Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Short, Unhappy Candidacy of Tom Eagleton

We've reached the point in the presidential campaign when challengers select their running mates and incumbents (presumably) decide whether to keep theirs.

As I have said before, I don't expect Barack Obama to drop Joe Biden from his ticket — even though, as always, there are those in the president's party who advocate that — so there is probably little for Democrats to gain from this.

But Mitt Romney would be well advised to pay attention.

Forty years ago, only two weeks had passed since the McGovern–Eagleton ticket had been nominated by the Democrats to challenge the Nixon–Agnew ticket in the fall.

Things had gotten a little out of hand at the convention, and the presidential nominee wasn't able to give his acceptance speech until well after most people on the American mainland had gone to bed.

Most people, even the most optimistic of the Democrats, probably did not think that McGovern had much of a chance of defeating Richard Nixon. Nixon's approval ratings that summer ranged from the upper 50s to the low 60s.

When a president enjoys that kind of popularity about four months before the election, it usually suggests that a landslide is on the horizon — and Nixon's approval numbers in the summer of 1972 exceeded Reagan's in the summer of 1984 and were roughly the same as Clinton's in 1996.

(Both Reagan and Clinton were re–elected.)

Nevertheless, while Democrats might have been resigned to the idea that they were going to lose, they had reason to believe, as they left their convention in Miami, that they could win eight or 10 states — not just the state of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, which is all the Democrats won that fall.

There was reason, in other words, for Democrats to believe that the nation would not tune them out before Labor Day, that their presidential ticket could at least keep up the pretense of being competitive long enough for their congressional candidates to get a foothold.

But that was before the train wreck of the Eagleton candidacy.

I guess the potential for the train wreck was there all along. The day after he clinched the presidential nomination, McGovern approached just about every big–name Democrat about the second spot on his ticket, and all turned him down. Time was running short so McGovern took the advice of Sen. Gaylord Nelson and offered it to Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton.

Nelson wasn't the first to suggest Eagleton, only the latest. As McGovern observed in an op–ed piece he wrote for the New York Times four years ago, Eagleton clearly wanted the spot. He had been lobbying for it, but McGovern was hesitant to offer it because "I didn't know Eagleton very well."

His first choice had been Sen. Edward Kennedy, but Kennedy turned him down and recommended Eagleton. McGovern's next choice was Sargent Shriver, who also turned him down and also recommended Eagleton. Similar stories unfolded with almost every person who was offered the spot on the ticket.

For awhile, the possibility of offering the spot to TV news anchor Walter Cronkite was discussed. Cronkite, as McGovern observed, had been named the most admired man in America, and the idea of having him on the ticket was "intriguing."

Eventually, McGovern and his staff dismissed the idea as "too unrealistic."

"I later learned from Walter that he would have accepted," McGovern wrote. "I wish we had chosen him."

Of that, there can be no doubt.

Despite whatever misgivings he may have had, McGovern offered the spot to Eagleton, who had assured the nominee's political director that "there was nothing in [Eagleton's] background that would be considered troublesome." He offered the spot to Eagleton 15 minutes before his deadline for announcing his choice.

But haste makes waste, the old saying says, and Eagleton had concealed a few things.
  • It turned out that Eagleton had been treated for exhaustion and depression — including electroshock therapy.
  • He had been taking strong anti–psychotic drugs.
  • When McGovern saw a copy of Eagleton's medical records, he noted words like depression and suicidal tendencies.
Times have changed. In 2012, Americans are more tolerant of many things than they were in 1972.

And the revelation of a history of depression might not carry the same stigma today that it did then.

But the reaction that Eagleton encountered was hostile, fearful. In hindsight, it was inevitable that McGovern would have to drop his running mate.

But it wasn't that simple. There were complications.

He was hesitant, McGovern said later, to remove Eagleton from the ticket immediately because his daughter had suffered from depression, and he was concerned about how she would react.

That has a noble sound to it, but it was hard to reconcile with public actions — not unlike when Nixon's former attorney general and Watergate co–conspirator, John Mitchell, announced he was stepping down as director of Nixon's re–election campaign to spend more time with his wife.

[Bob] Woodward asked several members of the [Washington] Post's staff ... if they believed the resignation was unconnected to Watergate. They did.

The next day, metropolitan editor Harry Rosenfeld frowned and told Woodward, "A man like John Mitchell doesn't give up all that power for his wife."

Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein

All the President's Men (1974)

Similarly, I suppose, a man doesn't give up a major party's vice presidential nomination unless the rattling from the skeletons in his closet becomes too noisy.

In late July 1972, McGovern infamously announced that he was supporting his running mate "1000 percent," but, by the end of the month, Eagleton was off the ticket, and Shriver agreed to replace him.

In military parlance, McGovern had surrendered the high ground to Nixon — and virtually without a fight.

Monday, July 30, 2012

What Democrats Learned From Bush

Today, George W. Bush is widely regarded, by Democrats and Republicans alike, as a failed president.

Most Democrats tend to go beyond that point in their assessment; Republicans not quite so far. In the absence of a clear consensus, I suppose failed is a good, fairly middle–ground term.

One thing I noticed about Democrats in the Bush years was their growing frustration over constantly being in the minority. When Barack Obama came along, Democrats had reclaimed majority status in both chambers of Congress only two years earlier, and it had been 14 years since the Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House.

They craved what Bush had enjoyed for three–quarters of his presidency — a Congress of the president's party. It wasn't exactly a dictatorship, as Bush famously lamented, but when the Republicans controlled Congress, they frequently served as a rubber stamp for Bush.

And they deliberately divided Americans. If you supported Bush, they said, you were a patriot. But if you didn't agree with him, you were not a patriot.

Democrats learned the wrong things from the Bush experience. They saw Bush's smear of Kerry as the route to re–election.

During the 2008 campaign, I never felt comfortable with Obama. It had nothing to do with his race and everything to do with his policies and philosophy. Too far to the left for my taste. But, when he was elected, I was willing to give him a chance, the same chance I give every new president, whether I agree with him or not.

Patriots do that.

He has been given the same amount of time to implement his policies that most presidents have been given (except for those who were completing someone else's unfinished term) — four years.

Thus, I — and, frankly, anyone else who participates in this year's election — have no choice but to judge Obama on his record in office. Whether that record has been a success or failure will be up to the voters.

But you can get an idea of how Obama feels about it. It's the same record he avoids discussing at every opportunity. The president who campaigned four years ago on the theme of hope and change and the pledges of transparency and uniting Americans demonstrates daily that all he knows about seeking re–election he learned from George W. Bush.

I've seen his advertisements on television, and they are all attack ads.

I guess I expected more maturity from the Democrats, that they would have learned what not to do after being restored to power — especially when it became clear that economic conditions would be worse when Obama took office than they had been in more than half a century.

Even before the 2008 election, I was saying that the next president had to focus on encouraging job creation because very little can be accomplished in a consumer–based economy when the consumers can't afford to consume.

Anything else the next president wants to accomplish, I said, will have to wait until the jobs crisis has been dealt with.

It's four years later, and I'm saying the same thing. There's just more urgency now. And the majority of voters agree with me.

But Democrats in 2012 are acting like Republicans in 2004. Instead of presenting a vision for the future and legislation designed to achieve it, Obama is doing what Bush did.

Eight years ago, opponents of the president were dismissed as unpatriotic. Supporters of the president currently seeking a second term dismiss his critics as racists.

After being smeared as unpatriotic, I believe Democrats felt a certain amount of pressure (internally if not externally) to reassure voters of their dedication to homeland security in the first presidential election following 9/11. Consequently, they nominated John Kerry, a hero of the Vietnam War, to be their standard bearer in 2004.

To discredit the Democrats' nominee, the Republicans countered with their shameless swift boating smear.

If Democrats had made a really honest assessment of the Bush years, they would have concluded that it is essential to maintain Congress' independence, that it is crucial to discuss legislation in a full, open and candid way and that they must realize that presidents and their parties do not have the luxury of selecting the sort of times in which they must govern.

In 2007, Obama did not enter the race because of economics. He entered it primarily because of his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Polls indicate that the majority of Americans — including many Republicans — have been pleased with Obama's handling of foreign affairs.

But that isn't the issue that matters to most Americans.

It is a different time, and the emphasis is on the economy — poll after poll has indicated, for well over a year, that the economy is the most important issue in the campaign. By far.

History demands that Obama must justify his economic agenda and its results through 3½ years. He must make the case — convincingly — that his policies are working. He can't just say they are and let it go at that.

"Circumstances rule men," Greek historian Herodotus wrote. "Men do not rule circumstances."

If you go back and look at the transcripts of the debates and speeches in the 2000 campaign, you will see that very little was said about terrorism — but it came to define the Bush presidency (and, consequently, Bush's bid for a second term). And the fact is that he did win a second term — but with highly questionable tactics that did not tell the voters much about what they could expect from a renewal of the Bush presidency.

His record helped him with just enough voters for him to win re–election by the narrowest Electoral College margin since 1916, but his conduct during the campaign was misleading and deceptive.

The economic data that has been accumulating has not helped Obama's economic record. Unemployment has been stuck at 8.2% for the last few months, and the Commerce Department reported Friday that GDP in the most recent quarter sagged to 1.5%.

"A growth rate below 2% isn't enough to lower the unemployment rate," writes Tom Raum in the Washington Post.

I'm not an economist. I can only guess that Raum knows more about this than I do. But we'll find out soon. The next jobs report comes out this Friday.

I'm not what you would call a gambling man. I've been to the race track a few times in my life, but I can't recall the last time I made even a friendly wager on something.

But if I was going to make a bet, I'd bet that no one in the White House is looking forward to Friday's jobs report.

After all, it is still the performance of the economy on which many Americans will be judging this president.

Some of the president's supporters cling to the notion that likability will be enough. But after more than four rough years, voters won't be satisfied that easily. This isn't about who you want to drink a beer with after work. This is about who will do the most to make sure you have a job.

But there are those who insist it is all racial. And they will try to distract voters from the record and make them believe that voting to change presidents is somehow the act of racists.

I'm not naive enough to believe that race does not play a role in the decisions of any voters. Certainly, there are some voters who will vote against Obama because of his race — just as there are some who will vote for him because of his race.

And that, it seems to me, makes the latter just as racist as the former. How else can you explain the nearly unanimous support the president enjoys in the black community?

Of course, Democrats have done well with black voters for decades, but never as well (or with as great a turnout) as Obama did four years ago. Were those voters being racist in reverse?

It's a divisive brand of politics. It's polarizing, and it does nothing to promote the post–racial society of which Obama spoke in 2008.

Or to tell voters what kind of president he will be in a second term.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

R.I.P., Sally Ride

Sally Ride.

Twenty–nine years ago, it seemed like the ideal name for America's first woman in space. Well, it seemed that way to me, anyway.

And I didn't even realize it had already been immortalized in a song, "Mustang Sally."
"All you want to do is ride around Sally, ride, Sally, ride.
All you want to do is ride around Sally, ride, Sally, ride.
All you want to do is ride around Sally, ride, Sally, ride."

(I'll admit, it doesn't seem like much without the music.)

She joined NASA in 1978 and, in 1983, she rode on the space shuttle Challenger, becoming America's first woman in space.

She wasn't the first woman of any nationality to travel in space. That distinction belonged to Valentina Tereshkova of Russia, who flew in space 20 years before Ride.

But she was a pioneer — an American pioneer.

It would be a perfect narrative, I suppose, if it could be demonstrated that Ride's parents named her after the song. But that isn't possible. Ride was born in 1951. The song was first recorded in the mid–1960s.

Ironically, Ride's historic trip into space came almost 20 years to the day after Tereshkova's.

And Tereshkova and Ride had something else in common. As young adults, neither woman seemed destined for space travel. Tereshkova worked in a factory; Ride was an aspiring tennis player.

But Tereshkova was recruited for the Soviet Union's space program. Ride was among thousands of people who answered an advertisement seeking applicants for NASA.

So their groundbreaking stories, while similar, were not identical.

In fact, there were times back in the 1980s when I thought Ride's achievement was overshadowed by other, higher–profile advances for females — almost two years before Ride went into space, Sandra Day O'Connor became the first female Supreme Court justice. And the year after her trip into space, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be on a major party's national ticket as Walter Mondale's running mate.

There are certain ironies connected with Ride's death at this particular time. Ride died of pancreatic cancer yesterday at the age of 61.

For one thing, it is ironic that she should die less than a year before the 30th anniversary of her first space trip. What a tragedy it is that she will not be here for that.

It is also ironic that Ride's death should coincide with the renewed search for the wreckage of Amelia Earhart's plane. That search, incidentally, ended recently with more new questions than answers.

Ride's death came the day before the 115th anniversary of Earhart's birth. Another irony. Both women were pioneers in aviation.

It is even more ironic, I think, that Ride's death and the search for Earhart's plane should happen at a time when the national conversation has been centered on Barack Obama's remark about how entrepreneurs did not build their businesses alone.

No man is an island, the president and his supporters contend.

But, if anything, Ride and Earhart did the things they did in spite of the resistance they encountered. It was probably more pronounced in Earhart's day because few women attempted to succeed in any field that was regarded as the domain of men — but little had really changed in 50 years.

I have a vivid memory of the men in the central Arkansas community where I was working at the time dismissing Ride's accomplishment and earnestly wondering why she would want to do what men had been doing since the dawn of America's space program.

So I know that misogynistic attitudes were alive and well when Ride flew in space.

It may not fit with the president's election–year narrative, but that entrepreneurial, risk–taking spirit isn't limited to the business world.

And, while Ride got her opportunity with the help she received along the way, as we all do, her success as an astronaut was entirely her own doing.

Rest in peace, Sally Ride.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Predictable Responses

Like most Americans, I have been watching a lot of interviews — and I have been reading a lot of articles — about the tragic movie theater shootings in Colorado.

And, as is usually the case following something like this, there is a predictable wave of responses coming from our polarized political parties. Neither one seems capable of coming up with anything new, but the old approaches don't work.

Most — but not all — Democrats seem to believe the answer is to clamp down on gun ownership. Gun control is their mantra.

If guns weren't so readily available, they argue, this wouldn't have happened.

Well, I don't know if it absolutely would have happened, anyway, but, yes, it positively could have, even if stricter gun regulations were enacted. From what I have heard and read, the suspect had no prior record other than a speeding ticket. Until he opened fire on that crowded movie theater audience, there was no legal reason to deny his request to purchase a gun.

And most — but not all — Republicans support enhanced gun rights. Many appear to favor some concealed weapons legislation that would permit people to carry guns almost anywhere.

If such a law was in place across the nation, they argue, fewer people would attempt something like the theater shooting for fear that someone in the crowd would be armed and would return fire.

I've heard it argued in the last couple of days that, if someone else in that theater had been armed, the casualty toll would have been much lower because someone would have shot the gunman.

Actually, nearly every state already has a shall–issue policy regarding permits to carry weapons. That means that, as long as the applicant meets the requirements of the jurisdiction (which, at least, usually means residency, minimum age and providing fingerprints), granting the permit is a routine matter.

There might be occasions when a concealed weapon really could prevent something far worse from happening.

But, try as I may, I can't imagine many people sitting in a dark theater being able to distinguish between the make–believe world they had been watching on the screen and the real world activity breaking out around them.

Even if they had a concealed weapons permit, and even if they had the weapon with them — how likely is it that they could put two and two together in a matter of seconds, adjust their vision in the dark theater and shoot the gunman without also shooting innocent bystanders in what must have been a scene of utter chaos?

OK, some might concede that the darkness of the theater would be an impediment. But how about other settings, in broad daylight?

Well, I do know of a time right here in Texas when a man went on a shooting rampage in a cafeteria during the noon hour. A woman was eating lunch there with her elderly parents, both of whom were shot and killed by the gunman.

The woman later lamented that, although she had a permit to carry a gun, she didn't have it with her. It was in the glove box of her car.

She kept insisting that she would have returned fire to prevent her parents' deaths if she had had the weapon with her. But I have my doubts.

I'm sure the woman was sincere, but, in the heat of the moment, who would have that presence of mind? There were dozens of people in that cafeteria, some of whom probably had permits to carry weapons — and may have had the weapons with them — but no one returned the gunman's fire until police marksmen arrived on the scene.

Concealed weapons permits have been around for quite awhile — I believe Illinois is the only state that does not issue them — and I could be wrong about this, but I don't recall a single instance in which a gunman was brought down by a would–be victim who was carrying a concealed gun.

That is an idealized scenario.

When you're talking about real people in real situations, though, I'm inclined to think that most people would be in shock. They might dive for cover, they might run in the opposite direction, but that's flight winning the internal fight or flight debate that man has been having for centuries.

Most of us probably would like to believe that fight would win, that, when push comes to shove, we'd be prepared to stand up to evil, even at the risk of our own lives, but I don't believe even those with weapons permits would think about their weapons — unless they have law enforcement or military backgrounds.

So what can be done about the violence that continues to infect our culture after so many well–meaning but apparently futile efforts to control it?

I honestly don't know what the answer is.

That's the kind of thing we pay our elected officials to decide.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Tragedy in Colorado

It is still Friday, July 20, 2012.

The smoke (please excuse the pun) is still clearing in Colorado following the shooting at the midnight showing of the new Batman movie.

In the coming days, I am sure, more will be known about the gunman, what led him to his heinous act and the eventual death toll than is known now. Please keep that in mind as you read this because, if you are reading this sometime in the future, some of the facts are sure to have changed.

There are bound to be things that are thought to be true as I write that will be proven to be false. Already today, the death toll has fluctuated downward, but it may well go upward in the coming days. There are still people fighting for their lives, and some may lose that fight. The police are trying to figure out how to get into the shooting suspect's apartment and disarm booby trap[s] the suspect left behind, and I've heard some people say that process could take days or weeks.

But something that will not change is the fact that, once again, the relative peace of daily life for most Americans was shattered.

This morning, after I had first heard of the shootings, I went on Facebook, where I found that one of my former journalism students — now the executive editor of his hometown newspaper — had shared his paper's Associated Press account of what had happened in those early morning hours when most of us were sleeping in blissful ignorance.

And, in the comments section that accompanies just about every article that is published online these days, a young person identified as a student at the local high school, commented, "I don't understand why the world has to be like this sometimes."

And I was reminded of when that editor and I were on a college campus together two decades ago, and one of his classmates asked me, after observing the number of religious leaders who had taken exception to various accounts of Bill Clinton's ethics and aligned themselves with the likes of Patrick Buchanan, who had delivered a speech that was extremely long on intolerance at that summer's Republican convention, about the logic behind their position.

"I thought ministers were supposed to be about love and forgiveness," he said to me.

The same thought that crossed my mind on that occasion crossed my mind this morning when I read that young man's comment — the naivete of youth.

I guess we all start out that way. It reminds me of a conversation Daphne had with her father on the TV show Frasier. Her father told her that he was splitting up with Daphne's mother for good, and Daphne, disillusioned and disappointed, said she had always believed that love conquered all.

"We all believe that when we're young," her father replied, "but then life beats us around a bit, and you learn to dream a little smaller."

There may be a lot of truth in that statement, but July 20 has always struck me as a date when the stakes have been even greater than usual — and, consequently, the hopes have been a bit grander, too.

July 20 often seems to bring memorable events. When I was a child, men walked on the moon for the first time on a July 20. When my parents were still young, a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler failed on this date — an event that wasn't nearly as positive as but, in some ways, was more significant than the moon walk.

(Hitler would be dead within a year, anyway, but, if he had been killed on this date in 1944, it is probable that many lives would have been spared. How many? No one can say.)

When my grandparents were children, the Ford Motor Company shipped its first car on this date. Henry Ford's assembly line concept radically transformed the 20th century.

There are other dates like that on the calendar, dates when great strides were made in medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, whatever.

But sprinkled among them — and sometimes, as is the case today, coinciding with them — are days of unspeakable and unexpected terror and anguish.

Such occasions do not always feature a lone gunman. Sometimes it is other things.

But no generation is immune to shocking reminders that life is not fair.

It hasn't been fair when young people have died in what should be one of the safest settings outside their homes — their schools.

It wasn't fair that a crew of astronauts that included the woman who was slated to be the first teacher in space died in a fiery explosion less than two minutes after liftoff.

Nor was life fair when prominent people were being gunned down and race riots were breaking out in the 1960s.

I have often pondered why it is that some people die so young and others live into their 80s or 90s. There must be more to it than the cliche "the good die young."

The more religious among us will tell you that it is all part of God's plan and that we are not intended to understand God's reasoning.

That's just as well, I suppose, because I used to get headaches trying to figure out God's reason for allowing babies to perish in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The only reason I can think of is sheer randomness. I'm sure there were people at that movie who were there only at the request of others; maybe some of those people were hurt or killed — perhaps only because they were being polite to someone else.

I've heard of unaccounted–for servicemen who were undoubtedly prepared for the possibility of dying in a foreign land but more than likely never gave it a thought while standing in line at a movie theater.

The fact that this kind of thing has the power to paralyze virtually the entire country with fear tells you how rare — comparatively — such a thing really is here.

This summer, I've been re–reading Truman Capote's brilliant nonfiction novel "In Cold Blood" about the massacre of a Kansas farm family in 1959. "[D]rama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there," Capote wrote.

(Aurora, Colo., is considerably larger than Holcomb, Kan., was in 1959, but I suspect that the same thing could be said of Aurora.)

At one point, Capote observed that visitors to Holcomb noticed that almost all the lights in town were on late into the evening.

Capote asked, "Of what were they frightened?" and supplied the answer he had received over and over: "It might happen again."

That is an irrational fear, of course, but it's one that some people do have in these situations. I saw an online poll this morning asking people if they were more or less likely to patronize a movie theater this weekend. Thousands of people responded that they were less likely.

People living in Israel have long been accustomed to the idea that the store where they were shopping or the restaurant in which they were eating or even the road upon which they were traveling could erupt in violence at any minute.

When that happens, they mourn their dead, too, but they move on much faster than we do.

Here in America, I expect our national conversation to focus on Aurora for weeks — in spite of the Olympics and, perhaps, in spite of the conventions.

That will be a good thing if it leads to constructive conversations about what can be done to minimize the risk of such a thing happening again without trampling on constitutional rights.

But already today I have heard people, on both sides of the divide, arguing that the gunman had a political agenda.

Such talk can have no purpose except to contribute to what is already shaping up to be the dirtiest presidential campaign in my memory.

And that we do not need.

What we need is a discussion about how to reduce the possibility of violence intruding on our daily lives.

It probably cannot be eliminated.

But maybe it can be curtailed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Of Islands and Villages

"No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee."

John Donne

That quote by John Donne is one of my favorites, and it was in the spirit of that quote that, I believe, Barack Obama was speaking — at least, at first — when he told small business owners that "you didn't build that."

Just to keep that statement in context, here is the rest of what Obama said last Friday in Virginia:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.

In the context of the workplace, Obama is correct. Unless he/she is self–employed, no business owner is solely responsible for what is done by his or her business. He/she has employees who build the products or provide the services. Everyone does his or her part.

It's a team effort.

And, yes, other people built the roads on which cars and school buses travel. And other people built the schools and churches that shaped us as we grew up — and continue to shape succeeding generations. These things were accomplished collectively through taxes and labor.

Some people don't like taxes of any kind, but taxes are not inherently bad. They pay for essential things from which we all benefit. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. reminded us, "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." And taxes have certainly made many things possible for all of us that few, if any, of us could have provided for ourselves.

And, in a larger sense, again, Obama is correct. Most of us had a "great teacher" or a great pastor or a great coach "along the line" who encouraged us and shared with us the knowledge they had acquired in their lives.

That part, I guess, echoes the vision that was articulated by Hillary Clinton, Obama's chief rival for the 2008 Democratic nomination and his secretary of State, in 1996, the year her husband was re–elected president.

The title of her book, "It Takes a Village," was based on an African proverb — "It takes a village to raise a child" — and, while it aroused considerable ire from her husband's political foes (who ridiculed both Clinton and the book's title by saying things like "it takes a village idiot"), it would be difficult to refute the basic premise — that all the people in a community contribute to the upbringing of each child, for good or ill.

(If that had been all that Obama had said, I doubt that anyone would have raised as much as an eyebrow. I have no children of my own, but most of my friends do, and I think nearly all of them would agree that their children are influenced by many people and things outside the home.)

But then Obama said, "If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

And that was when he revealed himself to be what his most vocal critics have long said he was — a socialist. A lot of people equate socialism with communism or fascism — but that, I suppose, depends upon the extent to which the person (or regime) in question advocates socialism's implementation.

(Great Britain, for example, implemented certain elements of socialism into its national system, but it could hardly be regarded as a communist or fascist society.)

I have no evidence of Obama's ultimate intentions — other than his own words and actions — but his advocacy of collectivism is clear.

The last part of that quote is where millions of business people came to a parting of the ways with Obama. He praised the collective effort but ignored the individual risk in any business, large or small.

Every business has someone who takes the vast majority of the risks. The risk for the employees is relatively minimal, I suppose. If the business goes under, they can file for unemployment and look for something else.

(Not an easy task in this economy, but, after all, millions are out of work in this country at any given time, whether the economy is good or not. The circumstances make it much more difficult, but, as the Greek historian Herodotus wrote, "Circumstances rule men. Men do not rule circumstances.")

But the business owner may have invested virtually everything he/she has.

A business owner may have been inspired by something his high school history teacher said to him when he was 17, but that teacher more than likely risked nothing in the business. (In fact, unless the teacher promoted something akin to anarchy, he/she probably did not put his/her own job at risk — much less create any.)

And paved roads are wonderful for going back and forth to school — much easier on the body and less distracting (and I know whereof I speak because the roads where I grew up were unpaved for many years) — but we all use the roads, not just those affiliated with a particular business.

Paved roads aren't some kind of special benefit for a privileged group.

I have a friend who, along with his wife, bought and runs a birthing center in north Texas.

In an e–mail yesterday, he said to me, "Small business owners make up a huge part of job creation. We only employ 10 people, but we bust our butts to keep them employed and ourselves afloat."

He told me he was "very disillusioned" by Obama's words. And, I suspect, so are many other business owners.

Not everyone was cut out to be an entrepreneur, but if there has ever been a place on this planet where people were encouraged to dream their dreams and take the risks that were necessary to make their dreams come true, it has been America.

Not all of those dreams have come true. But folks with an entrepreneurial spirit have always been encouraged to dream here. It's what freedom and capitalism are all about.

Such dreams took a real beating four years ago when the economy collapsed. At the time, voters were so anxious to be rid of George W. Bush that they paid little attention to — or totally disregarded — Obama's talk of "spreading the wealth around."

My guess is they're paying considerably more attention now.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Clinton's Covenant

Twenty years ago tonight, Bill Clinton accepted the presidential nomination for the first time.

That was a memorable time in my life. Just four years earlier, I had moved from Arkansas, where I grew up, went to school and began my adult life, to Texas, where I intended to enroll in graduate school.

I had already voted for Clinton for governor several times by 1988. In fact, because Arkansas elected its governors to two–year terms until the voters approved in 1984 an amendment to the state constitution that changed the length of state officials' terms to four years, starting with the 1986 elections, Clinton was on the ballot in every election after I turned 18.

That would have changed if I had been in Arkansas when the 1988 election was held — because 1988 was only two years into the four–year term Clinton won in 1986.

Anyway, by July 1992, I had finished work on my master's degree. In fact, I had just been offered a teaching job in Oklahoma, and I was packing to move. But, on this night 20 years ago, I took a break from my packing to watch Clinton give his acceptance speech.

And I felt a sense of pride, of historical inevitability, when Clinton spoke to the convention of a New Covenant with the American voters.

The New Covenant was the theme of speeches Clinton gave in the leadup to the announcement of his presidential candidacy. On this night 20 years ago, it was mentioned prominently and frequently in what was probably the first Clinton speech many Americans had ever heard.

I knew, from years of watching Clinton run for governor of Arkansas, that he was a gifted speaker. And I also knew he could be longwinded at times. But that wasn't anything special. In Arkansas, we were accustomed to politicians who were like the Energizer Bunnies of politics.

At times I thought Arkansas elections were dueling filibusters, endurance contests in which the prize was the office that was being sought. It went to the last man standing, sort of like one of those dance marathons.

Of course, that wasn't how it worked. Never was how it worked, actually — although it might as well have, what with all the other ways that people won elections in Arkansas when I was growing up.

There were political machines all over the state, and there was one that controlled the politics in my home county and a neighboring county. This machine continued to run things as long as the county voted by paper ballot — because, no matter what popular sentiment might be, it was always possible to stuff enough ballot boxes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat — and the machine's grip on the people of those counties only came to an end when the county's residents voted to purchase voting machines.

(A state judge who presided over cases in the '60s and '70s that were intended to break the grip of these political machines wrote his autobiography a few years ago, and the title was a wry reference to those days — "Waiting for the Cemetery Vote.")

I always thought it was ironic that many people who were just becoming acquainted with Bill Clinton in 1992 believed he came from a powerful and wealthy family. They must have confused him with a Kennedy. In fact, he came from very humble beginnings.

When I was growing up in Arkansas, rich generally seemed to refer to people who had come there from other places — Winthrop Rockefeller, for example. Later on, that list grew to include the likes of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sam's Club, who made his fortune in Arkansas but was born in central Oklahoma and grew up in Missouri.

If someone grew up in Arkansas and somehow found fame and fortune, so the thinking went, that person would surely move to another state. And some have. But some have not, and I tend to think Clinton's victory on the national stage contributed to that.

The unspoken belief when I was a child was that someone from Arkansas might become influential, but he would never be president. Some had tried; others had been called rising stars by the pundits. But none had succeeded. It was the always–a–bridesmaid–never–a–bride school of thought.

Bill Clinton grew up in rural Arkansas, as I did, and we heard the same speeches from the same politicians.

Clinton was much older — still is — but the same governors who shaped his daily life shaped mine. And I rather doubt that the state itself changed much from the time when Clinton enrolled in elementary school to the time when I did — although my hometown had changed quite a bit by the time I was in first grade.

My class was the first in my hometown's history to be integrated from first grade all the way through high school graduation. Clinton started elementary school in the early 1950s. I don't know if his graduating class was ever integrated, but I am 100% certain it wasn't integrated from start to finish.

So perhaps you could say that we didn't really grow up in the same place — although enough of the old Arkansas that molded Clinton was still in place when I came along.

But Arkansans discovered that Clinton was not an old–style Arkansas politician. Well, not entirely. He was always good at the back–slapping brand of politicking that served generations of Arkansas politicians so well.

But he was thoughtful and articulate, too, and his policies were departures from the past. He really was a new Democrat — especially when compared to the other nominees the Democrats had offered to the nation in recent elections.

What is often forgotten about the '92 campaign is that, just as Clinton was about to give his acceptance speech, Ross Perot withdrew from the race, and polls indicated that most of his support gravitated to Clinton.

Clinton took a big lead in the polls that July, a lead he never relinquished even after Perot jumped back in the race in October.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Voice in the Wilderness

"... George McGovern was about to have his moment. The moment was 2:48 in the morning. ... [T]he audience for his speech had dropped from 17,400,000 to 3,600,000. Yet he was speaking beautifully. He had sucked up from his experience in one of the longest campaigns in American history a knowledge of precisely those keys of emotion he himself could touch best, and the organ keys he played now were poetic and evangelical."

Theodore H. White
"The Making of the President 1972"

From the rear–view mirror perspective of American history, George McGovern was the Democrats' version of Barry Goldwater.

He went down to defeat in a landslide of historic proportions, as Goldwater did, but he was a glimpse into the party's future.

Just as the 1964 ascendance of Goldwater, with his right–wing rhetoric, foretold a time when the moderates would be overthrown within the GOP and the conservatives would rule, McGovern's nomination in 1972 hinted at the day when nominating liberals would be commonplace in the Democratic Party.

Likewise, in ways that I didn't comprehend until many years later, 1972 had a huge influence on me. My mother played a big part in that.

Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about my mother so I won't go into detail on that. Neither should it be necessary to remind my readers that I was raised a Democrat and voted for Democrats for many years — but I now consider myself an independent.

The designation Democrat wasn't quite as restrictive when I was a child as it is today. In 2012, if one self–identifies as a Democrat, one is essentially embracing a left–leaning agenda, but 40 years ago, there were still quite a few conservative Democrats — and quite a few middle–of–the–road ones, too.

In those days, the Democrats' tent was big enough to accommodate them all — but not necessarily comfortably. It made for some pretty spirited debates — and, sometimes, some unpredictable outcomes.

Now, as I say, Mom was a Democrat. She was unapologetically a liberal Democrat, and I have no doubt she would feel quite at home in today's Democrat Party. But, while I'm sure Mom would be pleased that the party has moved more in her philosophical direction, she might miss the give and take of the Democratic scraps of her day.

See, in 1972, Mom was part of the liberal wing of the party. In large part because of its anger and frustration over the Vietnam War, that wing had been gradually seizing power within the party ever since Lyndon Johnson was elected in a landslide in 1964 and proceeded to escalate the bloodshed in southeast Asia.

And the liberals had come to realize, after settling for LBJ's vice president in 1968 when the Gene McCarthy candidacy fell short, that winning the presidential nomination was the gateway to public acceptance.

George McGovern's nomination for the presidency in 1972 was, in many ways, the fruition of the liberal wing's struggle for the heart and soul of the party.

In hindsight, that nomination probably wouldn't have been possible if it hadn't been for interference from President Nixon's campaign operatives, but, at the time, it was seen as confirmation of the party's permanent shift to the left.

And, whether intended or not, that has been the outcome. The party did seem to be moving back to the center with the election of Jimmy Carter four years later, but since Carter's time, Democratic nominees have tended to be — pardon the pun — progressively liberal.

I was a child in 1972, but I was an enthusiastic McGovern supporter. It wasn't so much because I understood many of the things of which he spoke but because Mom could always explain things to me in ways I could understand. And Mom was a McGovern supporter — so I was a McGovern supporter. Such was my logic in 1972.

The race for the 1972 nomination was extremely contentious. The party's more centrist establishment tended to favor the guys who had been on the '68 ticket, Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie, and the conservative wing liked George Wallace and Henry Jackson.

The emergence of an insurgent from the left drew a united effort to deprive McGovern of the nomination. It failed, but it made things quite interesting — especially after an attempt to assassinate Wallace inflated his vote totals in some late primaries.

Things didn't necessarily go smoothly when the Democrats held their convention in July 1972, but, to be sure, it was a lot smoother than it had been four years earlier, when antiwar protests turned into clashes with police in the streets of Chicago, but it was far from incident–free. In 1972, though, the Democrats kept their battles inside the convention hall.

In the buildup to the Democrats' 1972 challenge to Richard Nixon, they had relaxed their rules, allowing many groups that had not been adequately represented in the past to have an enhanced presence (and, consequently, enhanced power) at the convention.

That was a double–edged sword. Sometimes those battles had great substantive significance — debates over some platform planks went on all night — and sometimes they were frivolous.

Take for example the ridiculous fight over the vice presidential nominee.

For anyone who listened to the roll call of the states and heard some of the names of those who received a vote or two (actual people, such as McGovern's wife, Chinese leader Mao Zedong and TV journalist Roger Mudd and fictional TV character Archie Bunker), it was hard not to reach the conclusion that the groups who had been ignored in the past were flexing their newfound political muscles a bit — and they were doing so at their own nominee's expense.

Modern political conventions are so tightly managed that the nominee's acceptance speech is always delivered at a time that ensures maximum exposure in all 50 states. (This year, in fact, the Democrats forced the NFL to move its traditional season kickoff from Thursday night to Wednesday night so as not to conflict with Barack Obama's acceptance speech.)

But instead of giving his speech to a primetime audience on Thursday night, McGovern wound up speaking to a TV audience of mostly insomniacs. It was past midnight in most U.S. time zones when he started to speak.

McGovern tried to make light of the fact that his choice for running mate, Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton, was challenged by "only 39 other nominees." He also poked fun at Nixon's selection of Spiro Agnew as his running mate four years earlier in a process that had been criticized as too rushed. As a result, he said, Democrats had learned "that it pays to take a little more time."

McGovern would soon regret those words.

Nevertheless, as White observed, he gave a great speech. But hardly anyone saw it.

I did.

It was summer, after all, and I was a kid. Staying up late was nothing special for me, and I remember sitting alone in the wee hours of the morning in my family's living room with my cassette tape recorder, dutifully recording the speech for Mom to hear the next day.

Like most folks, she had gone to bed long before the speech was given. I remember the house was mostly dark and mostly quiet — and I remember that I tried to keep the volume on the TV down so as not to disturb my parents or my brother.

I remember playing the tape for Mom the next day. She seemed to agree with most of it, nodded her head sometimes, broke into smiles at points, but she didn't seem as enthusiastic as I expected her to be.

Maybe she knew, somehow, what was to come. I was too young to realize it, of course, but I'm sure Mom was aware of the long odds McGovern faced.

"That was a good speech" was all she said after listening to my tape of the speech.

I was always sorry that she never got to see it.

Because, when you look at the 1972 campaign in that rear–view mirror of history, it is all too clear that George McGovern did not have many good days.

But this day 40 years ago was one of them — even though McGovern wound up delivering his acceptance speech to an audience made up mostly of children of the night.

Eagleton's withdrawal in a couple of weeks would not be a good day for McGovern, nor would the repeated spectacle of McGovern practically begging every prominent Democrat to be on his ticket — and being turned down by everyone until he came to Sargent Shriver.

There were no presidential debates in 1972. In fact, it was the last presidential election that did not feature at least one debate. It will always be anyone's guess whether a debate would have been a high point — or another low point — for the McGovern campaign.

And, on this night in 1972, what could safely be said to be McGovern's worst night of the campaign, his 49–state landslide loss to Richard Nixon, was nearly four months away.

Democrats in 2012 may feel they have been unfairly criticized at times, but their trials and tribulations have been laughable compared to what McGovern endured.

You could probably count the number of good days he had on a single hand — maybe two.

When he did have a good one, it had to be savored.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'

"I came here to tell you the truth — the good, the bad and the ugly."

Lt. Col. Oliver North
July 7, 1987

A good word to describe Oliver North when he began his Iran–Contra testimony a quarter of a century ago would be defiant.

He seemed to enter the hearing room with a chip on his shoulder, and he was all too eager to defend the secret policy he had been carrying out.

Many Americans probably heard his name for the first time when Ronald Reagan dismissed him following the revelation of that policy in November 1986.

After that, as I recall, he mostly slipped from the public's thoughts until his former secretary, Fawn Hall, testified about how she had helped shred documents for her boss and smuggled others from the office.

Then people began clamoring for North to testify — as if most had just heard his name for the first time. And, I guess, there were those who had. I suppose there were some people — very sheltered people — who had no idea who Oliver North was before this day in 1987.

In fact, I know there were. I was one of them. Well, not entirely. I mean, I had heard the name in connection with reports about his involvement in the scandal and his intention to testify. Otherwise, I didn't know much about him.

But after this day 25 years ago, his name was a household word.

In 1987, I was working nights on the Arkansas Gazette's sports desk so I watched North's testimony every day — until about the middle of the afternoon on days when I had to go to work, all day on days when I didn't.

(On those days when I worked, I would often set my VCR to record in my absence. Then, when I returned home after midnight, I would stay up and watch the rest of his testimony from that day.)

Rudy Abramson of the Los Angeles Times wrote that North was "the most eagerly awaited witness since Watergate's John W. Dean III" 14 years earlier.

There is truth in that, but it wasn't quite the same.

When Dean testified in the summer of 1973, I remember hearing his testimony on radios and TV sets wherever I went. My parents watched Dean's testimony on the family TV set, and they had the car radio set to the testimony so it was possible for me to go from the house to the car and never miss a thing.

Then, almost anywhere I might go — the grocery store, the barber shop, whatever it might be — I could see/hear the testimony on small portable TVs or on radios.

(My family lived in the country, a few miles outside the city limits. I remember one day when my father needed to get something from a hardware store in town, and I went along with him. I could hear the testimony on the TV as we left the house, then Dad switched on the radio when we got in the car and we listened to it all the way into town. Then, we may have missed a minute or two of testimony when we walked from the parking lot into the hardware store, but when we did, we found that the proprietor was watching the telecast on his portable TV.

(As long as we were in town, Dad wanted to run a few errands at nearby stores so we walked from the hardware store to the other businesses. All along the way, I could hear the testimony — on radios in cars and stores, on portable TVs. Hardly missed a beat.)

Before his testimony, Dean's was not a familiar face to most Americans. But even though I was much younger at the time of Watergate, I knew more about Dean when he started his testimony than I knew about North.

Looking at it from another angle, both of those key witnesses — North and Dean — received generally high points for credibility from congressional investigators and viewers.

Dean challenged Richard Nixon's version of events, and Nixon's own tapes demonstrated how reliable Dean's memory and word were. Ultimately, Nixon resigned.

North, on the other hand, did not implicate Reagan in any wrongdoing. He did not challenge Reagan's decision to dismiss him when the plot came to light; if Reagan was involved more directly, North did not accuse him.

It seemed to me at the time that a lot of people hoped he would — or, at least, that he would get caught in a contradiction that would give ammunition to the administration's critics.

Kind of like the people who go to car races hoping to see a pileup.

The revelation of the Iran–Contra scandal in November 1986 marked the end of a really astonishing spike in presidential popularity. For nearly two years, Reagan had enjoyed the approval of more than half of survey respondents — often far more than half.

His approval dropped below 50% when Iran–Contra was made public, though, and it only rose above 51% once in the next 19 months — when Hall testified.

Reagan didn't resign. No evidence was ever uncovered that he authorized diversion of arms profits to the Contras, and Reagan remained president through the conclusion of his second term in 1989.

Gallup has been measuring presidential job approval since the dawn of Franklin Roosevelt's second term in 1937, and, of the presidents who have been re–elected in the last 75 years, only Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton enjoyed comparable periods of popularity.

A year before North's testimony, in July 1986, Reagan's job approval stood at 63%, according to Gallup. His popularity dipped below 50% when the scandal became public knowledge, and, by the time North began giving his testimony 25 years ago today, Reagan was clinging to a 49–43 plurality in the Gallup poll.

But Reagan bounced back. By the end of 1988, he was back at 63% approval.

In the years ahead, in fact, the implementation of the arms–for–hostages plan seemed to get a certain amount of vindication.

The now 68–year–old North ran for the U.S. Senate from Virginia nearly 20 years ago and narrowly lost to Lyndon Johnson's son–in–law. He has written several books and is a popular commentator for Fox News.

Enforcement of the Boland Amendment, which had been passed in the early 1980s, seemed to restrict future U.S. aid to the Contras. Congress later repealed the Boland Amendment, however, and funding for the Contras resumed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

When Did the Holocaust Begin?

I've been studying history most of my life, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of things that have happened and how they have influenced the days, months and years that followed.

Some events in history are easy to pinpoint — like battles. You know when they began. You know when they ended. You know how many people were killed and how many people were injured.

Same with presidential administrations. With few exceptions, a presidential administration spreads over several years; when all is said and done, you know when a president's tenure began and when it ended.

Other events are harder to nail down. When, for example, did the Great Depression begin? Was it when the stock market crashed in 1929? Or did it really begin with events that happened before that? Or after that? I've heard historians engage in lively debates on that one.

The Holocaust is kind of the same way, really.

Some people will tell you that the Holocaust began with laws that systematically segregated Jews from the rest of German society, the most noteworthy of those being the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, or with the establishment of the labor camps, which did not come into existence as the temporary homes of Jews who had been selected for extermination (the image that many in the early 21st century have of the Nazi camps) but rather were intended to squeeze as much labor out of each prisoner as possible.

Others will tell you that the Holocaust began when hostilities did — when the Nazis conquered Poland and France.

And, while some scholars prefer to define only Jewish casualties as victims of the Holocaust, others include all victims — not just Jews but Soviets, Poles, homosexuals, the disabled and others as well — which affects the parameters of that period in history as well as the actual number of victims.

The timeline that tracks the history of the Holocaust is not always clear, even after nearly three–quarters of a century. Concentration camps were part of the Third Reich from the beginning, but, originally, they were not designed for extermination. Many prisoners did die in them but primarily from being worked to death or being killed after being overcome with fatigue.

Mass extermination was a concept that was still in the future.

In the view of many, I suppose, January 20 of this year was the 70th anniversary of the actual birth of the Holocaust as we have come to know it — the approval of the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question."

It was on that occasion that the Wannsee Conference was held. More than a dozen Nazi leaders gathered to discuss the implementation of the "Final Solution," and the conversion of concentration camps to extermination camps began in earnest.

Some concentration camps continued to serve as concentration camps, which were understood to be places where the prisoners were forced to work for the Third Reich. The deaths of prisoners under such circumstances were regarded as acceptable — albeit unintended — consequences. Collateral damage, you might say.

Extermination camps, on the other hand, were places where prisoners were not expected to live long after their arrival. Those camps were designed to carry out mass killings with almost assembly line–like precision.

But, from all outward appearances, one camp looked remarkably like the next — with the possible exceptions of the huge ovens and gas chambers that were on some properties but not on others. And in the winter and spring of 1942, some camps required physical conversions to prepare them for their new roles.

There were also changes in administrative procedures that were being implemented, the most significant of which may well have been what happened at Auschwitz 70 years ago tomorrow.

In a meeting in Berlin, Heinrich Himmler and three others made the decision on that day to begin medical experimentation on women prisoners at Auschwitz and to look into conducting similar experiments on males.

It was probably a natural step in the evolution of the Third Reich, considering that the experiments that were to be conducted were little more than torture — hardly legitimate scientific experiments.

Without going into too much detail, the experiments observed the physical reactions of people who were subjected to conditions and circumstances that would certainly result in their deaths. Of that, there was no doubt.

(The experiments included things like performing amputations on the subjects, testing drugs on them, freezing them, forcing them to drink nothing but sea water and injecting chemicals into eyes to alter their color.

(In William Shirer's rather stately language in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," the experiments yielded "no benefit to science." Talk about an understatement.)

Nevertheless, while those experiments may have been given a fallacious label of legitimacy that permitted the doctors to put their ethics on a shelf, they seem to have ushered in the period when the Nazis as a group went past the point of no return — when they stopped merely mistreating their prisoners and began focusing on more efficient ways to kill them.

After the war, these abuses were addressed in the Doctors' Trial, one of the "Subsequent Nuremberg Trials" in which primarily medical doctors were accused of human experimentation and mass murder under the pretense of mercy killings.

That, at least, was how the doctors justified their actions — their experiments would benefit medical science, and sometimes the merciful thing was to kill their involuntary subjects when the experiment was concluded.

The wholesale killing that would forever stain this time in history had not really begun in earnest 70 years ago.

But the fact that Himmler and his colleagues even considered experimenting on humans — never mind actually sanctioning such a policy — is all the proof one needs that the Holocaust happened ... although there is so much more.

The mindset was in place.

It is bad enough to entertain the thought of human experimentation, but when the thought is given the legitimacy of law, it is no longer a considerable leap to implementation.

It is a very short step.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Name on a Suitcase

I recall one occasion when my grandmother — my father's mother — visited my family when I was a child.

My memory is that my grandmother's visits were rare.

Both sets of my grandparents lived in Dallas, Texas, when I was a child. That made sense. My parents grew up in Dallas.

But, when I was growing up, we lived in central Arkansas, which was more than 300 miles from Dallas. I would have loved to have seen my grandparents more frequently than I did, but distance was a factor.

I lost both of my grandfathers before I was 10 years old, and, by that time, my father's mother was well into her 70s. As a younger woman, she had accompanied my grandfather to places in the U.S. where he taught religion and philosophy — as well as to the Philippines, where they were missionaries for a time — but I guess she didn't have much stamina for road trips after my grandfather died.

Typically, when I was growing up, we visited her in Dallas. We stayed with my mother's mother — she had a house with room for guests whereas my father's mother lived in a one–bedroom apartment that was too small to accommodate a family of four — but we always made time to spend with my father's mother, took her out to eat and stuff like that.

Ordinarily, we made about three or four trips to Dallas each year. My mother's mother often came to visit us, but, as I say, my father's mother rarely did.

It is primarily for that reason, I guess, that I remember her visit.

Another reason I remember that visit is because I had just started taking piano lessons, and my grandmother brought me a music box that was shaped like a bust of Beethoven. When you wound it up, it played Beethoven's Minuet in G.

(I've still got that music box, too. And it still works. It's a little banged up. The paint is missing in places, but Grandmother gave it to me to encourage me, and it still does, all these years later.)

I also remember that visit because I recall, quite vividly, being with Grandmother in the guest room and watching her unpack her suitcase. I noticed the name on the suitcase was Amelia Earhart.

I knew that wasn't my grandmother's name so I asked her, "Who is Amelia Earhart?"

Grandmother replied, "She was a very brave woman," and she proceeded to tell me, in words that would make sense to a child, how Amelia Earhart had been a pioneer for women in aviation.

No one knew what became of her, Grandmother told me. She disappeared while trying to fly around the world.

Maybe her plane went off course and crashed into the ocean. Maybe she managed to land the plane safely but was captured and then executed — perhaps by natives, perhaps by Japanese soldiers. Possibly the plane crashed, but she and/or her navigator survived for awhile. Nobody knew.

I was too young to understand the details of the case, but I have studied it from time to time since then. It continues to intrigue me, as it intrigues others.

And tomorrow, as the search for the wreckage of Earhart's plane resumes in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, I wish the searchers well.

I don't know if they'll find anything, but it would be great if they could. Miraculous even. As I say, it was 75 years ago today that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared.

After all this time, no one thinks the remains of either can be found and brought back to the United States for burial.

But it is possible that the searchers will find wreckage from the plane. If they do, it might bring us closer to solving the mystery.

Grainy photographs taken decades ago have prompted some researchers to believe they have seen evidence of a plane in the waters off a coral atoll called Nikumaroro. That — and today's anniversary — prompted the search.

Originally, that search was going to begin today, but it was postponed until tomorrow.

There have been a handful of truly enduring mysteries, and the Earhart disappearance is one of the greatest of them.

Searchers found the Titanic, and Mark Felt revealed that he had been the Deep Throat who kept the Watergate investigation focused.

Perhaps now we will find out what really happened to Amelia Earhart.