Freedom Writing

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Night Ronald Reagan Upstaged Gerald Ford

I remember this night 40 years ago. Quite well.

A friend of mine and I were camping. Actually, we were staying in a campground that, as I recall, furnished the tents all set up and everything. You did have to provide your own sleeping bag, but, otherwise, it was kind of like being in a canvas motel. Still, my friend and I felt so grown up to be allowed to camp by ourselves.

There were no television sets in the tents, but I remember bringing a portable TV with me because that week was the Republican convention in Kansas City, and President Gerald Ford and former Gov. Ronald Reagan were locked in a battle for the nomination that neither had managed to secure during the primaries. As long as I can remember, I have been a political junkie, and conventions always appealed to me — even though I realized from an early age that they were biased and would not present a fair and balanced picture of the choices. The nominee from the opposing party is always demonized at a convention.

Ford wound up winning that nomination, and he gave his acceptance speech 40 years ago tonight. It was his night, and there was a lot riding on it. Jimmy Carter, who had been nominated by the Democrats the month before, led the polls by double digits. Commentators for the three major TV networks kept reminding viewers that it was the pivotal moment in Ford's presidency. It was, they said, the most important speech of his life.

Now, Ford never was a great speaker, but he probably delivered the best speech of his political career that night. However, that isn't what makes this night from 1976 so memorable. It was what Ford did after he gave his speech. He invited Reagan — who was seated with his wife in the convention hall — to come to the podium and say a few words.

It was a truly generous gesture on Ford's part — and it was a history–altering moment for Reagan and America.

When that convention was over, Reagan could have returned to California and gone into retirement with his head held high, assured that he had given a run for the presidency his best shot and had come up short. After all, he would be nearly 70 at the time of the next presidential election, and no one had ever been elected president at such an advanced age.

But he accepted the invitation and made his way from wherever he had been sitting in the convention hall (I think it was in the back) to the podium where Ford and other leading Republicans waited for him.

The speech Reagan delivered that night left many Republicans wondering if they had chosen the right candidate to lead their ticket against Carter that fall — and may well have been what led to Reagan's successful bid for the presidency in 1980.

It wasn't a great speech. It appeared mostly ad libbed, but upon reflection I concluded that speaking on the mashed potato circuit, as well as his acting career and the time he spent broadcasting the play by play of sporting events on the radio, had prepared him for that moment.

Reagan famously used index cards to help him get started on topics when he gave speeches. To the casual observer, he seemed to be speaking off the cuff, but he was giving virtually the same speech he had given hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

The speech he gave 40 years ago tonight was a short one. It lasted only a few minutes, and it wasn't especially eloquent. But it was memorable nonetheless.

He started out by thanking President Ford and the delegates for their warm reception. It was the year of the American bicentennial, and Reagan observed that he had been asked recently "to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles 100 years from now, on our tricentennial. They suggested I write something about the problems and the issues today."

He prepared for this task, Reagan said, by "riding down the coast in an automobile, looking at the blue Pacific out on one side and the Santa Ynez Mountains on the other, and I couldn't help but wonder if it was going to be that beautiful 100 years from now as it was on that summer day."

Undoubtedly, that was a story he had told in speeches before. I don't recall hearing one of Reagan's stump speeches that year, but it seems like the kind of story he would have used frequently. And, because it was the bicentennial year, the story had a fairly short shelf life.

Then Reagan really turned whimsical, observing that the people who would read the letter a century later would know if the Americans of Reagan's time had fulfilled their missions.

"This is our challenge," Reagan told the spellbound delegates, "and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry the message they are waiting for.

"We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President."

Ford, of course, lost that election to Carter, but he made a remarkable comeback in the polls, closing the gap significantly by Election Day. Reagan, running as the Republican nominee four years later, defeated Carter.

I don't know when Reagan decided to run for president again, but I have heard that Reagan's wife Nancy was a decisive influence, as she almost always was, on that decision. According to the accounts I have heard and read, Mrs. Reagan persuaded a reluctant Reagan to run in 1980.

By 1984, Reagan had been the target of an assassination attempt, and I have heard that Mrs. Reagan was against her husband seeking a second term. The president overruled her on that one.

But apparently he gave in to her in 1980 — and the course of history was changed.

I was not a Reagan fan when he was president, and I always wondered what it was about him that so many found so appealing.

Long after he left the White House, I think I figured it out. Yes, he was called "The Great Communicator," and he was more effective than most presidents at using what Teddy Roosevelt called "the bully pulpit& of the presidency. I always knew that.

But why was he so effective?

I think it was because he genuinely enjoyed telling stories, whether they were serious or funny. He had that rare ability to move people to tears or to laughter with a few words — even if they disagreed on the issues.

It is one of the unwritten requirements of the presidency that whoever is chosen to lead this nation must do the cornball things from time to time, and, frankly, no one did cornball better than Ronald Reagan.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Releasing John Hinckley

I felt torn — and still do — when I heard today that John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, is going to be released after being in custody for 35 years.

I'm torn because, on one hand, I believe that anyone who tries to kill a public official should spend the rest of his or her life in prison — until that life is ended by the state or nature. On the other hand, I believe in the jury system and that anyone who is accused of attempting to kill a public official — or any other crime — must be found guilty by a jury of his or her peers.

Everyone who is old enough to remember that day knows that Hinckley fired the gun that wounded Reagan and three others. The new president, only 10 weeks into his administration, had just given a speech, and a swarm of reporters and photographers were waiting for his exit. It may have been the most photographed presidential assassination attempt in history; there was plenty of photographic evidence of Hinckley's crime.

No one died that day — although when Reagan press secretary Jim Brady, who was critically wounded by a shot to the head and permanently disabled, died in 2014, his death was ruled a homicide, the ultimate outcome of the gunshot wound he suffered 33 years earlier.

Anyway, there was no question of Hinckley's guilt, but there was plenty of doubt about his sanity, given the paper trail he left behind.

And that was the question Hinckley's jury had to decide when he went on trial in 1982. Its verdict — not guilty by reason of insanity — was not a popular one. The laws concerning insanity defense were revised in many states; the defense itself was abolished entirely in three states.

But the point now is that Hinckley was not convicted. His verdict was conditional; he would be confined to a mental institution until it was determined that he was not a threat to himself or others. That was an ongoing struggle for about 25 years. From time to time he was given periodic temporary release privileges that were revoked when it was established that he was still obsessed with actress Jodie Foster — for whom he had attempted to kill the president.

It has now been determined that Hinckley poses no threat to himself or others, and he will be released on Aug. 6 — ironically, two days after the second anniversary of Brady's death. He is to live with his 90–year–old mother and have no contact with the Reagan family or Foster.

In case you're wondering, Hinckley could not face new charges in Brady's death because he had already been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the original shooting.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Citizen Kaine

The Republican convention has just concluded, the Democrats' convention is about to begin, and Hillary Clinton has named Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate.

The tickets are set for November — or, at least, they will be when the Democrats make their ticket official next week.

And thus the quadrennial angst over the identity of at least one running mate is behind us. But the angst over what it all means and how it will influence the decision America must make continues.

The idealized image of a running mate is someone who will help the nominee's cause, but the overwhelming consensus on both running mates from pundits to both the left and the right was that the choices were rather boring safe picks — picks who weren't likely to hurt the nominees.

Neither probably helped the presidential nominees much in their home states — although you couldn't have said that about a Tim Kaine when Bill Clinton was heading the ticket not his wife. In 1992, when Bill Clinton first won the presidency, Virginia was reliably Republican, having voted for every Republican nominee for nearly 30 years. But after the Clinton administration, Democrats did increasingly better in Virginia in national elections, and they broke a more than 40–year–old electoral drought when Barack Obama carried the state in 2008. He went on to duplicate the feat, albeit by a narrower margin, in 2012.

Most of the polls of Virginia's voters that I have seen this year suggest that Clinton has been enjoying a comfortable lead, but the Kaine pick may prove to be beneficial in Virginia after all. The most recent Virginia poll that I have seen, Hampton University's survey of likely voters, showed Clinton and Donald Trump tied at 39% apiece.

But that, as I say, contradicts the findings in other polls. The NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist and FOX News polls, which came out around the same time as Hampton's but surveyed registered, not necessarily likely, voters, showed Clinton with a larger lead over Trump than Public Policy Polling's June survey of more than 1,000 registered voters. That poll showed Clinton with a more tenuous three–point lead over Trump in Virginia.

Polls in the summer generally aren't too reliable, though. You really have to get into the fall campaign — and, in fact, get past the first presidential debate in late September — before the polls will give realistic readings on the pulse of the electorate.

Sure, they're fun to watch right now, like the initial phases of a horse race, but a lot can happen between the start of a race and the end of a race.

Polls in July usually can't tell you much about what to expect in November — except when those polls consistently show a landslide in the making, and it has been more than 30 years since America had a classic, textbook landslide.

Right now, it seems best to evaluate the running mate choices on how well they serve perhaps the most obvious need for both nominees — choices who could help heal fractured parties.

In the past, nominees often have sought to achieve party unity by offering the running mate slot to their closest competitors in the primaries. Sometimes offering an olive branch to the party's vanquished wing helps (i.e., Ronald Reagan's pick of George H.W. Bush in 1980), sometimes it doesn't (i.e., John Kerry's pick of John Edwards in 2004).

In Trump's case, he needed to shore up his credentials with conservatives, but the chances that he would pick the runnerup in the primaries, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, were slim and none.

He came up with a conservative alternative, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who appears to be acceptable to most conservatives in the party and, with six terms in the U.S. House under his belt, has legitimate insider credentials to balance Trump's perceived outsider status.

One can argue, of course — and, no doubt, many will — whether Trump, with his business dealings, is truly an outsider. He has often bragged, in fact, of how intimately he knows the system. That can be a good thing if one's objective is to elect someone who can work within the system to change it, but it can be a bad thing for someone who believes a candidate with that much invested in a system will work to protect it, not change it.

It is difficult to make a plausible case that having Cruz on the ticket would have helped Trump much in November. The race between Trump and Cruz never was that close, and, historically, a party's base will unite in spite of differences on some issues even without the runnerup on the ticket — still Cruz's nonendorsement of Trump in his convention speech clearly shows division remains in the Republican Party.

Pence may be able to help with that, reassuring conservatives and potentially uniting the base. If he does, Cruz's nonendorsement may be all but forgotten by most Republicans in November.

There is division in the Democratic Party as well, but it seems less certain that Kaine will be able to help much with that.

Even though the Democrats will have a platform that is considerably more left–leaning than ever before, the leftist wing of the party heavily supported Sanders in the primaries, and many of those Democrats may not vote for Clinton. They probably won't vote for Trump, but they might vote for the Green Party's candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, or they might not vote at all.

All along, the Clinton general election campaign strategy has been counting on the help that young voters gave Obama in 2008 and 2012, but many young voters supported Sanders in the primaries, and it is questionable whether Tim Kaine can address their concerns.

It will depend on what those concerns are.

If Sanders' supporters are mostly concerned about social issues or foreign policy, Kaine might fit the bill. National Journal's most recent congressional rankings — which are based on 2013 roll call votes — indicated that Sanders and Kaine are pretty close in those areas. Kaine, in fact, was considered more liberal in both (68% to 66% on social issues, 71% to 61% on foreign policy).

But the Sanders campaign was based primarily on economic issues, and that is where a considerable divide exists between Sanders and Kaine. The Journal gives Sanders a rating of 82% on economic issues; Kaine receives a far more centrist rating of 53%.

As a result, many of Sanders' supporters may choose not to participate in the election at all if they do not feel another candidate adequately represents them.

(In the interest of comparison, here is how Clinton fared in the National Journal's rankings when Clinton, then a senator, sought the presidential nomination in 2008. She received an 84% ranking on economic issues, an 83% ranking on social issues and a 66% ranking on foreign policy issues. Sanders, two years into his first term as a senator, received a 94% on economic issues, a 77% on social issues and a 94% on foreign policy issues. Citizen Kaine was the former governor of Virginia.)

I have a feeling that, unlike just about every other presidential election in my lifetime, every single vote will matter this time, and the Clinton campaign, mindful of that likelihood, went for a running mate who could be an electoral firewall. The usual swing states will be swing states again — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida — and each presents its unique set of issues and challenges.

In Ohio, Trump must overcome the resistance of the state's governor, former primary challenger Gov. John Kasich. Trump's economic message is resonating with Ohio's blue–collar voters; three of the last four polls there have shown Trump and Clinton tied. Pence, as the governor of a neighboring state, may help there.

I haven't seen a poll from Pennsylvania in nearly two weeks. At the time, one showed Clinton leading by nine points, the other showed Trump leading by two points. The most recent poll from Florida had Clinton leading by seven points.

Kaine probably can't help much in Virginia, although if the race is as tight as the Hampton University poll suggests, Kaine and his perfect electoral record in Virginia could help Clinton if she stumbles in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

To maintain historical plausibility with political scientists, the winner of the election needs to carry at least two of those three states. Recent electoral results indicate that Clinton might be able to win the presidency without winning any of them, but the fact is that no presidential candidate since 1960 has won the White House without carrying at least two of those states.

Will that be the case again in 2016? Or, as it has been with so many other things this year, will that tidbit of conventional wisdom prove to be invalid?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Of Glocks and Books and Computers ...

There was a memorial service here in Dallas earlier this week for the five police officers who were gunned down by a young black man who was reportedly upset over the shootings of black suspects by white policemen in Louisiana and Minnesota.

I wasn't able to watch the service on TV because I was at work, but I read the text of Barack Obama's speech online when I got home that night. And I have watched video clips on TV and online.

As I have acknowledged here before, I have never been an admirer of Obama, but even I must admit that the speech started out to be perhaps his finest oratorical moment — comparable, in my mind, to the speech Ronald Reagan gave to the nation the night of the Challenger disaster.

He was mindful of the fact that he was speaking at a service that was showing its respect for five public servants. But then he veered off into ideological territory. Such a thing would be inexcusable, anyway, but Obama made it worse by appearing to justify the actions taken by the angry, apparently mentally disturbed young man.

Obama lamented the fact that it was easier for a young black man to get his hands on a Glock than a computer or a book.

Now, to me, this said everything one needs to know about Obama's mindset. I have concluded that he believes racism only has a white face because whenever a white person kills a black person, he decries it as racism. But when a black person kills a white person, if the case gets any media attention at all — and, of course, the shootings here in Dallas were widely reported — Obama blames it on easy access to guns.

Someone needs to tell the president that guns are not cheap. A library card, on the other hand ...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Friend the Hall of Famer

Dr. Donna Lampkin Stephens, a friend and former colleague from my newspaper days in Arkansas, was inducted into the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame during the weekend.

It was the 10th induction class and the first to include a woman.

Donna's a trailblazer, all right, but I find myself thinking of her as a girl — not because I am sexist (I don't think I am) but because, darn it, Donna was a girl when I first knew her. I suppose I will always think of her that way.

We both graduated from the University of Arkansas with degrees in journalism and went to work for the Arkansas Gazette's sports department. I got there a few months before she did after I spent a year and a half at a smaller newspaper in central Arkansas. I think she came to the Gazette straight after her graduation from the University of Arkansas.

I worked on the copy desk. Donna wrote articles. I know she covered other sports because all of our writers had to cover sports other than their specialties, especially during football season, but she was primarily a golf writer. I edited her copy on many occasions. She was not only a good writer, she was a meticulous reporter.

I came to realize during my time as a sports copy editor that some sports are more difficult to make exciting in print than others. Golf seems especially stuffy in print. The fact that the TV announcers providing commentary for tournaments speak in a virtual whisper doesn't help — whereas a story about a home run or a touchdown and the accompanying roar — or deafening silence — of the crowd can almost write itself.

As the great Red Smith once observed, people go to or watch a sporting event to have fun, then they pick up the paper the next day to read about it and have fun all over again.

If the tournaments Donna covered were banal, it was hard to tell from her reports.

Donna isn't the first of my former colleagues to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. She isn't even the second — or third. We had a very talented staff at the Gazette. Sometimes I feel like the third baseman of the '27 New York Yankees. I mean, the '27 Yanks are remembered as one of the greatest baseball teams of all time, and everyone remembers the stars, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, from that team. But who remembers the third baseman? (It was Joe Dugan, by the way. He had a great reputation as a defensive player, but he hit fewer home runs in his career than Ruth did in the '27 season.)

I understood my role, though. As a copy editor, my job was defensive in nature. It was up to me to prevent mistakes from getting into print. If my work didn't attract attention, I figured I had been doing my job. A reporter's job, on the other hand, is to attract attention. If people don't read what a reporter has written, he/she is not getting the job done — even if the copy editor does a first–rate job of catching misspellings and keeping factual errors from making it into the morning paper.

Donna and I worked together for four years before I left to pursue my master's degree. Donna remained with the Gazette until it finally lost its war with the crosstown rival Arkansas Democrat. Since then she has earned her Ph.D. and become a successful journalism professor. She has also done a lot of freelance work for my hometown paper — a paper for which I wrote some freelance articles when I was in high school.

And she has written a book about the demise of the Gazette.

Very accomplished — and thoroughly deserving of this honor.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Uniquely American Friendship of Jefferson and Adams

"Adams and Jefferson could hardly have appeared less alike. Adams was eight years older and about five inches shorter, as thoroughgoing a New Englander as Jefferson was a Virginian. Adams had difficulty holding his tongue or his temper; Jefferson was a master of keeping his emotions in check. Yet the two men — and, in time, Abigail, Adams' wonderful wife — were to forge one of the greatest and most complicated alliances in American history."

Jon Meacham, "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power"

I have always been fascinated by the stories in American history, and there may be no more intriguing story in the history of this great nation than the relationship between two of its Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. For several reasons, their friendship is worth reflecting on as we celebrate the nation's 240th birthday — and observe the 190th anniversary of both Adams' and Jefferson's deaths.

Bearing in mind that political labels of the 21st century are wholly inadequate for describing the politics of 18th– and 19th–century men, they are still useful in enabling those of our time to get an idea where those men might stand on the modern political spectrum. It really isn't that much different from comparing baseball players of different eras — i.e., Babe Ruth vs. Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds. They played in different ballparks against a different caliber of competition. Ruth didn't play as many games in a season as Aaron and Bonds did, nor did he play when there were playoffs other than the World Series (unless two teams were tied atop their league standings at the end of the regular season).

And they didn't play night games during the Bambino's career. They did play quite a few doubleheaders, which were increasingly rare in Aaron's day and virtually nonexistent in Bonds'.

But, anyway ...

I would describe Jefferson as something of a libertarian, perhaps even a bit radical for his day. Adams was more of a strait–laced conservative — and the more emotional of the two.

Now, I must caution the reader that these labels must be seen in the context of the times. We have conservatives and liberals and libertarians today, but the issues are different — and America is different. Today the United States is a superpower. In the 18th century, it was small and fragile. In 1790, there were fewer than 4 million people living in the United States. There are more than 320 million today, and the Census Bureau projects a population of 417 million by 2060.

There is always a lot of rhetoric in modern political campaigns — sometimes it is justified, most of the time it is not — that the times are fraught with peril and disaster will strike if the wrong choices are made. In Adams' and Jefferson's day, that was no exaggeration. They knew the stakes were always high. The threat of attacks from enemies foreign and domestic was as constant a fact of life in 18th–century America as it is in 21st–century Israel.

From the time they met at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 until they were driven apart by the politics of George Washington's first term as president (during which Adams was vice president and Jefferson was secretary of State), Adams and Jefferson worked together frequently — and quite well at that. In 1784, roughly five years before Washington became president, Adams said of Jefferson, "He is an old friend with whom I have often had occasion to labor on many a knotty problem and in whose abilities and steadiness I always found great cause to confide."

For his part, Jefferson said of Adams, "I never felt a diminution of confidence in his integrity and retained a solid affection for him."

The men signed the Declaration of Independence — of which Jefferson was the principal author — 240 years ago today and were allies in nearly everything. But they came to a parting of the ways over the size and scope of the federal government. Adams was a devout believer in a strong, centralized government. Jefferson favored a hands–off approach and a deference to the rights of the states to conduct business as they saw fit.

Adams, who was the nation's first vice president, was elected to succeed Washington in 1796 — at a time when the runnerup in the presidential election became vice president. Jefferson, as Adams' runnerup, became the second vice president and called on the president–elect the day before his inauguration. History professor Fawn Brodie wrote, in "Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Biography," that Adams suggested that Jefferson go to France to mend relations between the two countries. That was something that desperately needed to be done, but that, apparently, was not the whole story.

"Had Jefferson been anything but vice president," Brodie wrote, "the offer would have been an act of statesmanship. But Adams, disarmingly tactless as only he could be, betrayed his real feelings in a single sentence. Jefferson reported him as saying 'that it would have been the first wish of his heart to have got me to go there, but that he supposed it was out of the question as it did not seem justifiable for him to send away the person destined to take his place in case of accident to himself nor decent to remove from competition one who was a rival in the public favor.'"

Having been Washington's vice president, Adams was also aware of the threats that were made to the president's life, even in those nascent days of the republic. He may have feared a plot against his life from Jefferson's supporters or perhaps even Jefferson himself.

Four years later, Jefferson defeated Adams for the presidency. They did not switch places, though, as Adams finished third. Aaron Burr became vice president.

After he became president in 1801, Jefferson trimmed the powers and expenditures of the federal government but also was known for acquiring the Louisiana Purchase, more than doubling the size of the United States.

Adams and Jefferson died exactly 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence, on this day in 1826, having resolved their differences after Jefferson left the presidency in 1809.

As he died, Adams seemed to draw comfort from his belief that Jefferson would survive. What he did not know was that Jefferson had died some five hours earlier.

It is the only time in American history that two former presidents died on the same day. And how much more appropriate could it have been — two old friends who signed the Declaration of Independence dying on the document's 50th anniversary?

It was a uniquely American story.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Happy Birthday to My Goddaughter

"Where there is love there is life."

Mahatma Gandhi

Today is my goddaughter Nikki's birthday.

I never married, never had children of my own. I always figured my life was pretty complete as it was.

Until Nikki was born and her parents asked me to be her godfather. That was when I realized just how wrong I was.

In truth, I haven't seen her often. The last time I saw her she was probably 2 or 3 years old. Now she's a mom, with a son who just turned 9 and a daughter who had her first birthday earlier this year (the picture at the top of this post is of Nikki holding Molly shortly after Molly was born).

And I understand now what my parents and grandparents meant when they spoke of how time flies. Where has the time gone?

It was when Randy and Tammy asked me to be Nikki's godfather that I truly understood the meaning of love. I'm not speaking of love in the sense of two sets of glands with tunnelvision for each other and their bodies colliding with the furniture. We all went through that when we were teenagers, right?

No, I'm speaking of the love that parents must feel for their children. I think the best description of that emotion I ever heard was given by Kelsey Grammer on the Frasier show. His producer Roz (Peri Gilpin) had just found out she was pregnant and was freaking out about the responsibility of it all. Frasier told her, "You don't just love your children. You fall in love with them." He told Roz that he didn't know that until he became a parent, but I am proof that you don't have to be a biological parent to feel that.

As I say, I haven't experienced parenthood firsthand, but I know I am capable of feeling what Frasier was talking about — because I have felt it ever since Nikki was born and I became her godfather.

I keep up with her mainly through Facebook these days — although there was a time when I was in the hospital, and after I came home, she sent me an email almost every day. That meant a lot to me then, and it means a lot to me now.

And it made me regret the fact that I missed so much of her life. It couldn't be helped, really. We lived in different states, and I made the mistake of picking a profession that didn't pay very well so I never could afford to visit.

That doesn't keep me from regretting all the things I missed, all the milestones in her life, all the birthdays.

I don't know if I have much wisdom to share, but still I wish I could have been there to at least try to answer her questions as she was figuring things out.

She seems to have figured a lot of things out without much help from me.

And she seems to be doing a great job raising her kids. I always knew she would.

Happy birthday, Nikki. You make me proud every day.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Game Changer

Last night's mass shooting in Orlando, Florida is a political game changer.

I have long thought that terrorism is the real wild card in this year's campaign. Terrorist attacks make people feel unsafe, which is, of course, the objective. The more terrorist attacks there are between now and Election Day, the worse the news is for the Democratic ticket that wishes to succeed Barack Obama and Joe Biden — because terrorist attacks make voters compare the situation under those who have been in power with the situation when their predecessors were in power.

And, say what you will about George W. Bush, terrorists weren't carrying out attacks on Americans in California and Florida or anywhere else when he was in the Oval Office. At least, not after 9–11. The wisdom of fighting the terrorists in the Middle East instead of having to fight them here is not lost on American voters when they see news reports of people being gunned down at nightclubs and Christmas parties.

So the best–case scenario for the Democrats would be if no more terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil between now and the election. I'm sure that is what they are hoping for.

But I don't think that is what will happen just as I never thought the election campaign would pass without being marred by a single terrorist attack. And it hasn't. Is there anyone so naive as to think there will not be at least one more in the next five months?

I've heard implications of the left's favorite straw man, the automatic weapon, which is already heavily regulated and wasn't even used in this attack. It's easier to ignore terrorism when it is happening half a world away than it is when it is happening just down the road a piece.

And it is easier to blame something that isn't responsible — automatic weapons — than it is to blame something that is responsible — Islamic radicalism.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

California, Here They Are

It has always struck me as odd.

For most of my lifetime, California has been the largest state (by population) in the country. In November, the winner in California (and that is generally expected to be the Democrat; California hasn't voted for a Republican since Ronald Reagan was preparing to leave the White House in 1988) will win — by virtue of that solitary victory — one–fifth of the electoral votes needed to capture the presidency.

That is why many Democrats remain confident of winning this year. Throw in other large states that have been voting reliably for Democrats during that same period — New York, Michigan, Illinois — and those that have been voting almost as often for Democrats but usually by narrower margins — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida — and Democrats don't feel that they will need to win many of the mid–sized and smaller states to secure victory in the election.

(Any stock investor will tell you, though, that past results are no guarantee of future behavior.)

Yes, California is at the very heart of Democrats' general election battle plan.

And yet it is a virtual afterthought in the primaries.

The biggest reason for that, I suppose, is the fact that California's presidential primary is nearly always scheduled for the very end of primary season. By that time, party nominees have already been decided — usually — and California voters merely rubber–stamp the decision that has been made by others.

It seems to me that the last time California's Republican presidential primary had any relevance to the outcome of the race for the nomination was in 1976 when California's former governor, Ronald Reagan, needed to win there to remain viable in his race against President Gerald Ford. Reagan did win the primary by a margin of nearly 2 to 1, but Ford still won the nomination.

Democrats moved California's primary up to what was known as "Super Duper Tuesday" in March 2008 so the state could wield greater influence on the nomination. But that was the year of Hillary Clinton's duel with Barack Obama that went down to the first week of June before Clinton conceded defeat.

Clinton won California's primary in 2008, but nearly two dozen states and territories voted that day. When the smoke cleared, Obama had secured more delegates than Clinton and was on his way to the nomination — although, as I said, the campaign went on for three more months before Clinton finally conceded what most observers already knew.

Before that, I guess you would have to go back to 1968 — when primaries were not yet the preferred method for selecting delegates — to find a California primary that was expected to influence the nomination — even though it, too, was held at the end of that year's primary season. In 1968, the presumptive front–runner, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated after claiming victory over Sen. Eugene McCarthy in the California primary, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who entered no primaries that year, won the nomination the old–fashioned way — behind the scenes.

The concept of voters actually playing a role in the parties' presidential nomination processes is fairly new in the American experience. It is not how most of our presidents — the great and the not–so–great alike — won their parties' nominations.

But it is the expectation of modern voters that they will be allowed a legitimate opportunity to have a say in the nomination process. (Considering that this has apparently produced two unpopular nominees this year, both parties may want to re–evaluate how they choose their nominees when this election is over.)

And expectations have always played an important role in presidential politics.

Those expectations have shifted dramatically in California.

A little over a month ago, polls were showing Clinton with a double–digit lead over Sanders in California. Polls continued to show her comfortably in front as recently as two weeks ago. Expectations in early May were that Clinton would win easily in California and become the presumptive nominee. Thus, the Clinton campaign scheduled stops elsewhere in the weeks before California, and the candidate turned her attention to her presumptive Republican rival instead of her challenger within her own party.

But in a new poll released today — two days before the primary — Clinton's lead over Sanders is down to two percentage points, which is well within the poll's margin of error. In recent days, Clinton has canceled planned stops in other places and returned to California to woo the voters in the Golden State.

As CBS News observes in its report on today's poll, Clinton does not need to win California outright — or New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico or the Dakotas, all of whom hold their primaries on Tuesday as well. She only needs to keep adding to her delegate total.

But Sanders voters — at least the ones in California — indicate that they are not motivated so much by a belief that Sanders can still win the nomination as they are by the desire to influence the direction of the party.

And running out the clock is not the kind of finish Clinton's supporters were hoping for. They were looking for a Secretariat–like 31–length win, not a photo finish in which she limped across the finish line barely ahead of a 74–year–old socialist from Vermont. Especially with the help of so–called superdelegates who are obligated to no one.

Clinton's supporters were expecting a decisive, double–digit win in California — and, given the unpredictability of modern American politics, that may still happen, but the record of this campaign has been that Sanders has tended to underperform in polls leading up to primaries and then overperform (in the context of those polls) on Election Day. Clinton has won in more places than Sanders has but, outside of the South (and its high population of blacks, most of whom have been in Clinton's corner), typically by margins far lower than are expected from candidates who are thought to be historically inevitable.

Clinton needs a solid victory on Tuesday in the largest state in the union to build pressure for Sanders to withdraw in the sake of party unity — but, as Sanders insists there will be a contested convention in Philadelphia next month, his withdrawal after Tuesday's primaries does not seem likely.

Another narrow Clinton victory certainly won't change that.

Hillary's husband, a much more gifted politician than his wife will ever be, would know that the wise thing to do is eliminate your in–party opponent before turning your sights on your general election rival. Learning that lesson now could come at a high price.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Jane Seymour

When I was a boy, a BBC–produced series called "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" was a big hit on public broadcasting. In six installments, it told the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII of England, whose theory of the divine right of kings was applied in almost every way imaginable during his reign — but perhaps most flagrantly in his treatment of marriage.

Henry's infamous clashes with the pope led to the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, permitting the king to annul two of his marriages and execute two of his wives.

His sixth wife survived him, and the wife he married 480 years ago today, Jane Seymour, died less than 18 months later after giving birth to Edward VI, Henry's only male heir to survive infancy. Henry's marriage to Seymour, a former lady–in–waiting, came 11 days after the execution of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Boleyn was beheaded for treason, incest and adultery; after nearly 500 years, the case against her remains suspect.

Henry's marriages typically ended for one of two reasons (sometimes both) — the perceived failure of the wife to produce a male heir or the allegation of infidelity. That would be infidelity on the part of the wife, of course. Henry carried on many extramarital affairs in his life, but none of his marriages ended because of his infidelity, which would have been far easier to prove.

I can't claim to have read much about Henry VIII and his six wives. I watched most of the PBS series with my parents, but that was many years ago. Nevertheless, my impression at the time was that Henry was a narcissist, even though I had no idea what that was, and Jane Seymour was probably the only one of his six wives he truly loved.