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.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

GOP's Latest No-President Move

True to their stance of almost four years, Senate Republicans are again trying to make Barack Obama the Invisible Man of government.

Now they file a lawsuit to invalidate his recess appointments of a director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members of the National Labor Relations Board by claiming “an unprecedented power grab” because they were holding brief pro forma sessions when he made them in January.

Mitch McConnell and his Senate cohort have devoted themselves tirelessly to stonewalling the President on everything and, in their court case, offer a preview of what the next four years would be like if he were reelected without some inroads into the GOP minority.

Their latest move highlights how crucial Senate races are in this election year.

GOP desperation is reflected in a reversal of their decision not to fund their “legitimate rape” candidate Todd Akin in Missouri as well as panic over polling gains by Democrats in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts and elsewhere.

If voters reject his choices, McConnell will have to rethink not only the plan to make Obama a one-term president but keep him impotent to solve any of the nation’s problems in his second.

If voters render that decision, no lawsuits will help him continue to tie the President’s hands.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

America's Dystopia Dream

The day after the President makes a splendid speech at the UN and polls show gains in his quest for reelection, the aged mind marvels at how degraded the American Dream has become.

Barack Obama celebrates international “voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect,” but where are such expressions in our own politics?

In Virginia where GOP officials have to order removal of Presidential images as a witch doctor, caveman and thug?

In Paul Ryan’s campaign, steaming over Mitt Romney’s failure to use brass knuckles such as the would-be VP is brandishing?

In Romney himself, still struggling to distance his hopes from his own disdainful comments about the unworthy 47 percent?

Politics, as the saying goes, has never been beanbag but never before has it been as reflexively mindless as today. Politics hasn’t always stopped at the water’s edge, but now it plunges into incoherent opposition without pausing for breath.

As Obama moves ahead and Congressional races tighten, there is growing hope that America can regain its hope and optimism for the future, but meanwhile there are still too many voices trying to drown them out.

A wake-up call in November would set things right.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Over-Saving Private Ryan

Conservatives complain the Romney people are not “letting Ryan be Ryan” in the campaign while the would-be VP bashes Obama as Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, telling crowds to “turn on the TV and it reminds me of 1979 in Tehran. They’re burning our flags in capitals all around the world. They’re storming our embassies.”

Ryan pushes for “peace through strength” in Ohio, bewailing the shutdown of “the only tank factory we have in America over a budget gimmick,” conveniently overlooking his own record in Congress of forcing automatic defense cuts on the Obama Administration.

In the larger picture of Ryan lies and distortions, such a kerfuffle does not amount to much, but it’s galling in the light of his total lack of foreign policy and military experience, unless you count a college summer job driving the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, a 27-foot-long hot dog atop a convertible.

That’s the closest Ryan ever came to a tank, but it could qualify him for the Michael Dukakis citation for ludicrous campaigning, recalling the photo of the 1988 Democratic candidate in a Snoopy helmet that helped do him in back then.

All this comes as the Romney campaign announces a message change shortly. It’s not likely that Ryan will be the messenger.

Update: Is Ryan trying to parody himself? In Ohio he takes time out from campaigning to buy hunting clothes for his daughter.

"She's hunted with me,” he explains, “but this is the first time she gets to do the hunting herself. She's 10 years old and you can hunt starting at 10. I got her a rifle for Christmas last year and so I'm getting her ready."

For what?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Clinton 2016 Kickoff?

Yesterday Bill Clinton is pushed into conceding that Hillary might make a good candidate for President four years from now.

After insisting he doesn’t know her plans and praising other Democratic hopefuls, he finally admits,

“I know I’m biased, but I think she demonstrated as senator and as secretary of state that she has extraordinary ability, a lot of common sense, a lot of, you know, stick-to-itiveness. She’ll push a rock up a hill as long as it takes to get it up the hill...whatever she decides, I’ll support it.”

Today at the Clinton Global Initiative, the Secretary of State teases the audience with a few words about international income distribution:

“One of the issues that I have been preaching about around the world is collecting taxes in an equitable manner, especially from the elites in every country.

Drawing laughter and applause, she adds, “You know, I’m out of American politics, but it is a fact that around the world, the elites of every country are making money.

“There are rich people everywhere. And yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries. They don’t invest in public schools, public hospitals, in other kinds of development internally.”

At the Global Initiative, both contenders pay Clinton court while Romney jokes about a “Clinton bounce” of his own by just showing up.

With the former President now the star of this year’s campaign and Chelsea contemplating a political career, the Clintons show signs of becoming a dynasty to rival the Kennedys and the Bushes.

60 Minutes' Sad Shadow Debate

It produces an old Monty Pythonesque picture--a one-armed Barack Obama jousting with Mitt Romney on one leg as crippled caricatures of themselves.

In parallel interviews, the candidates are caught in campaign clichés, denying vulnerabilities while trying to avoid further injury.

Asked about the vagueness of his tax reforms and exactly which deductions and exemptions he would eliminate, Romney will say no more than “Congress and I would have to work together.”

The interviewer persists: “And the devil's in the details, though. What are we talking about, the mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction?”

Romney: “The devil's in the details. The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.”

Similarly, the President goes evasive and wishful when asked how he would get Republicans, who have blocked everything he proposes, to make deals in his second term.

“When I first came into office, the head of the Senate Republicans say, ‘My number one priority is making sure President Obama's a one term president,’” he replies. ”My expectation is, my hope is, that that's no longer their number one priority. And I'm hoping that after the smoke clears and the election season's over that that spirit of cooperation comes more to the fore.”

Well, yes. On his campaign plane before the 60 Minutes “debate” is aired, Romney whines to reporters that the President is “trying to fool people into thinking that I think things I don’t,” a difficult task in the light of the GOP contender’s multiple stands on every issue.

Barack Obama tries to avoid appearing whiny but thereby makes it harder for voters to understand why he hasn’t accomplished more in the past four years.

They can both take those attitudes into the first actual debate next week, but will voters get a clearer picture of what’s going on? Or will they see two bleeding Monty Python caricatures ignoring their wounds?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

GOP Voter Fraud Over Voter Fraud

To win reelection, Barack Obama will have to overcome “the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.”

That’s the considered opinion of Elizabeth Drew, whose award-winning credentials on political crime include covering Richard Nixon and Watergate four decades ago.

“This national effort to tilt the 2012 election,” Drew reports, “is being carried out on the pretext that the country’s voting system is under threat from widespread ‘voter fraud.’ The fact that no significant fraud has been found doesn’t deter the people pursuing this plan.

“Myths are convenient in politics. Want to fix an election? No problem. Just make up a story that the other side is trying to rig the election—-and meanwhile try to rig the election. (Jon Stewart recently concluded a searing segment about the imagined voter fraud by saying: ‘Next, leashes for leprechauns.’)"

The Tea Party’s blatant effort to suppress minority voting is fascism with a straight face, after eight states pass Voter ID laws requiring a state-approved document with photograph to register or vote, identification that an estimated 11 percent or over 21 million of American citizens, mostly minority members and poor people, don’t have.

This outrage is so clear that not only Jon Stewart but the season finale of HBO’s “Newsroom” have injected it into the popular culture.

Says Rep. John L. Lewis, who was with Martin Luther King on "Bloody Sunday," the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery:

“I am surprised, shocked and deeply disappointed that there isn't more public protest or condemnation of what has happened in America. People are not being beaten and trampled by horses or tear gassed, people are not being shot and killed. The obstructions are not as obvious, but the effect of what state legislatures and party officials are doing will damage the integrity of our political process for generations to come, if it is not corrected.”

Six months after that bloody march, President Lyndon Johnson signed a landmark civil rights law. Can the Tea Party undo it this year?


Update: In a Fareed Zakara interview, Bill Clinton expresses worries about voter suppression:

“How much will the vote be lessened or reduced by the fact that in Florida, except for four counties, the pre-election voting, the advanced voting's been cut down to eight days and doesn't include the Sunday before the election, which is an arrow aimed straight at the heart of the African-American churches who pull up the church buses on the Sunday before election and take elderly people who have no cars or people who are disabled to the polls so they can vote.

“How much will those things work in Ohio where the legislature and the governor eliminated advanced voting unless the local election council voted for it?...

“Never in my lifetime, nobody's ever done anything quite this blatant.”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Naked Pols: No Place to Hide

Fifty years ago, when an Eisenhower speechwriter wrote a tell-all about his White House time, JFK was disgusted. “I hope,” he told aides, “nobody here is writing that kind of book.” Nobody did.

What would he have made of today’s politicians being bared 24/7, not only by books but tapes, videos, open mics and constant leaks of staff with an eye out for their own futures?

Welcome to the era of naked politics and, if you wonder why we don’t have better people in public office, don’t look much further.

Once long ago, I was asked about running for something. I didn’t hesitate: “No, I’m not shameless enough.” But Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are, as well as the Tea Party toads and Democratic counterparts in their wake.

Back in 2008, Barack Obama was to trying to hold on to his authentic self--a problem he recognized early in the process, telling Tim Russert with a worried smile that his wife and friends thought he was still there behind all the hype and admitting on 60 Minutes that the “attempt to airbrush your life...is exhausting.”

Is the President still there, or we seeing a good man trying to hold on to shreds of his authentic self in a humiliating process?

And, as we congratulate ourselves over the free flow of “information” that feeds our insatiable hunger, who should we blame for the quality of people we get in the process?

If our emperors have no clothes, who stripped them naked?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Romney Rain on Tea Party Parade

In the wake of the 47 percent quake, the ground is moving under Republican Senate and House candidates who only days ago seemed to have a lock on controlling Congress.

The patter of feet scrambling away can be heard in Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut all the way to Nevada as GOP Senate seekers distance themselves from Romney world.

Says Tommy Thompson, who suddenly lost his lead in Wisconsin, “If your standard-bearer for the presidency is not doing well, it’s going to reflect on the down ballot.”

And then some. As the President pulls away in national polling, Romney’s reverse coattails are dusting up Tea Party hopefuls who only days ago seemed certain to gridlock a second Obama term as they hijacked his first.

The Impossible Dream that November might loosen the grip of John Boehner’s and Mitch McConnell’s naysayers is still a long shot, but it’s looking doable.

Who says that Mitt Romney can’t make the hopes and aspirations of some Americans come true?

Update: In a lame attempt to distract attention from the 47 percent onslaught, the Romney campaign does its usually brilliant job by (1) releasing his 2011 taxes in a Friday afternoon dump usually designed to avoid maximum exposure and (2) in a way that has one of his 2008 strategists gasping in disbelief.

Now the debate is shifting from what Romney believes to what he is hiding not only about his taxes but what his tax policies would be if elected.

Democrats should just stand back and let it all happen.

Foxy Grandpa Time for the Race

Send in the good ole boys: Bill Clinton regales Jon Stewart while the GOP longs for a Reagan octogenarian to rescue Romney after the Clint Eastwood debacle.

The Comeback Kid, now 66, basks in Daily Show kudos for his killer convention standup as prelude to plugging Walmart and other friends of his Global Initiative.

The antic mind tries to conjure a future white-haired former President Mitt in that chair decades from now, but the synapses won’t fire up.

Instead, we have Peggy Noonan complaining, “The Romney campaign has to get turned around. This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant ‘rolling calamity.’"

Her solution: 82-year-old James A. Baker, who ran Reagan’s two runs as well as Bush I’s victory and was W’s lawyer in the 2000 Florida recount. Afterward he was with Osama bin Laden’s folks, whom he represented, in Washington on 9/11/01 and later served as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. But then again, nobody wins them all.

Baker, Noonan enthuses, “didn't like hacks, he didn't get their point, and he knew one when he saw one.

“A campaign is a communal exercise. It isn't about individual entrepreneurs. It's people pitching in together, aiming their high talents at one single objective: victory.

Mitt Romney needs to get his head screwed on right in this area. Maybe advice could come from someone in politics who awes him. If that isn't Jim Baker then Mitt Romney's
not awe-able, which is a different kind of problem.”

Clinton and Baker can’t match me in years, but it’s good to see younger folks getting that kind of respect.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mitt Romney, True Believer

It's still amateur night, a youth-encampment campaign of non-pols clueless to the in-fighting and elbowing of a presidential race.

Where are the experienced hands and hardened pros? Even loopy Michele Bachmann for a time had Ed Rollins on board to make her look plausible until nuttiness won out.

But Mitt Romney seems impervious to help. As his 47 percent stumble goes on and on, nobody steps in to limit the damage. The rescue plan consists only of more unvarnished Mitt. Lots of luck with that.

Yet, what his epic lapse reveals is less Romney’s disdain for the underprivileged than what Eisenhower’s favorite philosopher Eric Hoffer called the intense insularity of the True Believer.

"Passionate hatred," he wrote, "can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance."

In imparting his philosophy to other country club True Believers, Romney is on his own mission, oblivious to the 47 percent and more who struggle in lives not cushioned by wealth and privilege in a world where survival, not tax avoidance, is a daily concern.

Americans might take the Bain capitalist more seriously if he showed some understanding of Hoffer’s observation: “There is no greater threat to sanity than the taking of one’s life too seriously. No one will miss us long when we are gone. No one will lose his appetite because we are no more.”

But expecting Mitt Romney to embrace a tragic sense of life may be just too much, like expecting his acolytes to understand why their presidential ship is sinking.

False Balance: Bob Woodward's Obama Bash

Imagine a Watergate rewrite blaming George McGovern for not stopping Nixon’s criminality.

Such false balance emerges as Bob Woodward flogs a new book about last year’s Tea Party-driven debt-ceiling crisis that leads him to indicting Barack Obama’s response.

Woodward describes Republicans, with Eric Cantor undermining his nominal boss John Boehner, as “a brick wall, with a cement wall behind it, with a steel girder behind that.”

The he pivots to a monumental non-sequitur about the President: “But you have to find some way to break through or get around that to solve the big problems.”

Say what? At a time when public perception of Barack Obama is overcoming the caricature Republican zealots have been painting of him for four years, Woodward comes forward with the suggestion that his response to them should have somehow been more tactically agile or slyer or whatever?

With all respect for Woodward’s reportorial skills going back to the days of Deep Throat, an admirer would suggest that his journalism back then benefited from a directness and clarity that let readers make their own judgments about good and evil.

Statesmanlike big think does not suit him nearly as well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Seven Weeks to Save the Country

Beyond Mitt Romney’s slo-mo decline is the crucial contest for America’s soul, a down-ticket struggle to loosen the grip of a feckless Congress that has held the country hostage during Barack Obama’s first term and would again if a treasonous Tea Party grip is not loosened in November.

The picture is not promising. Late projections show Democrats gaining only eight of the 49 seats needed to overcome the edge of John Boehner’s intractable troops.

The Senate prospect is worse, with the darkest scenario showing Republicans poised to take control by as much a margin as 51 to 47.

And yet... In this weird year, many contests are close and still changeable, leaving seven weeks for those who care enough to try to save the country by putting their time and money where their mouths are.

From Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia and Florida to Wisconsin, Missouri and Montana, there are Senate seats that could go either way

Both sides of the political chasm talk about grass-roots democracy, but the true issue is whether enough citizen clout can offset SuperPAC money and change the electoral landscape.

In our time, politics has become a spectator sport. If enough of us can’t rouse ourselves to get into the biggest game of all, there won’t be anyone else to blame for the final score.

Update: For those who have not given up, two new Wisconsin polls offer hope. Since the conventions, the Democratic Senate challenger has seen a 20-point swing to overtake a former Republican governor.

Something is in the air.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Ryan in Romney's 47 Percent?

The latest hoof-in-mouth uproar raises a philosophical question: As Romney divides the country into makers and moochers, into which category does Paul Ryan fall?

As he railed earlier this year against 47 percent of Americans “who are dependent upon government,” did Romney have any notion that his future running mate might fit the description?

Ryan, a former devotee of Ayn Rand, also subscribes to her theory about “looters” and “moochers” who drain society of the wealth created by productive members but his own career raises questions about the divide.

Since leaving college two decades ago, Ryan has been on government payrolls every day of his career, first as a legislative aide and then as a member of the House.

“Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy,” David Brooks says of the 47 percent gaffe. “It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.”

How about Ryan?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Rabbi and the Tunnel

The year 5773 in the Hebrew calendar starts today for millions of Jews around the world as they celebrate Rosh Hashana, provoking memories in one of a faith never followed as an adult observer but deeply involved in his moral character.

Rabbi Slutsky was a white-haired Jehovah pointing angrily at an ant heap of sinners, a Deity who had turned in his flowing white robes for a baggy serge suit smelling of camphor and herring.

Every weekday afternoon, in an airless basement, he drilled a platoon of soon-to-be Bar Mitzvah boys in ancient Hebrew declarations of submissive belief. Our bodies bursting with pubescent juices, we were learning to ape the dry old men who nodded and chanted their way through every Sabbath’s respite from hard labor.

My mind would wander to the playground down the block, alive with games and girls, but I kept my head down to track endless lines from right to left.

Slutsky held a ruler to mark the text, and every once in a while, eyes blazing, he slammed it down on the arm of an errant reciter. I avoided his blows because my mind was agile enough to declaim aloud what my eyes were barely seeing.

I sat next to the wall and, while my right hand stroked through the Testament, my left hand was on a mission of its own, jabbing a pencil into dried plaster. Day by day, week by week, concealed by the bolted-down desk and seat, the opening I gouged got larger and deeper. I burrowed in secret, even while nodding my head and chanting prayers.

By the time I was ready to take the vows of Jewish manhood, I had left behind not only the fearsome Slutsky but, for his future victims, the beginnings of an escape tunnel to the world outside.

My Bar Mitzvah was a bogus triumph in which language skills were mistaken for a religious calling. I gave speeches in Hebrew and Yiddish, read from the Torah and greedily grabbed envelopes of cash from relatives who attended. But my life as a practicing Jew did not last long. My heart was not in the daily devotions and one morning I put away the yarmulke, talis and phylacteries for good.

What years of Slutsky’s forced march to piety could not accomplish, however, was done later by those who despised Jews enough to inspire special words for their slaughter--pogrom, genocide, Holocaust--and by those with euphemisms for killing the spirit, if not the body: “restricted” and “gentlemen’s agreement,” and those on the streets and in barracks where the expressions were raw but honest--kike, sheenie, Hebe, Christ killer.

They made it clear I belonged to a people fated to be despised and driven, their names their crime, the shape of their noses their destiny. Faced with such hatred of a religion I could not feel in my heart, it would have been unthinkable to stop being a Jew or calling myself one.

One of my grandsons spent this summer at school in Israel, not out of piety but in serious study of his roots. Like me, he will surely be shaped by them even if he is not devout.

To those who are, a heartfelt gut yor.

Which Romney Will Debate?

We know the Barack Obama who will step up to the podium, but how many of the multiple Mitts will engage him on domestic policy in Denver two weeks from Wednesday?

All those hours of watching Romney in 2008 and 2011 yield so many possibilities.

Could it be the earnest I-wanted-the-President-to-succeed version he tried out briefly at the GOP convention?

Or the president-with-business-experience Romney loftily trashing Obamacare but getting bogged down on how he imposed a tax in his Massachusetts mandate?

Or a they-stole-my-lunch Romney who had to hire an “attack coach” against Newt Gingrich last year?

"There's two ways to look at this guy. One is that the glass is half empty,” said a Republican dean of public policy at the University of Massachusetts in 2007. “The other is that the glass is totally empty."

The conventional wisdom about the first presidential debate in 1960 is that Nixon looked unshaven and sickly compared to JFK, but in my memory more important was his attitude, a Uriah Heep blend of being oily and agreeable yet slyly combative.

Romney will avoid that error, but how will he otherwise deal with a Barack Obama who knows who he is, will politely but firmly press his case for reelection and, as he has shown on the basketball court, use his elbows in the clinches without getting called for fouling.

As the Romney campaign lurches on in increasing disarray, there are more and more signs of how badly overmatched he is.

The real danger for the President is overconfidence, but his campaign will be downplaying expectations over the next two weeks and prepping their man to bring his best game.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Media Failure: False Balance

If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan started saying the world is flat, most conventional journalists would repeat the assertions and offset them with contrary opinions.

This kind of “false balance” is the subject of the New York Times’ promising new Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who examines the proposition that it should be called “false equivalency”:

“Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.”

On issues where answers are elusive but not impossible to pin down, such as voter fraud/suppression, getting beyond false balance is left to media fringes such as Bill Moyers and Jon Stewart, rather than mass media.

“There’s a lot of reasonable disagreement on both sides,” says the Times national editor. “One side says there’s not significant voter fraud; the other side says there’s not significant voter suppression.”

Yet the facts are otherwise (see Stewart and Moyers), but it would hard to learn that from Times “balanced” reporting.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Senate’s last sage, is invoked in the argument, recalling his dictum that opponents are entitled to their opinions but not their own facts.

Moynihan is best known for his sociological proposition, “Defining Deviancy Down,” in which he wrote of declining standards in public discourse, “We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us.”

If he were with us today, he would surely be raising the same questions about journalists as well as politicians. The Times Public Editor puts it this way:

“Journalists need to make every effort to get beyond the spin and help readers know what to believe, to help them make their way through complicated and contentious subjects.

“The more news organizations can state established truths and stand by them, the better off the readership--and the democracy--will be.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two in the News

The velocity of instant fame overtakes a pair of different men this weekend.

Barack Obama eulogizes an American who “laid down his life for his friends, Libyan and American--and for us all” after the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, killed in Benghazi during an attack on the U.S. consulate over snippets of an anti-Muslim film online.

Chris Stevens, the President says, “was everything America could want in an ambassador, as the whole country has come to see--how he first went to the region as a young man in the Peace Corps...how he believed in Libya and its people and how they loved him back.”

“The world needs more Chris Stevenses,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton adds.

In a murkier world, renown is trying to catch up with the maker of the movie that killed Stevens and three colleagues.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Coptic Christian activist, is being questioned in California after false reports that it was produced “with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors.” It turns out that film permits were issued to a group called “Media for Christ,” headed by a Christian from Egypt.

It will take time to untangle the truth about the apparent violator of parole for bank fraud and convicted drug manufacturer, but Nakoula or whoever he really is will eventually be unmasked and given his hard-earned 15 minutes of insane fame.

Then we can all rest easy that journalism is doing its job to help us make sense of a messy world.

Update: A civil-rights uproar over Nakoula’s “arrest” escalates into a call for the President’s resignation—-a peculiar, to say the least, reaction to the attempt to discover who set off an ideological time bomb that killed those four Americans in Benghazi.

There are times when a simple citizen can’t help marveling at the purity of lawyers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Can't Beat Somebody with Nobody

Finally, finally the 2012 story line is becoming clear.

After a nauseating search for a candidate (Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, Cain), a self-deluded convention (Eastwood, Ryan, no W) and a default anointment, the GOP crusade to unseat Barack Obama for an empty suit is coming apart at the seams.

Daily poll numbers are widening in favor of the President who, in stumping, downgrades Mitt Romney to a generic “my opponent.”

In the final weeks, despite all those fiery Citizens United defamation ads, voters are feeling the chill of what the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and their ilk are offering for the White House--one of their own not-quite-a-billionaire stand-ins who will say anything to get elected and do who-knows-what if he won.

Mitt Romney has emerged as the embodiment of Nobody. Barack Obama, however diminished by Tea Party Congressional treachery and his own shortcomings, is definitely Somebody.

He may be no FDR but clearly a President who has done what he could for the economy with his hands tied and, in light of Romney’s kamikaze attack on himself for the past week, guided a nation skillfully through wars and near-wars.

Voters are finally getting that picture, as even a silly poll suggests. Asked who would “win a fistfight” between the candidates, 58 percent choose Obama to 22 percent for Romney.

More to the point, in such an encounter would the President be alone in the ring, shadow-boxing?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Romney's Vapid Turns Weird

That thousand-mile stare of the GOP candidate is coming into focus. As he lifts his eyes from the economy to the Middle East, Mitt Romney’s vacuity is dismaying Americans across party lines.

No surprise that Gail Collins advises, “Feel free to worry about anything. That he’d declare war on Malta. Lock himself in a nuclear missile silo and refuse to come out until there’s a tax cut.”

It’s something else when Peggy Noonan, who put Clint Eastwood’s “Read my lips” into Bush I’s mouth, tells Fox News Romney has not “been doing himself any favors” since the crisis in Libya and Egypt started: “Sometimes when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go.”

Add an AP headline “Romney Misstates Facts on Attacks” and a Times editorial observing that he “showed an extraordinary lack of presidential character by using the murders of the Americans in Libya as an excuse not just to attack Mr. Obama, but to do so in a way that suggested either a dangerous ignorance of the facts or an equally dangerous willingness to twist them to his narrow partisan aims.”

For more than a year, the Obama campaign has been looking for ways to picture Romney as “weird,” and now he hands them ammunition to make John McCain’s reputation for shooting from the hip look like a model of sobriety.

But all is not lost for the GOP. To offset Romney doubters, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are still on board.

The Game Changer hot flashes her Facebook fans, “We already know that President Obama likes to ‘speak softly’ to our enemies. If he doesn’t have a ‘big stick’ to carry, maybe it’s time for him to grow one.”

On cue, enter Limbaugh:

“We're in the middle of an absolute disaster, a foreign policy disaster. And there's a coordinated effort to make it about Romney and whether or not he should speak; whether he should say anything about it; whether or not it's presidential for Romney. We're only supposed to have one president at times like this. Well, we don't have one, unless Romney speaks up, and that's the sad reality.”

One president without testosterone or another with hoof-in-mouth disease doesn’t sound like much of a choice.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Words Kill, Here and Abroad

Two years ago on 9/11, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tried to dissuade Florida minister Terry Jones from burning Korans to mark the anniversary.

Now he is back (with unhinged Jewish allies), fomenting riots in Egypt and Libya that result in the death of a U.S. diplomat, and the Republican Chairman tweets: "Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic."

What’s truly pathetic is how trapped Americans today are in a web of lies on all sides and, short of causing deaths, devalue truth (pace Paul Ryan) to a secondary commodity on the exchange for political power.

Before the day is out, the Romney campaign will no doubt find ways to rationalize past and present Mitts, but those who treasure the First Amendment will be left with pangs over believing that truth, as Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand put it, will “emerge from a multitude of tongues.”

In the final weeks of the presidential campaign, both sides are taking extraordinary measures to control journalists, with the hitherto unacceptable provision of “quote approval” in return for access to the candidates.

(Once after interviewing him and taking my own notes, JFK asked how I wanted the White House transcript. “Raw,” I said. He smiled.)

What emerges will not be truth in the traditional American sense but a varnished version of what politicians want us to know.

It won’t kill people, just the mundane truth, but it’s not quite what the Founding Fathers, or even past-century politicians like JFK, had in mind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remains of Cheney's Day

During the solemn remembrance, a former VP steps up to unite us all by carping, "If President Obama were participating in his intelligence briefings on a regular basis then perhaps he would understand why people are so offended at his efforts to take sole credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

"Those who deserve the credit are the men and women in our military and intelligence communities who worked for many years to track him down. They are the ones who deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.”

The gratitude should extend to Dick Cheney as well for recalling how he and George W. Bush the Uniter brought us together in those seven years after 9/11 by blaming everyone but themselves for the nation’s distress.

The snarl is no doubt triggered by a New York Times OpEd reminder of the memo “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” that Cheney and others ignored a month before the onslaught:

“Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs? We can’t ever know. And that may be the most agonizing reality of all.”

Of course, Mitt Romney has two different versions of how he learned about 9/11. And at Shanksville, Pa. where passengers crashed another Washington-bound plane that day, the President reminds victims’ families:

“No matter how many years pass, no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this--that you will never be alone. Your loved ones will never be forgotten. They will endure in the hearts of our nation, because through their sacrifice, they helped us make the America we are today--an America that has emerged even stronger.”

And hopefully can eventually lose Dick Cheney and his ilk in the backwash, the remains of that terrible day.


9/11 + 11=?

When the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I told someone, "This is the worst day of my life."

I didn't know then what I meant, but it felt as if the crust of the earth had suddenly cracked and we could never again feel safe going about our daily lives. Over time, that feeling has receded, but the world has not been the same.

What we lost that day eleven years ago is social trust--the sense of not having to be constantly on guard against the malice of unknown people who want to hurt or kill us for no personal reason whatsoever.

Before 9/11, we took much for granted: We could walk safely in front of cars that would stop for red lights, eat food that had passed through the hands of countless unseen people, turn over our children every day to strangers who would protect and nurture them.

We still do all that and more, but we can’t board a plane, sit in a stadium, attend a midnight movie, go to church or walk a crowded street with the same security we felt before 9/11/01.

Our public life has become meaner, coarser and, in this political season, we are not the people we were before--fiercely opinionated, intensely competitive but optimistic and generous underneath it all.

As he should, President Obama puts a hopeful gloss on the anniversary: “The last decade has been a difficult one, but together, we have answered those questions and come back stronger as a nation.

“We took the fight to al Qaeda, decimated their leadership, and put them on a path to defeat. And thanks to the courage and skill of our intelligence personnel and armed forces, Osama bin Laden will never threaten America again.”

Yet this week the weirdest “60 Minutes” in memory puts a disquieting punctuation mark to the era. A man with a false name and false face tells the inside story of the raid that killed bin Laden.

In a reminder of the movie “Face/Off” in which John Travolta and Nicolas Cage surgically traded appearances, “Mark Owen” tells a minute-by-minute assassination tale replete with mockups of the compound and tiny helicopters, ending with his personal celebration at Taco Bell.

From all this, we may very well eventually “come back stronger as a nation,” but it will take time and, in some ways, we will never be quite the same.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Romney's Dream World

As he Meets the Press, sort of, the Republican standard bearer shows how much of a bubble he’s inhabiting.

In a pre-taped travesty of being grilled by journalists, Mitt Romney burbles with admiration of Bill Clinton’s convention speech while taking digs at the President.

“I don’t want to keep bringing it down as the president’s doing,” he says. “This sequestration idea of the White House, which is cutting our defense, I think is an extraordinary miscalculation in the wrong direction.”

Romney is, of course, talking about last year’s debt-ceiling fiasco created by the madness of Tea Party Republicans, including his running mate, Paul Ryan.

If he were appearing live and unedited, Romney might have been asked about Bob Woodward’s account of that impasse published in today’s Washington Post.

It’s a story of the American president being humiliated by a runaway Congress. At the end of the ordeal, Barack Obama tells his aides:

“This will forever change the relationship between the presidency and the Congress. Imagine if, when Nancy Pelosi had become speaker, she had said to George W. Bush, ‘End the Iraq war, or I’m going to cause a global financial crisis.’”

Until Mitt Romney understands exactly what happened, he is going to be living in a dream world where all that ends if he were to move into the White House.

Someone should tell him that the Tea Party doesn’t like him much better than Obama and that his temporary allies would without doubt be practicing their treacherous madness on him, Paul Ryan at his right hand or not.

That kind of corruption by power wouldn’t stop with a Republican in the White House.

Update: In the full “Meet the Press” interview and Paul Ryan’s encounter on ABC’s “This Week,” both Romney and Ryan run into the contradictions between their views but refuse to specify how they would resolve them, leaving voters with empty promises and a “Trust me” response to their doubts.

The strategy is clear. Romney moves centerward while Ryan reassures GOP crackpots that he doesn’t mean it.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Generations: Kennedy, Romney, Ours

Dynasty, a not very American idea, comes up as Joe Kennedy III goes from a tribute to his great-uncle Ted at the Democratic convention to a primary victory for Barney Franks’ House seat days after Mitt Romney accepts a nomination his father had sought before him.

Our culture accepts inherited wealth but has mixed feelings about passing down political power. Yet here we are, with not only Kennedys and Romneys but generations of Bushes, past and possibly future, tracing back to before World War II.

A lifetime of being involved with such American ambivalence suggests that it goes deep.

In the late 1950s I was asked to give career advice to a son of Adlai Stevenson, who had lost to Ike twice. "After college," the young man told me, "I didn't know what to do, so I did what my friends did--I went into banking."

My classmates, I thought, would have killed for that choice.

Understanding those born with expectations of eating the world and its rewards has not been easy for someone who, like most of us, was trained to work hard, count on nothing and be grateful for what we get.

Only over years of close observation could I glimpse what F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to tell Hemingway, “The rich are different from you and me.”

Now we are asked to appraise such people for their qualifications to shape our future. To do that, it might be helpful to look at them in perspective.

John F., Robert, Ted and the Kennedys who followed used their inherited wealth from the start for what their admirers would call public service and detractors political power.

Mitt Romney pivoted from his family legacy to amass more than a quarter of a billion dollars before deciding to favor voters with his personal gifts. A look at his five sons shows no Kennedyesque family tradition of public service.

It would be sad to see Americans lose their suspicion of anything that smacks of royalty. We fought our first war to free ourselves from that.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Charlotte and Tampa Hangovers

Like all fever dreams, conventions leave sensual residues, irrational impressions that don’t fit an orderly pattern. Some Tampa and Charlotte hangovers:

Do politicians have periodontal secrets? The smiles of Joe Biden, the Romneys and Obamas dazzle the senses of those who feel aging teeth rotting in their mouths.

Did TV directors spin the crowds? Republican women were blonder. Panning in Tampa revealed a plethora of Miss Clairols of 1965. In Charlotte, delegate scenes looked like outtakes of “The Wiz.”

Won’t Clint Eastwood ever go away? He’s still spending more time explaining the chair than he did molesting it.

Are Democrats prone to Howard Dean screams? Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm goes over the top, yelling that Mitt Romney ”loves our cars so much, they have their own elevator. But the people who design, build and sell those cars? Well, in Romney’s world, the cars get the elevator, the workers get the shaft.”

Did Paul Ryan Pinocchio himself forever? Now he’s answering questions about his mountaineering as well as marathoning.

Did the parties reverse themselves, with Democrats pushing culture wars and Republicans trying to rebrand whatever the hell they are?

The American montages that remain are, as befitting politics, a mix of the truly moving and the maudlin, the sight of Gabrielle Giffords leading the Pledge of Allegiance intercut with bedecked delegates wildly cheering every cliché that comes down the pike.

Now we can all close our eyes, brace for the SuperPAC ads and wait for the debates next month.

Pass the Netflix clicker.



The Elephant in Obama's Room

All that undeniable truth, all that heart, all that wisdom, all that sheer rightness, yet not a direct word in the President’s eloquent acceptance speech about the undeniable reality that, even if he wins reelection, can make it all irrelevant.

In a political climate where the bottom-line truth can’t be spoken, both the President and Joe Biden barely sideswipe it. They speak passionately, the crowd cheers, but nobody acknowledges the elephant in the room:

Even if they are reelected, unless November ballots also wrest control of Congress from a treasonous Tea Party, all their sane rhetoric will change nothing.

Obama and Biden are only nominally running against Romney-Ryan. The true opposition are Boehner-McConnell and the minority of zealots who hold them—-and the nation—-hostage in both houses.

As if to underscore that essential truth, the day also brings excerpts from Bob Woodward’s new book about last year’s debt ceiling debacle, a needless crisis manufactured by Tea Party willingness to decimate the nation’s credit rating to score political points.

In Woodward’s account, Obama starts out by benignly viewing Boehner as a willing negotiating partner who “can’t control the forces in his caucus now” and ends up “spewing coals” when the Speaker pulls out of their private agreement in order to “rattle the president a little bit into being serious.”

In praising last night’s speech, a New York Times editorial nonetheless notes: “The president and his tight inner circle were oblivious to the Republicans’ explicit warning that he would not get the slightest cooperation from a party and a Congressional caucus driven by an implacable hatred of Mr. Obama that is mostly ideological but also fueled by his race. It took nearly three years for the Obama team to recognize that central fact.”

Do they recognize it now and, if the President wins reelection, can he do it with coattails strong enough to sweep the Tea Party traitors off his back?

Update: Reports say Democratic strategists dialed down the President’s speech as a result of focus group testing. Hope and change? Focus groups?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Barack's Angels

Forget those “Sex and the City” reruns. Tonight Charlotte is America’s babe magnet with Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria likely to turn up as mystery guests to counter Clint Eastwood’s old man and the chair routine.

On the dark side, Kim Kardashian is threatening to show up, too. But as JFK used to say, life isn’t always fair.

Note to GOP watchers: Fasten your seat belts.

Bill Clinton's Best Hurrah

He kept Barack Obama waiting past prime time for their embrace, but the delay was worth it as an unbuttoned Bill Clinton unloaded almost an hour of vintage charm, sarcasm and passion on behalf of the President’s reelection.

“I was just a country boy from Arkansas, and I came from a place where people still thought two and two was four,” he told the crowd about his experience with the GOP.
“It’s arithmetic. We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down.

“Think about this: President Obama’s plan cuts the debt, honors our values, brightens the future of our children, our families and our nation...

“It passes the arithmetic test, and far more important, it passes the values test.”

In his zeal, the former President no doubt opened himself to scrupulous fact-checking, but he was clearly bent on spending his own new-found popularity on pummeling those like Mitch McConnell (“The Senate Republican leader said in a remarkable moment of candor two full years before the election, their number one priority was not to put America back to work; it was to put the president out of work.”

Taking Romney and Ryan head on, Clinton asked of Obama, “Are we better off than when he took office? Of course.”

Before bringing on the closer, Democrats heard from Sandra Fluke, who was called “a slut” by Rush Limbaugh for defending women’s desire to control their reproductive lives, and Elizabeth Warren, who is running to retake Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat.

“People feel like the system is rigged against them,” she said. “And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.”

The stage is set for Obama and Biden tonight. They couldn’t have asked for better stagehands to prepare the way.



Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Democrats Will Win the Mommathon

After Michelle Obama’s extraordinary speech last night, her husband and his party are poised to capture one underlying contest of this convention season.

In “Primary Colors,” as Clinton and his cohorts engaged in a maudlin drunken contest about their saintly female forebears, the acerbic Hillary character noted that the “mommathon” would last all night.

For over a week now, both parties have been vying to put middle-aged women on a pedestal, but clearly Democrats have an edge here. Mitt Romney’s mom was no doubt a wonderful person, but she ran for the Senate when he was a kid.

Keynoter Julian Castro waved to his single mom as well as his wife and kids during the opening salvo, and a parade of Democratic stars with minority and underdog roots will surely be doing the same, perhaps even Bill Clinton himself.

It’s not clear how much more a loving and inspiring parent can do for an ambitious young pol than a comfortable one, but for the rest of this political season, rhetorical Mother’s Day cards will be selling like verbal hotcakes.

Smart Answers to a Dumb Question

Add to the Ryan errata watch Mitt’s mate misplacing Ronald Reagan’s killer line from a 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter to the GOP convention.

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” the Gipper asked voters back then, and now Paul Ryan is out claiming to remember it as a ten-year-old and, as usual, getting it wrong.

Whatever. The question deserves serious answering, and Democrats are giving it a try.

If your eyes don’t glaze over, you can see one about the Reagan era with charts and graphs here and another with 2008 headlines here, but the best may be an economist’s rebuttal to journalists who take the question seriously:

“Suppose your house is on fire and the firefighters race to the scene. They set up their hoses and start spraying water on the blaze as quickly as possible. After the fire is put out, the courageous news reporter on the scene asks the chief firefighter, 'Is the house in better shape than when you got here?'

“Yes, that would be a really ridiculous question.

“A serious reporter asks the fire chief if he had brought a large enough crew, if they enough hoses, if the water pressure was sufficient. That might require some minimal knowledge of how to put out fires.”

Still, for those who relish irony, the one American who could answer “yes” to Ryan’s question is his running mate. Even without seeing more of his tax returns, Americans can be sure that Mitt Romney is richer and better off than he was four years ago, even if most of us are not.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Two Cheers for Obama 2.0

Compared to the GOP do, the Democratic convention mood seems listless. Is it just that sanity is always more boring than madness? Or after four years, is Barack Obama no longer a novelty, even to his admirers?

Perhaps, but the underlying problem of reinventing an embattled President may go deep in this time of irrationality raised to the nth degree. Can the man Clint Eastwood wants to fire for not getting the job done say anything to reason with, inspire and persuade undecided voters?

If that’s the question this week, the consensus of informed observers, despite recommendations of their own, is probably not.

An early admirer David Brooks opines, “I wish he’d rise above the petty tactical considerations that have shrunk him over the past two years. I wish he’d finally define what he stands for...

“Four years ago, Obama said we could no longer postpone tackling the big problems. But now he seems driven by a fear of defeat. His proposals seem bite-size. If Obama can’t tell us the big policy thing he wants to do, he doesn’t deserve a second term.”

Others want him, against all the evidence of his temperament, to morph suddenly into FDR or LBJ, grab the body politic by its shoulders and shake it into responsiveness.

That won’t happen but, in the spirit of offering free advice that’s worth every penny it costs, there may be another choice.

Four years ago, Barack Obama stirred the nation with a speech that broadened the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy into a discourse on how Americans can overcome differences and move on together. This time his subject should be not race but bitterly prejudiced politics.

The re-emergence of that healing Barack Obama would be the most effective response to a national mood that has produced Romney-Ryan as the only alternative to continuing political chaos.

All reelection tactics aside, that Obama could be worth working for and fighting for again.


Monday, September 03, 2012

Moonstruck: Life with a Cult

When I moved to bucolic upstate New York in the 1980s, my nearest neighbors were the followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the “messiah” who died yesterday at the age of 82.

It was like living next to a colony of the socially inept--with firearms.

Early on, a jeep drove up to our boundary line with a man who introduced himself as Security Director of the Unification Church, saying he hoped his target practice was not disturbing us. (Actually, it had sounded like World War II with automatic weapons and mortar shells.)

“I’d like to be a good neighbor and say no,” I told him, “but it does. A lot.”

He must have had similar responses from others nearby. The weapons noises abated, but life with “the Moonies” never stopped being interesting.

Remembered now for mass weddings of couples who had never met each other, Rev. Moon was a South Korean minister who mingled apocalyptic religion with business acumen to build a commercial empire interwoven with political influence that ultimately led to conviction for tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice and 18 months in prison, where he drew kitchen duty.

Those years of living next to his seminary were, to put it mildly, bizarre. Our mutual home town was a hamlet on the Hudson with another estate that had housed the Rev. Moon’s polar opposite, the recently deceased man of letters Gore Vidal, who wrote about what seemed to be “the good old days when politicians poured God over everything like ketchup.”

Moon self-destructed and Vidal was obviously not prophetic, but their legacies are still with us in the massive pseudo-religious effort to control the 2012 election.

When I finally left my beloved home on the Hudson, it was bought by a Hollywood agent who had earned the money to pay for it by representing Michael Moore.

I often wondered how the new neighbors got along.




Sunday, September 02, 2012

Is Paul Ryan an Habitual Liar?

The GOP nominee now for Al Gore’s position in the 1990s is making the Nobel Peace Prize winner look like George Washington and the cherry tree. In matters large and small, Paul Ryan is setting Olympic records for public lies.

In 1999, Gore took heat for claiming he “invented” the Internet. What he actually said was “in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” This year he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame with the citation: "Gore recognized the importance of building the information infrastructure and making it available to everyone."

This week Ryan's convention speech set off truth meters clanging everywhere to keep up with lies, distortions and omissions, numbers mounting into double figures.

That his indifference to truth is a matter of disposition rather than expedience is suggested by an off-the-cuff claim following the convention speech. Asked about marathons, the VP runner casually notes, “I had a two-fifty something.” When Runner’s World checks, the number is actually 4.01.

Lie or mistake, Ryan’s impulse to bend the truth seems instinctive, a reaction that kicks in even when no political gain is involved. In less than a week, he has provided more evidence of lying than Joe Biden’s reputation for gaffes rests on in 40 years.

The irony here is that the GOP’s vaunted “truth teller” about the nation’s economic woes is himself a prime example of everything he denounces about government. Since he graduated from college, Paul Davis Ryan has been sucking at the taxpayers’ teat, first as a legislative aide in Congress and then as an elected member—-not one minute out in the real word, job-creating.

After years of embracing and spreading the Ayn Rand credo that government dependency creates “looters” and “moochers,” dependent Ryan threw her under the bus while campaigning this spring, saying her ideas are “completely antithetical to mine because she has an atheist philosophy."

Less than a week after his nomination, it’s hard to believe that Paul Ryan believes passionately about anything other than Paul Ryan. In that respect, he is a perfect running mate for Mitt Romney, who has been flip-flopping on his bedrock principles for more than two decades.

If they win, the Dick Cheney era of VP snarls will return in the form of baby-faced bald-faced lies.

Update
: Paul Krugman chimes in on Ryan’s veracity, observing that his “whole political persona...is built around big boasts about accomplishments he hasn’t accomplished...

“He calls for huge tax cuts, while proposing specific spending cuts that, while inflicting immense hardship on our most vulnerable citizens, would fall far short of making up for the revenue loss. His claims to reduce the deficit therefore rely on assertions that he would make up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes that he refuses to specify, and achieve further huge spending cuts in ways that he also refuses to specify...

“Ryan basically told the budget office to assume that his plan would slash the deficit, then claimed the resulting report as vindication of his deficit-slashing claims.”

And in record time.




Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Mitt and Clint Buddy Movie

When he invited him, Romney was hoping for “Sudden Impact” with “Magnum Force.” What he got was “Any Which Way You Can” to put him “In the Line of Fire,” leaving his acceptance speech in “The Dead Pool,” his handlers running “The Gauntlet” of blame “Unforgiven.”

Yet now we learn it was the candidate himself, in reaching for “Absolute Power,” who invited “The Enforcer” and ended up on “Heartbreak Ridge” with Charlie Sheen’s mentor, looking like “The Rookie” of political acumen.

Today’s news comes with a soundtrack of GOP scrambling away from Clint Eastwood and his chair, Romney aides diving off the deck mumbling “Not me,” “weird,” and “theater of the absurd” while the president of Paul Ryan’s fan club Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tells reporters he “cringed” during the segment.

Obama supporters are, of course, delighted by the “disaster,” as they underscore Mitt Romney’s deficiencies as an out-of-touch rich guy in the real world.

Says one who knows a good deal about the subject, the Rev. Al Sharpton, “It was embarrassing. I mean you almost wanted to go out there and get him.”

It goes without saying that Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are delirious but, when the furor dies down, what will Mitt Romney have learned?

You can dodge obvious disaster by not asking Donald Trump or Sarah Palin to be the mystery guest at your party but, as Truman Capote used to warn, be careful about Answered Prayers.

And above all, the next time you invite an American Icon, don’t give him a chair, no matter what.