Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who Said it V?

Time for another Who said it?, the world’s second most popular trivia game. There are one and a half rules but they are for me, not you. One, the quote has to be found in my own library and, two, it (usually) has to be someone that most people who like history or politics or literature would have heard about. In one case below the person the quote is from the wife of a famous person about him. Nine of the ten are Americans and the other one an Englishman speaking about Americans.

1) When I was a little fellow, as long as I can remember, I would go into a panic if I heard strange voices in the house. I felt I just couldn’t meet people, and shake hands with them. Most of the visitors would sit with mother and father in the kitchen, and it was the hardest thing in the world to have to go through the kitchen door and give them a greeting. I was almost ten before I realized I couldn’t go on that way. And by fighting hard I used to manage to get through that door. I’m all right with old friends, but every time I meet a stranger, I’ve got to go through the old kitchen door, back home, and it’s not easy.

That’s from President Calvin Coolidge, sometimes known as Silent Cal. Despite his name, his speeches and press conferences were quite frequent and lengthy. He also was a prolific author, but he was shy and quiet in company. If we can believe the story, at a party he was seated next to a woman who said she had heard about his reputation for not talking much and that she had bet someone that she could get three words out of him. He replied – ‘You lose.”

2) Nothing has ever hurt me so much and affected me with such keen sensations as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me, in a cause wherein my good fame, fortune and life were all at stake.

* * *

I have made a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, 'John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money,' with a figure of a hat subjoined. But thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word 'Hatter' tautologous, because followed by the words 'makes hats,' which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word 'makes' might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy them, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words 'for ready money' were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, 'John Thompson sells hats.' 'Sells hats!' says the next friend. 'Why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?' It was stricken out, and 'hats' followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to 'John Thompson,' with the figure of a hat subjoined.

Ben Franklin is my favorite founder, bar none. The first quote is from a letter to his son William, the governor of New Jersey when the revolution broke out and an unrepentant tory. Dad wrote him off, and if I recall correctly, saw him only once more in his life, never forgiving him.

The second, one of my favorites, is actually told by Thomas Jefferson, and relates how Franklin tried to comfort him when congress was picking apart his original draft of the declaration of independence. Cynic though I am, and always suspicious of Jefferson, I hope there is more Franklin in it and less Jefferson. It sounds like the type of story Old Ben would tell.

3) Assassination is not an American practice or habit, and one so vicious and so desperate cannot be engrafted into our political system. This conviction of mine has steadily gained strength since the Civil War began. Every day's experience confirms it. The President, during the heated season, occupies a country house near the Soldiers' Home, two or three miles from the city. He goes to and from that place on horseback, night and morning, unguarded. I go there unattended at all hours, by daylight and moonlight, by starlight and without any light.

Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, showing why he was not famous for his prophetic powers. It is sometimes forgotten that he was nearly assassinated himself the same night as Lincoln. Booth’s confederate Lewis Powell chose a knife instead of a gun and did not finish the job, but the recovery was long and the scars endured.

4) After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gun boats till I was forced to return wet cold and starving, with every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for, what made Tell a Hero. And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat. My action was purer than either of theirs. One hoped to be great himself. The other had not only his country’s but his own wrongs to avenge. I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone. A country groaned beneath this tyranny and prayed for this end. Yet now behold the cold hand they extend to me. God cannot pardon me if I have done wrong. Yet I cannot see any wrong except in serving a degenerate people.

That is from the diary of John Wilkes Booth, kept while he was on the run after the assassination. There are some pages missing and that fact has raised not a few eyebrows as to who he might have implicated.

5) Being more than usually pale, I ventured to put on a little rouge, which I found relieved the black and made me quite beautiful. Wishing to evade Mr. [A. . . ‘s] observation, I hurried through the room telling him to put the lights out and follow me down. This excited his curiosity and he started up and led me to the table and then declared that unless I allowed him to wash my face he would not go. He took a towel and drew me on his knee and all my beauty was clean washed away, and a kiss made a peace, and we drove off.

* * *

One evening, when I had dressed to go to Court, the everlasting teasing about my pale face induced me to make another trial of a little rouge, and contrary to my first proceeding, I walked boldly forward to meet Mr. [A. . . ]. As soon as he saw me, he requested me to wash it off, which I with some temper refused, upon which he ran down and jumped in the carriage and left me planté là, even to myself appearing like a fool, crying with vexation.

Ah, the rouge wars of the Adams' clan. These descriptions of life with John Quincy Adams make you wonder why his wife Louisa didn’t do away with herself. Between her depressing and arrogant husband and her opinionated and overbearing mother-in-law (Abigail was not so wonderful from Louisa’s viewpoint as history makes her out to be), she did not enjoy much of her life. At one point poor Louisa bought Abigail a ring only to have John Q. refuse to let her send it, and then telling his mother that he refused because it was too showy.

6) I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the wall. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor or that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH.

* * *

I look to the colonies alone for aid; unless it arrives soon, I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms. I will, however, do the best I can under the circumstances; and I feel confident that the determined valor and desperate courage heretofore exhibited by my men will not fail them in the last struggle; and although they may be sacrificed to the vengeance of a Gothic enemy, the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse to him than a defeat. I hope your honorable body will hasten on reinforcements ammunition, and provisions to our aid as soon as possible. We have provisions for twenty days for the men we have. Our supply of ammunition is limited. At least five hundred pounds of cannon powder, and two hundred rounds of six., nine, twelve and eighteen pound balls, ten kegs of rifle powder and a supply of lead, should be sent to the place without delay under a sufficient guard. If these things are promptly sent, and large reinforcements are hastened to this frontier, this neighborhood will be the great and decisive ground.

This first quote is from the letter addressed to all Texans and all Americans in the world from Lt. Col. William Travis as he and his men approached destiny at the Alamo at the hands of the Mexican general Santa Anna. The second quote is from a little more than a week later, still trying to sound confident, but with reality creeping in. The courier John W. Smith brought it out, the last man to leave the Alamo alive.

7) The Americans will have no interest contrary to the grandeur and glory of England, when they are not oppressed by the weight of it; and they will neither be inclined to respect the acts of a superintending legislature, when they see them the acts of that power which is itself the security, not the rival of their secondary importance. In this assurance my mind most perfectly acquiesces, and I confess I feel not the least alarm from the discontents which are to arise from putting people at their ease; nor do I apprehend the destruction of this empire from giving, by an act of free grace and indulgence, to two millions of my fellow citizens, some share of those rights upon which I have always been taught to value myself.

This is from a speech by Edmund Burke to parliament in 1775, when a declaration of independence was still a year away, but hostilities were already joined. Burke is rightly celebrated as a great friend of America, liberty and democracy, but his predictions about America, which would declare independence be a great rival and sometimes enemy of Britain for over a century afterwards, shows that even someone who others put forth as the great man (Dr. Samuel Johnson, for one), cannot see the future.

8) My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every state in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair state of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the state of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation, shall we, their descendents, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers?

This is a question that is probably worth asking every generation. We are now 300 million and the pressure to meld into some sort of world government or give away sovereignty always grows. Recently, listening to the physicist Michio Kaku discuss mankind’s evolution into what is called a type one civilization – that is, mastery of the resources of a home planet (this is actually called the Kardashev scale - we are now a type zero civilization), he suggested that as part of reaching that goal in the future we will have a world government. I emailed his blog and asked him if that didn’t show a political bias, and that maybe advancement to a type one civilization could involve the end of government, rather than what sounds like must be prototypical Platonic global tyranny to me. No answer, of course. The quote above though is from William Jennings Bryant famous Cross of Gold speech in 1896. He was focused on the issue of bimetallism – gold and silver. This is a very difficult subject to get our heads around now when we do not have a metal standard at all, but at the end of the 19th century it was quite the big deal.

9) First he expressed his condolences. Then he said . . . this might be part of a worldwide plot, which I didn’t understand, and he said a lot of people down here think I should be sworn in right away. Do you have any objection to it? And – well, I was sort of taken aback at the moment because it was just an hour after . . . the President had been shot and I didn’t think – see what the rush was. And I thought, I suppose at the time, at least, I thought it would be nice if the President came back to Washington – President Kennedy . . . . But I suppose that was all personal . . . . he said, who could swear me in? I said, I’d be glad to find out and I’ll call you back.

This quote is taken from Arthur M. Schleshinger, Jr.’s Robert Kennedy and His Times and is somewhat eerie for a number of reasons. The speaker is Bobby Kennedy, brother of the assassinated president, JFK. He was relaxing by his pool with his wife and some co-workers during a break in a Justice Department conference on organized crime when he learns that his brother had been shot and then that he was dead. The caller in this case was LBJ, who some conspiracy theorists like to think had a hand in it. If you’ve read the first three volumes of Robert Caro’s awe inspiring biography of LBJ, you might just think he had the sociopathic personality for it, although I have never read anywhere any reliable evidence to support it (hearsay evidence has it that LBJ thought the CIA was involved). However, I look forward to Caro’s last installment (he says in 2012), which will cover this period of time, with great eagerness. The phone call had to be difficult for many reasons – Johnson and RFK were not admirers, in fact they were antagonists, and LBJ is calling right after RFK learns of his brother’s assassination, mostly because RFK is the attorney general. Johnson was right, of course – he should have been sworn in immediately, and RFK acknowledges his reluctance was probably personal. It also is a little weird that he refers to his brother as “the President,” rather than Jack or “my brother”. But, it is easy to understand how RFK might feel affronted by a call like this from his brother’s main opposition in their own party who will now replace him in the presidency so soon after his death. According to Schleshinger, JFK only asked LBJ if he wanted the VP job out of propriety and was shocked when he accepted, or he wanted him as VP so that he wouldn’t be majority leader in the senate anymore and would be gotten out of the way.

10) The Jew waited until I paid him before he laid the watch on the counter. He gave his signal -- and this other fellow suddenly appeared, from the back, walking toward me.

One hand was in his pocket. I knew he was a cop.

He said, quietly, “Step into the back.”

Just as I started back there, an innocent Negro walked into the shop. I remember later hearing that just that day he had gotten out of the military. The detective, thinking he was with me, turned to him.

There I was, wearing my gun, and the detective talking to that Negro with his back to me. Today I believe that Allah was with me even then. I didn’t try to shoot him. And that saved my life.

I remember that his name was Detective Slack.

I raised my arm, and motioned to him. “Here, take my gun.”

I saw his face when he took it. He was shocked. Because of the sudden appearance of the other Negro, he had never thought about a gun. It really moved him that I hadn’t tried to kill him.

Sounds like a detective novel, doesn’t it? It has the tone of a Walter Mosely Easy Rawlins’ mystery. But, it is from the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I recall reading during law school for some reason and found fascinating.

I am aware that there is a claim that at least some of the episodes described in the autobiography were manufactured, but have never looked into it myself. It still makes for arresting reading. Alex Haley, later the author of Roots collaborated on it based on his interviews, and it was brought out after X’s assassination. Haley supposedly had an important role in toning down the anti-semitism which would have made it less appealing to many audiences. At the same time that I read X’s autobiography, I also read that of Patrick Buchanan. Both grew up in Washington, D.C., one a privileged white kid and the other a poor black one. Their perspectives about blacks made for quite an interesting juxtaposition.

Okay, all done. As usual, this is really just an excuse for my ruminating about history.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Knockdown, drag out vacation

After the unstinting ponderousness of the last post, this one is autobiographical and more whimsical, being a travelogue of some of the places I’ve been to in Europe and some of my adventures there.

My first trip out of the country was in 1985. It was a good year. I had been an attorney for about ten months, liked my co-workers, had a little money for the first time in my life (emphasis on little), was having my best year of casual dating (apparently I immediately got a lot better looking when I became a lawyer), and I got to visit Europe for two weeks.
 
I started off in London. I was there for not even a day when I crossed the street at Trafalgar Square. With Lord Nelson looking down upon me, I was as happy as a young American abroad could be. Although the square is, naturally, square, the road is circular. About halfway across I heard a roar and looked to my right. A motorcycle was coming around the curve. We were quite a distance from each other, so I wasn’t worried – yet. I took a few steps forward towards the curb and noticed that the gentleman rider who I will refer to here as His Royal Moron (HRM for short), seemed to be on a collision course to run me down.

So, no problem. I just stopped where I was and faced HRM so he could move around me. I don’t know if he was really a moron, but as far as I’m concerned, he was dumb as a box of spanners. He still seemed zeroed in on me. I stepped to the right (or maybe it was the left) and he adjusted at the same time, still having me in his moron sights. Then I went sideways the other way, just as he made the same move. You’ve probably played this game with someone before as you approached each other in the hallway or sidewalk. You both keep trying to walk past each other but can't help almost bumping. Finally, one or both of you stops and you laugh, while one of you goes by. Yeah, well, this wasn’t as much fun.

At the time I was a fairly agile fellow, but I had my heavy backpack on, not yet having checked into my fleabag hotel. It was fairly heavy and I was exhausted from the flight and had not slept in about 24 hours. As the HRM got closer to me, maybe 6 or 7 feet away, I realized this was not going to end well. In fact, it dawned on me – I was going to die. I actually said to myself, “Oh, I’m going to die.” At least I had the presence of mind to try and relax my body, as I heard somewhere that it increases your chances of surviving. Isn't that what helps protects drunks in auto accidents?

Smack! His handle bars hit me in the chest or stomach and his front wheel ran over my left foot. At least that is the way it seemed to me. I went airborne (so I may have hit my leg on his bike while flying as I can’t see how I went airborne while he was on my foot). I landed on my back.

I didn’t take a kip, if you get my meaning, guvna, but, I did lay in the middle of the street with my eyes closed for a bit. I opened them up and standing above me was a crowd of young men and women. But something was wrong. They had blue and red and green hair and it was shaped in anything but the way a person’s hair is supposed to be. You see, this was the 80s and punk was the thing. Quite ‘orrible looking, actually. I told myself the old joke – “I hope this isn’t heaven.” I don't think I said it out loud, because even to punkers, that might be insulting. And, I was rather defenseless at the moment.

A few seconds later a young woman, I believe what we would call a traffic cop or a brownie, was at my side and helping me to stand up. I checked myself. Obviously, I was alive and I was really feeling good with adrenaline coursing through my body. In fact, I felt ecstatic. I AM ALIIIIIVE!

The brownie spoke to me. "Brhhghhgghugghuh." “What?” I said. She spoke again. "Rrrurderureerrurhah." “Oh,” I said, “I’m fine, but I can’t understand a word you are saying.” I did actually say that out loud. I think she was Scottish, but, for all I know, she was speaking with a Welsh or had a Manx accent.

She helped me to the sidewalk, directly under his lordship, where I was immediately surrounded by well wishers, a number of whom claimed to have pictures of the accident. After all, this was London in summer and there were American tourists everywhere. I picked one person to send me photos because she lived in Philadelphia, which was closest to me of the group. Of course, that was  pretty stupid as whoever might have sent me pictures would do so by mail, and it didn't matter where they lived, but keep in mind I was just run over. Anyway, she snapped a picture of me. For some reason, I covered my smashed camera, possibly thinking that the sight of it might offend someone who looked at it. Again, I was just run over, so . . . .
And HRM, you wonder? He was sitting on the curb. His motorcycle was lying in the street and would clearly need major repairs, if it could even be fixed. Don’t ask me how, but I came out of it better than he and his bike did. Perhaps it was because I relaxed at the last moment and definitely my backpack saved me from greater injury. Probably just lucky. It’s one of my 9 lives though (a post for another day). No one was crowding around him asking him how he felt. Given that he could have just stopped his cycle, public sentiment was on my side. I didn’t feel bad for him and eventually walked away without speaking.
About a half hour later my leg started to feel not so good. I rolled my jeans leg up and pulled off my shoe and sock. As far as I could tell, the only damage I received was a tiny dime sized dot – a little bruise – on the lower left portion of my instep and I had a little bang on my shin. I can't recall if there was any blood. Okay, I can handle this, I thought.

A little later, with all the adrenaline gone, I was in a spot of pain. I limped to my hostel, which I called Ye Old Fleabag Motel, where I shared a room with 7 or 8 drunks. This was not a posh place. I didn’t have a lot of money for this trip, and my airfare used up most of it. Ye Old Fleabag Motel cost me 35 dollars for a week. Get it? Even though I stayed only 5 days, it was a bargain.

Sharing a room with these young men, who seemed to be living there, was an experience. They would talk almost all night. I remember one very entertaining fellow, pissed out of his gourd on radiator hooch, saying to another roomate, “I’ve seen your eyes so red Michelangelo couldn’t paint it.” This was about 4 a.m. and despite the pain I was in I cracked up out loud. I doubt he made it up, but it was funny.

As I found out the next morning, he was quite the humorous fellow. We were all sitting in the breakfast room, and he was at his table repeating over and over “I wonder what we are having for breakfast. I wonder what we are having for breakfast.” Then breakfast came and he shouted. “Oh, boy, toast and beans, my favorite!” It may have been his favorite but all I could eat was the toast and there are few things I can't eat. I also noticed the tea was extraordinarily delicious. I know I asked the brand, but I forget now what it was. In case you don't find that so funny, the next day, when we sat for breakfast, he started in again. “I wonder what we are having for breakfast. I wonder . . . Oh, boy, toast and beans, my favorite!" He was pretty funny. Probably a millionaire industrial magnate now.

One night there I was lying in bed sleeping on my back. The head of my bed backed up to a window. I woke to the sight of a body climbing in the window over my head. He looked down and said “Shhh.” I know I should have been frightened. I know he might have been there for a nick. But, I didn’t think so. I thought he was one of the boys and got home too late for the front door. So, I went back to sleep. It’s astonishing the things you can do when you are young.

On my last day there I notice that I couldn’t find my plane tickets which had been sitting on a little table with my books and other stuff. I figured whoever cleaned the room had thought it was garbage and thrown it out. Going on a search through every garbage can I could find, I came upon it ripped up into dozens of pieces in the trash can in the loo. I scooped it up and put the remains in my pocket. Now, I know, dear reader, that doesn’t sound like much of an adventure. Just wait.

I couldn’t really walk very well after my accident. Fortunately, my boss’s daughter was in London and I was able to hang out for a couple of days with her and her friend whose uncle lived there and had a car. But, after that I was on my own. I even spent a day limping around Oxford, grimacing every step, yet having the best time of my life.

Before I was run over that first day I had met an old woman while walking to Kew Gardens, an amazing arboretum even more beautiful than Long Island’s Planting Field Arboretum, my prior favorite. She was in her 80’s if I recall. She insisted I come with her to her friend’s house on the way, another old woman she told me had been a film star in the early days of movies. Delia somebody or other. Can’t really remember and there was no imdb.com at the time, so I never found out what she was in. Anyway, my friend walked the rest of the way with me to the Gardens. She told me that her dream was to get on the supersonic Concorde and fly to America but her doctors said she wasn’t allowed. One day, she was going to do it anyway. I wonder.

After my boss’s daughter left I met a businessman perhaps 10 years older than me. I told him that I was not impressed with the food in London. Years earlier I had met some British folks in America and they told me they liked to come to the U.S. because the food was so much better. Now I understood. My new friend insisted I didn’t go to the right places and he took me to dinner that night at a fancy steak house. He was delighted with the meal and asked me what I thought. I’m proud to tell you I lied to his face. Diplomacy, you know.

I’m not doing a traditional travelogue here. If you want to know what to see in London, send me your email address. But, the churches, particularly St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Martins-in-the-Fields, Kew Gardens, Speaker’s Corner and Oxford stand out in my head.

I left Britain and flew to Copenhagen, Denmark on British Airways. You remember my ripped up ticket? So, there I am going through Danish customs. The customs officer asks me for my return ticket out of the country. I was actually going to other countries first and flying out of Amsterdam, but I pulled out of my pocket the heap of papers that had once been my ticket home from Holland and smiled. Why would they care?

Apparently, they did. I was unaware that when you go to a foreign country they often want to know you have a way to leave their country. That makes sense, but I had never really traveled like this before and I had no idea. He looked quizzically at my scraps of paper and soon I found myself being escorted by their customs police. Okay, what could they do to me? I found myself in a little room. It wasn’t a cell, but it had no windows either. It was where they put people who they were going to evict from the country while they figured out what plane you were getting on (and paying for). I and a kid from Algeria were stuck there. I was not happy I was being sent back, but I try to roll with the punches and I decided to make this an adventure.  Unfortunately, I had not eaten breakfast and I had a headache.

Now, the Algerian fellow, he had the same problem I did, only worse. First, I was just flying back to England, which wasn't all that far. He was going to have to wait there until there was a flight to Algeria, which wouldn't be quite so quick and was a much longer flight. Also, he didn’t speak Danish or English. He only spoke French. That meant, the only one he could talk to was - me. I had only my very poorly learned high school French. Surprisingly, as bad of a student as I was, I have found several times in Europe I could converse with other French speakers so long as it wasn’t their first language. However, it was his first language, so I just did the best I could. He had worse problems.

After about an hour there, with my good mood rapidly fading, the door opened, and a pilot walked in. He was smiling and called me out of the room. I said good-bye to my poor Algerian friend, thinking he would fare only a little worse than me. The pilot turned out to be my pilot from British Airways. For some reason  he ended up with my shredded ticket. And, like a jigsaw puzzle, he had pieced it together. I was staying in Denmark. As I thanked him he said to me “The Danish can be a little heavy to dance with.”

I don’t recall if I had to take a train or a bus into Copenhagen but I remember getting off something. There were people all around. They were really good looking too for the most part. Many of them were holding hands, much more frequently than you see Americans do. Most of them were in big groups, but everyone was at least with one other person (I am telling you that the four days or so I was in Denmark, I saw not one other person like myself – alone). And, some of them were singing. I have to stop here and say – I’m not kidding - some of them were singing. I remembered instantly the marvelous movie, Hans Christian Anderson, starring Danny Kaye, my pick for the most all around talented performer ever (at least in my lifetime). It was, in fact, Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen.

My headache went away instantly and I was in love with the city. And that was before I got to Tivoli Gardens, the most beautiful, warm, fun amusement park I have ever seen. It was not at all high tech like Disney World, but it didn't matter. If you are young and it is not on your destination list, and it is probably not, you might just consider it someday. I have traveled many places by myself and do not get lonely easily (now, with cell phones and email, of course, it is virtually impossible unless you are a sociopath, but there was no such thing at the time). But, I admit for an hour or so in the ebullient fun-filled amusement park I felt a little lonely that I had no one to share it with. I met a young American woman, and I thought we might have hit it off, but her friends did not approve of me and it ended before it got started. How could anyone not like a bushy haired crooked jawed limping American male like me?

I stayed in someone’s house there, just a room with a bath.  I looked at my leg one day as I lay in that bath nursing it. The little dot on my instep had grown. The black and blue now went from my lower instep beginning where the little bruise had been and ran almost to my knee. And there really was no blue anymore. It was black and I was pretty sure I saw some green. “You’re going to lose your leg, you idiot,” I thought. But, I had come to Europe to walk and look at stuff and I wasn’t about to let some doctor put me in a cast. Bad judgment, I know, but I was 26 and having a spectacular time.

As I headed to Sweden by Ferry, I stopped off first at Kronborg Castle on the Danish coast – the scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is one of the few places I’ve ever taken a formal tour. The dungeons were fun, but the most remarkable thing was a mesmerizing cracked stone statue of the Danish national hero, Holger Danske, a Viking who was sleeping in a chair. The story goes that he fell asleep forever but would awake whenever Denmark needed him. Thus, in WWII, the underground was named after him. Lots of other stuff too as you see his name everywhere there. After the tour was over, I went up to the English speaking guide and said, “I love that statue. How old is it?”  I figured it had to be three or four hundred years old. He answered very matter of factly. “Last year. It was a gift from America.”

Sweden is a story I really can’t tell here as I didn't do much but chase girls. I know this will sound like bragging, but for the only time in my life, I felt sought after. Turns out, it had nothing to do with me. I had brown hair and was American, and, apparently, that worked well in Sweden, as I've learned from some other travelers. At least at the time. Who knows now. Suffice to say, after I left Sweden 4 days later, I had seen nothing except the town of Helsingborg that I had landed in (which was celebrating its 900 year birthday that year). A young woman escorted me back to Denmark and I vowed to myself no more girls while I was traveling. It wasn’t why I came to Europe. But, I want to repeat something to you young men out there that I was told in the late 70s by a college professor in a comparative religion class. “Young men," he said, "you must go to Sweden before you get married.” I doubt a professor would dare say that nowadays, but he was dead serious. So am I.

The one story I can leave you with is that I invented a saying in Sweden. Well, not exactly invented. I was with a group of people who had explained to me that they didn’t really work because in Sweden you are not allowed to be poor. And, without making a living, they resided in a much nicer place than I did in America, and I worked my arsel off. Anyway, we were talking the first day I was with them and for some reason I said, “Piece of cake.” They nearly fell down laughing. There is no such expression in Sweden, or there wasn’t until then. If there is now, I accidentally started it. In Swedish it sounded something like ein bate calkye, which cracked them up again as they tried to teach it to me. Oh, and a nurse I met there told me she could feel a bone chip in my shin. It turned out she was wrong (I got an x-ray when I went home). It was just a terrible bruise, but, this is why one goes to American doctors.

In Denmark for one more day, I spent most of it at Tivoli Gardens and then went by train and ferry to Amsterdam overnight. I had a traveling companion in the train by the name of Helge. Not Helga, he explained, which is a girl’s name. But, Helge (maybe the Danish is Holger). Helge spoke 6 languages besides English (If I remember it was Norwegian, German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish, but, let’s face it, they aren’t all that different from each other) and was going to be a tour guide or something like that. When we got to Amsterdam, with its beautiful canals, tall canal houses with impossibly steep staircases and its awe inspiring museums, he asked me if I would like to share a room for one night to save money. I’m not good at saying no, and he was a pleasant guy, so we did. Even though I had to share a bed with him, which isn't real comfortable, it was better than a room full of drunks.

Walking around the town, Helge asked me if I minded if we went to the red light district because in Norway, unlike Sweden, there was no pornography. I told him it wasn’t hard to find in America, but I didn’t mind as long as it wasn’t for too long. We looked at the incredibly ugly prostitutes in the windows. At his request (I swear) we went to a porno movie (I fell asleep) and then a live sex show (I fell asleep again). If you wanted to, you could have a private meeting with the star of the show afterwards, for a fee, of course. She was, at least, very attractive. Not for me, but there was a group there from Italy and I'm pretty sure someone got lucky. I've been in two red light districts in my life (the other one in Turkey). I left both being temporarily repulsed by sex.

There is one part of the story I cannot tell you. No, nothing sexual happened, you pigs. But along that line. You'll have to wonder and maybe some day I'll write about it, but I doubt it. But, I can tell you this. After I parted with Helge who left in the morning before I got up, I was standing around a tram station on my way to Haarlem. The trams ran on electricity. They don’t have tracks like we do, just little rails in the ground that you can’t even trip over. Everyone just stands around and waits for the virtually silent trams to arrive. I stood there a bit, then I walked to the other side of the tracks, and then I just leisurely wandered about.

All of a sudden, I felt a hand on the back of my collar and I was yanked a few feet into the crowd. I looked around to see who did it when I realized, whoever had, saved my life. I had wandered right onto the tracks and was about to get run over. I’ll never know who saved a second of my 9 lives on one trip.

I was intending, dear reader, to cover all my trips to Europe in this single post, but, I have exceeded the time and space I allot to this every week on my first trip, and it will have to wait until another time. Too bad. I think you might have enjoyed the time I was hanging off the rampart of a castle by my legs overlooking a boulder strewn beach on the edge of Portugal just to take a picture and couldn't get back up, or the time I started the war that broke up Yugoslavia, or the time I was interrogated by Boris Becker (I suppose it was a look alike) near the Monastery of Melk in Austria, or . . . .

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bush v. Gore - partisan paradigm and still dividing

A week or two ago I read a commentary by David Limbaugh, Rush's big brother and a successful conservative author himself. He started his article by remembering how the Democrats tried to steal the 2000 election. I commented on the website that this was the usual partisanship; that both sides had behaved  hypocritically and that Mr. Limbaugh was no different than Keith Olbermann, one a conservative and one a  liberal, but both tribal in nature. That set a bunch of commenters off who left angry responses to me (this was a conservative site, so you guess what they thought) but I had to go somewhere that day and couldn't respond right away. By the time I got back hours later hundreds of opinions had buried my comment and there was no point in replying. Just as well, because there is only so much I will right write in a comment but here, on America's most popular anti-partisan site beginning with the letters d-h-e, I can write as much as I like about Bush v. Gore. I do have lots to say about it, even if partisans of all stripes will probably object.

My problem usually is, not ideology, but that people who have never read the cases or studied it will have firm opinions simply based on the fact that they are on one side or the other. But, even if they read deeply, it wouldn't matter. I presume David Limbaugh read the cases, but, if I could bet heavily on what his position would be on any given political issue, I would make a lot of money. Or, Keith Olbermann, for that matter.

This 2000 Presidential election provided a fascinating battle in the courts between two candidates, President George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore, which highlights exactly this point. It was one of the high points of partisan behavior in our country where nothing mattered but which side won and which lost the presidency.

Actually, it did not take a genius to know who was going to win. With a conservative majority in the Florida legislature and the United States Supreme Court, the Democrats, with only the largely Democrat Florida Supreme Court in their pocket was outflanked and outranked. In all honesty, despite the media's insistence that the country couldn't take the dispute, most people I spoke with handled it very well and knew it would be resolved sooner or later Only the most partisan people I knew were deeply troubled.

Although often portrayed otherwise in the media, it must be stated that it became quite difficult to argue that the Supreme Court decided the election as of about a year after their decision. An unofficial manual recount of all Florida votes at the behest of a consortium of media outlets including The New York Times revealed that in almost any set of conditions used, Bush won the election by a few votes, out of millions cast. Although a recount of all votes in Florida would have made Gore the winner by a different small amount, he did not request that happen. He only requested that four counties be manually recounted. That was his fatal error.

Gore supporters do point to other factors: the famous butterfly ballot mistake which gave a couple of thousand likely Gore voters to conservative Pat Buchanan (ironically, the badly designed ballot was the creation of a Democrat); the controversial deletion of numerous eligible voters incorrectly deemed “felons” as eligible voters (which I have never written about, but may well have been deliberate), and the counting of late ballots from overseas military personnel (to which, ultimately, Gore did not object). It is impossible to precisely determine how changing these factors would have affected the counting, but there is good reason to believe it would have put Gore safely ahead. However, Bush supporters also argued that the early incorrect call by the television media for Gore caused many likely Bush voters in the western “panhandle” of Florida not to vote. All these concerns are speculative, and do not concern the cases discussed here, but they are worth mentioning.

These cases are also controversial for other reasons, not least because of the court’s temporary injunction, staying the recount on December 9 while time was running out on Gore. The purported reason according to Justice Scalia was to prevent irreparable harm so that the Supreme Court could make a decision. Others argue, of course, that with time running out, staying the counting did precisely the opposite, making certain that there could be no other decision but for Bush (well, Bush has said that Scalia is one of his favorite Justices). That would be my opinion. A few years ago, the author of a hagiography on Scalia entitled Scalia Dissents, who argued that Scalia was the only Justice suitable for the chief justice position once Rehnquist retired, conceded in a question and answer session after a speech that this had been in fact Scalia’s lowest moment as a judge, and was not justifiable. Numerous other Republican or conservative scholars, authors, and law professors have agreed. It is fair to wonder, of course, what they would have said, had the unofficial “media” recount come out differently, and Gore had “won”.

In the first case that came up, Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board (2000), the Supreme Court’s role was to determine whether to undo the decision that the Florida Supreme Court had made which appeared to favor Gore. Florida’s high court had permitted a recount after the deadline set by law and had set aside Florida’s Republican Secretary of State, Kathleen Harris’ decision not to permit late returns to be counted. As you probably know, this was all complicated by the fact that Florida’s Governor was none other than George Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush. He formally stepped out of any decision making role. Of course, it cannot be determined what, if any, behind the scene’s role he may have played, intentionally or otherwise, or, if the mere fact that he was governor consciously or unconsciously affected those beholden to him.

The day following the Presidential election (November 8th), the Division of Elections reported that Bush received 1,784 more votes than Gore. An automatic recount occurred pursuant to law due to the small margin of victory, and a smaller victory was still had by Bush after it was completed. Also pursuant to law, Gore submitted written requests for manual recounts to the canvassing board of four counties: Volusia, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade -- all Democrat heavy counties.

A battle ensued as to whether the Secretary of State could reject amended returns from the four counties, after she determined that they did not meet the criteria previously published by her in order to do so. Gore sought an injunction so that she could not certify the results. The lower court determined that she had acted reasonably within her discretion. The Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction and entered an order enjoining the Secretary and the Elections Canvassing Commission from finally certifying the results of the election and declaring a winner until further order of that court.

They then quickly issued a more final decision (November 21). They interpreted the Florida Election Law’s technical discrepancy between a machine return and a sample manual recount as justifying a manual recount. They also reconciled conflicts in Florida's election law language which alternately mandated that the secretary “shall ignor[e]" late election returns or "may ... ignor[e]" such returns, as meaning she “may” ignore them. Relying on Florida’s statutory “right to vote,” the court used its equitable powers and directed the Secretary to count returns made prior to November 26, five days later than statutorily required. Both holdings favored Gore.

When the Bush team sought to have it reviewed by the Supreme Court, their opponents argued that it was not proper for the high court to hear them, as the issues concerned only state law. In a per curium decision (meaning it was issued by the court as a unit as opposed to by an individual or several justices) the United States Supreme Court determined that although normally it would defer to a state court decision concerning state rules, it was appropriate for them to step in here as this case involved presidential electors, which was a national issue.

Further, the meaning of the Florida Supreme Court holding was unclear to the Court. There was an issue as to whether a court could circumscribe the legislature’s right to determine how electors are chosen, including time deadlines, and another issue as to whether the Florida Supreme Court could issue an order which prevented the election from being completed prior to the time the Florida legislature had ordained in order for it to comply with a federal law which provided a “safe harbor” date for State election results to be counted.

The Supreme Court vacated the Florida Supreme Court decision and sent it back for another decision “not inconsistent with this opinion”. Of course, time was quickly running out for Gore.

The matter was soon again before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore (2000) after the Florida Supreme Court reconsidered and then reinstated its extended time deadline. This time the issues were whether the Florida Supreme Court violated Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution by essentially making new election law, and whether the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution were being violated.

Here the case mostly concerned whether the four counties’ use of different standards to do manual recounts, or no standards at all, violated equal protection. It should be noted that the court stated that this case was one of a kind and should not be used as a precedent for deciding future cases.

In Florida, the public had voted by punching little cutouts, called “chads”, with a sharp object. Sometimes though, the punch out was not completed and new terms entered our vocabulary: “hanging chads,” where two corners of the chad remained attached to the punch card, “dangling chads,” where only one corner remained intact, and even “dimpled chads,” where only a dent was made in the chad and all four corners were intact. Which of these should count as a vote and which discarded?

The evidence was quite clear that the counties each used a different standard to count these votes, and sometimes switched their standard during the recounting. It was reported that in one district three board members applied three different standards.

The Supreme Court’s decision points out that there technically is no right of citizens to vote in presidential elections (shocking, isn’t it?). The Constitution clearly leaves that up to each State’s legislature (Article II, section 1), upon which authority legislatures may even select the electors themselves. However, once the right is given, then equal protection applies, and similarly situated persons (voters) must be treated the same under the the law. Although the States could take back the right if they wanted to by legislation, I wouldn’t count on it, as the politicians involved would soon be looking for other jobs.

Under Florida law, an official counting votes is charged with trying to determine the voter’s intent. The majority of the Supreme Court had no problem with that concept as long as there was no equal protection problem.

In rendering its decision, the court relied on prior cases from the 1960s which had held that a State cannot have a voting system which gives more weight to voters in one area (usually less populous) of the jurisdiction than another. That seems only reasonable.

The controversy began to arise with the fact that the majority did not have a problem with different local municipalities using different standards from each other on its initial count, but they did when there was a statewide recount. In that case, they held, there must be only one standard way to count. It is certainly fair to ask - if there is an equal protection problem with a recount, why isn't it there with the original count? Pragmatically speaking, it is possible that the majority carved out this exception, because, had it not, every single state might have had to redo its system to make its procedure’s statewide. It would also mean that all presidential elections ever held would have likely violated equal protection.

Although it was clearly impossible for Florida to resolve this problem before the “safe harbor” date of December 12, 2000, the court again reversed the Florida Supreme Court and sent it back down again for a new order consistent with their directives.

Chief Justice Rehnquist concurred with the majority decision, adding that due to the federal nature of the election and the Constitutional provision granting the power to determine the method of selecting the electors to the State legislatures, a State court could not change the structure, particularly if the State legislature chose to take advantage of the federal “safe harbor” statute. “Surely when the Florida Legislature empowered the courts of the State to grant ‘appropriate’ relief, it must have meant relief that would have become final by the cut-off date of [the safe harbor deadline]”.

This opinion was countered by Justice Stevens, in dissent, who argued that the Supreme Court improperly interfered with a state issue. He suggested that the federal safe harbor rules were merely to provide the federal government with a way to determine what slate of electors to utilize if a State had sent more than one (as has happened once, and votes were counted that were certified after the deadline). The safe harbor, he wrote, provided no limitations on the state as to when to certify results. Thus, if there was an equal protection problem, the courts could have merely ordered remedial proceedings as to how to count the votes.

Stevens saw no federal question and would not have had the court take the case at all. The Florida Supreme Court, he argued, made no substantive changes to the law, only procedural ones, and in doing so, followed the Florida legislature’s mandate to determine the intent of the voters and leave no vote uncounted.

He ended his dissent with this sad commentary:

“What must underlie petitioners' entire federal assault on the Florida election procedures is an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed. Otherwise, their position is wholly without merit. The endorsement of that position by the majority of this Court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land. It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today's decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

Maybe Steven’s pained commentary was correct. The Court’s equal protection argument was immediately assailed from many quarters. In making an equal protection argument, certainly Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, who usually had a narrow view of that clause, seemed to have forgotten their own preferences, which would deny an equal protection claim where there was no intent to discriminate (how would the vote counters know which candidate would be favored by any particular standard - are Gore or Bush supporters more likely to improperly punch a card?) Moreover, it is difficult to see, as Stevens argued, how equal protection can apply here, when the same standardless voting is permitted throughout the country. Generally speaking, he might have also asked, aren’t local rules favored by conservatives?

Something more might be amiss. Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz, wrote in Supreme Injustice: How the the High Court Hijacked Election 2000:

"The end result was that a large number of voters who cast proper votes under Florida law but whose votes were not counted were denied their ... right to vote for president in order to ensure that the votes of others would not be diluted by the improper inclusion of ballots that might be invalid... This is the most perverse misuse of the equal protection clause I have seen in my forty years as a lawyer."

Arguably, of course, the votes were counted. This was a hand recount, following the automatic recount.

Even the scholarly Court of Appeals Justice and author, Richard A. Posner, who concluded in his book, Breaking the Deadlock, that Bush should have won on Article II grounds (it was the legislature’s prerogative to decide how the electors were chosen, not the Court’s), could not justify the equal protection argument.

Again, it is no surprise that Bush won this contest. The Republican majority Florida legislature was poised to pass new laws which would have given Bush the electors if the Florida Supreme Court ruling was upheld. No one can doubt that Jeb Bush would have signed a law favorable to his brother. Kathleen Harris, the Florida Secretary of State, was Florida’s Republican campaign manager and her rulings clearly favored Bush.

However, the Democrats appeared to be equally partisan. Consider this. The Democratic majority Florida Supreme Court holdings “happened” to help the Democrat candidate. On the Supreme Court, the entire liberal block dissented. Even odder, the conservatives argued for federal intervention, normally anathema to them according to conservative philosophy and the liberals insisted on state sovereignty, contrary to their usual playbook. Could this case have been more partisan? It really isn’t that surprising, as the Terry Schiavo matter since should have persuaded you that both parties or political movements easily cross that line whenever it suits them. Partisanship almost always trumps ideology.

Perhaps this election farce’s best feature is underscoring why judicial appointments are so enormously important and hard fought. Cases are often decided for purely political reasons. One new judge on a panel can change the tenure of a court for decades. It may have happened with the ascension of the relatively conservative Sam Alito to the Bench, replacing the more moderate Justice O'Connor. 

Should this case convince us that Supreme Court decisions are always politically decided? I don’t think so. Most Supreme Court decisions are not. Controversial ones, however, often are. And, of course, however rare, sometimes the Justices will surprise us, just when we least expect it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Political update for November, 2010

That was one hell of an exciting election.

2010 Elections.

Let’s start with the election. Seems like my predictions were relatively accurate in both houses, but, let’s face it, I had a lot of help. Ann Coulter pointed out that Charles Krauthammer’s predictions just before the election matched realclearpolitics.com average exactly. And I certainly didn’t exactly examine 435 house races myself, although I did better than many. I looked at a bunch of polls, watched a bunch of debates, put my finger in the wind as to who was motivated and who resigned, and decided that those experts who were picking something between a 60 and 70 seat Republican advantage were probably closest. The Senate I figured out for myself, but, so did almost everyone else. Wasn’t hard.

And, as rarely happens, I got my wish too. I wanted the Republicans to win the House and to nearly win the Senate. I wouldn’t normally care if they won both houses, but I just don’t want to see impeachment nonsense for two years, and Democrat control of the Senate prevents that and also means that if he has to make an appointment, there can't be as much political nonsense. You can’t trust either party with power. I hope we never have one party have the presidency and the two houses together at the same time in my lifetime, again. Good luck to me, of course.

I watched President Obama’s speech and press conference after the election. He was humble, but I think he missed some of the point of the body slam Democrats received. Particularly, his notion that it is his core function to create jobs and fix the economy has troubled many. I like the following Lincoln quote, which you don’t see all that often:

“This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men---to lift artificial weights from all shoulders---to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all---to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.”

While Lincoln can also be criticized for his economic ideas (See Thomas DiLorenzo's books for that) this notion is the good model. I would refine it thus - government should guarantee us a republican form of government, due process, equal protection under the law and an equal playing field. It should provide for our defense. Almost everything else, unless listed in Article 1, section 8 of the constitution should be done by the states or the private sector (best) all subject to the constitution. The necessary and proper clause should have reasonable limitations. We should not retreat further from the great experiment.

While President Obama claims he did act out of necessity and it was a temporary, I disagree. The notion of too big to fail is a new one. I’ve argued Hayek to you before here (11/13/08, for one). If you give the people the feeling that there is no law which cannot be changed after the fact, then they will not behave as if there is law. Moral hazards, so often bandied about, are real. It led to the gruesome collapse of the real estate market and I still think there is another very large shoe to drop.

But, to some degree, President Obama’s perspective is that of almost all presidents and candidates. For all the flaws of the founders, they believed, at least in the abstract, that we can’t create a utopia, and should leave men to govern themselves and conduct their own affairs. Modern politicians don't really beleive that.

There is a competing theory, and it has its supporters and its own promise. But, as I intend to write on political philosophy more in the next few weeks, I will leave this topic for now.

Sarah and Mitt and the future of the Republican Party

I’ve been arguing with Republicans lately. They should be feeling their oats, of course, but you have to wonder if they have learned anything from when liberals thought they conquered America forever in 2008.

Did liberals actually think this or am I just going by anecdotal evidence? Let me quote someone who is barely liberal. Take a look at Chuck Todd. I actually don’t know his politics, as he tries to report objectively and seems embarrassed when hosts like Keith Olbermann do their thing, but it seems to me he is more comfortable with left than right. I wouldn’t swear to it though. I do know he knows a lot about politics, more than probably anyone at the network other than perhaps Pat Buchanan, the token conservative. He appears on NBC and mostly on MSNBC, the cable news channel which went from moderate to the FoxNews of the left and then beyond it (they no longer hide their agenda as of a month or so ago). I recognize that liberals believe Fox is worse and conservatives think that MSNBC is, and it is really not worth debating.

Mr. Todd came out with a fairly interesting book soon after the election called How Barack Obama Won. After showing how the president trounced McCain in almost every demographic category other than white evangelicals (and even there Sen. McCain lost ground to President Bush), he wrote:

“The building blocks for a political realignment are clearly in place. The Democratic Party’s advantages in fast-growing states and fast-growing demographics indicate the possibility the party could go on a run that mirrors the Republican success story from 1980 to 2004."

- - -

“[M]aybe the floor of the Democratic Party has risen to a point where the party’s ability to forge a majority is a lot easier right now than it is for the Republican Party.”

- - -

“As the exit poll and the election results suggest, the Republican Party is in danger of becoming a Southern and rural party and nothing more. The party’s slow drain of support in the suburbs and its ideological shift away from its pre-Reagan moderate Midwestern and New England roots have cost the party big-time.”

It seemed to make sense at the time, but could he have been more wrong? But, like I said, I don’t believe he is a died in the wool liberal. I believe he is a moderate who leans left because of his job. However, like most good political writers, he left himself an out -

“Republicans can always hope the Democrats overreach with their political power; it’s something all political parties eventually do when they achieve the status that the Democrats now have, which is control of both houses of Congress and the presidency. But Obama’s campaign team turned governing team doesn’t look like a gang that will shoot itself in the foot often. And for the GOP, rebuilding its party can’t start with hoping the other guys self-destruct; it starts with getting its act together state by state, county by county, demographic group by demographic group.”

He got it right, but he didn’t think it would happen. They did shoot themselves in the foot with stimulus and health care, in particular. And the tea parties did the organizing, state by state . . . .

Now that the election is won and the Republicans have the motivation and momentum, will they make the same mistake? Probably. I’m more cynical of political parties than I am of winning the lottery. The Republican congressional leaders, who are not really tea partiers, are actually playing it cautiously, and aren’t dancing with joy. Future Speaker of the House Boehner got it right in post-election speech when he said that it wasn’t time to celebrate.

When I read conservative pundits, listen to right wing radio, and read the comments of conservatives online, I get the opposite feeling. Many of them believe the won because real Americans saw the light, just as liberals felt just two short years ago. Others don’t believe that but don’t care. They believe as does Rush Limbaugh that there should not be compromise. And he carries a lot of weight (pun not intended).

There were oodles of lessons for liberals and Democrats in this, the most exciting election in my lifetime, but there are lessons for conservatives and Republicans too. Sharron Angle, who had the easiest job among all tea partiers, dethroning the poster boy for big spending, cram it down your throat socialism – Harry Reid. He represented the antithesis of everything the majority of the electorate was against. His favorability ratings were abysmal. Yet he won going away. Why? Because Angle seemed a little bit weird to people, a little bit extreme. Her comments regarding the second amendment scared voters away in enough droves so that he danced through the finish line.

Voters in Delaware felt the same way about Christine O’Donnell. No, I don’t think anyone but the most extreme liberals really cared that she had once dated a witch when a teenager, just as Kentucky voters did not care about Aqua-Buddha. They did care that she talks like a bubblehead, virtually a valley girl, even when she is right. People are serious about who they send to the Senate, more so even than they are about the House. Of course, one thing about her is for certain. She is now a conservative celebrity who should thank Bill Maher for trashing her – he made her famous.

Of course, when I say “people” and “voters” I am really talking about independents. I am an independent. The best I can do to describe myself is a moderate independent who leans libertarian (but doesn’t wear an aluminum foil hat). Of course, many people I know who are very much of the left or the right call themselves moderates and independents. But, as I have often written here, being a moderate is not really about ideology. It is a relative thing. What is conservative and what is liberal changes a bit over time. As often pointed out, JFK might be considered a conservative right now. For some reason I don’t completely understand, conservatives are proud to call themselves liberals, the way many Irish are proud when we stereotype that they drink, but liberals are much more reluctant to call themselves liberals or progressives, even where they hate Sarah Palin and like or love Barack Obama.

On the other hand, politically speaking, also for reasons I don’t understand, liberals are okay with the existence of independents, who they hope will vote with them, but conservatives cannot tolerate independents and some even claim there is no such thing – if you don’t agree with them you are a liberal/progressive/statist.

That’s all generalizations, of course. I call myself a moderate independent because of the rapidity of which liberals call me a conservative (or a Nazi or right wing nut) and conservatives call me a liberal (or a Communist or extreme liberal). I even heard I was an extreme libertarian this week, which isn’t true either. Of course, the truth is, it doesn’t matter what people think I am or what I think they are – debate is debate; but what really matters is who you vote for on each separate election and if you financially support politicians, that matters too.

So, here’s the real question – Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney? Obviously, we will have two years to banter about that, but it looks like those are the most likely choices at this particular point in time.

Tea partiers and many other conservatives want Sarah Palin. Tactically, I think they are wrong. As I put it to someone this morning - getting who you really want doesn’t matter - winning the election matters. They don’t seem to care.

Here’s something they should consider (and, I know, things like polls change). Barack Obama loses in polls to generic Republicans. Yet, he beats every likely Republican contender in a head to head poll. Mitt Romney he barely beats. I think 1 point. But, Sarah Palin he trounces by a large margin. Why?

Same reason Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle lost. Independents aren’t impressed by her. I’m not. I don’t want her for president. Of course, I didn’t want President Obama either and we got him. But independents have increased since just 2008. People are finally, finally coming around to my way of thinking that both parties, both ideologies, must be kept from having too much power – even if we agree or disagree more with one side.

But, we all know, of course, that there are tons of people out there who love Sarah Palin, or, if they don’t love her, just like what she stands for. When do you ever hear anyone on the right talk about Mitt Romney? Almost never. She was a king and queen maker in this election, and if she doesn’t run, will likely be again in ’12. Who did Romney endorse? I can’t tell you one person. All the excitement is with her. And, she has the tea partiers on her side and that sure means something.

Iowa is going to love her, but New Hampshire – I’m not so sure. Stay tuned.

Israel

I think I’ve been saying something about Israel/Palestine in every political post lately. I won’t repeat myself, but just say that although I support Israel for many reasons, I have lost patience with them and am offended by their continued building in Jerusalem and that they will not get out of the West Bank.
But, I have to admit, it was brilliant of Prime Minister Netanyahu, when the question of whether to suspend building again came up, to tell the Palestinian Authority that if they acknowledged that Israel was a Jewish state, they would stop the building. Naturally, they said no, not that they were wise to do so. Of course, it is no excuse to keep building, but it just shows that the Palestinians are also hopelessly caught up in this ridiculous dance. It helps keep the Israelis off my naughty list.

I’ve already written her my plan to end the more than half century year war, but we’ll pass over it today (pun intended).

See you next week.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Eve of election predictions

Just for fun, last minute predictions.

Republicans picks up 62 seats in the house, gaining majority with 240 seats. There is no filibuster in the house so this gives them control. They only need 40.

Democrats maintain the senate - D-50  R-48  I-2 (R's pick-up 13; the 2 independents already caucus with Democrats, so they actually would have 52-38 in that scenario).

If I'm wrong, then max 50-50 in senate, including two independents, which still gives the Democrats the advantage in straight up votes due to having the VP (Biden) on their side, but they will have an agreement regarding the split in committees as they have done before.

If Republicans pick up the house, expect jubilation and mockery reminiscent of jubilation in '08 among Democrats.

My recommendation to the Republicans: Show humility and affirm your commitment to responsible government. It is not a mandate at all. It is a repudiation of two much power by anyone, same as it was in 2008 (or, as P. J. O'Rourke wrote - it's a restraining order).  Tea partiers, remember why you are there or you might be thrown out in 2 years. If you try and start a social revolution, you will be rejected by all but your base and you will not get very far anyway.

My recommendation to the Democrats: Accept defeat with grace. You still have a shot at 2012, because despite his plummeting numbers - he's the president - what do you expect?  The surest way to increase his chances is for the Republicans to go after him personally and for him to handle it well. He still beats every known Republican in head on head polling.

Reasoning for recommendations: Although they have no center and no direction en masse, independents now control the elections and you will not impress them (me) if you dance around like an NFLer who just scored a touchdown. Independents don't care about either side, but even we have visceral reactions to hubris. They want a stable economy and to be left alone as much as possible.

Notice to both parties: liberals and conservatives: It's still the economy, stupid.

Second notice to both parties, liberals and conservatives: You all deserve each other.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .