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What’s In a Name

Washington-RedskinsNow for something completely different…

While the nation dangles one foot over the fiscal cliff and while most of the federal government remains shut down, the epicenter of American politics has yet another crisis to confront – the name of its football team.

I knew the controversy swirling around the National Football League Redskins had reached crisis proportions when Lanny Davis, the slightly oily adviser to those in trouble, started issuing statements on behalf of the mostly tone deaf Redskins’ owner. Davis, you may remember, advised Bill Clinton in the Monica days and more recently helped out a charming fellow named Laurent Gbagbo who, before he was forced from power to face charges of torturing his political enemies, was quaintly described as the Ivory Coast’s strongman. Davis told the New York Times in 2010 “controversy is what I do for a living.” Welcome to the Redskins’ beat.

Davis was engaged – controversy is what he does after all – after President Obama weighed in on whether the Washington, D.C. team should change its name. “I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things,” Obama told The Associated Press.

“These things,” of course, would be names and mascots for sports teams that at least some Native Americans (and others) find offensive. Now you might think with all that the president has on his plate from Syria to Ted Cruz, from a debt ceiling to tanking approval numbers that he would have deftly sidestepped the question of the Redskins’ name. But to his credit, even while giving half the country another reason to dislike him, Mr. Obama answered the question and a million dinner table conversations were launched.

Maureen Dowd began her column on the controversy with this: “Whenever I want to be called a detestable, insidious proselytizer of political correctness, I just bring up the idea of changing the name of the Redskins at a family dinner. What if our football team’s name weren’t a slur, I ask brightly. Wouldn’t that be nice?’

Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder once said he would “never” change the name, but in post-Lanny Davis mode he struck a quieter, if no less certain, tone. “I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name,” Snyder wrote to the Washington Post. “But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.”

“This word is an insult. It’s mean, it’s rude, it’s impolite,” Kevin Gover, who is Native American and directs the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. “We’ve noticed that other racial insults are out of bounds. . . . We wonder why it is that the word that is directed at us, that refers to us, is not similarly off-limits.”

Here’s my guess: sooner of later, given a hard push by the ever image conscious NFL leadership and with what will surely be mounting pressure from political and business folks, the Redskins will take a new name. Gover, the Native American head of the Smithsonian museum, suggested a novel name – the Washington Americans. That may catch on and actually could be a tribute to the real Americans. But in the meantime Lanny Davis and others are left to defend the Redskins by pointing out that it’s not just the D.C. football team that has a potentially offensive name. There are the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Edmonton Eskimos. Not to mention the Utah Utes, the Florida State Seminoles and the Orofino Maniacs.

Orofino, Idaho, of course, is home not only to the high school Maniacs, but an Idaho state mental hospital. There is disagreement about which came first, the nickname or the facility, but the monicker has stuck through the years and helped create some memorable headlines. My personal favorite – “Maniacs Run Wild, Kill Kamiah.” Efforts to change the name have be labeled, well, crazy. Don’t mess with my Maniacs or my Redskins. No offense intended, of course.

The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux are no long either fighting or Sioux. After prolonged controversy the school dropped the “Fighting Sioux” nickname in 2012 and currently has no name. State law actually prohibits the university from renaming its sports teams until 2015. Let me get a jump on that and suggest the North Dakota “Damn Cold Winters.”

While we’re on the subject, I don’t generally like sports teams named after animals. Too many Lions and Tigers, Badgers and Eagles. The best sports names are unique and help tell a story. The Packers, for example, or the 49ers. I like the name, but have never been a fan of the Dodgers. The Minnesota Twins make sense to me. Also the Montreal Canadiens. Not so much the transplanted from New Orleans Utah Jazz. I’m not sure jazz is even legal in Utah.

Mr. Controversy-Is-My-Business Lanny Davis says in defense of the Redskins that the name is 80 years old and, of course, is used with no disrespect. Really. I grew up near the Pine Ridge Sioux reservation in South Dakota and no white guy, at least one in his right mind, would call a member of the tribe what the Washington teams calls itself. The Confederate battle flag has been around for more than 150 years, but it is now widely recognized as a symbol of white supremacy. The Ole Miss Rebels banned the stars and bars from football games for just that reason. Atlanta was once home to the minor league baseball “Crackers,” but that slang put down of poor whites wouldn’t fly today.

“Come to our reservation,” says Ray Halbritter, head of the Oneida Tribe that is leading the effort to change the D.C. team name, and “get up before everybody, families with children, and start out by saying how many cute little redskin children you see in the audience. Then try and tell us that you’re honoring us with that name.” No one has taken Halbritter up on the offer according to Joe Flood who has written at Buzzfeed about Native American reaction to the name controversy.

Yes, the Redskins will eventually change their name. The only real question is how much turmoil will be created and how long it will take. After all, as Maureen Dowd says, “All you have to do is watch a Western. The term ‘redskin’ is never a compliment.”


Return to 1940

19410200_Senator_Robert_Taft_R-OH_Against_Lend_Lease-TAFTRobert Taft, the Ohio senator and son of a GOP president, was often called “Mr. Republican” in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He was continually on everyone’s list as a presidential candidate from the late 1930’s to the early 1950’s, but Taft never received the nomination in large part because he represented the Midwestern, isolationist wing of the GOP in the intra-party fight for supremacy that was eventually won in 1952 by Dwight Eisenhower and the eastern establishment, internationalist wing of the party.

The modern Republican Party is edging toward the same kind of foreign policy split – the John McCain interventionists vs. the Rand Paul isolationists – that for a generation helped kill Taft’s chances, and his party’s chances, of capturing the White House. While much of the focus in the next ten days will be on the important question of whether President Obama can stitch together the necessary votes in the House and Senate – Democrats have their own non-interventionists to contend with – to authorize military action against Syria, the other political fight is over the foreign policy heart and soul of the GOP.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens here’s some of what those in the new Taft wing of the GOP are saying:

“The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring into power people friendly to the United States.” Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.).

“I believe the situation in Syria is not an imminent threat to American national security and, therefore, I do not support military intervention. Before taking action, the president should first come present his plan to Congress outlining the approach, cost, objectives and timeline, and get authorization from Congress for his proposal.” Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah).

“When the United States is not under attack, the American people, through our elected representatives, must decide whether we go to war.” Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.)

Taft’s reputation for personal integrity and senatorial probity – he served as Majority Leader for a short time before his untimely death in 1953 – has guaranteed that he is remembered as one of the Congressional greats of the 20th Century. Still, as Stephen’s writes in the Journal, Taft has also suffered the same fate at the hand of history as almost all of the last century’s isolationists have. They are condemned for what Stephens calls their almost unfailingly bad judgment about foreign affairs. Taft opposed Franklin Roosevelt on Lend-Lease in 1941. He argued against the creation of NATO, which has become an enduring feature of the post-war doctrine of collective security. Taft, always the man of principle, even opposed the Nuremberg trials that sought to bring to the bar of justice the top Nazi leadership of World War II. He considered the legal proceedings, organized and managed by the victors in the war, illegal under existing international law.

In every major showdown in his three-time quest for the presidency, Taft lost to an internationalist oriented Republican: Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 and Eisenhower in 1952. When given his chance in the White House, and with the help of one-time Taft ally Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, Eisenhower re-shaped the modern Republican Party for the rest of the century as the party most devoted to national security and most trusted to push back against Soviet-era Communism. That image lasted, more or less, from Ike to the second Bush, whose historic miscalculations in Iraq have helped create the kind of party soul searching for the GOP that Democrats struggled with in the post-Vietnam era.

A vote on Syria in the Congress will be a clear cut test of strength for the neo-isolationists in the modern Republican Party, many of whom have close connections to the Tea Party faction. Still the leaders of the new Taft wing, like Kentucky Sen. Paul, have demonstrated they are not one issues wonders when it comes to foreign policy. Paul filibustered over drone policy, has spoken out against NSA intelligence gathering and frets over foreign aid. And the polls show these skeptics are in sync with the many Americans who are sick of open ended commitments in the Middle East and the kind of “trust us, we’ve got this figured out” foreign policy of the second Bush Administration. I suspect the appeal of the neo-isolationists extends as well to younger voters, many of whom have not known an America that wasn’t regularly sending brave young men and women to fight and die in wars that seem not only to lack an end, but also an understandable and clearly defined purpose.

Bob Taft – Mr. Republican – fought and lost many of these same battles more than half a century ago and since the victors usually write the history Taft stands condemns along with many others in his party for being on the wrong side of the history of the 20th Century.

The great debate in the Congress over the next few days is fundamentally important for many reasons, not least that it is required by the Constitution, but it may also define for a generation how the party that once embraced and then rejected isolation thinks about foreign policy. If Sen. Paul can be cast as a latter day Bob Taft on matters of foreign policy; a questioner of the value and scope of America’s role in the world, who will be this generation’s Wendell Willkie or Dwight Eisenhower?

Any GOP pretender for the White House will need to calculate these issues with great precision. Gov. Chris Christie, who has yet to declare this position but seems more likely to fit in the internationalist wing of the party, must have his world atlas open to the Middle East, but those maps are likely sitting right next to the latest polls showing the increasing isolation of the party’s base; the people who will determine who gets the next shot at presiding in the White House Situation Room. During today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on Syrian action Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another 2016 contender, voted NO reinforcing the notion that a new generation of Republicans seem willing to bring to full flower an approach to foreign policy that died about the same time as Bob Taft.

What an irony that the robust, nation building, regime change foreign policy of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, the very definition of GOP orthodoxy in the post-September 11 world, has been so quickly consigned to the dust bin of Republican policy.

Who this time will be on the right – and wrong – side of history?

[Note that Idaho Sen. James Risch joined with Paul and Rubio in voting NO on the Syrian resolution in the Foreign Relations Committee.]


Our Unresolved Issue

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul made a major speech at traditionally black Howard University in Washington, D.C. last week. To say the least the reviews of the senator’s speech were mixed. Comments ranged from “condescending and intellectually dishonest” to “nervy” and “sincere.”

Comedian Jon Stewart joked that Paul “fell asleep on the Green Line and woke up” at Howard and, while his history lesson was suspect, to say the least, I think the senator gets some points for even thinking about taking his libertarian infused Republican message to a generally hostile audience. His motives may have been sound, but with our great unresolved issue motives only carry you so far.

Paul’s point, of course, was to demonstrate GOP “outreach” to a segment of America that seems to have written off his party. Sen. Paul  may have been better served to first see the remarkable play I saw last weekend, since he might have learned that our racial and class issues don’t lend themselves to speeches from behind a podium, no matter how politically correct those speeches attempt to be.

Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winning play by Bruce Norris, packs all the trouble we have as a society in dealing with race, class, political correctness, politics and how we live in America – together and apart – into a tidy two hours. Others have said it, so I will too – Clybourne Park is brilliant. You’ll be laughing, sad, nodding in agreement, snickering nervously in disbelief and, probably like me, walking out into the night thinking “we have a long, long way to go.”

The play, which also won the British version of the Tony, is set in a single house in the fictional Clybourne Park neighborhood of Chicago. The first half of the play takes place in 1959. The second half could have taken place yesterday afternoon. In a brilliant analysis of the play and the state of race in America, the former theater critic turned political analyst Frank Rich wrote in New York Magazine:

In 1959, a three-generation black family from a ghetto on the South Side has just purchased (the house) and is preparing to move in—over the objections of a neighborhood association that wants to keep its enclave lily-white. By 2009, that battle over integration is half-forgotten ancient history. Clybourne Park, like so many other urban neighborhoods nationwide, had long ago turned black in the wake of wholesale white flight to the suburbs. The house has since devolved into a graffiti-defaced teardown, battered by decades of poverty, crime, drugs, and neglect. But lo and behold, the neighborhood is “changing” again. A young white suburban couple is moving back into the rapidly gentrifying Clybourne Park. It’s convenient for work, and there’s a new Whole Foods besides. The only hitch is that middle-class African-Americans in the present-day neighborhood association are as hostile to white intruders as their racist white antecedents were to black home­buyers 50 years earlier.

The ensuing discussion among the black and white characters touches on almost every important cultural issue and leaves it all, as we must know, messy and unresolved. Clybourne Park will disabuse anyone who still thinks, even after Barack Obama’s two elections, that we are living in a post-racial America, which brings us back to the senator from Kentucky.

At one point in his talk to the over-achieving students at Howard Paul asked: “How did the party that elected the first black U.S. Senator, the party that elected the first 20 African-American Congressmen, how did that party become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?”

The answer, of course, is part of modern American political history. Liberal Democrats and many northern Republicans embraced civil rights from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, while many southern Democrats didn’t. Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the day Americans and (baseball fans) celebrate the breaking of the game’s color line. It’s worth reflecting on the historic fact that the great Robinson backed Richard Nixon in 1960, while convinced that the GOP was more committed to civil rights than a Democratic Party still dominated at the time by southern racists. Real events changed that expectation.

By 1968 Nixon was driving the racial wedge deep into the country’s politics with a “southern strategy” designed to take the conservative south away from Democrats by explicitly appealing to white voters with a message that hardly concealed its racist undertones. As a result many southern whites abandoned the GOP as the region transformed into a  solid base for the Republican Party as it had once been for Democrats. The party of Lincoln and ending slavery became the party of Strom Thurmond and “welfare queens” and blacks, no big surprise, started voting for Democrats in droves. Sen. Paul’s speech last week essentially ignored this history. Had he seen Clybourne Park he might have approached his subject in a much different way. At least I’d like to hope so.

The reason Sen. Paul laid an egg at Howard, and the reason we still struggle so much with race and class in America, is that we have largely failed to grapple honestly, openly and historically with our troubled past. Racism, there is no nice way to say it, is deeply baked into our history. The playwright Bruce Norris is essentially saying we are all weighted down with our deep biases based on our notions (and history) of territory and conflict. He admits to being a “liberal whitey” who is out to demolish politically correct approaches to issues that are way too big for set speeches that avoid fundamental issues.

From the Constitution’s “compromise” over slavery and counting blacks at three-fifths of a person to current battles over the Voting Rights Act and voter suppression the old battles over race and rights continues even as the first black man occupies the Oval Office. We have a lot of work to do.

The brilliant play Clybourne Park does not tie it all up neatly as the curtain falls because, as Frank Rich has written, it is a play that is designed to provoke and frankly is without much hope. Still, art can sometimes do what politics can’t – cause us to think deeply about our situation. The racism that is so deeply baked into our society and politics is not susceptible to better messaging, which, as Rand Paul found out at Howard University, is at the heart of the GOP’s current response to its problem with African-American voters. Better messaging starts with better listening and not ignoring history but understanding it.

We have a lot of work to do and many of us are comfortable with what that means. First we must deal honestly with the conflict between who we say we are and who we really are. It’s a very unsettling conversation. Go see Clybourne Park. Think about it. Talk to your kids about it. Talk to a politician about it. Perhaps really addressing our nation’s long unresolved issue takes so long because every American – of every shade and at every economic level – must address the hard and historic issues in the heart before they can hope to be settled in our politics. Clybourne Park is so powerful because it forces us, at least for two hours, to listen to who we are.



Perils of the Nanny State

Why is the state of Idaho in the liquor business and why does the Mayor of New York want to ban super-sized sugary drinks?  It’s a matter of history, tradition, politics and the fact that all politics is local. Both jurisdictions are responding to the direction of long prevailing political winds, but Idaho’s dust up over a sexy vodka label and New York’s determination to do something about obesity is also a telling tale that offers proof that neither conservatives or liberals can resist the temptation to invoke the power of government regulation in an attempt to direct human behavior.

Michael Bloomberg, the adroit and successful mayor of New York City, and Jeff Anderson, the adroit and successful Idahoan who runs the Idaho State Liquor Dispensary, normally might not have much in common. But as Hizzoner tries to crack down on sugary drinks that help fuel the American proclivity for, well, overweight citizens and Anderson polices the shelves of Idaho’s state run liquor stores to make sure state government stays on the right side of the line that defines politically correct behavior for a state-owned monopoly, both men find themselves uncomfortably straddling the fence of what my conservative friends like to call “the nanny state.”

And both men, undoubtedly well intentioned in their intentions, find themselves the subject of national media coverage for using the power of the state to regulate personal behavior. There was a pointed and funny full-page ad in the New York Times on Saturday, paid for by restaurants and food service interests and featuring a screaming headline – The Nanny – that depicted Bloomberg is a not very flattering blue dress. The Mayor, looking like an unkindly, hectoring Mrs. Doubtfire, was looming King Kong-like over the Big Apple directing the Big Government drink police.

In the Northwest, Idaho’s decision not to carry Five Wives vodka in state stores went viral. The suggestive brand is ironically distilled and sold in the Land of Zion, but won’t be sold in Idaho due to worries about the distiller’s marketing approach. The stated reason for the ban was that the product could be both offensive to women and Mormons, while doing little to drive sales because, as state officials explained, the Five Wives would be  joining dozens of other not terribly quality brands of vodka on the state’s shelves. The national press, of course, played up the Mormon angle. The vodka may never sell legally in Idaho, but the PR windfall for the Ogden, Utah booze maker has been substantial. Not so much for the Idaho liquor dispensary.

When Prohibition ended in 1933 one of the grand compromises made by Congress was to reserve to the individual states the responsibility of controlling distilled spirits. Deciding where, when, how and whether to sell hard liquor would be left to state legislators, which explains why we have 50 different approaches to liquor law in the country and why Idaho, arguably the most libertarian state in the nation, still maintains a state monopoly on the sale and distribution of  the hard stuff.

Post-prohibition Idaho opted for a high level of state control over booze. Hard liquor would be sold in state owned and operated stores during hours that, originally at least, were designed to limit sales and provide a politically sensitive nod to the state’s large LDS population. Relatively steep tax rates on distilled spirits would further help drive down consumption. Other states, Arizona for instance, opted for as little state regulation as possible. In Phoenix you can buy your hooch at Costco or at Big Bill’s Bargain Booze. (I made that up, but there are liquor warehouse stores that merchandise booze the way Home Depot sells toilet fixtures.) Some of the latest “big box” stores offer a vast selection of liquor at what often seems like discount prices compared to a “controlled” state like Idaho or, until very recently, Washington.

Because of Idaho’s historic controls over liquor, it falls ultimately to Jeff Anderson and his staff to play the role of middle man in the marketplace and make many of the decisions about the product mix and pricing available to Idahoans who are in the market for a cocktail. In Arizona and other non-controlled states that job belongs to the free market.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s nanny-isms are of a little different texture. His proposal to ban many extra large, sugary, calorie heavy soft drinks is of a piece with the Big City’s long effort at rent control and the ban on smoking in Central Park. (Wait, Boise and many other cities have the same smoking bans, but that’s another story). Bloomberg’s well-intentioned effort to do something about the epidemic of obseity in the culture – the statistics are striking – has received decidedly mixed reviews. I’m guessing the big soda ban is instinctively understood by most New Yorkers. They get the idea that too much human weight is the canary in the emergency room when it comes to diabetes, heart diesease, stroke and other bad stuff, but they just don’t want the government nanny telling them they can only chug 16 ounces at a time. It’s a freedom thing. The right to be silly and fat without the government sticking its nose into the size of your Big Glup.

You actually need to have some limited sympathy with both of these situations. In libertarian Idaho the state liquor monopoly has been, as they might say at the Supreme Court, settled law since the 1930’s. We change slowly here, if at all. Wine couldn’t be sold in grocery stores until the 1970’s and the practice of other vices – slot machines were smashed up in the 1950’s, for example – get little sympathy in the state where Hemingway once wasted his evenings at a gaming/drink joint in Ketchum called the Casino Club. Jeff Anderson does double duty for Idaho and also runs the state lottery, which only came to be because voters demanded it at the ballot box in 1986.

In libertarian Idaho few legislators have ever lost an election by voting to deny the citizens a easier path to drink or gambling. Some folks apparently just can’t be trusted with too much freedom.

And as for New Yorkers, they seem accustomed to the occasional lecture from the nanny in office who tells them you must do this for your own good because you simply can’t be trusted to police your own behavior. Conservatives do it, liberals do it, even educated…well, you get the idea.

The nanny state is far removed from notions of political consistency. A libertarian in deep red Idaho can champion the state’s tight control of booze and a liberal in deep blue Manhattan can lead a crack down on a 7-11’s soda aisle.

Emerson said that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and politically speaking one man’s sexy vodka label is another man’s fat generating soft drink. I don’t drink vodka or Big Gulps, but I do enjoy the sweet, contradictory taste of a public policy that can only explain itself by wagging a finger in your face.

So, some suggestions: how about a Five Wives/Five Guys Burgers promotion. “Eat and drink politically incorrect.” Or, MacDonald’s could offer half off the big drinks for anyone who can prove their body mass index is within the safe range. Think of the possibilities for the free market. 


Stupid Times Three

Ozzie, Commies and Stay at Home Moms

Bad luck like stupid comments seems to come in threes.

Ozzie Guillen, the mouth-running, currently suspended manager of the Miami Marlins baseball team is at once the most politically incorrect man in America and the luckiest. He desperately needed to get off the front pages after taking Miami’s re-branded team, cozy in its new stadium, and running his mouth straight into south Florida’s visceral hatred of Fidel Castro.

Ozzie says his comments in Spanish praising Fidel lost something in translation, but what Guillen really mangled with his ill-considered comments about the country’s least favorite commie was an old and simple rule. Loud mouth baseball managers really should never comment on anything other than what happens between the lines. Danger lurks out there beyond the friendly confines – remember Marge Schott – where men play the boys game.

But thanks to cable television, just as it looked like Ozzie might still pay for his Fidel praising with his job, two other stupid comments make Ozzie seem so last season.

Enter Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida – what is it with Florida, anyway – and Democratic political operative and CNN talking head Hilary Rosen. Consider them the duo with the crazy opinions today. Ozzie Guillen must be smiling as he sits out his suspension somewhere. Nothing spikes a stupid political comment like another stupid political comment.

In West’s case it was the astounding contention that a majority of the Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives – West said 78 to 81 members to be imprecise – are communists or socialists. And Rosen popped off on cable to the effect that Mitt Romney’s obviously smart and appealing wife had never worked a day in her life.

Two things, I think, are at play from Guillen to West to Rosen, and no that is not a double play combination. The first is the modern media age’s unrelenting pursuit of opinion as opposed to fact. Everyone is expected to have an opinion on absolutely everyone and everything and be prepared to offer it up at the drop of a question. It has become socially unacceptable to say, “Geez, I don’t know that I have anything to say about that subject.” Or even this: “You know, that’s really a silly question and I chose not to respond to silly questions.”

The other problem is a growing inability on the part of many in public life to tell one of their friends that they are just flat wrong. This has become a particular problem for politicians. Congressman West made his silly comment – opinion devoid of fact really – at some type of a friendly town hall meeting. The question that prompted his opinion came from the audience and, I’m guessing here, he wanted to play to the crowd so he answered in a way that he thought the crowd would appreciate. Maybe West believes what he said, too, but he was clearly playing to the crowd. He might have simply said in response to a silly question, “That is a silly question” and moved on. Rather he offered the alternative, an ill-considered opinion that helped move Ozzie off the front page.

Same with Rosen. She was trying to make the point that the Romney’s aren’t like most Americans who worry about mortgage payments and buying groceries, but she couldn’t stop there. Opinions being the coin of the talking head realm, she couldn’t resist offering a further opinion about Ann Romney. Not having a “real job” would, by the way, be news to any woman who has raised five sons and been a partner to a corporate CEO and a governor. The comment was, well, stupid, but Rosen was behaving the way a partisan TV talking head is expected to behave. She has to have a million of them, opinions that is.

So, as author Steve Rushin has pointed out, I am myself dangerously close to failing to practice what I preach against since – hold on – I’m having an opinion. Rushin calls such behavior a sequel to the movie Blowhard, which I confess I have never had the pleasure of seeing. The sequel, however, would be called Blowhard 2 – Blow Harder.

I long for the moment when some talking head or politician or sports figure just doesn’t go there. And it’s not about political correctness or free speech. My mother would have called it good manners. I can almost hear her, “You don’t have to comment on everything,” she would say. “Did it ever occur to you that other people may not care what you have to say.”

I’ll bet Ozzie’s mom told him something similar and he just forgot. And that’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it, while searching for that movie sequel on DVD – Blow Harder.


Ron Paul

Can He Win Idaho?

Watching the GOP field I have come to believe that only Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian from Texas, is truly comfortable in his own skin. He’s the only candidate in the race who hasn’t had to walk back his comments on one position or the other. The guy knows what he believes and says the same. But can he win something? Today may be his day.

Paul was in Sandpoint, Idaho yesterday rallying a crowd reported to be 1,300. It was one of three events he held in the state yesterday. Paul has an appearance planned today at the Nampa Civic Center. Writing in Politico today James Hohmann noted that Paul drew his big crowd in a community with only 7,365 residents.

The Coeur d’Alene Press had this about the Sandpoint rally yesterday: “The famously libertarian candidate…saw a wide variety of attendees to the rally. Some, like Bonner County Commissioner Cornel Rasor, were longtime members of the established Idaho Republican Party. Others, like Tea Party activist Pam Stout, were fiscal conservatives seeking a frugal candidate. Still others were politically unaffiliated or young individuals attracted to Paul’s message of small government and minimal federal interference.”

The conventional wisdom holds that Paul must win somewhere – and fast – or risk running out of steam as the primary campaign grinds on. He would seem to have a far shot in three states with a GOP caucus today – North Dakota, Alaska and Idaho. The Idaho GOP establishment is aligned with Mitt Romney and the state’s sizeable Mormon population is almost certain to give him an advantage, but – a big but – the insurgent wing of the Idaho GOP, the group that has come to dominate a good deal of the party’s business, is entirely capable of sending Romney and his Idaho supporters a big message. We’ll see if they do. It may be worth noting that while Paul was drawing 1,300 up the road in Sandpoint, Gov. Butch Otter, a Romney surrogate, was speaking to a crowd of 100 in Coeur d’Alene.

Paul won 24% of the GOP vote in the Idaho primary in 2008 and won a straw poll of 400 party activists earlier this year. His rallies have smartly targeted the conservative Idaho panhandle, the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho Falls and the typically very conservative Canyon County in Idaho’s southwestern corner. Canyon County will likely produce the largest GOP caucus turnout tonight.

The national media has turned virtually all of its attention on the big swing state of Ohio where Romney and Rick Santorum appear to be running neck and neck. If Ron Paul were to pull off a win tonight in Idaho, North Dakota or Alaska, they’ll have to pivot on a dime and try to figure out why. Paul may not win – it will be tough – but if he does once more the GOP contest will be scrambled.

It was just four short years ago that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama filled the Boise State University pavilion and then completely out organized Hillary Clinton to win the Idaho Democratic caucus. Paul’s campaign understands what Obama’s did then – it’s the delegates, stupid. History just might be ready to repeat.



Eating Their Own

The Decline and Fall of the Moderate

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana certainly ranks as one of the most significant politicians to ever hail from Hoosierland. He’s the ranking member and former chairman of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been elected six times to the Senate. Lugar is as close as the Senate has to a respected senior statesman on the issue of how we control weapons of mass destruction. Democrats respect and often follow him on those issues. Under normal circumstances, Luger ought to have a lock on re-election. He doesn’t.

In a Politico profile of Lugar and his re-election, reporter Jonathan Allen says the 36-year Senate veteran is catching it from the left and right for being out of touch with Indiana. Lugar’s very conservative GOP primary opponent, for example, has been hitting him for not owning a home in Indiana and for having the independence to vote for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.

Allen writes, “this race is an epilogue to a 2010 election in which anti-establishment Republicans knocked off sitting senators and party favorites, and in several cases gave Democrats a shot to win seats that had seemed out of reach.”

If Lugar survives the Republican primary in Indiana he may have a serious Democratic opponent, but Lugar is likely to hold the seat. If he’s knocked off, as relative moderates like Mike Castle in Delaware and Robert Bennett in Utah were two years ago, Democrats may have a rare chance to pick up a seat where Republicans dominate. The reason is pretty simple: Republicans – nationally and closer to home – are culling the GOP herd of anyone who even appears to be a moderate.

In Idaho, two of the few remaining “moderate” Republicans in the Idaho House – Leon Smith and Tom Trail – aren’t running for re-election this year. Both have watched the party move steadily to the far right with more moderate Republicans pushed to the sidelines. In Idaho the moderate Republican in elective office has become almost as rare as a Democrat…or a native sockeye salmon.

More than the home he doesn’t own in Indiana or his long tenure in the Senate, Dick Lugar is trying to survive in a national Republican Party that is redefining itself out of the mainstream of American political life, which is why it’s worth watching how Texas Congressman Ron Paul is playing the game during the presidential primary season.

Ron Paul doesn’t have a prayer of winning the GOP presidential nomination, but he does stand a good chance of helping define what it will mean going forward to be a conservative and a Republican. It certainly doesn’t mean being in the middle on anything.

The National Journal recently did its analysis of Senate voting records and concluded – again – that the most conservative Democrat in the Senate has a voting record that is more liberal than the most liberal Republican. This ideological divide has happened only three times in the last 30 years, but has now happened twice in the last two years.

National Journal declared that, “Ideological mavericks are an extinct breed. The otherwise iconoclastic Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had the most conservative voting record in the Senate (Democrats Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York were tied for the most liberal), and the old fighter jock himself, John McCain of Arizona, voted more to the right than two-thirds of his GOP colleagues.”

The House of Representatives is every bit as ideologically divided as the Senate, but it wasn’t always so.

The National Journal piece notes that not that long ago, conservative southern Democrats joined with Republicans to influence national policy across the board. And there is this great quote from former Rep. John Byrnes of Wisconsin, a Republican on the Democratically controlled Ways and Means Committee in the 1960’s. 

“It was a pleasant operation. You weren’t constantly fighting on philosophical or other grounds and issues,” Byrnes said in an oral history. “You were trying to look for ways where we could compromise differences and move along [legislation].… It was part of the thing that made life worthwhile and interesting. You knew that you did leave some kind of an imprint, because any idea that finally developed into a consensus, you knew that you were part of that process.”

But, back to Ron Paul. He wants, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint also recently called for, a final showdown between conservative Republicans and Paul’s brand of libertarian Republicans with the winner defining the modern Republican Party. If Paul ends the primary season controlling enough delegates, and he just might, he can force votes at the GOP convention over his ideas for reforming (or eliminating) the Federal Reserve, a more isolationist foreign policy or putting the country on the gold standard. Paul’s aim, and why he won’t bolt and run on a third party line in November, is to remake the GOP into his vision of what a conservative party looks like.

Meanwhile, at the grassroots in Indiana, Dick Lugar is getting killed. A straw poll over the weekend found him getting eight votes out of 69 in a contest with his Republican challenger.

The GOP moderate really is disappearing with this heart and soul fight between the traditional Chamber of Commerce Republicans and the conservatives who find Mitt Romney too squishy on many issues. Will Democrats, also not averse to eating their own, be smart enough to capitalize? There is, after all, a lot of room for the party from just right of center to where Sen. Bernie Sanders sits.

Tomorrow…some reflections on Senators who survived the kind of challenge Lugar is getting and some who didn’t.



Following the Money

With two wins in a row in the hip pocket of his blue jeans, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney heads to South Carolina today to try and wrap up the GOP contest. Gauging by the most recent information from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), Romney already has won the Republican money race in the Pacific Northwest.

The Republican nominee-in-waiting far outpaces his GOP rivals when it comes to raising money in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Idaho is clearly Romney country. As of the end of September last year, Romney had raised more than $336,000 in Idaho with more than a third of that total coming from heavily Mormon eastern Idaho. Romney, who hails from a pioneer LDS family in Utah, has raised about $130,000 in the Idaho Falls and Pocatello media markets and nearly $60,000 more in south central Idaho’s Magic Valley.

[I’m not always sure what the FEC really does, but the Commission has created a spiffy website where you can track contributions by zip code and find the names of individual contributors. At the site, you can click on a map of any state, select the drop down menu for the candidate you want to check and see details of the candidate’s haul in that state.]

Romney is doing almost as well raising money in Idaho as he is in much more populous, but much more Democratic Washington State. Romney leads all the GOP candidates there with $346,000 raised through the end of September, even though the Washingtonians for Mitt Romney blog hasn’t been updated since 2007. Romney’s total in Oregon is $176,000, with a not terribly impressive $41,000 collected in Montana.

[The Romney website has a state-by-state list of endorsements – Gov. Butch Otter in Idaho and former Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon, for example – but the Idaho section carries a strange reference to former Sen. Larry Craig, a 2008 endorser of Romney. The site says Craig “was caught in a sex scandal and forced to resign from office and the campaign.” That quote requires a  Rick Perry “oops” response. Craig, of course, initially said he would resign in the wake of his 2007 “scandal,” but then went on an served out his term in the Senate which ended in early 2009.]

Proof that the so called GOP establishment is lining up behind Romney can be found inside the FEC numbers. Former Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood is in for Romney to the max – $2,500 – as is Idaho’s premier funder of conservative causes Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls.

Barack Obama remains, of course, the fundraiser-in-chief. The president has raised $1.4 million in Washington, nearly $390,000 in Oregon, nearly $98,000 in Montana and $49,000 in Idaho. That last number – $49,000 in Idaho – means Obama has raised more in the reddest of the red states than any of the rest of the GOP field, including Ron Paul. Paul’s total in Idaho is just north of $40,000. The Texas Congressman has raised $174,000 in Washington, $84,000 in Oregon and $32,000 in Montana.

The New York Times today reports that Romney pulled in $24 million more in the fourth quarter of 2011. He’ll likey need to spend a good deal of that in South Carolina where Super PAC’s supporters of his now on life support opponents will spend big to try and keep the GOP race going.

 The FEC site contains other nuggets of political trivia that reveal a good deal. One Paul contributor Harmut A. Leuschner of Hayden, Idaho, who is listed in the reports as a mechanic at Alpine Motors, had written 13 checks totally $425 to Paul’s campaign through September 2011. The largest check was for $100. That, my friends, is a committed supporter.


PC Run Wild

NY Health Department Bans…a Cat?

I am a sucker for old, historic hotels and among the many I love is the Algonquin in New York City. Not because the rooms are great – they aren’t. Not because the restaurant is fabulous – it isn’t. I love the place for the atmosphere, the history, for the famed Algonquin Roundtable.

In the 1920’s, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and Robert Sherwood, among others, lunched every day at the round table in the Algonquin lobby and cracked wise about politics, matters literary and popular culture. Great one liners have survived and many are displayed in the hotel.

Benchley, all but forgotten by many today, was an actor and writer and edited Vanity Fair. He famously said after returning home in a driving rain storm, “Let’s get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.”

Eighty years ago, a sorry looking cat sauntered into the hotel lobby from West 44th Street and stayed as stray cats who are fed and find a warm place to sleep are wont to do. Ever since the Algonquin lobby has had a cat – always named Matilda – who has pretty much had the run of the place – until last week.

The New York City Health Department says Matilda is in violation of the portion of the city’s health regulations that require animals be kept away from places where food is served. No, seriously. This is not news of the weird. It is the end, potentially, of a sweet and old tradition. This is also in the category of a solution in search of a problem.

I’ve always kind of liked the big city’s well-heeled mayor, Mike Bloomberg. Never met the guy, but like that he seems to have an independent streak and doesn’t appear to suffer fools easily. One day he is telling off President Obama for punting on the Super Committee and the next evicting the Occupy Wall Street crowd. He’s still regularly mentioned – I’m sure he likes it – as a credible third party candidate in 2012. This cat story is going to test his leadership skills to the max. There is – believe me – a very strong cat lobby in these United States.

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post broke the Algonquin cat story – under the headline “Meow’trage at Algonquin” – and has been all over these developments like cat hair on a black sweater. One column blared: “In Bloombergistan, government lackeys have gone mad.” The columnist didn’t like the city’s cat edict, apparently.

Others have been having fun, as well. “Nanny Bloomberg Bans Cat,” says FOX News. And my personal favorite: “Hotel Leashes Pussy.”

Post Columnist Kyle Smith noted, as I have every time I’ve been at the Algonquin, that the cat is typically, day and night, asleep under an wing chair in the lobby bar, far from food. The lobby bar, by the way, is ground zero for old money New York. Some duffer in a bow tie sips a cocktail, while talking with some ancient woman drowning in pearls about the art gallery he had just visited or the charity dinner they are soon to attend.

As I said earlier, people don’t come here for the food. They come because the place feels classy and old. The drinks aren’t bad, either.

The real story here, big surprise, is that the Algonquin cats I’ve observed never – never – come near anyone. Few self respecting cats do that sort of thing. Matilda obviously knows that old money is so yesterday, so, well boring. Why cozy up to an wrinkled old New Yorker working on his third Manhattan when you can sleep under a wing chair?

I’ll be disappointed if Mayor B doesn’t find a way to make this ill-fated cat decision go away. The guy was, after all, able to finesse the one-time limitation on a New York Mayor seeking a third term. He ought to be able to talk to someone over in the health department about this little 80-year tradition at the Algonquin. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I have plumbed the great and witty depths of Dorothy Parkerisms for a suitable quote to illustrate what, I suspect, most folks will see as a silly case of political correctness run wild.

Before I get to the punchline, however, a quick reminder of what the very witty Ms. Parker was capable of:

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy,” she said.

And, of Katherine Hepburn as an actress, Parker said: “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

And this: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

What might Ms. Parker have said about the New York Health Department’s banning of the Algonquin cat?

How about this: “You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”

Mayor Bloomberg, fix this outrage. There must be an historic preservation exception. If not, create one. Some things simply need to be maintained, including the Algonquin Hotel cat.