Saturday, August 23, 2008

August 23, 2008

     I should say first that when I covered the Senate I liked Joe Biden;  I still do.  When he was a very new senator--in office just a month or so--his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident with a drunken driver.  His two sons survived.  Biden wanted them to have a normal life, so instead of living in Washington he kept his house in Delaware and went home on Amtrak every night.  He did this for years, even after he remarried.  I remember doing a profile of him some years ago;  we rode the train with him and he knew everyone--conductors, brakemen and so on, and greeted them by name.
    He likes to talk--and talk, and talk, some will add--and he's said his share of silly things over the years.  My favorite was during one truly boring hearing--I have no memory of what it was about, if anything, and senators as they often do, were taking ten-minute turns to ask questions.  Biden was maybe seven minutes into his--no question yet--when he stopped in mid-sentence and then after a thoughtful pause said, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about."   I didn't either, but you have to admire his candor.
     He is, in fact, a smart man and he knows a good deal about foreign and military affairs, areas in which Obama's experience is limited.   And he's no stranger to controversy--was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during two of its more troubled hearings--the one that rejected Robert Bork as a Supreme Court nominee and the one that confirmed Clarence Thomas.
     So, a good, experienced man.  Probably a good VP, whatever that demands.  He and Obama will get along, I think, and that always helps.   Good pick is the vote here.   

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

On hold

Mr. Morton's "editor" will be away this coming week.  The column may - just may - be distributed this wee.  If not, it will resume as soon as possible.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

August 19, 2008

     "Speculation reaches fever pitch," one headline says.  "Could be Wednesday," a story proclaims.  Well, picking the VP nominee can be fun.  I remember in 1968 at the convention, I think, Richard Nixon announcing his choice and a startled Mike Wallace responding, "Spiro who?"  Well, it was a fair question.  Spiro Agnew was governor of Maryland, but he was a pretty obscure governor and only David Broder had him on his list of possibles.  Broder's reputation for political smarts, already high, soared higher.
     Then in 1980 Walter Cronkite got the idea that Ronald Reagan wouldn't really have a VP, but instead a co-presidency shared with Gerald Ford.  I was on the podium that year and excellent sources kept telling me this hadn't happened. "Well," Walter said, "I guess you're just trying to keep some drama in it." Suddenly there was Lesley Stahl on the convention floor saying, "It's Bush;  they're all saying it's Bush."  They were, of course, all right.

     In '88 we all wondered who Bush would pick.  It's someone from Indiana, the rumor was.  Oh good, we all thought, Senator Richard Lugar.  What a smart choice. No, we learned later, the other senator, Dan Quayle.  Common press corps reaction:  you've got to be kidding.  But Bush, of course, wasn't kidding.
     Does it matter?  No, not until you need a VP.  But then--oh wow.  Think back to when Franklin Roosevelt died and a little-known Missouri senator, Harry Truman,  took over.  He had to decide whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, supervise the surrenders that ended World War II, help in founding NATO, worry about war crimes trials, develop the containment policy for the Soviet Union.  It's hard to imagine a president who had more big decisions to make.  And looking back he seems to have gotten most of them right.
    So it can matter.  I have a sentimental favorite this time, Delaware Senator Joseph Biden.  It has nothing to do with his qualifications.  It goes back to a hearing on some long-forgotten topic I was covering maybe twenty years ago.  Senators, as they often do, were taking ten-minute turns asking questions.  Biden was maybe seven or eight minutes into his ten, no question yet, dependent clauses cluttering up the room, when he suddenly paused for a moment and then said thoughtfully, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about."  The hearing room filled with laughter.  But hey, candor in the Veep's office may be just what we need.   Go, Joe! 

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Sunday, August 17, 2008

August 17, 2008

     The ageing fan watched on TV as the Chicago Cubs--his Cubs--played the Marlins in Florida.  Cubs down, of course, 2--0.  The camera switched to a kid with a sign--"failure is not an option."  Kid, the fan wondered, how young are you?  Failure has been the Cubs' option for generations now--for, in fact, a century.  The Cubs last won the pennant in 1908--before there was television, or radio, or World War I.  Just five years after the Wright Brothers' first flight.  Failure is always an option.  The ageing fan was a kid the last time the Cubs won the pennant.  That was 1945, more than half a century ago.  If anyone had told the kid then this wouldn't happen again in his lifetime, the kid would have laughed out loud.  The ageing fan, of course, stopped laughing years ago.
     The camera found a woman in the crowd with another, larger sign, "Completely Useless By September."  C-U-B-S, get it?  Surely history was on her side.   But then, all of a sudden in the seventh inning, Cubs batters were drilling hits all over the park.  Or if they didn't swing quickly enough, the Marlins pitcher walked them.  The Cubs, no longer the "lovable losers" of history, scored eight runs in that inning, added an extra later on, and won the game 9--2.  And it's almost September.  And they're in first place in their division.  What's going on here? 
      The first thing to say is that it isn't September yet.  They have plenty of time to lose.  They've shown over the years they know how.  The ageing fan remembers a George Santayana quote:  "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  But the ageing fan does remember, all the Cubs fans remember.  The players don't, of course, because most of them look, to the ageing fan, about thirteen years old.  But the rest of us remember--how could we possibly not?
     Ya gotta believe?  I don't think so.  Fool me once, the old saw goes, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me. The Cubs have fooled a whole lot more than twice.  But maybe?  Just this once?  Do you think?  Stay tuned.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Saturday, August 16, 2008

August 12, 2008

     So the big guy has finished beating up on the little guy, he says, though the little guy insists he's still feeling blows.  And there may be some lessons in this for the other little guys in that particular 'hood.
     Moscow started this one, according to New York Times op ed piece by Svante Cornell, the research director of an institute at Johns Hopkins which studies the region.  Russia, he writes, has been messing in the region for years, giving Russian passports to its citizens, and so on, building up forces along the border.  Russia can talk about support for separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but that's pretty silly given the number of Checheans Russia has killed in recent decades.
     What this seems to be about is teaching the little guys in the region a lesson--don't mess with Moscow.  Georgia had been thinking about joining NATO.  Now other countries in the region, like Ukraine and Kazakhstan, will surely be saying to themselves, 'Gee, that's a really bad idea.'  I mean, if Georgia had been a NATO member, does anyone think tanks would now be rumbling through Germany, enroute to Russia?  Surely not.  The message here is, cozy up to the big guy and do what he says.
     Otherwise, just look at how many of your people might die.  It's power politics, pure and simple, an old-fashioned game played under old-fashioned rules.

See what people are saying about Windows Live. Check out featured posts. Check It Out!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

AUGUST 11, 2008

We appear to be having an old-fashioned war--not us versus terrorists, as in Iraq, or us versus a guerilla army, as in Afghanistan, but one large country, Russia, beating up on a smaller one, Georgia, with infantry and tank attacks, bombing raids on Georgian cities, the whole old-fashioned ball of wax.
And what can the United States, former leader of the free world, do about it? We are theoretically Georgia's ally but the evidence so far is, we can't do much.
We're certainly not going to invade Russia. We'd have to do it from the sea or the air--there's no land border--and that would probably take weeks to organize. And anyway, we don't have the troops to do it; they're tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. We, and our NATO allies, can fuss, can urge cease-fires, can deplore. But none of that does any good if the Russians don't want to listen. So far, they don't. It's a reminder, if we needed one, that force works if used promptly and firmly. Moral persuasion, being the good guy, doesn't. As Joseph Stalin once famously remarked, 'How many divisions has the pope?'
Over the longer haul, of course, the U.S. and its NATO allies can and perhaps will impose sanctions on Russia. This can cause economic pain, maybe enough economic pain to make the Russians wonder if they really want to annex Georgia after all. We can break off diplomatic relations, bat Russians from coming here, and so on. But all of that takes time.
In the short term, force works, as Adolf Hitler demonstrated. What beat him in the end was not diplomacy, but more force mustered against him than he could cope with. It was a very costly, big war. In the end, we--the Soviets and the other allies--won by force of arms.
Lessons for this time? No easy ones.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

August 9th, 2008

     Would you like to sin
     With Elinor Glyn
     On a tiger skin?
     Or would you prefer
     To err with her
     On some other kind of fur?
     The poem celebrates a novelist--Elinor Glyn was a nom-de-plume--who scandalized 1920s Britain with novels which featured sexy women, one of whom greeted a lover naked, reclining on a rug (I don't think it was a tiger skin) with a rose clenched between her teeth.  Well, at least back then they did it with some style.
     Even more recently, sex and classiness were not strangers.  Franklin Roosevelt had a mistress.  John Kennedy wooed many women, but somehow it stayed behind closed doors and we didn't have to read all about it.
     Well thank you, John Edwards.  That's gone now.  It is now on every TV screen, every front page in our grand country that you had an affair with a videographer named Rielle Hunter.  And of course you were carrying on while your wife was battling cancer.  Class, John, real class. And of course you've admitted lying about your affair, over and over.  Seemed better at the time than speaking out, I suppose.
     And in the midst of this confessional surge, you insist that you are not the father of Ms. Hunter's daughter.  You're willing, you say, to be tested to prove this.  Frankly, John who cares? You needn't;  you have no future in politics, only a tacky past.  The baby might care, I suppose--I mean, if it wasn't you, she might have a father she could respect. 
     Me, I don't care.  You've done something very difficult, I think.  You've given sex a bad name.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

August 6th, 2008

    Could we, please, just cancel the Olympic Games?  Too many athletes, too many different sports half of us have never heard of, too many stories in the Sports Section--it's hard to keep up with how the Cubs are doing, for heaven's sake--just too much of a muchness all the way around.  Corporations have paid billions of dollars to broadcast this stuff.  But who cares?
     I think having world champions is fine, but we do that other years without all this bombast.  Maybe if they spread them out--you know, we'll have track events in Beijing in August, and swimming in Delhi in September, and equestrian events in Manila in October, and so on until we're done.  We'll give out medals, but no fair carrying the totals over from one city to the next.
     That's probably the worst of it--this pandemic of national chest-thumping.  I've read story after story about how barracks-full of Chinese have spent the past four years doing nothing but training and yearning and breathing for a gold.  Well, the Chinese are admirable and determined people and China now is a great power, whatever that means these days, but isn't it all a bit much?
     In the original Olympics, according to a book I read, the athletes competed naked--no national colors, no shorts, come to that.  Maybe that would perk up these ponderous games.  But, of course, the TV networks would object.  The Olympics, like many other sports, is all about big business now, about TV ratings much more than about which kid finishes first.   It's too bad, but I don't think we'll be able to fix it.
     If you want Old Style Olympics, go down to a grade school playground and watch the eighth graders race each other.  They just want to be the best, and that's how it used to be, remember? 
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

August 5th, 2008

     I've read forty-three columns this morning (okay, it only seems like forty-three) asking which presidential candidate has 'raised' the race issue in the presidential campaign.  Fact is, in a race with a white candidate running against a black one, the issue raises itself without needing any help.
     How many Americans, of whatever color, will vote for Barack Obama because he's black?  Or against him for the same reason?  Some, surely, but how many?  I have no idea.
     One thing we do know--this country, while not free of racism, is much less racist than it used to be.  When I was old enough to vote, whites and blacks both got drafted into the army, President Harry Truman had recently integrated the armed forces but, in the Southern states, only whites could vote.  The Voting Rights Act of 1966 changed that, of course.  Southern states now send blacks to Congress.
     This year, for the first time in our history, a black man looks likely to be the presidential nominee of one of our two major parties.  Obama did not get there by casting himself as a black victim.  As Eugene Robinson wrote in his Washington Post column, 'Obama understands that to be elected president, he has to come off as the least-aggrieved black man in America'   So, he won't be raising the issue.
     John McCain, whom I've interviewed a couple of times, never struck me as a racist.  But there are people in his campaign who believe the way to win is to tear down the other guy with any label they think may hurt--effete, elite, thinks he's superior, and so on.  It's the same technique they used against John Kerry four years ago.  It worked then so, of course, they're repeating it now.
     I hope it flops this time.
     I hope we all go to the polls this fall remembering a couple of lines the American poet Langston Hughes wrote:  'America, the land that never was and yet must be/ the land where every man is free.'   

Reveal your inner athlete and share it with friends on Windows Live. Share now!

Friday, August 1, 2008

FW: JULY 31, 2008

Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 12:07:12 -0400
Subject: JULY 31, 2008

     If the McCain campaign were an elevator, the operator would be saying, 'Going down!'
     Not down in flames or down in defeat, but down in character, in tone, seeking sleaze and sludge and slime.  The proof is a new TV ad comparing Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, a media concoction, a celebrity unqualified to be president.  You can argue, of course, over who's cuter--wouldn't most women vote for Obama--but the point of the ad is to demean Obama, make fun of him, depict him as effete, elitist, unprepared.   'He's the biggest celebrity in the world,' the announcer says, 'but is he ready to lead?'
    This tacky attack--and others which are bound to follow--is not an accident.  It's come about because a number of the people who ran George W. Bush's very negative campaign against John Kerry four years ago are now working for Bush and using the same negative tactics.  Hey, it worked last time, why not this time too?
     That's always been the rationale for negative ads, of course.  And they often do work.  If you're old enough, you remember a negative ad from Lyndon Johnson's 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater--little girl plucking petals from a flower, voice counting down, and then a nuclear bomb explodes.  Only ran once, but it sure had an impact.  Or a Jesse Helms ad, during a Senate campaign against Harvey Gantt, a black--workworn white hand, with a wedding ring, crumpling a rejection letter, with voiceover something like, 'You wanted that job.  You were qualified for it, but they had to give it to a minority.'  Oh yes, negative works.
     And I think it's true that voters vote more on what they think of the candidate's character than on his positions on specific issues.  So negative works.  But negative stinks too, devalues the campaigns it's part of, cheapens our democracy.
     It's probably foolish to think we'll avoid the slime pit this time.  But you have to hope.  The John McCain I covered in 2000 was, whether you agreed with him on issues or not, a thoroughly honorable, decent man.  So, a plea:  come on, Senator, get out of the mud box.  Play this one clean. 

Stay in touch when you're away with Windows Live Messenger. IM anytime you're online.