Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Politix Update: Bush v. Gore & The Tarnished Legacy Of Sandra Day O'Connor

Should Yogi Berra's long baseball career be judged by his error in a crucial 1951 game that deprived the New York Yankees' Allie Reynolds of a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox?  Or Dustin Hoffman's long film career judged by the 1987 cinematic bomb known as Ishtar?  Of course not.  But what about judging the long judicial career of Sandra Day O'Connor based on her casting the deciding Supreme Court vote throwing the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush?  Absolutely. 
This question rears its ugly head yet again as the high court -- without question the most political in history and perhaps nowhere more so as with the infamous Bush v. Gore decision -- begins a new term this week.  That decision was not the court's first to be tainted by the opprobrium of politics, which have influenced too many of its decisions over the last 226 years.  But that decision was so wrongheaded, so devious, so devoid of logic and genuine constitutional underpinnings, and its consequences so far reaching, that it obscures if not altogether erases O'Connor's good works, most notably holding the dike against the campaigns to reverse Roe v. Wade and leave women's reproductive fate to the states. 
The process of undoing the moderate aspects of O'Connor's legacy, which beyond abortion extended to affirmative action and race-based legislative redistricting, has been ongoing since she retired in 2006.  So has the deepening politicization of the court, and abortion may loom large in the new term, specifically a draconian Texas law which has led to the closure of about half of the state's abortion facilities.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who superseded O'Connor as the court's swing vote, has not struck down a restriction on abortion since 1992, and all bets are off despite his key votes upholding the constitutionality of the Affirmative Care Act and same-sex marriage in the court's two liberal lurches earlier this year.  Other important cases to be heard this term include whether California and other states can compel government employees to pay union dues, revisiting the constitutionality of the University of Texas's affirmative action program, yet another Texas case concerning whether state legislative districts can be apportioned using a count of eligible voters rather than a count of all residents, and whether religious institutions can opt out of providing contraception under Obamacare.
So unless you are a fan of conservative judicial activism as practiced by O'Connor's successor, Justice Samuel Alito, and his reactionary partners in black bathrobes, it's time to stock up on Pepcid, because the new term could be stomach churning.   
"Sandra Day O'Connor is no Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg gave us the legal architecture of women's place in America. O'Connor, the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, gave us George W. Bush," is how the New York Law Review put it recently.  Vicious?  Absolutely.  Accurate?  Sadly, yes.
On December 12, 2000, the high court acted on an appeal by Bush of a unanimous Florida Supreme Court ruling that ballots cast but not counted by voting machine in the November 7 presidential election must be manually recounted.  (I wrote a succession of six versions of the main Philadelphia Daily News election story as the Florida polls closed and the lead seesawed back and forth through the night and into the morning, and the paper took the extraordinary step of printing two Extra editions, the final one declaring Bush the winner by a hair.  Lost in the uproar was the victory of Hillary Rodham Clinton over Rick Lazio for the New York Senate seat of the retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan.)
In a bombshell decision, a narrow Supreme Court majority decided in an historic 5-4 per curiam decision that the Florida court's ruling was unconstitutional because it granted more protection to some ballots than others.  It is statistically possible -- if not likely -- that counties that went heavily for Gore would have yielded extra votes for him had a recount been allowed, but O'Connor and the other four majority justices would hear none of that despite the fact they had previously given great deference to state court decisions in close elections. (It should be noted that all of the majority justices were Republican appointees, while the Florida judges were all Democrats.)
There has been conjecture that since it takes only four votes to hear a case, O'Connor demurred but then joined in a profoundly imperious decision because she was a Bush family sycophant.
The Bush v. Gore decision followed an epic cavalcade of sideshows and chicanery, and of course opposing armies of lawyers.  There were the infamous "hanging" chads and extralegal antics by Katherine Harris, Florida's Republican secretary of state and one-woman horror show, who foot dragged through one crucial deadline after another in refusing to certify manual vote recounts. December 12 was the biggest deadline of all -- the day on which Florida was required to select electors to formally submit its choice for president to Congress. Thus, with no time left to recount votes, Bush became the de facto winner, or President Select, as a wag noted at the time, edging out Gore nationally in electoral but not popular votes. 
Incidentally, per curiam means that no specific judge is identified as writing an opinion, or in this instance, no member of the cowardly majority dared write an opinion with their name on it.  But Justice John Paul Stevens did not hesitate to speak out, proclaiming in a powerful dissent that "one thing . . . is certain.  Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
Having revisited Bush v. Gore in headache-inducing detail in researching this column, I concede that under alternative scenarios, the best the Supreme Court could have done was pick a different side to feel that it had been robbed.  That obscures but does not change a very big reality: A vote recount unfettered by deadlines possibly -- if not likely -- would have resulted in a Gore presidency. 
Although it is a bit like playing a version of the What If Hitler Invaded England? game, a Gore presidency would have had its own burdens and problems, probably including the 9/11 attacks and a war in Afghanistan, although not a war in Iraq and the enormous consequences it wrought at home and globally.  Oh, and John Roberts would not have replaced Chief Justice William Rehnquist nor Alito have replaced O'Connor.  Nor would we have had the Harriet Miers debacle because Gore, despite his own moments of hubris, would not have nominated a staggering lightweight whose only claim to fame was that she kept Bush supplied with red, white and blue M&M candies.
In the years since Bush v. Gore, O'Connor has sounded less like a conservative with moderate tendencies than a moderate with liberal tendencies.
"Gosh, I step away for a couple of years and there's no telling what's going to happen," she said in one public appearance.  What has soured her is the hard-right course her beloved Supreme Court has taken.  She also has been privately critical of the Bush presidency, notably the pandering surrounding the case of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo and the attempts to overrule her husband's wishes at a time when O'Connor's own husband was succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. 
O'Connor has continued to defend her pivotal role in handing the presidency to Bush at events ranging from law-school convocations to private gatherings, while noting that Bush v. Gore gave the court "a less than perfect reputation.  And she has been outspoken in her opposition to the Citizens United ruling because of its corrosive effect on politics, specifically how unlimited campaign contributions further corrupt the process of electing judges. 
It is not difficult to imagine that O'Connor, as someone who packed so much gravitas and integrity (okay, Bush v. Gore excepted) into her legal career, and in the end who I cannot help but admiring, has been tormented by the consequences of her deciding vote and retiring prematurely, let alone squandering what legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin calls "the most precious gift" any justice can proffer to their successor.  That is bequeathing their seat to a worthy successor, which David Souter and John Paul Stevens did in forestalling their retirements until the election of Barack Obama.  The result was Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, two fine justices, becoming the second and third women to join the court. 
Then in 2013, O'Connor ripped open the long festering Bush v. Gore wound, noting in an interview with the Chicago Tribune editorial board that the court "took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue.  It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day." 
Incredibly, O'Connor then added:
"Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.' " 
Maybe, just maybe.  But it is way too late for what-ifs.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

From Soup To Nuts: An Index To 'Politix Update' Posts


(October 5) When It Comes To Race, It's All About Power & Condescension.  LINK.

 (October 1) Why A Delusional GOP House Thinks It's Reached Political Nirvana.  LINK.

(September 29) Before You Know It, Fiorina's Pants Will Be Burning.  Guaranteed.  LINK.

(September 25) Let's Try To Appreciate Bernie Sanders While He Lasts.  LINK.

(September 23) The Death Of Cowboy Conservatism & Other Campaign Morsels LINK.

(September 21) They're Nutty, Delusional,  Scary & All Destined To Be Losers. LINK.

(September 18) How Donald Trump Preys On People Struggling To Get Ahead.  LINK.

(September 16) Ben Carson Dishes Out The Nutty From Behind His Invisible Shield.  LINK.

(September 13) Why Hillary Clinton's Fall From Grace Presages Her Comeback.  LINK. 

(September 10) A Tale Of Mythos, Pathos & Dysfunctional Hero Worship.  LINK.

(September 8) When Things Fell Seriously Apart & The Center Didn't Hold.  LINK.

(September 2) Why Republicans Have Become Incapable Of Governing.  LINK.

(August  30) The virulent Cancer That's Eating Away At The Body Politic.  LINK.

(Aug 27) Everybody Knows That Emperor Christie Has No Clothes. LINK.

(August 23) Scott Walker Is Against Big Government.  Unless He's For It.  LINK.
(August 21) Donald The Trump Puts Last Nail In Republican Coffin.  LINK

(August 19) I Adore You, Joe Biden, But Please Don't Run For President.  LINK.

(August 16) For Jeb!, Money Can't Buy Him Love -- Or The Presidency. LINK.
(August 12) Secret Of The Political-Media Industrial Complex Revealed.  LINK
(August 10) Foes Try To Get A Grip On Donald Trump's Greased Pole.  LINK.

(August 6) Empty Rhetoric About An American Middle Class In Crisis. LINK.

(August 2) Cruz Has GOP Hooker's Clients, What Abut Other Voters?  LINK.

(July 31) Does The New York Times Have It In For Hillary Clinton?  LINK.

(July 29) The Republican War On Woman Grinds On & On. Why?  LINK.

(July 27) Repubs Better Watch You For That Guy In A Funny Hat.  LINK.

(July 22) The Republicans Flail, Trump Sails & Jeb! Gets Caught Out.  LINK.

(July 19) What Happens When You Use Bigotry & Hate As Weapons.  LINK.

(July 16) The Bernie Sanders Effect & Return Of Opus The Penguin.  LINK.

(July 14) Please Don't Throw Us In The Briar Patch. Mr. TrumpLINK.

(July 10) Why Bernie Sanders, Like Gene McCarthy in 1968, Will Fail.  LINK.

(July 8) Why The Republican Clown Car Isn't At All Funny.  LINK.

(July 6) Why Hillary Clinton's Emails Are Much Ado About Little. LINK.

(July 1)  The Republican Party's Very Bad Case Of Future Shock.  LINK

(June 29) Fuggedabout The Here and Now, It's All About The Legacy. LINK.

(June 25)  They're Making News Without Even (Officially) Running. LINK.

(June 21) Bow Down To The Republican Doctrine Of Perpetual War. LINK.

(June 17) Why The GOP Is Screwed No Matter How The Supremes Rule.  LINK.

(June 11) The Nightmarish Scenario Of A Case of Clinton Fatigue. LINK.
(June 8) Hillary Asks, 'What Part of Democracy Are They Afraid Of?' LINK.
(June 5) We've Come A Long Way Since 9/11, Or Have We? LINK.
(June 2) Objects In Your Mirror Are Not As Close As They Appear. LINK.
(May 18) Jeb Bush Pisses On A Third Rail Of American Politics. LINK.
(May 6) GOP Field Insures That Hillary Will Keep The Inside Track. LINK.
(March 31) GOP Has Uphill Fight Not Just Because Of Idiots Like Cruz. LINK.


Monday, October 05, 2015

Politix Update: When It Comes To Race, It's All About Power & Condescension

There may be no better example of the pitfalls of race for a presidential candidate than Bernie Sanders, and we haven't even gotten to those "free stuff" Republicans yet. 
Sander is an empathetic white liberal who has dedicated his political career to social justice and trying to make things better for everyone.  Yet he is tanking with blacks.  There are several explanations for this.  Not least is the symbiotic relationship between blacks and Bill Clinton, a time-tested bond that has accrued to his wife, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and pretty much deservedly so.  But there also is the view that Sanders' rural Vermont background makes him ill equipped to understand urban blacks, let alone accept that problems like institutionalized racism and poverty can't necessarily be addressed with one-size-fits-all solutions. 
Is it possible that some blacks believe that Sander is being condescending to them?  Perhaps.  But when it comes to even so-called moderate Republicans like Jeb Bush, you can cut their condescension with a knife.  This is what Michael Gerson, George W. Bush's former speechwriter, called "the soft bigotry of low expectations," a subtle yet powerful turn of phrase that is more apt today than when Dubya read it off a Teleprompter in 2004.
Jeb Bush, asked at a campaign event how he planned to get blacks to vote for him, responded,  "Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn't one of division and get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success."
Even assuming that Bush, like Sanders, means well, reading those words is painful for this white liberal, and for a black person looking beyond Hillary Clinton for someone to earn their vote next year, it must be deeply insulting.  But the stereotypes of black people wanting "free stuff" and Ronald Reagan's "welfare queens" die hard.  Although blacks still rely disproportionately on some assistance programs, the vast majority are wage earners and those who are not have difficulty finding work that pays a living wage.  Oh, and most federal food stamp recipients are white, some of whom must surely be Republicans.  
Not surprisingly, "free stuff" also did not work for Mitt Romney in 2012, a meme that he first uttered after being booed at an NAACP convention and, tone deaf to social realities as he as, repeated often thereafter.
This is a reason why presidential wannabe Dr. Ben Carson is so dangerous.  He believes that blacks who support Democrats are stupid and emotionally incapable of thinking for themselves, and shares the delusional view with his fellow candidates that racism can only be changed through individual acts, not government involvement.  This is one of the things that makes him "safe" to conservative white Republicans who cling to a Gone With the Wind view of blacks and believe Barack Obama is uppity and far too outspoken about racial issues. 
And isn't Carson a stitch as he propounds racial stereotypes while playing to lily white audiences?  He recently joked that he used to run from the police when he was younger, "back in the day before they would shoot you."
Ha, ha, ha.
I came of age in the 1960s, the son of civil rights activist parents who participated in the big protest marches of the era.  My father, who endured a repressive Roman Catholic childhood, exclaimed after the 1963 March on Washington, "I've never experienced anything like that. It was like being in church." 
He was the campaign manager for the first black school board candidate in our district. (The guy won.)  And our neighborhood playmates were pretty much nonexistent because their parents forbade them to associate with us because we invited blacks to swim in our backyard pool.  Yet even with this background, I would never presume to know what it is like to be a black or other minority and the weight of the baggage of racism they still are forced to carry, let alone tell them what was good for them.
This brings us to the phenomenon of Bill Clinton being considered, in some quarters, the "first black president."
As black novelist Toni Morrison explained in coining that term in 1998:
"After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke?
"The message was clear: 'No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and -- who knows? -- maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.'"
But was Bubba soulful?  Oh, never mind.
I believed at the time that Morrison was a little too concerned with power and not enough about the indelibility of race, but in hindsight she was more correct than I gave her credit for.  This is because politics is nothing if not about power, and in the cases of Bush and Romney, rich Republicans who have known nothing but privilege, it means lecturing blacks instead of offering solutions to poverty, poor schools, a skewed criminal justice system, mass incarceration, not enough jobs and decrying voter suppression efforts. 
Do I even have to mention that Republicans have no problem giving "free stuff" to corporations in the form of tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks, loopholes and a look-the-other-way attitude toward regulation, while exporting jobs abroad and parking their profits off shore are no problem.  No, I didn't think so.
Hillary Clinton, of course, took a New York Minute to jump on Jeb Bush for his "free stuff" remark and his not-so-subtle implication that is how she and other Democratic candidates appeal to blacks. 
"I think people are seeing this for what it is: Republicans lecturing people of color instead of offering real solutions to help people get ahead, including facing up to hard truths about race and justice in America," Clinton said. "Republicans have no problem promising tax breaks and sweetheart deals to their corporate friends, but when Democrats fight to make sure all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care, early childhood education and job training, that’s giving away 'free stuff'?! Talk about backwards."
"Stuff" seems to be Bush's go-to word in the absence of being able to be more articulate when the subject is complicated and he'd rather avoid it.  "Look, stuff happens," he declared after the Oregon community college shooting massacre. 
Clinton has campaigned tirelessly, if sometimes stiffly, about race.  So have Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Whatshisname. And it is sadly ironic that the people who would benefit most from Sanders' policy proposals support him the least. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat with the most outspoken views on race -- which is to say the views most in sync with the Black Lives Matter movement  -- is not a candidate.
In Clinton's first major policy speech after announcing her candidacy in April, she issued a plea for Americans to come to terms with "hard truths" about race and justice.  The speech followed by a week the death of  25-year-old Freddie Gray after sustaining severe injuries while in Baltimore police custody, yet another instance of police snuffing out the life of a young man simply because he was black.
Dick Gregory says a lot when he defines racism as the ability to control somebody else's fate and destiny, and while I would stop well short of calling Bush and Romney racists, any honest musing on the subject inevitably comes around to power.  As in I have it and you don't.  This sometimes can be subtle: While most Americans want equality under the law, that does not necessarily mean they want integration.
(Voting in my first election, I wrote in the name of the legendary black comedian and political activist for president in 1968 rather than vote for Hubert Humphrey, let alone Richard Nixon.  My mother never forgave me.)
"I can hate white folks all I want," Gregory says. "I [still] won't have the power to take their job or see to it their kids go to a bad school. . . . When a black person teaches their child: 'Be careful if this white racist cop pulls you over, don't talk too fast, don't move too fast, cause he might kill you.' Any time you tell a child to respect and fear, to behave, for a murderer -- children don't hear what you mean, they hear what you say. So they think there's something wrong with them. Why else would my mother and father tell me to be afraid of a cop, unless I’m doing something wrong?"
The so-called post-racial era that some people naïvely heralded with the election of Barack Obama was a fiction.  Will a Clinton presidency change that?  Don't be silly.  Will Southern states remove the Confederate battle flag from their statehouses and license plates?  Nope.  Will Toni Morrison, Dick Gregory and I live to see the fall of bigotry and white supremacy?  Of course not.
Gregory likes to tell the story of the hanging of white abolitionist John Brown in 1859:
"They tied up the rope, and he said, 'Oh, by the way. I talked to God last night, and God told me to tell you, that you’ve lost the last chance to free the Negro slaves with no blood. And he told me to tell you, when the Negroes gonna be free, it's gonna be the biggest bloodbath in the history of the planet.
"It took me a long time before I realized, it wasn't just the Civil War he meant.  John Brown, may he be at peace. But not us."
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Politix Update: Why A Delusional GOP House Thinks It's Reached Political Nirvana

“The reality-based view of the world is obsolete. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. When we act, we create our own reality.” ~ BUSH ADMINISTRATION INSIDER (2004)
The long journey of the elephant was by turns arduous, dangerous and thrilling, but after many advances and many setbacks, it finally has reached what its followers believe to be political nirvana.
The elephant set out on this journey through the darkest depths of the jungle after a movie star turned conservative god had ascended to the throne, and the elephant's might would be undisputed for a decade.  But then the elephant lost its way, a victim of changing political winds and a slick upstart who ascended to the throne and often outplayed the elephant at its own game.  
This eventually passed, and the elephant soon lumbered into an oasis where it was able to forage to its heart's content while waging a bloody war against its foes abroad and a cultural war against its foes at home.  Flush with success, it rewarded the jungle's oligarchs and turned a (very big) deaf ear to the pleas of less fortunate natives.  The elephant even stacked the jungle's highest tribunal to do its bidding.  
But the natives became restless and a young newcomer with a funny name took the throne.  Not to be deterred, the elephant stood in the newcomer's way and threatened to crush him.  Although the newcomer survived, the elephant still got its revenge by packing the jungle assembly with its own followers, but there still was a problem -- an irritating thorn in its foot in the form of one the assembly's biggest leaders, who cried a lot and was insufficiently loyal. 
The leader was thrown over the tallest falls in the jungle, leaving the elephant's followers to revel that they finally had reached political nirvana.  And who would dare dispute such a boast once they saw the welcoming sign over the gilded, vine-entwined gate at journey's end.  It read:
It is obvious that the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party -- which is to say the young, hair-on-fire congressmen that the party welcomed with open arms as the elephant in our fable neared the end of its trek -- has fooled no one but themselves as they frolic in the gardens of Fantasyland and celebrate John Boehner's trip over the falls
If the lunatic fringe's long-term goal is to hang on to the House of Representatives, the vagaries of geography and the party's often underhanded redistricting schemes may make that so for the foreseeable future.  But because there is little overlap in what happens in House races and in the House itself with the quadrennial slugfest known as selecting a Republican presidential nominee, the fringers may well keep the House but most definitely won't have the final say in choosing who that nominee is.
This seems surprising and is somewhat counter intuitive considering the tail-wags-dog clout of the fringers.  But consider that while blue state Republicans (which is to say those typically more sane and more moderate) may be a distinct minority in the House, they still have the delegates and resources to decide who does get the nomination. As Nate Cohn notes in The New York Times, in 2012 there were more Mitt Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago's Cook County than in West Virginia. Overall, the states that voted for President Obama in 2012 hold half of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, which makes it all but impossible for a narcissistic oligarch like Donald Trump or an authoritarian extremist like Ted Cruz to be nominated. 
Then there are the unhappy campers known as Republican evangelicals.
George W. Bush promised them culture war victories in return for their votes, which they delivered en masse in 2000 and 2004, and then in their view reneged on his promises.  Is this a gullible group, or what?  (Perhaps an unquestioning belief in Biblical infallibility will do that to you.)  In fact, it is the view of many evangelicals that the Republican Party has betrayed them, notably the fringers, ever ready to summon cardboard cutouts of God as stage props.  And so you have the amazing sight of not a few evangelicals supporting Trump although he is profoundly hypocritical, foul-mouthed, thrice-married and nonobservant insofar as the God thing
Maybe they believe that God, like Trump, wants them to be rich.
    * * * * *
But all that is only the beginning of the hash the lunatic fringe -- which ironically calls itself the Freedom Caucus -- has made out of the GOP's national prospects by believing that it has reached its very own nirvana through obstructing instead of leading, scoring purity points with its followers instead of helping govern, and always overplaying its hand. 
Doing crazy stuff like repeatedly trying to repeal Obamacare (some 50 separate votes and counting) and attempting to blow up the government in order to deny Planned Parenthood funding not only doesn't translate into taking back the White House, it makes it substantially more difficult for the eventual nominee, who will be a party establishment moderate like Jeb Bush.  Or perhaps Jeb Bush. 
(Note that the continuing resolution that passed the House on Wednesday only funds the government through December 11, meaning that it will be the fringers themselves who will be waging a War on Christmas as federal workers' paychecks are threatened by a shutdown.)
The inability of the conservative movement -- both realists and delusionists -- to reconcile itself to modern political realities is profound. 
Forget about American exceptionalism. The sense of privilege, whininess and alienation among even movement (old school) conservatives is palpable.  Then there is the stone craziness of the fringers who still have a bad case of the ass over the New Deal some 80 years later, believe in pink ponies, threw Boehner over the falls and are now gunning for Mitch McConnell.  (As it turns out, the Senate majority leader, who has been far more "disloyal" to the fringers than the hapless Boehner ever was, is safe.  This is because McConnell and Republican senators in general see the futility of pointless brinksmanship.) 
Meanwhile, Bush and other establishment moderates will have to kowtow to the fringers and their followers through the long primary season -- something we have seen plenty of already, notably in Iowa -- and then in the run-up to the convention.  And while the eventual nominee will tack hard to the political center as did Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 in the hope mainstream voters have short memories, the nominee will never be able to completely scrape the unhinged lunatic crud off his wingtips. 
And so the sorry state of a Republican Party that is obdurately stuck in the past, endlessly lurches from crisis to crisis and keeps trying to eat itself  pretty much guarantees a Democratic victory in 2016 regardless whether the House remains Republican and the Senate, as well. 
Consider this daunting obstacle, only one of several, to taking back the White House: Even if the Republican candidate wins the same 59 percent share of the white vote that Romney won in 2012, he would have to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote to get a popular vote majority.  Romney won a mere 17 percent of that nonwhite vote, which included 8 percent of the black vote.  Given the GOP's unwillingness to reach out to minorities, something that has been amplified to a Janovian primal scream this year, the 2016 standard bearer will be fortunate to do even that well. 
Although I do no anticipate a GOP loss next year of 1964 proportions, some Republicans fear that will happen.  That was the election when Barry Goldwater, a prototype of today's Freedom Caucus lemmings, faced off against President Johnson.  "My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones," Goldwater infamously argued, and his followers actually believed that he would clean LBJ's clock.  Instead, he was drubbed in a 44-state landslide and the president promptly used his new supermajority to push through those twin fringer evils -- Medicare and Medicaid.
If there is a wildcard in all of this, it's not the fabled elephant, it's the Democrats.
Will Hillary Clinton be so weakened by her self-destructive email problems that the party's once formidable lock on the White House might be broken?  I don't think so, but that is the only plausible scenario for a Jeb Bush emerging triumphant.  Despite all the lunatic crud on his wingtips. 

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Phil Woods (November 2, 1931 ~ September 30, 2015)

A weight that would break most musicians pressed on Phil Woods from early in his career.  How many young singer-songwriters have been declared "the next Bob Dylan" or young operatic tenors "the next Plácido Domingo"?  Woods was burdened with being "the next Charlie Parker," a jazz legend of extraordinary virtuosity, after the death of the man nicknamed Bird in 1955.  Woods soared to that challenge, not merely becoming the New Bird, as he invariably was dubbed when he was still wet behind the ears, but forging a 60-plus year career as a extraordinary bebop alto saxophonist, as Bird had been, as well as a gifted bandleader and composer.
Woods died on Tuesday morning.  He was 83.
I first met Woods because of the Delaware Water Gap Festival of the Arts, a jazz festival held each September since 1978 in the tiny eastern Poconos village of Delaware Water Gap.  
Woods, trombonist Rick Chamberlain and community organizer Eddie Joubert had founded the festival.  While Woods played at every festival until this year, as had Chamberlain until his passing earlier this year, Joubert left this mortal coil in 1981, the victim of a brutal ax murder that left the close-knit community of musicians, artists and Vietnam veterans stunned and bereft.
When I interviewed Woods in 2003 for The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder, a book about Joubert's life and times, he opened his home and heart to me, and we chatted at length in a spacious living room with a cathedral ceiling and walls covered with four Grammy awards, a slew of Downbeat and Playboy Jazz Poll awards, testimonials and a gold record or three.
Woods and I later became neighbors, if not exactly bosom buddies.  He is irascible and then some, although I did hear that he liked The Bottom of the Fox so much that he gave away copies as Christmas presents the year that it was published.
Phil Woods and Eddie Joubert at the jazz festival (1981)
When Woods reprised Parker's classic Charlie Parker With Strings album with a jazz trio and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Pittsburgh on September 4, he left his alto sax on stage after the last number, an unmistakable message that his extraordinary playing career was over.
That career includes 48 albums as a leader and many as a much-sought-after sideman to, among others, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson, Ron Carter, Quincy Jones, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Stephane Grappelli, Ben Webster, Lee Konitz, Kenny Burrell and Gary Burton. 
That's Woods blowing sax on Billy Joel's New York State of Mind and Turnstiles, as well as on Joel's "Just The Way You Are," for which he was paid $300 for just 10 minutes of studio work.  The single was a Number 3 hit, went gold and jump started Joel's then struggling career.  He also played on classic rock hits by Paul Simon ("Having a Good Time") and Steely Dan ("Doctor Wu"), both produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate of Woods' at the Julliard School.
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 |
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 |
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 |
Woods is one of those great artists whose sound is immediately recognizable: Distinctive and clean  melodies, dashing runs and subtle quotes wrapped into a bright, soaring tone. 
While he is most closely associated with Parker, he has never copied him, and his greatest inspiration actually was alto sax great Benny Carter, with whom he was very close until Carter's death in 2003. 
Woods passed at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Pa., not far from his home in Delaware Water Gap, where he had lived since 1976.  He had been battling emphysema and other health problems, including a self-acknowledged blow-and-booze lifestyle in his younger days that was bound to catch up to him.  He had brought an oxygen tank on stage at recent concerts, and as he noted at a memorial service for Chamberlain, no one was more surprised than himself that he had outlived the other jazz festival founders.
His association with Parker was solidified when he married Parker’s widow, Chan, in 1957.  The marriage ended in divorce.  He is survived by his wife, Jill Goodwin; a son, Garth; three stepdaughters, Kim Parker and Allisen and Tracy Trotter; and a grandson.
As crowning achievements go, Woods' is monstrous.  In 2007, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award.

"Jazz will never perish," Woods said.  "It's forever music, and I like to think that my music is somewhere in there and will last, maybe not forever, but may influence others."
Well, he's wrong about the not lasting forever part.