Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Triple Crown in the Near Future?

At about this time next Saturday, the Belmont Stakes will be over. Will Big Brown win it and become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years?

David Steele of the Baltimore Sun was wondering, a mere two days after Big Brown's triumph in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, if by winning the thoroughbred trifecta, Big Brown "will elevate the sport beyond all its issues."

A Triple Crown for Big Brown, Steele writes, "would mean everything to the business ... No more almost-stars -- let's have a real superstar, on the level of Secretariat and Seattle Slew and Affirmed (and Alydar, more of a legend as a runnerup than nearly every winner since his duel with Affirmed in 1978)."

We should have an answer in another week, even though it may not be the answer horse racing fans want.

According to Christine Brennan in USA Today, "that steroid thing" might mean the dreaded asterisk for Big Brown if he wins the Triple Crown.

We'll find out a lot next weekend.

Medved on McCain's Running Mate

Michael Medved, a conservative talk show host, has posted a "pros and cons" column on running mate prospects for John McCain at Townhall.

Medved apparently was inspired to compile his list after McCain invited three prospects -- Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist -- to spend the Memorial Day weekend with him in Arizona.

"Each of the three visitors offers strengths and weaknesses to a potential ticket," writes Medved, "as do the other names under consideration for the Republican nomination for vice president of the United States."

The "bottom line," according to Medved, is that Jindal should be the choice.

"Jindal offers the GOP the best chance in many years for reshaping the party's tarnished, tired image without in any way abandoning timeless conservative principles," he concludes. "The very prospect of a vice president whose full legal name is Piyush Subhaschandra Amrit "Bobby" Jindal has a marvelously exotic, only-in-America feel to it."

I can't help thinking that, if a McCain-Jindal ticket won the election, Chief Justice John Roberts would spend some time rehearsing Jindal's name in the weeks before January 20 so he could pronounce it correctly during the inauguration ceremony.

However, "[i]f McCain for some reason misses this obvious choice, Mary Jodi Rell of Connecticut offers another ground-breaking possibility which Democrats will find tough to smear," Medved says.

Rell, as Medved points out, won the governor's office in a heavily Democratic state. "Her husband is a Navy pilot (like McCain), and she herself is a courageous breast cancer survivor," Medved observes.

And the worst thing he can say about her? "[S]he would be the first individual on a national ticket since Truman without a college degree."

But, as Medved acknowledges, "In today’s anti-elitist climate, that might actually be an advantage."

Time to Settle It, Once and For All

As the Democrat National Committee meets to discuss what is to be done with the Michigan and Florida delegates, it's worth noting a few things.
  • First, it is beyond dispute that both states scheduled their primaries before party rules said they could -- and apparently with both states' party leaderships' knowledge of the probability of severe ramifications if the rule was violated.

    You may not agree with the rule, but it is a rule. I'm sorry for the voters in Michigan and Florida. They did their part -- they participated. It isn't their fault that their states jumped the gun in scheduling the primaries.

  • Second, it also appears to be likely that this is going to settle things in the race for this year's nomination -- possibly before the primaries on Tuesday.

    I'm sorry if it turns out that a ruling on the Michigan and Florida delegations minimizes the importance of those final primaries -- but on the positive side, almost every state got to take part in a genuine debate over the Democratic nomination this year. That's a victory for democracy.

  • Third, we'll probably hear talk about "electability" from both the Hillary Clinton and the Barack Obama camps during this committee conference. That's important, but it shouldn't be the deciding factor in a decision about a rules violation.

    And supporters of neither candidate should threaten to punish the other by staying home on Election Day if their candidate doesn't win the nomination. Participation by all groups in this year's primaries has been admirable, but it's only half the battle. You have to vote in November if you want to help make your candidate(s) president, senator, congressman or governor.

    The only clear preference being indicated by any group of voters seems to be coming from Democrats themselves -- polls now show more than 50% of Democrats prefer Obama for the nomination and he has a double-digit lead in most surveys.

    But national polls show both Democrats leading John McCain among all likely voters by margins that are within the margin for error -- numbers that will fluctuate during the summer as running mates are named and conventions are held.

    Apparently, neither Clinton nor Obama can legitimately claim to have an advantage over the other against McCain -- at this stage.

The 40th Anniversary of a Political Turning Point

A recent article by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the New York Daily News recalls her memories of her last weekend with her father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Kathleen was the oldest of the 10 Kennedy children who were born during Kennedy's lifetime (his 11th child was born a few months after his assassination).

In February 1968, when Bobby Kennedy was on the verge of announcing his bid for the presidency, Townsend recalls a visit her parents made to her high school in Vermont. The senator had agreed to speak to the student body, so he and his wife took some additional time to spend with their daughter.

"During what turned out to be our last weekend together, we raced each other down ski trails in the brisk air, discussed my paper on Wordsworth by the fire and talked about his running for president," Townsend writes.

"I hope today's young people can learn, as I did, from my father's own sense of justice. I have never known another like it. It combined righteous anger with love and compassion."

When Kennedy was alive, the combination of those qualities was misinterpreted as "ruthlessness."

Kennedy's life tragically came to an end in June 1968.

And, for 40 years, I have believed Kennedy's death was a political turning point for this nation.

After Kennedy's death, the Democratic Party nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the presidency. Humphrey never won a primary in 1968. He was nominated the old-fashioned way -- with the support of delegates that were hand-picked by a state's party leadership.

Outside that convention hall in Chicago, antiwar protesters and the city's police clashed in the streets.

But, four years later, changes in party rules allowed an insurgent named George McGovern to win the nomination through an expanded but still limited primary schedule -- although it was not yet typical for any candidate to enter every primary.

At that time, candidates chose which primaries to enter for a variety of reasons -- regional appeal, apparent strength (usually as demonstrated in current polls), a need for exposure -- whatever (it was hoped) would give them the most bang for their campaign bucks. They bypassed the primaries where they weren't well known or where it was believed they couldn't do well.

Quite a few delegates were still chosen the old-fashioned way, but not as many.

Jimmy Carter changed that in 1976. Two hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Carter put his name on every primary ballot and won the nomination and the election.

Since that time, popular primaries have had an increasingly important role in nominating presidential candidates. There aren't even as many caucuses as there used to be.

Perhaps that political development was the legacy of the Kennedy assassination.

One tends to remember turning points with vivid clarity -- whether it's the 9-11 attacks, the JFK assassination or Pearl Harbor.

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing 40 years ago next Thursday. For me, it was perhaps the most memorable event in a year filled with memorable events.

I was 8 years old. I had just finished the second grade, and school had shut down for the summer. My father was a college professor, and he had just completed his academic year as well, so our family had come to Dallas to visit my grandparents for a week or so.

We always stayed with my mother's parents, even though both sets of grandparents lived in Dallas. My mother's parents owned a house with a spare bedroom and they had a couple of rollaway beds as well, so they were much better equipped to house a family of four than my father's parents, who lived in a one-bedroom apartment.

And, even though my father's father had been deceased for more than a year by June 1968, there still wasn't enough room for five people in his mother's apartment.

So, while we visited my father's mother frequently on our visits to Dallas, we stayed with my mother's parents.

There was a certain routine that every member of the family had when we visited my grandparents.

My father was a morning person, often up before the crack of dawn and waiting with his father-in-law near the front window for the newspaper to be delivered.

My grandmother often got up when my grandfather did and went to the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast while he watched the local news on TV. In fact, my grandmother always seemed to be in the kitchen. In most of my childhood memories of my grandmother (with the noteworthy exceptions of holidays, like the Fourth of July and Christmas), she was in the kitchen or her backyard garden.

She's been gone for nearly 20 years, yet, to this day, I associate my grandmother with the smells of her kitchen, the colors of her garden, and the taste of ice-cold Dr Pepper on a hot summer day.

My mother was more of a night person, and she usually stayed in bed until breakfast was ready.

My routine? Well, I was 8 years old. When I visited Dallas, one of the things I loved to do was watch a children's morning TV show called "Peppermint Place," hosted by local TV personality Jerry Haynes, who dressed up in a red-and-white striped sport jacket, wore one of those turn-of-the-century flat-top hats that singers in barbershop quartets wear and went by the name of "Mr. Peppermint."

(Ironically, as I was to learn later, a quirk of fate had made Haynes the first local TV personality to report the assassination of John F. Kennedy from the scene of the shooting more than four years earlier.)

Cable was a phenomenon of the future, still many years away. Forty years ago, local network affiliates, the local public broadcasting affiliate and a few independent channels in the larger cities were all that TV viewers had for news and entertainment.

And network morning news shows weren't as abundant in those days. In fact, almost all of the morning news programming was local. The Today Show had that time period virtually to itself -- no national network competition.

I don't recall who competed in Mr. Peppermint's time slot in those days. I think that, for at least part of his program, Mr. Peppermint was in competition with network personality Captain Kangaroo.

I'm not even sure what the time slot was -- 7 a.m., I think -- but I guess it didn't matter to me. Apparently, I had concluded that Mr. Peppermint was the best choice.

To my 8-year-old mind, the show had everything I wanted. Mr. Peppermint's show had various recurring guest characters, and it aired a lot of cartoons. Most, if not all, of the cartoons featured "Felix the Cat."

We didn't see Felix the Cat cartoons in the Little Rock viewing area, so I always looked forward to trips to Dallas because that meant I would get to see them.

Not so on the morning of June 5, 1968.

When I got up that morning, I found my father and grandfather transfixed by the TV. A TV reporter was talking with an empty ballroom in the background. At the bottom of the screen was text that read "News Bulletin."

If you weren't around in those days, you have to understand something. The '60s were like that. TV programming was often interrupted by "news bulletins."

Especially in a volatile time like the '60s.

But I'm not talking about the "Breaking News" reports that we've had in recent years -- like Michael Jackson showing up for trial in his pajamas or Britney Spears being hospitalized after flipping out in her home.

The "news bulletins" of the '60s usually reported truly newsworthy events, like the launching of rockets into space or Soviet invasions of countries in eastern Europe -- or the shootings/deaths of leaders.

A TV "news bulletin" meant something serious had happened. In the 1960s, the soap opera lives of a Michael Jackson or a Britney Spears wouldn't make the first cut.

The reporter on the TV that morning was telling the audience that Robert Kennedy had been shot a few hours earlier, after delivering his California primary victory speech in Los Angeles. He had been taken to a hospital where he had undergone surgery, and his condition was critical.

I knew the name of Kennedy. I knew it was the name of a man who had been president just a few years earlier, and I knew his brother was running for president. I even had a vague idea what being president meant.

And, unfortunately, I also knew what "assassination" meant. Martin Luther King had been shot and killed only two months earlier.

I think my father had to explain to me what critical meant.

The bigger a story was, the more time the networks would give to the coverage of it. And, it seems to me, the coverage of Kennedy's condition went on all that day. I don't recall seeing TV coverage that extensive for anything -- except for the coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

After lunch, my grandfather and I went into the alley behind his house and walked to the backyard gate belonging to one of his best friends. We went in through the gate and walked to the backdoor of the house.

My grandfather's friend was at home, so we all went to his backyard shed, where the men would sit, drink iced tea, smoke cigars -- and talk.

On that early June afternoon, it wasn't as hot as it would be in Dallas in another month, so we were comfortable with just the windows open in the shed. In a few weeks, we would need a box fan to keep the shed reasonably comfortable.

The conversation that afternoon was about Bobby Kennedy, nothing else. In football-crazy Dallas, anything that blocks the Cowboys from a male-dominated conversation in June, even in those early days of the franchise, is pretty significant.

"Do you think he'll live?" my grandfather's friend asked.

"No," my grandfather replied. "If he does, he'll be a vegetable."

I don't think I was sure what he meant by "vegetable," but I knew it didn't sound good.

We went inside the house and switched on the TV set. The "news bulletin" was continuing, with film clips from Kennedy's final speech, followed by clips of Kennedy laying on the pantry floor after the shooting, followed by camera shots of the hospital. A group of people had gathered outside the hospital, many holding placards that said, "Pray for Bobby."

I know there were prayer vigils for Kennedy all that day and into the night. But, by the early morning hours of June 6, the battle was over. Death had won.

A few years later, Don McLean recorded a song called "American Pie," which had the memorable line, "The day the music died."

If the song is about what is truly the "day the music died," as I've heard, about the 1959 plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and "The Big Bopper," it seems to me that June 6, 1968, should be remembered as "the day faith died."

Because that's what Bobby Kennedy represented to so many people. He represented the faith that we had it within our power to change things for the better -- to end a war, to eliminate poverty, to rid our society of racism and sexism.

Bobby Kennedy was the last politician I can remember in my lifetime who could truly bridge gaps. He could speak to blacks, he could speak to whites. He could speak to the rich, he could speak to the poor. He could speak to the young, he could speak to the old.

He was a young white male born to wealth and privilege, but he could make sense to each group.

Hardly anyone -- regardless of age, race, gender or economic status -- tries to do that anymore because it's so hard to accomplish.

For many people, faith was a casualty in a decade that already had witnessed President Kennedy's assassination, the escalation of the Vietnam War, the murder of Martin Luther King and riots in the streets of American cities.

At least, truth was a casualty -- so much so that, even today, there are still people who don't believe they were ever told the truth about the triumphant Apollo 11 moon landing the following year.

My mother, who supported the insurgent candidacy of Gene McCarthy in the spring of 1968, later confessed to me that, in her own words, she believed the "myths" she had heard about Kennedy in his lifetime -- that he was "ruthless," that he was "ambitious" and "opportunistic."

(She later told me that she had stopped believing those things about Kennedy in the years since his death.)

It seems to me that what the Democratic Party has been lacking in most of its presidential nominees in the four decades since Kennedy was killed is the tenacity that he had for doing the right thing -- morally.

That's a quality that was derided as ruthlessness during his lifetime, but that's a false label.

Kennedy had what the voting public wants. Or, perhaps more importantly, he had what the republic needs.

The American people want leaders who emulate Superman.

Those leaders don't have to "leap tall buildings in a single bound" or be "more powerful than a locomotive" or any of that other superhero stuff.

It's enough if they believe in the principles of "truth, justice and the American way" and devote their energies to promoting them.

I'm not talking about the "my way or the highway" approach of George W. Bush or the "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" attitude of Barry Goldwater.

I'm talking about the steely-eyed determination that was shown by Franklin D. Roosevelt in World War II or John F. Kennedy in staring down the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Bobby Kennedy's widow, Ethel, is still alive. Now 80, she lives at the family compound in Hyannisport, Mass. She has endorsed likely Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, saying "Barack is so like Bobby. ... With courage, caring, and charisma, Senator Obama is leading us toward a kinder, gentler world."

If it is true that Kennedy's death was a political turning point -- and if it is also true, as some have said, that turning points come once in a generation -- then perhaps we are due for another one in 2008. A better one?

If he is to be the true agent of change, Obama should remember that eloquence has its place. FDR, JFK -- and Bobby Kennedy -- had that gift, too. So did lesser politicians who never reached the heights those men reached.

But FDR and the Kennedys also knew that actions can speak louder than words.

Harvey Korman Passes Away

"A world without Harvey Korman -- it's a more serious world."

Mel Brooks

There were moments in Harvey Korman's career that will live forever through the magic of video tape and DVD.

Korman died at the age of 81 on Thursday, succumbing to complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago.

My memories of his career are mostly from his years on The Carol Burnett Show, a classic from that nearly extinct genre, the variety show.

Burnett's show was on Saturday nights. Today, when a show is relegated to Saturday night, it's a sure sign that show is disposable.

In the 1970s, Saturday nights were like pure gold for CBS, which gave viewing audiences an entire evening's worth of classic entertainment every week, starting with "All in the Family," followed by "M*A*S*H," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Bob Newhart Show," and, finally, the hour-long "Carol Burnett Show."

"We were an ensemble," Korman said, "and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I've never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away."

Korman made people laugh every week for a decade on that show before leaving it to seek success as the headliner on his own variety show.

That wasn't his niche, however. He was more suited for being part of a comedy team, whether it was in his Mel Brooks movie roles or his classic sketches with Burnett or Tim Conway.

"It takes a certain type of person to be a television star," he said. "I didn't have whatever that is. I come across as kind of snobbish and maybe a little too bright. ... Give me something bizarre to play or put me in a dress and I'm fine."

It's a funny thing. When you see something on TV or in the movies that is destined to be regarded as a "classic," you know it, even when it's new and you're seeing it for the first time.

Korman's performances were like that.

I was a teenager when I watched Korman in Brooks classics like "Blazing Saddles." I was even younger when I watched him during his early years with Burnett.

Even 35 years ago, I knew they were classics.

And I will always remember his comic genius -- as well as sharing it with the people who meant the most to me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Laughing All The Way to the Bank?

"History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided -- that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. ... What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary."

Scott McClellan, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What's Wrong with Washington

I don't think it's hit the store shelves yet. I think you can pre-order it, but I don't think it arrives in stores until next week.

I don't sell books for a living so I don't know what the schedule is. If you're in a hurry to read it, you might be able to find it in a book store. Or your best bet may be to order it online.


Scott McClellan's book about his experiences in the George W. Bush White House is not drawing very good reviews from his former employer.

Guess the former White House press secretary doesn't mind, since Barnes & Noble has McClellan's book at the top of its speculative best-seller list.

In the book, McClellan says Bush is guilty of "self-deception" in the run-up to the Iraq War.

Dana Perino, the current occupant of McClellan's old office, calls McClellan "disgruntled" over his White House experiences.

And Karl Rove, who is apparently one of McClellan's primary targets in the book, says the writing style "sounds like a left-wing blogger."

Newsweek’s White House correspondent Richard Wolffe wasn't surprised by the tone of the book excerpts to which he has had access.

"He promised when he first started writing this book that he’d engage in some truth-telling,” Michael Calderone quotes Wolffe in Politico. “And that’s what he’s done.”

McClellan may not be an authority on the Middle East ... or Iraq ... or much of anything.

But he had a front-row seat. He's hardly a "left-wing blogger."

No "left-wing" anything could get into Bush's Oval Office for five minutes. McClellan was Bush's spokesman for nearly three years.

And, like it or not, the Republicans are going to have to contend with this book during the election campaign.

Because, if anything, Fred Kaplan writes in Slate, John McCain is more of a neocon than Bush is.

So this book is going to be a topic of discussion in the 2008 campaign. Many discussions.

Unless the totally unexpected happens -- and America pulls its troops out of Iraq.

Don't think that's gonna happen, huh?

Me, neither.

Sydney Pollack Dies

A friend of mine says he and his wife watched "Recount" during the Memorial Day weekend. Sydney Pollack, who died at the age of 73 during the holiday weekend, was a producer of the film.

Pollack had originally been slated to direct the film (a dramatization of the infamous Bush-Gore 2000 election recount in Florida) until the cancer that took his life forced him to give up that role.

"I saw his name on the credits at the end," my friend said in an e-mail, "then heard about his death a few hours later.

"I liked him better as a producer than director."

Pollack wore many hats in his career. He was a rare talent in Hollywood filmmaking -- a producer, director and actor.

Producer Pollack gave us such brilliant films as "The Fabulous Baker Boys," "Tootsie," "Out of Africa," "Searching for Bobby Fischer" and "Absence of Malice."

He also directed some of those films, as well as "Jeremiah Johnson," "The Way We Were" and "Three Days of the Condor."

As an actor, he was seldom the star, rarely the featured attraction. But he made valuable acting contributions to such films as "Tootsie," "The Player," "Changing Lanes," "Husbands and Wives" and "Eyes Wide Shut."

And he found time to make appearances on popular TV shows, such as the original "Twilight Zone," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Frasier" and "Mad About You."

The world of entertainment was a richer place because of Pollack's contributions.

It is a poorer place today because Pollack is no longer part of it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Challenge of Picking a Running Mate

David Brooks of the New York Times neatly summarizes the problem faced by both Barack Obama and John McCain in picking their running mates.

And he has a solution for both men.

"[T]o balance his ticket, Barack Obama should pick a really old white general," Brooks says. "Therefore, he should pick Dwight Eisenhower."

Turning his attention to the Republicans, Brooks writes, "John McCain, on the other hand, needs to pick someone younger than himself. Therefore, he also should pick Dwight Eisenhower."

It's not really quite that simple, as both Obama and McCain should have discovered by now. But it does serve to illustrate Brooks' larger point -- which is that the emphasis in running mate selection is "completely backward."

Speculation in this regard centers on"what state or constituency this or that running mate could help carry in the fall," Brooks points out. But running mates "haven’t had much effect on elections at all, except occasionally as hapless distractions."

A thoughtful presidential nominee "should be thinking about who can help him govern successfully so he can get re-elected," Brooks writes. "That means asking: What circumstances will I face when I take office? What tasks will I need my chief subordinate to perform to help me face those circumstances?"

Brooks has a couple of reommendations for both candidates.

Whether they are plausible is something each nominee needs to decide for himself.

But Brooks' most important assertion in today's column is generic advice.

And both Obama and McCain would be wise to heed it.

"[T]he vice presidential pick is not really a campaign decision. It’s the first governing decision -- and a way to see who is thinking seriously about how to succeed in the White House."

Monday, May 26, 2008

McCain's Memorial Day Weekend Guests

Sen. John McCain has been spending the Memorial Day weekend at his Arizona ranch -- with three potential running mates.

His guests for the weekend were Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist.

All three have been mentioned as prospects for the vice presidency. I don't think any of them fit the bill.

And no clues were forthcoming from the gathering, which apparently wrapped up on Sunday.

"The McCain campaign was tight-lipped about the agenda for the weekend, which aides described as purely social," reports Michael Falcone in the New York Times.

  • It isn't necessary for the candidates on the ticket to get along, but in McCain's case, I think it's pretty important.

    There have been rumblings in the media about problems the senator has with anger management. And it was pretty clear during the Republican campaign that he and Romney don't get along.

    So, although Romney has the economic credentials that McCain lacks -- as well as the ready support of many social conservatives who have been lukewarm to McCain's candidacy and ample financial backing -- I don't think he's right for the spot.

    I just can't see McCain and Romney forging a strong working relationship.

  • Jindal provides the youth (he'll be 37 in about two weeks) to contrast with McCain's age (72 before the GOP convention).

    But the flip side to Jindal's youth is the absence of experience. Jindal was elected to two terms in the House of Representatives before being elected governor of Louisiana last year.

    He's off to a strong start in his efforts to reform the state's government -- but that's a long-term project.

    Jindal's been in office for, what, half an hour?

    He can afford to put any national ambitions he may have on the back burner until he has some solid accomplishments to add to his résumé.

  • Crist (pictured above) is a contradictory sort.

    His support for McCain apparently helped the Arizona senator seal the deal in the Florida primary, which led to Rudy Giuliani's withdrawal from the race in late January.

    And we all learned how vital Florida's support can be during the recount in 2000.

    But, if McCain is going to give serious consideration to Crist as a running mate, he needs to clear the air of the persistent rumors about Crist's sexual orientation.

    As I understand it, there has been talk about Crist being gay for quite awhile.

    Talk that has been reported in journalistic circles.

    Sexual orientation may not work against Crist in state politics, but rumors that he is gay won't help McCain win over the social conservatives who have resisted him, even after clinching the nomination.
    Here's a partial list of some of the sources of things that have been written on the subject of Crist's sexuality:

  1. Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, March 2008.

  2. Orlando Sentinel, February 2008.

  3. Broward-Palm Beach New Times, October 2006.

  4. Online Journal, October 2006.

  5. Orlando Weekly, September 2006.

  6. St. Petersburg Times, January 2005.

I've heard a number of intriguing possibilities brought up, and the three men who spent the weekend with McCain haven't been included on hot prospect lists very often.

The most frequently mentioned names that I've heard are people like Condoleezza Rice, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Joe Lieberman.

I think Rice is too intimately connected to the Bush administration's policies. Pawlenty has said he is committed to his work as governor. And, although Lieberman has been a strong supporter of McCain's presidential bid, the only issue on which the two men seem to share the same opinion is the war.

McCain doesn't need another "Me, too!" voice in support of the Iraq War.

Personally, I still think J.C. Watts is McCain's best choice -- for a number of reasons.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Fallout From the RFK Analogy

HILLARY CLINTON: I find it curious because it is unprecedented in history. I don't understand it. Between my opponent and his camp and some in the media there has been this urgency to end this. Historically, that makes no sense, so I find it a bit of a mystery.

BOARD: You don't buy the party unity argument?

CLINTON: I don't because, again, I've been around long enough. You know my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just don't understand it and there's a lot of speculation about why it is . . .

Transcript of Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader interview with Hillary Clinton

I sincerely hope the media will stop obsessing over minutiae and focus like a laser beam on real issues when the general election campaign begins.

But, for now, we have to continue to endure commentary on things that don't really matter.

This weekend, the discussion has been about Hillary Clinton mentioning the Bobby Kennedy assassination during her interview with the editorial board of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader on Friday.
  • John Harris writes, in the Politico, that the furor is an example of the kind of story that "will cause the media machine to rev up its hype jets."

    And Harris claims to have become pretty good at anticipating which stories will have that kind of impact.

    "Her comment was news by any standard," writes Harris. "But it was only big news when wrested from context and set aflame by a news media more concerned with being interesting and provocative than with being relevant or serious."

  • Her recent reference to the Kennedy assassination is further proof, as Michael Goodwin says in the New York Daily News, that Clinton is her own worst enemy.

    "Context, as in 'you've taken my words out of context,' is the last refuge of a politician caught with foot in mouth," writes Goodwin. "But with both feet in [Clinton's] mouth, she doesn't have a leg to stand on."

    But what else could the context possibly be?

    Goodwin observes that "[t]here is no question she was citing the RFK murder of 40 years ago in the spirit of 'anything can happen' ... Which means she was thinking of murder as a momentum changer. Not a pretty thought in any context."

    No, it isn't a pretty thought. Even though it's true. Anything can happen.

    Including losing a nomination everyone expected you to win.

    In this case, as in so many others, I think Clinton may be guilty of giving voice to thoughts others have been having privately.

    Or, perhaps, not so privately.

    I, for one, have mentioned the possibility of assassination -- and not just with Barack Obama in mind.

    Let us not forget that prominent women have also been the targets of assassins in other parts of the world. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in India in 1984, and Benazir Bhutto was murdered in Pakistan less than a year ago.

    Austria-Hungary's Archduchess Sophie was assassinated with her husband, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in 1914, setting in motion the events that began World War I.

    American nun Dorothy Stang was murdered by logging interests in Brazil in 2005 for her outspoken efforts on behalf of the poor and environmentalism. María Cristina Gómez, a teacher and community activist, was murdered in El Salvador in 1989.

  • Maureen Dowd of the New York Times didn't miss a chance to pile on.

    "In politics, there are many unpredictable and unsavory twists and turns," writes Dowd. "That’s why she’s hanging around, and that’s why she and Bill want to force Barack Obama to take her as his vice president, even if he doesn’t want her, even if Michelle can’t stand her, even if she has to stir the sexist pot, and even if she tarnishes his silvery change message."

  • During that now-infamous interview, Clinton referred to her husband's campaign in 1992, observing that he hadn't secured all the delegates he needed until the California primary in June.

    Jake Tapper of ABC News takes her to task on that one.

    "Yes, [Bill Clinton] literally did not secure the nomination until June 1992," Tapper says, "but by then it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the nominee."

    What's really more to the point is Tapper's observation that the 2008 primary/caucus season actually held its first binding vote in Iowa on January 3 -- much earlier than any caucus or primary had ever been held before.

    Which makes the duration of the Democrats' 2008 pursuit of primary votes one for the books.

  • Also to the point is Thomas Lifson's observation, in American Thinker, that "[o]nce again Obama and his partisans take deep personal offense when his name is not even mentioned. Obama is, to himself and his partisans, so significant that any mention of anything that might tangentially be directed at him amounts to a personal attack."

    Obama and his people will have to stop being so sensitive if they hope to be successful in the general election campaign. If this episode has taught them anything, it is that they should never become indifferent to security issues.

    Real security issues.

    Homeland security and candidate security.
You know, I don't dispute that Clinton has a right to take her campaign to the convention in Denver and give a prime-time address to her delegates.

It's not unprecedented.

Ted Kennedy did it in 1980, when he had clearly lost the nomination to President Carter. Gary Hart did it in 1984, when he had lost the nomination to Walter Mondale. Jesse Jackson spoke to the Democratic conventions in 1984 and 1988 -- even though he didn't finish second in either campaign.

But the odds against Clinton get longer with each passing day. It's probably past time for Clinton and her supporters to stop kidding themselves that they still have a chance to win this thing.

At this point, Obama is probably more heavily favored to win the nomination in late August than Big Brown is to wrap up thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Opposition Research

"I want this to be a campaign of ideas ... and these campaigns always wind up being about a candidate's high school transcripts. ... You know, if we just took the money the campaign spent on personality contests and partisan side shows, we could solve this country's problems and shut down talk radio, all at the same time."

Matt Santos, Democratic presidential candidate on "The West Wing"

There may never have been a time in American history when it was more important -- indeed, essential -- to have a "campaign of ideas" in a presidential election than it is in 2008.

The choices that are made this year truly will have a profound influence on the future of this country -- and the world.

But, what I'm hearing from the campaign trail is this:

  • Adam Nagourney reports, in the New York Times, that Republicans are concerned "about signs of disorder in [John McCain's] campaign."

    McCain, Nagourney says, has tried to mollify nervous Republicans by making reassuring speeches to the National Rifle Association and making statements about national security and taxes.

    The emphasis of the Republican campaign, McCain's advisers tell Nagourney, will be different once there is a Democratic nominee.

    "'The race changes the moment [Hillary Clinton] drops out and [Barack Obama] emerges as the official nominee,' said Charlie Black, a senior McCain adviser. 'Then the focus becomes on a two-person race and that leads to us getting more equal treatment in terms of getting airtime. We’ve had to fight with one hand tied behind our back.'"

    I haven't seen any plans, at this point, that suggest a sense of urgency for McCain to address the economic crisis in this country.

    But that's what this campaign is shaping up to be about. It's not really about the Iraq War (although I believe that is a subject the American people must discuss in depth during this campaign) or social issues or personalities.

  • Obama was in Florida this week, pledging to Cuban-Americans that he would meet with the Cuban leadership if he becomes president. Was he pandering? I'm not sure. After all, the crowds were pretty enthusiastic already, even before he said anything.

    Or, for that matter, as he told one boisterous crowd during his swing through Florida, "I haven't done anything yet." How true, how true.

  • No one seems to be talking about it, but The Economist says inflation is back. "If you measure the numbers correctly, two-thirds of the world's population will probably suffer double-digit rates of inflation this summer."

  • This week, the Democratic National Committee unveiled a website designed for opposition research into McCain's positions on various issues. Called McCainPedia, it's a good start.

    But that's all it is right now. A starting point.

I've been looking at this DNC website on McCain. But, while I've found a few entries on economics, I haven't found anything about energy.

In these turbulent times, both parties should have websites like that one that give voters access to information. Especially information about things like policies on bringing down gas prices and food prices.

Things that have a direct impact on lives.

But voters need to take it on themselves to research the candidates and learn as much as they can about what each one believes about the issues facing America today.

And nothing has an impact that is more direct or more personal than the economy.

Whatever else is happening in your life, the condition of the economy influences it.

Consider this. If you drive a vehicle that gets 20 miles/gallon and you have to drive 20 miles to get to work and 20 miles to return home (as many Americans living in the so-called "bedroom communities" near large cities do), you'll soon be paying $8/day just to drive back and forth to work.

Not too long ago, that round trip cost $4 or $5.

Which means you'll be paying $15 to $20 more per week just to drive to your job and return home. That's $65 to $86 more per month.

Did you just get a $1,000/year raise? Well, that should just about cover the increase in fuel costs -- assuming the price increases stop when we reach $4/gallon.

Oh, wait a minute. I didn't factor in the federal and state taxes that will be withheld. Guess that raise won't completely cover the fuel price increase after all.

Sorry about that.

Besides, my calculation never accounted for the increased prices for everything else. Guess you'll have to (pardon the pun) eat that loss.

Do you think fuel price increases will ever stop?

Peter Gosselin writes, in today's Los Angeles Times, that the economy may have reached a "tipping point" with the ever-escalating prices of gas and oil.

I don't think you need to be an economist to figure that one out.

Although it appears that some financial experts are just realizing that gas prices are making it harder and harder for average Americans to make ends meet.

Especially, as Gosselin reports, with "Ford Motor Co.'s announcement Thursday that it was abandoning any hope of making a profit this year or next now that sales of its gas-guzzling pickup trucks and Explorer sport utility vehicles have plunged."

I have a feeling there will be a lot of people who have been working for Ford Motor Co. who will be without jobs before long.

Would that be an economic epiphany?

This week, gas prices at the stations in my neighborhood moved closer to $4/gallon. They haven't reached that level yet, but it's really only a matter of time before they do.

The posted prices are now $3.85/gallon. That's an increase of 20 cents/gallon in less than two weeks.

At this rate, we'll be in $4/gallon territory by the time they hold the third race in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown on June 7.

Energy in general is going to cost me a lot more in 2008 than it did in 2007. Even though virtually the only driving I do is to work and back.

I just received my electric bill covering most of the month of April. The total was a bit higher than I paid at this time last year, but temperatures and rainfall were about the same, so the increase wasn't drastic, just noticeable.

I live in Texas, and temperatures in the second half of May have been higher than usual -- so I expect my next utility bill to be higher as well. And summer in Texas is always hot. Temperatures are going to be into triple digits before long, and they will stay there for weeks, if not months.

"If I owned hell and Texas, I would rent out Texas and live in hell."

Gen. Phillip Henry Sheridan, Union army

With spending power as restricted as it has been, if we see temperatures that are comparable to the summers of 1998 or 1980, we'll be facing a crisis that's almost unimaginable -- thousands of deaths, most of them elderly people on fixed incomes or the unemployed who will try to rely solely on box fans to cool their homes so they can save money on their utility bills.

In some of these homes, children will die from the heat. And there will be dead dogs and cats in the homes of both the elderly and the unemployed.

That is, if malnutrition doesn't kill them first.

I went to the store on my way home from work yesterday. I paid about the same amount as I was paying each time I bought groceries at this time last year -- but I left the store with about half as much.

And there are some things I just don't buy anymore.

I'm not doing much for the Memorial Day weekend. I'm not going anywhere or doing anything special. But I decided to treat myself just a little and make hamburgers on the holiday. Nothing fancy. Just something sort of festive.

Something that reminds me of the happy days of my childhood, when my family would grill hamburgers on summer evenings and make homemade ice cream. (Just for the record, I'm not making homemade ice cream this year!)

But this year, instead of ground beef, I've been buying ground turkey meat. You can substitute it for ground beef, it costs less and it doesn't taste bad -- but turkey burgers just isn't the same, is it?

Maybe it's healthier, but it just isn't the same.

I guess the "good old days" weren't as good as we thought they were. And longing for them won't bring them back.

In 2008, we must talk about the future. About making tough choices.

We simply cannot be bogged down by side issues.

Not again.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Clinton Raises Subject of RFK Assassination

Hillary Clinton evoked the memory of Bobby Kennedy and his assassination 40 years ago when being interviewed by the editorial board of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus-Leader today.

Clinton has been campaigning in South Dakota, where Democratic and Republican voters will hold their primaries on June 3.

A friend of mine alerted my attention to this earlier this afternoon, e-mailing me a link to the New York Post, which may have been responsible for breaking the news. Thanks for the tip, Doug.

Geoff Earle reports in the New York Post that Clinton apparently was trying to justify her decision to remain in a race that many political observers are now saying is a done deal.

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?" the Post quotes Clinton as saying. "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it."

Barack Obama's campaign apparently understood enough, issuing a statement that said Clinton's comment "was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign."

Earle writes that sources have said that Obama "has faced threats" in this campaign. The language is a bit guarded, but judging from the response of his campaign to Clinton's remarks, I'd say the "threats" have almost certainly included assassination threats.

Those remarks from Clinton may have been off hand, but they seem to be a little close to home.

Recently, I have mentioned the possibility of assassination in relation to the selection of a running mate. It is not a pleasant subject, but it is a subject that any potential president must consider.

What is "unfortunate" about this is that the subject of Bobby Kennedy's assassination nearly 40 years ago was brought up only a few days after we learned that his brother Ted has a malignant brain tumor.

Of course, one doesn't render such threats as meaningless by ignoring them. One renders them meaningless by improving security and taking the appropriate steps to prevent an attack.

Even so, such threats can't be rendered totally meaningless.

If you're determined to take someone's life and you're willing to exchange your own to accomplish it, your chances of success are pretty good.

So, unless Obama and his campaign staff are hopelessly naive, they have long since taken steps to prepare their security for anything.

If they haven't, they should be dismissed immediately and Obama should replace them with people who will take security seriously.

A Deadly Day

Every day on the calendar has had its share of prominent deaths over the years.

But May 23 seems unusually prone to being the last day for famous people.

Or, at least, it played a significant role.

Perhaps the most notorious deaths were those of Bonnie and Clyde, who died in a law enforcement ambush on a Louisiana road on this date in 1934. (Their bullet-riddled car is pictured at right.)

So, if I were Barack Obama or John McCain, I wouldn't announce my choice for running mate today!

In fact, I wouldn't do much of anything today.

Bad karma, don't you know.

Consider a partial roster ...

In 1431, Joan of Arc was captured on this date. She was tried and convicted of heresy, and she was burned at the stake seven days after her capture.

Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, didn't die on this date, but the marriage was declared null and void on this date in 1533. Henry, of course, went on to have six wives, and some were executed.

In 1701, Capt. Kidd, who had been convicted of piracy, was hanged in London.

In 1945, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, committed suicide while in custody.

Another Nazi (Adolf Eichmann) didn't kill himself on this date, but he was captured on this date in 1960. (He was executed in Israel in 1962.)

Other famous people who died on May 23 were American trapper Kit Carson in 1868, playwright Henrik Ibsen ("father of the modern drama") in 1906, John D. Rockefeller in 1937, actor Sterling Hayden (who played Gen. Ripper in "Dr. Strangelove") in 1986, golfer Sam Snead in 2002, and former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in 2006.

But May 23 isn't all about death.

Drew Carey is 50 years old today.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who Will Win the Veepstakes?

This week, it was reported that both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama are focusing their attention on prospects for their running mates.

McCain has been up front about what he's doing. Of course, the Arizona senator can afford to be. He's already nailed down the Republican nomination and, even if it is more than three months until the GOP convention in Minneapolis, he's apparently getting serious about his choices.

Published reports say McCain is summoning vice presidential prospects to Arizona during the Memorial Day weekend for what appear to be informal -- or perhaps formal -- interviews.

It's been a busy time for McCain lately, even though he's wrapped up his nomination and hasn't had to worry about competition in the primaries for a couple of months.

In a year in which the Republican nominee's support level from religious conservatives has been less than enthusiastic, to say the least, he's rejecting the endorsement of influential fundamentalist Rev. John Hagee. Ethically, I think it's clearly the right thing to do. Politically? That's a different story. Is he alienating voters he will need in November?

And, as McCain makes his bid to become the oldest man to enter the presidency, he's limiting journalists' access to his medical records.

On this one, I think McCain needs to be candid with the American people. They know he was a POW as a young man and suffered injuries in Vietnam that were never adequately treated during his captivity. They also know he has had a couple of periods of battling cancer in his later years.

The American people are entitled to know the up-to-the-minute details of a potential president's health picture -- especially one who is, as he likes to say, "older than dirt."

Obama insists that his attention remains on securing the nomination first and that he isn't getting ahead of himself.

That's a sound "don't count your chickens" approach to what will probably be the most important and the most scrutinized decision he will make in this campaign.

In fact, I recently pointed out, with the help of a Chicago Tribune editorial, how important the No. 2 selection will be for both nominees.

According to CNN, Obama has the support of 1,965 delegates, 60 short of the number he needs to win the nomination. Clinton has the support of 1,779 delegates.

So Obama is very close -- but he hasn't quite crossed the finish line yet.

In spite of his insistence to the contrary, Obama has begun the process of narrowing down his list of prospects, according to CNN.

And former President Clinton has been "privately musing" about the possibility of Hillary Clinton being Obama's running mate, according to Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.

According to the Times, Bill Clinton feels being on the ticket is Hillary's best option -- even if she occupies the second spot.

And even if she doesn't share his opinion on the subject -- which, apparently, she doesn't.

Personally, I feel choosing Clinton as his running mate would be a mistake for Obama. For at least three months now -- maybe closer to four -- it's been apparent that the American people would be asked to accept a lot of change in this campaign.

The race for the Democratic nomination came down to Obama and Clinton fairly early in the proceedings, which meant that Americans have known for quite awhile that either the first black or the first woman to be nominated for president would be atop the Democratic ticket.

Historically, Americans are resistant to change. Even in a year that seems, on the surface, to be predisposed to electing a Democrat, the public can be asked to accept too much change.

And that's what I think putting a black man and a woman on the same ticket would be for the majority of voters -- too much change. For the same reason, I would be against the idea of putting Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano or Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on the ticket -- even though both women have won governor's races twice in Republican states.

And both women have been mentioned frequently as vice presidential prospects.

Napolitano also happens to be the governor of McCain's home state. And, although she was re-elected with 63% of the vote in 2006, I don't believe she would be likely to sway her state to the Democrats -- not against a senator who received 77% of the vote when he was re-elected the last time (in 2004).

Personally, I believe that Eamon Javers has the right idea for Clinton. Javers has given her the blueprint for her political career in The Politico.

He counsels against playing second fiddle to Obama, and I concur.

If Ted Kennedy is forced to step down from the Senate because of his brain tumor, he will be vacating his long-held role of "lion of the Senate." That's a role, as Javers points out, that Clinton could ease into -- and excel in, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike -- with very little effort.

She already appears to have what Kennedy has had for more than four decades -- a safe seat.

Clinton was elected senator with 55% of the vote in 2000. She was re-elected in 2006 with 67% of the vote.

By the way, a little vice presidential trivia for you.

Do you know how the term "veep" originated?

Alben Barkley (who was elected vice president under Harry Truman in 1948's historic "Dewey Defeats Truman" election) was the first vice president to be called "veep."

Barkley was the oldest man ever to take the job, at the age of 71. His grandson suggested "veep" as an informal alternative to the ponderous "Mr. Vice President," and the nickname stuck.

But Barkley's successor, Richard Nixon, who had just turned 40 when he took office in 1953, refused to continue the modest tradition. He claimed the name belonged to Barkley.

Nevertheless, the nickname has remained in the language, and Barkley's memory is seldom -- if ever -- attached to the mere mention of the word.

Barkley's memory is more frequently evoked by the things that bear his real name -- like Emory University's award-winning debating society (the Barkley Forum), as well as Lake Barkley and Barkley Dam in his home state of Kentucky.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where Did Hillary Go Wrong?

What is the most persistent barrier to success in America today?

Is it racism or sexism?

That seems to be part of the battle for the Democratic nomination this year. I've been thinking about it since my original choice for the nomination, John Edwards, announced his endorsement of Barack Obama last week.

And I've been thinking about it today, as the voters have been stating their preferences in the primaries in Kentucky and Oregon.

I don't think there's any question that racism and sexism have been factors in the Democratic race this year.

No matter what some of the high-minded supporters of both candidates will tell you.

We haven't reached the phase of the campaign where the most popular parlor game for Democrats becomes the guessing game about the presumptive nominee's choice for running mate. The time for that will come later in the summer.

So, these days, the most popular parlor game in Democratic circles is trying to evaluate where Hillary Clinton went wrong.

Seven months ago, I was almost resigned to the belief that she would be the party's nominee. I wasn't alone. Most people seemed to assume that Clinton would be at the top of this year's Democratic ticket.

Tonight, even though Clinton has apparently won Kentucky by a wide margin (as expected) and has told her supporters that she will keep going in spite of "some pretty tough odds," I hear speculation about what went wrong for the Clinton campaign.

I've been hearing that kind of speculation for a couple of months now. And I've been giving it a lot of thought.

I've come to a few interesting conclusions.

I don't think you can blame her loss on any single thing.

Yes, I think she has run a poor campaign, one of the poorest presidential campaigns I've witnessed in a lifetime of watching presidential campaigns.

Yes, I believe she and her staff were convinced they would wrap up the nomination by "Tsunami Tuesday" in early February and failed to prepare for a campaign that would go on well beyond that point.

Yes, I feel she -- and her husband -- have repeatedly tried to "play the race card" to win white votes away from Obama.

And, yes, I'm convinced the American public has grown weary of the Bush and Clinton families and doesn't like the idea of political dynasties occupying the White House.

It goes against the grain. This country came into existence in part because the people who came to the New World didn't want to be ruled by a monarchy anymore. That desire still lives in the 21st century.

Democratic voters wanted to make it clear that no one was entitled, by bloodlines or marriage vows, to occupy the Oval Office.

And there's something else I've come to believe recently.

I've seen no exit polls that ask about this. I have no solid evidence backing it up.

And I'm not even sure people would answer the question honestly if asked.

But I believe that, deep down, Americans aren't ready to elect a female commander-in-chief in a time of war.

(They may not be ready for a black man to be commander-in-chief in a time of war, either. But I guess we won't find out about that until November.)

I don't know how significant that is as a factor in Americans' decision-making process. I don't know if it's the deal-breaker for Clinton.

But I believe, if most of the other factors are lining up against her in the voters' minds, it's the thing that could push many of them over to the opposition.

Today, we have troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's always possible American troops could be engaged in another conflict -- in the Middle East or some other global hotspot -- before the next president takes office.

At a time when Americans are worried about escalating fuel prices and food prices, economics could trigger armed conflict in almost any part of the world.

That may not be the reason why the Democratic Party looked for leadership from a man and not a woman -- or even why Democrats apparently have chosen this man over that woman.

Both blacks and women serve in the military today. But Harry Truman desegregated the troops in time for the Korean War, and blacks have been serving alongside whites ever since.

Having women as part of the fighting force is a relatively newer phenomenon for Americans. I don't think women took on an active battlefield role until the Gulf War under George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s.

And, while no one will dispute that women have served ably and admirably, I don't think the majority of Americans are ready to see a woman take over as commander-in-chief and start making wartime decisions on Day One.

Does that mean a woman won't be elected president until the War on Terrorism has been resolved? I don't know.

What I do know is that America is at war in two countries tonight. And it appears, at this point, that Americans will be choosing between two men for president in November.

It could well be that Hillary Clinton cast the vote that doomed her presidential ambitions in 2002 when she joined 76 other senators in authorizing George W. Bush to use force against Iraq.

The Latest on Senator Kennedy

Ted Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor.

The 76-year-old senator from Massachusetts will remain in the hospital for a few more days -- at least -- while doctors try to get more information on his condition.

His doctors issued a statement today, declaring that the normal treatment is "combinations of various forms of radiation and chemotherapy."

Before the doctors can decide on the senator's course of treatment and the prognosis for his recovery, they have to find out the size and the exact location of the tumor.

And the National Cancer Institute mostly reported the figures on the condition, which tell us the averages about this kind of brain tumor, who is likely to be afflicted with it and what the normal prognosis is (typically, it isn't good).

But Sen. Kennedy's life has hardly been average.

He was the youngest of nine children. Before he reached the age of 18, his oldest brother had been killed in a war and his second-oldest brother had been injured in that same war. His oldest sister was mentally retarded and his second-oldest sister died in an airplane crash when he was in high school.

His brothers John and Robert were assassinated.

And today, Kennedy and two of his sisters are all that's left of the family.

He's been in the Senate since John was president, which makes him one of only a handful of men who have spent more than 40 years in that chamber.

And it's ironic that this news should come out at this time. In a little more than two weeks, we will observe the 40th anniversary of the assassination of his brother Bobby.

Whatever one thinks of Ted Kennedy and his politics, wish him well in this battle. It's one that the statistics say he won't win.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Brown Stays On Track for Triple Crown

Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times says Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown should be called "Foregone Conclusion."

I guess if anyone could give us the real inside information, it would be Mister Ed.

But Mister Ed died many years ago. And, besides, no one can talk to a horse, of course.

So we'll have to look for insight from the humans who watch horse racing for a living.

"The foregone conclusion is that Big Brown will win the June 7 Belmont, making him the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978," Dwyre writes. "That's a huge deal. In the 30 years since Affirmed did it, 10 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and failed in the Belmont."

That roster of horses that were unable to close the deal for the Triple Crown includes Real Quiet, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown's jockey, a decade ago.

If Saturday's race is any indication, Desormeaux might finally get that Triple Crown that eluded him with Real Quiet.

As I watched Big Brown turn on the engines and leave the Preakness field in his dust yesterday, it occurred to me that I have seldom seen a horse pull away from the pack down the stretch and make the other horses actually look like they were standing still.

But that's what Big Brown did at Pimlico Race Course yesterday.

In Dwyre's words, "Big Brown went to a gear other horses only dream of."

And, if the horse racing community can't come up with a bona fide challenger, the same thing will happen in three weeks.

And horse racing's Triple Crown drought will be over.

Thirty years is the longest stretch between Triple Crown winners in the sport's history. Statistically, we're long overdue for a Triple Crown winner.

But, in case you're tempted to wager your life savings on Big Brown, think again.

As I pointed out yesterday -- and as Dwyre points out today -- there have been 10 times in the last 30 years when a horse entered the Belmont after having won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

All 10 horses were big betting favorites. All 10 horses lost.

It looks promising for Big Brown. Then again, it looked promising for those other 10 horses, too.

I've known a few horse racing aficionados, and one of them expressed the perfect cautionary statement for this situation.

"There's no such thing as a sure thing," he said. "That's why they call it gambling."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kennedy Hospitalized After Seizure

I was surprised to hear the news today that Sen. Edward Kennedy had been hospitalized following a "seizure."

The hospital confirmed that Kennedy, 76, had not suffered a stroke. In October, the senator underwent surgery that was intended to prevent a stroke. So, understandably, the immediate suspicion was that a stroke was the culprit. Thankfully, that was not the case.

According to reports, this afternoon, Kennedy was alert and watching a Boston Red Sox baseball game with his family in his hospital room in Boston. Kennedy's colleague, John Kerry, was seen arriving at the hospital this afternoon.

In a couple of days, we should have some answers about what caused this seizure.

In the meantime, I wish the senator a full and speedy recovery.

Big Brown's Party at Pimlico

Today is a pivotal day in the world of horse racing.

The Preakness Stakes -- the second jewel in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown -- will be held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore this afternoon. The race is scheduled for approximately 6:15 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised by NBC.

Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown needs to win today and then needs to win the Belmont Stakes next month to do something no horse has accomplished in 30 years -- capture the fabled Triple Crown.

If this were the world of the television sitcom, the Preakness would be the middle child.

Horse racing fans always watch the Kentucky Derby. It is the first of the three, and it perpetuates the traditions of generations -- in much the same fashion as Wimbledon does for tennis.

And the Belmont is the baby of the family. It receives attention -- and pressure -- only when the first two have done their job and produced a legitimate prospect to sweep all three.

Otherwise, attention and TV viewership are reduced. Yet the Belmont still makes noteworthy television for its community's tree-lined streets and historic churches on Long Island. It can still entertain, if nothing else.

Like Jan Brady of TV's "The Brady Bunch," the Preakness is considered neither as significant as the first nor as appealing as the last, even though it is equally as important.

One could hardly blame the operators of Pimlico and the promoters of the Preakness for muttering in frustration, "Kentucky! Kentucky! Kentucky!" Like many middle children, the Preakness has struggled at times to find its niche.

But this year the Preakness might have some help.

Big Brown, they are saying, is practically a sure thing to win. Gary West of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says Big Brown is so good that winning today's race is almost a foregone conclusion.

"Only circumstances can defeat Big Brown," proclaims West, "and even they will need some help."

West makes a compelling case for Big Brown's talent.

He points out that Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby in only his fourth start. No horse has done that since 1915, which was four years before Sir Barton (pictured at right) became racing's first Triple Crown winner.

And he won from post position #20. No horse had done that since 1929.

Of course, we've seen quite a few near-misses in the 30 years since the last Triple Crown winner (Affirmed). Since 1978, we've seen 10 horses win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, only to lose the Belmont Stakes.

And we've seen some can't-miss Kentucky Derby winners (for example, heavily favored Barbaro, who came up lame two years ago) who didn't win the Preakness.

Childs Walker, of the Baltimore Sun, says Pimlico is "all abuzz" over Big Brown.

"Every time the horse moved, heads turned and cameras fired," writes Walker. "One reporter said it was like covering Tiger Woods."

Maybe this is, as one of the trainers suggested, Big Brown's party.

Well, Woods has won golfing's Grand Slam. After 30 years, it's time another thoroughbred won the Triple Crown.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Change Is Best Served By Ballot, Not Bullet

We live in turbulent times, but -- so far, at least -- we're changing our leadership in the civilized way that a democracy makes such changes.

With ballots, not bullets.

Anyone who is under 35 doesn't really appreciate how different things are today.

But, for people of my generation -- in fact, for people of my parents' generation -- it was almost unheard of for a president to be assassinated.

For awhile.

But it didn't stay that way.

Over about a 40-year period, three presidents were assassinated -- Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881 and William McKinley in 1901.

Then we went through about six decades without a presidential assassination. A couple of presidents died, but their deaths were due to natural causes, not assassin's bullets.

But then, things changed. And when I was growing up, assassinations seemed to be a fact of life.

I was about to turn 4 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. I didn't know or understand what was happening in the world. "The world," as far as I was concerned, was my home and my yard.

At the time, my family didn't own a TV set, but our neighbors did.

So we spent most of the next four days at the neighbors' house -- which was fine with me because our neighbors had a son who was only a few months older than I was. He was my playmate -- and, as far as I was concerned, he had the coolest toys to play with.

I didn't know why we were spending so much time at the neighbors' house. But if it meant I could ride my friend's new tricycle or play with some of his other toys, I wasn't going to rock the boat.

The mental images I have of Kennedy's funeral are from films I've seen. My actual memories of that period are the spotty impressions of a 3-year-old.

It was different four years later, when assassins were killing Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. And I was more aware of what was happening in the world around me.

I remember news reports of the riots that swept across the nation when King was killed. I remember the national convulsion of mourning when Bobby Kennedy was killed. I remember the general feeling of helplessness that came with both murders.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, two words seemed to imply that death was inevitable -- "cancer" and "assassination." When someone mentioned either of those words, that feeling of helplessness returned.

("Assassination attempts" didn't always succeed, as I learned from a series of experiences in the 1970s. But, although some of its strength has diminished, "cancer," regrettably, has retained most of its power. When John Dean told the senators who were investigating the Watergate scandal that there was "a cancer growing on the presidency," the implication was that Nixon's presidency was doomed. As, indeed, it was.)

But as I grew older, things changed for the better.

As an adult, I've seen people I care about survive a diagnosis of cancer. I've seen some who haven't, but the survival rate has improved and, for that, I am grateful.

And I've seen famous people who were targeted for assassination but survived.

Certainly, there were some who didn't survive. John Lennon was killed by a fan in front of his New York building in 1980.

But Ronald Reagan lived through an assassination attempt in 1981. So did Pope John Paul II. And Gerald Ford survived two attempts on his life a few weeks apart in 1975.

And the closest thing I've seen to the public paroxysm of pain that followed the King and Kennedy assassinations in 1968 was the global response to the apparently accidental death of Princess Diana nearly 11 years ago.

The era of unsuccessful assassination attempts really began, I guess, on this date 36 years ago, when George Wallace was shot after speaking at a campaign rally in Laurel, Md.

Wallace was famous for his segregationist politics (those who are old enough will remember his stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama, pictured at left) -- but the man who shot him, Arthur Bremer, claimed that his only motivation in attempting to kill Wallace was to become famous.

Oddly enough, Bremer's story was the inspiration for the main character (played by Robert De Niro) in the 1976 movie "Taxi Driver," co-starring Jodie Foster.

Foster's performance in the film in turn motivated John Hinckley to attempt his assassination of Reagan in 1981. Hinckley claimed he wanted to impress Foster.

One of life's ironies.

Bremer was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 63 years in prison. His sentence was later reduced to 53 years on appeal.

Wallace died in 1998. Although paralyzed by the shooting, he lived another quarter of a century and was nearly 80 years old when he died. Bremer's act was something Wallace had to live with, but it doesn't appear to have shortened his life.

Last year, nearly a decade after Wallace's death, Bremer was released from prison at the age of 57. He will be on probation for the next 17 years.

Famous people continue to be stalked. Some have been attacked, and some have died. But we can all be grateful that political assassinations have been prevented in America for the last 40 years. Let's hope it stays that way.

We don't need people making decisions for the rest of us with guns.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Edwards Endorses Obama

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards endorsed Democratic front-runner Barack Obama today.

Earlier in the campaign, Edwards was a candidate for the nomination, but he dropped out in January. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have coveted his endorsement in the last three months, but he waited until more than a week after the primary in his home state before announcing his decision.

I was an Edwards supporter, but I was left to make a different choice when Texas held its primary in March.

While I feel Edwards made the endorsement he needed to make to preserve any active role he will have in Democratic politics in the future, I can't help feeling he made a choice he didn't want to make.

Just as I did.

And I'm glad he waited until there was little to be gained from his endorsement -- other than perhaps to take the public's attention away from Clinton's massive win in West Virginia on Tuesday.

If anything is guaranteed to take the wind out of your sails following a blowout win, it's to have one of your former rivals endorse the front-runner.

But Clinton should roll up another large win in Kentucky next Tuesday. The surveys there have been very consistent -- her smallest lead is 25 points, 56% to 31%, in a Rasmussen Reports that concluded on May 5.

Her largest lead also came in a survey that concluded May 5. It was conducted by Survey USA, and it showed Clinton leading by 34 points, 62% to 28%.

Those surveys make sense. The numbers mirror the results in West Virginia, and the demographics in the two states are nearly identical.

It's a different story in Oregon, which is also scheduled to hold its primary next Tuesday.

In Oregon, polls have shown Obama maintaining a double-digit advantage. His smallest lead was 11 points, 54% to 43%, in a Survey USA poll that concluded May 11.

His largest lead is 20 points, 55% to 35%, in a Portland Tribune survey that concluded May 10.

So the polls indicate a split decision next Tuesday. In all likelihood, that means Obama's lead will be virtually unchanged in the delegate count.

Time is running out.

A Rhetorical Question

In earlier posts, I compared Barack Obama's campaign to Peter Sellers in "Being There," in which a cult forms around Sellers' character, a simple-minded gardener.

In today's Salon, Camille Paglia offers some metaphors of a similar nature.

Paglia observes, "[S]omehow we are locked at the hip to Hillary Clinton, who won't stop her manic tarantella until her party whirls into ruins, like the run-amuck carousel in Alfred Hitchcock's 'Strangers on a Train.'"

But that's not enough. The Obama-Clinton epic demands more than one take.

"It's what Hillary's campaigning has come to," Paglia writes after paying tribute (deservedly so) to a cartoon drawn by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Tony Auth that portrays Clinton as an Energizer bunny gone wild and spinning out of control on the carpet in Obama's Oval Office, "a monotonous exercise in showboating solipsism, like Shirley MacLaine as the geriatric mother in 'Postcards from the Edge,' hijacking her daughter's party and kicking up her heels to sing 'I'm Still Here!'"

I'd just like to ask my fellow film fanatics out there. Does the Democratic presidential campaign remind you of any movies, classic or otherwise? Are there any heroes -- or villains -- who spring to mind?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Earthquake in China

I've been getting the feeling that there isn't the proper appreciation in this country for the genuine human tragedy that is unfolding in southwest China in the aftermath of Monday's earthquake.

There seems to be more attention being paid to the outcome of the West Virginia primary -- which appears to have been a foregone conclusion.

The New York Times reports that the death toll (as of Tuesday evening) exceeds 13,000."Officials said they thought the death toll could still climb dramatically higher as workers broke through to the affected areas and the full scope of the disaster became clearer," the Times reports.

A lot of things are still unclear at this point. China's giant pandas in two of the nation's panda reserves were alive, but it wasn't certain how they would get food. According to CNN, heavy road damage may make it difficult to get food to the captive animals.

They say the earthquake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale. That's pretty intense. Compare it, if you will, to the most powerful earthquakes recorded in North America in the last 20 years.

The strongest earthquake I'm aware of in North America since the dawn of the 21st century registered 6.0. The epicenter was in Parkfield, California, along the San Andreas Fault. It occurred in September 2004.

Before that, you'd have to go back 10 years earlier, to January 1994, when Northridge, California, in the Los Angeles area, sustained a 6.7 earthquake. There were 72 deaths, 12,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in damages. The quake also revealed some deficiencies in seismic resistance in modern low-rise apartment construction.

Before that, there was a 7.2 earthquake in Landers, California, in June 1992. It had an aftershock that was 6.4. The 7.2 quake was said to be the largest earthquake to have occurred in the contiguous United States in 40 years.

And before that was the famous "World Series Earthquake" in San Francisco in October 1989. Actually, the epicenter was in Lomo Prieta. It measured 6.9, and it killed 67 people.

It was also the first earthquake to be broadcast live on TV, occurring as Game 3 of the World Series, between Bay Area rivals San Francisco and Oakland, was about to begin.

Some friends of mine were living in the area at the time. The quake struck during the time of day when rush hour has traffic tied up, but many employers let their workers leave early that day so they could attend the game or watch it on TV. As a result, rush hour wasn't heavy at all.

One of my friends, Jane, regularly commuted to and from work along the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. When the quake struck, I had no idea if she or her husband, Mike, had been injured or killed. In truth, Jane later told me, traffic had been so light that she had been off the bridge for several minutes before the quake struck.

On an ordinary day, she would have been in the middle of the bridge -- which, as TV reports showed a horrified nation, was the scene of deadly drama for those motorists who were unlucky enough to be trapped there (as you can see in the photo on the left).

In spite of the absence of heavy traffic, there were vehicles on that bridge when the quake struck. And some of the occupants of those vehicles were killed.

In fact, one of the main things the Lomo Prieta quake taught seismologists was that roads and bridges in the Bay Area were not built to be as earthquake-resistant as they needed to be.

My friend, Mike, happened to be at home when the quake struck. Their home had survived the legendary quake of 1906, and it survived this one, sustaining only minor damage.

But it was days before I knew how my friends had fared. For about three or four days after the quake, I kept getting busy signals every time I tried to call San Francisco.

As it turned out, I didn't get in touch with them. They got in touch with me. When the phone lines cleared up enough, they started calling everyone they knew. Their call got me up out of bed. Even though I had to be at work at 5 in the morning, I was never so glad to get a phone call in my life!

Apparently, my friends told me later, the quake brought out the gallows' humor in many Bay Area residents. My friends told me there was something of a cottage industry locally for T-shirts bearing the message "I Survived the Pretty Big One."

The strongest quake in recent years actually occurred under water, in the Indian Ocean, on the day after Christmas in 2004. It spawned the tsunami that took the lives of more than 200,000 people. By some estimates, it was the second strongest earthquake in recorded history -- between 9.1 and 9.3.

When the quake struck in China yesterday, I experienced a sense of deja vu. A friend of mine, Kyle, and his wife are visiting in China. I had received an e-mail from Kyle during the weekend so I knew he was in China. But China is a big place, and I didn't know where he was.

So I sent him an e-mail last night asking if he was OK. He responded to my e-mail about 8 hours later.

He reported that he was fine. They had to evacuate the building they were staying in, and being in an earthquake was a new experience for Kyle. But he reported that the trains were running and they were about to leave for Beijing in another hour.

As far as I can tell, Kyle was about 450 miles from the epicenter of the quake, and the train was going to take him farther east. In Beijing, he will be more than 1,000 miles away from the scene of the destruction.

But this is a reminder (as if we needed one) that, when death comes, it won't bother to ask if you've accomplished all your goals, paid off all your debts, resolved all your issues. It won't inquire whether your death will cause pain and/or hardship for those you leave behind.

If it did, I suppose we could all take our cue from Ed Wynn, who played a crafty salesman in an episode from the earliest season of The Twilight Zone in 1959.

Wynn's character thought he could trick "Mr. Death" by getting him to agree that Wynn's character wouldn't be taken until he had fulfilled his lifelong ambition of "making a pitch for the angels." When Mr. Death agreed to the request, Wynn's character promptly decided to retire from sales -- immediately.

His reasoning was that death couldn't take his soul if he never made his pitch.

Mr. Death won in the end, though -- just as it will against the rest of us. Death always wins.

Economic status does not matter. Achievements will not be considered.

Age is no factor -- school children appear to be among the victims of the earthquake in China. In fact, whenever the loss of life can be numbered in the thousands or higher, inevitably you will find pregnant women and young mothers with infant children on the casualty lists.

This isn't the first major earthquake in China this year. Less than two months ago, on Good Friday, a 7.2 struck in a remote mountainous area of the country.

That part of the world has been prone to powerful earthquakes over the years. Monday's quake seems to have something to teach the authorities in that part of the world about being better prepared for the next disaster.

I hope the rest of the world will heed the warnings this disaster has given us.