Category Archives: History

The Three Musketeers (plus Beth Bernstein)

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie texted me  this picture taken at the Lourie Center on the day of the primaries.

My reaction: “The Musketeers and their lady friend. And your Dad!”

Back when Joel and James Smith were first in the House in the ’90s, I used to refer to them as “the Hardy Boys,” partly because of their youth (Cindi Scoppe and I referred privately to Smith as “young James” and of course we knew Joel’s father before we knew him) but because they were inseparable allies, always working together, whatever the issue. On more than one occasion, I’d be interviewing one when he got a phone call from the other one.

Then, about the time Joel moved to the Senate, the duo became the Three Musketeers with the addition of Vincent Sheheen.

Then, starting sometime before Joel’s retirement from the Senate, Beth Bernstein became part of the group.

I don’t have a nickname for the four of them, but Joel does. Noting that back in the ’70s his Dad Isadore and other Richland County Democrats used to refer to themselves as “the Home Team,” Joel titles this photo “the New Home Team with the original coach.”

Whatever you call them, they’re a happy crew after the results of Tuesday’s voting came in…

Good for you, John Brennan…

I very much appreciated this column today from John Brennan, former director of Central Intelligence, headlined “I will speak out until integrity returns to the White House.” An excerpt:

My first visit to the Oval Office came in October 1990, when I was a 35-year-old CIA officer. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait two months before, and President George H.W. Bush wanted to discuss the implications of a U.S.-led military coalition that would ultimately push the Iraqis out.

John Brennan

John Brennan

I remember the nervousness I felt when I entered that room and met a president of the United States for the first time. By the time the meeting ended, his intellectual curiosity, wisdom, affability and intense interest in finding the best policy course to protect and promote U.S. interests were abundantly evident.

Over the next quarter-century, I returned to the Oval Office several hundred times during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The jitters that accompanied my first Oval Office visit dissipated over time, but the respect, awe and admiration I held for the office of the presidency and the incumbents never waned. The presidents I directly served were not perfect, and I didn’t agree with all of their policy choices. But I never doubted that each treated their solemn responsibility to lead our nation with anything less than the seriousness, intellectual rigor and principles that it deserved. Many times, I heard them dismiss the political concerns of their advisers, saying, “I don’t care about my politics, it’s the right thing to do.”

The esteem with which I held the presidency was dealt a serious blow when Donald Trump took office. Almost immediately, I began to see a startling aberration from the remarkable, though human, presidents I had served. Mr. Trump’s lifelong preoccupation with aggrandizing himself seemed to intensify in office, and he quickly leveraged his 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address and his Twitter handle to burnish his brand and misrepresent reality.

Presidents throughout the years have differed in their approaches to policy, based on political platforms, ideologies and individual beliefs. Mr. Trump, however, has shown highly abnormal behavior by lying routinely to the American people without compunction, intentionally fueling divisions in our country and actively working to degrade the imperfect but critical institutions that serve us….

I’ll have to stop excerpting there because I suspect I’m already pushing the outside of that ol’ envelope on Fair Use.

Suffice to say that eventually he notes that people question why he keeps speaking out on this subject. They seem to think it’s not fitting for a career intelligence officer to be mixing in politics this way.

Those people don’t get it. And the amazing thing to me is that there are so many people who still don’t get it. They think this is politics as usual — sometimes your guy wins, sometimes the other guy wins.

That’s why we need people such as Brennan who are outside the stupid Democrats-vs.-Republicans game to tell us that the problem we face right now is most assuredly NOT about that game.

For the first time in the history of our nation, the most powerful position in the world is held by a grossly unqualified, unfit, unstable man with no priorities but serving himself and what he perceives to be his personal interests. For the first time in living memory and probably ever, our chief magistrate is a person that devoted public servants such as Brennan cannot possibly respect.

And that has to be said again and again until the people who don’t get that — and amazingly, such people are legion — finally do get it…

The ghost of Tom Wolfe in New Yorker editor’s early work

I just sort of ran across this by accident the other day, and enjoyed discovering it.

I was thinking about Daniel Patrick Mohnihan, someone I admired greatly. And for whatever reason, I was thinking about stories I used to hear about his drinking. So I Googled it.

And I ran across this profile from 1986. It mentions rumors of drinking, but only in passing. That’s not why I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I thought, wow, here was a journalist who was even more impressed with Tom Wolfe than I was. The piece begins:

Has teevee land ever seen a man so tickled as Daniel Patrick Moynihan?DanielPatrickMoynihan

As he describes the plight of the American family to Phil Donahue, the senator’s knees lock and his shoe tips wag. His bushy brows hump up like two millipedes on a twig, then ascend to his thatchy forelock. When the audience applauds him, Moynihan applauds back. And as the clapping flattens into a roar, his mouth goes pursy, forming a fleshy Irish rose.

His daughter Maura — late of Harvard and the rock group the Same — has seen the look before. “Dad’s mouth gets like that when he’s happy,” she says.

After the show, Moynihan lumbers toward the elevator. He is a towering sight — 6 feet 4 inches — and surprisingly trim. He is one of those men whose waggy midlife jowls make them seem far heavier than they are.

“Saddle up, children!” he yells tinnily, and the entourage shuffles over to meet him. There is something antique, something mythological about Moynihan. The theater he has become — the herky-jerky Anglo-speech, the bow tie slightly askew, the tweedy caps and professorial rambles — they all make him seem vaguely not there, a figure not of the present but of an unreal history, an American Edmund Burke taking dominion on the Hill….

So who was this writer who so ably impersonated the Cool-Write King himself?

Well, it was David Remnick, who has been editor of The New Yorker for the past 20 years, back during his Washington Post days.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and thought I would share…

Something off-putting about those ‘patriotic’ uniforms

unis 1

I thought about posting this on Memorial Day itself, but decided to wait.

For me — a guy who’s all about some patriotism and support for the military (and if there’s a spectator sport I love, it’s baseball) — there’s something off-putting about those special uniforms MLB players donned over the holiday weekend.

It’s not just that it’s so contrived, such a cheesy, sterile form of tribute to men who died in the blood and noise and fury and filth and noise of battle. They did not wear clean, white uniforms with camouflage numbers. They did not wear caps that look as much like what a deer hunter would wear as anything you’d see on a soldier.

But there’s also something… decadent, something last-days-of-Rome about it.

Of course, I’m guilty of romanticizing baseball. I think of it in very anachronistic terms as a humble, pastoral game played by plain men who did it for the love of the sport, guys who maybe had one uniform to their names, and that uniform made of wool that caused them to roast in the summer sun. (And they liked it, as Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man would say.)

I just can’t help thinking of all the money spent on these uniforms that these players will probably wear only once. Which makes me think about how much — way too much — money there is in professional sports today, so much that vast sums can be thrown away on PR gestures that, as I said above, seem inadequate to the kind of tribute our war dead deserve.

I’m not blaming MLB here. This occurs in a context in which the fans, the entire society, seem to have lost all sense of materialistic restraint.

You, too, can have a genuine copy of the jersey your hero wore for one game for only $119.99. Or, if you’ve really lost your marbles and have more money than anyone needs, you can have the actual jersey that a player wore, for $2,125! Unless someone with priorities even further out of whack outbids you!

It just all seems kind of nuts to me. And vaguely offensive. Does this make any sense to anyone?

distasteful

The life of a gentleman is (or was) the life for me…

0ff7fd27d27343059e080fb5aa92836b--mr-darcy-colin-firth

To live any other way would be… insupportable…

Kay Packett, who has been known to comment here in the past, confessed on Facebook that “I want to live in an English novel, where, when anything goes wrong, someone immediately makes tea. I don’t even like tea.”

I responded immediately:

I’ll drink anything you like, as long as I’m a country gentleman with a competent man of business to deal with the running of the estate. I’ll be happy to serve as an MP as long I don’t have to think too hard, just vote the High Tory line. Will I have a membership at White’s, for when I’m in Town? If so, I’m in… Yeah, I’ve thought this out…

And I have thought it out; that’s the pathetic part. All that stuff was right there at my fingertips when the question arose.

And just so you don’t think I want to be a leech on society, I would also be happy to serve as a post captain in the Royal Navy during the same period (Regency era), commanding a frigate, with plenty of independent cruises and therefore opportunities for prize money…

1480530742_658279_1480530991_noticia_normal

OK, let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’

Doug and Norm were talking about Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. So I made my usual joke about “What’s a Childish Gambino?,” and then I went to look at it. (I had recorded SNL over the weekend, but hadn’t watched it yet.)

Apparently, this is the “I Am the Walrus” or “American Pie” of the moment, with everyone trying to interpret the references. So I went and watched it. And I didn’t find it to be all that mysterious, although I’m sure I missed a lot on that one run-through. I felt like I “got” what I saw, but I’d need to watch it a few more times to catch things I missed, and wonder about things I don’t get.

This was my stream-of-consciousness reaction, which I’m rethinking even as I post it here, but this was the way it played for me as I watched:

I watched it. I get it.

It’s about reparations.

And it’s also about a whole lot of other images and ideas from the black experience in America, spanning centuries. You have the references to “contraband” all the way through apparently random gun violence, and life going on around it.

The care of the guns just refers to the way we cherish them in America. We have another shooting, and elected leaders sort of close ranks in making sure nothing changes and the holy gun is protected.

He also runs through various caricatures of the Dangerous Black Male that white society has traditionally feared — the sexualized dancing, the violence, the drugs. His mugging facial expressions, some of his dance moves, the whites of his frightened eyes being the first thing you see in the darkness when he’s being chased at the end — all those things make cultural references to the black man as a ridiculous figure of entertainment for whites. So you have this jarring, sudden, back-and-forth going on between a minstrel show stereotype and the dangerous stereotype.

And the old cars remind me of the days of Hollywood’s blaxploitation fad, although they may be a little more recent than that.

The kids are in school uniforms, which seems a reference to the way people think one way of addressing social ills is to put kids in such uniforms. Yet the chaos goes on around them.

It’s interesting. I like that the music has a Caribbean feel to it (at least to my ears). After all, the black experience in America largely came first through the West Indies. South Carolina, the most pro-slavery state in the Union, was initially settled by people who had practiced a particularly brutal form of chattel slavery in Barbados.

And on and on.

Doug thinks I’m clueless. I’m not. The old guy who’s out of it is just a character I play on TV. Or on social media, anyway…

That’s first-blush, without looking to see what others thought of it.

Thinking back, I’m not sure I should have said “Caribbean.” It sounded exotic to my ears, and for whatever reason I thought “Caribbean.” Maybe it’s the way the guy’s dressed, as a combination between a slave working in cane fields (the American form of slavery got its start with sugar cane cultivation) and a Calypso dancer. Wait… I searched on that, and it seems calypso dancers aren’t as a rule shirtless. Don’t know why I thought they were.

Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack here…

Oh, and Childish Gambino? It’s Donald Glover. The guy I keep thinking is related to Danny Glover, but isn’t….

mugging

Weak parties, strong partisanship: a poisonous combination

1964_Democratic_National_Convention_2

Back when parties were parties…

Our own Karen Pearson said some very true things in this comment:

I’m all for keeping “parties ” out of it. We’re far too far along the way of voting for party instead of person. The candidates are forced to go farther and farther left or right in order to win a prime spot in their own party. This response encourages each party to go become even more “liberal” or “conservative.” Which means that in the next election the division becomes even greater, and ultimately excludes one side or the other from any possible voice in the ruling party. The ability of government to function disintegrates. Then we all stand around and decry our representatives because they can’t get anything done. This is madness.

She’s absolutely right, talking about the parties we have today. But her excellent points remind me of a phrase I’ve been hearing a good bit in recent years, most recently in a Dana Milbank column this morning in The Washington Post:

Political scientists have observed that American politics has deteriorated into an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship — dry brush for the likes of Trump and Blankenship to ignite. The 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform restricted party fundraising, and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010 essentially destroyed parties by giving everybody else freedom to spend unlimited sums to buy politicians. The moderating influence of parties was replaced by the radicalizing influence of dark money.

Related to this, partisanship in Washington escalated, aggravated by partisan redistricting that puts almost all House members in safe seats where the only threat comes from primaries. Primary voters tend to favor extreme candidates — who, once in Congress, turn politics into warfare.

Democrats suffer from the weak party/strong partisanship phenomenon too, as seen in the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign’s squabbles with the Democratic National Committee and the recent efforts by some Sanders followers to taint any candidate supported by the party. But the problem is most severe among Republicans…

Oh, excuse me. I meant this phrase: “an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship.” Milbank cites “political scientists,” plural, but the phrase seems to have started on its current rounds with Julia Azari, a political science blogger and prof at Marquette University. As she put it a few days before the 2016 election, “The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong.” And as she said, that’s a bad combination.

Y’all know I don’t think much of parties. But that’s largely because of what they’ve become. If they were more like what David Broder used to reminisce about, reliable institutions for winnowing candidates and putting forth the strongest ones — institutions that answered the question, “Who sent you?” — I wouldn’t hold them in such contempt.

We’re not just talking about the most dramatic case — the GOP’s utter helplessness to keep Donald Trump from waltzing in and taking their presidential nomination. A weak GOP is what gave us the Tea Party — which toppled party stalwarts left and right. It’s what weakened John McCain’s hand and made him think he had to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate instead of Joe Lieberman. More recently, it’s given us Roy Moore, and now this Blankenship yahoo in West Virginia. Line up enough know-nothing extremists behind you, and the party is helpless.

And Democrats, don’t think you’re immune. Some of the same forces weakening the GOP have been at work on your party for a long time. The Bernie bros whine about how the party leadership tried to cheat their guy out of the nomination. What stuff. In a time of strong parties, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have had to spend a moment’s thought on Bernie Sanders. She’d have been a shoo-in, and she wouldn’t have done any of that pandering to extremes, such as turning against TPP.

Look back at my post about James and Micah. If the Democrats had a strong party, I would just go ahead and vote for Micah in the Republican primary, knowing that James had the Democratic nomination for governor locked up — everybody who is anybody in the party is lined up solidly behind him. But as polls have shown, Phil Noble — and to a lesser extent Marguerite Willis — have a shot (a long shot, but a shot) at denying it to him. Or at least forcing him into a runoff — which given the weakness of their candidacies should be impossible.

You don’t believe those polls? Well, I’m not convinced by them, either. But folks, this is the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate, the crowd that gave you Alvin Greene. A lot of people gave then-chair Carol Fowler hell for not preventing Greene from sneaking in and taking the U.S. Senate nomination. But what could she have done?

And folks, Alvin Greene wasn’t entirely a fluke. Such absurd things happen when parties are this weak.

Milbank is wrong to blame the problem on money, by the way. Sure, that can exacerbate the problem, but the fact is that Broder and others were writing about this in 1991, long before the campaign-finance developments that Milbank bemoans.

A lot of trends have gone into destroying parties. The rise of radical individualism and decline of institutions in general have done a great deal to undermine parties’ ability to produce the best candidates — as has the growth of excessive faith in direct democracy (such as primaries usurping the decision-making prerogatives of conventions), which has been a long-term problem throughout our history.

Lately, the decline in traditional news media (this morning on the radio, I heard the number of professional journalists plying their trade in this country was now half what it was 15 years ago; I’m shocked the number isn’t far lower than that), combined with the rise of new media that make every Tom, Dick and Harry his own publisher, have accelerated the problem. Not caused it, but further pushed a wheelchair that was already going downhill pretty fast. The cost for extremist flakes to go it alone is now lower than ever.

Combine all that with partisan redistricting, which forces the people who get elected under party banners to become more and more extreme, and the result is that our electorate is filled with people who have little loyalty to and no deference toward parties as institutions, but who are filled with passionate, increasingly extreme partisan sentiment, defining themselves as the only good people, and those who vote for candidates of that other party as the enemy.

And it just keeps spinning further out of control….

What does it say about me that I didn’t know what ‘idiot’ meant?

idiot word cloud

I love discovering things about words. I love it the way… well, probably the way some of y’all like football. I get a rush out of it, and I can’t stop talking about it.

The discovery I made this morning is a big one, full of meaning, a discovery that sends tentacles of understanding into a lot of things that matter to me. It ranks up there among my most exciting word finds ever, right alongside when I learned the word “esoteric” in high school. (For years I had wanted a word for that concept, and I finally had one. I confess I overused it for some time after that.)

This morning, I learned what “idiot” means. Or rather, what it meant originally, which for me tends to be the same thing.

I can’t believe I didn’t know this before. I feel like such an… well, you know….

I learned it from TV, of all places. At the very end of the fourth and last installment of the documentary mini-series “Bobby Kennedy for President,” which I was watching while working out on the elliptical this morning. At the very end, Kennedy aide William J. Arnone says:

One thing that Robert Kennedy taught me, Robert Kennedy would say, ‘The word, “idiot” in Greek, you know what it means? “One who is not involved in politics.”‘ But he instilled in me that you must be involved in politics. Must, must, must. You cannot be on the sidelines.

I thought, wow — that’s just too good to be true. But it isn’t. That’s what it meant to the ancient Athenians. A person who wrapped himself in the personal, the private, and turned his back on politics and the community was called an “idiot.” Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Idiot is a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτηςidiōtēs (“person lacking professional skill”, “a private citizen”, “individual”), from ἴδιοςidios (“private”, “one’s own”).[1] In ancient Greece, people who were not capable of engaging in the public sphere were considered “idiotes”, in contrast to the public citizen, or “polites”[2]. In Latin the word idiota (“ordinary person, layman”) preceded the Late Latin meaning “uneducated or ignorant person”.[3] Its modern meaning and form dates back to Middle English around the year 1300, from the Old French idiote (“uneducated or ignorant person”). The related word idiocy dates to 1487 and may have been analogously modeled on the words prophet[4] and prophecy.[5][6] The word has cognates in many other languages.

An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs.[7] Idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.[7] In Athenian democracy, idiots were born and citizens were made through education (although citizenship was also largely hereditary). “Idiot” originally referred to a “layman, person lacking professional skill”. Declining to take part in public life, such as democratic government of the polis (city state), was considered dishonorable. “Idiots” were seen as having bad judgment in public and political matters. Over time, the term “idiot” shifted away from its original connotation of selfishness and came to refer to individuals with overall bad judgment–individuals who are “stupid“. According to the Bauer-Danker Lexicon, the noun ίδιωτής in ancient Greek meant “civilian” (ref Josephus Bell 2 178), “private citizen” (ref sb 3924 9 25), “private soldier as opposed to officer,” (Polybius 1.69), “relatively unskilled, not clever,” (Herodotus 2,81 and 7 199).[8] The military connotation in Bauer’s definition stems from the fact that ancient Greek armies in the time of total war mobilized all male citizens (to the age of 50) to fight, and many of these citizens tended to fight poorly and ignorantly.

Wow. My whole life, I have tried to learn and become one of the polites, and to urge others to do the same — with mixed success on both counts. Often I’ve done so overtly, such as when I set out my dichotomy about the contrast between people who see themselves as consumers and those who see themselves as citizens. Sometimes it’s less overt, but I’m always arguing that one of the first things a person must learn as a member of a community is how we are all inescapably connected. (Not that we should be, but that we are. And politics is what we do in light of that fact.) To me, becoming a fully realized, worthwhile human being is to a great extent about understanding and embracing that connection, becoming a fully mature member of a community and seeking ways to make community interactions more positively effective.

All this time, all these words, and I didn’t know until today that a person who pursued the opposite of that was, from the dawn of Western civilization, called an “idiot.” Right up until the late 19th century, when it started to mean a person of very low intelligence.

By the way, in researching this, I found this piece, which led this way:

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, respondents were asked what word immediately came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump: The No. 1 response was “idiot.” This was followed by “incompetent,” “liar,” “leader,” “unqualified,” and finally, in sixth place, “president.” Superlatives like “great” and a few unprintable descriptives came further down on the list. But let us focus on the first.

Contemporary uses of the word “idiot” usually highlight a subject’s lack of intelligence, ignorance, foolishness or buffoonery. The word’s etymological roots, however, going back to ancient Greece, suggest that, in the case of the president, it may be even more apropos than it might first seem….

And of course, the original sense of the word speaks to the objection I have to Trump. He is a man who spent the first 70 years of his life pursuing his own private interests and satisfying his own appetites. Almost everything about the ways he violates presidential, political and moral norms arises from that utter inexperience in, and disdain for, civic life. He has shown a sort of idiot savant (to use the word a different way) flair for a certain kind of politics, but it arises from a lifetime of avid self-promotion, and therefore arises from his pursuit of private rather than public benefit. (In Star Wars terms, you might say the Dark Side of politics is strong with this one.)

This is fascinating. So much more can be said about it, but I’ll stop now and share this much with you…

JFK and RFK worried, a little, about poll drop to 70 percent

This was the image on the screen as we heard Bobby say, "God... the poll..."

This was the image on the screen as we heard Bobby say, “God… the poll…”

The last couple of mornings during my workouts, I’ve been watching the Netflix documentary series, “Bobby Kennedy for President.”

I’m motivated to do so by the enervating despair that today’s politics instills. I was young then and not following politics very closely, but it’s always been my understanding that RFK’s campaign had an inspirational effect on voters, and I’d like to see a candidate that I might be able to feel good about — because it’s been awhile.

I’m through the second of four parts, and I’ll give you a full report when I’m done later in the week.

But I’d like to share one tidbit from the first episode, which I watched on Monday.

A recording of a phone conversation between President Kennedy and Bobby was played. RFK, ever his brother’s campaign manager, informed JFK that he had dropped in the Gallup poll — from 76 percent to 70 percent. Jack says he had read the papers, but had missed that (that’s how people learned things back then, children — they read newspapers).

They didn’t act like it was the end of the world, but it was still a cause for concern — mainly because they’d dropped six points in a month. Bobby started the conversation by saying, “God… the poll…”

I thought maybe I had heard it wrong. A president with an approval rating of 70 percent? A number that high seemed impossible. Especially since, a moment before, we had seen footage of a Kennedy detractor reminding us that “He got elected by just a gnat’s eyebrow.”

So I looked it up. And not only was that probably right, but 70 percent was Kennedy’s average during his time in office, according to Gallup. It was the highest average in history (that is, since Gallup starting measuring when Truman was president), easily topping Eisenhower in second place at 65 percent.

For comparison, Barack Obama’s average was 47.9 percent. The last president we had with an average over 50 percent was Bill Clinton at 55.

Wow. Imagine that. Seventy percent. And Bobby was concerned about it, at least a little…

Galup averages

Yes, this COULD be the winning formula for Democrats

Can the New Deal Coalition rise again?

Can the New Deal Coalition rise again?

David Leonhardt had a good piece in the NYT last night. He promoted it this way:

There’s a roiling debate about whether Democrats should move to the political center to win back Trump voters or focus on energizing the party’s progressive base. On some issues — like abortion, guns and immigration — Democrats really do face this difficult choice. The policies that excite progressives alienate many of the white working-class voters who swung the 2016 election to Donald Trump, and vice versa.

But there is also one huge area where no such tradeoff exists: economic policy….

In the column itself, he asserted  that economic stagnation and inequality added up to “the defining problem of our age, the one that aggravates every other problem. It has made people anxious and angry. It has served as kindling for bigotry. It is undermining America’s vaunted optimism.”

And people across the political spectrum have lost patient with timid, incremental approaches to the problem. Which helps to explain both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Leonhardt writes:

Some observers remain confused about all of this. They imagine American politics as a simple two-dimensional spectrum on which Democrats must move to the center. But every issue isn’t the same. Yes, there are cultural issues, like abortion and guns, on which the country is classically divided. On these, moving to the center, or at least respectfully acknowledging our differences, can help Democrats. Representative Conor Lamb recently showed how to do it in Pennsylvania.

Economic policy is different. Most voters don’t share the centrist preferences of Washington’s comfortable pundit class. Most voters want to raise taxes on the rich and corporations. They favor generous Medicare and Social Security, expanded Medicaid, more financial aid for college, a higher minimum wage and a bigger government role in job creation. Remember, Trump won the Republican nomination as a populist. A clear majority of Americans wants the government to respond aggressively to our economic problems….

So, the smart thing would be to drop the topics that divide us — the culture war stuff, the Identity Politics, the “pussy hats” and such — and set out a vision for a rising tide for all.

But are national Democrats willing to do that? The occasional Conor Lamb aside, it remains to be seen.

In South Carolina, it’s not such a leap. SC Democrats — those who have actually served in office and understand political realities — have long understood that they have to reach across superficial barriers and appeal to as many voters as possible. You wonder why I like James Smith for governor? One reason is that he manifests that smart, inclusive approach. He’s identified with issues that could benefit all of us, such as trying to liberate renewable energy from artificial caps.

This is underlined when you look at his opposition: Phil Noble hits Smith for not being orthodox enough, for instance for being (allegedly) insufficiently hostile to gun-rights advocates. Noble is one of those Democrats who wants to divide the electorate into sheep and goats. Marguerite Willis seems to be pinning her hopes on getting women to vote for her simply because she’s a woman — despite Smith’s strong support within that largest of demographics.

So, the question is whether Democrats — on the state as well as the national level — are willing to take Leonhardt’s sensible advice, and identify themselves with issues that unite rather than divide. Mind you, he’s not talking about moving to a hypothetical center, but embracing issues with broad support among everyone but the most libertarian folks on the right.

I think they will in South Carolina, but polls tell us that’s far from certain. And nationally? I just don’t know…

And remember, to our generation, it’s all about being cool

Some of you may think I was easy on Ralph Norman in that last post, saying he was only guilty of being uncool.

You forget that I’m a Baby Boomer, and Ralph Norman is, too. I look at him and I don’t see a member of my generation. I see a member of my parents’ generation, or maybe someone older than that. From his pictures, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn he is a Lawrence Welk fan. He looks like your parents’ friend who corners you at the party because he wants to share one word with you: “Plastics.”

Me in about '73.

Me in about ’73.

But eerily enough, he’s just a little more than three months older than I am. I looked it up.

And members of our generation asked little of life, beyond having other people see us as being cool. One of the things I love about the film “Almost Famous” — which is set in 1973, the year I turned 20 — is that it captured that facet of that moment rather well.

We didn’t seek to be rich, unless that just happened to us, in which case we wouldn’t object. We lived in a time of lowered expectations, with Watergate unfolding and America heading for the exits in Vietnam.

But we did hope, most fervently, to be cool. Or rather, as I said, to be seen as cool. Was that really too much to expect, we demanded of the heavens?

Anyway, it is against that cultural backdrop that you should consider the fact that Ralph Norman has been weighed, he has been measured, and he has been found to be decidedly uncool…

Everybody without mustaches stand in the back!

Treasury Department law office

Remember my post about how all the men on my family tree in the late 19th century had big mustaches?

Probably not, since it drew no comments. Nevertheless, here’s a sequel.

One of my great-grandfathers, William Oscar Bradley, was an attorney who left South Carolina to take up a presidential appointment with the Treasury Department. (That’s how his daughter, my grandmother, ended up meeting and marrying my paternal grandfather. The Warthens were from Montgomery County, Maryland, and were the only part of my tree not from South Carolina.)

Anyway, one of my cousins recently posted this image on Facebook, labeling it “Treasury Department Law Office.” That’s my great-grandfather William O. in the center of the photo.

There’s no date, but obviously this was smack in the middle of the “everybody’s gotta wear a mustache” period.

And if you didn’t, male or female, you had to stand in the back of the picture.

Actually, I’m sort of guessing that it was a status thing based on something other than facial hair — maybe the seated guys in the front were the lawyers, and the folks in the back were the clerks who worked for them. Or maybe the people who arrived first for the photo got the seats. But I kind of doubt that. Surely if where you were in the picture meant nothing in terms of organizational structure, the gentlemen in the front would have given up their seats to the two ladies — right? I hope so.

I love old pictures. I wish I knew more about this one….

The Amazon rainforest was shaped by people

This is just a by-the-way thing, for people who haven’t picked up on it…

The Washington Post yesterday had this story headlined, “Archaeologists discover 81 ancient settlements in the Amazon.” It said in part:

Fifty years ago, she said, “prominent scholars thought that little of cultural significance had ever happened in a tropical forest. It was supposed to be too highly vegetated, too moist. And the corollary to those views was that people never cut down the forests; they were supposed to have been sort of ‘noble savages,’ ” she said.

“But those views have been overturned,” Piperno continued. “A lot of importance happened in tropical forests, including agricultural origins.”…

Though conservationists often speak of this region as having been a “pristine” landscape, studies by de Souza and others suggest that indigenous people influenced and enriched the rain forest for hundreds of years….

Surprising? Only if you indeed think of the pre-Columbian Americans as “noble savages” who barely touched the land they lived on.

But in fact, researchers have been debunking that view for years.

If you haven’t read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, you should. That 2005 book, followed six years later by the equally fascinating 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, endeavored to bring us laymen up to date on what modern researchers were learning about this hemisphere before Europeans came to stay.

It’s been several years since I read it, but I remember two main points, new things, that I learned from it:

  • The American population before 1492 was many times as large as previously estimated. But Europeans, the people who wrote the history, never met these people. That’s because, thanks to inter-tribe trade, European diseases wiped out millions — entire villages, entire cultures — before the newcomers even encountered them. (Europeans would land on a coast, coastal Indians would be infected by their diseases and pass them on to inland tribes they traded with. Thus, European diseases raced well ahead of actual Europeans.) That’s one reason the conquistadores were able to conquer. The Incas, for instance, had been ravaged by disease to the point that their empire was on the verge of collapse before Pizarro arrived.
  • The Indians had a dramatic effect on the land before the arrival of whites. They were big users of slash-and-burn land management, including in the hallowed Amazon rain forest. In fact, much of the jungle found by white settlers was only a generation or two old, having grown up after the local land managers died off.

I may be misremembering a detail or two, since it’s been 1491-coverawhile since I read it. But I think I have the broad outline right. One of the most dramatic assertions I remember from the book was that the Little Ice Age the planet experienced from the 16th to the 19th centuries was at least in part caused by this sudden drop in human population in the Amazon basin, which allowed the rainforest to surge, taking in more carbon dioxide and lowering global temperatures.

Of course, this debunks one notion many tree-huggers are fond of — that the awful, heedless white man is destroying the planet by killing the rainforest, which the nature-loving folk who went before would never have done. (Or, if it doesn’t debunk it, at least adds layers of complication. Apparently, the Indian methods were more sustainable.) At the same time, it reinforces the idea that what humans do and don’t do affect global climate.

All of which reinforces my long-held belief that life is more complicated than most people give it credit for being.

I know I’ve recommended this book before, but the Post story reminded me of it, so I’m recommending it again. It’s fascinating to learn that things you thought you knew were so, are not…

The State House monument to Confederate women

Confederate women monument

As part of my daily walking regimen, I had probably passed by it scores of times over the last few months, but never turned my head at the right moment to notice it — which is weird, because once you notice it, it’s hugely imposing.

I’d missed it because if you’re walking up the concrete incline from Pendleton toward the State House, you can’t see it until your eyes are at the right level, and if you don’t look more than 90 degrees to your left at that precise instant, it’s behind you. (When I took the shot above, only my head was higher than the base of the statue.)

Yesterday, the freshly-planted (I think) flowers caught my eye first, and as my eye rose above them, I saw the monument.

It’s so huge and elaborate, it’s kind of startling when you first see it, so close by.

I looked it up when I got back to the office, and found this page, which told me:

The Monument to Confederate Women, called Angels of the Confederacy, was erected in 1912. The sculptor was Frederick W. Ruckstull. The inscription on the northwest side reads: “In this monument, generations unborn shall hear the voice of a grateful people testifying to the sublime devotion of the women of South Carolina in their country’s need. Their unconquerable spirit strengthened the thin lines of gray, their tender care was solace to the stricken. Reverence for God and unfaltering faith in a righteous cause inspired heroism that survived the immolation of sons, and courage that bore the agony of suspense and the shock of disaster. The tragedy of the Confederacy may be forgotten, but the fruits of the noble service of the daughters of the South are our perpetual heritage.”

The cult of the Lost Cause ran to flowery exaggeration, didn’t it? But of course, that was the style of the time. And what was being described was something that stirred strong emotions.

The really sad thing about it, though, is that the real tragedy escaped the practitioners of this faith. It escaped them, and in some cases yet escapes some among us, that all of that suffering, which was entirely real and even awe-inspiring, was in the service not of a “righteous cause” but of its opposite. The ultimate tragedy is that South Carolina and the other states started the whole thing, causing so many to suffer, to defend the institution that was the central evil of our history.

In other words, it would have been extremely helpful if that “faith” had been less “unfaltering.”

But it wasn’t, and our collective psyche as a people was further scarred by what happened as a result…

Another angle so you can see the base, and know how massive this thing is.

Another angle so you can see the base, and know how massive this thing is.

Not that I told you so, but… No, scratch that: I TOLD you so!

manacles

Remember when Catherine Templeton suggested (but didn’t actually say, mind you) that her pride in the Confederacy was OK because her ancestors didn’t own slaves?

And remember that I said, based upon my obsessive research of my own family tree, that that is virtually impossible? As I put it, “If you’re a white Southerner and you think your ancestors owned no slaves, you should probably dig a little deeper.”

You shouldn’t make that claim because the math is against you, if your ancestors were white Southerners — and especially if they lived in South Carolina. You had dozens of direct ancestors in the first half of the 19th century alone (16 great-great grandparents, 32 great-great-greats, 64 the generation before that) — loads and loads of people who didn’t know each other, and most of whom you probably don’t know about. And in those days, almost half of white South Carolinians (46 percent) owned slaves. It’s really unlikely that a diligent genealogical searcher makes it through that minefield without his self-righteous notion that his ancestors were innocent of owning other people being blown to smithereens.

And now, there’s this:

South Carolina governor candidate says she was unaware her ancestor owned dozens of slaves

The story is actually not as clear as I’d like it to be as to how Ms. Templeton is related to Hiram Clark Brawley, the owner of those 66 slaves. He’s the father of Judge William Brawley, after whom she has said her father is named (Brawley is her maiden name). But that doesn’t say he was a direct ancestor, or anything, really. (When I read stories this vague on essential details, I want to grab the editor responsible and shake him.)

But it would appear that the Templeton campaign isn’t denying he was an ancestor. The candidate’s response is to try to move on: “This campaign is about the future, not about the past.” Which I suppose means we won’t be hearing any more about how proud she is of the Confederacy.

Anyway, I don’t point this out to give Ms. Templeton a hard time for what her ancestors did. If we bear responsibility for the sins of our ancestors, I might have more mea culpas to intone than she does.

No , my point, as always on this subject, is that no white Southerner should claim his or her ancestors didn’t own slaves. It almost certainly isn’t true. (And a bigger point is that even if it were true, that’s a ridiculous reason to be proud of the Confederacy.)

And yeah, I told you so…

See, society HAS made progress, lest you despair

My wife’s cousin posted this on Facebook moments ago, and it cracked me up.

Dig these hepcats delivering the message, “It’s not how long you make it, it’s how you make it long!” And no, I’m not trying to switch the subject back to pornography. They really said that. On TV. And yeah, in a way, it kind of was pornography.

Yes, boys and girls, before 1972, there were cigarette ads on TV. And while all TV advertising tended to be pretty insipid, almost nothing else exceeded cigarette ads on that score.

Can’t you just see Don Draper thinking this one up between naps on the couch in his office?

What’s a TV commercial, you ask? You know, those irritating things that come on when you watch a sporting event on TV. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to see them. At least, that’s the only time I see them, which means I don’t see them much. (I’ve watched a little of the Winter Olympics, but I can’t bring myself to stick with it past maybe one commercial break. Then it’s back to “Britannia” or “Detectorists” or old episodes of “The West Wing” on Netflix or Prime.)

Worse, back in the day they were often a whole minute long, even though this one is closer to the modern length. Thank merciful heaven.

I look back at this, and take heart: Yes, some things about our society and culture have gotten better in my lifetime…

winston

Who are your All-Time, Top Five Presidents?

Rushmore

I started to do this yesterday and then forgot. The piece in The New York Times in which political scholars rank all the presidents — brought to my attention by both Bud and Norm — has reminded me.

In that survey, of course, Donald Trump comes in dead last. There’s no other place to put him. He has rescued Buchanan from holding that spot permanently. Even among Republicans, he’s in the bottom five. That’s the thing about being a scholar — whatever your inclinations, you know certain things.

But other than that, there’s plenty of room for debate — although everybody has the same top three that I have.

Here’s my list:

  1. Lincoln — There’s just no contest. We wouldn’t have or country today if not for Abe. He was such a perfect match for what the nation had to have at that moment that it’s the strongest suggestion in our history that God has a special place in His heart for America. Whether from divine cause or not, his appearance at that time was miraculous. His unmatched wisdom, his stunning eloquence, his almost superhuman political skills — even his sense of humor — all combined not only to keep the country together, but to address head-on the central political problem of our history. For four score and nine years (I’m counting to the 13th Amendment), the best minds in the country had been unable to deal with slavery. Lincoln got it done, decisively.
  2. Roosevelt — For some of the same reasons Lincoln is No. 1 — he came along at just the right time, with just the right skills. His brilliance, his courage, his confidence, his ebullience, his ability as a patrician to connect with and inspire the poor and downcast, got us through not only the Depression but the worst, most destructive war in human history. A few months ago, I visited Warm Springs, and to think the way the man kept the nation’s spirits up while every day was such a physical struggle for him fills me with awe.
  3. Washington — His time as president isn’t necessarily what impresses us most — his own particular talents may have been more clearly on display as a general. In the political sphere, Madison and Hamilton were proving moving and shaking things more. But given what we have today, the dignity he brought to the office, the bearing, is truly something to be appreciated. And he quit rather than run again after his second term, he relinquished power rather than become the monarch he might have been. We owe a lot to the American Cincinnatus.
  4. Johnson — Here’s where I break with the experts. Even the Democrats among the scholars place him no higher than 8th. But considering how little the federal government has done since then, I remain amazed at the things he pushed through in 1964-65, the sweeping civil rights legislation, the significant steps in the direction of single-payer health care (alas, the last big steps we took.) Yep, everybody blames him for how he handled Vietnam — but he didn’t set out to do that; he just badly mishandled what he had inherited. He wanted to concentrate on his domestic programs. And we’d probably all be better off today if he had manage to do that.
  5. Truman — OK, this was kind of a tossup among several people. I wanted to name my favorite Founder, John Adams — but he wasn’t all that distinguished as president, and there was the matter of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Teddy Roosevelt looms large, and he did a lot — in his own ways, he was as energetic a leader as his kinsman Franklin and LBJ. But I don’t want to get into a big argument defending the imperialism (and here we’re talking real imperialism, instead of the imaginary kind people have fantasized about in modern times). So let’s go with the unassuming guy whom everyone underestimated, but who got us through the end of the war that FDR had almost won, then won the peace, shaping America’s leadership role in building the postwar world order. And don’t forget the way he integrated the military, one of the first big steps toward desegregation. We could really use a man like him again.

So… whom would y’all pick?

A guy who knew where the buck stopped.

A guy who knew where the buck stopped.

If you’re a white Southerner and you think your ancestors owned no slaves, you should probably dig a little deeper

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a correction that proves the point of this post. While I knew I had quite a few ancestors who owned slaves, just for contrast I mentioned one great-great grandfather (Henry Waller) who did NOT. I was wrong. A first cousin has written to let me know Henry owned at least one slave, whom he mentioned in letters home. I hope to get copies of those letters soon. So even I am guilty of falsely believing that one ancestor owned no slaves…

Last week, Catherine Templeton used the standard cliche rationalization for why she’s proud of her Confederate heritage:

“It’s important to note that my family didn’t fight because we had slaves,” Templeton said to a room mostly filled with university students. “My family fought because the federal government was trying to tell us how to live.”

We won’t get into the fact that the one thing white Southerners — the ones in charge — were afraid the federal government would make them do was stop owning slaves. And I’ll point out only in passing that if your ancestors owned no slaves and took up arms for the Confederacy, then they were victims of a major con job. Some of my own ancestors were duped in the same manner.

But not all of them. I’ve long known that some of my ancestors were slaveowners. But it wasn’t until I started seriously building out my family tree that I realized how many of them fit that description.

As much as I love talking genealogy — as y’all know, to your sorrow — I hesitated to post this. But my tree is the only one I know this well, and I think what I have found argues against the claims that all too many white Southerners make. And I think people should know that. So here goes…

Patrick Henry Bradley

Patrick Henry Bradley

At first, I had thought that slaveholding was limited to my paternal grandmother’s people, the Bradleys (for whom I’m named). Patrick Henry Bradley, her grandfather, was one of the leading citizens in his part of Abbeville County. When the War came, he raised his own company and led it in the field, but soon returned home to serve out the rest of the war in the Legislature. His eldest son stayed at the front, and was killed at Trevillian Station in 1864.

I would have assumed that the Bradleys were slaveholders just because of Patrick Henry’s service in the Legislature, which was largely made up of the slaveholding class. But I don’t have to assume; I have documentary and anecdotal evidence to that effect. I don’t know whether he had a lot of slaves, but he had some.

James Chesnut Jr.

James Chesnut Jr.

I had accepted this as fact long ago, but I had assumed that my ancestors in other branches of the family were generally innocent of having owned other humans. Not based on anything, really, beyond the fact that none of them were quite as upscale as the Bradleys. Of course, when I say “Bradleys,” I’m lumping in a lot of folks who bore different surnames — pretty much that whole quarter of my tree. For instance, James Chesnut — husband of famous diarist Mary Boykin and one of the leading men in Confederate South Carolina — is a 3rd cousin four times removed. (That means my 6th-great grandfather, Alexander Samuel Chesnut, was his great-great grandfather.) He was in that Bradley fourth.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following paragraph is dead wrong. Henry Waller DID own at least one slave, I am reliably informed. I hope to have evidence of that soon…)

But I had liked to think that another great-great grandfather, William Henry Waller, was more typical of the rest of my tree — just an ordinary soldier who got caught up in forces bigger than he was. I’ve never seen or heard anything to indicate Henry owned slaves, or money or much else. But admittedly, I don’t know a lot about him. He went AWOL to visit the family farm in Marion County when his unit was marching north toward Virginia. My great-grandmother — who died when I was 4 years old (yep, that’s how recent that war was: someone who lived then overlapped with my life) — was born nine months later. She, my mother’s father’s mother, never knew her father, because Henry died of disease at the siege of Petersburg. Consequently, I know practically nothing about him. I don’t even know who his parents were, or whether he had siblings. That line is the shortest on my tree, because of that break.

The old lady is the daughter of Henry Waller. The big-headed kid on her lap is me.

The old lady is my great-grandmother, the daughter of Henry Waller, who died at Petersburg. The big-headed kid on her lap, grooving on the apples, is me. This was 1957.

I picture Henry as being one of those guys like Virgil Caine in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” A sympathetic character caught up in events and trying to get by the best he could. And I tended to lump others from the non-Bradley portions of the family into that category.

But I was wrong, as I learned from early census records after I finally paid to join Ancestry and gained access to that site’s documentary “hints” about my forebears. Later census records name everyone in a household (although their names are often spelled wrong). But in the early decades of the 19th century, the records would just name the “head of household,” and then give a demographic breakdown of the rest of the household — X number of “Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25,” and Y number of “Free White Persons – Under 16.”

But the really revelatory data comes under such headings as “Slaves – Males – 26 thru 44.” I assume the records were kept that way so each slave could be counted as three-fifths of a person for the sake of electoral apportionment.

Perusing these records can be a real eye-opener. While Henry Waller may not have owned slaves, others on my mother’s side did. Take, for instance, my 4th-great grandfather Henry C. Foxworth, also of Marion County: There were six slaves in his household in 1820. This sort of thing will pop up again and again in a white Southern family. However humble and righteous you may think your ancestors were, a family tree is likely far more diverse — here I mean economically diverse in particular — than you give it credit for being. And the people who bore your surname are only a tiny fraction of the people from whom you are descended who lived during the centuries of slavery. Until I really got into building my tree, I had no idea I was descended from anyone named “Foxworth.”

Wesley Samuel Foxworth marker(By the way, like Patrick Henry Bradley, Henry Foxworth also lost a son in the war. My great-great-great grandfather Wesley Samuel Foxworth was also killed during that Petersburg campaign. Fortunately for me, his daughter from whom I am descended had been born 12 years earlier.)

I am three-fourths South Carolinian, but hey, at least I won’t find any of that slavery stuff among the Warthens up in Maryland, right? So I thought — somewhat irrationally, since Maryland (although it stayed in the Union) was a slave state.

My great-grandmother Rebecca Jane Rabbitt — who married my great-grandfather Warthen — died in 1898, two days after the birth of her sixth child. She was 35. But I’ve been a lot luckier tracing her tree than poor Henry Waller’s, taking it back to the Middle Ages. (Through her, I’m a Tudor, making Henry VIII a cousin.)

But one of the more interesting things I’ve found on that line is much more recent — it involves her grandfather, John Thomas Rabbitt Jr., 1779-1863. It’s an indenture contract. One William Frumfree, described as “a colored man,” owed $40 to the state of Maryland, and was in jail in 1829 because he couldn’t pay it. My ancestor paid it for him, in exchange for which… well, here’s a quote from the document Mr. Frumfree signed:

… I do hereby bind myself to the service of said Rabbitt in any manner in which he may chose to use me for and during the term of one year from the date hereof to be considered and treated as the slave of said Rabbitt during my term of service as contracted by this paper…

Oh, and just in case you thought that would be lighter service than being a permanent slave, there’s this language:

… the said Rabbitt is to be subject to no liability for his treatment or chastisement of me which he would not own in the case of one of his own slaves for life…

But hey, don’t think the only thing Mr. Frumfree got was out of the jail. He was also paid “the sum of one cent.” No, really. It’s all in the document signed on May 13, 1829.

About all I can say for John Thomas is that as of the 1820 and the 1840 censuses, he didn’t own any slaves. So, there’s that.

Why do I tell you all of this? To shame myself, or to perversely brag about what wheeler-dealers my ancestors were? No. Of course I’m uncomfortable with this topic and these details, but my point is that I highly doubt that my tree is unusual. Note that these slaveowners I’ve mentioned had nothing to do with each other. They never met. They were from very different families living in different places under different circumstances. In other words, these incidences of slaveholding were independent of each other.

And it crops up often enough that I can’t believe I’m anywhere near alone in this. Almost half of white South Carolina families (46 percent) owned slaves. What do you think the chances are that none of the many families that led do you owned human property?

If other white Southerners really knew who their ancestors were, you’d seldom hear a proud neoConfederate say, ever-so-self-righteously, that his (or her) ancestors didn’t own slaves. The odds are against it being a fact.

It is a wise child that knows his own father, and a wiser one who knows even more of his forebears, and faces up to reality.

Bryan’s not a Catholic, but he grasps the concept

Bud, this second one is not my fault. Bryan posted it today and asked me to give a “ruling” on it. Take comfort from the fact that it is only tangentially about abortion.

Dang. I chose the coding for including the parent Tweet, but as so often happens, it didn’t show up. Here’s what Bryan was reacting to:

Here’s what I said back, warning him that my “ruling” could not be considered to have been given ex cathedra:

See, this is why we had the Reformation. Some people (a whole lot of people) didn’t want to adhere to what the church was teaching, so they became Lutherans and Calvinists and such. It’s why Bryan, for instance, is a Presbyterian. They didn’t go around calling themselves “Catholics Against Papal Authority” or whatever. They became something else.

And back in the day, that was a major commitment. You took your life into your hands making such decisions. For instance, my ancestor Thomas Wyatt the Younger, a Protestant, was beheaded for opposing the Catholic Bloody Mary. (He made a big PR mistake: The plot against her was known as “Wyatt’s rebellion.”) Similarly, many people who stayed Catholic lost their lives under Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth.

Hans Holbein painted Thomas Wyatt's head, years before he lost it.

Hans Holbein painted Thomas Wyatt’s head, years before he lost it.

Today, we can take these stands freely, without putting our lives on the line. So when you stop believing in the teachings of the Catholic church — or the Anglican or the Presbyterian or what have you — you can just glide into calling yourself something else. A lot of the American story is about people doing just that. Families that had been Catholic and then become Anglican in the old country went on to become Congregationalists, then Unitarians, then Transcendentalists, then in some cases back to be Catholic.

It’s sort of our American birthright. You don’t believe in what Church A believes in anymore? You can join Church B, and no one will chop your head off for it….

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.