Robert Stein 1924-2014

Contact Information

If anyone has comments, questions or condolences, please feel free to send a private message to the family at robertstein@optonline.net.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Dating Sarah Palin

Advanced age has its privileges, one of them to fantasize publicly about asking out a married woman without fear of being beaten up for it. So with apologies to my loved ones (and Todd, of course), my dream date for New Year's Eve is bubbly Sarah Palin.

Imagine being greeted at the door, corsage in hand, with congratulations for dodging death panels and some snappy remark like "How's that hopey changey thing working out for you?"

We could start making the rounds of consolation parties, first for Joe Miller at one of those clubby Wasila saloons, where as Jason Jones of the Daily Show has said, "A stranger is just a friend you haven't thrown up on yet."

Then on to Christine O'Donnell's do where the canapes, contrary to nasty Joe Biden rumors, will not be on the taxpayers and, time permitting, hoisting a drink with those other Palin-backed losers who have enough millions of their own to pick up the tab.

All this gadding around would work up an appetite for one of those famous Palin desserts like "s’mores," made with marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers, “in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.”

But eating and drinking alone do not a great date make. The real treat would be Palin's linguistic gems, which could later turn up on Facebook. Modestly, she attributes her contribution of the year to the English language, "refudiate," to a typo, but those who have followed her verbal adventures know better. Half the fun of being with her is the surprise of not knowing what she will say next.

To those churls who prefer Barack Obama's way with words, imagine a 2012 campaign without Sarah Palin's sparkle. That would be as dreary as a date with one of your old professors.

I wouldn't dream of asking him out to see in the New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bloggers at Their Best

Generosity, a fading trait these days, comes back in the holiday season, with the revival of a tradition started by the late Al Weigel, who wrote brilliantly under the nom de plume of Jon Swift and was relentless in promoting the work of new bloggers across the political spectrum.

The reviver is Batocchio, who writes the Vagabond Scholar, where you can find what bloggers (including this one) consider their best posts of the year to comprise a fascinating mosaic of commentary on what we have been living through.

In this time of renewal, it also seems fitting to send best wishes for the new year to Joe Gandelman, who allows me to be part of his community of sanity on The Moderate Voice, a tireless band of resisters to online vitriol and viciousness.

To them all, may generosity make a real comeback in American life and give us less to blog about in the coming months.

Jon Stewart, Journalist?

Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Jon Stewart. In a 30-paragraph "news analysis," the New York Times puts the Daily Show host into the journalism pantheon, omitting only Woodward and Bernstein.

Well, yes but... As a comedian, satirist and, not incidentally, media critic, Stewart is a gifted figure, but lines are being blurred here in a way that tells much about our times and which, if he were not on holiday hiatus, Stewart himself might be the first to mock.

The Times and its professorial interviewees label as "advocacy journalism" the Daily Show's last program of the year, which Stewart devoted to outrage at Congress' failure to provide health care for 9/11 responders. Advocacy, certainly. Journalism, not so clear.

In a time when hatred of the media is rising, America's leading newspaper may be damning Stewart with the faint praise of drawing him into its profession. What Stewart more closely resembles, if it can be defined, is something more--the 21st century version of a figure that goes back to Will Rogers and, before he starting writing novels, Mark Twain--the comedic commentator who keeps Americans sane by deflating the political powers-that-be.

On a less exalted level, there was Abraham Lincoln's favorite, Artemus Ward, and in the 1960s, Mort Sahl, who inspired Woody Allen to take up comedy. Sahl would appear onstage or on camera will a rolled-up newspaper and verbally harpoon Presidents from JFK to Reagan.

Calling Stewart a pop social critic could be closer to the mark, but that might lump him with gasbags he so deftly deflates--the cable TV "commentators" who purportedly analyze the news but pour the ketchup of ideology over it and obscure rather than reveal its essence.

Stewart's enraged advocacy for 9/11 police and firemen certainly played a part in getting Congress to act, but it is no compliment to tag him with what Paddy Chayevsky satirized in "Network" by having the loony anchorman billed as "the mad prophet of the airwaves" before being brought down.

His predecessor Will Rogers may have summed up Stewart's social value best when he said, ""Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke."

It may hurt when we laugh, but it helps.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What We Lost in the Aughts

At the turn of a millennium, the odometer of our lives clicked into years with more than one zero in them, setting off a decade of losses:

Economy, in a meltdown with budget surpluses becoming record deficits. National security, two wars--one pointless, the other unending. Political life, in the dumpster. Social well-being, off the charts with fear, distrust, animus and anxiety for the future.

All this can't be entirely blamed on Presidents and politicians. We picked them, so they must represent our collective wisdom--or lack of it. (Was Pogo right?)

A high-schooler I know is writing an essay on the most significant event of the decade. My choice is 9/11, which changed our perception of getting up every morning and feeling safe in the world, bringing political and social transformations, all for the worse.

Without 9/11, Bush's Neo-Cons could not have taken us into a war that did nothing for our security, drained blood and treasure, and damaged our standing in the world.

Along with foreign-policy hubris were eight years of bipartisan domestic neglect, weakening regulation of a financial system gone wild with greed that drew over-entitled but unqualified individuals into home ownership, resold their inevitable failure and brought the economy to its knees.

To deal with all this, two years ago we elected a President of intelligence and good will (while congratulating ourselves for ending centuries of racial inequality) and tasked him with cleaning up a monstrous mess in face of a disloyal opposition bent only on his failure at the nation's expense.

Under the circumstances, Barack Obama may be better than we deserved to get, his political tribulations of the past two years notwithstanding. Fault him for unrealistic hopes of GOP cooperation and for stubborn persistence with health care reform, leading to iffy distant benefits but sparking Tea Party rage at what could be sold as a "government takeover."

For someone even his detractors saw as a shrewd young politician, Obama's failures have been more the result of tactical mistakes rather than policy judgments.

In this season of renewal, the President is getting an unexpected gift of reviving political approval for lame duck achievements, but an American minus decade is ending with questions about whether the next will be much better.

We can only hope and try.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Take Heaven, Take Peace, Take Joy"

Christmas always recalls Eric Sevareid, one of the 20th century's best journalists and a writer with gifts far beyond reporting the news. I published an essay of his twice in different decades in different magazines.

Herewith, excerpts:

"Christmas offers us peace in one hand but in the other it carries a sword. The peace it offers is the love we felt in childhood and may still feel again if we have lived our lives as we were instructed in our early days. The sword is our conscience, glittering as sharply as the icicles on the Christmas tree.

"Christmas is an anticipation for the children; it is memory for most adults. It fastens the grip of truth upon us and will not let us go. Implacably it demands of us that we regard our work and what we have made of our lives, our country and our world.

"By the glow of the soft lights, by the sound of child voices in song, piercing us with an almost unendurable purity, we are obliged to remember that our first and only commandment was to love, and we have not truly obeyed; that men were so commanded not to improve them, but to save them from themselves, and we have not truly understood.

"Of course, we say as the moment of truth approaches, 'Christmas is really for the children.' Suffer the little children to take this burden from us.

"Perhaps, were we to know the realities of our own deepest motivations, we would conclude that this is why we have made of the Christmas occasion an immensely complicated business. It is the sheer busyness of Christmas, not so much its commercialization, that has changed its forms and rituals. Perhaps we have lost not only the art of simplicity but the desire for it as well. But not, I think, in our deepest beings. And as long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, then Christmas is.

"The sophisticated may belittle the almost assembly-line transaction of the printed Christmas cards that swamp our parlors in piles and windows. It is impersonal, yes, as compared with the old-fashioned family trek down the street for greetings at the door. But each little square or rectangular printed card is a signal of human recognition, a reassurance that we live in part, at least, of their consciousness, however small a part, and so are not alone...

"We cannot live, in our families, in our nations or in the world, if we cannot open our hearts. I do not know how this compressed, elbowing and suspicious world is to go on in peace if this cannot be done. I see no ultimate security in any 'balance of power' or 'balance of terror' peace. We know instinctively that in the end only a peace through a balance of kindness will preserve us...

"There are a few words I read every time the Christmas season comes around...[perhaps] written by Fra Giovanni in the year 1513...which sometimes I think of as the most perfect passage in our language...

"'There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give you, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven. No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within reach, is joy. Take joy. And so, at this Christmastime, I greet you with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.'"

From Sevareid, long gone now, and myself, wishes to all for a day of heaven, peace and joy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Right Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas all through a House

Not a Speaker was stirring, not even the souse;

The Census was hung by the chimney with care,

In the hopes that 2012 would soon be there;

The Repubs were nestled all smug in their beds.

Visions of Tea Party plums danced in their heads;

And DeMint in his 'kerchief and Coburn in his cap


Tried to settle down for a long winter's nap,

When on the White House lawn rose such a clatter

Obama sprang from bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window he flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the bodies of new-fallen Dems

Gave the lustre of mid-day to Pelosi's hems,

When, what to his wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and weird,

He knew in a moment it must be Harry Reid.

More rapid than earmarks his coursers they came,

And he whistled, shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Schumer! now, Boxer! now, Burris and Bennett!

On, Specter! on Dodd! comers, goers of the Senate!


To the top with START! to the top with Don't Tell!

Now vote away! vote away! vote away like Hell!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the Capitol the Senators they flew,

With a sleigh full of votes, some Republicans too.

And then, in a twinkling, Barack heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As he drew in his head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney Santa Reid came with a bound.

He was dressed in GOP skins, from head to foot,

Clothes all tarnished with tradeoffs and soot;

A bundle of scalps he had flung on his back,

And looked like a lobbyist opening his pack.

His eyes they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

Cheeks like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

Beard of his chin as white as Olympia Snowe;

The stump of a pipe held tight in his teeth,

Smoke of McConnell circled up like a wreath;

No broad face or little round belly,

To shake when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He wasn't chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

But Barack laughed to see him, in spite of himself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave him to know no filibusters to dread;

Santa spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

Filled the roll calls, then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

Sprang to his sleigh, gave his team a high-five,

Away they all flew to see constituents live.

Barack heard a shout, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, Aloha for a good-night."

(Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Middle-of-the-Road GOP Revolt

Sanity has thrown a Hail-Mary pass to close out the year with a surprise upset in the lame-duck Congress, and the heroes are moderate Republicans who sat on the Washington bench all year during the Tea Party rout of all reason.

From DADT repeal to the START treaty and a food-safety bill to medical care for 9/11 responders, barriers come down as traditional GOP lawmakers break through a year of gridlock to send a message to their party and its incoming zealots.

Moderation has not been in the air, but the November election apparently unnerved long-serving Republicans who saw their colleagues thrown out in primaries and began to have visions of a DeMint-Paul-Rubio rampage that would threaten their own job security next time around.

"Harry Reid has eaten our lunch," says Sen. Lindsey Graham, but it's not the hapless Democratic Majority Leader but incoming grinches about to devour everything in sight who drove Scott Brown, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski (after her own near-death experience) to break ranks on DADT and 13 Republican to join in approving the START treaty.

Washington will shut down for the holidays after this outbreak of sanity, with the President showing a sudden surge in approval ratings and likely leaving Mitch McConnell and John Boehner to wonder what went wrong with their just-say-no strategy.

With the end of one-party rule, which turned out to be no-party rule, both Democrats and Republicans will have to make New Year's resolution to start remembering what it was like to have a two-party system.

Any bets on how long that will last?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Recall? Forget It

What would it be like to remember everything that happened to you in detail over the years? This science-fiction premise comes to life on 60 Minutes with people who have been laboratory-tested and diagnosed with "superior autobiographical memory."

This is no parlor trick, watching men and women instantly reach back 20, 30 years or more for a randomly chosen date and bring it back it in verifiable detail--day of the week, weather, news events, their own experiences and the feelings that came with them.

They are being studied at the University of California Irvine by scientists who find bigger temporal lobes (for storing memory) and, perhaps more suggestive, differences in a region deep in the brain involved in skill learning--and obsessive compulsive disorder.

This special state of mind could be useful for salespeople, headwaiters, "Jeopardy" contestants, and in the case of one of them, actress Marilu Henner, for remembering lines in scripts, but may otherwise be a mixed blessing.

“Most have called it a gift," one woman has said, "but I call it a burden. I run my entire life through my head every day and it drives me crazy!"

For most of us, selective memory may be the true gift that, until or unless Alzheimer's strikes, helps sort out the meaningful from the mental trash that fills our days. I can recall a loving aunt who would greet me at eight with kisses and butter cookies, letting me reach into a cake tin for a fistful of swirled circles that turned to sweet vapor on my tongue. But most days as a foot soldier in World War II are best forgotten.

Free associating right along, this new take on how the brain works also brings back Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 thriller, "The 39 Steps," in which a musical hall performer named "Mr. Memory" is used by spies to store secret plans in his head and eventually shot dead for his pains. Seeing it at 13, I fell hopelessly in love with a British beauty named Madeleine Carroll, whom I was lucky enough to encounter later in life.

All this makes for happy remembering but sets me wondering how endless memory would work out for politicians. It would be fine for campaigning, recalling constituents' names and such, but how would it be for someone like John McCain? As he now plays his role as the Angry Old Man in Washington, wouldn't he keep tripping over those days when he was running the Straight Talk Express?

Total recall? Forget about it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Changing Not Hearts or Minds But Habits

As Congress inches toward allowing gay men and women to die openly for their country, the history of American bigotry comes back to an octogenarian who has lived through so much of it:

*A father-in-law who went to medical school in Scotland because American universities had filled their Hebrew quotas.

*My own experience in the 1950s as the first Jew to be hired by George W. Bush's grandfather for his publishing empire.

*The injuries and indignities heaped on "Negroes" until Martin Luther King put his body where his mind and heart were.

*The ridicule endured by Feminists for protesting the status of women as "second-class citizens."

In all this, the victims did not ask to be loved or admired but simply to be treated with the fairness and respect accorded to all Americans.

For the simple truth about fighting bigotry is not to change people's minds and hearts but their habits. Anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny still exist, but between then and now, we have had an African-American in the White House, a Jew running for Vice-President, women on the Supreme Court and in major Cabinet posts.

"There is no rational basis to keep qualified and dedicated gays from serving in the military," Andrew Sullivan now says. "It was confidence in this truth--not assertion of any special identity or special rights--that carried us forward. And the revelation of the actual lives and records of gay service members--all of whom came out of the closet and risked their livelihoods to testify to the truth--has sunk in widely and deeply."

Sadly, like Dixiecrats who walked out of the Democratic Party in 1948 to protest desegregation, their counterpart now is John McCain, the former maverick who is acting out that kind of last-ditch resistance to repealing DADT.

But that barrier will come down, and some visionaries like Maureen Dowd and Jimmy Carter are already blathering about the coming of the first Gay President.

One step at a time, friends, one step at a time.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Year's Biggest Lie

If truth is the first casualty of war, the GOP assault on Obama has produced what a Pulitzer-Prize-winning fact check site calls "The Lie of the Year"--that the President's reform law is "a government takeover" of health care.

The Oscar goes to Frank Luntz, who deserves permanent possession of the truth-twisting trophy. Whenever John Boehner or Mitch McConnell says "job-killing" about any Democratic proposal, you can be sure that Luntz is the ventriloquist behind them providing lethal language, just as he persuaded Republicans earlier to keep calling the estate tax a "death tax."

We are in the era of government-by-slogans, as an academic study finds that, during the election campaign this year, voters received "substantial levels of misinformation" from TV, with Fox in the lead and MSNBC not far behind, most of it from reporting what politicians say. And more and more of what they say is intended to push emotional buttons rather than clarify issues. (Sarah Palin "death panels," anyone?)

Although Republicans specialize in the practice, the trend is bipartisan. A Wikileaks dump shows the Cuban government upset over Michael Moore's "Sicko" for "blatant misrepresentation" of their health care system as wonderful, about as truthful as the accusations of "Obamacare" as a government takeover.

Luntz, who tests panels to discover which words and phrases evoke emotional reactions, is an admirer of Orwell, without seeming to understand that prophet's disgust with the perversion of language.

Lying for a living must eventually addle the brain.

Update: Hypocrisy, the offspring of lies, is thriving in this atmosphere, as Paul Krugman grades a prime performance of obfuscation in the debate over tax cuts and deficits.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Greatest Generation Icon Gone

With the death of Bob Feller at 92, another reminder of America's glory days fades away.

Not only was he one of the best pitchers in baseball history, Feller might just as well have been from another species compared to today's multi-million-dollar, steroid-taking superstars who bounce from one team to another in search of ever more money and fame.

Feller spent his entire career in Cleveland (pace LeBron), interrupted only by World War II, and lived in a suburb there for the rest of his life.

Are there any major league ball players in Iraq or Afghanistan? Two days after Pearl Harbor, Feller enlisted in the Navy, eventually serving as a gunnery officer on an aircraft carrier in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

Four years away from baseball in his prime cost him an estimated 100 victories, but only last year he said, "I'm not a hero. Heroes seldom return from wars. Survivors return from wars. But I'm very proud of my military career. And I don't miss those 100 wins whatsoever."

As a Bronx kid, I admired Feller grudgingly for what he did to our New York Yankees, but his passing recalls one of our own All-Star pitchers, Vernon "Lefty" Gomez. Feller's obits quote Gomez about batting against him (no DH then) and telling an umpire about a third strike, "That last one sounded a little low."

Nobody matched Feller, but Lefty should be remembered not only for his pitching but his offbeat humor. On a foggy day, he struck a match before coming to bat against him. "What's the idea?" asked the umpire. "Do you think it will help you see Feller's fast one?" "No," Gomez answered. "I just want to make sure he can see me!"

In Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, Gomez's plaque reads: "Noted for his wit and his fastball, as he was fast with a quip and a pitch."

If Feller's passing brings back memories of Gomez, there's no doubt that he wouldn't have minded sharing a little of the spotlight with him. Modesty was an admirable trait for the Greatest Generation.

9/11 Comedy Crisis

If anger is the source of all humor, in his last Daily Show of the year, Jon Stewart pulled back the curtain, skipped the jokes and showed us pure rage about Congress' failure to enact medical care for 9/11 responders in the lame-duck session.

Instead of the usual lineup of fake bloviators, Stewart hosted a panel of police and firemen suffering from toxic effects of working at Ground Zero, who offered living testimony as commentary on Jon Kyl's complaint about having to work so close to Christmas and Mitch McConnell's tears at his colleague Judd Gregg's departure from the Senate.

No jokes about hypocrisy could match Stewart's rage over the treatment of those who work--and expose themselves to danger--365 days a year compared to the posturing of politicians who normally ooze sympathy for them but refuse to give their health care priority over extending tax cuts for millionaires.

Stewart's anger persisted into an interview with Mike Huckabee, who was there to promote a children's Christmas book but found himself defending Republicans and Fox News for insensitivity.

The former Arkansas governor and minister, now a Fox employee with hopes for the 2012 GOP nomination, who once wrote a book of diet advice after losing 100 pounds, looked like a beached whale being harpooned.

If Huckabee had any bipartisan jokes ready for the encounter, they will have to wait for next year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

America's Most Unwanted War

As another equivocating report on Afghanistan emerges, a new poll shows the conflict has reached depths of public disapproval seen only in the last days of Vietnam:

"Public dissatisfaction with the war, now the nation's longest, has spiked by 7 points just since July. Given its costs vs. its benefits, only 34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the war's been worth fighting, down by 9 points to a new low, by a sizable margin."

Yet the best a White House review can offer a year after sending 30,000 more troops into harm's way is "fragile" but "reversible" gains in an effort that has cost 500 American lives, and counting, since then.

This is accompanied by the repeated promise of a "responsible reduction" in forces next July, but the review tapdances around the elephant in the room--Pakistan:

“(D)enial of extremist safe havens will require greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. Furthermore, the denial of extremist safe havens cannot be achieved with military means alone, but must continue to be advanced by effective development strategies.”

Translation: We can keep killing insurgents in Afghanistan, but they will be quickly replaced, unless we can buy off Pakistan to stop the flow, something we have been unable to do for almost a decade now.

Meanwhile, an anonymous White House official says, "The real debate will occur when we have to determine how big the July '11 drawdown will be," as an unnamed military source acknowledges "some very significant differences of opinion."

In the days before 24/7 cable and the Internet, 60 percent of Americans finally decided that Vietnam was "a mistake," as they feel about Afghanistan now.

Twenty years later, that opinion was held by seven out of ten. When Americans look back on Afghanistan from that distance, how will they feel?

As for now, polls, casualty lists and "reviews" will keep giving us numbers and, amid domestic economic upheaval, all that bleeding and dying will seem very far away.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Present--and Future--for Obama

During this worst year in memory, Americans failed Barack Obama as much as he disappointed us and, for the nation's future, the best present we can give ourselves is a gift of good will for an embattled President.

As he prepares to revamp his White House, Obama is still bedeviled by indignities no Leader of the Free World should bear. In a Maryland courtroom, there is a delivery of those Yuletide monstrosities nobody wants, nutty and hard to swallow, as fruitcake Birthers gather to support an Army officer's refusal to report to Afghanistan because he hasn't seen the President's birth certificate.

In Washington, there is similar reality as the lowest-rated Congress in history turns the tax deal for the superrich into a grab bag of pork, a reflection of how seriously lawmakers are devoted to cutting the deficit and stimulating the economy.

In foreign affairs, Tea Party clown Jim DeMint is holding up a vote on the START treaty to make the world safer by eating up lame-duck time with a forced reading of the bill.

To govern in partnership with buffoons like these, a President would have to be supernaturally wise, patient and manipulative to get anything done, and Obama has often conceded his own imperfections.

But compared to Congress, he is a political paragon and Democrats who disparage him now for failing to be a magician do so at their own risk--and the nation's.

It all brings back that old typing exercise, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party." And women and children as well, or what will be coming out of our keyboards for the new year will be gibberish of the worst kind.

Happy holidays to all, including Obama haters, and an open invitation to pour out your worst.

Update: The President gets one gift as the Senate votes to go ahead and debate the START treaty. Good to learn that trying to avoid blowing up the planet takes priority over Tea Party obstructionism.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ike's Call for Sanity

Jon Stewart and President Eisenhower make an odd couple, but they have a similar message for today's politicians.

As the Daily Show host does an enraged rant about Congressional hypocrisy in caring more about tax cuts for the rich than the health of 9/11 responders, Ike's voice comes from the past, warning about falling "into bitter, unreconcilable factions which in other nations have paralyzed the democratic process."

Fifty years after his farewell address, newly discovered papers reveal that, in addition to a legendary warning about growing power of the "military-industrial complex," Eisenhower considered an admonition against Congressional paralysis by political divisions, followed by the lesson he learned from leading a divided government:

"Despite our differences, we worked together, and the business of the nation went forward, and the fact that it did so is in large measure a credit to the wisdom, forbearance, and sense of duty displayed by the Congress."

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell may want to consider such advice from the Republican president who brought egomaniacal commanders together for a World War II victory and, as President, left office respected by Americans across the political spectrum.

Half a century ago, it was possible for a lifelong Democrat to fall in love with Eisenhower for his palpable decency, honor and adherence to true American values.

If he were still with us, Ike would get a rousing reception from Jon Stewart's audience as he offered a bit of advice to the Tea Party, "Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels--men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion."

In his lifetime, Eisenhower was wooed by both Republicans and Democrats to run as their candidate for the White House. Would he be today?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Obama (1), Biden (2), Boehner (3)

Presidential succession changes next month and Washington, obsessed as always with power, is trying to get a handle on who's waiting in the wings, ready to do what to whom.

The New York Times does a takeout on "Biden's Bigger Role," noting that the Vice-President's "role in the back-channel compromise with Republicans on tax cuts has engendered some resentment, along with questions about whether he will encourage further accommodation with Republicans or serve as a liberal counterweight to those in the White House who are advocating a move to the center."

At the same time, 60 Minutes spotlights House Speaker-to-be John Boehner, who will replace Nancy Pelosi as third in line, and will be nobody's liberal counterweight to anything.

Questioned by Leslie Stahl, Boehner treats "compromise" as a dirty word and refuses to say it, preferring "working together" and "finding common ground."

Even with the election over, Boehner is looking over his shoulder, as if the Tea Party had a gun to his head. "When you say the word 'compromise'" he says, "a lot of Americans look up and go, 'Uh-oh, they're gonna sell me out.'"

Asked if the tax deal was "worth the $900 billion added to the deficit," Boehner's answer is to parrot the campaign talking point that "it will create jobs and help our economy," advocating with no explanation a tax cut for the richest Americans over Obama's stimulus bill, which he violently opposed, and which, GOP attacks to the contrary, actually pumped money into the economy.

His only emotional moment in the interview is to complain that the President showed him "disrespect" by calling him a hostage-taker on the tax bill.

With Boehner in the Congressional saddle, the Vice President's enhanced role in working across the aisle will be the neatest trick of the year, even though as one legislator notes, “Biden brings everything that Rahm Emanuel brings, but the major difference is everyone likes Joe Biden.”

But likeability is a light counterweight to intransigence and, judging from Boehner's stance, less likely to lead to common ground than super-stalement in the Congressional sausage factory.

Yet Biden is sure to bring one trait to the table--loyalty to the President. At a Democrats' raucous gripe session last week, Biden reportedly erupted, “There’s no goddamned way I’m going to stand here and talk about the president like that.”

As long as he is around, nobody will.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ghosts of Wikileaks Past

Casting for a 21st century take on "A Christmas Carol" is coming along nicely. Julian Assange, the Scrooge who doesn't hoard but gives away everybody else's stuff, is in chains. And right on schedule, enter Richard Nixon, the ghost of Christmas Past, to rattle on with "Bah, Humbugs" about everyone in sight.

Unlike the contents of Assange's Santa bag, the Nixon stuff is being spilled by his own Presidential Library in the latest dump of self-recorded maundering by the only Unindicted Coconspirator ever to occupy the Oval Office.

Lest Nixon and Assange seem an unlikely Scrooge and Marley, they share a basic quality over the decades--paranoia, a simmering distrust and hatred of a world of "they," those others who secretly rule the universe and make life impossible for right-thinking heroic figures such as themselves.

During the Nixon years, I lived on the other side of a Connecticut hillside from Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, a crackpot psychiatrist who was later revealed to be the President's secret shrink. When military helicopters came swooping in, neighbors would shrug and say, "Nixon must be flipping out again."

The slow leak of his tapes confirms that jokey surmise--in spades--as Nixon rants in private, the only American president of Quaker (Friends) parentage who ended up compiling a secret Enemies List.

Now we have his wisdom on racial and ethnic traits. After John F. Kennedy had cleaned his clock in 1960, Nixon reveals that "the Irish can't drink...they get mean. Virtually every Irish I've known gets mean when he drinks. It's sort of a natural trait."

Decades after Martin Luther King had inspired a Civil Rights Act by his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon confides that it will take 500 years for African-Americans to achieve equality because, even though "they are strong physically and some of them are smart...they have to be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that's the only thing that's going to do it."

As for Jews and Italian-Americans, don't ask.

With these reminders that we once had a Nutsy Fagan in the Oval Office for five years, the Assange movement of "hacktivism" that will make him Time's "Person of the Year" seems more benign.

So let's enjoy the season of sharing. Ho, ho, ho.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Bill and Bernie Reruns

Americans' remote controls morph into time machines as they change channels to find Bill Clinton at the White House podium holding forth on Bush tax cuts (among other topics) and Bernie Sanders on C-Span filibustering against them like Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" on TCM.

Washington is a farce like "The Office" these days or a giant reality show with participants contorting themselves every which way to stay on camera.

Whatever is going on is show business, not government. In the season finale of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," the corrupt political boss muses about "how much sin you can live with." Click, and here is Harry Reid, just after the Senate votes down health aid for 9/11 workers, pushing to allow his Nevada constituents to bilk computer users with legalized online poker.

Meanwhile, the President is retreating into holiday cheer after doing his Lewis Black rant on politicians Left and Right. The reviews were not scintillating.

House Democrats are reduced to profanity, while Peggy Noonan observes, "We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn't much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday's press conference."

But, as with all TV shows, it's best not to underestimate the ingenuity of script writers. On the season ender of another HBO original, "In Treatment," the protagonist who has been struggling with psychiatric problems of his patients for three seasons, walks away, totally disillusioned with what we have been watching him do all that time.

No matter, the odds are that he will be back to wrestle with futility again, as will the stars of the biggest TV show of them all in Washington.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Gore Presidency--Again

Four years and 2700 posts ago, this blog imagined that the 2000 election had turned out differently and offered a tongue-in-cheek critique of "President Gore, Lame Duck."

Now, on the tenth anniversary of the national disaster that gave us George W. Bush, New York Magazine enlists five fantasists, including Glenn Beck, who with the benefit of hindsight posit such lurid developments as the 9/11 destruction of the White House, Saddam Hussein dying of a heart attack, a disappointed W. drinking again, Bill Clinton, divorced by Hillary, marrying Carla Bruni and Mitt Romney, elected in 2008, solving "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with separate gay brigades and gay squadrons.

Such developments are fascinating to contemplate, but I still prefer my vision of Al Gore bumbling through two relatively uneventful terms.

You can read it here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Obama Finds Reagan's Pony

The tax deal is virtually done but the piquant side effect is how quickly an abject surrender has been converted into a "second stimulus."

One of Barack Obama's underrated gifts is to act out Ronald Reagan's favorite joke about the optimistic boy who, faced with a pile of dung, jumps in and roots around, while enthusing, "There must be a pony in here somewhere!"

He did it with the health care debacle and is now repeating the performance in the lame-duck disaster.

This time, the President has sidetracked economists into an argument over just how much the economy will benefit from the face-saving concessions wrested from a GOP victory that will add $4 trillion to the deficit in the next decade.

Now Mark Zandi of Moody's is predicting that the deal "will add a lot to growth in the first half of next year, when the recovery will be at its most vulnerable. It really seals the deal for the recovery evolving into a self-sustaining economic expansion" as Paul Krugman quibbles over the size and duration of the "jump-start."

Meanwhile, the President is warning Congressional allies that they will be plunging the country into "a double-dip recession" if they fail to mount the pony he found and ratify his deal with the Republicans. Somewhere in Oval Office heaven, Reagan must be laughing his head off at seeing his joke come to such hilarious life.

But what may be funnier still is the sight of the oddest couple in America, Sarah Palin and Ralph Nader, joining in criticism of Obama just as America prepares for its annual Christmas showing of "It's a Wonderful Life."

So it is, if you don't weaken and work hard to keep your sense of humor.

Update: The ghost of Reagan won't help much in the President's current situation, but he is getting a visit from another former president who can give him advice about getting out of hot water. In facing a fractious Congress, Bill Clinton knows all about explaining what the meaning of "is" is and moving on to the next year of a turbulent term.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards

The last chapter of a stormy public life ends and, rather than write her obituary in the sadness of death, the most fitting tribute may be the one she fashioned for herself a year and a half ago, as posted here on April 30, 2009:

History closed the books on John Edwards' tawdry career a year ago, but his long-suffering wife is adding a footnote to the story of the negligence lawyer who served one term in the Senate, spent more time than that running for president as a champion of the poor while raking in money from a hedge fund and was eventually unmasked as a cheating husband by a tabloid newspaper.

In a forthcoming book titled "Resilience," Elizabeth Edwards now discloses she knew of her husband's infidelity a year before it became public, soon after he announced his candidacy.

"I cried and screamed, I went to the bathroom and threw up," she writes, according to an advance copy.

"Long-suffering" is inadequate to describe a woman who, after own successful career as a lawyer, lost her 16-year-old son in a car crash and was diagnosed with cancer that went into remission only to return as she supported her unfaithful husband's second bid for the presidency.

Even now, with this new book, Elizabeth Edwards chooses once again to forfeit her privacy and, while expressing her anger, hold on to a stand-by-your-man outlook.

"I lie in bed," she writes, "circles under my eyes, my sparse hair sticking in too many directions, and he looks at me as if I am the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. It matters."

It's hard not to feel for her pain and admire her spirit while wishing she had had better luck in love and life.

RIP, Elizabeth Edwards.

"Everyone Belongs to Everyone Else"

Between Mark Zuckerberg and Julian Assange, the prophecies in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" are coming to pass long before the year 2540 in which the novel is set.

The two have combined to speed up the timetable for the death of privacy reflected in Huxley's dystopian slogan, "Everyone belongs to everyone else."

Coming from opposite ends of an over-sharing universe, Zuckerberg the billionaire and Assange, now an accused sex offender, have been diminishing individual reticence and institutional confidentiality to the vanishing point.

Everywhere in this culture, from politics to entertainment to private behavior, a new kind of person is emerging--assertive, opinionated, self-centered, ruthless and yet, although in constant interraction with others, perhaps more emotionally isolated than cave dwellers.

Even "romantic" comedies are less about human love than mutual use and manipulation. Judd Apatow, anyone?

Emerson and Thoreau are long gone, but their ethos of American individualism now seems like a message from another planet.

"All our progress is an unfolding," said Emerson, "like a vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit."

"How vain it is to sit down to write," Thoreau added, "when you have not stood up to live."

No problem now. Forget about thinking and/or actually living. All stray thoughts are created equal and meant to be shared instantly on Facebook. All information, no matter how damaging, is fair game for Wikileaks.

Zuckerberg gets a prime-time commercial on "60 Minutes," with only light questioning about Facebook's privacy problems, but it is Assange who is more faithfully living out Huxley's premonitions.

As governments try to figure out how to prosecute him for damaging international affairs, the UK has him locked up for living out a basic implication of "Everyone belongs to everyone else"--complete sexual freedom.

The irony is that Assange may first be punished for doing to a few women what he has been doing on a grand scale to governments all over the world.

Update: In this topsy-turvy new world, Assange is now a martyr in the eyes of sympathetic hackers who attack sites deemed hostile to Wikileaks and set off what could escalate into an anarchic cyberwar. "Brave New World" ends with a mass orgy. Is this where all this is heading?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"Yes We Can" to "We Can't Say No"

Barack Obama has spent two years playing tennis with nobody on the other side of the net. Now, after caving in on the Bush tax cuts, it's time to ask: What part of n-o don't you understand when you hear it and what part of it do you find impossible to pronounce?

"The deal," reports the New York Times, "appeared to resolve the first major standoff since the midterm elections between the White House and newly empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill. But it also highlighted the strains Mr. Obama faces in his own party as he navigates between a desire to get things done and a retreat from his own positions and the principles of many liberals."

Getting things done was an understandable goal in the early months of economic crisis, but the phrase has become a euphemism for giving in to an intractable opposition at the expense of butchering any legislation at hand, culminating in the health care debacle that helped spawn the Tea Party.

Bipartisanship was a noble goal after his inauguration, but this brilliant President has been slow to learn that you can't negotiate with nobody and that the bully pulpit allows you to do the bullying, not the other way around.

From the start, there were questions about Obama's "toughness." During the campaign, Maureen Dowd had asked him, "Do you worry that you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little.”

“When I get into a tussle,” he answered, “I want it to be over something real, not something manufactured. If someone wants to get in an argument with me, let’s argue about how we’re going to fix the health care system or where we need to go on Iraq.”

Back then, I explained Obama this way: "Critics of all persuasions will have to learn to live with the style of a President who doesn't puff himself up as the Decider but actually goes about the hard work of making decisions by consensus if he can but unilaterally when he must."

Now I doubt that judgment. As Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in the Washington Post: "This isn't about conventional politics. This is simply about the fate and future of our country. This president has a clear and imperative historic mandate. If he shirks it, he risks more than failing to get reelected. He risks a failed presidency."

Time is running out.

Update: The President spends a press conference defending himself against his own supporters rather than confronting those who are hijacking his presidency.

Calling the Bush tax cuts for the superrich a "holy grail" for Republicans (an elegant term for ransom), he defends his deal with them, noting that it's "tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostage gets harmed."

But Obama has it backwards. Long before it came to this, he could have thrown down the gauntlet and let McConnell, Boehner et al know that, rather than give in to their intransigence, he would call them out before the American public, which does not support their position, and force them to justify the damage that would follow on January lst if the tax cuts expired.

He could still do that, but the President seems to prefer peevish complaints that his backers ask too much of him rather than engaging his sworn enemies head on.

Invisible Infamy

Sixty nine years ago today, Americans suffered a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that suddenly brought us into a world war that would last less than four years. A year ago, after months of debate, we took a step deeper into a nine-year war with no end in sight.

On December 7, 1941, I was a college student with a part-time job in a hospital maternity ward showing fathers their new babies on the other side of a large picture window. Those babies are on Social Security now, grandparents themselves, some of whom may have lost their fathers in World War II, but most of whose lives are not directly affected by this war compared to the one that started on a "date that will live in Infamy."

That next day, FDR declared that "since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire," promising that "I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us."

But it did--on September 11, 2001. Infamy comes in more subtle forms this century, and fighting it is like flailing at smoke.

Part of remembering Pearl Harbor today will be nostalgia for a time when we could identify our enemies and confront them head on, instead of becoming lost in the thickets of counterinsurgency and having all but those whose lives are at risk and their families even vaguely aware of their sacrifices.

If we ever reach V-Day in this war, will we know it when we see it?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Palin vs JFK on Church and State

In an intellectual mismatch, Sarah Palin is now instructing John F. Kennedy about religion and the presidency by critiquing his classic 1960 speech on church and state.

This gives new meaning to the Catholic fallacy of invincible ignorance, wherein someone "simply refuses to believe an argument, ignoring any evidence given" and is absolved from sin on the basis of pure wooden-headedness.

Nonetheless, there is still a Kennedy to smack down Palin's presumption--JFK's niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has been a lieutenant governor and written a book, "Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Are Mixing God With Politics and Losing Their Way."

She notes that Palin finds JFK's speech "'defensive...in tone and content' and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an 'unequivocal divorce of the two.'

"Palin's argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not."

This exchange brings back Gore Vidal’s 1960 play and later movie, “The Best Man,” in which a former President recalls the old days when politicians “had to pour God over everything like ketchup.”

At a time when Americans were electing their first Catholic President and saying, in effect, that religion is a private matter for those in public life, that line always drew a laugh.

Now the ketchup is flowing again, and nobody is laughing. Leading the pack for the 2012 GOP nomination, Palin aside, are Mike Huckabee, a former minister who doesn't believe in evolution, and Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon who will believe anything that gets him votes.

This oncoming wave of religiosity, as opposed to true faith, is the counterpart of truthiness' relation to truth.

Such a prospect may drive Americans of all faiths, or none, to pray for divine intervention before we all drown in ketchup.

Blackmail, Cave-In, Sellout

How did Barack Obama and a lame-duck Congressional majority manage to lose their power in an impending deal to let Republicans keep tax cuts for the super-rich in return for extending unemployment benefits?

Paul Krugman is not a great political strategist, but he can be trusted on economics, and his case for drawing a line in the sand rather than letting those tax cuts continue, perhaps forever, is compelling:

"America...cannot afford to make those cuts permanent. We’re talking about almost $4 trillion in lost revenue just over the next decade; over the next 75 years, the revenue loss would be more than three times the entire projected Social Security shortfall. So giving in to Republican demands would mean risking a major fiscal crisis--a crisis that could be resolved only by making savage cuts in federal spending.

"And we’re not talking about government programs nobody cares about: the only way to cut spending enough to pay for the Bush tax cuts in the long run would be to dismantle large parts of Social Security and Medicare."

In perhaps his last chance for the next two years, the President is in a position to call the GOP's bluff and let all the Bush tax cuts expire. The ensuing howl would be a wakeup call for thinking Americans who have allowed Tea Party yowling and GOP wall-to-wall naysaying to take over the political debate.

He is unlikely to do it, but this may be Obama's best opportunity to emulate Harry Truman rather than Jimmy Carter.

Give 'em hell, Barack--or at least a taste of political purgatory.

Update: So the President, as expected, makes his deal, giving way on those campaign promises to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the very rich and, to make the GOP even happier, raises the "death tax" to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples. All talk about deficits subsides, but clearly the biggest deficit in Washington now is in the White House, not in dollars but guts.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

America in the Twilight Zone

A weekend session brings out the worst in the nation's supposedly best lawmakers as the Senate rejects two attempts to deal with expiring Bush tax cuts.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill sums up the weirdness: “I feel like I am in the twilight zone. It’s depressing to me that we have gotten to this level of posturing, that they are saying if you do not give people a tax break on their second million, that nobody gets one.”

What's really horrifying is that it's going to get even worse. During today's debate, Lindsay Graham takes a detour to blame the Tea Party for making it hard to frustrate the White House next year.

"The House had a dramatic election. We picked up seats in the Senate," Graham complains. "Some of us thought, maybe we could pick up two or three more, but we made some pretty poor choices when it came to candidates."

Meanwhile, the President continues to take the high road to nowhere, declaring, "We need to redouble our efforts to resolve this impasse--in the next few days. It will require some compromise, but I'm confident that we can get it done."

Trouble is, the other side won't compromise, seeing today's votes as a stunt. "Americans," says GOP Leader Mitch McConnell with a straight face (or as straight a face as McConnell can manage), "don't want to see meaningless theatrics in Congress," overlooking the reality that his party has been doing nothing but that for two years.

For elitists with a shred of optimism for the future, a look at the best-selling political books may shrivel their hopes.

George W. Bush is atop the list followed by Glenn Beck (2), Sarah Palin (3) and Bill O'Reilly (5), with Laura Bush (11) and Condoleeza Rice (12) leading the second tier.

These are the choices of Americans who can presumably read voting with their money. What does it tell us about the rest?

Mayhem in the Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney was a dreamer at heart. The creator of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse had Utopian visions of a town where life would be perfect down to the last blade of grass. It wasn't built until three decades after he died, and now it has been rocked by violence--a SWAT team barricade, a suicide and murder.

It began with euphoria. One evening in late 1966, Disney stopped by my McCalls office for a drink. He could hardly contain himself describing a new addition to Disney World to be called Epcot, an ideal community he had pictured in detail.

The homes would be identical and perfect, there would be rules for everything, and he himself would choose the residents. (I recalled John Leonard once writing that as a teenager he had applied to be a Disney guide, but "I failed the physical, I wasn't blond enough").

After our second drink, I asked a question. "With so much control over everyone, aren't you worried some people might call you Fascist?"

"Oh, well," Disney answered with a wave of the hand, "everything I've ever done was so new it took the public a while to get used to it. But they always come around."

A month later, Walt Disney died, and his successors scrapped the blue-eyed Utopian blueprint and turned Epcot into just another section of the theme park.

But Disney dreams die hard, and in 1995, 4,000 people took part in a lottery for the chance to pay 25 percent over market price for one of the first 500 homes in what one visitor now calls a "‘Stepford Wives’ community. As soon as you drive in, it’s creepy...for people who don’t think anything bad is ever going to happen to them.”

Now, the town of Celebration, a few miles from Disney World in Orlando, has been shocked into the 21st century. After a wave of foreclosures and the shuttering of their movie theater, residents are struggling to keep the original dream alive.

A couple who moved away write that the recent history says "more about society’s enduring fascination with the unobtainable vision of utopia than it does about the town itself. Residents there long ago got over the idea that their home was another ride at the Magic Kingdom. They know that not everyone lives happily ever after, even in the town that Disney built."

But the founder himself would never believe that. If he were still alive, Walt Disney would still be building castles in the air, confident that people "always come around."

Friday, December 03, 2010

No-More-Nice-Guy Now

The President is facing his leadership test sooner than later. As most Democrats in Congress fight back against GOP bullying on Bush tax cuts, the White House should take them head on instead of feebly navigating between what's right (and the American people want) and what a pumped-up band of naysayers can force through.

A primetime appearance or press conference next week could lay down the gauntlet and set the tone for the next two years by rallying the public against the flummery of labeling extension of cuts to those earning under $250,000 as a tax increase for the ultra-rich that will hurt the economy instead of what it is--a substantial and logical step toward reducing deficits that worry everyone.

It's no-more-nice-guy time, not only the right thing to do in terms of policy but politics as well as his own base increasingly questions whether he will "cave" once again, with those like Paul Krugman going so far as saying:

"Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.

"Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse--a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction."

As overwrought as this condemnation may be, it is only a secondary reason for the President to step up. For the rest of Obama's term, the issue will be Republican determination to destroy his presidency at whatever cost to the nation.

Now that they have chosen to strong-arm him on a winnable issue even before taking more power, this is the time to engage them with a Trumanesque feistiness and get some momentum going for the next two years.

Americans are anxious about the economic future, and they want a President who will be out front fighting to make it better rather than caving in to a clueless contrarian Congress.

Time to step up, Mr. President.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What Obama Can Learn From Truman

Facing the second half of his term, the 44th President can learn much from the 33rd. As different as Barack Obama is in philosophy, temperament and style from Harry Truman, he faces similar challenges

But there is one crucial difference: Truman was a bare-knuckles fighter and, as E. J. Dionne puts it, Obama will "soon have to decide whether he wants to be a negotiator or a leader."

It's sad to see John Boehner, of all people, as the one aping Truman by calling Democratic maneuvers on the tax cut "chicken crap." If Obama is above this level of discourse, he has to find his own way of dealing with it.

The larger problem is for the President to get beyond his professorial, open-minded manner and find his fighting voice. Truman overcame abysmal approval ratings in 1948 by railing against a "Do Nothing Congress" in language that reflected his anger and passion for social justice.

As a tutorial in how "Give 'em Hell, Harry" did it, start with excerpts from his acceptance speech at the convention:

"The Republican Party...favors the privileged few and not the common everyday man. Ever since its inception, that party has been under the control of special privilege; and they have completely proved it in the 80th Congress. They proved it by the things they did to the people, and not for them. They proved it by the things they failed to do...

"Now everybody likes to have low taxes, but we must reduce the national debt in times of prosperity. And when tax relief can be given, it ought to go to those who need it most, and not those who need it least, as this Republican rich man's tax bill did when they passed it over my veto on the third try.

"The first one of these was so rotten that they couldn't even stomach it themselves. They finally did send one that was somewhat improved, but it still helps the rich and sticks a knife into the back of the poor..."

In the runup to 2012, Barack Obama must make this same argument to the American people. In his elegant way with words, he can perhaps phrase it with more finesse. But the passion has to be there.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

GOP No-Fly Zone for Lame Ducks

Republican leaders go to the White House for a cozy chat about cooperation, and the next day Mitch McConnell's thank-you note, cosigned by 41 Senate cohorts, promises to obstruct everything but extension of the Bush tax cuts to avoid a "job-killing tax increase" and a return of the "death tax."

All this lethal campaign rhetoric is, of course, cover for GOP extortion of a better deal for the richest Americans and forcing the President to compromise on extending tax cuts that expire December 31st to everyone but those earning over $250,000 a year.

He will have to give way to the extent of raising the bar to $1 million or a convoluted combination of measures that would end up cutting the budget deficit by far less than his proposal.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll shows a divided public over the confusing mathematics of the issue but united by 83% in favor of retaining the tax cuts up to earnings of $250,000 and differing on whether the cap should be raised to $500,000 or $1 million.

All this gives the lie to Republican claims that they are responding to the "mandate" of last month's election.

A Democratic Senate spokesman sums it up succinctly: “If they really cared about creating jobs, they should stop blocking preservation of unemployment insurance, which would create or save hundred of thousands of jobs. Unfortunately this letter is nothing new. Republicans have simply put in writing their political strategy which they have pursued over the last two years: obstruct and delay action on critical matters, and then blame the Democrats for not addressing the needs of the American people.”

Just so but, unless the President finds some way to exert brass-knuckles leadership, the holiday menu in Congress will be roasted lame duck.

Update: The President's unflappability can sometimes be annoying. In the face of all this obstruction, he says, “Nobody wants to see taxes on middle-class families go up starting Jan. 1, and so there’s going to be some lingering politics that have to work themselves out in all the caucuses, Democrat and Republican. But at the end of the day, I think that people of good will can come together.”

Too cool in the face of mindless opposition, Mr. President, much too cool.