Saturday, January 17, 2009

 

The Lady Departs

To paraphrase the Bard, "Nothing in her life became her like the leaving of it." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton proved that yesterday in a rather masterful farewell address to the U.S. Senate.

Now, this writer has hardly been a Hillary fan. I'm a veteran of the '90s battles, working on Capitol Hill for the Republican majority during the Contract With America. The Clintons, individually, combined, the entire administration were seen by the GOP as being unscrupulous to he point of being borderline criminal.

Indeed, many Republicans "lost the plot" as they say in England -- and developed all sorts of fevered conspiracy theories revolving around the Clintons. Hillary was probably hated more than any other first lady -- by the members of the congressional majority.

Yes, some of this anger and venom was brought on by the Clintons themselves. After all, Hillary was also the first first lady to immerse herself fully in a policy issue -- health care in 1993 and '94. Her overbearing way of putting together a secretive Health Care Task Force, completely out of sight, infuriated even members of her own party.

That included the then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committe, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In any event, the product the task force produce was a Rube Goldberg-ian complex structure that never even made it to a vote in either chamber, collapsing under Clinton hubris and a public rightly wary of an incomprehensible change that could endanger the health-care they had.

With that backdrop, the notion that Hillary Clinton, a sitting first lady, would run for Senate in New York seemed ludicrous when word first started to circulate in mid-99. That she would run for the seat being vacated by the retiring, aforementioned Sen. Moynihan seemed even more absurd. Yet, she did and, as they say, the rest is history.

And, she didn't do a bad job as junior senator. Even stipulating to the fact that a principal reason to move here was to find a good spot from which she could launch a presidential campaign, she was a harder-working "fake" than many "actual" senators. Which is to say, that Clinton actually seemed to like being a New Yorker.

Indeed, that's what comes through in this farewell address (which includes an embedded YouTube clip). The speech is primarily about her memories of and service to New York, dwelling in particular on 9/11 and the days afterwards. But whe also talks about the state's different regions and history. In contrast, there is only a little about other legislative priorities she might have worked on while in the Senate. In short, this was a farewell address to the people of New York as much as it was to her fellow senators.

And she carried it off with charm, grace and good humor -- getting in a very funny line teasing New York's senior senator, Chuck Schumer, over his love for the camera. The entire chamber cracks up.

It's watching this that one suddenly "gets" it. The focus of Sen. Clinton's confirmation hearings on Tuesday was Bill Clinton's charitable foundation, the foreign contributions that he accepted, and whether that would create a conflict of interest for Secretary of State Clinton.

But, the real news is -- that was it. Not one Republican had a criticism about Hillary Rodham Clinton that was unconnected to Bill. Again, given that she was seen by many in the GOP as a demon incarnate 14 years ago, this is a remarkable turnaround. And, given that the GOP hasn't changed that much, one must give credit where it's due: In ten years, Hillary Clinton successfully separated herself from Bill Clinton and forged an identity of her own. That identity didn't merely give her greater political power -- enabling her to run for president. It gave her enhanced personal standing as well. She won over former Republican foes (including my former boss, Newt Gingrich). She may not become president, but she stands to be seen as a unique historic figure -- First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State -- in her own right.

Not bad.


A tip of the hat to Mrs. Clinton as she launches her next adventure.

(And, yes, I was appalled by some of her presidential primary rhetoric, but perhaps I should give her more benefit of the doubt that her Robert Kennedy allusions were heat-of-the-moment comments and not appealing darker sentiments. In any event, let bygones be bygones.)

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

 

In Defense of Bono

OK, I get why I also should be sipping on the hater-ade when it comes to Bono, lead singer of U2, businessman and humanitarian. There's the intentional grandiosity he feels he must always project -- no matter the song or cause; the need to pick up the Concerned Citizen of The World mantle that Bob "Do They Know Its Christmas?" Geldof wasn't even ready to surrender.

And, yes, dang it -- twenty-plus years of those freakin' shades!

And then, the act that has
unleashed the hordes of the blogosphere on him -- a column in the Sunday New York Times that was meandering and so full of itself that it made Maureen Dowd seem a model of literary restraint. The Times even had to post a correction on Wednesday.

All that said, I'm willing to cut Bono some major slack.

It's partly personal: U2 were just a couple of years older than me when they were starting out. Their breakthrough albums arrived while I was in college. More so than any other musical act, they've provided a true soundtrack to my adult life. The connection was forcefully recharged with All That You Can't Leave Behind: Though released nearly a year before 9/11, the album's songs uncannily spoke to the most shocking event in the nation's domestic history -- particularly for those of us living in New York, dealing with the reality of a smoking pit called Ground Zero: "Beautiful Day", "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" (Hello??), "New York", "Grace", "Elevation." The coincidence was almost supernatural.

But, beyond the personal connection. I forgive Bono because, unlike most celebrities, he's concerned about two things: Making music as passionately as he and the band did from the start -- and making a difference in the world in a more-than-dilettante manner.

He's also a decent human being. The only aspect of the "rock 'n' roll lifestyle" that consumes Bono is the music itself -- whether playing it or talking about it. He's been with
the same woman for 33 years -- married to her for 26. He doesn't show up in the tabloids or gossip columns with supermodels, fighting in bars, collapsed out in the streets, strung out on drugs, etc.

For all of the trouble Bono's gotten into for occasionally dropping an F-bomb on live television, a U2 concert is as safe as a Jonas Brothers show for young kids. During the "Vertigo" tour three years ago, I saw them at the New Jersey Meadowlands. A family -- parents in their mid -40's with a teenage daughter -- all looking like they'd had a great time.

He is both harbinger and embodiment of the current political mood. Note that Bono and Barack Obama are the same age. Though one hails from Ireland and the other America-via-exotic backstory, they see the world through similar (sun) lenses: They put a premium on post-partisanship. Indeed, Bono admits that his trips to the Bush White House didn't exactly go over well with his bandmates -- or others in the entertainment world. But Bono wouldn't pile on with the Bush-bashing. He realized that if he wanted to get the US to support his Africa relief plan -- beyond just individual donations -- he would have to engage American decision-makers. So, he wasn't going to let partisanship get in the way.

Yeah, it's easy to say that Bono's ego is such that he doesn't care who's in the White House -- as long as he gets to hang there and be "cool." Well, maybe so, but how does that explain Rick Santorum? One would be hard-pressed to find a less "cool" Republican to hang with. But there was Bono after one of the sessions of the 2004 Republican Convention -- hanging out at Santorum's afterparty at the Columbus Club on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

There wasn't a horde of paparazzi either outside or in. He had no entourage with him. He was just chatting with whomever would listen about his DATA (African debt-relief) and ONE organizations. He said he was there because Santorum invited him -- and Republicans are in the majority so I have to talk to them . A couple years earlier, Bono dismayed fans by meeting with Jesse Helms -- who pronounced Bono as
"genuine" and "well-prepared" in trying to get aid to Africa that would actually get to the people who needed it. This is the sort of common sense you wish every cause-chasing Hollywood-type would follow. Now, of course, with that post-partisan pragmatic approach, Bono sounds like Obama (or, more accurately, Obama sounds like Bono).

Ironically though, Andrew Sullivan who loves and admires Obama,
dismisses Bono for his "opaque" lyrics. Right -- and no one has accused Obama of high-flying rhetoric that appears not to mean anything at first glance?!?! The similarity between singer and politician are pretty strong.

A friend once said, in a rather disapproving tone, that "U2 is the biggest Christian band in the world -- spreading the Word under the radar." Sounds about right. Bono once praised John Paul II "the best front man the Catholic Church ever had." He recognized rock 'n' roll charisma wherever it manifests itself.

Bono is basically a "tempermental conservative" who sincerely believes the best way to encourage people into doing good is to convey the joy he finds doing goode. So, Bono wants to inspire others to do the same -- starting with young people and then convincing the "grown-ups."

Sound familiar?

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

 

The Bush Years: Top -- and Bottom -- Ten

As George W. Bush begins his final week in office, let the reviews -- on the right -- commence:

Fred Barnes identifies "10 Bush achievements."

Rich Lowry bemoans the "Ten Bush Mistakes."

Robert A. George would add one more accomplishment to Barnes' list -- Bush's Africa policy (more on this later).

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Monday, January 12, 2009

 

Call Me "Sen. Burris"!

Senate Democrats cave and agree to seat Blagojevich-appointed Roland Burris.

No word on whether Burris will be forced to give up his seat in the chamber if Robert Byrd comes in asks for it. Also, in compensation for how poorly they've treated their newest member, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid suggests senators give Burris separate bathroom and water fountain!

Our long national nightmare is over!

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Blue Sunday Over Big Blue

I'm seriously hating Plaxico Burress today.

Yes, I know he wasn't solely responsible for the New York Giants' wretched performance Sunday. It wasn't his fault that Eli Manning was overthrowing open receivers. It wasn't his fault that the Giants defense -- for the third game this season -- couldn't sack Donovan McNabb once (though they did force one intentional grounding/safety). It wasn't his fault that Tom Coughlin reverted to the ultra-conservative style that had bedeviled him and the team so many times in the past (What? After realizing that the Eagles weren't giving up any short-term yardage, why not try a trick play involving your quarterback passing -- and no, not the dumb "wildcat" snap to Derrick Ward in the fourth quarter?) It wasn't his fault that kicker John Carney, near-perfect all season long missed two long, but makeable, field goals.

No, there were plenty reasons on the field that caused the Giants to lose (they didn't get the ball into the endzone once). But, it can't be ignored that the Super Bowl champions weren't the same after Burress' self-inflicted shooting and subsequent arrest. As many people have said, he was Eli's security blanket -- having the height and large wingspan to bring in Manning passes that less-talented (and shorter) wide receivers just can't get to (there were at leasst two passes that were an inch away from a receiver, where one thought, "Burress would have gotten that ball."

And, for that matter, even if Burress wasn't getting the ball, he was being double-teamed enough that it opened up passing and running lanes for other players.

That's a significant weapon to lose -- like the Steelers losing a Hines Ward down the stretch.

And besides that, arguably, neither Antonio Pierce nor Ahmad Bradshaw (in the club with Plaxico that fateful night) were the same down the stretch.

Thus, the epitaph for such a truly promising season for the New York football Giants this year: A foolish wide receiver shot himself in the leg and helped inflict a fatal wound to his entire team.

Thanks, Plax. Literally, couldn't have done it without you. And, disappointing as the end of this season was, this isn't such a great idea either.

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