton and as such is besmirched not only with unseemly campaign contributions, but a marked propensity to turn in the wind and readily compromise principles well before they need to be compromised. Her record on health care reform was a disaster and she has not distinguished herself in the senate by championing any cause other than the advancement of herself unto the national stage. She also carries a lot of baggage.

George Wallace, the old banty rooster was a politician who fought the fight of the old industrial working class. But no matter how ‘progressive’ his politics he is forever frozen in the national consciousness standing at the schoolhouse door blocking the admission of young black students into the University of Alabama and shouting “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever…” No matter what his position on race in America on the day he died, no matter how much he recanted or repented, he will forever be remembered as one of the great voices of racism in America. Nothing he did in later life could change that.

First impressions matter. First impressions stick. First impressions are hard to live down. For 15 years the Rescumlicans have been savaging the Clintons and Hillary has been a central target of their attacks. Millions of dollars have been spent in investigations of her role in stock deals, White House travel office firings, and god knows what else. The result is that she began this primary season with personal negatives, by some polls as high as 47%. Two things follow from this. First and obviously, it is not a far step from 47% to 50% plus one to elect one’s opponent. Secondly, as George Wallace, or George Romney—who never recovered from his first national exposure when he quipped that he had been ‘brainwashed’ by the military while touring Vietnam—demonstrate that one rarely, of ever, overcomes first impressions. And Hillary’s first impressions have been burned into the national consciousness for 16 years now.

For the record, it is more than interesting to note that Hillary has the backing of Rupert Murdock and has been touted by ‘Ol Two-Cows’ and his henchman Karl Rove as the likely Democratic nominee. The truth is that the Republicans have spent more than a decade and many millions of dollars getting Hillary’s negatives this high and they don’t want to see their investment go to waste. Hillary Clinton is the candidate they most want to run against for they have made such a divisive figure of her that she has now become a wedge issue unto herself. This is the Achilles heel of the Clinton campaign for should she gain the nomination the Rescumlicans have to move the ball only a few yards down the field to win another term in the White House.

The brouhaha over race that erupted this week did little to polish her tarnished image, for it reeks of a Macheivelian willingness to grasp for power by any means necessary, even the savaging of the most faithful base of the Democratic Party. Here Hillary lives up to her reputation for overreaching and unprincipled political expediency. In short the kind of tactics one would expect from the other side.

Speaking of the other side….As the campaigns in Michigan wind down and those in Nevada and South Carolina heat up, Rudy Giuliani has crawled his way through the Okeefenokee and has been reportedly sighted crossing interstate 10 near Jacksonville where his tail was run over by Marshall McCain’s campaign bus. As we speak he is slithering through the tall grass, feeding on the lowest form of animal and vegetable life, as he makes his way toward the everglades—his natural habitat.

January 14, 2008: Yesterday's Papers, Your Father's Party, Without Benefit of Clergy


“Who wants yesterday’s papers
Who wants yesterday’s girl
Who wants yesterday’s papers
Nobody in the world”----The Rolling Stones

The voices of yesterday echo and collide with each other in the dark corridors of the Rust Belt. John McCain is hoping to recapture the magic of the straight-talking, hip shooting days when as a gunslinger from the west he briefly captured the imagination of America. But it has been 8 long years since he was caught in that nasty crossfire at the South Carolina Corral. He’s older now and, like Marshall Dillon, walks with a noticeable limp but he’s lost none of his ability to return fire. The problem with John is that he has always had a marked propensity to shoot first and think later; and to shoot at anything that moves which, on occasion, is his own foot. So, when asked by a reporter about the manufacturing jobs that have fled Michigan, Marshall McCain quipped “ I got news for the people of Michigan…They (the jobs) ain’t comin’ back.”

This shot struck the soul of the Great Lakes State. I was born and raised in Michigan. I lived my first 50 years in the water wonderland. I know her back roads, walked her shorelines and her main streets, and worked her farms and her factories. I have campaigned and run for office there and I have talked politics with tens of thousands of her citizens. I know Michigan like the back of my left hand. Michigan knows these jobs ain’t commin’ back and does not need any more painful reminders. As Michael Moore, also a native of my home state has pointed out: with the last downsizing General Motors now employs fewer workers nation-wide than it used to employ in his home town of Flint. Michigan has paid a frightful price for the success of her auto industry. In boom times Michigan was at the industrial center of the world. Jobs were begging for workers and Michigan lent a helping hand to generations of poor blacks and southern whites who came north in the twentieth century in order to get a foothold on the middle class. Michigan could afford to be generous as it gave truth to the American Dream. I know this firsthand: my step-father came north as a young man from Missouri to take his place in her factories. But for the last three decades, driven by corporate greed and inspiringly stupid national economic policy, the lights have been turned out throughout the water-winter wonderland and will not be lit again in our lifetime.

It’s too bad…McCain had been enjoying a slight lead over Mitt Romney until he opened his mouth. Romney is the son of former Michigan Governor and, briefly, 1968 Presidential Candidate George Romney. George, like most in Michigan, had made his living in the Auto industry, rising from salesman to president of American Motors, then the third largest automaker in America. Under George’s tutelage American Motors thrived, introducing the Rambler, with its novel feature of having the front seats fold down into a mobile bed. This turned our rest stops and drive-in theatres into passion pits and brought profits to the company. And as what was good for General Motors is good for America so what was good for American Motors was good for Michigan. George parlayed his stint in the corporate world into the governorship of Michigan which, though less successful, had the merit of introducing to state-wide office a politician from Traverse City, gentleman Bill Milliken.

Bill Milliken is a thoughtful man, articulate, handsome and, for a Republican surprisingly moderate and public spirited. His family made their fortune in the retail industry with the Milliken Department stores in and around Traverse City and Bill, with a sense of noblese oblige, entered politics as a young man. Besides revamping Michigan’s aging constitution the single most important thing George Romney ever did was make Bill Milliken his Lt. Governor. Romney was elected three times to the governor’s chair and then moved up to join Nixon’s cabinet during his third term in early 1969. Bill Milliken took his place and began his stint as Michigan’s longest serving governor.

I remember, in 1970, Sander Levin, now congressman from Michigan and brother of Michigan’s Democratic Senator Carl Levin, was challenging Bill Milliken as the governor ran his first campaign to be elected in his own right. I was chairman of the College Democrats at Grand Valley State then with the second largest membership of any such group in Michigan. Sandy came to ask for our support touting his anti-war posture in what he supposed would automatically win over our support. I was left unimpressed and did not move my organization to formally endorse or take part in the campaign for I could not see how replacing Bill Milliken would materially bring about a more enlightened Michigan.

I say this because the voice of Gentleman Bill still echoes down the corridors of state politics. He came out of retirement long enough to endorse Jennifer Grandholm, Michigan’s current governor and a Democrat in her two successful campaigns in an effort to undo and bring some balance to state government after John Engler’s wretched 12 years in office. Milliken is yet another reminder that this is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s Republican Party.

John McCain has got the endorsement of Bill Milliken. The man who ran with Mitt’s father some 40 years ago and succeeded him to office is now endorsing the man from Arizona. McCain had taken the Romney legacy in Michigan from the uncertain hands of George’s own son.

Mitt Romney had been reduced to Yesterday’s papers, like his father an obscure historical footnote in presidential politics until Marshall McCain shot himself in the foot with a cruel and flippant reminder of what has become of the great State of Michigan. And now the election is up for grabs, as of this writing too close to call.

The odd man out, in the Republican contest in Michigan, will be Mike Huckabee who is exploring the outer geographical limits of fundamentalist appeal. He will discover that those of us who hail from Ludington’s old fourth ward like our whiskey strong, our talk straight, our women loose, and our children and our politics without benefit of clergy.

January 13, 2008: Banana Republic, Transcendental Meditation



In his acceptance speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Senator John Kerry pointed out that the middle class controlled a smaller share of the national economy than at any time since before 1929. He could have run on that issue alone in 2004 and won the presidency but decided instead to refight the Vietnam War. With median household purchasing power declining by $1,500. Annually the situation has not improved.

What has improved, since the last election cycle, is that all of the Democrats and Mike Huckabee have discovered it. Even Mitt Romney, as he visits at last the gutted remains of the Michigan he once knew, has discovered the fearful plight of the old working class as he tries to inject some air into his gasping campaign. This is important not as a partisan issue, nor is it important solely as a class issue, it is an important political issue that speaks to the condition of the very soul of the Republic.

What distinguishes us from the classic banana republic is that advanced democratic societies have a large, vibrant and controlling middle class. This is no accident. Emerging under the crushing oppression of the old feudal order, modern democratic systems arose to challenge the feudal aristocracies not only for political power but to use that power to improve their own condition. The result was both peaceful and violent. Relatively peaceful in England with the Reform acts of 1832, extending the franchise, and violent in America and France with their respective revolutions. The result was, broadly speaking, the same. Political parties made up of the new urban and industrial professionals, labor unions, and Farm groups replaced the old aristocracies and in varying degrees went about the business of constructing—through a sometimes painful century long process—a vibrant and controlling middle class. In America the process had a head start with some 80% of the electorate originally middling ‘yeoman’ farmers who quickly organized behind the aristocratic Jefferson to oppose the monied ‘eastern interests’ represented by Hamilton and the Federalists. To varying degrees American politics, a balance between conflict and consensus, has since been a contest between these two factions with the modern middle class taking it’s form with the New Deal and the monied interests having long since taken refuge in the Republican Party. Democracy then creates the middle class because politics are driven by numbers, Jeremy Bentham’s dictate that the purpose of any society is to provide the most benefit for the most people. Majorities have used their political strength to oppose concentrations of economic power, break up monopolies, regulate economies, redistribute wealth and construct safety nets for the elderly, impoverished and infirm. The middle class had become so controlling that both parties have had to pay homage to it for the privilege of exercising national power. So the Republicans pushed the expansion of the franchise, busted the trusts, began the environmental movement under Teddy Roosevelt, the Democrats under Wilson advanced on that theme then under FDR began the wholesale restructuring of the middle class after the debacle of the 1920’s. Not only has the democracy created a commanding middle class but the middle class has a vested interest in defending democracy. This was a point entirely missed by Her Hitler.

It is important for the Middle class to be strong enough to counter the weight of the extremes of poverty and wealth. If wealth is concentrated in too few hands then it will simply buy power, as is increasingly the case in the United States. If the poor begin to outnumber the middle class and society is bifurcated into two camps, the wealthy few and the impoverished masses, then the democratic experiment is bound to fail, as in the classic example of the banana republic or the French Revolution. The masses vote and elect huge majorities which quickly demand a redistribution of the fruits of society. The wealthy call out the military and the democratic experiment ends in failure. This is why it has been such a long and painful process to establish representative government in so many parts of the world. And this is why our Founding Fathers understood that the most important function of government is to prevent the rise of a new aristocracy. As Arthur Schlesinger points out in his “Age of Jackson” the revolution in America was not simply a question of home rule but who would rule at home.

Benjamin Franklin, so the legend goes, was stopped on the street as deliberations ended on the new Constitution: A woman walked up to him and asked “What kind of government are we to have Mr. Franklin?”

“A republic if you can keep it”, replied the old inventor.

If we can keep it….the founders knew this was an historical experiment, they knew their creation was a fragile one and many did not expect the republic to outlive them. As Schlesinger points out many not only distrusted the Eastern Mercantile interests but understood from their reading of history that a true republic must be born of a large and controlling class of middling station. And so in their reading of history the great undoing of the early experiments in Greece and Rome was not slavery but empire, and the consequent concentrations of economic power into fewer hands. The Lees and Henry’s of Virginia, not to mention Jefferson, understood the need for a middle class not only to create but be nurtured by a democratic process that would, as Bentham would so eloquently state a century later, bring the most benefits to the most people: A middle class by definition. This had the singular advantage of creating an umpire strong enough to mediate between the extremes of wealth and poverty, to create opportunity with as little oppression and exploitation as decent society will allow. They were quite explicit about this: Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that one of the most important reasons for adopting the proposed constitution is to regulate the economy. Writing in Federalist No. 22 of the defects rendering the Articles of Confederation “altogether unfit for the administration of the affairs of the union”, Hamilton continued, “The want of a power to regulate commerce is by all parties allowed to be of the number…It is indeed evident, on the most superficial view, that there is no object, either as it respects trade or finance, that more strongly demands a federal superintendence…”, something entirely overlooked by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society as they foist their reactionary vision of freedom to mask their agenda of exploitation.

Last week CSPAN televised a forum at the University of Oklahoma featuring, among others, the likes of Mayor Bloomberg of New York, Former Senator John Danforth of Missouri, Gary Hart and former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia. The topic was political discourse with the general consensus being that partisan politics have poisoned the well making it difficult to govern in the United States. I have much respect for the members of this panel but I must respectfully say that they have it precisely wrong.

The vitriol that now courses through the veins of American politics has been a long time in the making and whose origins can be traced to the opening statement of Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Taking his place at the podium to address a national audience as he accepted his party’s nomination for president of the United States, Goldwater’s screed ended with:

“Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”.

The house came down as the throng that had booed and hooted Nelson Rockefeller from the stage rose as one to cheer their new champion as he prepared to make war on the national consensus that was the New Deal. Goldwater had stormed the ramparts and taken the party. He had driven the eastern establishment, represented now by Rockefeller who, as Eisenhower and Nixon before him, had accepted the tenets of the New Deal and in their 8 years in power so no reason to lower capital gains taxes of 80% and upper income taxes in the high 90’s. Nor had they tried to tamper with Social Security, privatize the TVA as Wilke would have done, or break the unions. The Cons went down to historical defeat at the hands of the arch-liberal Lyndon Johnson and all was well with the world.

But they had given birth to vermin. Stink tanks arose housing those who would lie sleepless at night masturbating to visions of taking America back into the 19th century, and recreating the working conditions of the Chicago slaughter houses. Foremost among them were William F. Buckley whose national socialist review became a mouthpiece for the new religion. Then there was Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics. These curmudgeons fought for a decade and a half to gain entrance to the corridors of power but were blocked by the likes of Richard Nixon, perhaps America’s last liberal president. Finally, in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam, the surtax and the stagflation, the country was introduced to a new element into the political arena, given legitimacy by a peanut farmer from Georgia, the religious right. Vaulting Carter into the presidency, Jimmy managed in four short years to alienate both his religious conservative base and the liberal wing of the party---for inflation, as noted earlier, is a cruel mistress. The result was that what would become the “Christian Coalition” bolted the Democratic Party and crossed the isle to become the foot soldiers in Ronald Reagan’s assault on the ramparts of the old guard. The rest, as they say, is history. Suddenly the Cons found they had an army at their disposal and could now match the democrats in the field. And so talking the talk of compassion, promising an eternal ‘morning in America’, the Reaganaughts marshaled their army to do battle against the old New Deal. The problem was that to do battle with the New Deal is to do battle with the middle class. To wage war on the New Deal is to wage war on the middle class. To wage war on the New Deal is, in the absence of another middle class Magna Carta, to wage war on the Republic itself.

And so it has been. Beginning with the war against organized labor, the Cons and their Larvae the Neo-cons have destroyed the bargaining position of the middle class in the marketplace. Moreover they have systematically dismantled the “countervailing power”, to use economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s term, of Labor to Corporate America. In the partisan war between the parties the Conservatives have waged a relentless war against the economic foundation of the New Deal not only reducing union membership to levels not seen since before the Wagoner Act was passed but making it imperative that the Democrats, in order to compete, seek funding from the same lobbyists and interests as the Republican Party.

This has produced, on the Democratic side, a complete disconnect between rhetoric and reality. While posturing rhetorically as the tribune of the people the Democrats have substantively offered up agenda’s and enacted legislation that can be characterized at best as “Bush-Lite”. In fact in the 1970’s, even before Reagan, it was the Democrats who championed deregulation and taxed unemployment benefits. But such bi-partisan consensus, born of the near Dictatorship of Capital, cannot mask the growing destruction of the old American Consensus that lies underneath and increasingly clamors to be heard manifesting itself in the tactics of ‘cut and burn’ that has been our politics in recent decades. In fact it has become increasingly important for the elites—representing now only the wealth—to use ever draconian measures to keep their hold on power. Reagan had to negotiate with the Iranians to hold the hostages until after the election. Bush used Willy Horton and the race card, tried to drive wedges into every fissure at the base of the republic to win temporary political advantage. ‘Ol Two-Cows” had to savage several war heroes and commit the outright theft of two national elections to get and hold power. And now, like any respectable banana republic we now have foreign observers monitoring our elections. It remains to be seen what outrages await us as this election cycle proceeds. Already Dennis Kucinich is questioning the ballot in New Hampshire, pointing out that Hillary won on electronic voting machines, Obama on the paper and mechanical ballots. Harbinger of things to come?

As our language becomes more strident you can hear the indignation from Fox Noise and the Neo-Con spin machine about fear mongering and ‘class war’, conveniently overlooking the fact that the wealthy have been waging war on us for three decades now. But the Liberals are not yet waging war on the rich. No one in the race has called for anything like socialized medicine or even a return to the tax codes of Harry Truman or even Dick Nixon. Still the rhetoric is heating up and will, in the succeeding election cycles, become white hot as the middle class goes the way of the pterodactyl. It cannot be otherwise. For the truth is that it is not the rhetoric that creates the class divisions but class divisions that give voice to the rhetoric. The panel had it precisely on its head. One does not heal class divisions by toning down the rhetoric; one turns down the rhetoric by healing class divisions. Read any speech By FDR referring to the “malefactors of wealth’ or his diatribes against bankers and Wall Street. But FDR healed the nation. In this context the panel at Oklahoma and Barack’s campaign ring hollow. If Barach is to be the transformational figure he portends, he must confront with righteous indignation as Martin, FDR and Lincoln did before him. He must introduce, like Bobby, the ‘other America’ and take his campaign and the cameras to the Mississippi Delta and the slums of New York, to the rural poor and the Indian reservations; foremost he must show the country what it already knows and walk, with the press in tow, the boarded up main streets of America. And he must do it in ways that inspire.

January 12, 2008: The Lizard Strikes, Obama Express Hits a Siding, Dark Night for the Sons of Brigham Young


All did not go well for the forces of reform or religious fundamentalism. Like Napoleon before Moscow the insurgents suffered serious reversals of fortune in the icy snows of New Hampshire. With the backing of Ms Democrat Jean Shaheen, former Democratic Governor and now candidate against Senator Sununu, the well-heeled Clinton Machine prevailed over the strong challenge of Barack Obama outpolling him by three percentage points. Such was the upset that the mainstream media altogether missed the central story: for the first time in the history of the republic a woman had won a presidential primary.

It was not supposed go this way. As noted earlier the latest polling had shown Barack with a commanding lead going into Election Day. These polling figures were confirmed by the internal polling done by the candidates themselves with the Clinton camp showing their candidate losing by 11 percentage points and Obama’s campaign reporting a 14 point lead. What brought about the 14-17 point last minute swing?

I suggest, in large measure, the Bradley factor. Back in the 80’s Tom Bradley, Democratic Mayor of Los Angeles, faced off against George Deukmejian, in the contest to become Governor of California. Late polling showed a commanding lead similar to Obama’s only to evaporate on polling day. The same was true of Harvey Gant’s South Carolina Senate race as he opposed Strom Thurmond’s re-election bid in the 90’s. Both candidates had commanding leads which evaporated on Election Day. The similarity: both were black men, and both ran up against the ‘race factor’---that 15% of the electorate who will not reveal their racial bias but will instead tell pollsters that they are supporting a certain black candidate and then, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote the other way. This is the Achilles heel that plagues the Obama campaign. Barack, should he gain the nomination, will begin the campaign with a 10-15 point handicap that is race in these United States. He must, by his very physical presence. confront a racial divide that is perhaps not the gaping chasm of yesteryear but is now showing itself to be clear and present.

The vote in New Hampshire also saw a “boomer” turnout, especially “boomer” women who supported Hillary in large numbers. Obama still captured the vote of those who yearn for ‘change’, but it was clear that the party regulars, now populated by ‘boomers’, had spoken. The lizard has struck and the Obama campaign now reels south hoping to regain its lost footing. Reinforcements began arriving almost immediately as Obama’s forces began to make a stand in South Carolina. Old warriors of the left—first John Kerry and then former Senator Gary Hart moved quickly to endorse Barack sidestepping Edwards, Kerry’s running-mate in 2004. This further solidifies Barack’s claim to represent the legacy of Bobby Kennedy as old Kennedy supporters join with a growing movement based on college campuses to fuel the insurgency against the party regulars. De Ja Vu all over again. A burgeoning children’s crusade against the Clinton “establishment”. Conceding Michigan to Clinton—all but Hillary had pledged not to campaign there because Michigan had violated party rules by moving it’s primary ahead of the allotted date—Obama faces Hillary in Nevada and South Carolina in a classic insurgency against the party regulars. Nevada favors Obama given the Caucus format for it does not give the voter the luxury of changing his or her mind in the privacy of the voting booth but instead requires that one publicly switch one’s vote for all to see—effectively neutralizing the “Bradley Effect”. Obama also has the support of the Culinary Workers Union forcing an interesting reversal of roles in which Hillary has taken to the streets campaigning door-to-door to appeal for ‘grass roots’ support in a last ditch effort to win the state.

In South Carolina the race pits the two largest voting blocks in the Democratic Party, women and minorities in this race for delegates. Hillary has stronger support among women, Barack among blacks with black women thrown into an interesting quandary. Edwards, who won the South Carolina primary in 2004, once again appears the odd-man-out, and looks to finish a distant third. Obama should win the South Carolina Primary and should he win Nevada will get a huge boost going into February. Hillary can claim Michigan and should she win in Nevada would begin to post her credentials as something more than a regional candidate. All this is mere prelude to the serious business that waits Super Tuesday in February.

Meanwhile John McCain was the big winner in New Hampshire with Mitt Romney finishing second. Mitt needed this one and lost it. New Hampshire is part of the Boston media market. The state gets its television and most of its radio programming from Boston and therefore Mitt, a veteran of two state-wide campaigns is, like Paul Tsongas and John Kerry before him, a household name in the state. Mitt must now repair to Michigan and as we speak is busy pulling ads from his South Carolina campaign to concentrate his efforts there. Mitt is now forced to tread the ground of his father, his home turf, to gather enough support to stay in the race. A loss in Michigan will finish Mitt Romney.

I know New Hampshire. I have trekked her trails, climbed her mountains, and explored her valleys. She is an independent voice in American politics, reveling in the prospect of grabbing the nation’s and, occasionally, the world’s attention by insisting on the first say in the quadrennial process of choosing the next ‘leader of the free world’. Of late some of that luster has been lost to Iowa so the good people of New Hampshire, ever a cantankerous lot, express themselves by throwing the occasional monkey wrench into the best oiled political machines. It is not good to hit the icy roads of New Hampshire with the throttle wide open, with your pedal to the metal. Just ask pappy Bush about the ‘big Mo’ Iowa gave him back in ’80 just before his presidential ambitions hit an ugly patch at Kinsman’s Notch. It took him 8 years to put that bus back together. In other words, whoever emerges from Iowa is likely to get a quick reality check as the good folks of New Hampshire go about bursting campaign balloons. And so Obama and Huckabee find themselves a bit further down in the standings as the granite state gives life not this time to the insurgents but to the established candidates. If one is to battle the established order, New Hampshire had always been favorable ground. McCarthy in ’68, McGovern in ’72, Carter in ’76, Kennedy in ’80, Hart in ’84….not so this time. It was not a good night for religious conviction, racial transformation or the sons of Brigham Young. The question goes begging: if not here…where, and if not now…when?

It’s on to Nevada where we await another roll of the dice.

January 8, 2008: Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, Inflation is a Cruel Mistress, Midnight in New Hampshire


For a generation now we have watched and listened as the political leadership have wrapped themselves in the clothes of the common man. First there was Jimmy, famously carrying his own bags as he stepped off his chartered plane, masquerading as one of the folk and when in power levying taxes on unemployment. Then there was Ronnie, he of “Death Valley Days”, who spoke of freeing capital so that the benefits thereof would be shared by all and when in power crushed the unions, cut to shreds the safety net, raised social security taxes and presided over an economic boom that left main street America uninvited. Then came the Clintons who talked the talk of social justice but proceeded to cut to shreds the Federal commitment to welfare and likewise presided over an economic prosperity that did it’s level best to replay the 1920’s and 80’s.

The upshot is that for the last 35 years the income of middle class households, adjusted for inflation, has fallen. Median household income has declined and markedly so since the political larceny of 2000 during which time the median household has lost nearly $1,500. in yearly purchasing power. The numbers generally go unreported in the mainstream media and the situation is much more critical than the numbers reveal. On page 42 of the October 12, 2007 edition of “Business” magazine a report by Daniel Gross cites inflation numbers that the Feds choose to ignore. Reporting that the Feds post an annual inflation rate of 2.3%, Gross points out that this ignores 12.7% inflation rate for food and a 5.6% rate for energy because the Federal Government excludes the costs of food and energy from the calculation of the annual cost of living index.

Inflation is a cruel mistress. It benefits certain segments of the economy by making it possible—assuming annual wage increases—to repay loans on durable goods such as homes and automobiles with ever cheaper money. But as one descends the income ladder it works to disproportionately rob the most vulnerable among us with what little purchasing power limited resources possess. For instance: Assuming a family of three spend about $120.00 a week or $480.00 a month on groceries and $520.00 a month on gasoline, electricity and natural gas. At current inflation rates this will add an additional $90.00 a month to household expenses over the last calendar year. Notice that this cost is not related to income but to the cost of goods and services. Now as we descend the income ladder notice how this cuts into the disposable or “spendable” household income---money left over after taxes to live on. With after tax money of say $3,200 a month the inflation of the cost of food and energy add 2.75% to the cost of living producing a real inflation rate (2.75% undeclared inflation of food and energy plus the 2.3% the Feds do declare) of 5.05%. Now look what happens when income drops. With after tax money of $2,000.00 per month the inflation on food and energy relative to income is 4.5% and a real overall inflation now becomes 6.8%. Why? Because the $90.00 of additional expense per month is now a greater proportion of a smaller income. Similarly, with a disposable income of $1,500.00 a month---now down to the levels of the working poor, the numbers jump to 6.0% and 8.3% respectively. So the lower the income the higher the impact of the inflation rate on one’s well being. This is so because there is almost no discretionary spending at these levels of income. The poor can, and often do, exercise their discretionary spending power by opting not to seek increasingly expensive educations or medical attention. But with food and energy one is left with little choice, one simply has to pay the price at the pump and the check-out counter. The untold story, then, is not simply that the feds are underreporting inflation but how this inflation impacts the constituent parts of the republic.

With real inflation at between 5 and 8 percent for middle to lower income Americans-- extending over a period of years-- it is clear how a reduction in real purchasing power now hovering on average of $1, 500. Annually occurs. I would not be surprised to learn, given administration misrepresentation of social security numbers, that the decline in purchasing power is much worse. The concurrent evidence suggest that it is: growing numbers of foreclosures brought on by subprime loans made in part to large segments of the public who did not have the purchasing power, and record levels of credit card and other personal debt. The country is clearly borrowing in a frantic effort to maintain its tenuous hold on the American Dream. Americans are also cashing in personal wealth by way of home equity loans, to fund credit card purchases, and reverse mortgages in which the elderly cash out the equity of their estates to meet the ever increasing cost of living. This is what is driving the poll numbers that tell us that 70-80% of the country now think that we are on the wrong track, and that for the first time we have a generation of Americans who fear that they will give their children a poorer country than the one they inherited. This is what is driving the message of change now reverberating through the political corridors. The question is: do these morons get it or are they simply playing lip service to the crying need while harboring a political agenda that will once again be in service of their corporate paymasters? And if we should luck up on the right candidate will such a champion have the experience and administrative skills to tackle the legion of problems that await the hapless bastard? We grope blindly now as we reach out in the darkness.

Every four years a political ritual is observed in Dixon Notch, New Hampshire. The good citizens show up in the middle of the night and the entire village casts the first votes of the quadrennial primary season. Tonight Obama and John McCain took the village and the early lead. Later polling showed Romney ahead on the Republican side but the Democrats following the good villagers in their stated preference. Obama has reached into the icy cold of the great white north to become their champion. What this means remains in the telling.

January 7, 2008: I Am Waiting, All The President's Men, Lizard King


It is now on to New Hampshire where the Obama express is picking up steam and Hillary’s train appears to be heading for a siding. Today it was reported that Obama has surged ahead of Clinton in the New Hampshire polls by 11 percent clearly indicating a groundswell of support in the wake of last week’s Iowa performance. There was a report on the internet this afternoon that Hillary with a cracking voice fought back tears as she tried yet once again to explain the rationale behind her campaign.

“I am waiting
I am waiting
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere”---Rolling Stones

Whether it will be Obama or Clinton or Edwards is not clear at this moment. Obama seems to be building the momentum to sweep all before him, but the President’s men are working frantically at damage control hoping to build a redoubt in New Hampshire, Nevada and Florida to stop the Obama express. If Obama carries New Hampshire, again with an overwhelming white population this time in an open primary, it looks like he can sweep South Carolina in the following days leaving only Michigan before the contest in Florida. This puts Hillary in the position of having been swept in all the states leading up to the major contests mightily taxing the ability of her campaign to absorb the onslaught. She has the money and has had the time to build an organization to withstand a major assault but it remains unclear if it will withstand the impact of the steamroller that is the Obama express.

Today it didn’t look good with shades of Ed Muskie’s 1972 meltdown in front of the offices of the Manchester Union Leader. Hillary has been reduced to tears further eroding confidence that she can play a man’s game; for just like baseball there is no crying in politics.

“I am the Lizard King
I can do anything”—the Doors

Likewise Giuliani is lurking in the swamps of Florida with what are becoming ever diminishing pretensions to the throne, like some deranged gator hissing 9-11 at anything that passes by. The regulars are now thrown into the awkward and surprising position of having to retreat to Florida before they do battle for the soul of their parties. Armed with massive resources, and little other justification, it remains to be seen if they can prevail. But then Obama, Edwards and Huckabee may find, as so many before them, that in the end it may indeed be the Celebration of the Lizard.

The problem is that we have front-loaded the primaries. In 1968 there were thirteen such contests beginning in mid February in New Hampshire. As noted earlier Robert Kennedy did not even begin his presidential bid until mid March and the first contested primary in which he took part, Indiana, occurring on the 7th of May, with California and New York in early and mid June leading up to the convention. In those days one had several months to raise money, buy media time, print campaign literature and lawn signs, organize phone banks and fundraising, in short build on the momentum of earlier triumphs. Not so this time around. With inspired stupidity the Democratic National Committee has allowed over half the primary states, especially New York and California to follow New Hampshire by a little more than 30 days. This puts a premium on fundraising and makes it nearly mandatory, if one is to capitalize on the momentum of early victories, that one has a hundred million dollars in the campaign chest before the first votes in Iowa are cast. And so the lizards lurk in the marshes of Florida, hiding where civilization fears to tread, and waiting for that moment to swallow whole the hopes and dreams of America’s middle class.

January 6, 2008: High and Dry, Huckleberry Launches His Raft, On to New Hampshire


“High and Dry
I’m up here with no warnin
High and dry
Well, I couldn’t get a word in”—The Rolling Stones


Meanwhile Mike Huckabee, lately of Arkansas and the town of Hope’s latest entry into presidential sweepstakes launched his presidential raft by sweeping the Republican side of the Iowa contest. Outspent nearly five to one by the well-oiled, if not outright greasy machine of Willard “Mitt” Romney, lately of Massachusetts, the former Baptist preacher turned politician co-opted the fundamentalist base from Fred Thompson and stormed ahead of the pack in a last-minute dash to the finish line. John McCain hoping to reclaim some of the magic that was the 2000 campaign finished a distant third.

The best quote of the night came from Democratic candidate John Edwards who said that the real winner on this night was change. With Obama and Edwards fighting to claim the legacy of Robert Kennedy and prevail over the party regulars represented by Hillary Clinton, the upcoming contest has all the earmarks of the RFK, Eugene McCarthy challenge to the party stalwarts in 1968. There have been challenges since: 1972’s contest between McGovern and Humphrey in which the insurgents won but were forsaken in the general election and the ticket went down in a smoking ruin. 1976 saw another storming of the ramparts but Carter quickly proved distasteful to the liberal wing of party. Both in 1980 and ’84 the factions again fought for the nomination with the old RFK wing represented by Teddy in ’80 and Gary Hart in 84. The party stalwarts prevailed at the conventions but lost the ensuing general election. There has not been a serious challenge to the party regulars since, with Bill Clinton---leading the Democratic Leadership Council and moving the party toward the mythical “center”—carrying the standard for the party regulars. The Democrats have won three elections over the last 11 election cycles leaving an ever growing number of faithful to look for something other than “Bush Lite” to quench the party’s thirst; someone to pick up the mantle of Robert Kennedy and speak of social justice, someone to staunch the middle class hemorrhage, and someone to restore the New Deal. In 2004 it was John Edwards, in this election cycle it is increasingly the voice of Barack Obama.

Interestingly the same thing is happening concurrently on the Republican side. Already the party stalwarts are lining up to decry the temerity of Huckleberry Mike to steal the thunder of the chosen. The day following his victory Rusty “Rush to Judgment” Limbaugh was on his megaphone decrying the Huckabee victory and challenging his conservative credentials. Pointing out that Mike had not drunk of Goldwater and had committed the cardinal sin of raising taxes to build roads and schools in Arkansas, Limbaugh railed on that he could not be the true heir to Ronnie. Perhaps, Giuliani, improving threefold on Ronnie’s marital record better fits the bill. Certainly Christian Conservative leader Pat Roberson and the big Texas oil money that greased the Bush political machinery think so. Clearly the party regulars had a rough go of it on both sides of the political isle, for on this cold January night the good people of Iowa spoke with one clear voice leaving the regulars singing

“She left me standin here
Just high and dry”

So now we move on to the snows of New Hampshire, The Granite State. Here Hillary must establish some legitimacy, other than gender, for she is no longer the President-in-waiting. Here John McCain must recapture the magic of a now fading past, and Mitt must win in his own back yard if he is to establish viability.

January 4, 2008: Time Has Come Today, Joined at the Hip, Burned Up by the Sun


“Time has come today
Young hearts can go their way
Can’t put it off another day
I don’t care what others say
They say we don’t listen anyway
Time has come today”--- The Chambers Brothers

He was told to wait, to take his place at the back of the line, to bide his time and observe the opportunity. He said that this is his time, that in another four or eight years his time will have passed, and that his window of opportunity is now. Last night Barach Obama stunned the political world by winning the Iowa Presidential Caucus with 38% of the vote to 30% for John Edwards and 29% for Hillary Clinton.

The Iowa Caucus is a rather interesting and arcane exercise in retail politics. An almost guaranteed low turnout compared to a primary or general election, it has the one-on-one feel of New Hampshire but with some interesting wrinkles. First people don’t vote at the polls but rather gather in a large room, much as they did in places like colonial Virginia and publicly vote in an open meeting. Not only does one have to arrive at a meeting place at an appointed time and make one’s vote known but each candidate must reach a level of support equal to 15% of those attending in order to be “Viable”. Not only is this process open to independents and Republicans but if one’s candidate does not reach viability, then one can switch one’s vote to one of the front runners. Candidates leading the pack, therefore, can pick up additional support from not only independents and Republicans who join the fracas but from lower tier candidates who do not reach the threshold. By all accounts Obama garnered the largest share of all of the above.

There had been a stampede, by historical standards, to the Democrats anyway. The turnout state wide was nearly double 2004 with independents and disgruntled Republicans participating. This makes Obama’s victory even more compelling given that the Hawkeye State is 94% white for it demonstrates two salient facts: first Obama is establishing himself as a transformational political figure by reaching across that age-old racial divide. Second, he also demonstrated that if he is not the first choice among democratic faithful, he is clearly the second choice. This has important consequences.

I remember a great Mac Nelly cartoon in 1976 showing two vehicles at a red light. On the left was a Mercedes or Volvo with a professorial type smoking a pipe and a poodle sitting in the passenger seat and a tag reading LIB-76. On the rear bumper was a Mo Udall sticker over which had been plastered “Carter”. Next to this car was a pickup truck with a hound dog in the back and a gun rack in the rear window and a tag reading RED-109. On the rear bumper was a Wallace sticker over which had been plastered “Carter”. The caucus in Iowa is an early indication that Barach is capable of picking up support from those behind other candidacies and can forge the coalition needed to prevail in the general election.

One gropes for an historical precedent. Ali’s victory over Liston that “shook up the world” or, more appropriately, John Kennedy’s victory over Hubert Humphrey in heavily protestant West Virginia demonstrating that a Catholic could win Protestant support and represent all Americans.

It is early but already he is clearly dictating the terms of the debate. He has stolen the thunder of John Edwards. Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, emerged on the national political stage in 2004 with a tone of conciliation and compassion. He spoke of “Two Americas” one rich and one poor, of the growing polarization of America and the need to bridge the breach. Today he has less the voice of Robert Kennedy than the tone of Lou Dobbs. As he quite rightly points to the class war that is being waged by the rich against the rest of us, his campaign has taken on an ominous and rancorous quality that appears, at least on television, almost threatening. In sum, although they speak the same language, Obama has taken the rhetorical high road.

Hillary, on the other hand, has lost the aura of inevitability that has justified her campaign. Many party regulars will be in the awkward position of having to re-evaluate their support if she does not improve her standing. Her campaign is largely based on experience and the salad days of her husband’s presidency. Many on the left in the party question that legacy given that Bill was so eager to compromise with the Republican congress even to the point of savaging the last safeguards of the old New Deal. Besides running a budget surplus and upgrading the performance of FEMA to natural disasters, one is hard pressed to point to any other major achievements. But Clinton looks like the reincarnation of FDR himself compared to the moron who presently warms the presidential seat, and so those pining for a “restoration” have claimed Hillary as their standard-bearer.

“OH
The rules have changed today (hey)
I have no place to stay (hey)
I’m thinking about the subway (hey)
My love has flown away (hey)
My tears have come and gone (hey)
Oh my lord, I have to roam (hey)
I have no home (hey)
I have no home (hey)


The problem, as Al Gore could have told her, is that the paucity of the state of our national politics has given Bill such stature that it is difficult to get out from under his shadow. A generation of American politicians could find shelter in the legacy of Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan. But Clinton, who won office by ever larger minorities, presents succeeding democratic politicians with the necessity of running as far from Bill has possible, running naked in the merciless noon sun.

For Hillary no such option exists. Joined at the hip she cannot shed herself from Bill and every time he appears on stage or joins in the fray he appears to be rescuing her. Her demonstrably inferior campaign performance has left her diminished by comparison. And then there are the reminders of the Clinton propensity to lie down with swine.

And so as the campaign season progressed here was Hillary defending lobbying as part of the “democratic process”, and garnering endorsements from party pols eager to restore the old order, raising money from the pharmaceutical and medical industry, and getting support from the likes of Rupert Murdock and Fox Noise.

We have seen such campaigns before. Republican William Howard Taft in 1952, Ed Muskie, famously inevitably the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination in 1972, had endorsements from every major Democratic politician right down to the county chairmen. Gone by the New Hampshire primary in a flood of tears outside the office of the Manchester Union Leader. Then there was Howard Dean in 2004, another coronation that didn’t happen.

Edwards is now in the position that having raised only a fraction of the money that Obama and Clinton have raised, and poised to finish behind one or both in New Hampshire he must now try to raise his profile without becoming more strident in his message and the attendant risk of being further marginalized. Hillary must now resuscitate her campaign which will require nothing less than a new justification for it given that her message of experience and ready on day one is not salient; nor does she have any longer the aura of the president-in-waiting that motivated many of the party regulars and much of her base to support her. In short her support was a continent wide but an inch deep much like the thinning ice sheet on the Arctic Ocean. And in the Hawkeye State, the ice began to crack.

It’s high noon in America and as Hillary’s support melts and cracks, Barack has risen from the ashes of Democratic Party politics to soar like a modern phoenix.

“Oh
Now the time has come (time)
There’s no place to run (time)
I might get burned up by the sun (time)
But I had my fun (time)
I’ve been loved and put aside (time)
I’ve been crushed by the tumbling tide (time)
And my soul has been psychedelicized (time)

(Time)
Now the time has come
There are things to realize
Time has come today
Time has come today

Yeah”.

December 29, 2007: Reach Out In the Darkness, Sympathy For The Devil, Requiem For Benazir



“I think it’s so groovy now
That people are finally getting together
I think its wonderful now
That people are finally getting together
Reach out in the darkness
Reach out in the darkness
Reach out in the darkness
And you may find a friend” --Friend and Lover

I was standing in line at a gas station when that song so rarely played stabbed my consciousness like hot steel on a cold night. It seems so long ago now as we approach yet another presidential election cycle, the 10th such season of promises, since that song was popular, since that terrible time when the universe came unhinged. There was a certain inexorable logic behind that season of tragedy. The nation was deeply divided between rich and poor, black and white, young and old, war and peace. The Tet Offensive had demonstrated the total bankruptcy of our war policies and the nation, after several long summers of rioting and rage was bracing itself for another “long hot summer”. Yet we had emerged strong and promising, pregnant with possibilities, challenging the established order, dreaming things that never were and asking “why not”?

First Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota emerged to challenge Lyndon Johnson for his party’s nomination. In February, McCarthy nearly defeated Johnson in New Hampshire. By mid-March Robert Kennedy, after re-assessing his situation was drawn into the race, and by the end of March Johnson announced his retirement. It seemed as if the heavens had parted and a new dawn had come to America. But throughout the season dark clouds loomed on the horizon like the ugly protesters that ringed the outer fringes of the Kennedy rallies.

I remember watching on television Robert Kennedy announce his candidacy for the presidency on March 16 from the old Senate chamber. Kennedy had been drawn into the battle much sooner than he had wanted, preferring to defer a presidential bid until 1972 or 1976. But the conflicts both at home and abroad had caused many of his friends and political supporters to look elsewhere and Bobby knew that his national stature demanded that he step forward. I watched with a certain foreboding as he picked up the mantle of his brother and began the campaign hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

As April Fools day dawned Johnson had fled the field and it seemed as if victory would come without firing a shot. But within days the long national nightmare began. Martin gunned down in Memphis and the rioting that followed, the entrance of Vice President Humphrey into the race to carry the standard of the party regulars, and finally, after winning all the remaining primaries save Oregon (which went to the anti-war McCarthy); Bobby too was gunned down as he reached for his party’s nomination. Within 90 days it was over, all that remained was to vent our rage at the convention. It was like a Greek tragedy beginning with the hubris of youth, and ending by cursing the fates; beginning with so much promise and ending with the ultimate booby prize: Richard Nixon.

“Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I lay traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reach Bombay”--- The Rolling Stones

In this frame of mind I returned home. Going into the living room, I turned on the television and up came the financial news network. I was watching the market numbers and noticed on the crawl space a news report that former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated following a political rally. I turned to CNN and followed the initial reports that she had died following an explosion set off by a suicide bomber. Later this was revised to include shots fired at her motorcade at close range. It felt like de ja vu all over again.

The truly redeeming quality of politics is that by participating one can experience a certain mobility otherwise unattainable. Through political action one can transcend one’s station in life and meet not only interesting, though largely self-absorbed individuals, but on occasion rub shoulders with the powerful. In 1968 I was drawn into the Kennedy campaign, first working with his advance men organizing a political rally at Campau Square in downtown Grand Rapids, and then later in Indiana running a sound truck and doing door-to-door work in Michigan City and Marion. And so it was that four years later a son of a poor factory worker found himself in a Hotel room in Cambridge Massachusetts sitting on a bed talking politics with Benazir Bhutto.

She was 19 at the time, a freshman at Radcliff, daughter of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, young, intelligent and articulate. I was 23, a senior at Grand Valley State. We were drawn together as participants in the Harvard Invitational Model United Nations held at Cambridge Massachusetts. She was representing, of course, Pakistan. I was representing, not so obviously, the United States. I was deep in my senior thesis on the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 when I received a call from Dr. Junn, the head of the political science department asking if I wanted to participate in a model U.N. sponsored by Harvard. I asked which country we would be representing and he told me the United States. It seemed a set up: why with all the colleges and universities to choose from would Harvard ask a small teachers college in western Michigan to represent the United States? The answer: Vietnam. Here was a golden opportunity for the debate teams of Harvard and Yale, not to mention several others to beat up on United States foreign policy. We would be the perfect “straw man”.

We called a meeting of the several members of our delegation and I was chosen chairman, principally because I had written several papers on Vietnam and was something of the resident expert on the subject. This made me in effect the United States Ambassador to the United Nations playing the role of then UN Ambassador George H.W. Bush. I preferred to see myself as a young Adlai Stevenson but was forced to consult the record, largely one of abstaining from votes on Security Council resolutions that characterized the Nixon White House. Fortunately I knew the history of Vietnam and American involvement in it as well as all the arguments in favor of our prosecution of the war. In addition I was an outspoken early critic of the war and knew the arguments of dissent. So it happened that I became the unanimous choice to sit at the Security Council and face the debate teams of America’s most prestigious universities.

The first day was a rough go. Villanova, representing Germany stood with us, but the school representing France bolted to our adversaries and followed the Chinese by launching an all out attack on American “imperialist” foreign policy. Represented by the University of Utah, who had spent two weeks with the Chinese delegation at the UN in New York, the debate teams of Harvard and Yale representing countries like Cuba lined up with several others to oppose our intervention in Indochina. At the end of the first of the three day session our delegation met at our hotel suite to map out strategy given that many of the participants were not faithful to the policies of the governments they were purporting to represent but were instead using the forum to express personal opinions. We determined that drastic action was needed. I asked how much money we had brought with us. Dr. Junn gave me a figure and asked why. I responded that we must now do what diplomats the world over have always done—order large quantities of alcohol and play the gracious host. In a word: PARTY!

We sent someone out for the requisite liquor and let it be known that our suite, which in due course became the entire floor, would be scene for an “international” social event. It was during a bit of banter with my friend from Utah, a slightly older man who had fought with the Montignard tribesman in Vietnam and who would later, playing the Chinese role magnificently, refer to “running dog American Imperialism” that I was elbowed by a young lady who introduced herself as the representative of Pakistan and asked if I could speak with her. We went to a room and she impressed upon me the urgency of the United States introducing a Security Council resolution concerning India and, if memory serves, had something to do with Kashmir. I told her I would do the best I could and we talked for some time about Pakistan and its relations with her neighboring countries, Kashmir, and the United States.

The next day I met with her again, but unfortunately things were tight at the Security Council as I struggled to stave off a full fledged assault on the United States. Benazir stopped by and importuned me once again but I tried to explain that I had greater problems to deal with at the moment. She left disappointed. Finally, midway through the second session, the Council voted by a majority of one to strike Vietnam from the agenda. We had dodged a bullet but there were still issues in South Africa, Rhodesia, and elsewhere that consumed the time. Mostly it was theatre. I had stopped while walking through the “yard” and bought a socialist rag being hawked by a vendor which I read whilst the Chinese “Ambassador” from Utah railed on about “American Capitalist Imperialist Aggressors”. The Chairman of the Security Council, who was in real life a legal counsel to the United Nations, asked me in a terse Eaton accent if the United States had any response. I remember saying’ as I peered up from my worker’s party rag, “It is the position of the government of the United States that the ranting of the honorable ambassador from the People’s Republic is unworthy of comment and that if he is interested in serious boilerplate I have a copy of an excellent publication he might find informative”. In any case events dictated that Pakistan would not emerge as a major player as long as the Cold War lasted. I had tried to teach an important lesson in international politics: that the United States has no friends, it has only interests and that United States support could be uncertain.

But it was not Benazir’s nature to remain undeterred. Critics, and there were many in Pakistan, saw her re-emerge as a political figure too closely allied with the United States. She had promised to allow the Americans to use Pakistani territory to establish bases of operations against the growing lawlessness in the tribal provinces along the Afghan border where Bin Laden is believed to have taken refuge. But most importantly she represented, as her father before her, an attempt to transform Pakistan from tribal Feudalism into a modern secular liberal democratic state.

I sensed all those years ago that Benazir was in large measure enamored with all things American, attending an American university, adopting western dress, and with her father attempting to impose a western style republic on a tribal culture. I felt then it was risky business. Many transformational political figures have paid the last full measure for their effort. The Gracci brothers in ancient Rome, Julius Caesar for creating pax Romana, Lincoln, the Kennedy’s; and in her own part of the world Mahatma Gandhi, Neru, Indira and Rajib Gandhi, her own father. I watched with a certain foreboding as she went home to once again pick up the mantle of her father, hoping for the best but fearing the worst; and as I watched her bloody return from exile I told my wife that Benazir was going home to die. It had the inevitability of 1968 about it, as certain as the setting sun.

Go gently into that good night Benazir Bhutto; we are left now to reach out in the darkness.