Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Short Subject That Might Be About Sports, Or About Politics, Or About Family Values, Or About Race, But Turns Out To Be Mostly About Laziness And A Desperate Need For Attention

[Ed. note: Sorry to give away the ending.]

Here’s the situation:

The New England Patriots earn a trip to the White House by winning the Super Bowl. A great many players attend the event in Washington, DC this past Thursday. Several players miss the trip, due to one thing and another, not least of which is that the trip could well have been set up on very short notice and their personal schedules may already have been set. (You hate to miss these things, but sometimes life intervenes.) The team stands in the Rose Garden with the President, who happens to be Barack Obama, and you would think this little detail would mean very little. How wrong, apparently, you would be.

One of the players who misses the trip is quarterback Tom Brady. A high-profile guy, his absence is described as a “family commitment” [one online sports website noted that Thursday was Brady’s parents’ anniversary], and neither the team nor the President publicly makes a big deal of it.

Here’s the predictable part:

The next day, Stephen A. Smith, commentator and former sports journalist (that’s as close as any biographical website gets to calling him an current actual journalist), climbs onto his daily radio program and supposes that the Brady absence was far less innocent than even the President of These Here United States let on:

Where the hell was Tom Brady? Inquiring minds want to know. Where the hell was Tom Brady? I really would like to know. When you won the Super Bowl in 2001 and George W. Bush was president, you were there. When you won back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 2003 and 2004, when George W. Bush was still president, you were there. How come you wasn’t [sic] there yesterday? When President Barack Obama was there. I don’t understand it. Is that a legitimate question?

I don’t want to speculate. Is he a Republican and he doesn’t want anyone to know?

But you got a family commitment. Not an emergency!”

In the space of a single paragraph, Smith, who appears to be suffering from lack of parental attention in his early life, seems to imply that either [1] Brady might have skipped the event because his political views don’t line up with those of the President who happened to be on duty when the Patriots won the Super Bowl … or [2] Brady might have skipped the event because his skin tone didn’t line up with that of the President who happened to be on duty when the Patriots won the Super Bowl.

Smith doesn’t actually say any of that outright. He doesn’t outright accuse Brady of skipping a White house visit because of his politics (although he could go interview Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas about that, because Thomas has actual documented experience with it). And he certainly doesn’t outright accuse Brady of being racist, certainly not by using those actual words (as if to then stand behind them).

But, you know, he’s just sayin’.

I don’t want to “speculate” about Stephen A. Smith either, but he’s making it tough.

I could “speculate” that, based on his history of self-expression in a couple of non-sports subject areas, if Tom Brady had missed all the White House visits hosted by Mr. Bush, and bailed out on his family event and attended this White House event, it’s possible that Mr. Smith might have “speculated” that he was a member of the stinkin’ radical left and skipped the White House visits because he disagreed with the President. Or Mr. Smith might have accused him of not setting a good example for his young fans or not having “family values” (whatever that really means) because he failed to honor a family commitment.

Because in that hypothetical case, based on my observation of the mass media lately … if he hadn’t, you can bet that someone, somewhere in the media establishment, would have done.

And I could “speculate” that neither Smith, nor that other hypothetical media someone, might even have bothered to pick up a phone and try to line up an actual interview to ask Tom Brady about it. Because it’s too easy and too click-bait-worthy and too hip ‘n’ cool to be just sayin’.

No, I take that back. It’s just plain lazy.

Cripes. Even the guy who won the Super Bowl can’t win.

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April 25, 2015 Posted by | Famous Persons, media, news, sports | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The High Road

Early in my ninth year, I found myself out on my school’s playground, in the grasp of a large galoot whom I had previously thought of as a friendly.

This member of my third-grade class had me by the arm, and was playfully whacking me with his free arm. He was smiling. I was relinquishing my own smile, in exchange for a muttered, “um, hey.”

My classmate’s free arm – the one executing the whacking – was partly encased in a cast. Being as this was during the early days of the Gerald Ford administration, it wasn’t one of those lightweight flexible air-cast things that are used nowadays.

His wrist and forearm were encased, basically, in shaped rock.

It kinda hurt.

I let this go on for a few days, turning the other cheek, taking the high road … and then one night I told my parents about it all, over supper.

My non-violence-espousing, turn-the-other-cheek, do-unto-others, decent parents did something that totally, utterly shocked me.

They signed me up for karate lessons.

Several wintry months later, I had completed a series of Saturday mornings in which I got used to the idea of making violent contact with other human beings – in a controlled and disciplined environment. That was entirely outside my experience (except, perhaps, for the disagreements I had with my younger sister, and even those wrestling matches I usually lost).

But aside from some sparring matches during which I was out of my league – somehow, the instructor thought I was good enough to compete with a couple of otherwise genuinely friendly boys who were a solid belt-color-level above me, which ought to tell you more about the instructor than it tells you about me or my competition – I actually was really good at making contact. And performing those pantomimical forms – downward block, punch, kick, upward block, discount double-check… And I even made those hi-yat-su! grunts pretty well (also not a super-large part of my personality).

Recess. Spring day. Playground. Alleged friend. Smile. Grasp. Cast.

Raised eyebrow. Punch in the stomach.

Kid never came near me again.

Last night was the State of the Union speech.

I know. Your head just whiplashed. Stay with me now.

The annual tradition in Washington, on a Tuesday evening each January since Woodrow Wilson was president, is for the president to ascend the speaker’s platform in the House chamber of the US Capitol and address a joint session of Congress, to give a brief overview of how the last year went, and what plans he (or, someday, she) might have for the coming year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Capitol building. Two summers ago, I was there as a tourist. Along with my tourist compatriots, I felt an undeniable need to maintain an air of dignity and decorum in the midst of the truly impressive surroundings of our nation’s loftiest legislative location. Beyond my thoughts about all the truly momentous people who had strode through those corridors, all the important decisions that had been made in that building, all the important quotes from American history (“a day which will live in infamy”) that had been launched from that podium … the place has décor that kinda demands that people behave very well indeed.

You’d think so, anyway.

During President Obama’s first State of the Union address, a Republican member of the House of Representatives shouted “you lie!” in response to one of the President’s assertions. It drew an audible gasp from a large portion of the assembled legislators and spectators. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot a stare out in the direction of the outburst that reminded me very strongly of one of my elementary school teachers after a back-row yahoo belched loudly in the middle of silent reading time.) You just don’t do that! … Or, you didn’t. Until now, I guess.

During one of Mr. Obama’s later State of the Union speeches, Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito vigorously shook his head “no”, in response to another of the President’s assertions. Traditionally, Supreme Court justices who attend the speech do not react in any way to the speech, yea or nay – they stare stoically straight ahead. … Or, they did. Until now, I guess.

I don’t recall any such reactions to the assertions of any past President, Republican or Democratic. Members of Congress never treated any President, from Wilson to Bush 43, with anything but applause (from polite to passionate), the occasional standing ovations, and the otherwise ubiquitous quiet deference and focused attention. Even Bill Clinton, whose foibles got him into various versions of hot water with the press, the public, and his Congressional colleagues, wasn’t treated like this. It has always been understood that, well, we’ll present the opposition-party response to the speech, and we’ll go on “Meet the Press”, and we’ll write op-eds, and we’ll get back at him that way.

Until this Administration, I guess.

Last night, on the way to a larger assertion, Mr. Obama began a paragraph with the preparatory clause, “I have no more campaigns to run, …”

A significant number of legislators applauded sarcastically. As if this were a middle-school assembly and a kid running for student council president was making his campaign speech and screwing it up.

At this moment, the President had a choice.

He could have proceeded with the rest of the paragraph, trying to make his hecklers (hecklers!?) look bad by just ignoring the interruption and trusting the American public to write its elected representatives and chastise them themselves.

Yeah, not likely.

He could have stopped, looked out at the clapping Congresspeople, and (as he has done at some other public events) gently murmured, “now, come on, we don’t have to do that.” Whatever has been his way of dealing with people in private, which we really cannot know, this “let’s all be civil here” reasonableness has been his public personality, over the course of his time in office. Once, he offered a couple of demonstrators the opportunity to talk with him after his speech was over, and then made good on that offer, directing the Secret Service to bring the men backstage so they could present their case to him in person.

He could have taken the low road. Gotten actively angry in the middle of that speech. Or, today, in his first speech after last night’s address, he might have lashed out at the Republican-controlled House or Senate. After six years of having bitten his tongue hard, of taking the high road, one might have forgiven him for having a brief moment of “…are ya kidding me?”

For six years, Mr. Obama has taken it on the chin from his political opponents, consistently and relentlessly. Sometimes they’ve been needlessly personal. Often the name-calling has been hilariously contradictory (you can’t be a feckless, weak President and a dictator at the same time, friends).

And often the policy arguments have been contradictory, too. In the first day after the capture of the mastermind behind the Libyan embassy attacks last year, the President’s opponents criticized him both for not achieving the capture soon enough and for rushing to capture the man so Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could trumpet the success during her appearance on Fox News the following night.

I have the feeling that if the President were to suggest that the sky was blue, someone would pout, “well, it’s cloudy where I’m standing.”

The President has endured attacks on his wife. For transgressions such as, she’s showing too much of her (frankly ripped) upper arms … she looks like she’s rolling her eyes at the Speaker of the House during a state dinner …too this, too that, pick, pick, pick …

But at least Mrs. Obama is an adult and by way of being First Lady, she’s a public figure and therefore, in terms of criticism, will be an eligible receiver. It happens. Same goes for being the actual President. You’re thin-skinned and hopelessly naive if you make it to the White House and still don’t get that.

The President has endured attacks on his kids. (Ostensibly as a way of attacking him. This is what some of his critics think of as clever.) This has traditionally been kinda frowned upon. Leave the kids out of it, as has been suggested in this space previously. Even so, the President has refrained from explaining to the critics of his children at just which bus stop they need to step off.

I admire this. If it were me, and my niece and nephew were treated like Malia and Sasha have been treated on occasion, I would be sorely tempted to recall my third-grade karate lessons.

So, in some small way, I was disappointed last night, when the President didn’t pause, look out at the Congress, and say something like, “…–Really?” Or…

Are you fking kidding me?” Or…

At some point in your miserable, politics-of-personal-destruction, inexplicably-elected lives, are you actually going to attempt to portray grownups?” Or…

Do you not see where you are, what responsibilities you’ve been elected to carry out, how many people across the world are watching how you behave and who you are?” Or…

Do I have to pull this Congress over?”

He didn’t, though.

This morning, he’s being lauded in many quarters for distributing what Slate.com called an “instantly legendary ad-libbed burn”:

He looked out, raised an eyebrow, clearly looked as if his thought bubble was reading, “oh, I get it. We’re still playing that game. It’s still gon’ be like that”, and went off-script. Question: how do I know I have no more campaigns to run? Answer:

I know, ’cause I won both of them.”

He will take truckloads of, forgive me, crap for that, in certain other fair ‘n’ balanced quarters, by the end of today. (“Disgracing the office of the President!”, no doubt.)

And it wasn’t probably as satisfying to the President as “going off on them” would’ve been.

But a little satisfying.

I don’t know; maybe this morning he’s regretting not taking the high road and just ignoring it all.

I didn’t regret that punch in the stomach. But I’m not the President, and I haven’t spent the last six years being called a Fascist Nazi Kenyan Socialist Muslim usurper.

This essay has nothing to do with politics. I promise. And it has nothing to do with whether I’m a big fan of the President, or a big detractor.

This has to do with standards of behavior.

It reminded me of a quote which has been one of my favorites for a long time, and speaks to this moment rather eloquently, if unintentionally.

It wasn’t one of his Starred Thoughts™; instead it was a quote from a magazine interview with the director of my alma mater’s band. In it, he was describing the culture that had been built, over the course of many years, that allowed him to not worry about what first impression his band was going to give people when it went on the road for an away football game, or a parade, or an exhibition, or a rest-area stop for food, or whatever.

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

One could say that a lot of our elected officials “could stand to improve” on that front … except that their unlikeliness to improve is given away by their pesky ol’ body of work.

January 21, 2015 Posted by | current events, government, news, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exaggerated Sense of His Own Importance

Dear Mr. President:

I hope this finds you well.

I hope this finds you, actually.

I hope you’re as much of a relentlessly temperate man as my observations of you, these last six years, suggest that you are. (Considering that the legislators with whom you work have been statistically proven to be more do-nothing than the actual “Do-Nothing Congress”, and considering the legion of people who would take issue with you if you commented that the sky was blue … you might be the most patient President who ever lived.)

Since I don’t wish to test that patience, I’ll try to cut right to the chase.

Can I make a tiny request?

If you do decide to send US military personnel back into the frightening cauldron that is Iraq – more people than just 300 people with the disconcertingly familiar moniker of “military advisors” – may I ask that you don’t do it lightly?

It would be a welcome contrast to the last time the US sent military personnel there.

I see what you did with Syria, last year. Rattled the sabers nicely, got everybody over there good and jumpy. Really had a few of us genuinely jumpy too, got us suspecting that US military involvement in the Syrian civil war was imminent. To the point that it convinced otherwise scary people to give up their scary weapons when nothing else had convinced them to do so. Made me freshly impressed – even made me embarrassed that I’d seemed to underestimate your capacity for the ol’ Head Fake, the concept of the diplomatic “made you look”. Anybody who conducts a lengthy political career anywhere near Chicago, as you did, has to be at least a little bit good at political negotiation. I was gently reminded.

The present Congress appears not to be capable of doing much of anything, never mind pass a resolution about a contentious issue such as this. If the Republican-controlled House passes something, the Democratic-controlled Senate slaps it down, and vice-versa. So, in this era of the unitary executive, I guess the decision ultimately is yours.

I suppose that these factors should make me a bit more relaxed – not in a Constitutional-scholar way, and certainly not in a future-terrifying-President way, but in a living-in-the-moment way.

If I were a Constitutional scholar, I would really rather seat the ability to send this nation into combat with more than just one person. I would like at least the illusion that a group of people had gotten together and debated and then decided. I’m not totally convinced that our legislative branch represents its actual individual constituents – ya know, the ones that physically go to the polls to vote, rather than just sending campaign contributions and paying for TV ads. But it would be a more comfortable illusion than the “l’etat, c’est moi” alternative.

If a future unitary executive turned out to be a loon or a sadist or a sociopath, I assuredly wouldn’t want wartime to exist on her or his say-so alone.

Living in this moment, and using the evidence provided to me by what’s left of our journalistic Fourth Estate, I observe that your style appears to be, “let everybody have their say, and then if the decision really is mine alone anyway, do what I think is wise”. Selfishly, I tend to gravitate toward that, perhaps because it’s been my style, too. You don’t come off, most times, as an autocratic fellow. And even though I don’t necessarily agree with absolutely every decision you’ve made as President since January 2009, and even though sometimes I think you actually have let people yammer on for far longer than they deserve, given their relative standing in the world, without hauling off and verbally smacking them on the back of the head … my political leaning and my admiration for temperance has caused me much more often than not to be on the same page as you are.

So, by all means let pundits and politicians dive in front of the nearest TV camera and try to convince you (or at least everyone else) to send soldiers back in to Iraq. I would hate to think that the President of the United States has time to watch every Sunday-morning chat show and every prime-time cable news channel commentary program, and anyway they’re probably not displaying any opinions you haven’t already heard and considered and damn sure they’re not always offering too many actual immutable facts.

I’m sure you know what it looks like when the mass media gives a platform to people who, twelve years ago, had advocated for US military action in Iraq on the basis of evidence that was later discredited, or had predicted outcomes that did not occur (ignoring thirteen hundred years of historical record), and in doing so had revealed themselves or their organizations to have been paying attention to the nicely corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex rather than to the memories of their history classes (or a relatively easy trip across their study to a damned encyclopedia).

I’m pretty confident that you do look at the occasional video clip and shake your head and allow one of your measured chuckles to emerge.

As long as we’re all (including your critics) pretty lathered up over the recent revelations of stupidity within the VA, and all reflexively expressing Support For Our Troops, I hope we can all keep in mind the inevitable effects of sending soldiers into combat. Win, lose, or stalemate, soldiers are humans, not “Iron Man 2” automatons, in spite of how we dress them nowadays – and the horrors of war are of a sort that I cannot imagine, and that Hollywood movies apparently don’t come close to simulating accurately. People return from combat damaged somehow. If we’re going to inflict that on them, we’d better be damn sure it’s for a good and achievable cause.

I’m not making this request based on any information about how possible it may be to land US military boots on the ground in Iraq and be able to make a spit of difference in what’s going on there now, or what has been going on for more than a century. You have access to more Intelligence than I do. And while I fervently wish that no more innocent Iraqis die because of a relatively small but violent bunch of militant insurgents running around with pickup-truck-mounted machine guns and IEDs, and an official Iraqi government that seems unable to get its act together for whatever legitimate reasons … that’s not my main impetus either.

I am, instead, making this request based on two major things.

First, I’m responding to squishy, bleeding-heart-liberal concerns like “war is awful and we ought not get into it lightly”. And second, this past week I have had a bellyful of the fear- and war-mongering and “we would’ve won this thing if we’d just have stayed longer, kinda like forever” of Senators McCain and Graham, Messrs. Kristol and Wolfowitz, and especially our most recent former vice president, whose Wall Street Journal op-ed piece revealed once and for all a roiling, bitter case of psychological projection. (Just about the only thing missing from this week’s bouquet of unwanted advice is the former half-term governor of Alaska supposin’ that we ought to send in our armor-plated kids to baptize the heck outta those bad guys with guns, you betcha.)

Speaking of unwanted advice: mine. You’re a busy man (he suggested, with understatement on a Biblical scale); it’s likely that you’ve got more on your plate than “read this blog post”. So I suppose I can hope that someone else inside the White House is expressing this gentle request:

Think hard. Support our troops in deeds, not just words. And don’t cave, on some third-rate media pundit’s say-so.

Sincerely (and I mean that),

Your friend, the fourth-rate blogger,

Rob

June 21, 2014 Posted by | current events, government, media, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment