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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
18 Oct 2014
Recognizing Heroes in Our Midst

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11 Oct 2014
Truly Right From the Start

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4 Oct 2014
An Obvious Republican Front-runner

Let me admit upfront that I have a real soft spot for people who dare to run for public office. For most of us,… Read More.

Premature Postmortems


Grantland Rice, a popular American sportswriter of the first half of the 20th century, gave us an often-quoted homily to sportsmanship: "For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game." In losing American political campaigns, Rice's second line is often changed to "he writes not that you won or lost but how you place blame."

Six years ago, Democratic spirits and prospects were a lot brighter than they are today. Then, many Republicans were ready to blame their party's imminent loss of the Congress and the White House on their own two-term president, George W. Bush, whose favorable job rating in the Gallup poll by Election Day would fall to only 25 percent. That August in Denver, where Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination, he made this case against his 2008 opponent: "John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. ... What does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time?"

Running against a Republican president — whose name was not on the ballot but who had negative poll numbers — worked for the Democrats in 2008, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that when President Obama's own polling numbers are underwater, the Republicans are asking voters what it says about the judgment of a Democratic incumbent who thinks Obama has been right nearly all the time.

What does surprise and upset more than a few Democrats, especially those fighting political headwinds in states that Mitt Romney easily carried in 2012, is their own president's insistence on making the 2014 campaign about himself and his record.

Recall the Obama call to arms before a friendly Northwestern University crowd in early October: "I'm not on the ballot. ... But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them." For endangered Democrats who want to localize and not nationalize their races, this was totally unhelpful. Obama, while being interviewed on radio by a "known friendly," the Rev. Al Sharpton, remade the point by referring to 2014 Democratic candidates as his "strong allies" who have supported his agenda in Congress.

The loss of public support must be painful for Obama, who, with Franklin D. Roosevelt, is one of only two Democrats in U.S. history to win a majority of the popular vote in two presidential elections. Remember those heady days of 2008, when Obama won a larger percentage of the white vote than any Democrat — other than incumbent Bill Clinton in 1996 — had in the previous nine presidential elections?

But when asked by Jonathan Martin of The New York Times how President Obama could best help his party this year, the irrepressible Willie Brown — who was the mayor of San Francisco, was a longtime powerful speaker of the California Legislature and is himself an African-American — was brutally frank: "I'd have Obama on an evangelistic schedule of black churches all over the country. I think he really should go to the black base. I don't think there's any other place I would trust he wouldn't create an adverse reaction rather than a positive reaction."

If Nov. 4 turns out to be a blue-ribbon day for Republicans, President Obama will painfully learn once more the timeless wisdom of Peter Finley Dunne, whose Mr. Dooley, a keen observer of electoral Chicago's brutality, said, "Politics ain't beanbag."

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... The Greeks are often credited with the development or invention of democracy. This is not in the least true. All primitive peoples are democratic, and much more so than ourselves. The Greeks in their highest office, their Supreme Court had a ratio or representative to represented of 1 to 250 men, wormen and children. Compare that to our most representative body where hundreds of thousands are represented by one party flunky.
The Greeks did have one good idea. While they left the election to fate, sort of like drawing straws, they tried the representatives after their term to judge their performance.
We do not know the people we elect. We elect people to stalemate the other people we elect. We can see that there was a time limit on Greek democracy, and on Roman Democracy, and on all the moots and dooms and things and counsels of days past. It is easier when you are one people with a common goal to see that goal reflected in their government. If our government seems schizophrenic, and over burdened with inertia; if pushing papers seems like heavy lifting, and shooting pennies at problems seems like the rattle of heavy artillery, it is because we are schizophrenic, and we are losing our strength in the effort to move each other off the dime.
Wealth divides successful socieites, and wealth is how we measure their success, and the division bred in successful societies by wealth works at their destruction no matter how much individuals may labor for their success and survival. Greece tore itself to pieces. Rome tore itself to pieces, and year after year the birth rate and population declined, and more and more it was the barbarians who took the place of Romans on the battlefields and in the government.
Whether knowledge is Virtue, as Socrates said, or knowledge is judgement as Kant said, or knowledge is power as everyone says; only knowledge will be our cure. We may pretend all we wish that we have democracy, that the power weilded by our representatives and their few number does not make them juicy ripe for corruption. Reality constantly demonstrates the lies we accept are lies in fact. We cannot control government, and can barely talk to it. I heard a commercial in a heavily republican area of the state against a state representative charging that she had not gotten a single bill passed by the republican legislator. What would normally be celebrated as a victory for the republican party was in this instance blamed on the representative her self. So she did not get a bill passed. Maybe it was her small victory to be an impediment to the free range republicans.
One of the mistakes we make is to believe politics is not bean bag. Another mistake is to believe politics is only in government. Politics is in every form of relationship, and some times it is that quality we most hate, but it is ubiquitous. If politics is not bean bag, if it is not all for fun, and if it simply the way we have found to crush, mangle, and mutilate each other, if we allow our enmity to be fed, and all in the cause of the unjust division of the spoils -we are seeing ourselves undone over nothing.
The true strength of Atica was not her considerable wealth. The true strength of Rome was not her slaves or empire.
The strength of these people was their unity, and where one has all that needs defense, and the many have nothing to defend, unity is illusion. We cannot expect the people of America to defend their poverty as they once defended their freedom. The great failure of Mr. Obama is not in the good he failed to do, but in the absolute evil he supported by propping up a failed economic system when he might just as easily have kicked it into its grave. What ever else he is, he is no deep and original thinker. Still, Mr. Obama is correct to frame the election as upon his policy and programs. The right would like to erase him, and they would like to rub out the last six years of Obama as president. Some one needs to tell the republicans that their failure elected Mr. Obama rather than any specific quality of his. Some one should tell the democrats that running away from Mr. Obama, and from those who voted for him is running to defeat. It is the republicans more than the democrats who are responsible for the failure of the democrat administration. The failure of capitalism is their failure. The failure of their moralisty is their failure. It is natural for them to try to shift their failure onto the backs of the democrats. It is a democrat mistake to let them. Ultimately, both of these parties blame the people for the problems of government. The simple Phrase: You Voted for Them, is an unfair charged lodged at this people when the fault is having no one to vote for, and no chance to vote on any significant issue. This winner take all nonsense of majority rule when if means partocracy will undo everything we have worked and fought to have.
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Oct 25, 2014 9:19 AM
Sir;... When it came time to integrate the International Ironworkers, some of the first black people hired were not worth their wages. It was too bad that with union membership they thought they were set for life and rode the Union. Some of the black people we hired were good, and carried their weight, and would have been good with or without the union.
The point here is that electing a black man was a step forward and a feel good moment for America, and beyond that, it has been a failure. We see Mr. Obama as black, and I mean that for those who hate him because he is black, and those who see through the fact that he is black to the person beyond. But if you look at the man, apart from his color, he has went for a job that puts him in a class with whites whether that be lawyer, or president.
This is no black man except superficially. This is a white man in the skin of a black man just as portrayed in that old movie: The Watermellon Man. It is wrong to believe that black people cannot see the white man in him simply because he was their champion. He is one of them, and many blacks understand that fact. Black people picking up the tools of white success, like the law are not suddenly transformed into white people, but these tools do allow blacks to see blacks from the perspective of white people. When we had able black men working full time, unable and unwilling black people sued the union saying :why ain't I working? Well isn't the verb- to work- some essential part of having a job?
If holding the position of God, a black man would be thought of as a black God. It does not matter if Mr. Obama appeals to blacks, and to them reveals the limits beyond their limits. It does not matter if he thinks he is white when he turns out the lights. He will never escape the perception of being black, and a failed black presidency will be used as an excuse to kick black aspirations in the teeth once more. If democrats allow this, and if they run away from the man who is in every sense one of them, white and right in almost every detail, then they ought to be flogged.
Part of the problem of freeing the blacks as opposed to them freeing themselves is the sense many of them hold that they just can't win, that no matter how hard they try, or how intelligent, that the white man will conspire to trip them up. Nothing in the failure of Mr. Obama, though that failure be written in the stars will change that sense of reality for black people.
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Oct 25, 2014 9:55 AM
Sorry, Mark. Was there any substance to your essay this time? If so, I seem to have missed it.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mike Ohr
Sun Oct 26, 2014 10:27 AM
Re: Mike Ohr;... I think there is substance, but mostly in undertones. There is the suggestion that he could best help by not telling this truth: That the republicans have had him on trial since day one, and that they have stood shoulder to shoulder againt him ready to leap on any failure of his administration like people once leaped off the Titanic, and with more joy.
There is the suggestion that he could be more helpful if he would only reserve his appeals for black people and avoid the hard facts completly. If this is true it is not because black people see him as other than a rich guy, and like all rich guys sucking up to rich people -and caring nothing for the poor. It is because in their vile and obnoxious hatred of Mr. Obama he has been made a whipping boy for every one of them. The right openly offers the opinion that his failures in his position has some relation to his race, and in that fashion they give away the black vote.
I would offer that Mr, Obama is correct, and the democrats acting like republicans running for office are not correct. It is easier to fix the solutions to problems with cooperation than by denying the problems needed solution as the republicans have. The changes and policies that Obama promised and did not deliver, or only half delivered, are needed yet today. But these changes will not be made fact without the courage to demand and defend activist government. It would be easier to get your average republican voter to believe in a zombie apocalypse before an ebola apacalypse. They may look with joy at the prospect of having the cities cleaned of their poor. They are correct to believe that distance is the best defense against disease, and where they are strong they do have distance -by the acre.
What the democrats need is the courage to defend their president and ask for a fair hearing of all he has tried to achieve, and without courage we do not need their crooked thumbs on the love buttons of government. In fact, The democrats as a whole need to grow a pocketful of nads in a hurry, and stand strong in defense. For his part, Mr. Obama should realize that failure is not an option, but is his reality. This is what democrats deserve for trying to lead from the center. There is no center. You either rally for revolution when you have the numbers or hang up the white rag of surrender. You don't see the republicans giving an inch only because the voters said no to them. As long as they own state government and the gerrymander it does not matter how much Mr. Obama appeals to the poor and the blacks. He is fighting an undemocratic and corrupt system of government, and if he is unwilling to look at it as an impediment instead of a prize, he is already finished.
Comment: #4
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Oct 27, 2014 8:33 AM
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