Thursday, April 24, 2008

Can we get off his back until September at least?

New University of Michigan head football coach, Rich Rodriguez has been the biggest football-related distraction since Pac-Man Jones chewed on a toothpick. I say we cut the guy some slack until the season actually begins. Novel thought, I know.

No, he isn't a "Michigan Man". Yes, he is changing the offensive scheme drastically. Yes, there is something questionable about the way he left West Virginia. But let's put this into perspective here.

1. The "Michigan Man" thing.
Rodriguez grew up and spent almost his entire life in West Virginia. The simple fact that he was willing to leave a state he spent 40 years in and a program he lived for says a lot about Michigan. It reinforces the perception we have for the school. It also seems pretty natural. He looks like a Michigan coach. He acts like one, too. His coal-belt upbringing is a close cousin of our rust-belt attitude. He is a fiery competitor that has a lot in common with Bo and Lloyd, including the way he deals with his players. He expects honesty, commitment, and achievement on and off the field. In many ways there are very few changes.

3. The way he left West Virginia.
Think for a second about the rules of corporate America. If I were leaving a job, courtesy suggests that I give two weeks' notice before departing. I don't need to give a reason why. Courtesy on the employer's part would suggest that they give an exit interview with open, honest, and frank assessment of grievances and potential growing edges. On the other hand, many people quit, give one weeks' notice (or less) and employers rarely give exit interviews. Rodriguez, while unhappy at his alma mater, feeling taken advantage of, took an interview with Michigan. He had the audacity to not tell his boss he was looking for a new job. He had passed on Alabama the previous year. He had a buy-out in his contract. When Rodriguez was offered the job, he thought about it, called a recruit or two, then told his boss he was leaving. There is nothing sinister or evil about it: just business. The athletic directer (the boss), the president of the school, and the governor of the state of West Virginia all got involved to force him back and/or to spoil his transition to a new job. Then they sued him. Please. The $4 million buy-out is irrelevant. The truth is that when our coaches are winning we love them, when they're losing we hate them, and when they're leaving we despise them. There is nothing wrong in the way Rodriguez did his business; perhaps the system itself needs changing.

2. The new system
The one question mark left is the new system. I will admit my own sadness at the end of an era we will call "pro-style". It has been a tremendous source of pride at the quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive linemen that Michigan sent to the NFL (wide receivers have been hit-or-miss). The Michigan system did a great job of preparing young men in an NFL-style scheme. My nostalgic side remembers the team growing into a "balanced" team, when passing the football was still a novelty. After Jim Harbaugh helped change Michigan football, it was amazing to watch Elvis Grbac effortlessly sling the ball 50 r 60 yards and right into the hands of Desmond Howard, Derick Alexander, or Mercury Hayes. It was a beautiful and exciting moment surrounded by bruising and sleek running backs such as Tyrone Wheatley who was going to be the next Jim Brown. Those days were magical. Switching offensive schemes to a spread-option no-huddle offense actually feels like a step backwards. It doesn't feel like progress in the face of the balanced pro-style. The option was cast aside long ago--even by Nebraska. This is the one thing that makes me sad.

There is a lot of hope, however, in this transition. Lloyd Carr left coaching, not because he was forced out or we finally got to him, but because he didn't want to do what he was going to have to do. He didn't like the dishonest and quasi-legal elements of coaching today. He didn't want to be the cheater like Jim Tressel or the poor sport like Urban Meyer. He didn't want to be the relentless flatterer that Ron Zook is or the tireless motivator that Pete Carrol is. He wanted to love these kids, help them succeed as athletes and as men, and see them become successful in whatever they do. He was seen as old fashioned, but I see it as championing the heart of college athletics in the midst of a soulless period. Lloyd didn't want to do it anymore.

In this way, Rodriguez represents the person Lloyd couldn't be: a man of integrity and determination. Rodriguez is a good recruiter, has been honest with his players from day one, and has encouraged more/different conditioning training for the team. Returning players will be stronger and faster than they were last year.

There have been a few departures, especially along the offensive line (Justin Boren going to OSU is like Johnny Damon leaving the Red Sox for the Yankees!), and I find any departures troubling, but any transition will have casualties.

Perhaps the most important challenge for the new coach won't be winning football games or winning court cases, but helping the school and its alumni feel he is maintaining the tradition that they love while recruiting the best talent he can find. Otherwise, this may be another Nebraska.

The summer, however, is long. Perhaps we should all take a breath, watch the draft and some baseball and the fall will be here soon enough.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Clinton Trap

There are a lot of opinions about the Democratic primary. I have made my feelings known about this from time to time as well. But one thing remains certain: public perception sucks.

In yesterday's primary in Pennsylvania, nothing truly surprising happened. A month ago, Sen. Clinton had a 20 point lead over Sen. Obama; she won by 10. This reinforced certain realities:
  • Clinton cannot take the delegate lead without winning by 16-20% margins on ALL remaining contests.
  • Clinton cannot win the popular vote without running up the score in Puerto Rico.
  • Obama makes up ground in every state in which he directly campaigns.
  • Clinton's only hope is for superdelegates to go against public opinion.
  • Superdelegates are looking increasingly unlikely to go against public opinion.
So, therefore, Clinton can't win. Oh, I know, there's always a chance.
  • Like her presence in a radical right-wing prayer group with political aspirations alongside braindead colleagues such as Sam Brownback and yet, she wouldn't support her pastor if it were revealed that he believes in a gospel of inclusion, of the present kingdom, and (gasp!) that Americans often make mistakes!
  • The consistent race-baiting coming from her campaign, especially (and disturbingly) from former President Bill Clinton and VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro.
  • The Clinton campaign staff's ugly demonizing of Obama with scorched-earth rhetoric if the people had the audacity to prefer him over their candidate.
  • The recent report that the North Carolina Republicans are putting out an ad that uses race arguments to encourage white Democrats to vote for for Sen. Clinton.

I had a conversation recently with a close friend that is a Clinton supporter. I was genuinely surprised by it, because I thought Clinton's bad behavior was so obvious, so poisonous that it was evident to everyone. And more so, that this would make her fall out of favor. This was my own experience, after all. If you read one of my entries from late 2007, I was talking up the entire Democratic field. I would have been pleased with any of them, especially Obama, Clinton, and Edwards (and Kucinich). Over the course of several months, a plentiful position now looks horribly disfigured. Clinton is managing to alienate and drive away some of her most ardent supporters. Her disturbingly negative campaign is so witless that it cannot conceive anything but victory--something assuredly less likely today than two months ago. The question is not about what Clinton brings up about Obama and whether or not she does the work for them (which she is), but rather the soundbites McCain and 527 groups will use against Obama that involve Clinton. Has it occurred to no one in the Democratic party the danger of a late October TV spot with a darkened picture of Obama and voice over of Sen. Clinton? Then you here the announcer say: "If another Democrat can't even trust him, how can we?" It isn't the drudging up scary stuff from Obama's past that worries me, but what the Clintons are doing with it that scares me.

Truly, I don't expect Clinton to drop out, not because she's "a fighter", but because she's a scavenger; she's like a carrion bird. I long ago expected, however, that the Democratic leadership to make it stop. Oh well.

Monday, April 7, 2008

It's all about race, is it?

Here we go again. What's the deal with the constant demographic breakdowns?

Think about the polls that are taken by likely voters accross the U.S.. They all ebb and flow a bit, depending on who is being criticized more vociferously in the press. But here is heart of them: Obama is beating Clinton. Obama's favorables are high and Clinton's are low. Only 20% of likely Democratic voters gave Obama a 'disfavorable' rating in a recent poll, while Clinton got a 49%--almost half.

Further polls show Obama doing well against McCain. Most polls show Obama comparing well with most of Clinton's core constituency (women) and taking majorities in most of the states so far. But there's one lingering group that keeps coming up in all of this discussion: white men.

There are two reasons this keeps coming up: one is that we, as a demographic are still in power. We represent the majority, even though we represent so little of the overall population. Obama could win a landslide election without getting a single vote from a white man anywhere in the country--and this wouldn't even require unanimous support from women and other minority groups. But there is another issue that is brought up in this discussion, and it is the sick, depraved subtext: white men are racists, and if this black man can't break through, then he is no different than any other black man. This is the line of reasoning former Pres. Bill C. used when he said (essentially) even Jesse Jackson won South Carolina--an intentionally racist and derisive comment that splatters the filth not only on Obama, but on every African American.

Here's a new story on Yahoo! that shows the SOS: "Polls: Race helps Clinton with whites". Even last week's Washington Week on PBS fell to these same demographic issues that are little more than race-bating between two minority candidates. This is the status quo among Washington insiders that are afraid of an ideological revolution (see the Rev. Wright controversy).

But I have two claims to make.

First, white men, as a demographic, is useless. Urban white men, educated white men, white men of a defined age group, are all more useful. White men are useless. (Hey, Ladies! This one's for you!) It is the albatross in this race the same way "NASCAR dads" and "Soccer Moms" were the albatross in the 2000 and 2004 elections: this isn't the Democrats core. Someone else has this group. Besides, we are the most diverse demographic because we are the "majority" or powerholders. White men doesn't work.

Second, think about the very notion of the demographic splits, and see where strengths and weaknesses really are. If I were to break them up they might look like this:
  • Obama's strengths: African Americans, Millenials, Gen Xers, the educated, the poor, rural voters, and urban voters.
  • Clinton's strength: Baby Boomers, white men, and big states.
  • A wash: women.
The truth is, that the polls aren't measuring the demographics that are trending toward Obama, because they have not been taken as demographic groups by a candidate before. White 30 year-old men with a college education aren't a demographic group that pollsters isolate, but you can be sure that Obama is winning them.

A second truth is that Obama's strengths are proved in his performance in small states where people actually get to meet him and talk with him. The idea that individual demographics really decide these races and not public perception is patently ridiculous. But that's what the media specializes in. When are these journalists going to realize that increased racism helps Clinton?

Another backhanded complement

In a new article written by Virginia Postrel called "The Peril of Obama" for The Atlantic, the writer suggests that Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy is based on an asset he possesses: something she calls 'glamour'. While seeming to suggest that it is good (suggesting that only Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan possessed this attribute), she also infers that it may serve as a double-edged sword that might undermine an Obama presidency.

I decided that I thought she was a little off. Here's the e-mail I sent her:
Virginia Postrel,

I just finished reading your article for Atlantic Online: "The Peril of Obama" in which you discuss the candidate's 'glamour'. I find your suggestion that a Pres. Obama may not live up to the expectations of the campaigning Sen. Obama interesting--that this asset (glamour) may be what spells his undoing. It is interesting and a bit strange.

Sen. Obama's most interesting personal characteristic is not glamour, but actually what he is not: a panderer. Every president in the post-Nixonian era has succumbed to the will of special interests: especially Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush II. The darkness that was thrown over the presidency by Nixon has never been removed. If anything, the Ford pardoning of Nixon and the Republicans’ constant polishing of the myth of Reagan have allowed the short-term histories to be rewritten without the S&L and Iran-Contra scandals and failed economic conditions. Even the current Bush seems to be proving that the president, when supported by willing conspirators, can ignore the very heart of our legal system: Articles 1-3 of the constitution.

But I digress. Obama is not a panderer. Both Clintons and John Kerry were panderers; even Al Gore's staff turned him into a panderer. Bush I was a serious panderer. So was Bob Dole, Bush II, and now John McCain. All of our major party presidential candidates not only give up their most important values (for Bush I and Dole it was abortion), but go out of their way to gain the support of the lunatic fringe, jeopardizing their core morality (John McCain with John Hagee). Obama's message of hope and change, while vague and perhaps glamorous, serves to avoid this basic element of pandering to these entrenched interests.

The danger of Obama's presidency is not the popping of some bubble and the fallout from unmet expectations, but that those willing conspirators will prevent unity-building (as the Ted Kennedy-led Congressional majority stonewalled Carter). It is the Baby Boomer establishment that is afraid that a coming revolution will leave them out: a fear typified in the civil rights establishment’s backing of Sen. Clinton and claiming Obama hasn’t “paid his dues.” Further proof is found in the current favorite Super Delegate claim: “my kids have convinced me to back Obama”.

Gen Xers and Millenials aren’t backing Obama because of glamour, his “rock-star status”, or any claims of good looks. He is the first candidate to actually speak to these generations and offer not a token seat at the table, but the opportunity to drive the election. Besides, compared with Sen. Clinton’s scorched-earth tactics and Sen. McCain’s actual plans to scorch the earth, doesn’t Sen. Obama’s glamour seem a little small, as issues go?


Andrew Downs

How is glamor any different than "looking presidential" as a requirement of our candidates? Isn't that always part of the equation? And further, isn't the idea of focusing on the "style" of presidency the very substance of this debate? Sen. Clinton is running on the image of her policy savvy and Sen. McCain is running on the image that he is of military stock and he sure likes to use guns. Isn't Sen. Obama's image, carefully crafted, just as any candidate tries to do, part of what is intentionally appealing about him?

And one last thought. Since when has discrepancy between how one runs for president and how one acts as president been so important? Has this notion not been proved useless by the presidency of George W. Bush? Bush destroyed his credibility and his name, not by being the opposite of the person he suggested himself to be in 2000 (though he is), but by being a complete jerk! No president in recent memory has acted less presidential and more inappropriately than has Bush. That was his downfall. If Obama is half of the man he claims to be, then the country will be infinitely better the second he takes office than it was only moments before.

So what do you think?