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A Lesson, A Plan

It has been difficult the last few days to separate the lessons of Campaign 2012 from the recriminations. Among national Republicans the blame game, predictably and understandably, is in full flower.

In the first blush of political defeat the tendency of many partisans – this is true on the right and on the left – is to take the wrong lessons from rejection by the voters. Making sense of what happened is never as simple as some make it out to be and no national party that has existed since the 1850’s is ever as far down as some now claim.

To paraphrase David Axelrod, one of the architects of Barack Obama’s stunning second term victory, in politics you’re never as smart as you seem when things are going well or as stupid as you appear when things are going badly. But all campaigns do have lessons – if you look deeply enough. At the moment I’m interested in whether the long down-and-out Idaho Democrats take any clues from what happened in their party as well as in the GOP last week.

A few modest suggestions for Idaho Democrats:

1) The party should pick out three or four of its best young minds (this would include some elected last week like Representatives-elect Mat Erpelding and Holli High Woodings in Boise), buy them an airplane ticket to Chicago and let them debrief with the technology and GOTV people who helped power Barack Obama to a second term. Once he wakes up from a week of sleep Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who grew up in Boise and has relatives in the state, could put that meeting together in a heartbeat. In short, Idaho Democrats must start to turn over thinking about the future to the party’s next generation of leaders and give them some room to understand and apply the new skills of the digital age to the old game of politics. While they’re at it, Idaho Democrats should seek counsel from the other Idahoan highly placed in the Obama world – Bruce Reed. Among other things, Reed, who is Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff, helped write Bill Clinton’s devastatingly effective convention indictment of Mitt Romney.

2) The party must adopt a new approach that can, over time, broaden its appeal. This new approach should focus like a laser on the demographics that have propelled the first African-American president to two broad-based electoral victories. The future for Idaho Democrats is contained in a few well chosen words: moderates, women, Hispanics and younger voters. As NBC’s Chuck Todd said of the Obama campaign’s targeting and GOTV efforts, they took a novel approach they read the census.

Three quick facts from the 2010 Idaho census: Hispanic citizens (who voted nationally for Obama by more than 70%) now make up 11.5% of the state’s population and Idahoans under 18 years of age (who voted for the president by 60%) comprise 27% of the state’s population. Idahoans 65 and over (a population group that nationally went heavily for Romney) now makes up less than 13% of the Idaho population.

All of which is not to say that turning Idaho Democrats into a truly competitive party will be easy or quick, but those numbers point to the beginning of a long march approach.

3) Education must again become the bread and butter issue of Idaho Democrats. If the recent Idaho election proved anything it is that Idahoans, across the political spectrum, want their students, teachers and schools treated carefully, intelligently and not politically. There is an opening here for new ideas, inclusion and electoral appeal. If future Democratic candidates can’t make an issue of year-after-year real reductions in financial support for education at every level, coupled with education “reform” that Idahoans overwhelmingly rejected, they won’t deserve to be taken seriously as a political party. A simple question should drive the Democratic message – how can Idaho have a 21st Century economy and the jobs that support such an economy without investing more and more wisely in higher education, skills training and better public schools?

4) As I have written here before, Idaho Democrats – at least at the statewide level – need a new organizing principle that focuses on the great unifying issue – education. Trying to build a statewide party around a handful of dependable liberal strongholds – the north end of Boise and Blaine and Latah Counties – will continue to be a losing strategy. A better path is to build from the ground up in Idaho communities – Moscow, Boise, Pocatello, Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, Nampa and Twin Falls – were education is a significant hometown industry. Democrats should strive to “own” the issues of the local community college and the university. Folks who love the University of Idaho or Boise State, for example, bleed for their schools on the athletic field, for sure, but increasingly they also care the academic classroom. Idaho Democrats should master these many and varied relationships – and, yes, it will take time – and organize, organize, organize with students, alumni, staff and faculty.

Politics is often a game of getting voters to give a candidate or a party a second look and to re-think assumptions. A single minded focus on education, an issue Idahoans have displayed all over again that they care deeply about, is a solid foundation on which to build a political future. This is particularly true now that the GOP has given Idaho D’s a big opening with the failure at the ballot box of controversial education reforms.

5) Finally, Idaho Democrats would do well to remember one of the tactics employed so successfully years ago by the recently departed George McGovern. In the 1950’s the South Dakota Democratic Party hardly existed. McGovern quit his teaching job and became the executive director of a party in name only, but he had ambition. He relentlessly traveled the state, building relationships, identifying supporters, building lists and building a party from the ground up. It’s no accident that McGovern entitled his autobiography Grassroots. What McGovern did in South Dakota in the 1950’s laid the groundwork to get him to the U.S. Senate in the 1960’s and built a long-term sustainable Democratic Party in a very conservative state. One person can make a big, big difference.

Some of my Idaho Democratic friends will take issue with my characterization of the Idaho party as barely alive, but the first rule of climbing back into contention is to see clearly the situation you face and then settle on a strategy, a real plan, that once again can make Idaho more than a one party state. The recent national victories offer some clues of what might be done.



Five initial takeaways from the voting yesterday:

1) In Idaho the controversial effort by top GOP leaders to “reform” education received an old fashioned whipping – an historic whipping – at the polls.

Not since 1982 when then-Democratic state Rep. Ken Robison, almost by himself, pushed a ballot measure to cut property taxes for homeowners has an  initiative or referendum broadly backed by Idaho “progressives” been successful. The progressive side in the education reform debate simply crushed the so-called Luna Laws. The “no” side prevailed in 37 of Idaho’s 44 counties and two of the measures went down in every county.

As my friend and a great number cruncher Andy Brunelle points out, since that successful 1982 effort the progressive/liberal-backed ballot failures in Idaho “include removing sales tax on food (1984), repealing right-to-work (1986), the nuclear waste initiative and the anti-bear baiting initiative (1996), and the sales tax increase for schools (2006).  The ancient history for progressive interests in Idaho included the Sunshine Law on election and lobbyist disclosure (1974), stopping large-scale dredge mining in major rivers (1954), and establishing a nonpolitical or more professional Idaho Department of Fish and Game (1938).”

Backers of the Luna Laws will undoubtedly blame the demise of Propositions One, Two and Three on out-of-state money from the hated “teacher’s union,” but an equally plausible explanation may be that education, broadly defined, is still the one big issue that can unite Idahoans across the political spectrum. Clearly Idahoans didn’t like the vision of education that the political establishment served up two years ago and they have sent the authors back to the drawing board.

If Idaho teachers are smart they will now push their own serious reform agenda. Yesterday’s election, rejecting a top-down approach to improving education, may just indicate that Idahoans are ready for a serious discussion of education improvements that includes, and perhaps is led, by teachers.

2) Demographics matter in politics. Nationally Republican bet the farm on a belief that Barack Obama could not re-assemble the coalition that elected the first African-American president in 2008. With all of his problems as an incumbent with a bad economy, Obama’s campaign doubled down on its coalition of minority, women and younger voters. In the grey dawn of defeat for the national GOP the party would be well advised to recall the efforts of its last successful national leader – the out-of-sight, out-of-mind George W. Bush – and begin, as a first order of business, to address its problems with Hispanic voters. A national party that concedes minorities, women and young people isn’t likely to be very successful as the nation’s demographics continue to steadily move in a way that helps Democrats.

3) Demographics are also the way back to relevance for Idaho Democrats, but without the kind of thoughtful, community-based strategy that Obama’s campaign manager – Jim Messina the guy with Idaho ties – devised for the re-elected president Idaho Democrats will continue to flounder at the margins of the state’s politics.

4) Idaho’s two senior members of Congress, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, are now poised to be real players in the coming fiscal and budget debate in Washington. Crapo has supported the idea of a “grand compromise” on the order of the Bowles-Simpson recommendations and Simpson, an always sensible, decent guy, said last night that Obama and the GOP must come together. He’s right and he and Crapo can be leaders in getting it done. I suspect they will find that such leadership will be good for the country and for their own political standing at home and in D.C.

5) Idaho is now balanced on its own cliff, but this cliff involves health insurance rather than fiscal issues. After rejecting industry and business calls to get going on a state-based health insurance exchange and hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court and then that a President Romney would dump Obamacare, Idaho opponents of an insurance exchange now face the very real possibility of the worst possible outcome – a federally created exchange that would be imposed on the state.

Elections are endlessly fascinating and this one will be hashed over for years. A truly historic day and lots to contemplate.

The Right Call?

Months ago when they became convinced that Mitt Romney would be the eventual Republican presidential candidate, Barack Obama’s campaign brain trust made a critical strategic decision. They decide to attempt to define Romney as an ultra-rich, ultra-out-of-touch corporate raider, the kind of guy who just isn’t like most Americans.

The Obama campaign and its Super PAC allies spent all summer, as the favorite catch phrase of politics now holds, advancing that “narrative.” We learned about Romney’s dealings at Bain Capital, his California house with elevators for his cars – a couple of Cadillacs – and his off-shore bank accounts. For weeks it seemed like Romney was playing right into the “narrative.” The pundits talked endlessly of the need to “humanize” the corporate CEO and Romney steadfastly refused to release any more than two years of his very well-to-do income tax returns.

The other “narrative” the Obama campaign could have chosen and didn’t was Romney the shameless “flip-flopper” – the guy who was for abortion rights before his was against them, the governor who did Mittcare before there was Obamacare, the guy who said setting a deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was a mistake before it wasn’t. We’ll know in a week whether the Obama strategic decision months ago was a wise one. Here’s a bet that it wasn’t.

The Denver debate where “moderate Mitt” emerged and grabbed the campaign momentum may well go down in presidential campaign history as the greatest single debate game changer ever. Romney skillfully, if some think shamelessly, remade himself before the very eyes of millions of American voters. He was no long the candidate who labeled 47% of Americans as unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives, but he became the smooth and comfortable former CEO with a five-point plan to remake the economy. Obama’s stumbling and inexplicable debate performance in Denver helped Romney re-set his campaign, but even cynic political professionals have to hand it to the former governor – he seems to have pulled it off his slide to the middle. He etch-a-sketched his campaign without even appearing to shake the red plastic frame.

The major reason, I think, Romney so completely re-set his image was that long ago strategic decision of the Obama campaign to paint him as Richie Rich, the evil corporate chieftain rather than as a John Kerry-style flip flopper. You may remember the crippling commercial the George W. Bush campaign ran against Kerry in 2004. With Kerry wearing loud, baggy swim trunks and changing direction while wind surfing, the closing line of that commercial was a masterpiece: “John Kerry – whichever way the wind blows.”

The Bush campaign in 2004 was smart enough and strategic enough to do what I’ll call the “Full Rove” on Kerry. They took the brightest page of Kerry’s resume – his Vietnam War service – and turned it into a liability. Kerry went from being a Silver Star winner with genuine foreign policy credentials to a long-haired anti-war protester who may not have been a hero after all.

The second half of the Full Rove was to label Kerry a serial waffler. This year, by contrast, the Obama campaign completed only half of the Romney “narrative,’ which has given the GOP candidate lots of room to shift and shape his positions to suit the slice of the electorate he is attempting to appeal to.

Say what you will about Romney’s potential as a president – and we may well get to find out how well that works out – there has seldom if ever been a major national politician who has so skillfully shifted his positions. By choosing not to go after the difference between Romney’s four years as governor of Massachusetts as his six years as a GOP candidate for president, the Obama team made it possible for Romney to bob and weave on the issues as skillfully as anyone ever has in such a high profile campaign.

Before this election – just ask John Kerry – the accusation that a candidate was an unprincipled flip flopper was often political kryptonite. Romney rarely has had to defend himself, because of the Obama strategic decision, against what was once consider indefensible in politics – shifting a position out of pure political expediency.

The other thing, I think, that the Obama troops got wrong was believing that the rich guy narrative was enough in and of itself to sink Romney. Obama, playing defense much of the fall, has not succeeded, and hasn’t really tried, to connect Romney’s corporate raider resume to the economic mess the country has endured for more than four years. In other words, the “narrative” lacks a clear and compelling bridge to what many Americans feel about this election – it’s all about the economy. As a result the economic debate has largely been all about Obama’s record and not about Romney’s barely defined approach to solving the problems in the economy and, not surprisingly, the polls show Romney winning on that issue.

Americans, it should be noted, also don’t automatically dislike a rich guy. Even the increasingly goofy Donald Trump gets a pass on that score. Most folks don’t dislike The Donald because he seems to be rich. They dislike him because he’s a publicity seeking blowhard.

Romney the rich guy with the five-point plan may well sneak in the Oval Office. Mitt the Shifter basically got a free pass. Obama’s strategic decision not to combine the out-of-touch rich guy attack with the serial flip flopper attack never gave the president the chance to say –  “Oh, come on now governor…there you go again.”

Endlessly changing positions is ultimate about more than merely flipping and flopping, its about character and in politics character matters more than the size of your bank account.


The Big Mo

Mixing sports and political analogies can be dangerous, but there is so little left to be said about the presidential campaigns – here goes.

The San Francisco Giants (happily for we Giants fans) clearly have what George H.W. Bush once called “The Big Mo.” The dejected St. Louis Cardinals had their National League rivals on the ropes (sorry, a boxing reference) in the league playoffs until a sneaky left hander, apparently in the twilight of his pitching career, reversed the Francisians’ slide and created the kind of momentum that is hard to explain in sports (and politics), but undeniably can be just as important and as a timely as a three-run homer.

A debate in Denver in early October changed the arc of momentum in the presidential campaign and Barack Obama is learning how terribly difficult it can be to get an opponent’s Big Mo turned off and turned around. By all reasonable accounts the presidential election campaign is just where most of us thought it would end up when we first measured an Obama-Romney match-up months and months ago. The race is down to six or seven states – lucky them – and will likely turn on the ground game of the two campaigns in a handful of counties in Ohio, Iowa and Virginia. Without doubt, however, The Big Mo has and will help the challenger.

One of the toughest things in politics – and sports – is to finish a long campaign on the up swing; to be growing your strength as you hit the tape. Designing and executing the “end game” of a long season, especially when the contestants are so closely matched, is tricky business. In fact, the end game of many close contests often has less to do with planning than with luck; luck being the residue of hard work and preparation. A key moment – Mitt the Moderate returning in the Denver debate or Barry Zito finding his old magic in Game Five – can, however, tip the scale and change the trajectory of the long season.

You can’t exactly create The Big Mo, but you can capitalize on it when it happens. The first George Bush is the classic example of thinking that The Big Mo, in and of itself, is enough to power a team to victory. After Bush won the Iowa caucuses in 1980 he said, ‘”Now they will be after me, howling and yowling at my heels. What we will have is momentum. We will look forward to Big Mo being on our side, as they say in athletics.”

Bush eventually lost the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980, in part, because Reagan had a message and Bush had a resume. Bush also peaked too early. Claiming The Big Mo coming out of the very first campaign contest is a good deal different than claiming momentum in the last weeks of a torturously long campaign. Bush, in essence couldn’t capitalize on the momemtum he awarded himself and lost the very next contest, in New Hampshire, to Reagan.

Now the Detroit Tigers and the Obama campaign will frantically scramble to alter the momentum. Here’s betting that doing so will take an event – a lead-off homer in Game One for the Tigers or a bounce from the foreign policy debate for Obama, for example – to alter momentum. You can’t artifically create The Big Mo in sports or politics, you can take advantage of it when it magically, wonderfully and mysterious appears. Just ask the Cardinals.


If Obama Loses…

The final days of the agonizing long 2012 presidential campaign feature an incumbent president who can’t – or won’t – bring himself to employ the basic political necessity of every successful politician; an ability to sell yourself and your program and a shameless challenger who displays, more than anyone in recent American history, the audacity of re-invention. A Romney aide telegraphed months ago the “etch-a-sketch” re-make strategy that came to full effect in the first presidential debate.

 The astute political analyst Charlie Cook nailed the essence of Mitt Romney months ago when he said the GOP nominee is “unencumbered by principle.” But, Romney knows a smile, confidence and a certain swagger cover up a lot of missing principles.

 Obama, by contrast, appears more and more unencumbered by basic political skills like debating your opponent and talking sensibly about your priorities. Obama critics will say he has no program, but that’s unfair. For good or ill, he has signed historic legislation, but he just lacks the Bill Clinton-like skill to relate the art of governing to the drama of campaigning.

 If Obama joins William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush as modern presidents who failed to win a second term, the cause will involve six political failings or, in some cases, failures to address important issues that mark the president’s four years. Taken together they present a damning indictment of a guy who, at a basic level, doesn’t get – or like – politics.

 1)     Obama reminds me of many, let’s call them progressive, politicians who harbor the belief that the righteousness of our policies obviates the need to explain those policies on a clear, concise form that American voters understand. Obama has never been able – or willing – to reduce the essence of his historic health insurance legislation to a bumper sticker. Is the legislation about all Americans banding together to make certain that all of us have access to affordable care? Is it about regulating insurance companies? Is it about insuring that no one is denied insurance due to some pre-existing condition? Obama ceded the messaging about the singular accomplishment of his term to his opponents because he couldn’t make an effective argument for a policy that presidents going back to Teddy Roosevelt have called for. It is an astonishing failure at a basic level of political communications.

 2)     Obama also made a fundamental mistaking in granting way too much control over his legislative agenda to Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats. The White House had the upper hand, including a Congressional majority, in the first two years of Obama’s presidency. Obama should have used public and private persuasion on Congress, but he never stooped to get his hands dirty in the inside game of Washington politics. For the most part the president was absent from the big strategy and message for the first two years and Pelosi set about proving she is a great politician for San Francisco, who doesn’t get Peoria. One wonders if Obama has read Robert Caro on Lyndon Johnson or Woodrow Wilson’ disastrous approach to Congress in the post-World War I period. He should.

 3)     The president made a fundamental and gravely serious political mistake in not focusing like a laser on the economy in the wake of the 2008 election. Granted he did push a stimulus – and then failed to follow up and sell its benefits – but he also pivoted almost immediately from an economic focus to a health care focus. Health care should have waited. Obama neither got or attempted to get any credit for keeping the U.S. economy from going off a cliff in early 2009 and he continues to pay for that lack of political awareness. A modestly skilled political operative would have avoided such a mistake. The economy always comes first, just ask Hoover.

 4)     Amid much fanfare, Obama appointed a blue ribbon commission to recommend solutions to the nation’s fiscal and budget challenges and then walked away from the sensible recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Commission. It was a major blunder on both substantive and political grounds. Congress would very likely not have embraced the essence of Bowles-Simpson, as indeed Pelosi and Co. refused to do, but had Obama embraced the Commission’s recommendations and held Erskine Bowles and Al Simpson close they would have given the president bipartisan political and policy cover during the entire campaign season. Should Obama have then won the election, he could have claimed a clear mandate to do something serious about the deficit, taxes and entitlements – a truly historic second-term agenda. As it turns out Obama’s fiscal and deficit approach is as vacuous as Romney’s. Failing to embrace his own Commission’s recommendation was a huge unforced political error.

 5)     Obama has never been clear about what caused the country’s near economic disaster in 2008. He has never spelled out why the country came so close to a second Great Depression and never really held anyone accountable. Faced with a similar set of circumstances in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt identified the villains as greedy bankers and Wall Street speculators. He went after them with regulation and rhetoric. Obama, again ceding the lead to Congress, let Barney Frank become the face of financial reform and regulation. Obama should have seized the moment to define a new vision for the American economy – as FDR did – and called out the hedge fund managers and engineers of credit default swaps. He should have defined his presidency by taking on the big banks and calling, as ironically Sanford Weill one of the biggest proponents of modern U.S. mega-banking has, for the breakup of the big banks. It would have been an historic and defining moment. The politically cautious Obama missed it.

 6)     All five of these political and policy failures converge now to create the single biggest Obama political problem – he has no convincing story to tell about his years in office and little to say about what a second term could look like. Skillful politicians are always thinking about how they talk about what they are trying to accomplish, who is hindering their efforts, who is to blame and what the future looks like. Obama lacks that political gene.

 If, as Maureen Dowd has written recently, Obama hates to sell himself or thinks that aspect of political leadership is beneath him he may well join Taft, Hoover and the others as “failed” modern presidents. After all, history does not treat one-termers very well and we do tend to reward the greatness of American presidents who display an ability to grow into the challenges the office presents. One wonders if Barack Obama, a man of obvious and substantial intellectual and rhetorical skills, can be self aware enough to know that being righteous in politics is never enough. His time is short.



It’s fashion week in Paris. The skinny models are parading around with stern expressions and too high heels. What, they can’t smile while wearing the latest weird creation? Maybe their feet hurt.

More importantly, every week is fashion week in Siena; a city that is to style what Boston is to baseball meltdowns. The old city, sitting atop a Tuscan hill and, considering its age, a remarkably well preserved place, was once a rival to better known and more visited Florence. But for my Euros, Siena is the classier place. Walking back to the car after a day spent wandering Siena’s cobbled streets (wide paths in many places) we overtook an elegantly dressed, elderly Italian woman who seemed to be heading home from her shopping. She was dressed for the opera – tailored blue suit, stylish blouse and handsome and very correct Italian shoes. Just what most Americans wear to do the weekly marketing at Winco.

Rome’s bureaucrats were on strike – or perhaps just taking a long lunch – last week to protest government austerity measures, the central bankers struggle still with the debt of many European countries and unemployment in the 17-nation EU countries is over 11% – yet, the cafes are jammed, the hotels are booked and life goes on, while sophisticated Italians walk home from the market.

One story line his opponents have advanced against Barack Obama this election year has been the ominous threat that the United States, in a second Obama term, will slip farther in the direction of “the European socialist model.” Even if I believed, and I don’t, that Barack Obama harbors some real or determined socialist agenda, the American drift toward socialism on the European model just isn’t going to happen. Americans are fundamentally resistant to change and the elements of the European model we would have to embrace are so foreign – pardon the pun – that it just can’t happen here.

Two examples make the point. Virtually every automobile on Italy’s highways is a high gas mileage, high performance vehicle. You can drive the Renaults or the Opels for days while passing every petrol station you see. When you need to refill the tank the gas is, of course, much most costly in Europe than in the U.S., but you can go so much farther on a tank, or in most places you can walk or ride efficient public transport. Americans have been fighting over fuel efficiency in our automobiles ever since Mitt Romney’s dad made the American Motors Rambler, a fuel efficient alternative to Detroit’s gas guzzlers. The cars in Europe are smaller, lighter and extraordinarily fuel efficient. Obviously a socialist model we reject.

Or consider public transportation. The intercity train from Rome to Florence, as comfortable as any living room (except for the noisy and overly opinionated Canadian up the aisle), zoomed through the Tuscan countryside and deposited us, one hour and 27 minutes later, in the heart of city where automobiles are more trouble than they are worth. We couldn’t have driven or flown as fast, as comfortably or as cheaply. One can go almost anywhere in Europe on a train, often in great comfort and at high speed. Back home, we continue to debate the disinvestment in such infrastructure with governors in Wisconsin and Florida actually putting an end to spending on just the type of high speed rail Europeans take for granted.  Public investment in transportation – other than the car and the airplane – have taken on the stench of socialism in the U.S. American addiction to the automobile will never allow us to embrace the public option and, besides, the private sector should undertake such investment just as it did when Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. OK, not a good example.

Europeans, as a rule, are skinnier, eat better, live longer, have better health care outcomes, lower poverty and infant mortality rates and – I have to say it – dress better than Americans. Further proof for radio talk show hosts, no doubt, that the European socialist model threatens the very existence of America’s manifest destiny to lead the world with half of our citizens overweight, many lacking health care coverage and more living in poverty than a decade ago.

Europe with all its troubles is neither a socialist mecca or a government-centric basket case. The United States with all its troubles is still the world’s economic engine – an engine that could be even more powerful if we could see our way clear to pick and chose from among the best of the rest of the world. Call it socialism lite.

Republicans Living Abroad ran an ad in the International Herald Tribune this week urging their countrymen and women living in Europe to vote for president. The message was simple and so American – “No Apologizes for American Exceptionalism – VOTE.” The United States is a truly blessed place, divinely inspired some suggest, but true exceptionalism might also mean that we take a break from telling ourselves how great we are and focus on what the rest of the world is doing that we might learn from.

The elegant Italian woman we saw heading home from shopping would, I suspect like most Italians, be very reserved, but also very generous to any American visitor. More and more Italians speak English very well and most tolerate a a level of American self assurance that we would find off putting in them if they were visiting our side of the world. I also doubt whether my elegant Italian woman has ever spent a minute, even while passing by the Burger King, reflecting on either American or Italian exceptionalism. The next time I head for Winco, I will remember her blue suit and elegant shoes and reflect on what she – exceptional as she is – might teach us about living well.