Many Bosses, Precious Few Leaders

It’s something I say all the time when opining on the lack of a Churchill presence in our political world. There is a degenerative effect to such a void, and its chasm is a generational bumper sticker whose ugly residue can’t be chiseled off so easily.

Truth of the matter is, we’ve been finding our leaders on a micro level ever since Camelot was ambushed in Dealey Plaza. From Martin Luther King to Bobby Kennedy, the Beatles to Elvis, Harvey Milk to Hank Aaron to Hawking to Bono. The commonality in these names and all the others who’ve floated our rudderless boat over the past half century is that none of them resided in the Oval Office.

Leadership on a macro level has been usurped by scandal, attrition, Hollywood and every other man made disaster known to Henry Cabot’s log. Leadership from the very top of the Beltway became a trivial pursuit question the moment Nixon became Tricky Dick. And no matter the conservative revolution of Reagan or Boomer Clinton refurbishing a tired standard, or even the cultural significance of Obama. We turned these men into caricatures thirty seconds after their close up.

Is our current state of shit storm a self fulfilling prophecy? Is it the result of us having collectively thrown up our hands after Kennedy was stolen and Nixon was found to be a paranoid crook? Did we forget to cancel our subscription to the Zeitgeist after the failed leadership that turned Vietnam into a verb in perpetuity? Did we never mind the details for too long a time because iconic stimulation was a much more palatable cup of Joe?

Since then, the electorate has behaved like the baseball manager who keeps going to his bullpen until he finds the pitcher who fucks the whole thing up. Trump has been warming up in the bullpen for a long time. And now I have to wonder if this period in our history will make us smarter and more discerning of the process. Or will the idea that Trump could game the system and win polarize us even further?

I hope to hell it’s the former. I hope it has occurred to us that Trump is what happens when we refuse to build consensus. 2016 is what happens when the need to be right prevails over getting it right. We get a President who is a meme master, but who couldn’t lead us out of a wet paper bag.

It’s time to wise up or quit bitching. We can’t have both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fight To Regain Sanity

There’s a scene in the movie Goodfellas when wig shop owner and independent bookmaker Morrie Kesseler gets whacked most unceremoniously by Tommy DeVito (played by Joe Pesci). One minute he’s climbing into a Cadillac with the intent of negotiating his share of a big score over coffee whilst picking up a danish to bring to his wife Claire, and the next minute his brain stem is being severed with an ice pick.

This scene reminds me of what’s happened to this country since the 2016 Presidential election. We are Morrie. We were promised a danish and what we got was an ice pick in the neck.

Regardless of whether you climbed into that Eldorado or not, you sure as shit are wearing cement shoes. I realize this analogy is anathema to those peeps who think watching Fox News makes them a patriot. They are plenty fine excusing the unsightly state of affairs in Washington, believing it to be a matter of renovation.

On the campaign trail, a Trump presidency promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of business as usual politics. Instead, it is simply giving us the business. As usual. But with glaringly unique consequences whose comedy is perverse, insidious and downright hateful. It is as if the American people have been written into the scripted cheat sheets of a reality show. Only thing is, the shit ain’t funny and the scenarios are toting generational price tags. And maybe the worst part of this whole sordid mess is that, in the end, we can’t really blame the Russians or the flagellating GOP, or even the fucking Kardashians. Nope, the cold hard truth of the matter is that we’re all to blame.

This is what happens when the nation stops paying attention to the box scores in Washington. This is what you get when an electorate is more well versed in pop culture than who their elected representatives are. We got complacent. We assumed sides mattered more than progress. Debates became more a matter of being right than of getting it right. Somewhere along the way, we lost our compass and we just let the winds lead us.

So we were saddled with a President who wants to build walls; never minding the fact that such a mindset is analogous with burning bridges. We have a President who believes in name calling and alternate terminology and yet wants us to believe he’s a modern day Churchill. I have to think old Winston could’ve taught Trump a thing or two about what a national emergency looks like. And how walls are nothing more than symbolic trinkets compared to the heart and soul of a nation’s ability to stand together.

Listen, I am a fairly middle of the road sonofabitch with nary a sacred cow in my arsenal. I didn’t believe in Trump back then the same as I don’t believe Ocasio-Cortez now. I have a problem with using the nuclear option to expedite judicial confirmation, no matter whether it’s Harry Reid threatening it or Mitch McConnell using it. Being middle of the road doesn’t make me vanilla ice cream. It makes me rocky road. I trust my eyes more than my ears, every single time. And what I’ve seen over the last couple of years troubles me. Not as a politically affiliated individual but as a human being.

Trump’s campaign slogan vowed to make America great again, which was both demeaning to the current generation and ignorant to the struggles of generations past. To my way of thinking, the greatest strength of any true democracy is in its future. You win today for tomorrow, in perpetuity. Our founding fathers understood the consequences of walking backwards.

It’s a lesson we’re still learning.

Don’t Start Thinking About Tomorrow

As promised, here is one from “The Vault”. This piece was written back in 2008 as Hilary Clinton was on the verge of losing the Democratic nomination to some guy named Barry. It’s interesting to read this back, seeing as how it is heavily influenced by one of my favorite political writers- Maureen Dowd of the Times- whose stuff I was devouring back in the day.

I was visiting Chicago when I wrote this. Surrounded by peeps who jumped Hilary’s ship in mid stream when their local hero started hitting homers. I stayed the course, all the while knowing it was Hil’s best chance to win it all. I wish I hadn’t been so prescient. 

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

You were entitled, after all. It was yours. When the Kennedys bowed out of the royal family business, and the Bushes picked up the slack(er), you were supposed to be next. It was going to be twenty eight years of uninterrupted Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton. It would end with a lady on top. And please, watch what you insert into that sentence.

How ironic it is that Illinois (you do remember that place, right?) is biting you now. I know your Michael Myers-like thousand yard stare on 2008 couldn’t have foreseen this. Still, I bet you’re kicking yourself now for not having considered a Cubs cap and an Illinois Senate seat. You could’ve spelled those unforgiving winters by the Lake by making up with the Gores and renting out their guest room, where the thermostat is set on Miami come January. In the spring, you would have been the senior poobah and Obama would still be best known as Oprah’s most intimate relationship.

You could have spared yourself the Bataan Death March.

As much as you brave face a broken convention, you know it’s not going to end well. The League of Super Delegates will be a cranky bunch if they’re put on the spot. The Dems don’t want to be perceived as Supreme Courting the next nominee eight short years after Bush won his loss.

And not for nothing, but this wasn’t the time to be playing Michael Corleone to Mark Penn’s Tom Hagen. You had to make a break before this. You had to banish him from the family instead of continuing to allow him to break bread and knuckles at the table. I think you hesitated on a full blown divorce (again) because you were afraid of what Sunday morning was going to sound like. It’s enough to keep a girl up till three in the morning.

But here’s the thing. We’re past the point of playing scrabble with the media. Way past.

You would’ve been better off cutting the snake in half, the snake who has spread his poison into your run. Penn’s stewardship of a campaign which once looked like a surer bet than a Warren Buffett stock market tip, has been plagued with errors. Not enough Teflon or elan. Stockpiles of arrogance. Sad thing when the smart guy in the room looks inept because he was too busy checking his reflection in the mirror. Sadder thing when you have to call a press conference and call out the jaws of life simultaneously in order to extricate yourself from your chief strategist. Saddest thing is when it’s April and you’re trailing.

Penn’s nasty reputation is legendary, even for your campaign. You’re the High priestess of the coven and it should have been your nasty that counted the most. It doesn’t work so well when you have a High Priest competing with you for enmity among the staffers. There was about as much esprit de corps in your camp as there was in the New York Mets dugout last September.

Penn’s plan was to pass you off as establishment, when he should have been packaging the fact that you’re a bitch on wheels. Don’t run from the truth. Embrace it. Personally, I’ll vote for a bitch over a boob every day of the week. Barack wants to sit at the table with those Middle Eastern leaders- You want to bite their heads off. Barack votes against the war- You want to bite their heads off. Barack wants to stop the influence of special interests- You want to bite their heads off.

You’re on message, wake up! Those are points you’re throwing away!

And you’re missing the main point. A bitch means YOU’RE A WOMAN. Penn forgot that, and you bought into the amnesia. In so doing, you handed the novelty pitch to Obama and decided to run a Clinton II strategy when the angle of being the first female President was the way to go. Penn’s reign of error very well may have cost you a change of address. Not good, Queen Bee.

I get the embellishments re: snipers and insurance companies.

You’re a Clinton. It’s in your blood to mince truths and present them in your secret family casserole recipe. But your game plan is half baked here, Missy. You should have a well crafted bedtime story at the ready for every conceivable counterpoint. You should have been prepared for the Perry Mason smoking blue dress.

Sure, the talkies can drone on about how you’ll root for a McCain victory should Obama win the nomination, so you can take another shot in four years.

Are you kidding?

You know the fallacy of that news cabal logic. You’re not going to get another shot. This is your shot. The networks have to fill twenty four hours. If they happen to get five or ten minutes of it right, they’re happy. You can’t afford to be so cavalier with your time.

So my question is, why isn’t your Clinton showing?

You know, the Clinton that would have riddled Obama with innuendos and then stepped back and let him deal with the savagery. And when he stepped back, you’d be there to stop his fall . . by stabbing him in the back. The cameras would be clueless, all caught up in your disturbing little smile. And you’d be one step closer to your coronation.

You’re not Bill, I know. But I can’t help thinking this didn’t have to turn into a disadvantage. You are the principled half (I know, it’s like saying I’m the least crazy Manson, but it’s true. So use it.). You’re the adult (again, it still counts). You baked the special brownies Bill didn’t ingest. You defied while he denied. You could’ve summoned Bill when necessary and banished him to Scores the rest of the time.

Hell, what a waste; all those nights when the two of you would stay up talking, strategizing deep into the night. Bill messing with his sax in the bottom bunk and you, revising Sun Tzu in the top bunk.

Here are a couple of comebacks I was expecting from you:

Reverend Wright- Instead of “he wouldn’t be my pastor,” . . . what about “I have spoken with many people who have nothing but good things to say about Reverend Wright. I’ve been deeply involved in these communities, I know the struggles. You shouldn’t judge a man through the looking glass of one moment (wink, wink). Mr. Obama knows the man. He knows what the Reverend is about. I think we must leave this conversation to him and the Reverend Wright.”

You would’ve been invited to Mr. Obama’s church off this little bite. And that whole ‘Mr. Obama knows the man’ would’ve gestated beautifully- with Wright’s apologists and critics alike. Your wayward child detractors aside, you would’ve hit those inconvenient undecideds right in the gut. And your ‘acceptance’ of your opponent’s foibles? Mark it Rich (sorry, I couldn’t help one pardon pun). Yep. The big net is just sooooo Clinton. We are all the same. It’s just that some of us are better at being the same than others.

Bosnia- You could’ve insisted you had come under sniper fire . . . at some point during your trip to Bosnia. Play with the words, show irritation over not being believed despite the overwhelming evidence that you should not be believed. Play hurt. Implore all Americans to study up on their foreign policy. Tell them to Google Bosnia while you’re bitch slapping reporters into line. And if the American people want more, then give them your sad plight: My husband won the Presidency and all I got was a lousy trip to Bosnia!

Dammit Hil, you know this game with your eyes closed. Problem is, you’ve been playing it as if your eyes were closed. Meanwhile, Obama gets the dirty, sexy headlines. And you get closer to picking out his and hers summer retreats for you and Bubba.

Obama is dumping more money into Pennsylvania than our own Governor. He’s shaved more points off your lead here than a crooked cager with a questionable jump shot. He may not win the state, but his comebacking isn’t helping matters any. It’s just further evidence that you’ve morphed into Nolan Ryan. Without the fast ball. Or the right arm.

Fleetwood Mac called.

They want their song back.

 

The Light Of A Thousand Points

Unity

I was a young Republican once upon a time.

In the eighties, I loved Reagan, Prince and mall girls. Not necessarily in that order. As the years went by, my philosophies would change according to the education I was getting from the world I was busy growing up inside of.

I voted for George H. in ’92. I wasn’t buying the new age politics that Clinton and Gore were selling. Having gone into business for myself the year before, I was leery of how a democratic administration might adversely affect my costs of doing business. I guess it’s true what they say about all politics being local.

My wife at the time, she was a dyed in the wool liberal girl and we would have the most animated debates imaginable. At the end of a long day, it was a favorite thing of mine to sit across from her with my beverage of choice in hand and let her know that I loved her in spite of the fact she was wrong. Her counter-punch was every bit as provocative, and we would just go. Nothing ever got solved, but at the end of the evening we knew the differences didn’t matter one bit. What mattered was the spirit engendered, the mutual respect we were able to fortify.

When Newt Gingrich and the Republicans swept into Congress during the mid term elections of ’94, I was feeling pretty good about things. I liked Newt. So much so that I went to see him speak at a dinner a couple years later at Franklin and Marshall College. He spoke for forty minutes, and I dug his wit and smarts. Even if I had swung my vote to Bill Clinton a couple weeks earlier.

Things had changed in the interim, and so had I.

In the infamous national election of 2000, I voted for George W. And within a couple years, I was suffering from buyer’s remorse on account of how he handled our post 9/11 world. While I was sold on his strength and dignity inside the immediate aftermath, I was selling on my vote by mid 2002.

I didn’t vote for history in 2008, instead giving my vote to John McCain. In 2012, I voted for Mitt Romney because I saw him as a bridge builder and financial wizard. And while I don’t regret my votes, I also do not resent the man who beat them. Because unlike certain of those right wing peeps, I always recognized Barack as my President. I respected the class and dignity and soul he brought to the office. And the fact that he loved Five Guys burgers and Guinness drafts, well . . I loved that too.

I voted for Hilary a year and a half ago, because I happened to agree with her on many points. And while Trump being in the other corner helped, it wasn’t the deciding factor. Truth be told, I had a brief flirtation with Marco Rubio before going all in on Hilary.

I was inspired to confess myself thanks to that picture. Because if those political giants can find their better angels, so too can I. And I’m thankful for the great expectations it provided me in the midst of a less hopeful time.

Because I don’t believe that progress is about making America ‘great again’. To my way of thinking, democracy is a forward thinking endeavor whose best days are always ahead of us. The verity of a unified republic is the trust it adheres to. A trust in our principles, beliefs and our differences.

If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, let’s start with that.

 

If only . . .

If is such a wickedly precarious word. If is an anomaly of diction in that it is neither here nor there, and yet it elicits a gamut of emotions. For this story, If is a heart wrenching tale of what might have been . . . if only.

If only he had waited. It wasn’t his style, to wait around. Not having known him, I can only hazard a guess this impatience came from having been born into royalty, where life was oftentimes lived inside a giant goldfish bowl for all the world to see. I can’t help wondering if sometimes the kid wished he could have been anyone other than himself. The whole world considered him silver spoon lucky; with all the looks and chances and girls. Perspective tells me his restless soul was desperately looking for his true north. All that money and family history, all those primo jobs and runway models made him a modern day Marco Polo, but it didn’t make him whole.

He’d just had his cast removed the day before. No doubt his ankle was talking back to him, and who’s to know if this compromised his ability to fly that little plane. The one thing that is certain is that the weather wasn’t doing him any favors that night. In the days after, his fellow pilots would mournfully remark at how the conditions were abysmal, and how John should have waited. It didn’t help that he got a late start since the girls were running late that evening. So instead of making the trip with the sun riding shotgun, he had to rely on his instruments. John hadn’t flown solo in a couple months, didn’t have an instrument rating and had precious few hours of night flying under his belt. Add to this the fact he had just upgraded to a Piper Saratoga and was still familiarizing himself with it. He turned down a flight instructor’s offer to accompany him and he decided against having Carolyn provide some navigational skills even though she had done it before. When you add it all up, John was playing with the fates that night. And Lord knows the fates hadn’t been kind to his family.

John was tired but giddy on the day of the flight. He’d taken in a Yankees game the night before, after which he went out with friends for drinks. He showed up to the offices wired. When asked about his final hours, many of his work pals talked about how he had roamed the hallways, making small talk and waiting for the day to be done so he could fly out of town with his wife and sister in law.

He wanted to be with family. The handsome man about town was more grounded than most outsiders ever knew, and family was everything to him. They afforded him a peace that had become increasingly difficult to find inside his stormy personal life. Things with Carolyn weren’t ideal, and the magazine had fallen on hard times. He probably saw the weekend as a respite, an opportunity to decompress and recharge his batteries.

John was big on keeping his promises. It was something he learned from his political lion of an uncle. It was something that had been ingrained in him by a strong mother who had experienced unbearable grief and who had come back stronger. Jacqueline raised her celebrity children to be human beings who understood the world around them and yearned to give back rather than simply take. John and Caroline were the offspring of a historical icon and a mother whose grace and strength ran through their veins.

He had promised his sister that he would serve as representative to their side of the family at his cousin’s wedding in Hyannis Port since she was vacationing with her own family and wouldn’t be able to make it. His first stop would be Martha’s Vineyard to drop off his sister in law, Lauren. It had been another promise, this one to his wife.

All those promises would be lost inside the miles when his Piper disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean. Network coverage of the search and rescue mission was a painfully desperate thing to witness, as shock turned to fear turned to horrible reality. When the news finally came down, I sobbed. It felt as if the fates had conspired to thieve a family seal once again. As the years passed and the world changed dramatically, I couldn’t help but wonder if this theft went deeper still.

If . . . John flew into Martha’s Vineyard the next morning on the advice of his fellow pilots, he would have found his career at a crossroads. There were rumors that John had been mulling a run for the New York senate seat in 2000. Maybe a long weekend with family would have convinced him to throw his hat in the ring. Win or lose, perhaps John would have found himself in the doing. And who knows from there?

This is to say nothing of what JFK Jr. might have accomplished in the wake of September 11th. He was the Prince of New York, and I can’t help but believe his activism would have been felt everywhere: from the halls of Congress to the other side of the world. Might the events of that day have spurred him into the biggest of big picture outlooks? Might he have come to understand what his legacy could mean inside the worst of times? 

If . . he had waited to fly out the next morning, maybe the Senator from New York would have thrown his hat in the ring in 2016. And maybe he would have scored the democratic nomination. And maybe he would have made the pompous and bombastic billionaire with the bad hair look small in three televised debates. 

If all that came to pass . . the political slogan could have read “Make America Believe in Camelot Again”

If only . . .

The following is part of the “If” Challenge 2018 that was constructed by the inimitable composer of all things humor and music at A Frank Angle. His blog is a righteous tilt, so go on over and give it a whirl. 

My Top 5 (Anti)Heroes of the Week

Antihero Symbol

Since we’re knee deep in the January blahs, I wasn’t feeling the positive vibes necessary to pen a top 5 “Heroes”, so I just switched up the recipe for the sake of being contrary. It’s in keeping with the thirty one shades of gray that is the first month of the calendar, so there’s that. Sadly, it’s easier to find antiheroes in our day and age.

5-LeBron James- I could’ve nominated the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team, really. But since LBJ is supposed to be the leader, he gets the hit here. LBJ is playing his Hamlet act again in blaming everyone but himself for the fact his club can’t buy a win. He blames Kevin Love (his favorite punching bag), he blames Coach Lue, I think he even blames Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. And then he went and did this . . .

Wanna be one of the first to Congratulate you on this accomplishment/achievement tonight that you’ll reach! Only a handful has reach/seen it too and while I know it’s never been a goal of yours from the beginning try(please try) to take a moment for yourself on how you’ve done it! The House you’re about to be apart of has only 6 seats in it(as of now) but 1 more will be added and you should be very proud and honored to be invited inside. There’s so many people to thank who has help this even become possible(so thank them all) and when u finally get your moment(alone) to yourself smile, look up to the higher skies and say THANK YOU! So with that said, Congrats again Young King.

That there is the text of LBJ’s self congratulatory Instagram spill on reaching 30,000 career points. “The Disease of Me” always comes before the fall, and this biblical/basketball phrase perfectly encapsulates what is happening in Cleveland. Where have you gone, Michael Jordan?

4- Big Time News Outlets Behaving like Yahoo!(s)- This means you USA Today and Chicago Sun Times and Huffington Post! These national behemoths played the click bait game with readers as per CNN anchor Jake Tapper saying the Patriots were “a cheating team”. Tapper happens to be a huge Eagles fan who was simply stepping out of his suit and into a jersey and behaving like a fan. He was having fun, not breaking news. News outlets that should know better than to behave like Yahoo! . . didn’t.

Musical Intermezzo: I was reminded of this curiously delectable cover whilst watching The Assassination of Gianni Versace last night. I’m hooked on this season’s crime story anthology. Passionate, artful and heart-wrenching with good time tunes. What’s not to dig?

3- Democrats and Republicans “Trumping” each other- During the government shut down, both sides took to name calling as if they were bi-coastal rappers. They screamed ‘Anarchists’, they yelled ‘Overlords’ and they shouted ‘Arsonists’. And in perhaps my favorite dis of all, California Republican Devin Nunes took to calling his own peeps “lemmings in suicide vests,”. Listen, it’s bad enough we have a guy in the White House who takes great pride in trashing decorum. Where’s the adult supervision?

2- Hollywood and Its Mighty Minions- How comes it took bringing down a mogul like Harvey Weinstein for all these peeps to get loud? Call me cynical, but I can’t help wondering how many whispers and worse were floating around the halls of power and influence long before Weinstein was taken down. You mean to tell me nobody knew of anything happening to anyone anywhere until the biggest fish in the pond got fried? I can tell you from experience that sincere people don’t need to tell you they’re being sincere. That’s why sincerity is a posthumous curiosity. See, you can’t rail on about Trump’s lecherous behavior when making an awards show speech whilst playing look away for your friends and associates when nobody’s watching. You can’t damn one celebrities criminal behavior while ignoring another’s. Fairness is not simply a matter of propriety, it’s a matter of saving lives or ruining them. The celebrity world wants us to believe they are the ones fighting for humanity on the front lines. Excuse me if I’m dubious to those self indulgent claims.

1- Michigan State University, the USOC and USA Gymnastics- Where to fucking start? MSU is a public research institution, which means tax payers help to foot the bill. Asking for accountability doesn’t end with our elected representatives, it includes universities who ride on that dime as well. Olympic doctor Larry Nassar was able to perpetuate his evil over years and years, violating countless women while officials did nothing. When the now former President of the school, Lou Anna Simon, cites politics as being a part of the anger directed at this multi-tentacled scandal, it’s only further insult to injury. How dare she? How dare any of the people in authority, who knew, and did nothing to stop this monster.

As for the USOC and USA Gymnastics, this is what happens when we never mind corruption at the highest levels forever. The way we always did with the IOC when criminals such as Juan Antonio Samaranch prostituted the games in wink/wink deals worth billions. Corruption anywhere becomes corruption everywhere. 

Are we done pretending that Penn State was an outlier? That powerfully enabled tragedies such as this are reserved for bucolic campuses tucked into the mountains far away from the public eye? No, Penn State wasn’t the only big time school that was involved in a horrible scandal. And the worst part of all this?

It’s only a matter of time till the next one.