Added on October 28th, 2010
Whether or not the Republicans win big next week, it is already clear that the “transformative” aspirations of the Obama presidency—the special promise of this first black president to “change” us into a better society—are much less likely to materialize. There will be enough Republican gains to make the “no” in the “party of no” even more formidable, if not definitive.
But apart from this politics of numbers, there is also now a deepening disenchantment with Barack Obama himself. (He has a meager 37% approval rating by the latest Harris poll.) His embarrassed supporters console themselves that their intentions were good; their vote helped make history. But for Mr. Obama himself there is no road back to the charisma and political capital he enjoyed on his inauguration day.
How is it that Barack Obama could step into the presidency with an air of inevitability and then, in less than two years, find himself unwelcome at the campaign rallies of many of his fellow Democrats?
The first answer is well-known: His policymaking has been grandiose, thoughtless and bullying. His health-care bill was ambitious to the point of destructiveness and, finally, so chaotic that today no citizen knows where they stand in relation to it. His financial-reform bill seems little more than a short-sighted scapegoating of Wall Street. In foreign policy he has failed to articulate a role for America in the world. We don’t know why we do what we do in foreign affairs. George W. Bush at least made a valiant stab at an American rationale—democratization—but with Mr. Obama there is nothing.
All this would be enough to explain the disillusionment with this president—and with the Democratic Party that he leads. But there is also a deeper disjunction. There is an “otherness” about Mr. Obama, the sense that he is somehow not truly American. “Birthers” doubt that he was born on American soil. Others believe that he is secretly a Muslim, or in quiet simpatico with his old friends, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, now icons of American radicalism.
But Barack Obama is not an “other” so much as he is a child of the 1960s. His coming of age paralleled exactly the unfolding of a new “counterculture” American identity. And this new American identity—and the post-1960s liberalism it spawned—is grounded in a remarkable irony: bad faith in America as virtue itself, bad faith in the classic American identity of constitutional freedom and capitalism as the way to a better America. So Mr. Obama is very definitely an American, and he has a broad American constituency. He is simply the first president we have seen grounded in this counterculture American identity. When he bows to foreign leaders, he is not displaying “otherness” but the counterculture Americanism of honorable self-effacement in which America acknowledges its own capacity for evil as prelude to engagement.
Bad faith in America became virtuous in the ’60s when America finally acknowledged so many of its flagrant hypocrisies: the segregation of blacks, the suppression of women, the exploitation of other minorities, the “imperialism” of the Vietnam War, the indifference to the environment, the hypocrisy of puritanical sexual mores and so on. The compounding of all these hypocrisies added up to the crowning idea of the ’60s: that America was characterologically evil. Thus the only way back to decency and moral authority was through bad faith in America and its institutions, through the presumption that evil was America’s natural default position.
Among today’s liberal elite, bad faith in America is a sophistication, a kind of hipness. More importantly, it is the perfect formula for political and governmental power. It rationalizes power in the name of intervening against evil—I will use the government to intervene against the evil tendencies of American life (economic inequality, structural racism and sexism, corporate greed, neglect of the environment and so on), so I need your vote.
“Hope and Change” positioned Mr. Obama as a conduit between an old America worn down by its evil inclinations and a new America redeemed of those inclinations. There was no vision of the future in “Hope and Change.” It is an expression of bad faith in America, but its great ingenuity was to turn that bad faith into political motivation, into votes.
But there is a limit to bad faith as power, and Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party may have now reached that limit. The great weakness of bad faith is that it disallows American exceptionalism as a rationale for power. It puts Mr. Obama and the Democrats in the position of forever redeeming a fallen nation, rather than leading a great nation. They bet on America’s characterological evil and not on her sense of fairness, generosity or ingenuity.
When bad faith is your framework (Michelle Obama never being proud of her country until it supported her husband), then you become more a national scold than a real leader. You lead out of a feeling that your opposition is really only the latest incarnation of that old characterological evil that you always knew was there. Thus the tea party—despite all the evidence to the contrary—is seen as racist and bigoted.
But isn’t the tea party, on some level, a reaction to a president who seems not to fully trust the fundamental decency of the American people? Doesn’t the tea party fill a void left open by Mr. Obama’s ethos of bad faith? Aren’t tea partiers, and their many fellow travelers, simply saying that American exceptionalism isn’t racism? And if the mainstream media see tea partiers as bumpkins and racists, isn’t this just more bad faith—characterizing people as ignorant or evil so as to dismiss them?
Our great presidents have been stewards, men who broadly identified with the whole of America. Stewardship meant responsibility even for those segments of America where one might be reviled. Surely Mr. Obama would claim such stewardship. But he has functioned more as a redeemer than a steward, a leader who sees a badness in us from which we must be redeemed. Many Americans are afraid of this because a mandate as grandiose as redemption justifies a vast expansion of government. A redeemer can’t just tweak and guide a faltering economy; he will need a trillion- dollar stimulus package. He can’t take on health care a step at a time; he must do it all at once, finally mandating that every citizen buy in.
Next week’s election is, among other things, a referendum on the idea of president-as- redeemer. We have a president so determined to transform and redeem us from what we are that, by his own words, he is willing to risk being a one-term president. People now wonder if Barack Obama can pivot back to the center like Bill Clinton did after his set-back in ‘94. But Mr. Clinton was already a steward, a policy wonk, a man of the center. Mr. Obama has to change archetypes.
Mr. Steele is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
Added on October 15th, 2010
One of my all-time favorite football heroes is Bronco Nagurski, and I believe I can make a case that Bronco Nagurski is the Babe Ruth of professional football.
I met Bronco 30 years ago in International Falls, MN. Bronco was then in his 70s, living in a modest house in this northern Minnesota town, and running a gas station. He was a humble, quiet man who never made any appearances anywhere after his football career ended. During that visit he showed me a picture of himself from a Life Magazine from back in the 1930s. He was a chiseled Adonis! In his playing days he was 6’2” and 235 pounds, which was gigantic in those days. He would play defensive tackle, offensive fullback, or offensive lineman at different times.
I knew he was a physical, dominating player, but I didn’t know how fast he was. I asked him that day, “How fast was Red Granger?” Now, for those of you who don’t know, Red was the equivalent of Bo Jackson or Hershel Walker. He was the legendary Galloping Ghost! Bronco answered, “One step slower than me.” I asked him all sorts of questions that day, and his eyes lit up. He wanted to talk, and I absolutely wanted to hear what he had to say.
My son Matthew, who is now 41 years old, was about 12 at the time, came along with me on this visit. What an experience for my young son, but it was an even greater experience for me! I got to see and touch the very roots and foundation of college and professional football that day.
We should never forget those who came before us, those who paved the way, because without the Bronco Nagurskis of the 1930s and 1940s, we would not have professional football today.
I’ve attached a couple of links that tell some terrific stories about Bronco. I hope you read them.
Added on October 11th, 2010
Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, is not only a great coach, but is also a great practical joker.
Some years ago, a trusted NFL source told me a story about Belichick when he was coach of the AFC All Star team in the Pro Bowl. There was a player from the Baltimore Ravens who had it in his contract that he would be given a $5-$10,000 bonus if he made the Pro Bowl. This player didn’t get elected to the Pro Bowl that year, but Belichick made him a replacement player just so the Ravens would have to pay him that bonus.
Now, we come to this past weekend. As the world knows, Belichick traded Randy Moss back to the Vikings for a 3rd round draft choice. The hated rival of New England is the New York Jets, and the Jets are the main competition for New England in the AFC East. And guess where Belichick traded Moss? To the Minnesota Vikings! Guess who the New York Jets are playing tonight on Monday Night Football? The Minnesota Vikings!
Moss gives the Vikings a much better chance of winning with him than without him. Do you think it is a coincidence that Belichick traded Moss to the Vikings just prior to this Jets game? I don’t think so! To cover all the bases here, obviously Bill Belichick had decided he was getting rid of Moss anyway, for whatever reason. He just happened to think this was the proper weekend.
And people don’t think BB has a sense of humor! Or that he doesn’t look for every edge. Every great coach there ever was looks for every edge.
Way to go Bill!
Added on October 4th, 2010
My friend Stephen Cannell died this past week. It was a shock to me because he kept his two year battle with melanoma very quiet. This was a shocking, devastating blow to Linda and me.
Steve Cannell was one of the most prolific writers and producers in Hollywood. I will provide a link to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles that chronicle all of his work. It is, without a doubt, a treasure of television hits.
For the past ten years I have had the pleasure of spending two weeks every February with him in St. Barth’s. That’s where we met. He was so smart! He had a gift for speaking just like he wrote. Every word made sense. There is a whole group of us from all over the country who meet in St. Barth’s at the same time every year, and we have established great friendships.
The last time I saw him was February of this year. He had just turned 69. I asked him, “How have you managed to accomplish everything you have?” He kind of smiled, and said, “I don’t know!” He went on to say that when he would have two or three hit TV series going, all of the Hollywood agents would follow him around, thinking he had some magic formula. His magic formula, he said, was to keep on writing, and knocking on doors. “I got knocked down and laughed at, but I kept getting back up.”
He was a brilliant, crazy-successful writer, producer, businessman, husband, father, and friend. He was always humble, he was kind to everyone. I treasured the hours and days and years I had with him. He was a blessing. He taught me so much about life. He left much too soon, and I will miss him so much. Godspeed, my friend. I will hook up with you on the other side!
Added on October 1st, 2010
The greatest sports story of the year is Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves playoff run, and I think this is a great story for two reasons. First, because this is Bobby’s last year, and he has been as good a baseball manager as there is ever been. He has won World Series, and consecutive division championships, and on top of winning consistently at this level, he’s done it and still managed to have everyone like him when it’s all said and done! That is a hard thing to do!
No one picked the Braves to do as well as they have done this year, and look at all the things that happened to them. Infielder Martin Prado is out for the season with injuries, starting pitcher Kris Medlen is hurt, Jason Heyward missed a monthy and a half, but tonight, in a pivotal game, we have a rookie pitcher, Brandon Beachy, who none of us have heard of at the major level, pitching against Philadelphia.
This has got to be the greatest managerial year for Bobby, and the story of Brandon Beachy really just warms your heart. This is a team that wouldn’t die, no matter how many arrows they stuck in it. I’ve always said, “Teams win, individuals don’t.” And man, this 2010 version of the Atlanta Braves is a testament to that! Watch tonight, and enjoy!
Added on September 28th, 2010
George Blanda died yesterday at the age of 83. He had maybe the most storied, interesting career of anybody who ever played professional football.
His career spanned four decades. He started his career in 1949, and retired in 1975. Isn’t that amazing? The first year he was recruited to the Chicago Bears as a quarterback. The only problem with that was the Bears already had two quarterbacks in Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack, who are the equivalent of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning today.
George Hallis, who was the founder of the NFL, as well as the owner and coach of the Bears, didn’t like George, and finally cut him. He ended up in the AFL with the Houston Oilers, and he played great, eventually winning championships.
When the Oilers thought he was too old and cut him, he went to play for the Oakland Raiders while he was in his 40’s, which was amazing! He was the greatest clutch player as a quarterback and a placekicker I have ever seen.
He is the definition of Old School. He lived a great life and did what he wanted to do.
I will miss him, as will every other player that he touched.
Added on September 22nd, 2010
The people inside the Beltway and on Wall Street have no understanding of what is going on with Main Street USA today. Karl Rove, the legendary Republican strategist, is outraged and critical of the primary victory of Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell over the incumbent Republican, Mike Castle. The reason that this primary is so significant is that, for the first time in my lifetime, Main Street USA, you and me, average citizens and entrepreneurs, the people who generate the jobs in the country, the people who pay their taxes every year, the innovators and creators of products and services that are valuable in the worldwide marketplace, are angry. We are angry because we don’t believe that more government is better. We don’t believe that sending more tax dollars to Washington is a good thing, and we don’t believe that they will spend those tax dollars responsibly. In fact, it is an absolute certainty that they won’t. They never have!
We are fed up with the Democrats and the Republicans, and with the establishment of big government. And we are not asking anymore – we are demanding. We are demanding with our voices and with our votes. We want smaller government. We want the debt slashed. We want Washington to stop this crazy spending.
We, as individuals and as small business owners, have made sacrifices and cutbacks because we have had to. The US government has not cut one program. There has been no reduction of expenses and not one sacrifice, and yet they want to raise taxes on the top 2% income earners. This will have very little impact on the mega-billionaires and mega-millionaires, but the majority of people in that 2% are small business entrepreneurs, people like you and me, who already pay taxes in the 50-60% range.
We are tired of supporting the government’s waste. The Tea Party movement’s phenomenon is driven by the small business entrepreneur, and it will knock out Republicans as well as Democrats. We need our voices to be heard. We need to stand together and demand that our government get back on track. We must hold our government accountable for their actions, and work towards a fairer tax system for every citizen. These are problems that cannot be fixed with Band-Aids. We need to elect candidates who share our values and our belief in smaller government and less taxation. And we need it now!
This election in November is our time to make our voices heard. We cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. Change is only ever possible with a sense of desperation, and that change is happening because people finally have had enough. We are desperate for our leaders to represent the will of the people, not the Republican or Democratic agenda, but the principles of America.
Added on September 7th, 2010
September 17, 1961 –Fifty years ago, the Minnesota Vikings played their first game as a team in the National Football League. This game would provide the foundation for a football tradition for the Minnesota Vikings that has reigned supreme for fifty years. This was the start. This was the beginning. This was the foundation of the team that is now Minnesota’s pride and joy.
It was one of the most monumental starts in the history of the NFL, and arguably one of the biggest upsets in the history of NFL games. Let me give you a little background. The Vikings were a new franchise team. The coach, Norm Van Brocklin, had just won the NFL Championship as the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960. Norm had never coached a game in his life. The owners of the team were five people who did not know each other very well. They included:
- Bill Boyer, who owned a Ford car dealership
- H.P. Skoglund, who grew up poor in Northern Minnesota but who went on to build the North American Life Insurance Company
- Ole Haugsrud from Duluth, MN, came in at the last minute because he had owned an NFL team in the 1920s called the Duluth Eskimos. When the Eskimos went broke, George Halas promised Ole that if the NFL granted another franchise, Ole could be included in it.
- Bernie Ritter, a polished, socially prominent owner of the Ridder Newspapers.
- Max Winter, a businessman and sports executive, he owed the famous 620 Club on Hennepin Avenue, and was general manager of the Minneapolis Lakers in the National Basketball League. The Minnesota Vikings headquarters and training facility in Eden Prairie is named Winter Park in honor of Max Winter. Max was a tough street fighter, and I say that with the greatest respect.
As you can see, this was a very disparate group of owners, who really did not know each other before they were brought together as owners of this Minnesota franchise. Here is how this team was formed. The rest of the teams in the league had 40 players on their rosters. They were each able to freeze their top 34 players, and the Vikings were allowed to pick their players from what was left in the bottom 6. We got the old players, the slow players, the players who were not quite good enough! There was no free agency in those days, although we were allowed to take part in the draft, just like everyone else. But the league did not want some upstart team that was brand new to the league getting an advantage over the established teams, and the Vikings didn’t have any advantage, that’s for sure!
I’ll never forget our first training camp in 1961 in Bemidji, MN. It was COLD! I was a Southern boy, from Athens, GA, and I thought I had landed in the Klondike! We played five exhibition games, and we lost five exhibition games, including one to the Chicago Bears two weeks before the season opener, in Cedar Rapids in front of five thousand people. We got hammered by the Bears by four or five touchdowns, and it could have been much worse!
But two weeks later, in Metropolitan Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings were born. I’ll never forget running out into that stadium before the game, in front of all of those people. The fans had no idea who any of us were, but they certainly knew who the Bears were. Names like Doug Atkins, Bill George, and Jaguar Jon Arnett. We had no-name players and rookies, and we were 28 point under-dogs. Keep in mind, the Bears were owned by George Halas, who was also their general manager, their coach, and the founder of the NFL. The Bears were historically backbreakers, and were the most successful franchise in football at the time.
The year before, the Dallas Cowboys were a new franchise team similar to us, but they had an experienced coach in Tom Landry, but they still didn’t win a game during their first year. But this was a historic start for Minnesota because we not only beat the Bears, we destroyed them – final score Vikings 37, Bears 13. And it was done with a team of various cast-offs and a few rookies, and a 21 year old quarterback from the University of Georgia who had never played in a professional football game in his life. This was one of the greatest upsets in the history of the NFL. We went on to beat Johnny Unitas and his great Baltimore Colts team, and also beat a talent laden Los Angeles Rams team.
The start, the beginning of the Minnesota Vikings, man, that was special! I will never forget it. The players, the coaches, the owners, all of that made for a very historic occasion. In my memories, it seems like it all happened just yesterday. The equipment manager, Stubby Eason, the trainer, Fred Zamberletti, and all of the players, many still living, but some of whom have passed on.
When September 17th, 2010 rolls around, at 1:00 PM Central Time, I will have a moment of silence, appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity that I had to be on the field with 39 great men and fierce competitors who provided a great foundation and culture that still holds, 50 years later. I was and still am proud that I was one of the original 40. I will celebrate it alone – in silence and reflection of my teammates who have passed on and to the ones who still live.
My thanks to all of you.
What a glorious history started by special men – here is the roster of that team. Read every name, and say a quiet prayer for each one.
Added on September 1st, 2010
The engine that built America is obviously the private sector. We provide the jobs, we provide the innovation and creativity, and we provide the products and services that have value in the marketplace all over the world. In history, there has never been such a job creating, revenue creating engine.
The world is both excited and troubled by the rapid growth of China’s economy. By the way, this growth is not coming from a communist inspired nation but by a nation that has embraced our example of free market capitalism. In other words, they were smart enough to copy us! They are on an annual run rate for their GDP at $5 trillion, passing Japan in the process.
This is a tremendous achievement by a country that just a few years ago was a communist run, communist inspired nation. However, even in a time in America when we are economically in the tank, and our financial system is near collapse, our run rate for our GDP is $15 trillion, three times that of China, and still bigger than China, Japan and Germany combined.
Our economy today, by all calculations and according to most every economist you ask, will most likely have a paltry growth rate of one to two percent for the conceivable future. That being the case, the private sector understands that the only way that we can survive and keep people employed is to operate our businesses more efficiently, and cut out the fat. And believe me, there is fat in every business, large and small, that serves no productive purpose. We understand that revenue is important, but profit is more important. A prime example of that is Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart recently reported flat growth in revenue, but an increase of 7% in profitability. That’s because Wal-Mart, and every other business, looks at their expenses every single day to make sure that we are spending our money wisely, and investing our money to bring the best return so we can keep our businesses robust.
A rule of thumb is this – the more money you have, the more money you are going to waste. And no one has or wastes more money than the United States government. When is the last time you heard of any politician cutting any program that did not work, or eliminating any earmark from any bill, or stopped any pork project that built a bridge to nowhere that served no one? The answer to that question would be never!
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is trying to cut fat from our military budget, and make it operate more efficiently, but he is running into stiff opposition. There are Republicans and Democrats who are not interested in streamlining the military and eliminating inefficient operations. They are primarily concerned with losing programs, as bad as they may be, that provide income for their constituencies. These politicians need to go! These are not political issues. They are not Republican or Democratic issues. These are American issues. If we are going to make changes in our government and demand that they stop the waste and cut the deficit, we are going to have to have the same resolve—as a country – as our forefathers had in fighting World War II. President Roosevelt did not commit the United States to the war until he was sure that this country had the resolve to stand together, committed to end the tyranny of Nazi control. Pearl Harbor served as the catalyst.
We, as Americans, have had a wake-up call in the last two years with the near collapse of our financial system and the ongoing problems of our brothers and sisters losing their jobs and facing months, even years, of unemployment and seeing their benefits exhausted. Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, and other “financial geniuses” cannot solve these problems, and government hand-outs will not be the silver bullet to solve these problems. There isn’t one silver bullet in the world that will be the solution to the financial crisis we find ourselves in. But the first thing we must do as Americans is find the resolve to stop the craziness in Washington, which did not start with the current administration or with the current Congress. This started a long time ago. But we – the American people – have let it go on long enough. We – the private sector, private citizens –are the customers of the United States government. We make the United States government possible. Our tax dollars run the country.
We have to demand accountability and results from whoever is in Washington, and we have to do it now.
If you agree with this message, please pass it on to everyone you can. We need to take our country back and make it great once more.
Added on August 30th, 2010
August 27, 2010
I have a very diverse group of friends. I love them all, and I relish their diversity. I am hearing strange rumblings from my liberal friends lately that they, and their liberal friends, are beginning to abandon Obama.
One such friend was on vacation for the summer, and he told me that he and his friends, who were main financial supporters of Obama, were now feeling embarrassed that they had put their support and money behind Obama. I’m quoting here – he said, “Tell all of your friends to go vote in this election!”
My friends come from all walks of life – all religions, all economic levels, different political parties. I talk to all of them, and I listen to all of them. And I am now hearing a panic in my liberal friends about the direction that this country is going in. It is a panic I expect to hear from my conservative friends, but from my liberal friends, I find it shocking.
But I also find it hopeful, that maybe the tide is turning, and people are finally seeing the signs. If that is the case, then maybe this country has a chance