It really is a wonderful life

Nearing the end of 2008 we pause and consider humanity’s need for additional light during this season of solstice, Christmas and Chanukah. It’s also the time when deeper thoughts come to visit and have their say.

Recently, discussing favorite holiday tales, I recalled O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” In my earlier generation, “Magi” was required reading in grammar school.

In thinking of its plot I realized that it is quite dated for a younger audience although its message of unqualified love is ever new. A young married couple is living through a tough economy much like now. She wants to give her husband a chain for the pocket watch he inherited from his father. He has the great idea of a tortoise shell comb set for her knee-length hair. What they did for love was to each sell their legacies: he the watch for the combs and she her hair for the fob. It was my first understanding of irony, which turns out to be such a large part of life. Poet Robert Frost saw roads not taken on snowy evenings as making all the difference. Decisions matter.

To toss away what you once valued, receiving boundless love in return can be found in Matthew 1.18, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and Frank Capra’s film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In each story people find happiness in doing good for others. Ironic.

During hard times we revert to believing that money is the key to a happy life. Lottery ticket sales are way up. Conversely, during hard times we again realize that the people in our lives make or break our search for happiness. Somewhere in between those two statements lies the truth, and the secret to what’s in our hearts, what truly matters, what love means to us, and where we fit into God’s and nature’s plan.

Geography as destiny makes sense by watching the evening news. The suffering in Zimbabwe and Sudan are just two awful examples to inspire anyone here in the Pioneer Valley to give daily thanks for the birthplace or life circumstance that has them here and not there.

Given today’s headlines about bailing out Wall Street banks, stockbrokers and big insurance companies bring new meaning to the greedy banker Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “Carol” and “Wonderful Life’s” good guy small town banker, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. Up to now I’d not noticed the similarities among Matthew, “A Christmas Carol” and “Wonderful Life.”

In every instance an otherworldly being intervenes to show the light and the way to a fallen humanity. George Bailey is about to commit suicide believing that his life has been a complete failure, and that he’s let down both his family and community. Clarence, his guardian angel, 2nd class, stops him and in a series of flashbacks opens George’s eyes to what a real difference for the better that his life has meant to many. This won’t be the plot for any movie made about the broker whose $50 billion Ponzi scheme is playing out at the moment.

Scrooge loves money and hates people, or at least those do-gooders who go about spreading good cheer and charity around Christmastime. He too has a fright when his old partner, the very dead Jacob Marley, comes to his room dragging a heavy chain of sins. Marley’s warning to Scrooge to share his wealth is followed up by three ghostly visitors who, in flashbacks and flash-forwards, show Scrooge the errors of his ways. Ebenezer’s fear is to die unremembered and unloved. Stubborn at first, he finally sees the light and his generosity overflows as he “keeps Christmas” joyously from that day.

Two thousand years ago a historical event happened: Christ arrived on the earth. That helpless child born in a manger grew up to preach a message of tolerance and peace among all peoples. He willingly died, so Christians believe, for our sins because he was the sinless Son of God. Ironic! How sad that His message is often lost in our secular age. And how ironic that it takes hard times to awake people to the warm welcome found in their home, family, friends and houses of worship. The heaviest irony is that the comfort of boundless love was always there just waiting for our eyes and hearts to open.

God is patient.

The solstice has passed and earth’s days lengthen and brighten as the sun returns. Spring will come early on Jan. 20 when we inaugurate Barack Obama as our new president. We pray that Barack’s experienced team will end our long nightmare of costly wars and the witless diminishment of our nation’s ideals and treasure.

“Things will get worse before they get better” is a clear call from our new leader to roll up all of our sleeves as we stoke liberty’s bright lamp of the American dream.

We did it before and we can do it again.

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“No one feels sorry for a car dealer!”

– Anonymous

Last week’s headlines provided a perfect storm of bad news for anyone with links to Detroit’s Big 3. Investor Kirk Kerkorian is selling his billion dollars worth of shares in Ford Motor at a seventy percent loss; New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s recent column on green energy bemoaned the drop in gasoline prices fearing that it would reduce the positive, i.e. negative, pressure on Detroit to build more fuel-efficient models.

A story on the Internet was forecasting that thousands of dealers are about to go out of business for a hurricane of reasons: credit to finance their inventories is drying up, buyer financing approvals are harder to get than just a few weeks ago, new car leasing is being curtailed, and working capital is disappearing due to losses.

Add in a 30 to 45 percent drop in sales volume, and the “business model” for most small and mid-sized dealerships is no longer viable. I know, I lived and worked in thrall to that model for half a century. Even scarier was the statement by a spokesperson for General Motors conceding that GM’s business model also fails at October 2008’s sales volume. It’s scary because 200,000 American automobile worker’s jobs are at risk, plus one million UAW workers living on company pensions. Equally critical is that one in five American jobs depend on the automobile industry.

New vehicle sales comprise 30 to 50 percent of a dealership’s business, driving the activity in Service, Parts and Used Cars. In our family dealership I preached, “Nothing happens until a car is sold.” The goal of every dealer was to attain or beat the National Automobile Dealer Association’s average of 2 percent net before taxes. Yes, the margin is that small; it takes a very committed dealer to accept that challenge month after month, and year after year. There are easier ways to make a buck.

One Internet site just posed a variation of the question that every salesperson is trained to ask at some point in their presentation, “Are you in the market to buy today?’ Seventy-five percent of the respondents answered, “No.”

Today’s new car market for all makes and domestics in particular is awful.

This is a sad situation for a myriad of reasons. Even a small dealership employs around 30 people with a multimillion dollar payroll; employment can run to hundreds even thousands in larger dealer groups. Multiply those losses by the families that they support, and the cities, towns and states that their salaries, sales and excise taxes enrich and you can expect trouble, trouble, and more trouble in every River City.

I was a born “car guy” because my folks rented a 1930s gas station that in time grew into a postwar dealership. The excitement began with annual dealer shows where new models, restyled and marginally improved, kept on coming.

Flashy Broadway-quality introductions with nubile dancers, loud music, sales contests, and promises of a better year ahead kept everyone motivated. Movie screens in Atlantic City or Las Vegas or New York’s shows came alive with speeding cars, off-road vehicles and tough trucks. Creative Mad Men Madison Avenue marketing campaigns promised to overwhelm the competition in the same way they grabbed our senses.

Top management from George Romney, to Lee Iacocca, to some German guy named Dieter spoke from the heart to inspire us to sell our employees and the public. It may have been concocted and overly optimistic given the competition, but it was good honest American salesmanship that kept a lot of people producing prosperity from coast to coast. At any rate, it needs no apology and won’t get one from me.

The grief in today’s marketplace reminds me that I’ve seen this movie before. In 1979, our former dealership along with thousands of Dodge and Chrysler dealers was dragooned into service as unpaid lobbyists to fight for the company’s survival.

I still have copies of “Thank You” letters from Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Paul Tsongas. Both men were instrumental in setting terms for the “Chrysler bailout,” which was shorthand for the 1.5 billion-dollar government loan guarantees approved by Congress that December. Its tough terms required concessions from all the parties that benefited: labor, suppliers and management. Thankfully, due to hot-selling designs like the front-wheel-drive K-Cars and Caravans, the attached warrants soon returned a $300 million profit to the U.S. Treasury.

I can only pray that this year’s financial crises end as happily.

In 2008 it’s GM, Ford and Chrysler dealers that are on the bubble, along with all three companies. This nation and its leaders could do nothing better than to fund a new investment in the American economy represented by the Big 3, and their franchised but independent dealers. Every state’s economy needs the benefits, taxes and payrolls that these businesses represent. Based on my experience, it’s in the nation’s interest for our elected officials and driver’s everywhere to support America’s hometown dealers.

We’ll miss them when they’re gone.

“Detroit Three” Ask Government For $50 Billion Bailout; U.S. Automakers

The Ripple Effect of the US Auto Industry by GM

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A few short years ago, “Be not afraid” was Pope John Paul the Second’s advice to a fearful humanity. I believe that his was long run thinking was that God is in His heaven, and loves us far beyond our capability or willingness to comprehend. Faith is a gift.

The world economy is another matter, requiring both short-term fixes and long term planning. The economist John Maynard Keynes put a colleague’s simplistic answer into proper perspective when he observed, “in the long run we are all dead.” America and the world are facing economic problems unseen is most our lifetimes, and we are doing so in the midst of a critical presidential election. Not that they’re not all critical because we’re now reaping the whirlwind of Jeopardy’s “Stupid Questions” category all the way back to the actor/president Ronald Reagan who claimed, “Government is not the answer, government is the problem.” Well, Ronnie, suddenly government is the final answer according to America’s Treasury Secretary, who’s nationalizing everything in sight!

When it comes to elections, local, state or national, far be it for me to claim a special insight into the process. I know what I know from long ago as grammar school civic courses taught by nuns who lived shut away in their convents and probably seldom voted themselves. Their lives so constricted that they had to travel in pairs when they ventured out into the world that the rest of lived in. All that has changed of course, the good sisters (which they still are), now wear normal clothes instead of black habits, and express their political opinions just like the rest of us. Their emphasis is often on the issues of fairness and social justice, a position that is underpinned with community work in addition to teaching. In my youth I never gave them the credit that they deserved; in my dotage I am grateful that they didn’t take my slacking personally, continuing to pound a sense of personal and public morality into my hard head.

The result was that when I grew up I took elections seriously, worked in a lot of campaigns, and voted for the best person running based on agreement with their goals. I learned about the candidates by hearing them speak, reading their positions, listening to debates, and ignoring shallow campaign advertising. Discussions with relatives and friends always came into the mix, as it still does.

Has anyone else noticed how much candidate John McCain looks like the mature Charlie Chaplin? Chaplain was a brilliant comedian and a student of human nature. He utilized his knowledge and talent to create an Everyman, a little tramp who had a hard time out in the world but survived on his wits. He, like McCain, found difficulty coping with technology in the movie Modern Times. In his The Great Dictator Chaplain spoofed Adolf Hitler to the delight of a world spinning out of control with real fear on everyone’s plate. In The Gold Rush, Charlie sought his fortune in the gold fields of Alaska, but in a memorable scene was reduced to cooking and trying to eat his boots. The poverty of his movie Alaska is today embodied by the paucity of ideas and loose lipped speechifying from Alaska’s Governor and surprise GOP Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

When you objectify your opponent as the “other,” or as candidate McCain had it in the latest debate, “that one,” you’re well on your way to calling up the very demons you say you despise, using language as a weapon to create fear. Most of us have been “other” at one time or other in our lives: New kid in class, or in the neighborhood. Your parents don’t, or you don’t, speak English all that well, your ethic background is unique or you’re a different color all together. I felt it in the service when I befriended a black guy from Chicago, and was called an N-word lover by a Redneck in the barracks. So, in that case we were both “other.” I apologize that I never saw battle, or spent time as a P.O.W., but that’s the luck of the draw, or hot dog flying. Fighter pilots are not the most humble guys in the world as, “no mistakes on my watch,” George W. Bush will tell you.

What the hell does Country First mean? It sound a lot like “me first.”

America First is a fascist party founded by white supremacists whose goal is to promote a white Christian America free of immigrants, feminists, Jews, blacks, gays and liberals. These nutty terrorists’ hatred is being spoon fed by Palin when she says that Obama doesn’t love America as we do, and by McCain when he asks, “Who is Obama?”

Feeding red meat to a mob is demagoguery. Their campaign sounds more like the French Revolution. “Off with their heads.” Who wants to go where they’re leading?

When I was born the Depression was in full swing, and my parents never forgot living through those times. If, as it’s said, this nation has little historical memory, go talk to an eighty or ninety year old, and they will put you straight on what being broke feels like, and of a time when aged workers had no Social Security. It wasn’t that long ago.

Elections have consequences. FDR’s energy, ideas and willingness to challenge the accepted wisdom of his era brought the American economy back to life, often using the simple dignity of creating a job. The Republicans fought him every step of the way.

We need a new president, vice president and Congress who love this country so much that they will appeal to our better angels, again putting the American people first.

I’m voting for change. Big time!

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You’ve gotta have heart – and hope
by Jim Cahillane

Now that the political campaigns and baseball seasons of 2008 are entering their crucial stages, it’s time to wake up and pay attention. Decisions will be made. Take a few moments to leave your summer cares behind: Your rainy vacation week. Forget that TV news anchors’ advice to drive miles away for cheaper gas, Manny’s dreadful departure from the Red Sox, along with the national housing crisis followed by bank failures. Wars, count ’em, in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Republic of Georgia that make deadly headlines, plus numerous terror attacks and suicide bombings.

It’s enough to make a grown man or woman cry.

“The saddest words of tongue or pen are these: It might have been,” opined poet John Greenleaf Whittier in his wordy look at missed opportunities and lost loves; we’ve all been there. In the past eight years America has missed every opportunity to do the right thing by voting in a competent president to inspire us, lead us, and protect us while fulfilling his oath to defend democracy’s goals at home and around the globe.

During this period the misled voters of America morphed into regretful sad sack examples of Oscar Wilde’s claim that “Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.” In 2000, abetted by the Supreme Court, we chose George W. Bush, an intellectual lightweight one-term governor of Texas, in place of Al Gore, a two-term vice president of the United States who had helped transform our whole economy from record deficits into record surpluses. Talk about voting against your own self-interest!

Gore was also ahead of the curve on the environment and wrote a book that, among other things, called for the redesign of American cars to be emission-free. He won no fans among the executives in Detroit, who blew him off as “Ozone man.” If those same executives are still employed, they’re now propping up three struggling companies with belated promises to move the needle toward clean cars of the future. In the meantime GM, Ford and Chrysler have greatly shrunk in size, lost billions of dollars, and killed off tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs.

Gore had a far better eight years than Detroit did, or America, winning both an Oscar and, oh yeah, a Nobel Prize. Who’s laughing now? We’re still waiting for Bush’s book. However, we don’t have to wait for the parade of books already out that reveal his total incompetence, not to mention undermining the Constitution time and time again. Even though he took America into a preemptive war in Iraq, on cooked-up evidence, the nation re-elected G. W. Bush in 2004. More fools we to be fooled twice. John Kerry was Swift-boated with deceitful propaganda by Karl Rove and company that convinced just enough voters to saddle America with four more Bush years.

These stark comparisons remind me of Babe Ruth’s 1930 response as to how he felt about asking for a higher salary than President Hoover. “I had a better year than he did,” Babe answered, truthfully.

Well, now we’re getting down to hardpan, which has a name: Hope! Are you better off today than you were four years ago, or eight? How about 53 years ago? In 1955 the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross Broadway musical “Damn Yankees” lifted our spirits as an optimistic America was singing its hit song, “Heart”:

You’ve gotta have heart

All you really need is heart

When the odds are saying you’ll never win

That’s when the grin should start.

You’ve gotta have hope

Mustn’t sit around and mope

Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear

Wait’ll next year and hope.

I remember the year and the song because, as a newly married veteran, with a job, I lived on hope that our future, along with America’s, would be bright. We lived in the bustling small city of Northampton, Ike was in the White House, the Korean War truce had been signed, and thousands of World War II G.I. Bill veterans were storming out of college determined to get America moving again. What could go wrong?

Over 50 fast years a lot of good and bad things happened as we wised up to the sour meaning of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,”

Fast forward to 2008. Now come two senators: John McCain for the GOP, and the Democratic standard bearer, Barack Obama. McCain is an aging maverick approaching his 72nd birthday; Senator Obama is a sprightly 47. Looking back longingly to four years ago when I was McCain’s age, like a lot of creaking seniors I don’t fancy his chances. We coddle our presidents sure enough; “W” has been in a bubble for eight years. Limousine convoys, jet planes and Marine helicopters must reduce travel stress, yet even President Bush takes his favorite pillow with him. Senator McCain should retire on his laurels, not squander them in a win-at-all-costs campaign. When dirty tricks succeed, America loses.

Obama may not be perfect, but he’s thoughtful, very smart and dedicated to bringing back real hope to the American people. I pray that my children and grandchildren will live and prosper in an America of possible dreams, a land of opportunity for all. It’s long past time to vote the no-good bums out, work toward the common good, and begin to solve America’s challenges. JFK summed it up for us in the final words of his inaugural address: “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land that we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

Now is the time to set every citizen’s heart ablaze with hope. Yes, we can.

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The literature of fathers harks back at least to the bible, where God the father, Adam, Abraham, Noah and numerous others take pride of place in timeless stories that act to guide, caution and instruct humanity. That earlier and different creation stories exist is proof, if needed, that everyone on earth wants to have an idea where they came from, before going on to ask the deeper question, why?
I’ve never written a sermon, despite my family members and friends who critique a few of these essays as little more. Given the political controversy about Barack Obama’s former preacher, Reverend Wright, expounding from any tall pulpit including newspaper opinion columns, could affect the fate of the nation.
At any rate, and a lot closer to home, I’ll give it a whirl.
1.    If you’re going to give a homily about fatherhood, begin with a biblical quote:
I CHRONICLES 29-15: “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers. Our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” A minister of some talent would read over this quote and find talking points galore. “Strangers before thee,” “sojourners as were all our fathers,” “days on the earth are as a shadow, etc. As today’s topic is fathers, let’s go with dad as a sojourner, a traveler who stays but a brief time in any one place, then moves on.
2.    As lucky children born to a devoted pair dad and mom were always there. Because we thought like children we never imagined a day that wouldn’t be true. When our lives careen through all their stages: child, ‘tween, teen, young adult and adulthood the one constant is the generic dad. He works every day, but doesn’t communicate in the same way as mom, tending to express his love through action: fixing things, moving things, washing the car, cleaning out the garage, mowing the lawn and always working a lot.
3.    Last month I had the privilege of playing the proud grandfather role as our granddaughter and 215 fellow students graduated from Northampton High. During senior week we touched all the bases: prom night photos, awards night and diploma presentations by Mayor Higgins on a perfect weather Friday evening. I couldn’t help thinking of own father saying that the best part of being mayor, for six years in the 1950s, was presenting high school diplomas. That his children were sometimes among them only made it better.
4.    Sitting in the bleachers I read over all 216 names, marveling at the changes in the makeup of Northampton since I left high school. Old Northampton family names were dotted throughout the list, giving a warm sense of continuity. We thought of our hometown as sophisticated in the 1950s because Smith College students or their parents might be seen wearing a sari on Main Street. We had one Chinese restaurant, but the only African-American people I knew lived and worked in Amherst. This year’s grads won’t enter the adult world as we did, truly innocent of its many inequities, pain and suffering.
5.    I knew some of the fathers and most of the grandfathers, living and dead. A beach ball bounced among the graduates as if they were in the bleachers at Fenway Park, adding a light tone to the serious business underway. I thought that was a ploy with not a ghost of a chance under the rule of the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught my crowd at St. Michael’s High. My father, by the way, never darkened its door to check on my studies, except for the one-day I misbehaved. He materialized at the side door with a terse option, “stay or go to work.” I stayed, and worked later.
6.    Fathers of that era had little time to waste. There was a Depression economy to deal with, or a war on. Raising the six of us, if memory serves, was to my dad a sideline to the business of making a living. Today, fathers are closer to and prouder of their kids, which is a good thing. Even a little encouragement goes a long way. The loud applause and full-house attendance at senior week events confirmed that today’s parents are hands on, even as they’re letting go.
7.    After our first president, George Washington, was lauded as “the father of his country’ his successors were touted as father figures for the rest of us. Until recently that was pretty much the case. Yet, true only in that reporters were less inquisitive, or a gentlemen’s agreement kept the failings on both sides from turning into headlines. Authors who, as Cole Porter wrote, once knew better words found that telltale books were profitable; word dams that were full of damning broke scandals in a flood of revelations that did no good for anyone’s soul or reputation. The nation is no stronger as a result.
8.    Losing a parent changes your life forever. Even as we grew to adulthood and learned more about their failings, making excuses for them when they were alive, but never knowing how much they’d be missed until they were gone. I still find myself quoting my frugal English father in-law’s pronouncements, taking them to be biblically wise: “Gambling is a mug’s game,” for example, covers, in just five words, everything from buying lottery tickets, to trips to Foxwoods, to saving for a rainy day. Recessions and Depressions serve their purposes, even if they use the blunt tools of pocketbook pain and loss. Starting married life with scant assets beyond love and hope is how most father’s are made, and made stronger.
9.    Early in his term President John F. Kennedy inherited a C.I.A. plan to support a group of Cuban exiles in their attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. Assuming that his predecessor General Dwight Eisenhower, the C.I.A., and the military had a viable plan he let the Bay of Pigs invasion go ahead, but with limited American sea and air support. It was a disastrous failure. Kennedy’s response: “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” It was an original expression of an old truth. For this year’s Father’s Day let’s just say that every father need big shoulders, taking credit or blame for how the kids turn out.
We love you, dad!
10.    Love is, of course, the theme of this sermon and all homilies worth their salt. Fathers do what they do for love. Children, even on their bad days, are loved. Sacrifices are made in the name of love. No greater love is laying down one’s life for another. Fathers do it daily. Christian’s believe that God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for our sins. Fathers of every faith willingly die in large or small ways to advance their issue. Every seed in nature gives of itself to assure next year’s harvest. “Our days on earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” Good luck to the class of 2008, and their proud folks.          –30–

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April 28th, 2008


Here we are in year nine of the 21st century and my eighth decade on this planet. Living in the United States for all of that time you’d think that by now I’d have a handle on the day-to-day issues that we Americans must deal with. At any rate, if you too are feeling confused and discomforted reading newspapers, watching television news and worst of all those grabber headlines on the Internet: relax it’s not your fault, we’re all suffering information overload. Take a few topics as examples:
GOP POLITICS: Senator John McCain has a lock on the Republican Party’s nomination. When sworn in at age 72 he would be our oldest president ever. I read this week that the average American male lives to 74, so McCain’s Vice Presidential choice looks critical.
THE DEMOCRATS: Senators Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama are so close in appeal that they’ve turned the Democratic nomination from a race into a marathon. Either Barak or Hillary will set a precedent as the first woman or first African-American nominated for president by a major party. They’ve generated electoral excitement from coast to coast. People are donating funds and working hard to elect their candidate of choice because the extensive list of errors by the Bush administration is affecting us all, old and young.
Let me count a few of their wayward ways.
WAR: “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside America” headlined President Bush’s August 2001 Daily Intelligence Report, prompting no reaction from our Vacationer in Chief. Following 9/11 he declared war on every nation who wasn’t “with us.” Everything that could go wrong since then pretty much has done so. We missed getting Bin Laden at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. Next, we marched into the neighborhood to invade Iraq with the goal of replacing its leader, Saddam Hussein, who did not attack us on 9/11. Hussein was found, tried, and hung by the neck until dead. Bin Laden is still on the loose. No noose is good news for him anyway. 180,000 of our regular and National Guard troops are still in Iraq, 4000 have been killed, over 30,000 severely wounded in body and mind, and our exit strategy is non-existent. The TalIban that we defeated and displaced in far off Afghanistan has regrouped and is killing our troops and others. We’re borrowing and spending billions per month with no end in sight. One consequence has been a drop in the value of the dollar, and a startling increase in the price of a barrel of oil to near $120.00.
GASOLINE: Our economy runs on petroleum. The price of gasoline is up two-thirds since Bush became president in 2001. The net effect is inflation at the grocery store where everything has been transported to its point of sale by a truck. 5.3% overall inflation on groceries alone this year, but milk and bread are double that. Heating oil in New England has gone from being expensive to ruinous to household budgets large and small. Many families will still be paying for last winter’s warmth when the next one comes around. Slogans like “Yes we can,” and “Solutions for America” will ring hollow next year if the new administration doesn’t quickly find ways to lower key prices.
“Stay the Course” is what got us where we are, way off course.
BARAK OBAMA: Is getting flak for being unable to “close the deal” and lock up the Democratic nomination before the convention. Every time that he looks inevitable she comes back wins a big state primary. Obama’s voting record is staunchly liberal, which will be liability with those who have turned liberal into a four-letter word. He is a first term Junior Senator in from Chicago, a lawyer by training, with a degree from Harvard where he headed up the law review. His energy, upbeat oratory and message of hope have caught on with voters of every stripe encouraging them to register and vote. He has been less successful in winning over older voters, women, and blue-collar workers. His pastor’s racially tinged outbursts against America’s unequal distribution of its blessings is hurting Barak’s barrier breaking message of hope and inclusion. Words, as every writer knows, are sticks and stones of a kind when freighted with loathing. If he becomes the nominee in fact, Barak Obama has his work cut out for him as he makes his case across America and its mishmash of outlooks.
HILLARY CLINTON: I, for one, have no time for those talking heads on TV and radio shows who call for surrender on Hillary’s part. As a newspaper letter writer said recently, “If Gore and Kerry had run tougher campaigns maybe we wouldn’t have had to suffer for the past eight years under Bush.” I am constantly amazed by Hillary’s resilience and fresh approach to each day. On her schedule I would have been yelling “uncle’ long before now. She is a tireless campaigner with a consistent message of being ready on “day one,” with a competent cabinet and staff willing to grab hold of the economy and the war, and moving quickly to pull consumer confidence out of the doldrums.
If she gets her chance America will be saying: You go girl!
THE POPE: Benedict XVI came and conquered a lot of hearts by his willingness to meet with victims of past abuse, promising to encourage “good priests not more priests” if that was his choice. He brought a pastoral message of care to the American church, preached to thousands in Washington and New York, his leaving words: God Bless America!
THE RED SOX: When politics become too much, the campaign too long, the messages garbled and repetitive, and Chris Matthews a total pain of conjecture interruptus, we still have “Da Sox.” Manny is hot, Big Papi is coming around, Jacoby is a will of the wisp on the base paths, J.D. isn’t waiting until September to hit, Dustin is dusting the ball every day, pitchers are behind the hitters and the manager’s somewhere between calm and catatonic. Who will win it all?
To find out you have to play all nine innings, in politics and baseball

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February 1st, 2008


I don’t recall who said it first, but anyone who follows the 2008 campaigns for President of the United States of America will have heard that “Politics is not bean bag,” followed by its corollary, “Politics is hardball.” This year no cliché will be left unsaid or unused, which is okay with me. They usefully serve as shorthand to convey hard earned lessons to casual voters based on past political wins and losses.
There are two major stories leading up to the February 5th Super Tuesday Democratic primaries in twenty-two states beginning with Senator Obama’s win in South Carolina followed by the thump of a loud endorsement from Senator Ted Kennedy. Let the clichés roll on with this one for Barak, “Be careful what you wish for.” Historically, endorsements don’t count for much with voters. However, where they do count is in a column called political favors: You rub my back and I’ll rub yours.
The first question to ask following a surprise endorsement like Kennedy’s is, “why did he do that?” After four decades in the senate it’s not like he needs a new friend. His re-election to one six-year term after another has not been threatened in his home state of Massachusetts since he won the seat held by his older brother, Jack. Famously, his first primary opponent, Attorney General Eddie McCormack, told a young Teddy Kennedy in a debate that if his name were Edward Moore, Teddy’s middle name, his candidacy would be a joke. The Kennedy name was not a joke in Massachusetts, Ted’s brother was president and McCormack lost despite a long public service resume`.
Regarding Ted’s motives, one answer may be found in a conversation I heard between political power brokers years ago. They were discussing an officeholder of little depth that they had helped to elect. “Yeah, “ one agreed, “he’s a bit of a jerk. But, he’s our jerk!” So, Kennedy’s endorsement could be a back door ploy to become a power behind the throne. Teddy’s own path to the senate was engineered. After his brother was elected president his Massachusetts senate seat was kept warm at the President’s request, “to preserve party unity.” Thus, Democratic Governor Foster Furcolo named Benjamin A. Smith II, JFK’s college roommate, to serve out Jack’s term. Ted, just old enough at thirty, ran and won the 1962 election to succeed Smith.
On the day following his endorsement, Senator Ted Kennedy and Barak Obama appeared together on the NBC “Today” show. Matt Lauer asked Kennedy if he was “still friends with the Clintons?” Of course, Ted replied, and promised to support whichever of the Democratic candidates ended up with the nomination of their party. With friends like that who needs enemies? President Truman advised his fellows, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton was taken too far aback by her friend Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of her opponent. That politics make strange bedfellows is one more truism for the commentators, who stole it from Shakespeare’s Tempest. Will had it; “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” This year’s campaign turns the page from Will Shakespeare to Will Rogers who confessed, “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
“Now the fun begins, “ said Hillary a few weeks ago when the Democratic primary competition heated up. That doesn’t sound to me like a candidate who might be in need of smelling salts anytime soon. That her husband, former president Bill Clinton, is outspoken in her support should surprise no one. Her opponents spin that Bill’s words are too harsh. But President Clinton is carrying on the tradition of feisty Democrats like Harry Truman who, running against long odds and a confident Thomas Dewey in 1948, said of the GOP: “I don’t give them Hell, I just tell the truth and they think it’s Hell.”
I don’t have the perfect answer for friends and family who ask my preference. I intend to vote for the person offering the best solutions to the great problems this nation is facing and will face in coming years. And, like Ted Kennedy, I will bow to the primary voters’ will and vigorously back the Democratic nominee, praying that they get elected.
Because, as sociologist Reverend Andrew Greeley said at UMass/Amherst last fall about his surveys on the power of prayer by people of faith, and of no faith, “It can’t hurt!”

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January 24th, 2008

Jim Cahillane


IN 2006 my home state of Massachusetts elected a new Democratic governor, Deval Patrick. I had never even heard his name until the summer before his November election. He was a veteran of the Clinton administration’s Justice Department, articulate in a most disarming way, Chicago born, educated at Harvard, and to make every liberal’s heart beat just that much faster, was African-American. It had been sixteen years since a Democratic governor led our Commonwealth. Veteran political figures who had served years in the Bullfinch designed statehouse were tossed aside as progressives gave their hearts to this new self-anointed savior. His stump speech blew us away as he invoked the founding fathers words like freedom and justice for all, ending each litany of what makes us proud to be Americans by softly referring to our birthrights as, “just words”.
It was a Sidney Poitier screen moment come to raise us up, expand possibilities, enlarge our minds, shrink our prejudices and do what leadership is supposed to do, but so seldom delivers—make us what we were born to be: Free men and women working for the common good. We were inspired to carry him into office on our shoulders, and did. Deval Patrick became our first Democratic governor in sixteen long years. He ran as an outsider who would bring a new day of enlightened polices, backed up by competence, to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
His campaign themes echo again in 2008, this time voiced by a charismatic Senator, also from Chicago, Barack Obama. “Yes we can” is a crowd-catcher phrase that inspires without any effort. I remember how a similarly young and inspirational Senator, Jack Kennedy, built his campaign week after week by asking audiences to rise up and “Get America moving again.” We were all young then and he became an idealized mirror of America’s inherent energy. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” campaign harked back to the nation’s beginnings, even as he looked ahead to space exploration: “This a new ocean and we must sail upon it.” No president since has been his rhetorical equal; we need leaders who identify with a people struggling to break with the past on their way to brighter tomorrows. Like Obama, Kennedy’s words offered the politics of hope.
Unfortunately, Governor Patrick got off on the wrong foot by making a series of mistakes in judgment and in actions that tarnished his reputation. As a supporter and taxpayer I blanched as he was jumped on for 1. Trading his Ford for a Cadillac. 2. Buying new office drapes for $12,000. 3. Hiring a chief of staff for his wife. 4. And, worst of all, making a “private citizen” phone call to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin an executive at Citibank on behalf of Ameriquest Mortgage, a subsidiary of ACC Capital Holdings. Patrick once served on ACC’s board of directors. Even liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D. Mass) decried the governor’s phone call as “a mistake in judgment.” To my mind that boo-boo was nothing compared to Gov. Patrick’s call to authorize three large “Casino Resorts” across the breadth of Massachusetts in hopes of garnering increased taxes and create 20,000 casino jobs. We already have the nation’s most successful state lottery, plus world-class educational, high technology, and health care underpinnings to our economic future: why would anyone back this shell-game gambling proposal?
My point is that new governors, and new presidents, are prone to rookie mistakes. Bill Clinton made some beauties. At any rate, they’re elected to four-year terms and we can’t send them back down to the minors to season their skills. Massachusetts, or any state, can survive a greenhorn governor. The failed G. W. Bush experiment is disaster enough for me to proclaim America needs veteran leadership from day one. That’s why I’m not ready to back Barack Obama come the Massachusetts primary, February 5, 2008.
Nonetheless, I believe that his day will come.

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