Out of Africa: Part I

In the first half of September, we traveled to Kenya on Safari.  This site would make a poor travel log, so suffice it to say that our adventure offered everything we had hoped for — the opportunity to see innumerable African species, including all of those in the American imagination, in their domain (i.e., the “bush”), while (happily) not having to spend our nights in accommodations that one associates with big game hunters of a century past.  If you have the inclination and means to visit Africa, don’t put it off; it will be one of your most memorable experiences. 

Kenya became an independent nation in 1963, emerging from what had been (mostly British) colonial rule existing since the late 19th century.  It has been said that since achieving independence, the country’s leadership — a few families have effectively controlled the government — has been too slow to break down the vestiges of colonialism.  We arguably saw indications of that throughout our excursion; virtually all of the guests everywhere we stayed were Caucasian or Asian.  It is a land where tribal traditions and constitutional government are in search of peaceful accommodation, one of stark contrast between enduring customs and onrushing modernity. 

One visiting Kenya cannot help but recognize the material benefits we in America have, and the precious democratic practices we seemingly remain at risk of frittering away.

Kenya had elected a new president, William Ruto, shortly before we arrived.  The outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Kenya’s first president), was stepping down after two terms in accord with the Kenyan Constitution.  Mr. Ruto’s opponent, Raila Odinga — who had lost notwithstanding an endorsement from Mr. Kenyatta (Mr. Odinga, having lost five presidential elections, is somewhat the Harold Stassen of Kenya) — had appealed Mr. Ruto’s victory to the nation’s highest tribunal; we arrived in the country two days before the tribunal was to decide on his appeal.  Kenya has a history of unrest arising from disputed elections; rioting attendant to a 2007 election dispute claimed over 1,000 lives, and lesser disturbances accompanied a challenge to Mr. Kenyatta’s 2017 election.  We were aware at the time we arrived that there was some concern throughout the country, despite both candidates’ and Mr. Kenyatta’s pleas for calm, that disturbances might follow any final declaration upholding Mr. Ruto’s victory; however, when his victory was sanctioned, all remained quiet. 

Our safari guide was Manson [since I haven’t sought this incredible gentleman’s consent to refer to him, not his real name], about 40.  Descended from a father of the Maasai tribe and a mother from the Kikuyu tribe, tribal mores caused Manson to leave his Maasai village in his middle-school years.  He was taken in by a Catholic mission, and completed advanced studies under the mission’s auspices.  Manson is a naturalist with a specialization in ornithology, and possesses a seemingly-encyclopedic knowledge of the habits of East African birds (which he used as indicators to locate Africa’s celebrated wildlife for us in unexpected parts of the parks).  Because of the just-concluded Kenyan presidential election, politics naturally came up early during the trip; Manson observed with satisfaction that his country had finally achieved a transfer of presidential power without riots.  He follows international affairs; after he asked me whether I thought America should negotiate with Russia over Ukraine, and I indicated that I then opposed negotiation because I didn’t think it would stop Mr. Putin from continuing to stir unrest among democracies, he immediately responded, “I completely agree.”  He was then in the process of building a house – almost unheard of except for affluent Kenyans.  He has two daughters, 20 and 14.  His elder daughter had recently been awarded a green card to the U.S. through the U.S. Diversity Visa Program (known as the “Green Card Lottery”) and he was thrilled.  He said to me, “In America, if you work hard, you can get ahead.”  While some born and reared in the U.S. might question the statement, from the perspective of a Kenyan, it is undeniable.

Our excursion took us both north and west of Nairobi to visit the wildlife preserves; it is hard for any American who has never been in a Third World country to imagine life in rural Kenya.  While the flora is gorgeous and the soil the rich burnt orange of Utah, Kenyans residing in remote villages have desperately limited means.  Manson mentioned how much improved the roads surrounding Nairobi had become during Mr. Kenyatta’s term as president, but outside the city the roads were, to an American, barely passable.  (“Were most roads in Kenya like this ten years ago?” TLOML asked as we pounded along a particularly sacroiliac-abusive stretch.  “Oh, this is much better,” Manson replied, without any trace of irony.)  Shanty hamlets and markets exist on the wayside amid plastic bottles and refuse for which there is no means of disposal.  People (including small children), cattle, goats, even camels walk perilously close to vehicles whizzing along the road.  Tiny thatched huts (it sounds like a cliché, but it’s not), smaller than almost any room in any American home built in the last century, dot the surrounding fields, housing whole families.  There is very little health insurance.  Where the roads are reasonably traversable, speed is maintained not by stoplights but by mountainous speed bumps – and at every speed bump, people approach the slowing cars from the side of the road to try to sell produce, water, or souvenirs.  (Manson was amused when I suggested that they were “businessmen,” and referred to them as such for the rest of the trip.)   

Early in our trip, Manson described how difficult life can be for elementary-school-aged Kenyans, particularly outside Nairobi.  There are frequently over 100 in a class, with limited facilities and poorly-paid teachers; many times the schools receiving the tuition fail to pay the teachers, who in turn therefore sometimes demand payment directly from the students and send them away if they cannot comply.  (Unexpectedly, grade school children are better dressed than some adults because many schools require uniforms.)  Manson indicated that in his early years, he himself had at times been sent home from school because his family lacked the money to pay his teachers.  At about the mid-point of our trip, our van broke down between preserves.  While Manson called back to Nairobi for assistance, the delay provided the opportunity to walk around (for safety purposes, most time in wildlife preserves is spent in the vehicle) and appreciate the vista.  A middle schooler, Sam, walked by and then stopped while we waited by the side of the road.  He was stoic, and didn’t speak much English, but it became clear that he understood it perfectly.  Random motorists would stop, come over and speak with Manson in Swahili, and look under the hood of our vehicle; sometimes tinkering would go on; more talk would ensue; the engine wouldn’t start; and they would leave, soon followed by other well-meaning, but equally ineffective, Good Samaritans.  Sam and I watched this cycle several times.  Finally I quietly asked him, “Do you think any of these guys know anything about cars?”  For a moment his deadpan disappeared; I got a brilliant smile, and he shook his head.  At some break in the (in)action, Manson came over and asked Sam why he wasn’t in school.  It turned out that he had been sent home because he couldn’t pay his teacher.  Manson was clearly taken back to his own past, and asked how much money Sam needed to be allowed back in school:  it was 500KSh – 500 Kenyan shillings.  Manson and I split the needed tuition.  Before being too struck by our generosity, be aware:  at the time, 500KSh amounted to $4.35 – another stark indication as to how far many Kenyans’ material means differ from our own.

To avoid unduly taxing your eyes or your stamina, the remainder of this note will appear in Part II.

On Ukraine Today

My sense – although the impression, even if now accurate, can be dispelled by NATO allies’ future decisive action – is that Ukraine might be starting to slip away.

“Putin knows that unexpected events can and will blow things off course in domestic and foreign policy. … This means he focuses on contingency and adaptive planning to deal with them. … Having back-up plans means learning from past mistakes as well as successes.”

  • Mr. Putin; Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy

After initially misunderstanding Ukrainians’ devotion to a Ukrainian state, underestimating Ukrainian grit and determination, grossly overestimating the competence of the Russian military, misjudging NATO unity and resolve, counting on a cold winter to cause Europeans to prioritize Russian fuel over Ukrainian sovereignty, and hoping that vague threats of nuclear weaponry would deter NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin has adjusted his war strategy to four pillars:  holding the Ukrainian territory Russia now controls; terrorizing the Ukrainian population through continuous missile strikes (simultaneously destroying symbols of Ukrainian heritage); transitioning Russia to a wartime footing by mobilizing Russian industry for military production while conscripting a massive number of additional soldiers (i.e., following a centuries-old Russian tradition of feeding untrained Russian bodies into the meat grinder to compensate for Russian officer cronyism and incompetence); and waiting the West out. 

Mr. Putin is now literally seeking to grind it out.  Evil.  But savvy.

For much of the conflict, I consider the United States’ response to have been almost pitch-perfect.  The Biden Administration first sought to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine by publicizing its intelligence on Russian plans and deployments.  President Joe Biden then masterfully marshaled NATO unity and action.  Thereafter, understandably concerned that the conflict could lead to nuclear war (although those fears currently appear abated), America and its NATO allies have (in then-Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby’s word) “curated” their military assistance to Ukraine – a tit for every Russian tat – an approach designed to maintain a fiction that NATO is not at war with Russia.

The irony is that Mr. Putin maintains no such illusions; he considers NATO to be at war with Russia.  You know what?  He’s right. 

At the time this is typed, NATO allies are divided over whether to and which tanks to provide to Ukraine.  Reportedly, the United States doesn’t want to provide its Abrams tanks to Ukraine because … they require a lot of training and need a lot of gas.  Germany isn’t yet willing to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine because … it isn’t.  (Germany reportedly is willing to let other NATO nations send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and the U.K. is sending 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.)  This follows diddling over whether to and who should provide planes to Ukrainians, diddling over which and how many missile defense systems are suitable for Ukraine (so far, we’ve provided one Patriot system), and hand-wringing over what firepower has too much range to provide to the Ukrainians.  (God forbid that they start taking the battle to Russia in Russia, although this might cause some Russians to question Russian media claims about Russia’s success.)

Last week, President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass made a point that resonated with me:  slow escalations rarely work; the enemy simply adapts.  He used Vietnam as an example, and although that war otherwise has little in common with the Ukrainian conflict, the analogy is apt.  NATO has slowly escalated, and Russia has correspondingly adapted.

It’s time for America and its NATO allies to conceptually and viscerally internalize the fact that although at this point only Ukrainians are actively fighting and dying, NATO is indeed at war (albeit so far conventional) with Russia.  Poland understands this reality – it has experienced life under Russian rule – which is why, despite its elected leadership’s increasingly illiberal leanings, it is among the NATO allies most aggressively assisting Ukraine’s defense.  Finland and Sweden understand Russia’s voraciousness when it is guided by a KGB soul such as Mr. Putin, which is why they seek NATO membership after decades of reluctance.  (The Biden Administration should put maximum pressure on Turkey and Hungary to vote to admit Finland and Sweden to NATO immediately.  NATO Treaty provisions are what they are, but how to deal with two states that are now at best quasi-allies is an issue that the Alliance needs to consider.)  Once NATO as a whole accepts the reality that it is at war with Russia, the steps that follow largely dictate themselves.  In America’s case, I would submit that we should refrain only from providing Ukraine nuclear weaponry and the resources required to help rebuff any Chinese invasion of Taiwan; otherwise, within the confines of the Ukrainian aid package Congress passed at the end of 2022, we should furnish Ukrainians whatever we can that they either know or can be trained how to use.  

Our national debt is now approaching World War II levels.  I wholeheartedly agree that at some time in the not-too-distant future, we do need to lay a plan to curb our spending and increase our revenues.  Given their past support of costly initiatives of former Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump, any protests for fiscal conservatism put forth by Republicans during this Congress will obviously be patently hypocritical, but I would further submit that any such claims asserted by MAGAs in the context of limiting future aid to Ukraine will also amount to a cloak for anti-democratic aims.  No matter the size of our debt, this is NOT the time to back off on aid to Ukraine – a position I believe to be shared by sensible members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is frequently compared to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  During the last year, I have frequently turned to the World War II speeches Mr. Churchill rendered in the months after France fell to the Nazis and before the United States entered the war.  It is clear that Mr. Churchill then believed that if Britain could just hold on long enough, America’s entry into the war – with its military and manufacturing resources – would ultimately ensure victory.  Mr. Zelenskyy is now nervous and exhausted, and he’s showing it.  I am confident that he is acutely aware that in one vital respect, his position is in fact the reverse of Mr. Churchill’s so long ago:  since the Russian invasion, although seemingly teetering at times, has not collapsed, it is Mr. Putin that is calculating that if he can just hold out long enough, NATO will lose the will to support Ukraine, and then … Ukraine will be Russia’s.

If Mr. Putin was going to be internally deposed for this Russian military debacle, he already would have been.  If he is to be externally judged for this monstrous insult to humanity and international order, that reckoning is a long time off.  We and our NATO allies need to grasp that we are at war, quit diddling, and give it all we have – now and into the foreseeable future.

On Classified Documents

[Warning:  Viewer Discretion Advised.  There is absolutely nothing in this post that you haven’t already thought, heard, and/or read.  Sometimes, one cannot resist adding two cents.  🙂 ].

We had family visiting most of the past week, and accordingly, were only able to absorb smatterings of information regarding the classified documents from President Joe Biden’s term as vice president that were discovered first in Mr. Biden’s private nongovernmental office, then in his Delaware home, and apparently then in his garage … near his Corvette.  I did see one video clip in which the President sought to minimize the severity of this security breach by noting that the garage was locked [I’m sure that his garage door lock would have proven impregnable to Russian or Chinese specialists  😉 ], and actually uttering the word, “Corvette.”  (D’oh!)  At another point we did hear that a Special Counsel has been appointed to investigate the situation.  (Ouch!)

[At least as far as I am aware, no Top Secret documents have yet been found in a school backpack in Hunter Biden’s childhood bedroom. 🙂 ]

In the one edition of MSNBC’s decidedly-liberal Morning Joe we saw last week, the members of the panel, while conceding that these discoveries were terrible political optics for the President, almost literally tried to stand on their heads to distinguish the Biden discoveries from the discoveries of classified documents at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

From a legal perspective, they may well be right; national security laws were never within my legal purview.  That said, perhaps because we formed our impressions from only the highlights of the reports on the discovered documents — much as do working Americans who don’t have the time to absorb nuances of current events – I would venture that there is very little chance that the average citizen is not going to conceptually equate Messrs. Biden’s and Trump’s security breaches.

This Biden classified document fiasco markedly corrodes what I consider the President’s core “brand” attribute among objective Americans:  competence.  Through his marshaling of NATO assets to help Ukraine confront Russia and the undeniably-impressive array of legislative achievements passed during the first two years of his term, before the recent revelations Mr. Biden had seemingly expunged the taint of incompetence engendered by our bungled Afghanistan withdrawal.  What’s worse for him is that, unlike the Afghanistan debacle – which an open-minded American might conclude resulted from Mr. Biden’s understandable reliance on U.S. military and intelligence sources’ erroneous assessment of our Afghan allies’ readiness to withstand the Taliban – this blunder can be laid directly at the President’s feet.   

Both parties indulge in “Whataboutism,” and the Republicans excel at it.  That said, I have recently suggested in these pages that the Republicans sometimes tend to let their hyper-partisan venom get in their own way; that their attacks on the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness initiative and the Administration’s attempts to retire certain Trump Administration southwest border immigration limits actually appeared to me to help Mr. Biden politically and/or substantively.  While it seems overwhelmingly likely that Republicans will yell loud and long about the Biden discoveries as justification for defending Mr. Trump, I would venture that if they indeed adopt that course, they will again be too smart by half.  Surveys indicate that most Republicans, even those that retain an affinity for Mr. Trump, want a different presidential standard-bearer in 2024; Paul Ryan, former Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives turned Board Director for the Murdoch Family-controlled Fox Corporation – and thus, now a mouthpiece of Murdoch sentiment — recently called Mr. Trump “a proven loser” on CNN.  If conservative media outlets are savvy – and hopefully they aren’t this shrewd – they will pivot their coverage and use the recent Biden document discoveries as a cudgel to politically bludgeon both Messrs. Biden and Trump.

May Democrats, and President Biden himself, not be so Pollyannish as to think that Republicans – still yelling not only about Hunter Biden’s laptop, but about the Steele dossier, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, and how unfairly the autocratic Pharaoh was treated by Moses — will let the President’s classified document peccadillo drift away.  While actually I am aware that most legal specialists have opined, based upon reporting to date, that Mr. Biden probably isn’t in any criminal trouble for this embarrassing mess, I am hoping that the President, presumably still mulling whether to run for re-election, is aware that Republicans will be talking about this not only as long as he is in office, but, if Ms. Clinton’s experience is any example, perhaps as long as he is alive.  It’s a weight, along with his age, that he can’t afford in a re-election bid.  I will submit that if Mr. Biden’s unauthorized retention of classified documents had been discovered in the weeks before the 2020 election, Mr. Trump would have been able to exploit the controversy to eke out a narrow victory.

So for those of us that laud Mr. Biden’s accomplishments to date, but fear that any run he makes for re-election will be fraught with peril for American democracy (given the likely attitudes of whomever is the Republican nominee), there is perhaps a silver lining in this clumsy snafu, although it is not among the rationales painfully posed by liberal talking heads.  As a close friend emailed me last week:  “Perhaps a silver lining is that this is the lever that gets Biden not to run again.” 

An Early January Potpourri

A series of random thoughts as 2023 begins:

I have heard commentators declare that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republicans’ antics in their ongoing efforts to elect a Speaker don’t constitute a flaw, but rather a facet, of a vibrant democracy.  Although an exchange of clashing viewpoints has been one of the wellsprings of American democracy from the days of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, such is only the case if such differing viewpoints are offered in good faith – i.e., with the sincere intent to select a better leader or reach a better policy approach for the greater good of America.  I don’t have any insight into the views or motives of the vast majority of Republican House members who are refusing to vote for U.S. CA Rep Kevin McCarthy for Speaker.  I have already indicated in these pages that if a GOP representative, I myself wouldn’t be supporting Mr. McCarthy because he has shown that he doesn’t have the steadfastness for the job.  That said, I would submit that there is strong evidence that at least two of Mr. McCarthy’s most vocal opponents, election-deniers U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert, are simply hyper-partisan, self-promoting provocateurs.  I see little to indicate any motive for their current drive to oust Mr. McCarthy beyond personal ambition.

The current Republican (Animal) House dysfunction is troubling on a deeper level.  As Mr. McCarthy concedes more and more to the most rabid members of his caucus, how will he – and therefore, we – manage when a crisis needing unanticipated funding and unity inevitably occurs during the next two years?  Will the agitators come away from this internecine party battle with the power to prevent a vote on a bill raising the federal debt ceiling, causing the United States to default on its full faith and credit?  Will they be able to block additional needed aid to Ukraine, or aid to assist Taiwan, should Mainland China elect to invade the island?  Will they hinder the provision of assistance to California if it suffers an earthquake, or to Puerto Rico if it is battered by another devastating hurricane, because they don’t consider these to really be part of their America?  Will they fund the Biden Administration’s efforts if we are suddenly hit with another pandemic – or declare the announcement of a new virus merely a hoax?  You may dismiss these concerns as unduly alarmist.  If so, I hope you’re right.

Next:  the situation at the southwest border is human tragedy, a logistical quagmire, and a political nightmare.  Immigration has been a visceral issue for Republican voters, and generally a political winner for Republicans, for most of this century.  On Thursday, the President announced new approaches that may have value and/or simply be a bandage.  I have no substantive solutions to offer for the challenges we face.  I would venture this:  if Mr. Biden intends to seek re-election, his Administration had better achieve notable improvements to our humanitarian and security challenges at the border this year.  If not, immigration may well prove to be the issue that Mr. Biden’s Republican opponent can wield most effectively against him in the upcoming campaign.

Next:  I find it ironic that Republican-controlled states’ immediate reflex to oppose anything that the Biden Administration proposes is, in certain areas, helping the Administration either substantively or politically.  Republican lawsuits thus far successfully thwarting Administration efforts to dismantle Title 42 – a Trump Administration initiative used to quickly expel immigrants at the southwest border – have, by keeping Title 42 in effect, perhaps prevented even greater politically-damaging border havoc for the Administration.  (In an irony within an irony, the Administration’s new border protection measures reportedly expand the practice of immediate expulsion authorized under Title 42 to unsponsored migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.)  Likewise, Republican-led states’ efforts to throw out Mr. Biden’s plan to forgive federal student loan debt – no matter what one thinks of the Administration policy substantively – undoubtedly redounds to Mr. Biden’s benefit politically.  (The President can justifiably say to all those whose obligations would be forgiven or reduced:  “I tried to help you, and they wouldn’t let me.”)  Who are those borrowers going to vote for in 2024?

Next:  On a human level, all of us who are aware are saddened by the sudden cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin in last Monday night’s NFL football game.  As this is typed, Mr. Hamlin’s prognosis is reportedly improving.  (I heard some ghoul ask one of Mr. Hamlin’s doctors this week whether he might recover sufficiently to return to the game.  Really? That reporter should be made to face an unblocked rush from the San Francisco 49er defensive line.)  All hope for Mr. Hamlin’s quick and complete recovery.  At the same time, I am perplexed by the calls I hear from some for the NFL to “do something” to prevent afflictions such as that suffered by Mr. Hamlin.  All who read these pages are aware that I am an NFL fan.  Make no mistake:  I believe that the NFL and its owners are much more concerned with protecting the multi-billion colossus they have created than they are with player safety.  That said, having watched thousands of NFL tackles in my lifetime, I saw nothing unique or untoward about the collision that stopped Mr. Hamlin’s heart.  Assuming that the NFL tests all players for cardiac fitness as part of its initial processes, I don’t know what the NFL could have done before or do now to guard against tragic disorders such as Mr. Hamlin incurred Monday night.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of football in this country – a popularity, whether one likes it or not, which arises in large measure from the game’s ferocity – perhaps we should ban the game due to the physiological and attendant psychological damage suffered by players resulting from repeated head and other reasonably-foreseeable trauma.  TLOML and I were always happy that our sons never played the game at any serious level.  At the same time, if mine was the voice deciding for all of America whether to keep or ban football, I don’t know which way I would vote.  Our citizens voluntarily choose to downhill ski, sky dive, rock climb, bungee jump, and play soccer (which at advanced levels has its own head trauma challenges).  People are injured or killed every day riding bicycles.  By high school, every football player that chooses to play knows the risk.  Even though the average NFL career is short, the NFL annual base salary is over $700,000; the average American salary is under $55,000 a year.  Even if possessed in my late teens and early 20’s of the wisdom of Medicare-eligible years and aware of the game’s dangers [and despite lacking the coordination to efficiently tie my shoes 😉 ], would I still have gone into the NFL — to make the kind of money that could form a base of financial security for a lifetime — if I had had the ability?  I would have.

Finally:  Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2024.

I have mentioned a number of times in these pages that I hope, for the good of my children and grandchildren, that U.S. Transportation Secretary and former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg is someday president of the United States.  It has been clear, however, that notwithstanding President Biden’s selection of Mr. Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary – an appointment of an extremely able young politician with a seemingly bright future who withdrew from the 2020 Democratic nomination race (along with U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar) just in time for Mr. Biden to corral all moderate liberal support and win the nomination – Cabinet experience is not a sufficient background upon which to mount a credible campaign for the presidency.  If Mr. Buttigieg wishes to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination at some point in the future, he will no longer be able to employ the “Exciting Newcomer” lane he used in 2020; he will need a significant position from which to launch his campaign:  a Governorship or a U.S. Senate seat.  If he can win either office after leaving the Biden Administration, he can bide his time:  he will be 42 on election day 2024, which means that he will be viable, from an age perspective, for at least the five presidential election cycles after 2024 – to 2044 [and, judging by the age of our recent major party presidential nominees, perhaps longer 😉 ].

I suspect that Mr. Buttigieg agrees with my assessment that he will need a substantial post if he wishes to mount another campaign for the presidency.  I suspect that he agrees with my assessment that no Democrat will be elected a U.S. Senator or Governor in Mr. Buttigieg’s native Indiana for many years to come.  I also suspect that he agrees with my assessment that he needs to establish greater rapport with and support in the African American community than he had in 2020 in order to make a viable run.  For some months, I thought that he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, might move their family from Washington, D.C., commuting distance down to Baltimore, since the term of Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, 79, will expire in two years.

I was wrong about Mr. Buttigieg’s moving plans.  Last summer, the Buttigiegs established their legal residence in Traverse City, MI, Mr. C. Buttigieg’s home town, and registered to vote.

There are a lot of ambitious politicians in Michigan, as there are in all states.  Many will consider a campaign for Ms. Stabenow’s seat, and all will consider and call Mr. Buttigieg a carpetbagger if he seeks Michigan Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination.  That said, presidential support would be an advantage in a Senate primary contest; the President has compared Mr. Buttigieg to his own beloved son, Beau; and a President pays his debts. 

As former President Donald Trump sometimes says:  We’ll see what happens. 

More than enough Noise for one post.

On Kevin McCarthy

[At the time this is scheduled, U.S. CA Rep. Kevin McCarthy has failed three times to secure the needed 218 votes needed to become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.]

I’m flummoxed.  We’ve all heard the clichés intoned by commentators:  “S/He will do anything to get power.”  Or:  “S/He will do anything to keep power.”  These pronouncements have in recent times frequently been made in reference to Republican officeholders bowing to claims of election fraud they know are false, but are equally applicable to rationalizations by politicians of both parties who understand the proper course but decline to take it to protect their own political careers.

What puzzles me about these phrases:  their inclusion of the word, “power.”  The groveling in which U.S. CA Rep. Kevin McCarthy has engaged since the November election to try to appease at least 218 members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican Caucus so he can become the Speaker of the House has been so publicly demeaning – to the extent that Mr. McCarthy has reportedly agreed to a rule that would provide any handful within the Republican majority the right to seek his ouster from the Speakership at any time – that it is obvious that he doesn’t really seek power; he won’t have any.  He covets the trappings of power that would attend having his name etched into some marble Capitol wall under those of recent House Speakers such as Sam Rayburn, Tip O’Neill, Newt Gingrich, and Nancy Pelosi.  No matter what you think of these past Speakers’ respective policy preferences, each was knowledgeable, savvy, and tough. 

If – imagine this 😉 – I was a member of the House Republican Caucus, I’d be a hard No on Mr. McCarthy (unless the only alternative was U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan, whom I consider at this point to arguably present a greater danger to American democracy than former President Donald Trump).  My principal objection to Mr. McCarthy would not be among those raised by House Republicans – a number of whom seek an American Apartheid and a few of whom, if reports are accurate, may have lent support to activities surrounding the insurrection on January 6, 2021 — but because he doesn’t have the fortitude.  For months, he should have been telling the recalcitrant members of his caucus to either vote for him, or go … (you fill in the rest), and then walked away.

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is third in line to the presidency of the United States.  While some negotiation among any group of ambitious, strong-minded individuals is to be expected, Mr. McCarthy hasn’t grasped that attaining the Speakership by bootlicking would reduce his post to a sham.  He apparently lacks the understanding of how to acquire and wield real power, and on this ground alone is unworthy of the position he seeks.  Put aside all of the terribly vital issues upon which we generally focus, including the ongoing existential threats of our democracy; put aside the Democrats’ partisan chortling, and any unseemly guilty satisfaction some undoubtedly feel at the Republicans’ disarray; consider only this:  If as a result of a devastating terror attack or other tragedy, Mr. McCarthy became President of the United States, do you think Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin would take him seriously?  In their places, would you?

On Joe Biden

With the coming of the new Congress, in which a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives seems more intent on dragging us into a maelstrom of hyper-partisan maneuvering and antagonism than serving us, this seems an appropriate time to review President Joe Biden’s first two years in office and ponder his political future.

All presidents since World War II have at least one notable positive achievement to their respective credits.  (Even those of us who abhor President Donald Trump must concede that the development of extremely effective COVID-19 vaccines in an unprecedentedly-short amount of time through his Administration’s Operation Warp Speed probably saved millions of lives.)  That said, I would submit that at this point in his term, the most consequential American president we have had since Franklin Delano Roosevelt is Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.

The positive value of a president’s accomplishments is determined by the gravity of the challenges s/he faces.  I consider Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mr. Roosevelt to be our three greatest presidents due to the manner in which they successfully addressed the existential threats to our nation that respectively confronted them.  President Biden has – thus far, successfully – faced challenges of the same character.

Mr. Biden resolved to run for the presidency after watching Mr. Trump’s waffling response to the unrest arising from the white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, VA, in August, 2017.  The President has indicated that after Charlottesville, he considered Democrats’ primary mission to remove Mr. Trump from the White House in 2020, and that he believed (as voting patterns ultimately demonstrated, correctly) that he was the only Democrat who could defeat Mr. Trump (an assessment shared by Mr. Trump).  Through his (albeit uncomfortably narrow) victory (by less than 1% in each of the states of Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which provided him the decisive 57 Electoral College votes), Mr. Biden saved America from descending into the fascist autocracy that many of us feared would attend Mr. Trump’s re-election – a fear since confirmed by the uncontested findings of the U.S. House’s “January 6th” Committee.

One could argue that simply by beating Mr. Trump and thus (at least at present) protecting American democracy, Mr. Biden should be placed at the head of his post-WWII peers.  Although the President has begun to tout the legislative achievements wrought during his first two years in office, I consider the way he has conducted the presidency – decent, stable, open – and the effective manner in which his Administration dispensed the COVID vaccines becoming available as he took office to be his most notable domestic contributions.  I view his legislative accomplishments, while unquestionably impressive given the faction-driven Congress with which he had to deal, to pale in comparison to the manner in which he has protected America and other global democracies by first fostering cohesion among NATO allies when Russia invaded Ukraine – a point at which the alliance was in its greatest disarray since its founding — and since marshalling its effective support of Ukraine while deftly managing American domestic sentiment.  Putting aside the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin would obviously be dancing in Kyiv today had Mr. Trump been re-elected, I would venture that none of Mr. Biden’s other living presidential predecessors could have done as well in the face of the Russian aggression as Mr. Biden did within the circumstances he found the world when he took office.

The President hasn’t been perfect – no president is.  I think the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was a strategic mistake, there is clearly an unresolved mess at our southwest border, and I question – without knowing the innards of both Congressional and Democratic caucus maneuvering — whether a “small ball” approach to legislation might not have achieved more than his “Go Big” approach, but Mr. Biden has gotten a lot more right than he has wrong.

All Americans owe President Biden a debt of gratitude, whether they see it or not.  Even so, he should announce before his upcoming State of the Union Address that he is NOT going to seek re-election.

The President has frequently asserted that we overstayed our mission in Afghanistan, which is why he ordered the withdrawal.  If counseling him today, I would remind him that the reason he got into the presidential race in 2020 – the mission – was to beat Donald Trump. He was the only guy who could.  He did.  The mission was accomplished.  Whether by divine providence or fortunate happenstance, he was probably the only 2020 American presidential candidate who, when the situation demanded it, could have as effectively rallied NATO against Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.  He did.  That course is set. 

That’s enough.

Presidential elections are about matchups.  While Mr. Biden correctly assessed that he was the only Democrat who could defeat Mr. Trump in 2020, I will venture that given Mr. Trump’s obviously significantly-weakened political standing with independent voters, if Mr. Trump wins the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, any moderate (or even moderately-progressive) Democratic candidate facing Mr. Trump, not just Mr. Biden, will be able to claim enough swing voters in enough swing states to win the presidency.

I would suggest to Mr. Biden that his focus for the 2024 presidential election shouldn’t be premised on Mr. Trump winning the Republican nomination; it should be based on what happens if he doesn’t.  Mr. Trump’s outsized presence has dominated our collective view of the political landscape since at least the day he assumed the presidency.  If Mr. Biden runs and faces any Republican challenger in 2024 save Mr. Trump – across a gamut as wide as FL Gov. Ron DeSantis to (about to be former) U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney – voters’ focus will no longer be centered on Mr. Trump, but will be where it generally is when an incumbent President seeks re-election:  on the President. 

I find it disconcerting that at least according to some reports, Mr. Biden and his team believe that the Democrats did much better than expected in the 2022 mid-term elections because of Mr. Biden’s and Democrats’ affirmative domestic and foreign policy achievements.  One can certainly argue that those accomplishments should have been the reasons that the Democrats fared as well as they did, but I consider it a dangerous misperception to believe that they were; if they had been, Mr. Biden’s approval rating would be significantly higher than it is.  While Democrats’ fortunes were clearly politically aided by the Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justices’ vitiation of women’s U.S. Constitutional abortion rights, I would assert that they did better than expected – while in reality, doing no more than squeaking by – principally because a majority of Americans (if not a majority of Republicans) couldn’t stomach the notion of turning their government over to election deniers – i.e., either liars or fools.  Such hardly constituted a resounding mandate for Democrats.

I would submit that if the President seeks re-election in 2024 and Mr. Trump is not the Republican nominee, one issue will dominate voters’ minds:  Mr. Biden’s age.  He would be running for re-election when 4 years older than President Ronald Reagan was when he left the White House. 

As most that read these pages are aware, we live in Madison, WI, perhaps the chief citadel of progressivism between the coasts.  Even so, when the prospect of another Biden campaign comes up in conversation, almost to a person our friends – if called upon, certain Biden 2024 votes — either cringe or shrug.  “He’s so old,” they say – the italics implicit in their tone.  A decade younger than Mr. Biden, I myself wonder:  How does Mr. Biden keep up the pace?  Even if the President doesn’t fall subject to some significant physical ail during the next six years:  How can he possibly maintain the presidential pace until he is 86?  Any political handicapper cannot help but consider:  If Mr. Biden’s age is a paramount concern to those who will be committed Biden supporters, how well will Mr. Biden score with independent voters in what promises to be an extremely tight race against committed Republican opposition if his (probably significantly younger) Republican opponent is not so overtly autocratically toxic as Mr. Trump?      

A key part of a great performance is knowing when to leave the stage:  an understanding shared by Johnny Carson and Joe DiMaggio, not grasped by Michael Jordan or Tom Brady.  Aside from what seems at least to me to be a very uncertain political route to a second term, I would suggest to Mr. Biden that it is not substantively good for the country to have a president as old as he is; only the existential dangers to the country presented by Mr. Trump even made him consider a candidacy in 2020.  As long as he remains a viable political presence, the House Republicans will be hell-bent on tarnishing his name and dragging his son, Hunter (whom he clearly truly loves) through the mud.  It is a presidential power maxim that a president loses the ability to get things done when s/he either can’t run or indicates that s/he won’t run for another term; I would venture that in Mr. Biden’s case, the opposite might be true.  He can govern above the fray, establish an apolitical credibility.  Republicans will lose interest in his son the minute he announces he isn’t seeking re-election.  Since no progressive legislation is going to get through the House Republicans in any case, Mr. Biden might be able to achieve some moderate bipartisan agreements with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and swing district House Republicans they don’t see such resulting legislation as directly aiding a Biden re-election effort.

In the last two years, Mr. Biden has successfully protected democracy at home and abroad.  While I sincerely hope that this will not always be the case, it seems overwhelmingly likely that in order to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, the Republican candidate will need to accommodate MAGAism to at least some extent, which I would assert means that s/he will, to at least that extent, present a continuing danger to American democracy.  I would advise Mr. Biden that the best way he can secure what he has won for us is to step aside for another Democrat better positioned to defend his advances against what will undoubtedly be a fierce and cohesive Republican onslaught.

Thank you for the honor of sharing these posts with you again in 2022.  May you and all of your family and friends enjoy a Healthy and Happy New Year.

Happy Holidays

Some say that there is no Supreme Being; they assert that our existence is a consequence of the churnings of the universe, the result of an endless metaphysical evolution.  Under our system of government, Americans have a right to hold, or not hold, any feeling of faith we choose, and I absolutely defend the right of those who deny the existence of the Almighty; but I cannot agree.  Life is too wondrous to have come about from a random clash of molecules; it is the product of the Divine, no matter by what name or how He (as always, please excuse the male pronoun for a genderless being) is known.  TLOML and I recently had a chance to catch a reminder of a message which perhaps some of us too frequently forget as we navigate life’s challenges; a link is set forth below.

May you embrace your blessings amid your family and friends during this wondrous Season. 

Happy Holidays.

Echoes from the Past

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Washington today and addresses Congress this evening.  He will remind us that the battle against tyranny is never over.

“I feel greatly honoured that you should have invited me to enter the United States Senate Chamber and address the representatives of both branches of Congress. … I was brought up in my father’s house to believe in democracy.  ‘Trust the people’ – that was his message.  … I have steered confidently towards the Gettysburg ideal of ‘government of the people by the people for the people.’ … I [am] … to meet with the President of the United States and to arrange with him all that mapping out of our military plans, and for all those intimate meetings of the high officers of the armed services of both countries, which are indispensable to the successful prosecution of the war. …

What kind of people do [the Axis Powers] think we are?  Is it possible that they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them? … [W]e are facing a group of mighty foes who seek our ruin; here we are defending all that to free men is dear. … Do we not owe it to ourselves, to our children, to mankind tormented, to make sure that these catastrophes shall not engulf us?  … Duty and prudence alike command first that the germ-centres of hatred and revenge shall be constantly and vigilantly surveyed and treated in good time, and secondly, that an adequate organization shall be set up to make sure that the pestilence can be controlled … before it spreads and rages throughout the entire earth. …

Prodigious hammer-strokes have been needed to bring us together. … I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honour to be the faithful servants. …

I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come the British and American peoples will for their own safety and for the good of all walk together side by side in majesty, in justice, and in peace.”  

  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in a Joint Address to the Congress of the United States, December 26, 1941

The Green and Gold with Three to Play

I didn’t foresee entering any more notes about the Green Bay Packers here this season.  The team had been surprisingly disappointing in all three phases of the game; it seemed best for the squad in the long run to be eliminated from playoff contention as soon as possible so the coaching staff could play former first-round draft pick Quarterback Jordan Love and we could finally confirm that, despite apparently being a nice guy, Mr. Love is not THE FUTURE.

The Packers beat the reigning Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams in Lambeau Field last night.  It was a remarkably less-notable achievement than it sounds, given a Rams’ 2022 season even more horrendous than Green Bay’s, the fact that Los Angeles was missing key players, it was a cold night for a west coast team, and its quarterback, Baker Mayfield, while possessing a decent-if-mixed pedigree, had only been with the team about ten days.

And yet … it was Green Bay’s second victory since the math determined that the team is eliminated from the playoffs upon its next defeat.

Those with long memories will recall that in 2010, Green Bay, despite having Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Cornerback Charles Woodson, and Linebacker Clay Mathews, was having a dawdling season with dwindling playoff prospects until, at mid-season, it discovered that undrafted free agent Sam Shields had premier cover corner skills.  The discovery enabled the staff to move Mr. Woodson from the outside to slot corner, where he could wreak havoc on opposing offenses in multiple ways, and the team – which, starting with two regular season games to go, was going to be eliminated from championship contention upon its next loss — snuck into the playoffs as the lowest seed.  Green Bay became the proverbial Team Nobody Wants to Play, and the team rode its defense to the Lombardi Trophy.

I don’t have the same high hopes for the current Packer squad.  Although the emergence of speedy Rookie Wide Receiver Christian Watson has enlivened the team’s offense, and Keisean Nixon has sparked its special team return game, I believe that defense wins championships, and I simply don’t think that the team’s defense is good enough.  Even so, having watched the last two Green Bay victories dispassionately, each time anticipating a loss that would effectively end the team’s season, the Packers’ contest against the Miami Dolphins this Sunday (Christmas Day; the NFL should NEVER schedule games on Christmas Day, even when it falls on Sunday) will be instructive.  Miami is over .500 in a tough AFC division. It has its own battle to get in the playoffs.  It just went head-to-head in a narrow loss to the fearsome Buffalo Bills.  Pundits are almost unanimously picking Miami to beat the Packers.  If Green Bay nonetheless prevails, its prospects with two games to play – grudge matches at home against their NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions – become more intriguing.

And if the team loses … football entries in these pages are likely to go into hibernation until the late summer.  There is plenty else to talk about 😉 .

Our Most Influential American Non-Presidents Since World War II

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s recent announcement that she was withdrawing from House leadership and the accolades she has deservedly received since her announcement caused me – this is the kind of thing that retirees have time to ponder 😉 – to reflect upon which Americans since World War II I thought had the most impact on our lives who were never president of the United States.  What follows is the list I came up with.  [Note:  this is not a “feel good list.”  You will see that I do not consider the impacts of all of the listed Americans to have been positive.]  One places more value on what one knows, and this list necessarily betrays my relatively greater interest in public policy, policy and commerce.  The explanations tend to be longer for those selections not as familiar to those with shorter memories.  With the exception of the first and last names below, my list is in alphabetical order.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King’s crusade to bring the nation’s racial injustice to Americans’ attention via nonviolent means places him above and apart as not only the most consequential American non-President since World War II, but the most consequential non-President of the Twentieth century.
  • Muhammad Ali.  Mr. Ali’s still-unequaled heavyweight boxing ability combined with his articulate social commentary, his grit, and his fearlessness not only in the ring but in adopting Islam and standing up to American administrations’ pursuit of an egregiously misguided war effort made him a worldwide icon who lifted the spirits and aspirations of African Americans and earned the esteem of all but the most racially-biased of his fellow citizens.
  • Jeff Bezos.  The amazing variety and convenience of Mr. Bezos’ Amazon has revolutionized the way we shop.  This stunning conceptual, technological and logistical achievement must arguably be balanced against its detrimental impact on local retailers, its diminution of the employment prospects of some of our less-skilled citizens, and its reduction of Americans’ traditional physical shopping interactions.
  • Warren Buffett.  Mr. Buffett’s renown as an investor and his endearing homespun manner are well known; I myself follow some of his investing maxims.  That said, I believe that his was the first prominent voice to assert that corporations’ overriding responsibility was to act in the good of the company’s shareholders and that senior management’s compensation should be tied to the corporation’s fortunes.  I would submit that these precepts have led to a general disregard for other corporate constituencies, such as employees, communities, sometimes even customers, and has resulted in excessive corporate focus on cost-cutting, outsourcing and short-term results in lieu of long term and broader societal benefits.
  • Hillary Clinton.  Whether or not one finds her particularly likeable, Ms. Clinton’s extraordinary career, her undoubted ability, and her bone toughness have made clear that a woman can be, should be, and will be President of the United States.
  • Newt Gingrich.  The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives in the late 1990s.  An observation about Mr. Gingrich during PBS’ American Experience:  Clinton Part I:  “You’ve heard of von Clausewitz’ definition of war as ‘politics by other means.’  Newt considered politics to be ‘war by other means.’”  Unquestionably bright and knowledgeable, Mr. Gingrich made Washington politics blood sport – the other party wasn’t an adversary, as believed by former President Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, but rather, the enemy – an attitude now common on both sides of the aisle.  The American experiment has been tarnished as a result.
  • Barry Goldwater.  The longtime Republican Arizona Senator was the first modern proponent of honorable conservative thought:  that states’ rights had been unconstitutionally usurped by the federal government, that Americans were too handicapped by taxes and regulation, that too much welfare was debilitating rather than enabling, that government is best done at the local level, etc.  Acknowledged by Dr. King not to be a racist, Mr. Goldwater had a strong libertarian streak, at the end of his life criticizing the religious right, supporting gay rights, and defending abortion.  One can agree with his principles or not, but he had principles.  He laid the path for Mr. Reagan.  I cringe whenever I read or hear news media refer to MAGAs as “conservatives”; I once heard it said that Mr. Goldwater – undeniably crusty — declared, when referring to isolationist and arguably racist elements in his era claiming to be “Conservatives”:  “They’re not conservatives.  They’re just assholes.”
  • Steve Jobs.  The iPhone.  The icons we use in all of our applications to communicate.  ‘Nuff said.  As you watch many Americans scrolling their phones while ignoring their companions, you can ask yourself whether Mr. Jobs’ contributions were good or bad, but we are where we are.
  • Robert Kahn/Vinton Cerf.  Although the concept of the World Wide Web had many contributors dating back to Nikola Tesla in the early 1900s, Messrs. Kahn and Cerf developed the protocols that made the internet a reality for the general public.  I consider the internet primarily a positive force, but it has certainly been abused in ways I’m sure that Messrs. Kahn and Cerf never envisioned.
  • George Marshall.  The overall architect of the Marshall Plan, the Truman Administration’s plan to rebuild a Europe destroyed by World War II.  Given his previous role as Army Chief of Staff in the war effort, he was viewed as nonpolitical, and his credibility paved the way for a plan that rebuilt Europe and kept it out of Communist control – setting up a diplomatic and territorial firewall that protects America to this day.
  • Nancy Pelosi.  The first woman Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the most powerful woman constitutional officer in our history, she led her caucus successfully during what has been our most poisonously partisan and tumultuous political period since the Civil War.  Ms. Pelosi has endured endless vituperation magnified, in my view, simply because she is a woman.  She’s bright, tough, and cool under pressure.  She held the Congress together during the January 6th attack.  She considers the Affordable Care Act her greatest achievement as Speaker; I would suggest that the number of bills she got passed during the last Congress with a caucus as factionalized as the Republicans was an equally notable achievement.    
  • Eleanor Roosevelt.  I would submit that Mrs. (as she was known) Roosevelt was the leading postwar figure in two movements:  progressivism and women’s rights.  She deployed her prominence in outspoken advocacy of liberal causes and reformist movements considered then (and, for some, perhaps now) “socialist,” for which a direct line exists between her thinking and that of U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders.  In 1948, President Harry Truman appointed her to the United Nations, and she became the first chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights.  She supported the founding of a UN Agency on nutrition.  Gallup found her the “most admired living woman” among Americans every year save one between 1948 (when the poll began) to 1961, but she was regularly vilified.  Although Mrs. Roosevelt opposed the Equal Rights Amendment – she didn’t consider it necessary – I am confident that Mses. Clinton and Pelosi would both agree that their rises and careers were enabled by the trailblazing of Mrs. Roosevelt.
  • George Wallace.  The true prophet of today’s MAGAism who most potently stimulated the nerve in the American political fabric ultimately exploited by former President Donald Trump is neither AK Gov. and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin nor Republican Patrick Buchanan; it is former AL Gov. George Wallace.  Mr. Wallace, who famously “stood in the schoolhouse door” in 1963 to attempt to stop the enrollment of African American students at the University of Alabama, later sublimated – slightly – his racist message and in his 1968, 1972, and 1976 presidential campaigns, instead turned his attacks on the elites and the “pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington.”  A Democrat (before it was politically acceptable to be a Republican in the South), Mr. Wallace had Mr. Trump’s raw charisma and ability to rouse crowds.  David Halberstam reported in The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy, “In late July, 1968 [after the assassination of Mr. Kennedy], Wallace turned to a reporter and said, ‘You reporters are for [anti-Vietnam war candidate and then-U.S. MN Sen. Eugene] McCarthy, aren’t you; and your editors are for [moderate and then U.S. Vice President Hubert] Humphrey; but your pressmen are for me.’ [Italics Mr. Halberstam’s].”  In 1968, Mr. Wallace won five states – Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, — all but Georgia MAGA bastions today.
  • Mark Zuckerberg.  Mr. Zuckerberg certainly isn’t the only one responsible for the virulent spread and destructive impact of social media upon our society, but Facebook, given its breadth, is arguably the vehicle through which Americans’ most toxic impulses were most able to metastasize.
  • John F. Kennedy.  I know; I appear to be cheating.  However, I don’t add former President John Kennedy to this list due to his presidential accomplishments — which, aside from his ultimately brilliant management of the Cuban Missile Crisis, were middling – but because he first understood and leveraged, for the long term good or ill, the marriage between politics and media.  Where before his time Americans were governed by frequently portly and/or balding men, he himself acknowledged that he could never have won the presidency but for TV.  He looked good.  He spoke well.  He mastered the soundbite before we even had a term for it.  The debate tactics he employed against Richard Nixon in 1960 are still the hallmarks of political debating.  I suspect that every politician of the two following generations affirmatively studied him, and I am confident politicians still do today, although they may not recognize the progenitor of the on-camera techniques they employ.  Since Mr. Kennedy’s election, we have had no bald presidents, no obviously overweight presidents [Mr. Trump has a great tailor  😉 ], and only two – Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush – who wore glasses on-camera.  I would venture that at least Mr. Reagan, former President Barack Obama, and Mr. Trump could not have won the presidency but for the path forged by Mr. Kennedy.  Make of that what you will.

Who did I miss?