Super Bowl, Weekend Potpourri

Pitch Lady Pitch

bobdylan240712wI’ll get to Dylan in a minute. But spoiler alert, I am not outraged, as much of the Twitterverse was, by the old guy’s Chrysler commercial during the not-so-Super Bowl. I thought the commercial was kind of cool. But first the game.

OK, so I was wrong to think Peyton Manning had one more big game in his creaky 37-year-old body. My Seattle friends are rightly celebrating the end of the championship drought in the Emerald City, a town that once had a basketball team (and lost it to Oklahoma City for crying out loud) and is still searching for a baseball team. All that is so much mist over Elliott Bay today. The Seahawks made mince meat of old Number 18 and deserve pro football’s bragging rights for at least a few months.

Outrage raged in Denver. Woody Paige, the long-time Denver Post sports columnist, said of the game “This one is for the john” and he didn’t mean Elway.

It seems perfect to me that such a sorry game – apologies to Seattle – was played in New Jersey, a state where the growling governor is, as conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer said recently, living day-by-day “one email away from utter ruin.” The news broke just about game time yesterday that another of Gov. Chris Christie’s top staffers had resigned, while considering how to respond to a subpoena connected to the juicy and continually unfolding story of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. This is Clintonesque-like damage control. Announce the departure on Sunday night just before the Super Bowl kick-off. Not bad.

New Jersey is, after all, a state where political scandal has traditionally been more prevalent than clean water, but national Republicans are properly counseling against a rush to judgment on Christie. Still, it seems like the one time frontrunner for GOP leadership in 2016 fumbled, like Peyton, in his own end zone. The Super Bowl was to have been his big moment at the start of his second term. New Yorkers boo everything of course, but Christie really brought out the worse, or is it best, in them during his pre-game appearance on the New York side of the GW Bridge. The photos betrayed that, good seat and parking place aside, the governor didn’t much enjoy Super Bowl weekend.

If you want something to make you as cranky as Chris Christie consider the fact that the National Football League, where teams are owned by millionaires and billionaires like the Seahawks’ Paul Allen, is officially registered with the IRS “as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization.”   A nonprofit organization that nonetheless “generates billions in broadcast and licensing deals for its member teams and brings in about $255 million in revenues annually.” The NFL “paid its commissioner, Roger Goodell, $29.4 million in 2011, the most recent figures available.” For the record the National Hockey League and the PGA are also nonprofit organizations. No wonder we’re a tad cynical about the IRS code.

New Jersey, all good government like, gave the NFL a super $8 million tax break for holding the game in The Garden State and just to be helpful to a nonprofit Jersey paid for the security. Meanwhile, your average fan was by game day shelling out upwards of $2,000 for a ticket in the nose bleed section at MetLife Stadium and those prices were way, way down from what tickets were going for just days earlier.

But wait. Turns out that New Jersey – who would have guessed – has a very tough consumer protection law and Josh Finkleman, a 28-year-old fan with a lawyer is using that state law to sue Mr. $29.4 million and his little nonprofit organization. “Here’s the corner the league is in,” Josh’s lawyer explained with a certain excitement to the New York Times. “They’ve sold their tickets to the Super Bowl the same way, year after year, in other jurisdictions because it’s legal. But now that they’re in New Jersey, they’re in trouble. The statute here is different.”

It turns out that only about 1% of the tickets for yesterday’s game were actually available to the public after the public charity that is the NFL allocated tickets to all of its teams, gave a few extra to the Giants and the Jets, and held back 25% of the ducats for use by the league itself.  I’m sure it is for nonprofit purposes. Put another way, to qualify to purchase some of the 1% of the tickets available for the big game you really need to be a part of the 1%. How very New York and New Jersey. On the surface that ticket allocation scheme would appear to violate a New Jersey law that requires public access to a whole lot more tickets than the NFL made available.

Another reason to bemoan the retirement of Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn is the fact that the senator has introduced legislation to end the nonprofit professional sports charade and the practice, as Coburn says, of Americans “paying artificially high rates in order to subsidize special breaks for sports leagues.”

With the game such a snorer last night, folks naturally took to Twitter or flipped the channel to Downton Abbey. Outrage was in order. The multilingual Coca-Cola ad that featured “America the Beautiful” and illustrated the diversity of the country was panned by some as – wait for it – “un-American.”

BudLightBro (who I’m not following I quickly point out) tweeted: “Not a fan of the CocaCola commercial. America The Beautiful should not be sang in any other language other than English. Sorry not sorry.” Right wing firebrand and former Congressman Adam West seemed to miss the whole point of the ad when he blogged about the dangers of “a Balkanized America.” Such attitudes perhaps help explain why Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor spent the pre-game hours on Sunday pulling their party back from engaging in an effort to pass immigration reform.

And poor old Bob Dylan. People were shocked, shocked that the great man was hocking Detroit-made cars during the Super Bowl. I need my outrage meter recalibrated on this one. I actually like to see Dylan talk, even in a commercial, if for no other reason than to confirm that he still can. I’m also all for Detroit. And, more to the point, Rolling Stone reminds us that Dylan has been pitching stuff for years. As long ago as 1965 he was asked what thing he might consider endorsing. He responded “women’s garments” and followed through with a Victoria’s Secret commercial in 2004. See for yourself, but I’d say is that 2004 spot had even better curves than the new Chrysler. At least Bob isn’t selling used cars.

All in all, I’m really glad Super Bowl XLVIII is in the history books. Happy for Seattle, a little sorry that the great Manning looked throughout the game like he was stuck in an awful New Jersey traffic jam and happy that Dylan shilled for Detroit. The baseball season beckons, Downton Abbey can resume its rightful place on Sunday night and Roger Goodell can go back to running his nonprofit.

But just in case we lose sight of the absurd disconnect between real life and professional football’s annual showcase with all its hype and typically anti-climactic lack of drama, the satirical “news” website The Onion today features a photo of the Lombardi trophy surrounded by confetti, as the cynical and comic Onion folks say, “made entirely from shredded concussion studies.”

What a game. What a country. I think I may go test drive a Chrysler, while sipping a Coke.


American Presidents, Andrus, Andrus Center, Biden, Coolidge, Eisenhower, FDR, Garfield, Grand Canyon, Idaho Statehouse, Lincoln, Public Relations, Stimulus, Super Bowl

The Presidents

Every president, well almost every president, eventually gets his reappraisal. It seems to be the season for Calvin Coolidge to get his revisionist treatment. The 30th president, well known for his clipped Yankee voice and a penchant for never using two words when one would do, does deserve some chops for agreeing to be photographed – the only president to do so, I believe – wearing a Sioux headdress.

Ol’ Silent Cal came to the Black Hills of South Dakota to vacation in the summer of 1927 and the magnanimous native people who considered the Hills sacred ground made the Great White Father an honorary Chief. The president fished in what later became Grace Coolidge Creek in South Dakota’s Custer State Park – the Sioux were not as gracious to the park’s namesake – and a fire lookout is still in use at the top of 6,000 foot Mt. Coolidge in the park. The Coolidge summer White House issued the president’s famous “I do not chose to run in 1928” statement to the assembled press corps a few miles up the road from the state park in Rapid City.

But all that is just presidential trivia as now comes conservative writer and historian Amity Shlaes to attempt to rehabilitate the diminished reputation of Silent Cal. Shaels’ earlier work The Forgotten Man is a conservative favorite for its re-telling of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; policies that in Shlaes’ revisionist hands helped prolong the Depression and made villains of the captains of Wall Street who, she contends, deserved better treatment at the bar of history.

Shlaes’ new book, predictably perhaps, is winning praise from The Wall Street Journal – “The Coolidge years represent the country’s most distilled experiment in supply-side economics—and the doctrine’s most conspicuous success” – and near scorn from others like Jacob Heilbrunn who writes in the New York Times – “Conservatives may be intent on excavating a hero, but Coolidge is no model for the present. He is a bleak omen from the past.”

As long as we debate fiscal and economic policy we’ll have Coolidge to praise or kick around. The best, most even handed assessment of Coolidge is contained in the slim volume by David Greenberg in the great American Presidents Series. Greenberg assesses Coolidge as a president caught in the transition from the Victorian Age to the modern. “Coolidge deployed twentieth-century methods to promote nineteenth-century values – and used nineteenth-century values to sooth the apprehension caused by twentieth-century dislocations. Straddling the two eras, he spoke for a nation in flux.”

Two facts are important to putting Coolidge in context: he took office (following the death of the popular Warren Harding in 1923) in the wake of the American experience in World War I, which left many citizens deeply distrustful of government as well as the country’s role in the world.  Coolidge left office on the eve of the Great Depression. A nation in flux, indeed.

To celebrate President’s Day we also have new books, of course, on Lincoln, as well as the weirdly fascinating political and personal relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. There is also a fascinating new book on the relationship among former presidents – The Presidents Club. David Frum writing at The Daily Beast wades in today with a piece on three presidents who make have been great had they had more time – Zachery Taylor, James Garfield and Gerald Ford. Three good choices in my view.

Even William Howard Taft generally remembered for only two things – being the chubbiest president and being the only former president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme court is getting his new day in the sun. The sun will be along the base paths at the Washington National’s park where the new Will Taft mascot will join Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt for between inning races. Talk about revisionism. At 300 pounds Taft never ran for anything but an office.

One enduring truth is that every president is shaped by his times. (One day, I hope, we can say “their” times.) And over time we assess and reassess the response to the times. Reappraisal is good and necessary. A robust discussion of whether Calvin Coolidge’s economic policies were a triumph of capitalism or a disaster that helped usher in the Great Depression is not only valuable as a history lesson, but essential to understanding our own times and the members of what truly is the most exclusive club in the world – The American Presidency.

By the way, The Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University will convene a major conference on “The State of the Presidency” on February 28, 2013 in Boise. The day-long event is open to the public, but you must register and can do so online. Hope to see you there.