In life, forgiveness is crucial. But in baseball and in politics, eternal grudges are perfectly acceptable. Take Steve Schmidt. Please.
We all remember the brilliant political strategist's most infamous achievement: making scatterbrained Sarah Palin a nominee for vice president. In more recent times, people have looked at Schmidt more fondly, because he has renounced his Republican affiliation and has become one of the most acerbic critics of the current "president."
Now Schmidt has decided to go all harebrained again, by becoming the political guru behind the caffeine-fueled nascent presidential candidacy of Howard Schultz, the Starbucks guy. On one level, this could be a brilliant move by Schmidt: If Schultz actually gets on the ballot in all 50 states and somehow manages to split the anti-President Spanky vote and get him re-elected in 2020, that will make a lot of people forget about the Palin episode. Not me. I can hold a grudge against him forever, for both outrages. Meanwhile, let's hope that cable news executives end his gig as an expert "contributor" as long as this insane campaign continues.
Why is the Schultz idea so nutty, even apart from the likelihood that it could give us four more years of the most incompetent president in American history? Here's why: If we have learned nothing else from the past two years, we have learned the utter idiocy of the perpetual Republican mantra that we should run government like a business. To the extent that you can describe our organizationally challenged "president" as running anything, he is running the United States government just as he ran his private business: badly. He is rich for three reasons: 1) His father gave him hundreds of millions to start with. 2) His main business practice is to refuse to pay people who have worked for him, until they sue him. 3) He apparently was not issued a conscience.
It's time for a president who has actually had some experience in governing—not another billionaire with zero knowledge of how to govern a city, a state, or even a legislative office. The whole Schultz-Schmidt idea is as solid and substantive as latte foam. Don't swallow it.
Young men and women go off to die in wars started by old men and, sadly, women too. That's the way of the world.
My wishful solution has always been this: Revive the draft, make it truly universal, with no loopholes, no way to dodge it—not even for members of Congress. Oh, and make the draft age 55.
Why am I bringing this up out of nowhere, you might ask. My answer: a Colman McCarthy column in the National Catholic Reporter. Reflecting on the new class of women in the 116th Congress, he expressed the hope that they'll remember the first woman ever elected to Congress, Jeanette Rankin. She so distrusted war that she voted against not only World War I, but World War II. In the resulting avalanche of hostility, she lost her seat twice.
In his column, McCarthy lists several of his favorite Rankin quotes. At the top of the list: "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." And just below it, this one: "If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race." That got me thinking again about making the draft age 55.
This would solve a couple of problems.
One is the Chicken Hawk problem: people who love war, who gladly push our nation into it, but don't want any part of fighting in it themselves. Two prime examples are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Despite my utter contempt for the current "president," he doesn't really belong in this category. Yes, he found a way not to be in the military. Hence, one of his many nicknames: Cadet Bone Spurs. Yes, he actually said that avoiding sexually transmitted disease was his own personal Vietnam. But at least he wasn't an advocate for the Vietnam War. He was too busy amassing money and failing to pay workers what he owed them.
The other problem is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps us make wise choices. Generally, it doesn't fully develop until 25. That means that far too many young men and women join the military long before their brains are fully capable of making life-altering decisions, like subjecting themselves to repeated deployments to the Forever War. Some may join because of patriotism. Some are seduced by two endlessly repeated phrases in our culture, "decorated veteran" and "war hero," that make war seem the path to glory, when it's really the road to gory.
Set the draft age at 55, make it impossible to dodge, and the number of stupid wars would decline sharply. This sounds Pollyannaish, of course, but not nearly as insanely optimistic as the mistaken view that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can actually be won. We've been hearing that lie repeatedly since 2001.
So, thanks to Colman McCarthy and Jeanette Rankin for stating and restating this simple truth.
Everyone else seems to be writing about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Why not me?
So many sober and boring paragraphs are emanating from the commentariat, from older and (they think) wiser Democrats, about how she should slow down, shut up, and passively join the seniority system's endless wait-your-turn queue. They say she should stop tweeting and get down to serious business. But I hope she keeps rattling cages, especially Republican ones.
Her arrival reminds me of a scene from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Maybe you remember it: Lou Grant, the grumpy editor at a Minneapolis TV station, meets Mary Richards, his bright and irrepressible new assistant, and he says: “You’ve got spunk.” She smiles and begins to say something to acknowledge this unexpected praise. But before she can really respond, he adds, grumpily: “I HATE spunk!” Here's that moment.
AOC is light-years more outgoing and unafraid than the timid Mary of the early episodes. But Lou Grant's I-hate-spunk reaction to Mary, nearly a half-century ago, is a pretty accurate precursor of AOC-phobia, which causes experienced legislators to react in horror to a young woman already more famous than any of them. She makes them crazy because she is smart, fierce, and unafraid, because she likes to dance, and because she has, you know, spunk.
The old, stuffy, grumpy, pinstriped Republicans also hate spunk. Like Mary Richards, AOC has lots of it. Like Mary, she will ultimately prevail. It was, after all, the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Lou Grant had to settle for a spinoff series of his own, which wasn't nearly as good.
The AOC haters boo when she does nothing more subversive than cast a vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker.
They have no idea what to do about her, except to roll out the old, tired expletives that they always use: radical and socialist.
They rant when she proposes a sensible, already-tried-in-the-Eisenhower-years policy, a top tax rate of more than 70 percent on the wealthiest Americans. In the New York Times, Paul Krugman showed the error of their ways and the correctness of hers.
They recoil from her lightning-fast tweets—far more witty and literate than the ones emanating from the stubby fingers of the current "president."
Among all the words written about her, an interview in The New Yorker with historian Rick Perlstein sums her up best. Here's a small sample:
"When I watch Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez operate with such aplomb and skill and obvious erudition, she reminds me of when people like you and me stood around at a cocktail party or a dinner party and inevitably the conversation turned to, Why are the Democrats where they are? Why don’t they take the fights to the enemy? Why don’t they pivot off troll-y comments from the Republicans, instead of playing the game on their terms? Why aren’t they offering clear, bold, long-term, super-jumbo policy solutions that people can remember instead of triangulating everything the Republicans suggest?"
For Perlstein, AOC is just what the doctor ordered to shake Democrats loose from their post-Reagan trauma. That makes sense to me. Sure, she'll make some rookie mistakes, but she'll admit them, and she'll learn from them. For Perlstein, and for me, she's a source of hope.
For more than four decades, covering politics for Newsday, I felt I had to remain a registered "blank." The vast majority of the time, I voted for Democrats, but I could always find a Republican local official worth voting for. Now, in retirement, I could register as a Democrat, but I haven't really felt it. The Democrats too often act afraid. "Oh, please don't call me soft on crime. Oh, please don't call me soft on national defense." And those fears allow Republicans to set the agenda.
Now, if AOC and other young Democrats manage to drag the party, kicking and screaming, into a more boldly progressive approach to governance, I might even join.
First in my class in Officer Candidate School. Late to the conclusion that our attitude toward the military is idolatrous.