Mediocre Fred's Mediocre Blog
Friday, February 27, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "I Saw Her Again Last Night" by the Mamas and the Papas

JUST ANOTHER RAMBLING FRIDAY

Hey there, everybody! I'm feeling marginally more clear-headed and coherent today, so hopefully something in here will be interesting to read. There's plenty going on today, so let's see where a trip around the headlines takes us.

The big news that's rocking the Fedroplex today concerns the Redskins, and no, it has nothing to do with Champ Bailey. The legendary broadcast team of Sonny, Sam and Frank is no more as Frank Herzog was let go yessterday.

A little background for those of you who aren't familiar: since 1981, the Redskins' radio broadcasts have featured Herzog, former Skins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and former defensive great Sam Huff doing the commentary. They're not perfect -- they occasionally miss a play to finish some rambling anecdote and their homerism is well-documented (although the commentary has turned pretty acid as the team's fortunes have declined) -- but Washingtonians swear by them. It's a local tradition to turn to the TV broadcast and turn the sound down, replacing the network talking heads with our beloved radio threesome. Herzog was the play-by-play voice and straight man to the comedy team of Sonny and Sam. Now Herzog's gone, axed by WJFK, the station that carries Skins broadcasts, replaced by Larry Michael. Skins fans will recognize Michael as the voice of the pre- and post-game shows.

Now, I don't want to denigrate Michael, who's probably an entirely competent play-by-play guy. But what the hell is WJFK thinking? Sonny, Sam and Frank are a key component of Sundays for fans here in the Fedroplex. It's because of them that we bother to turn the radio on at all. It may be tempting to say that Sonny and Sam, the more colorful voices, are the ones carrying the day, and Frank's just in the background, but it's not true. Herzog is a very effective traffic cop, cutting the other two off when the chit-chat threatens to swamp the game commentary. Will Michael, the junior man in both age and experience, feel as comfortable interrupting? Also, Herzog strikes the right note in his play-by-play announcing, maintaining an even keel most of the team, but turning up the excitement a notch on big plays. If WJFK thought Herzog's play-calling skills had slipped, that's one thing. But no one has suggested that.

Herzog reports that the station gave him two reasons for his dismissal: "They said they wanted to save money. And more important they thought it was important for the continuity of their sports department that the guy who reports on the Redskins all during the week do the games on Sunday." The continuity argument is a bunch of crap. Does anyone care if the regular Redskins reporter does the games or not? The continuity that matters to fans is the continuity of the successful broadcast team we've always liked.

The money-saving rationale is probably the real one. A successful and famous broadcaster like Herzog must command a pretty hefty salary. Sonny and Sam surely do, too, but WJFK knows they'd be lynched if they cut those two loose. But the probably figured that Herzog was replaceable, and a younger guy with a lesser reputation will surely be cheaper. But if the chemistry in the booth isn't the same, will so many Washingtonians bother tuning in? WJFK's decision may prove to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Three cheers to three Virginia Republican legislators! Senators John Warner and George Allen and Rep. Tom Davis have all come out against President Bush's anti-gay-marriage amendment. Considering that amendments require a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress and that the Democrats seem pretty solidly against this one, this lack of Republican unanimity spells trouble for the amendment.

Warner and Davis, who are fairly moderate Republcians, figured to come out against this one. But Allen's a bit more of a surprise, at least on the surface. The ex-governor is a reliable conservative voice, and he has expressed support for the man-plus-woman-equals-marriage formula before. The article linked above, though, sheds some light: "Allen is heading the GOP's Senate campaign effort this year, with Republicans running in several swing states in which the amendment may be unpopular." The article also notes that Virginia, though generally considered a Republican state, is hardly an arch-conservative, Bible-thumping place. Allen may face a challenge for his seat from current Gov. Mark Warner in 2006, and standing out with the Christian Coalition figures to hurt him in a race like that.

Of course, this whole amendment business is starting to smell pretty fishy to me. It reminds me of the recent flap over steroids in baseball. A number of the players most frequently accused of steroid use, including Barry Bonds, have come out firing with a seemingly bold stand: "Test me. Test me every day if you want to." Aha! He must be clean, right? He wouldn't agree to be tested if he isn't clean. But there's one minor problem: The players' union would never allow Bonds to be tested every day, even if he demanded it. Bonds knows this. So he can make any statements he wants. "Test me! Test me every day! Test me every hour! Drag me out of bed and test me at 3 AM! Anyone got a cup? I'll pee in it right now!" And then all he has to do is shrug and blame the union for not taking the test.

I think the marriage amendment works the same way. Bush gets credit with the conservative base for pushing the amendment, and anyone who thinks it might help his or her re-election prospects can stand behind it too. But it's not going to be passed, so anyone in a swing state who doesn't think it would help can stand against it. There's no way the Republican leadership is going to push hard for the amendment's passage, since that would probably cause more problems than it solves. But they'll run it up on the floor, make the Democrats (especially Kerry) squirm as they try to reject the amendment without being pro-gay-marriage, and after the amendment fails Bush and Co. can snap their fingers and say, "Aw, shucks! So much for that. Well, we tried." And that takes care of that. Even if religious groups eventually realized they've been hosed, it probably won't happen until after November. Crafty, crafty.

For more on the amendment issue, check out Richard Cohen's column in today's Post, which was very well done and emphasizes the manufactured nature of the alleged "marriage crisis." Cohen agrees with me that Bush isn't pushing this amendment as hard as his rhetoric suggests:

Just about everyone agrees that Bush is securing his conservative base before the general election. This makes political sense, but it also represents moral cowardice. Never mind that the Constitution ought to be off-limits to partisan gamesmanship. Concentrate instead on what you might call Bush's body language. Until Tuesday he had been oh so reluctant to endorse this amendment, and when he did, he left the door open to civil unions...

Everything about Bush -- his background, his innate tolerance -- suggests that he called for this amendment with his fingers crossed behind his back.


Switching over to the Democratic side, Slate's William Saletan had an excellent feedback article on the debate in Los Angeles last night. The article is filled with amusing notes, like this advice to John Kerry:

Stop talking to yourself. I saw you mouthing silent strings of words to yourself a couple of times. I thought you would wake up and stop, but you went on and on. What the hell are you thinking? This is national television, and you're on the verge of being the nation's only alternative to Bush. Do us all a favor and suspend your inner life while the cameras are rolling.

He also included a very revealing nugget in his advice to Edwards:

I think I speak for many people in the press corps when I say we've been trying harder to get you nominated than you have.

I presume he intends this to be a commentary on Edwards' unagressive campaigning. But I think it's an even more eloquent commentary on the kid-glove press treatment Edwards has gotten. Mr. Saletan, don't you think the press corps shouldn't be trying to get anyone nominated?

E.J. Dionne had a nice column in today's Post about Alan Greenspan's suggestion that Social Security benefits will need to be cut. Dionne points out that, although you may disagree with Greenspan about his favoring the Bush tax cuts, he's the only one speaking the truth about Social Security. Candidates in both parties are running as fast as they can away from the merest hint that Social Security might be cut. Mustn't disturb the angry-old- people vote. But Dionne rightly calls them out for peddling fiscal fantasy.

I admit that, when I first read of Greenspan's statement, I was fairly well outraged. Is Greenspan suggesting that we should slash Social Security to pay for irresponsible tax cuts? How dare he! In fact, though, Greenspan was only pointing out that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Tax cuts mean lower revenue, which means less money to spend on key programs. And, despite the frequent denunciations of "government waste," the truth is that the government budget is not as fat-laden as people seem to think. Big tax cuts require big spending cuts, and some of those cuts will come out of very popular programs. If we, as a society, decide that it's worth the trade-off, that's fine. But Greenspan is one of the few people on the public stage willing to discuss the honest cost of tax cuts. So I join Dionne in offering my kudos to Greenspan.

That's all for today. Who knows what next week will bring? Tune in and find out! Have a great weekend, and see you Monday. 
Thursday, February 26, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "All Night Long" by Joe Walsh

EVERYTHING MUST GO

Good day, all. Today I'm going to look at the latest news from Our Capitals, who are reportedly contmeplating further trades, apparently having decided that the roster is not yet unrecognizable enough. Among the players on the trading block are Olie Kolzig, Sergei Gonchar, and Brendan Witt, also known as "the three most popular players left on the roster." Sure, Olie's been sleepwalking through games on occasion this year, and Gonch has had a bad attitude about the losing, and Witt's been taking an awful lot of dumb penalties lately, but they're our guys, and we love them. They're even talking about dealing Mike Grier, the only player who's consistently exerted effort all year long. It could be 7-1, everyone else is thinking about the postgame buffet or spending the night with their girlfriends, and there's Grier, busting his butt up and down the ice. Grier is the heart and soul of the Caps these days, and if they deal him, the team will be a spiritless, dreary mess. Drearier even than they are now.

I was watching the Caps' collapse against Tampa the other night, and during a break in the action the announcers pointed out all the scouts from other teams who came to the game. There's someone from Dallas, there's a guy from Nashville, two guys from New Jersey... all sitting their with binoculars and laptops, looking like vultures circling the corpse that is this Caps team. The Caps aren't the only bad NHL team this year, but they're the one with the most talent, so they're the belle of the ball as the trading deadline draws near. I know the couts are just doing their jobs, but it makes me mad as hell to see them sitting there, preparing to part out my team. It's just damned depressing.

Fans of certain teams, like the Yankees and Lakers, don't know what I'm talking about. For you, the sporting life is a happy proposition, with playoffs considered a birthright and a non-championship season a disappointment. "Rebuilding" isn't in your vocabulary. (Note to all the Yankee fans who want to point to the '80s as evidence of pain and suffering: Cry me a river. Times weren't that bad even then.) Seeing Yankee and Laker fans waltz through the season with a self-assured yawn makes me think of the conversation between Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson in "As Good as It Gets":

"OK, we all have these terrible stories to get over, and you--"
"It's not true. Some people have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that's their story. Good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you're that pissed that so many others had it good."

For Yankees fans, it's all good times and noodle salad. For the rest of us... well, here's what it's like.

The season's not going well. Maybe you came in with high expectations, maybe you knew all along it would be a rough year. Doesn't much matter. What matters is that things aren't turning out well. The breaks are all going against you. Injuries strike at the worst time. Maybe your team's lack of talent is showing. But the losses keep piling up. Every once in a while, you string together a couple wins, breathe a little bit of false hope into a dying year, get everyone thinking that maybe, this is the game that turns us around. But it isn't, it never is, and you quickly sink back into the losing gloom. The accumulated losing starts taking its toll on the players; they look tired, beaten-down, distracted. They give indifferent effort. Passes aren't as crisp as they used to be. The defense breaks down. Key hitters try to do too much and fall into slumps. Team cohesion falls apart.

The fans come, ready to cheer, but in the end they usually wind up groaning and booing again. At first they may try supportive cheers, trying to prop up the flailing home team, but eventually it becomes hopeless and the fans turn sour. The players start to turn on the fans. The fans start to turn on the players. Games become funereal, as the fans becomed too benumbed even to boo. If the team jumps out to an early lead, the fans are wary, figuring it for false hope. When the team falls behind, resignation sweeps the building: here we go again. And when the inevitable loss comes, the fans file out quietly and go home. Something needs to change.

And sure enough, something does. Some big name inevitably gets dealt. Usually the first trade is a less-popular big name, someone for whom the boos have been swelling for some time. The front office tries to put a positive gloss on it, tries to play up the potential of the package the team got back (usually a couple of minor-leaguers you've never heard of, or a draft pick). The fan base sort of shrugs and tries to move on. Only they can't, because they know what it means. The team is now a seller instead of a buyer. This trade figures to be followed by others. Possibly including your favorite player. Uneasy murmurs run through the stands at games.

Once the trading dam is burst, the next wave usually comes in a rush. Aging players and high salaries out, no-names and payroll-slashing in. You turn on the game on TV, and find yourself squinting at the screen. "Who are these guys?" They may wear the same uniforms as your team, but it's not your team. It's a collection of strangers. You're now in the dreaded "rebuilding" phase. Get the Alka-Seltzer.

Now, when you open up the paper, heartbreak and worry abound. You hear about the player whose family lives in town, whose kids go to school here, trying to find an apartment across the country somewhere. Other players start speculating on who will be next. A few players angrily state that they didn't sign on for any rebuilding, and they'd more than welcome a trade to anywhere but here. Concrete rumors begin to swirl. Some team needs a scoring winger, or a shot-blocking big man, or an outfielder with pop, and they've started scoping out your team. Whirl is king now, and more change is in the offing.

Then it finally happens: a beloved player is traded away. Either a longtime hero of the team, or you own personal favorite. Usually, if it's a very popular player, you get some version of the following song and dance: "We didn't want to do it, but we saw a chance to improve the team." True or not, it doesn't matter to you. You want your favorite player back. It makes you feel like a kid again, sulking over a player getting traded (it's part of the game, isn't it?), but the season's not nearly as much fun for you after that.

And then, the next year, you come back with a slimmer payroll and a bundle of "potential." A couple commentators will probably look at your team and see the possibility of things gelling, but more often you get backhanded praise like this:

That soft chirping you hear is not coming from Tampa, home of the $195 million Yankees, but across the bay in St. Pete, home of the $20 million-something Devil Rays. It is not boastful or presumptuous. It is not a rallying cry. It's more like, We Won't Be Terrible.

But, more than likely, you will be terrible. It's another lost season. And the cycle begins again.

That's enough for today. If, upon reflection, this turns out to have been a piece of rambling, incoherent slop, I apologize. I'm feeling under the weather. Tomorrow, I'll do better. Oh, wait, tomorrow's Friday... I don't have to! See you then. 
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: Silence, in honor of Ash Wednesday

WHAT'S THIS? MORE PRIMARIES?

Hello again, all. Well, while no one was looking, three states (Utah, Idaho and Hawaii) went to the polls yesterday. John Kerry took all three handily, although it should be noted that Dennis Kucinich's "contributor-funded campaign vacation" strategy appears to be bearing fruit, as the diminutive Ohio congressman, who was the only candidate to campaign in Hawaii, took second there with 30%, a high-water mark for his campaign to date. Congratulations, Dennis! Rumors that Kucinich is pushing for a Puerto Rican primary in April are unconfirmed. (And to clear up the confusion, no, that's not Kucinich in those Travelocity commercials featuring the Roaming Gnome. And it's easy to tell them apart, anyhow. The gnome is a 2-foot-tall plaster statue. Kucinich doesn't wear a beard.)

It's probably not fair to draw conclusions from a set of primaries that both major candidates ignored, but it's worth pointing out that John Edwards lost all three states by 25 points or more. It's becoming increasingly clear that Edwards can only win states that he's able to spend a lot of time in. This is a testament to his skills as a retail campaigner. Problem is, the way the calendar is structured, Edwards can't spend enough time in enough states to win the nomination. In order to build front-runner's momentum, you need to score a string of victories. And I just can't see how Edwards is going to do that if he can't win a state without camping there. If each state voted a week or two apart, I think Edwards might be able to pull it off. But the primary calendar isn't designed that way. You can win local or even statewide elections or the strength of good retail politicking, a firm handshake and a sunny smile. But in a national campaign, you need momentum and credentials. Edwards has very little of either.

It was a rough night for Howard Dean's non-campaign. He notched 11% in Idaho, 9% in Hawaii, and 4% in Utah. He lost both Utah and Hawaii to Kucinich. More importantly, the rationale of his continued presence in the race is undermined. When he bowed out, Dean said he'd keep his name on the ballot, and urged supporters to vote for him anyway, to send "progressive delegates" to the convention. The problem is that, if you don't get at least 15% of the vote, you don't get apportioned any delegates. Dean was having problems breaking the 15% barrier when he was campaigning actively. Now that he's out, I can't imagine he'll do that well anywhere. Most people who take the trouble to vote in a primary or caucus usually would prefer that their vote, you know, count for something. On the bright side, there were "progressive delegates" selected last night. Unfortunately for Dean, they belong to Kucinich.

Speaking of which... wouldn't it make sense for Dean to combine forces with Kucinich, so that the progressive vote isn't split? It would be easier to amass delegates if they were working as one. I'm sure Dean doesn't want to back Kucinich for fear of marginalizing himself and his power, but it would be practical. (Incidentally, if someone had told you in December that Dean would have to worry about finishing ahead of Kucinich, what would you have said? What a weird primary season this has been.)

While scrutinizing the full results of yesterday's votes, I noticed that 124 people in Utah voted for Dick Gephardt. I think I speak for all of us when I say: Huh? Gephardt dropped out of the race a month ago. What are these people thinking? I suppose they might be voting on principle, although what principle is associated with voting for Gephardt I can't imagine. I suppose they might be unaware that Gephardt dropped out, although someone politically oriented enough to vote in a primary is presumably better informed than that. It's possible that they're great personal admirers of Gephardt, although I've never met such a person. Does Gephardt have family in Utah? I'm stumped.

Super Tuesday comes next week, with 10 states and 1,151 delegates at stake. Edwards absolutely needs to win at least one state (presumably Georgia), but he needs to do more than that. If he's to have momentum, he needs to win at least one other state (Ohio is probably his best bet, but the polls have him trailing badly there) and score significant percentages of the vote in California and New York. 15% or 20% isn't going to get it done there. If he doesn't break the 30s in either state, he's in trouble. Sure, he figures to do pretty well the next week (4 states, all Southern, and 465 votes), but after that there's not that much room for making up lost ground.

Let's say that there was an unexpected Edwards surge over the next couple weeks. Let's say he gets half the delegates on Super Tuesday and three-quarters of the delegates the next week. (I'll bet even Edwards doesn't think he'll do this well.) Even then, Edwards would be barely halfway to the nomination. In order to win, he'd need to essentially run the table on the remaining primaries and win all the remaining unpledged superdelegates. And if Edwards wins, say, one-third of the Super Tuesday delegates instead of half and two-thirds of the next week's delegates instead of three-quarters... well, at that point it's all over but the shouting. Nothing's decided yet, of course, but Edwards is fast running out of time.

Speaking of rallies coming too late, my alma mater
has decided to start winning games when it doesn't matter anymore. Having gotten off to an awful start in the ACC that essentially torpedoed their early hopes for a bid to March Madness, UVA finally gotten their act together. Last night, they knocked off North Carolina at the last second (nice job, Todd Billet). Virginia has two games left, at home against Wake Forest and Maryland on the road. Even if they win both, they probably miss the dance unless they win the ACC tournament. But hey, enjoy the NIT home game, Coach Gillen.

Meanwhile, my team of choice, Wisconsin, has gone cold at the worst possible time. Back-to-back losses against Illinois and Michigan... a recent loss to Northwestern(?!), and suddenly the Badgers are third in the conference. Wisconsin gets a crack at conference leader Michigan State next week (at East Lansing, though, and the Badgers have been a terrible road team this year), but I'm more concerned about them not sleepwalking through the Penn State game tonight. The Nittany Lions are still weak, but they're not quite the pushover they used to be, and Wisconsin has a nasty habit of playing down to the level of weaker opponents. This team is definitely making me nervous.

That's all for today. Something else tomorrow. See you then! 
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: Anything zydeco... it's Mardi Gras, baby!

DISPATCHES FROM BOURBON STREET

Okay, so the title is a joke. I'm not on Bourbon Street. I'm not in New Orleans. I'm not even in Louisiana. But it is Mardi Gras, and on Mardi Gras we're all citizens of the Big Easy for a day. Eat, drink and be crazy, friends! (Although not too crazy, or you risk winding up in the next "Girls Gone Wild" video.)

Although I have never been to New Orleans, I have some artifacts of the celebration. I have a set of authentic Mardi Gras beads, given to me by a college roommate who hailed from Louisiana. (He also gave me some beignet mix, which was very thoughtful of him. It would have been even more enjoyable if I hadn't lost the mix somewhere in the process of going home for the summer.) It's tradition, I'm told, that if you give a woman beads, she'll lift up her shirt for you. I have never tried this. At last report, the beads were serving as tie-backs for the curtains in my bedroom. I think I may be unclear on the Mardi Gras concept.

I also have an authentic vintage Mardi Gras coin, given to me by my uncle, who actually went in 1973. The coin is blue, and it has all the satisfying heft of a double thickness of tin foil. The front of the coin says "Mardi Gras 1973" and has a woman (view from the shoulders up) and some gems. The back says "Pandora's Krewe" and featuring the same woman (presumably Pandora), kneeling, wearing nothing but a scarf draped across her lap, opening a chest, which seems to be glowing (presumably Pandora's Box). My Louisiana roommate, who confirmed the coin as the genuine article, informed me that krewes are the groups of people who throw things to the crowd at the parade. Thus enlightened, I can say without reservation that it is the tackiest item that I, personally, have ever owned. And you are talking to a man who once did his Christmas shopping at a tourist-trap gift store in Myrtle Beach. I know from tacky.

Personally, I favor Mardi Gras, provided no one gets killed and (key point) you follow it up by observing Lent. You see, Mardi Gras wasn't just invented as an excuse to get drunk and look at women's breasts. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which begins a 40-day period of repentance and abstaining from sin in preparation for Easter. You probably heard this somewhere along the line, maybe even noticed your Catholic friends show up with ash on their foreheads once a year, and yet it doesn't stick. As usual, our culture enjoys the party and ignores the cost that's supposed to be associated. I know, repentance and moderation aren't in fashion, but I nonetheless bring it up, because that's what I do every year. If you want to go out and have a wild time, fine, but balance it with appropriate moderation afterward. If you don't happen to observe Lent, either because you aren't Christian or because your denomination doesn't observe it, that's fine. It would, however, be appropriate to pass on Mardi Gras too. Would you go to someone's church just to stuff yourself on the buffet, ignoring the service? That's what you're doing if you celebrate Mardi Gras without Lent. (Yes, it has been pointed out to me on previous occasions that I'm being stiff-necked about this. But it happens to be important to me, so I make no apologies.) If you're curious about how Lent is properly observed, the Catholic observance is here. It varies somewhat among the Protestant denominations.

All right, enough of the heavy business. It's a celebration day! Let us talk of happy things. Such as the forthcoming baseball season. SI's John Donovan made his NL East predictions today, and he's predicting that the Phillies will take the Braves down. Sort of. His analysis strongly suggests that he's picking Philadelphia, but he never actually comes out and says so. He hedges his analysis with so many "coulds" that it's nearly impossible to pin down an actual prediction. I'm guessing that he doesn't want to have it shoved back in his face next fall if the Phils finish third.

I have no problem having my picks shoved back in my face, so I'll go ahead and take a stand for the Phillies. They'll need Pat Burrell to hit better, but I liked their offseason pickups (Wagner is a top-flight closer, and Eric Milton round out the rotation nicely). On talent alone, I think the Phillies have to be the favorite. Of course, I thought that last year, too. Atlanta's ability to pull out division titles with less and less raw material each year deserves a lot of respect. Still, I'm taking the Phillies, and I'm fully prepared to hear about it when they flame out.

And still on the subject of baseball, ESPN's Jim Caple turned in another funny spring-training column, this time sharing the "inside stories" from around the league. Here's the blurb for my favorite team:

MILWAUKEE: Still seeking a buyer for the team, Bud Selig pleaded for Comcast to make a hostile takeover bid ... The Italian and Polish Sausages haven't reported to camp yet, citing visa problems ...

Even though everyone knows the Italian and Polish Sausages are naturalized citizens, it's still a good lagh. Except the Comcast thing. That part's actually true. Just like this one:

FLORIDA: In a cost-cutting move, owner Jeffrey Loria said the team will give the players "We're No. 1'' giant puffy hands instead of World Series rings ...

This just in: President Bush endorses the idea of writing intolerance into the Constitution! Yippee! Bear in mind that the president actually has no role in Constitutional amendments, which are traditionally passed by a two-thirds majority of Congress and then sent to the states, where three-quarters of them must ratify it. Personally, I think it's a shame that they never try the other route for creating Constitutional amendments, which is for two-thirds of the states to call for a Constitutional Convention. I want a Constitutional Convention! I've already printed up a run of T-shirts. They read "I Participated In the Denial of Individual Rights and Subversion of Federalism and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt." I figure they'd sell like hotcakes at the convention. So come on, America! Let's have a convention!

And while we're on politics, let me offer you the latest Kucinich Update. Ah, you thought Dennis Kucinich had left the race? Oh, no no no. There is still work to be done! There is still national press to be garnered! There are still disadvantaged hands to be shook! Kucinich has discovered the strategy that will propel him to victory: Hawaii! All the other candidates haven't bothered to visit, but Kucinich decided to show up there. He figures a strong showing here will get him turned around. (Scoff if you like, but remember that he's only won one fewer primaries than John Edwards.)

Actually, I think the only reason Kucinich came is that it's a free trip to Hawaii. If so, kudos to him for taking the initiative. The other candidates, forced to concentrate on states that might actually help them win, didn't have the opportunity. But Kucinich did, and God bless him. I'd like to think that I would do the same in his shoes.

Finally, I highly recommend Lore Sjoberg's latest Book of Ratings entry. (WARNING: Links to somewhat randy material.) For the last couple weeks, he's been grading pornography titles, and this week's is the most amusing yet. The first one is the best, in my opinion. (The rating, I mean, not the pornography itself. I wouldn't know about the pornography.)

That's all for today. Something else tomorrow. See you then! 
Monday, February 23, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Fish Heads" by Barnes & Barnes

EVERYBODY'S WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND... IT'S ONLY MONDAY? AW, SHUCKS

Good day, all! Hope everybody had a good weekend. I had a fine weekend experience that I would recommend to anyone (see below). Once again, it's time for Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice and their unique persepctive on romantic issues. Except there's a little problem. Aunt Beatrice walked out again.

I'm still not sure what happened. Uncle Millie pleads ignorance. "Perhaps she overreacted to something I said," he offered. Like what? "Like, 'Keep your voice down or my wife will catch us.'" At any rate, she stormed out and she's threatening to boycott the column. I reminded both of them that we had a contract to provide advice on a bi-weekly basis, and that I expected to have a column with two voices in it. Aunt Beatrice held firm, though, and it looked like we might be at an impasse.

Uncle Millie, ever resourceful, came up with a solution. He happened to know a young woman, Shelly, with whom he has a certain rapport. He asked Shelly if she would be willing to stand in Aunt Beatrice's stead temporarily, and she agreed. I wanted to interview Shelly, see if she was up to the advice-giving standards here at Mediocre Fred, but unfortunately, there wasn't time. So we're sort of "flying blind" here. I hope everything will work out. So take it away, Uncle Millie and Shelly.

- - - - -

Money Can't Buy Me Love, But It Can Buy Me A Reasonable Fascimile Thereof, by Uncle Mille and Shelly

UM: Hello, lads! Welcome again to another fine advice column for the young and lovelorn. I'm here today with a lass who's young, but certainly not lovelorn. Allow me to introduce my distinguished colleague, and close friend, Shelly. Say hello, my dear Shelly.

S: What's "lovelorn" mean?

UM: Never mind, my dear. It's not important.

S: How can I be lovelorn if I don't even know what it means? That's not fair.

UM: Indeed. So, Shelly, how do you feel about participating in your first advice column?

S: I dunno. A little nervous, I guess.

UM: Ah, you needn't be nervous, my dear. It's not as difficult as it sounds. Do you ever spend time with your fellow lasses having a few drinks and discussing relationships?

S: Sure! We do that all the time.

UM: Well, it's just like that. Here, let me pour you something that will get you in the proper spirit. There you go.

S: Okay. This one won't make me pass out like the last drink you gave me, will it?

UM: Why, I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. At any rate, Shelly, why don't you tell the nice folks a bit about yourself?

S: Sure! I'm 23, I'm a barista at Starbucks, and I'm taking classes at Lincoln Tech in order to fulfill my lifelong dream of practicing veterinary medicine. Or maybe accounting; I think they sent me the wrong books.

UM: Faithful readers of this column may well notice a change in tone during Shelly's tenure. You may notice the column becoming more upbeat and positive, without the notes of bitterness and shrewishness that came before. And you'll find that the interactions between Shelly and myself are distinctly more cheerful. Won't they, my dear?

S: Uh, yeah. Whatever you say.

UM: I think it's of utmost importance to have two advice-givers who respect one another, and Shelly and I have that. Shelly, tell the fine people what a good fellow I am.

S: Uncle Millie's great! He's sweet, he's funny, he likes to buy me things, and he's the president of General Motors! Isn't that cool? I never thought I'd be with-

UM: Um, ix-nay, my dear, ix-nay.

S: What?

UM: Never mind. Shall we get on to the letters?

S: Okay, cool!

UM: Spoken with the concision of Hemingway, my dear.

S: Who's that?

UM: Never mind.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I'm seeing a woman I really like. She's charming, caring and a real joy to be with. We've been dating for a few months now, and I'm facing something of a moral dilemma. I make my living in a line of business that's, shall we say, less than entirely legal. It's provided me a good living, and I'm not ashamed of what I do, but I'm afraid that admitting this information might scare the woman off. As far as she knows, I'm an investment banker. I know I'll have to tell her the truth at some point, but when do you think that would be appropriate? Should I tell her now? Should I wait until we are dating exclusively? Please advise.

Tom in Scarsdale


UM: Well, lad, that's quite the dilemma there. I can understand why you think that revealing involvement in an illegal activity might scare women off. And you can't deny the possibility that she might be a federal agent trying to entrap you. That would be most unfortunate. Therefore, I see no reason to mention your line of work unless you're making an exclusive commitment. I'm sure that you didn't get where you are by sharing your personal information with every Tom, Dick and Harriet who comes waltzing in. Isn't that right, my dear?

S: Whatever.

UM: What I recommend is that, when the time is right, you take her out for a nice dinner, perhaps a show, then bring her back to your house. Pour a little wine, sit and make small talk for a while, then pull her close. Lightly frisk her up and down -- make it seem like foreplay -- until you're certain she isn't wearing a wire. Then tell her the truth. If she doesn't run away screaming, she's yours forever. Do you have anything to add, my dear?

S: Like what?

UM: Like any other advice for the lad.

S: Oh, okay. When you tell her, give her a diamond necklace or something. Women like that.

UM: See, lad? This is why it was so important to preserve the female perspective in this column. Very good, Shelly.

S: Thanks, Uncle Millie!

UM: As an aside, I understand well where you're coming from, lad. I'm not always proud to tell my lady friends where my money comes from.

S: Why wouldn't you be proud to be president of General Motors?

UM: Let's move on, shall we?

Dear Uncle Millie,

I've been dating "Marjorie" for three years now, and she's really starting to get on my nerves. When we started dating, we had a good time and got along great. But lately, it seems like all she ever does is ask me to buy her things. "Stu, I want necklace!" "Stu, I wanna go on vacation!" "Stu, I wanna Super-Size my Extra Value Meal!" Sheesh. It's driving me nuts! You've been around the block a few times, Uncle Millie, so tell me: Is this relationship worth saving? If so, how do I get her to stop looking at me like a human ATM? Help!

Stu in Cuyahoga Falls


UM: I tell you, lad, that's a hard question to answer from here. Each man must decide on his own what he wants out of a relationship. But I can offer a few general guidelines. The first question to ask yourself is: How much of your annual income is she consuming? My rule of thumb is, if you're spending more money on girlfriend maintenance than you are on housing, you have a problem. No woman is worth going to bankruptcy court for.

S: What about me?

UM: What about you, dear?

S: Wouldn't I be worth going bankrupt for?

UM: Bankrupt? Well, um, we'll talk about it later. Anyhow, the second question to ask yourself is: How good is the sex?Is it as frequent as you'd like? If you're not getting enough "bang for the buck," so to speak, you'll probably want to cut her loose. If she's not driving your broke and she's giving you what you need in bed, then I don't see the problem. My Shelly, for instance, is worth every penny.

S: Aww. You're so sweet.

UM: Thank you, my dear. I'm sure you have some advice of your own to inject here.

S: Yeah! Just remember, Stu, you get what you pay for. Girlfriends are like cars: the good ones cost more. It's like my mother always said: "The way to a woman's heart is through the door at Tiffany's."

UM: Isn't that charming.

S: But all my worries are over. I've found a guy who will buy me everything I deserve! Isn't that right, Uncle Millie?

UM: You're seeing someone else?

S: No, I meant you, silly!

UM: Oh. Uh, right. Let's look at the next letter.

Dear Uncle Millie,

I've got a complaint you probably don't hear about a lot. I've been going out with "Sheila" for six months now, and we moved in together last month. That woman is a sex fiend! Three, four, five times every day. She wakes me up in the middle of the night to do it. I work at home, and she interrupts me in the middle of projects, asking for more sex. I'm starting to think it's all we ever do! How can I deal with this problem?

Larry in Oceanside


UM: Uh, lad, perhaps you missed a sentence in that letter somewhere, because I don't see where the problem is.

S: Me either. Do you think he means that she wants too much sex?

UM: Too much sex? Too.... much? She's giving it to him multiple times a day, every day, and he thinks this is a... problem?

S: Yeah, what's with that? I think that's normal.

UM: As you should, my dear. Surely this must be a joke. Someone's pulling Uncle Millie's leg.

S: That's me, silly. All this talk about sex has got me in the mood.

UM: Ah, well, then, best to wrap this up. Lad, assuming you're serious, if she's really demanding more sex than you want to give, dump her and send her to me. I assure you it will never be a problem again.

S: And he means it, too! Come on, the bed's getting cold.

UM: Well, uh, that closes out another edition of the Uncle Millie advice column. I'd like to thank my guest advisor, Shelly, for a terrific debut effort. Shelly, would you like to say anything to the readers? Uh, Shelly? Where did you go?

S: In the bedroom, silly. Can't you smell the almond oil?

UM: Lads, I'm sorry to cut this column a little shorter than usual, but I'm certain you can sympathize with the glorious opportunity I'm being handed here, and a man would have to be a complete fool to ignore-

S: I'm not wearing any underwear...

UM: I must away. Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Well. Thank you, Uncle Millie and Shelly, for that... provocative column. In two weeks, we'll have another advice column. Who will be writing it, I don't know. Uncle Millie and Shelly may still be in the bedroom then. Tune in two weeks from today and find out.

As to my fine weekend experience. Remember "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the show in which a man and his two robot friends watched bad movies and made sarcastic comments at the screen? Well, Papa Shaft and I were doing a live-action version of that show on Saturday night, and we had a true smorgasbord of bad movies at our disposal. First up was... "Blacula." Those of you in the know are nodding your heads and giggling to yourselves, and the rest of you are probably going, "Surely he's making that up." No, I am not. I can prove it. See?

The "plot," such as it is, is that an African prince was bitten by Dracula in the middle ages, and lays dormant in his coffin until he's uncovered by a couple of gay painters in 1970's Los Angeles. (I am not making this up.) So now Blacula's roaming the streets looking for his bride, and terrorizing innocent civilians on the way. Standard horror plot, more or less, except that many of the characters are black (hence Blacula) and the entire movie appears to have had a production budget of about $7.95. In a strong blow for equal rights, neither the white nor the black stars actually know how to act. It's truly an amazing film.

We quickly realized the secret to the movie: namely, it would have been about 15 minutes long had the Los Angeles police department not been the least competent force in the history of mankind. Apparently, the LAPD training manual reads as follows, "How to Deal With A Rampaging Menace: 1. Shoot him. 2. If that doesn't work, shoot him again. 3. See Step 2." Of course, since Blacula is undead, shooting him isn't going to do a damn thing. And I'm sure the LAPD of the '70s had little experience in dealing with the undead, so I can understand their making this mistake once or twice. Maybe even three times. But once you get to the crucial showdown in the chemical plant (I wish I was kidding), after fifteen unsuccessful shooting attempts, you might think the police would have wised up. "Hmmm... the last 30 cops who tried to shoot this guy wound up dead. What shall I do? I think I'll shoot him! The other guys must have had bad aim."

In the end, (WARNING: SPOILER) they don't even kill Blacula. Blacula commits suicide by walking out into the sunlight, where he disintegrates. So the best combined efforts of the entire LAPD over a two-hour movie yielded... nothing whatsoever. Good job, LAPD! It's also worth noting that, in classic late '60s/early '70s "cinema verite" style, the movie had no actual ending, just a freeze-frame of Blacula's disintegrated face. That's filmmaking!

Once "Blacula" was over, we clicked through the channels and discovered "Sergeant York." This film is actually fairly highly regarded, with Gary Cooper in the title role. I assume it must be highly regarded because there are a lot of war scenes in it. We didn't see the war part. We saw the first part, were Alvin York is a young man in the hick backwoods somewhere. We know it's the backwoods because everybody says "'taint" a lot. This, we're given to understand, is backwoods talk. So we get dialogue like this:

YORK: Give me one more day, and I'll have the money to buy the bottom land.
BACKWOODS HICK LANDOWNER: Sorry, 'taint possible.
YORK: (spitting) 'Taint? Why 'taint it?
BACKWOODS HICK LANDOWNER: I found me another feller who'll pay cash money.
YORK: 'Taint right!
BACKWOODS HICK LANDOWNER: 'Taint nothin' I can do.
YORK: What's the feller's name?
BACKWOODS HICK LANDOWNER: Joe Bob 'Taint.
YORK: Well, he 'taint gonna take my land! I'll find him and 'taint him right between the eyeballs.

You get the idea. In order to get the money to buy the "bottom land," York enters a shooting contest. Seems he's a crack shot. (Of course, if he's such a crack shot, I think he should have threatened to shoot the landowner unless he give him the extension. But I digress.) Despite deing handicapped by a rifle with a ten-foot-long barrel, which I'm amazed he could even lift, he managed to shoot straight and true. So he won, and went to bring the money to the landowner... but sorry, 'taint available no more. That land's been sold.

So York went off to drown his sorrows at the nearest bar. He probably wanted to kill himself, but there wasn't any way he could point the gun at himself and still be able to reach the trigger. Then he decides to go off, with his rifle, to kill... someone. Whom he intended to kill isn't exactly clear, but somebody. 'Taint gonna take my land without a fight.

He goes riding off into a thunderstorm (which mysteriously appears as soon as he starts to leave), and -- wouldn't you know it? -- gets struck by lightning. It doesn't kill him, or his horse, but it does bend his rifle in an amazing U-shape. So much for killing. So he wanders off, and happens to come across a church, which happens to be holding a service at whatever hour of the evening this is. He goes in and finds... whores and gambling! No, he finds salvation, as you knew he would. But wouldn't it have been great if he'd found whores and gambling? At that point, we clicked over to Saturday Night Live, missing all the exciting war stuff to come.

Incidentally, Gary Cooper can't act. I hate to disappoint those who revere him as a god, but he's a terrible actor. And if you want to deny it, well... 'taint possible to deny the facts.

After Saturday Night Live, we completed our bad-movie trifecta with the modern stinkbomb "Cruel Intentions." Somehow, I'd contrived not to learn about this movie while it was in theaters, but there it was on USA at 1 AM. How could we resist? It's reassuring to know that even a large budget and lush production values can't prevent a movie from being terrible.

This movie features Sarah Michelle Gellar and some guy I didn't recognize (turns out to have been Ryan Philippe, aka Mr. Reese Witherspoon) as two prep-school kids who enjoy using sex as a weapon. Oh, sure, there's an alleged plot, something about a bet, and Reese Witherspoon herself is in there, somehow or other. But the plot doesn't matter. The whole movie is about lots of young people having lots of sex and being evil to each other. Oh, and Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mr. Witherspoon are brother and sister. And they want to sleep with each other. Charming.

And, in keeping with the tradition of the night, virtually no one in the film can act. Sarah Michelle Gellar is a complete disaster. She tries to project a cold, twisted sexuality, which she communicates by speaking in a constant monotone and scowling a lot. Mr. Witherspoon is supposed to be a smart character, which he demonstrates by using polysyllabic words at odd times where they don't belong. He sounds like a fourth grader who just read the dictionary. Reese Witherspoon can at least cry on cue. The only person in the film who demonstrates any actual acting chops is Christine Baranski, who must have had a monster mortgage payment due. She portrays the snotty racist mother of one of the prep-school twits, whose daughter -- you'll never believe this -- falls for a black guy! So Christine Baranski does her racist best, fuming and snapping at the black guy, pretty much calling him everything other than "jungle bunny."

Long story short (too late!), it's not compelling enough to be a movie, and it's not sexy enough to be pornography. Bad, bad, bad. The comments board on IMDB is filled with glowing reviews; I have no idea what film these people were watching. Anyone who saw this film and thought it was great, feel free to defend it in the comments below, provided you remember that you're wrong.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow! 
Friday, February 20, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Ramblin' Man" by the Allman Brothers

FRIDAY GUMBO

Good day, all! It's a beautiful day in the Fedroplex, overcast skies notwithstanding. Was it really just a couple weeks ago that we were wondering if the snow would ever end? Now it feels like the first signs of spring are starting to peek over the horizon. Hey, Punxsutawney Phil: Stick it!

Let's get started today with the good news in Virginia: The State Senate voted to approve Sen. John Chichester's tax plan, which would bring in $3.6 billion in new revenue over the next two years. Although the plan is similar to Governor Warner's original proposal, as I mentioned the other day, it's actually a lot bigger. So the Republican Senate is actually calling for higher tax increases than the Democratic governor in an anti-tax Republican state. What the hell is going on here? I'm trusting that Chichester and the Republicans are acting in good faith, and didn't propose an even bigger tax hike in the hopes that it will get shot down. And I can't imagine that Chichester proposed the bigger plan to cover Warner's political flank. So I'm guessing that the Senate plan became larger in the hopes that, once they start bargaining with the House, the compromise will be somewhere in the neighborhood of Warner's original plan. I guess. Although frankly, a lot of this is just mind-boggling. Let me just tip my hat to Sen. Chichester, say thanks and move on.

I'm sure most of you sports fans have been following the sad saga unfolding over at the University of Colorado. Sex parties for recruits, out-of-control drinking, rape allegations... if ever the phrase "lack of institutional control" applied, this would be the time. This morning Sally Jenkins carved up suspended football coach Gary Barnett in her column. She attacks Barnett for disrespecting women (as if he's the only football coach to be guilty of that) and chastises the university for suspending him instead of firing him (which they'd love to, except that practical considerations prevent it for the moment, something Jenkins might know if she did some actual research instead of just hopping up on her soapbox). This column continues a trend I've noticed with Jenkins' work: even when I agree with her, as I often do, I can't stand the way she makes her arguments. She's such a condescending scold that it's tempting to side with whomever she's attacking. I think Barnett should be fired, too, but not because of his attitude toward women. I think he should be fired because he clearly had no control over the program.

I love NFL contracts. Here's a prime example: The Redskins signed Mark Brunell yesterday to a 7-year, $43 million contract. Allegedly. Now, Mark Brunell turns 34 this year. Anyone who thinks they're going to be paying Brunell mega-millions when he's 41, raise your hand. "But isn't a contract a contract?" some of the more naive sould in the audience might ask. "Don't they have to pay him?" No. NFL contracts are not guaranteed. The only money Brunell is guaranteed to be paid is the $8.6 million signing bonus, which is spread out over the next 400 years, or something like that. The article indicates that the money in the contract is fairly reasonable for the first four years, then skyrockets absurdly in the last three. This is typical for the NFL. Teams can offer players any amount of money they want in the last few years of a deal, since they know they'll never have to pay it. "Okay, we'll give you $3 million a year for the next 3 years, and then... hmm... $50 million a year for the next two. How does that sound?" I salute NFL general managers for conducting these negotiations with a straight face, and for resisting what I'd consider to be the overwhelming temptation to announce a $400 million deal, in which the player makes, say, $1 million a year for 5 years, and $395 million in the sixth year. Something like that.

My question is, why do players bother with these deals? They know they'll never see that money. My guess is that it makes them feel better when they talk to their friends in other sports. 7 years and $43 million for a 34-year-old quarterback sounds impressive. 4 years for $20 million, not so much. NBA players probably giggle at their football brethren about contracts on a daily basis anyway, so this helps the football guys save a little face. That's the best I can figure on this.

Pretty funny column by Jim Caple offering his "timeline" of Yankees spring training. My favorite item:

March 15: Steinbrenner guarantees victory in the front-office NCAA pool by buying up all 64 teams. The Red Sox respond by buying up all the teams in the NIT.

Speaking of the Red Sox, how tacky was it of owner John Henry to call for a salary cap right after the A-Rod deal? Especially with all the spending they've done this year? "Hello, Kettle? This is Pot. You're black." I hate to even suggest this, but Steinbrenner was right to call it "sour grapes." (Although his sneering, strutting tone left much to be desired.)

Public reminder, in case some of you have forgotten: The Smart Lady is the best. Just thought I'd throw that out there. Her post on gay marriage is very much worth reading.

Finally, kudos to Caps fans for being passionate but civil in their reaction to the Bondra trade at last night's game. The broken-heart sign with his number was the right touch, and the "We Want Peter" cheers were right on the mark. I'm so glad they reacted with affection toward Bondra, rather than going for a "Leonsis Sucks" theme. Fans, you did us proud. Thanks.

There was a 12-year-old fan who held up a sign, directed at Leonsis, which captured the fans' sentiment with the admirable clarity of youth:

He didn't want to go

You didn't want him to go

We didn't want him to go

WHY IS HE GONE?

I couldn't have said it better myself. Kid, I'm with you. We're all with you.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend, and Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are back on Monday. See you then! 
Thursday, February 19, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Angry Young Man" by Billy Joel

BURYING DEAN... AND PRAISING HIM

Good day, all! As you're probably aware, unless you've just emerged from a cave, yesterday Howard Dean elected to cease his formal presidential campaign. He will leave his name on the ballots, and he urged his supporters to vote for him anyway, but he's pulling off the trail. (Did Judy tell him she was tired of the stump and it was time to go home?) It's an uncoventional end (more or less) to an unconventional campaign. So today, I'll be taking a look back at Dean's campaign, where he succeeded, where he failed, and what his legacy might be.

When Dean erupted onto the scene last year, I was intrigued. I'm not usually a fan of anger politics, which seemed to be Dean's metier, but I felt a kinship with the man himself. In a lot of ways, Dean seemed... well, like me. Like me, Dean gets impatient with questions and opinions he thinks are stupid. Like me, Dean gets frustrated quickly when he's misunderstood. Like me, Dean doesn't smoke or drink alcohol or coffee. Like me, Dean can be, well, frugal. Like me, Dean is hooked on gumdrops. After a while, I started wondering if I had started running for president by mistake. I'm not inclined to vote for people because they're like me (I'm not sure I'd vote for myself, were I running for something), but I'm usually interested by people with whom I feel a basic kinship.

Besides the personal similarities, I liked Dean's straight-talking style. Compromise is a virtue in democracy, but too much accomodation is weak, especially when the other side is ungracious in victory. The Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 by being obstructionists, refusing to give Clinton an inch on any important issue. And once they were in charge, by all accounts they played bullyball, either (depending on whom you believe) exacting revenge for decades of heavy-handed Democratic rule, the political equivalent of Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride," or taunting the Dems for their defeat, the political equivalent of the end-zone dance. Either way, the Democrats seemed a little dazed by their sudden change in fortunes, and didn't know how to react. Also, the Democrats pride themselves on playing nice, and insisted that trench warfare wasn't their style.

For a while, this strategy worked; the Republicans overreached, the people weren't happy, and the Democrats started making incremental gains. But presenting yourself as the less-frightening alternative only works for so long, and it doesn't work at all when there are major issues on the table. September 11th, I think we can agree, was a major issue. And in the aftermath, President Bush developed a terrorist-fighting plan. Whether you think it's great or terrible, he did have a plan. And the Democrats did not. And when it comes to a crucial issue like terrorism, any plan beats no plan every time. Saying, "Whatever the other guy does is wrong... unless you like it, in which case we like it, too," isn't a winning strategy. But that's where the Democrats stood after 2002.

But Dean changed all that. He reminded the Democrats that they needed to demonstrate backbone. Mixing a cranky-Yankee persona with genuine rhetorical fervor, he was the first candidate to stand up and say that Bush was wrong, really wrong, about Iraq. (He expanded his criticism to other areas, like taxes, later on.) He tapped into a wellspring of grass-roots Democratic anger at perceived Republican bullying and dirty tricks. That, as we all know by now, fueled his meteoric rise.

I'm not one much for the politics of anger, as I said above, but I did admire Dean's willingness to speak his mind, even after it got him into trouble (as it did on several occasions). While the rest of the field had its fingers in the wind, trying to figure out the least offensive program to offer, Dean stood unabashedly on an anti-war, anti-tax-cut platform. And seeing someone stand up and offer a program to counter Bush... well, it was invigorating.

So, why did he fall so hard and so fast? It's undeniable that the media played a role; the endless repetition of the scream, and the pounding he took right around the time of the Iowa caucus, certainly took a heavy toll. But I don't think, as some Deaniacs do, that the media broke Dean, any more than they made him last year. Dean made Dean, and Dean broke Dean. And in the end, the qualities that made for his rise also prompted his fall.

When I took a hard look at Dean and weighed whether or not to support him, I was curious to see if there was a second act after the shouting. Dean did a good job reviving the Democrats' spirits and convincing them that Bush could be had, but was he capable of sound, steady governance? His record in Vermont was encouraging; he ran a fairly moderate administration, marrying fiscal discipline to progressive social policies. This seemed like a winning general-election hand... except Dean never got around to it. When he wasn't denouncing the Bush administration as evil, he was fumbling his appeal to the South (he had the right instincts, but he didn't see why his wording was problematic, and of course he didn't apologize). Once he had the front-runner's mantle in hand, and establishment types were starting to embrace him, he wouldn't throttle back his rhetoric or shift gears to a more positive message. He couldn't, it seemed. The pedal was stuck to the floor. And it drove Dean right off the cliff in Iowa (not that there are cliffs in Iowa, but still).

So why didn't Dean let up, even when it was clearly costing him? Part of it relates back to his zest for candor; people who feel free to speak openly are often very stubborn about shutting up. But I think there was something else, too: I think the Dean Phenomenon had spiraled out of anyone's control, even the candidate's. Dean saw the big, enthusiastic crowds who came out to cheer as he blasted the Bush administration. He felt the crowd's energy. He could feel their adulation. And he sensed that he was spearheading a revolution. Even if Dean, the man, was more moderate than his speeches, he probably felt he couldn't stop. Perhaps he just fell for the siren song of his own popularity, but I think he saw himself as a transformative figure, and that his outsized, belligerent speeches were part and parcel of that. If someone had come up to Dean and told him that he'd lose Iowa unless he toned it down a little, I don't think he could have stopped.

What Dean forgot (or knew but felt he couldn't do anything about) is that the primary process, for all the talk about its being dominated by partisans, is funderamentally fairly sober. We don't change leaders by coup d'etat. Most primary voters are serious about politics, but they're typical citizens. They're not thinking about revolution, they're thinking about who can protect their health care, lower their taxes and make sure their families are safe. Heated speeches don't carry the day here. They never have. Even during the years when the nation was in a mood of serious unrest, like 1968 and 1972, the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern, neither of whom could reasonably be seen as a radical. The last Democratic nominee who spoke as ferociously as Dean was probably William Jennings Bryan, who lost three times.

In the end, I think Dean would have governed a good deal more moderately than his speeches suggested (thankfully). But voters who weren't familiar with Dean's Vermont record had little to go on besides the speeches. And it would have been hard for Dean to give them up; they did, after all, propel him from an asterisk to a front-runner. But the fact that he couldn't give them up scared voters off. In the end, perhaps, this was Dean's fate no matter what he did. If he'd given up the fiery speeches, his loyal young army might have deserted him.

What's next for Dean? He indicated in his withdrawal speech that he's planning a new initiative, to roll out in the next few weeks. (Here's hoping it doesn't involve selling Amway products.) I doubt he has a future as vice-president; Kerry surely won't pick him, and Edwards probably couldn't risk running a "good cop-bad cop" ticket. I also can't picture Dean in a potential Democratic Cabinet; it would be too much of a come-down. He'd be an intriguing pick as DNC chairman, once Terry McAuliffe finally leaves the stage: his new style of fund-raising and his fierce style could both benefit the party, and it would be a nice way to thank him for his contributions. It'd probably be too controversial, in the end, but I think that might be the role for which he's best suited. Either that or founding his own progressive action group, which is probably something like the initiative he has in mind.

I do think Dean deserves credit for restoring the party's backbone. Without his contributions, the Democrats would probably be trudging through this primary season disspiritedly, anticipating a landslide defeat, just trying to minimize the damage. But Dean picked the party up off the canvas and encouraged them to keep fighting. The Dems are a lot stronger thanks to Dean's influence. Too bad it won't benefit him.

More on the Bondra trade... Mike Wilbon did a good job ripping the Caps a new one in today's Post. I forgot to mention yesterday that Bondra actually lives in Washington, one of the few Caps to do so. His kids grew up here. He learned to speak English here. He wanted to finish his career here. When informed of the trade, he cried. Ted Leonsis may want us to think he was doing a Bondra a favor by shipping him to a contender, but Peter doesn't seem to think so. In a sports worls that's famously devoid of loyalty, the relationship between Washington and Bondra was rare. He was truly ours. If you think Washington's a weak hockey town, Ted, just wait and see what happens after this trade. It'll make the reaction to the Jagr trade look like a game of patty-cake.

Not that long ago, when Leonsis first arrived on the scene, we were building something in D.C. We were coming off the Stanley Cup finals appearance. We had popular players like Bondra and Kolzig. And Leonsis announced that he was going to be Mr. Fan Friendly, and he backed it up. He really seemed to care what the fans thought. The ground was prepared for Washington to become a hockey town (aided strongly by the fact that the Wizards and Redskins were in down cycles). Instead, the team went downhill, our big-money star turned out to be a lemon, Leonsis turned sour on us, and now our beloved Bondra is gone. Wilbon raises the point that, if the impending strike is a long one, Washington may not have a team when the league comes back. Five years ago, three years ago even, I'd have scoffed at that. Now... he might well be right.

This just in: President Bush is "troubled" by gay marriage, and he's "watching carefully" to see what happens in San Francisco. Well, I'm "troubled" by President Bush, and I'm "watching carefully" to see him go down in November. So we're even.

Also, I think the world should now that Jim Gilmore participated in an online discussion to defend his hare-brained editorial from earlier in the week, which I kicked him around for on Tuesday. Gilmore's discussion was a masterpiece of rationalization and shifting blame, but the very first question was, in my opinion, the best. The direct transcript:

Brandermill, Va.: Governor Gilmore, where would you cut Virginia's budget? What do you think of the cuts that Governor Warner made?

James Gilmore: Budget creation is an extremely compllicated [sic] process requiring the full resources of the finance department, economic advisors, and business leaders who advise the Governor. The process is one of making hte [sic] best possible estimates based on all information as to resources and then using all tools to balance the budget. The use of financial instruments, such as bonding and appropriate reductions are dependent upon the situation at the time of budget creation. The important message is that you have to want to hold the taxpayer harmless then you will manage and govern to that goal, minimizing cuts. The budget that is presently offered is not a reform. It is a simple tax increase on the people of Virginia, but a true reform is in fact called for now that we have experienced a national recession and are beginning to emerge from that recession.


Translation: I have no idea what the hell I'd do.

That's all for today. Meaningless chatter tomorrow. See you then!
 
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam

THIS JUST IN! PART II

Hello again, all! I've decided to push the continuing Kerry series back a little more, in light of the fact that Wisconsin played out a little differently than expected. That will take up the bulk of today's post. (We'll also revisit yesterday's article on the Virginia tax debate, as more has happened since yesterday.) I'm thinking about making the Kerry series a once-a-week thing; feel free to weigh in down in the comments.

Let's start with Wisconsin. John Edwards finished a much closer second than anyone expected, losing to John Kerry by only six points. (Actually, I sort of had a feeling this was coming; more on that below.) Spin on this result has broken down about evenly into two camps: the "It's a whole new ballgame!" camp and the "It's only delaying the inevitable" camp. Those in the former camp generally like Edwards and want to see more of the Mr. Sunshine act. Those in the latter camp generally hew to the conventional wisdom, see a candidate who's won 15 of 17 primaries so far, consult the history books, and declare the race essentially finished. (I'd include those fond of Kerry in the latter camp too, but there's really very little fondness for Kerry among the chattering class.)

I'm sort of an agnostic on this question. Conventional wisdom says Kerry's got it wrapped up, sure, but this primary season is one unlike we've seen before. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we wound up writing a new storyline here. On the other hand, I seem to be the only person left paying attention who's failed to be charmed by Mr. Sunshine. I found it amusing that the Chicago Tribune said, "Wisconsin voters sent a message that the race between the two essentially is one of likability (Edwards) versus electability (Kerry)." As it happens, I think it's entirely possible that Edwards is more electable, but I like Kerry better. As far as I can tell, this position is unique to me. (And I loved Chris Suellentrop's remark: "[S]o far the evidence for Edwards' electability is that he keeps losing elections." Edwards has gotten more mileage out of being #2 than anyone since Ed McMahon.)

I think that the continuation of the primary season is good for Kerry, not only because it ensures him more free media, but because Kerry is sharper when there's someone keeping him on his toes. When Kerry isn't being challenged, he tends to lapse into his old, bad wordy habits and pull back from showing the signs of warmth and passion that voters want. Bush should keep him sharp during the general election, but he needs to stay sharp between now and then. And Edwards' genial, sunny-side-up style is agreeably gentle, the equivalent of batting-practice fastballs. (And if Edwards decided to go sharply negative, his image would be punctured and he'd sink like a stone.) The longer Edwards stays in the race, particularly if the string of narrow defeats continues, the better off Kerry is.

So what happened out there? Well, I mentioned above that I had a feeling it might be close. Here's why: I didn't see the Sunday debate, but I read the clippings. Everyone agreed that Kerry's answers were overlong, rambling and evasive. I had a sinking feeling when I read that. "Oh, Christ," I thought, "he's in filibuster mode. It's too soon to fall on the ball!" Kerry looked like a football team ahead by three touchdowns with five minutes to go, running between the tackles and trying to grind the clock. Kerry may claim publicly that he's not the front-runner, but he sure acted like it in Wisconsin. And voters hate that. It's a bad Kerry habit, and one he'd do well to fix.

I think I understand where he's coming from, though. Kerry's used to winning. For a Boston Brahmin who went to Yale, this shouldn't come as a surprise. He expects to win. Other people think of winning as a goal, something to be strived for and savored if it comes. Kerry thinks of winning as an entitlement, something handed to him on merit. Kerry has a great reputation as a "closer" because, when he realizes he's behind, he starts working overtime to come back. To fail would brand him as -- gasp! -- a loser, and that simply would not do. But when he's out in front, that's simply his just due, so he doesn't feel any need to keep up the effort. He assumes that the voters have recognized the superior man, and his work is done. Armchair psychology, I know, but I think I'm pretty accurate on this.

Seeking some local perspective on the debate outcome, I visited the Web site of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a site I frequent with some frequency. The Journal Sentinel is the biggest newspaper in Wisconsin, and it usually has its finger on the pulse of the state. I noticed that the Journal Sentinel was endorsing Edwards, and I said to myself, "This is going to get tight." The late momentum in the state was all trending Edwards' way (polls back me up on this). For a lot of Wisconsin voters, the debate was their first good look at the candidates. And Kerry's flat, I've-got-this-wrapped-up performance couldn't have impressed anyone. With the endorsement on the heels of the debate, Edwards definitely had a much better case to present to late-deciding voters. (Also, late-deciding voters probably aren't going to be swayed by the outcomes of previous states, or they would have decided already.) I could sense Kerry's lead plummeting before the polls reflected it, and I had a feeling it would be close. As it turns out, I was right, possibly a first in my career as a political prognosticator. It was Edwards, not Kerry, who was the good "closer" this time. Of course, Kerry's not a good closer when he's coming from ahead.

So Edwards' continued competition helps Kerry. But does it help Edwards? I see no reason why not. As long as he keeps charming the press (who want a two-man race anyway, remember), he's not going to suffer any damage to his reputation by carrying on. He'll only increase his national visibility and expand his fan club. Whereas Howard Dean only looks more pathetic the longer he carries on, Edwards looks like a valiant fighter. (Such is the benefit of positive press.) So he'll hang on at least through Super Tuesday and, barring a titanic loss there, probably through the Southern contests the next week. Edwards may have a long-shot chance at this point, but he's done well enough to keep pressing his case. Provided, of course, that he doesn't run out of money.

Moving on to that Virginia update: The State Senate Finance Committee yesterday passed a tax-increase plan championed by John Chichester (R-Stafford). Chichester's plan is much bigger than the House of Delegates plan passed the day before. The Chichester plan would raise about $1.8 billion in revenue, compared to about $520 million in the House plan. Chichester's bill includes most of Governor Warner's proposals, but it does not grant local governments the authority to oppose additional cigarette taxes. It also halts the repeal of the car tax until the state can afford it, a politically bold and fiscally wise step that Warner didn't attempt. To his credit, Warner doesn't insist that his name be on the final tax plan, provided that it balances the budget the right way. Assuming Chichester's plan passes the full Senate (signs look good so far), then it will be up to the House and Senate to negotiate a settlement between their plans. It figures to be an interesting time.

This just in: Peter Bondra's leaving Washington. The Caps traded him to Ottawa for a prospect and a draft pick. Owner Ted Leonsis had this to say: "I know what he means to our fan base, but allowing him the opportunity to win a Cup is important." Yeah, yeah, sure, and reducing your payroll had nothing to do with it, right, Ted? I'm not sure that Leonsis does understand, frankly. Perhaps he should have read my fan's lament from last month. Note well the following passage, "For most of [my fanhood], we had Peter Bondra, who was a very good scorer. We loved him, because he was ours (still is, despite some acrimonious contract talks a couple years back), because he wasn't some hired gun, because he stayed and played and didn't sulk." It's been a rough year, that's for sure. And watching the Caps take the ice next time out and thinking of Bondra pulling on that black-and-red sweater up in Ottawa... well, it's just going to make it that much harder. It's a rough business, owning a money-losing last-place team. But you broke a lot of loyal hearts today, Ted. And we care. The attendance figures don't always suggest it, but we do.

That wraps it up for today. Tomorrow, we'll give Howard Dean a proper send-off. Cheers! 
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival

THIS JUST IN!

Good day, all. I'm somewhat grumpily back at work after a relaxing President's Day ("the pause that refreshes," as the soda commercial used to go). Today I was planning to write about John Kerry's domestic policy, but I found myself interrupted by events. Seems the Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have removed their collective head from their collective hindquarters. I felt this was noteworthy enough to merit a pause in the Kerry series, which will still be the same story tomorrow, after all.

So what is it that's got me all atwitter? Well, the General Assembly is currently grappling with the problem of closing the billion-dollar gap in the state budget. When last we visited this story, the House Finance Committee, on a party-line vote, rejected Governor Warner's tax proposal. The Republicans made no secret of the fact that the rejection was a scripted event, with Finance Committee members walking in with their matching green jackets, as though they were the Jets from West Side Story, and voting the Warner bill down in front of the cameras. Watching the whole event, you had the feeling that this was just the first act. Speaker William Howell even said something to that effect. So everyone was expecting to see the Republicans' next move soon.

But who was expecting this? The House, again mostly on a party-line vote, backed a Republican-sponsored $520 million tax initiative. A Republican tax initiative! Veteran Assembly reporters fainted from the shock. I admit to feeling a bit weak in the knees myself, not so much for the fact itself as for what it signifies. The budget mess must be really bad if the Republicans are proposing tax hikes. Reports of airborne pigs over Richmond are as yet unsubstantiated.

Seriously, though, the Republicans deserve credit for facing fiscal reality. Granted, it's entirely possible that this is an entirely crass political calculation, and that they decided that voting to slash basic services to the bone would be even more unpopular, in the long run, than raising taxes. But for a party that's had an enormous amount of success in Virginia predicated on simple slogans like "NO TAX HIKE," this does represent a major step, the triumph of reality over sloganeering, and for that Howell & Co. deserve a hand.

For an example of the opposite perspective, check out former governor Jim Gilmore's editorial in yesterday's Post. Gilmore whips out his brickbat for anyone who might even be thinking about raising taxes, calling it unethical and dishonest. Let the record reflect that Gilmore, who is no longer an elected official, doesn't have to worry about balancing any budgets. Let the record further reflect that the current budget crisis has a lot to do with Gilmore's gross fiscal irresponsibility while in office. And we'll leave it at that.)

Believe it or not, the fact that Virginia's Republicans are sponsoring a tax increase isn't the biggest bombshell. The big surprise is how they're doing it: by eliminating sales-tax exemptions on businesses like utilities, airlines, dry cleaners and so on.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

The Republicans, traditional friend of business, propose to balance the budget by raising taxes on business! (Yes, technically it's an elimination of exemptions, not an increase, but it amounts to the same thing: higher taxes for businesses.) What's this? Have the populists stormed the Republican castle?

Well, not quite. Actually, the Republicans' plan displays impressive political savvy. If the Republicans have decided, and it appears that they have, that they will have to vote for a tax increase of some sort, this is probably the least politically damaging way to do it. In fact, if this plan passes, they can probably even score it as a victory. How is this possible? Well, let's take a look.

Consider the dilemma facing Republican leaders in the Old Dominion. Back in October, Speaker Howell, breezily ignoring the numbers, blasted the idea of tax hikes thusly: "We cannot tax our way back to prosperity and fiscal strength. In fact, increasing the tax burden on working families and businesses is exactly the wrong policy for promoting economic growth." This was a typical Republican sentiment at that time. Problem was, when Republicans like State Sen. John Chichester and Del. Vincent Callahan started crunching the numbers, they came back with a firm conclusion: While it may be technically possible to achieve a balanced budget without tax hikes, you don't want to see what it would look like. The spending cuts would be brutal. Bad idea.

Then Warner made the first move and unveiled a comprehensive tax plan that would raise revenues significantly without punishing the average taxpayer too heavily. Republicans could fume and fuss and carry on Gilmore-style, but if they voted down Warner's plan, they still had to come up with a balanced budget. This meant coming up with a Republican tax-increase plan.

Ignoring for a moment the cognitive dissonance inherent in that last statement, what would the ideal Republican plan look like? Well, it would have to be a smaller hike than Warner's, obviously. And it has to be as painless to the average voter as possible. That way, if the Republicans can no longer say, "We'll never raise your taxes," at least they can say, "We made it hurt less."

Now, take a look back at Howell's statement above. "[I]ncreasing the tax burden on working families and businesses is exactly the wrong policy for promoting economic growth." Fine, but if you have to pick one of those two groups to piss off, which would you rather? Businesses, who are likely to back you long-term anyway, or working families, who are liable to think of you as hypocritical sellouts and vote against you at the next election cycle? Right, you make the same choice Democrats have of late: put the burden on business and tell the working families you're "fighting for them." (Of course, the businesses are almost certainly going to pass the tax cost along to consumers in the form of higher prices, but the average voter doesn't think this far ahead.)

Now, look at how the debate shifts. Before, Warner was the straight-talking champion of fiscal responsibility, and the Republicans were denying reality. Now, Warner's Mr. Tax-and-Spend, and the Republicans are protecting the average taxpayer from an onerous new burden. Clever, huh?

There's another hidden subplot here. A number of business groups, seeing the need to continue Virginia's current level of services, have endorsed the Warner plan. The Republican plan puts those groups on the spot: attack this plan, and it looks like you're screwing over the average taxpayer to protect your own interests. It also sends a message: go against us, and we'll make you pay. That sounds like the Republicans we know.

So, how is this plan financially? Hard to say; details are sketchy. Given that it's only half the size of Warner's plan, it will still necessitate some very steep budget cuts. If this is the final plan, it won't be sufficient. If it's intended as a bargaining chip, a negotiating point between here and the Warner plan, it's a good start.

Politically, it's a stroke of brilliance. The Republicans get credit for pushing a plan, and it's less unfriendly to the average voter (at least on the face) than the Warner plan. Howell and his allies have, for the moment, seized the upper hand.

So what should the governor do? I recommend that he sit down with his Senate allies, particularly Chichester, and stress the need for a plan that solves the whole problem, rather than just part of it. Signal to Howell a willingness to negotiate and find a middle ground. Tell the business allies, if they express public opposition to the Howell plan, to denounce it for being insufficient, not for targeting business. If they say something like, "We're willing to be part of the solution, but Howell's plan is only a partial solution," it blunts the force of the Republicans' self-interest charge. And don't back down. Suffer the slings and arrows of passing a meaningful plan now, and you'll be remembered as "the man who got Virginia's house in order." Back down, and you'll be completely forgotten.

Some of you may have noticed that I didn't comment on the deal sending Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. That's because I haven't stopped retching yet. I don't want to talk about it. As for the rumors that Greg Maddux is next on their list... I really don't want to talk about it. But, hey, good news for us Brewers fans... we haven't yet ruled out the possibility that we'll be able to afford to re-sign our best player! Sigh.

That's all for me today. Back to Kerry tomorrow, unless breaking news intervenes. See you then! 
Monday, February 16, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "James K. Polk" by They Might Be Giants

JOHN KERRY: A CLOSER LOOK, PART I

Hey there, everybody! Happy President's Day! Today we begin our long look at the man who might be the next president, John Kerry. Kerry has a commanding lead in the Democratic primaries to date, and recent polls show him competitive in a head-to-head match-up with President Bush. It seems fitting, therefore, to get an in-depth picture of the guy, figure out what he is and what he needs to do to win. So today, we start with the basic question: How in the world did he get here? That is, how did he rally from the brink of extinction in December to the front-runner position he's in now?

The easy, and most tempting, answer is to say, "It's all momentum." Once he won Iowa and New Hampshire, he had an aura of invincibility, assisted greatly by Howard Dean's implosion, and with the newly front-loaded primary system, those early victories led to more victories, and it quickly snowballed to the point where his opponents are now being urged by the party and the press to drop out before the calendar even turns to Super Tuesday. (All this, of course, means that the words "buyer's remorse" are on every journalist's lips, in a way I'm sure they wouldn't be if Edwards was in the lead. But I digress.) It would be simple to view the Kerry surge as a sort of perfect storm, an available guy to fill a void that suddenly opened up when Dean went down.

But Kerry actually did win Iowa. It wasn't just that Howard Dean lost. Kerry is a better candidate than he had been last year. Before, he was a fantastically qualified person with an apparent tone-deafness when it came to being an actual candidate. Sort of the Democrats' Bob Dole. But he's sharpened his game, simplified his message and found the right message to, yes, exploit an opening at the head of the field.

The best thing that Kerry has done so far is to stop speaking Senatese and start speaking English. See, the Senate is all about compromise, courtly debate and playing the angles. In the Senate, you learn never to say yes or no outright, never to make intemperate statements you may later regret, and to think in terms of bills and head counts instead of people and their problems. Bob Dole was fluent in Senatese, and so is Kerry. And Senatese is a useful language to know... if you're a senator. As a presidential candidate, speaking Senatese makes you sound dull, evasive, and disconnected from the problems of real people. Although knowing Senatese will actually prove far more useful once you're actually in the White House, you won't get there unless you're elected. And people don't want to hear about how you voted for No Child Left Behind even though you didn't like it, because a colleague was calling in a favor and you were trying to line up support for your own pet initiative and you couldn't afford to be ostracized and maybe miss out on a key committee assignment and on and on until everyone's fallen asleep. Kerry used to talk that way, and he does slip into it from time to time (as in the Wisconsin debate last night). But largely he's learned to speak more directly, addressing people instead of legislation, and mixed in a little humor and pugnacity. Kerry's never going to be a great stump speaker, but he's become a decent one. And that's the important part. As long as his speeches aren't deady dull, he's fine.

(Special note to all the journalists swooning over Edwards: Yes, fine, he's an interesting speaker. So is Jerry Springer. But being president is about more than giving speeches. If there's ever an opening for Toastmaster-in-Chief, Edwards has my vote. But when it comes to actual governing, Kerry's the hands-down winner. Isn't it possible that the same thought has occurred to Democratic primary voters? Just wondering.)

Kerry's also done a good job figuring out what aspects of himself he needs to emphasize. For instance, he's observed the Dean boom and seen that Democratic voters want a little red meat, someone to go hard after Bush. But they were a bit concerned that Dean might be too angry, lacking the necessary gravitas and self-control. So Kerry turned up the heat on Bush a little bit, working "Bring It On" into his speeches, but he stressed his experience and didn't lose his patrician bearings. As a result, Kerry came off looking assertive and tough, whereas Dean came off as a hothead spoiling for a fight with someone. Kerry improved on the Dean pitch, brought it respectability and grounding. Reportedly, Dean thinks Kerry's a phony. This isn't surprising; Dean's like the garage band who saw a popular group score a gold record with an improved version of his best riff. The difference, of course, is that Kerry's still in the game, while Dean is on the verge of returning to Vermont.

Kerry also realized that voters are concerned with national security, and has emphasized his Vietnam service on the trail. Kerry served with honor in distinction in a difficult and unpopular war, and he was smart to emphasize this chapter of his life. By now, everyone's heard Kerry reference his "band of brothers" from the war (The Smart Lady, in fact, reports that she's grown profoundly sick of it). The senator has realized that whatever their misgivings about Bush otherwise, voters aren't going to elect someone they don't feel they can trust on national security issues. Dean didn't seem safe. Edwards lacks experience. Kerry has experience, both in the military and in the Senate, and has played those credentials up to assure voters that the country will be safe under his stewardship.

Kerry's done the best job by far in striking the balance that Democratic voters seem to be seeking this year. They want a candidate who's going to go after Bush, as opposed to the weak "me-too" accomodationist strategy that got the party crushed in 2002. But they also want someone respectable enough not to scare off moderate voters. Dean scored on the first half of the equation, but foundered on the second half. Lieberman would have been fine on the second half, but he completely failed the first. Clark never really developed a compelling case for either part. Edwards has done a good job sounding respectable and non-threatening, but the Mr. Sunshine approach just hasn't been strong enough to take down Kerry.

For Democrats, Bush has basically been the schoolyard bully, who keeps grabbing them by the collars and demanding their lunch money, pushing through a right-wing agenda with barely a bow in the direction of compromise. If you want to take down a bully, it helps to have a guy -- like Dean -- who's loud and belligerent and not afraid to get into a scrap. But it really helps to have the captain of the football team come over and, in a measured but firm voice, tell the bully, "You'd better leave my friends alone." So far, Kerry's done a great job convincing voters that he's their football captain. If he can keep it up, he stands a solid chance of sending the bully home.

That's all for today. Tomorrow we'll take a look at Kerry's domestic policies. See you then! 
Friday, February 13, 2004
  Today's Musical Selection: "See The Constellation" by They Might Be Giants

FRIDAY STEW!

Hey there, everybody! This being Friday, it's time for the usual pointless rambling garbage that you've come to expect from me. Yippee!

Let me start with a look back into the past. A little ways into the past, anyhow. I was straightening up my bedroom, and came across a well-preserved U.S. News and World Report from April 2002. (No, I don't know why I hadn't pitched it, either.) On the cover was a picture of John Edwards, with the headline "WHO CAN BEAT BUSH?" Inside was an article by Roger Simon, documenting the candidates' travels through Iowa and New Hampshire (yes, they were there two years ago). The aritcle seemed to be looking with some bemusement at the fact that the campaign was underway already, but I thought it would be interesting to go back and see how well things were in focus then. Let's take a trip in the Wayback Machine, shall we?

- Edwards got the most play in the article, which made sense inasmuch as he was the "favorite" at that time. Kerry also got a fair amount of ink, but it was clear that Edwards was the man, at least in theory, at that time. (At least unless Al Gore decided to get in the race.) One fellow desribed only as a "Democratic insider" was more skeptical of Mr. Sunshine: "Does Edwards have the intestinal fortitude? He knows he is the most likely vice-presidential choice for whoever wins. You watch: He will dabble until the spring and then pull out." Sadly, Simon didn't identify who this guy was, but whoever he is, he's good. He should take up gambling for a living immediately.

- A sidebar mentions the list of possible/probable candidates: Tom Daschle, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Al Sharpton. Notice anyone missing? Someone such as, say, a former governor of Vermont? ("But Dean was a second-tier candidate then," you might protest. Fine, then what about Sharpton?) To Simon's credit, though, he did make one mention of Dean, pointing out that he was one of a horde of candidates hanging out in New Hampshire at that point. (Including, apparently, Russ Feingold. Russ Feingold? I'd have thought he'd be afraid of missing a chance to be on the losing end of a 99-1 vote in the Senate again.)

- More on Edwards: Simon says of the senator, "He is warm and friendly and gives good eyeball," which sounds vaguely dirty. Simon also conveys the heartwarming anecdote of the time Edwards almost went into the men's room with a live microphone on his jacket (a sharp-eyed female C-SPAN staffer turned him off at the last minute). Simon seems to have had a somewhat odd fascination with Edwards. I choose not to examine it any more closely.

- For those of you who think Al Gore did Joe Lieberman dirty by refusing to back him, even though Joe waited to see if Gore would be in or not before running himself, consider the following passage:

Lieberman is trying one of the toughest tricks in politics: running as his own second choice... Still, Lieberman will not follow the Gore/Lieberman game plan of 2000 if he does run. He now disagrees with Gore over the issue of populism. Critics of Gore, most notably the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, to whom Lieberman is very close, say that Gore's 2000 "people vs. the powerful" message was divisive and lost him the election. In a speech at the DLC convention in Indianapolis last July, Lieberman repudiated the Gore strategy by saying that people vs. the powerful was "too subject to misunderstanding." Lieberman also says he was prevented by the Gore campaign from talking more about faith and values and that was a mistake. When asked by U.S. News if Gore blew an easily winnable race, Lieberman replied: "How do I answer that question? I felt good about my own contribution."

So, what about that, Lieberman fans? Good ol' Joe was already repudiating Gore in 2002! I can't imagine any scenario where Lieberman would have agreed to run with Gore again in '04, nor can I imagine why Gore would have picked him. Is it perhaps possible that Lieberman vowed to stay out if Gore ran because he figured that Gore would suck up all the media oxygen and roll to the nomination? Is it possible that he then cleverly disguised a strategic calculation as a show of loyalty, with the added bonus of making Gore look bad when he endorsed Dean, the candidate with whom he had far more in common? I don't want to here any more of this "Gore hosed Lieberman" whining. Looks to me like Lieberman hosed Gore.

- Note to Wesley Clark: Did you notice how all the other major candidates were stumping in the key primary states two years ago? Is it becoming clearer now why jumping into the race when you did was a bad, bad idea? I hope so.

There, wasn't that fun? If I unearth any other old magazines on future cleaning expeditions, I'll be sure and share them.

Shifting from politics to sports, more or less. I discovered something fairly cool at work yesterday. One of my co-workers was scanning the sports pages and he said, "Hey, who's the new coach of the Nets?" I said, "Lawrence Frank." He said, "Yeah. I went to high school with him."

And he wasn't kidding, either! Frank and my co-worker are both 33, and they both went to high school in Teaneck, New Jersey. So I asked him what Frank was like. "He was a total pompous ass," my co-worker reported. "He was always trying to make himself cool by hanging out with the popular kids, especially the athletes. He was a terrible athlete himself, but he sucked up to them and became popular. He had a real attitude about it." No wonder Jason Kidd likes him so much! He wins players over by sucking up to them. Very enlightening information. I asked him how he felt about seeing what had become of his classmate. He said, "It's like those old Folgers commercials. 'We've secretly replaced a real legitimate NBA coach with Larry Frank. Let's see if anyone notices!'"

My coworker also played against Frank in Little League. Another alumnus of the league was Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville. My co-worker had much better things to say about Glanville. "He was a really cool guy, never put on an attitude. He carried his reputation lightly. I used to go over to his house and we played video games together on the Apple II." He says that Glanville loves playing in Philly, because it's a quick trip back home. He still visits his family regularly. Glanville is well-liked by the press, and it's nice to know that he's the same guy in person that he is in the papers.

Will an MLB franchise ever come to Latin America? ESPN examines the possibility and concludes that the economics just won't work out (tickets would be too expensive for most fans and there's no possibility of a lucrative TV deal). It's a shame, too, because they really love the game down there. Think Bud Selig wouldn't love to see this happen? If it were plausible, Selig would probably set up a whole division of Latin teams. But the money just doesn't work out. What a shame that the league that has a socialistic, anyone-can-win economic system (the NFL) largely wastes it on marginal cities like Jacksonville and Phoenix, while a league that could really benefit from such a system can't make it happen.

To those in the Virginia House who are trying to keep us buried in the 19th century: Thanks! I'd rant about this, but it's Friday, and I don't like to rant on Friday.

That's all for today. Monday, we start our closer look at John Kerry. See you then! 
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