Every so often the Right trots out Dick Cheney to make astonishing pronouncements before he slinks back into relative anonymity to shoot hunting pals in the face or whatever it is discredited ideologues do when drummed off the public stage.
The one reliable truth of Mr. Chaney is that when he comes out of obscurity his comments are always calibrated to whip his remaining partisans into an election year lather, while straining to paper over the sad legacy of war and economic collapse that is his hallmark.
It is July before an election and Republicans are capitalizing on President Obama’s perplexing unpopularity. Mr. Cheney is helping to mobilize reliable conservative voters to turn incumbent Democrats out of office in marginal districts where Obama is a stigma. The former Vice President was in rare form in his latest public whirlwind around mediaville.
Mr. Chaney outdid even himself with statements made in various media formats during the past several days. What he said was, “President Obama is the worst President of my lifetime.”
Give that quote a second to sink in.
Cheney, who co-engineered the most catastrophic Presidential train wreck of any of our lives said, “Obama is the worst President of my lifetime.”
Worse than boss-man Bush. Worse than the much maligned Carter. Worse than the Right-reviled Roosevelt and the impeached Nixon.
It is noteworthy that Cheney’s declaration did not articulate what makes Obama the worst President of his lifetime. He would have a hard time finding even one failure that would qualify the President for bearing such a mantel.
The economy? No, Obama's policies have brought the economy back from the brink that Bush/Cheney were instrumental in driving us to.
Foreign Policy? Well, at least Obama didn’t contrive a war that destabilized the Mideast for a generation. He did restore America’s standing as the world’s moral leader, however.
Moral scandal permeating his Administration? Hardly a legitimate whiff of one in 6 years.
Health Care? Despite radical attempts in the Republican House and in many Red states to sabotage it, ObamaCare is already a success for millions.
Courage? Obama alone had the fortitude to order the kill on Bin Laden when the odds of success were in doubt.
The Environment? Saving the Auto industry? Getting paid back early and in full? Retiring our reliance on Stimulus debt early? Restoring all the jobs and more lost by the previous Administration?
Even Obama’s foreign policy Achilles heel—the trumped-up Benghazi episode—is hardly a legacy-defining issue.
Experts will say Cheney’s bizarre statement is aimed at two audiences: the Far Right, which accepts whatever Cheney says as gospel and thus is a mobilizing strategy; and political Independents who are deeply conflicted about who to support and tend to vacillate between political parties.
The real target of his statements is History. Cheney wants to revise it by demonizing his political opponents while sanitizing the destructiveness of his own actions. For many Republicans, Cheney and Bush are pariahs in their own Party. He’ll have to work the rest of his life to neutralize that reality, but history has spoken.
Mr. Cheney may have the darkest personality of any political leader of our time. Behind his foreboding countenance is a voice that whispers that shrill attacks on Democrats are a way to deflect attention away from personal flaws of almost Oedipal proportion.
Conservative militants still like him, so he is a reliable foil to make irrational statements while rationalizing ways to defend his own failed agenda.
So Mr. Cheney periodically re-appears on-stage, and makes his case.
And after he has, he retreats again to the shadows of public life; and when few are watching, slips away to an undisclosed location.
The first All-star game in Minnesota was on July 15th, 1965, which was my golden birthday. This 15 year old was hoping for bleacher seat tickets and a home run ball. The Twins were tearing up the American League and the baseball world was focused on Minnesota’s brilliant core—Killebrew, Oliva, Kaat, Mud Cat Grant, Versalles, and a dozen role players that made the Twins one of baseballs best teams.
My Dad got tickets for the game and we were camped out in the bleachers when my all-time favorite player, Willie Mays, stroked what looked to be a fastball into the seats in front of us. Lead-off hitter for the National League and the Say Hey Kid stripes a homer just out of arms reach. Home-town hero Harmon Killebrew also sent one over the fences and even though the National League won, the All-star game was one of my best youth memories.
One might imagine things have changed a lot since those days.
In some ways they have. The momentous events of 1965 presaged the tumult that was to come in succeeding years, with the race riots in Watts, Los Angeles, murder of Malcom X in New York, March On Selma by Martin Luther King and the escalation of the Vietnam War by the wizards in Washington.
My attentions were focused on brighter notions. Sean Connery’s James Bond captivated the boys of my generation, the Twins made the 1965 World Series, a space launch got close enough to the moon to capture photos and Bob Dylan electrified folk music by abandoning the acoustic guitar and "plugging in".
The constant for all that followed is sports.
This week’s All-star game is an opportunity to celebrate national unity and American tradition. With over 175,000 visitors and media this is the year's jewel event at Target Field and in our state. This year’s All-star teams may not have a dozen future Hall of Famers as in the 1965 contest, but it will be a much larger spectacle than ever imagined when the summer classic began in 1933.
Modern day baseball is a throwback to an uncomplicated past, a time when, except for mulitple nationalities, the players we see on stage could well be the same cavalcade of athletes who long ago paraded past us in stripes and solids, reds and grays, and blues and greens and whites.
Sure, the game has also been sullied by racism, greed and avarice of power brokers and prima donnas, and the powerful exertions of the media willing to change the nature of the game just to make more money. There have been a few bad apples on the field, too, who show up just for the money or glorification, and some criminals and dopers trying to take a shortcut to immortality.
But the essence of the sport has not changed. Players grew up with the game they love and every professional grown-up on the field of play is a kid who dreamed of this moment, a chance to represent their team in the greatest sports classic. Most players are like Willie Mays, who they say would have played the game for free as long as he could play.
The sport is an exercise in constancy. Players and records and champions come and go, but baseball lives on through hurricanes, race riots, wars and politics, and it’s own self-inflicted wounds.
In the coming decades humanity will face unimagined challenges that could threaten our very existence. But on the field of play time and crises won't exist. We will continue to study and marvel at the extraordinary, simple feats achieved by the athletes who make us forget and marvel at their skills. And for a few hours we could be living in the past or future and it wouldn't matter.
It's like that with baseball.
President Ronald Reagan proposed in 1981 to reclassify ketchup as a vegetable in the national school lunch program.
It took awhile, but that attack, taking aim at the “undeserving poor”, was beaten back by Democrats and public opinion. Modest advancements to student nutrition have been made since then, but the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is the first qualitative improvement in student nutrition in decades.
Now House Republicans are trying to undo the new law, reprising their efforts of several years ago when the same crowd tried to classify pizza sauce as a vegetable.
This recurring theme of cutting or dumbing down social programs for the defenseless will always have roots in bigotry and fear of government tyranny.
But this issue is more complicated.
First Lady Michelle Obama has been a champion of the new law and has made children's nutrition a cornerstone of her policy agenda. Her advocacy helped inspire the revamp of the dietary standards, which increases fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and reduces saturated fat, sodium and calories in student diets.
But the national School Nutrition Association, an industry trade group that initially supported healthier food, has done an about face and is recruiting Republicans to pull back on the new standards before they have even been fully rolled out.
Why would they do this?
To hear the SNA tell it, the new standards have made it hard for some school districts to make money from the program, as they assert kids are buying fewer lunches. Further, they say students are throwing away some of the meals they are buying so they are going hungry. The business group asserts that students need to acclimate to the new policy by delaying full implementation.
Surveys—and common sense--dispute these claims as false or overstated.
More likely, the trade group is under pressure from the companies that feather their nest. It is major food interests such as Coca Cola, Pepsico Foods, Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, Con Agra, Kraft Foods and other major firms that enjoy huge profit centers in schools where kids consume their fatty pizzas and high salt snacks.
The alliance of conservative Congressmen with Big Fat Food is causing a ruckus just as the new standards are being rolled out. But it makes no sense to pull them back before they have even been tested. Further, school districts have been surveyed by the USDA and report a better than 90% compliance rate with the new standards. Fully 19 former Presidents of the organization have written letters asking that they be upheld. The list of national non-profits that support the new standards is even more impressive than the membership roster of the SNA.
That’s hardly a mandate within the industry to gut the standards.
What all this boils down to is a broader conflict in Congress that is staler than last week’s leftovers—science-based research at odds with a narrow agenda being force-fed to the public by moneyed interests. This issue is not about cutting the fat out of regulations, it’s about putting it back into the student diets to fatten the wallets of the Association's members.
This power play is being played out in the hearing rooms of Congress, on the campaign trail and in the kitchens of public schools. One side uses fact-based research to make our kids healthier; and the other bait and switch tactics aimed at stalling the policy to allow SNA members to plump their bottom lines.
Keeping the new standards should be just a start. An issue as critical as the health of our children needs more than just overdue nutritional standards. We should build on them by teaching kids where food comes from, training them on how to cook and encouraging our communities to expand urban farm programs to get more healthful food on the tables of all residents.
In time, these policies will yield a new crop of students and citizens who are healthier, happier and less reliant on downstream services that in the end cost all of us more.