Saturday, June 18, 2016

Happy Birthday to My Goddaughter

"Where there is love there is life."

Mahatma Gandhi

Today is my goddaughter Nikki's birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Game Changer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

California, Here They Are

It has always struck me as odd.

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

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

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

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

And yet it is a virtual afterthought in the primaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those expectations have shifted dramatically in California.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another narrow Clinton victory certainly won't change that.

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