Mike Kueber's Blog

June 28, 2011

Great presidents and continuing legal education

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, I had the good fortune of hearing presidential historian Douglas Brinkley give a talk on great presidents in America’s history.  I’m not sure how his talk qualified as continuing legal education for lawyers, but the state bar has almost unlimited power on that issue and it is very unlikely that anyone will complain.

Brinkley is a famous historian who is often interviewed on national news programs because he has the ability to present information in an interesting way, and his talk to at the annual meeting didn’t disappoint.  The talk was informal, and I suspect Brinkley could give it in his sleep.  His principal insights were:

  1. Although the talk was about presidents, Brinkley started with a non-president – Charles Thompson – who was a relatively unknown politician who did yeomen’s work in forming our union, but then was shut-out of a role in the newly-formed United States because he was too progressive for his time – i.e., he favored the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of women.
  2. George Washington’s signal achievement was to give up power after two terms.
  3. Thomas Jefferson saw that the Mississippi River was the spine of America and that religion has no place in a democracy.
  4. James Polk was successful because he established clear objectives (resolving the border issues with Mexico and Canada) and knew that wars of choice must be ended quickly.
  5. Lincoln’s challenges make the challenges faced by any other president seem highly manageable.
  6. Teddy Roosevelt created and led the conservation movement even though the public wasn’t demanding it.
  7. Franklin Roosevelt created the feeling that the federal government could solve all our problems.
  8. Harry Truman was horribly unpopular because he was too direct in trying to achieve his objectives, but his stock in history has skyrocketed.
  9. Dwight Eisenhower was an under-rated president who showed that America could be fiscally conservative and still do great things – e.g., NASA, interstate highways, and St. Lawrence Seaway.
  10. John Kennedy implemented things that worked (Peace Corp and SEALS/Green Beret), whereas his successor Lyndon Johnson spent too much money on things that didn’t work.
  11. Gerald Ford did a great job of extricating America from two problems – Nixon and Vietnam.
  12. Jimmy Carter brought morality to Washington.
  13. Ronald Reagan went with his gut and told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
  14. Bill Clinton was relatively successful, but never did anything big and will always be remembered for the sex scandal.
  15. George H.W. Bush will be upgraded by historians because of his brilliant handling of foreign policy.
  16. Barack Obama is disposed to placate, not lead.  He acts like the only adult in the room, but doesn’t lead.  His greatest accomplishment will be getting elected.

Brinkley skipped over Bush-43, but someone during the Q&A asked if it was likely that Bush-43 would be upgraded by historians.  Brinkley did not think so because Bush-43 would be forever stained by the economic collapse at the end of his second term.  It’s ironic that Bush’s economic collapse not only resulted in the historic election of Barack Obama, but also may have fated Obama to the ignominy of a one-term presidency.

In my opinion, Brinkley skipping Bush-43 was bad enough, but skipping Richard Nixon, too, is unforgivable, especially when he found time to mention Jimmy Carter.  I will keep that in mind when reading Brinkley in the future.

May 25, 2011

Hypocrital politicians or a double standard

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Newt Gingrich’s imploding campaign for the presidency and suggested that he had committed two sins – (1) he demagogued Congressman Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare financing, and (2) he had a revolving charge account for several hundred thousand dollars with Tiffany’s jewelry store.  Although the first sin would appear to be a mortal sin while the second only a venial sin, that would be overlooking the longstanding practice in America of holding conservatives to a higher standard.

There is a tendency of conservatives to accuse the liberal media of creating a double standard – one for liberals and another for conservatives – and there might be some basis for this accusation because conservative sinners are routinely labeled as hypocrites whereas liberals are labeled as merely fallible.  For example, this week’s Time magazine included a “Misconduct Matrix” of leading politicians, and the “Massively Hypocritical” section contained six conservatives (Gingrich, Schwarzenegger, Craig, Thomas, Ensign, and Haggard) and only two liberals (Spitzer and Edwards).  By contrast, the “Just Plain Stupid” section contained no conservatives and four liberals (Clinton, Kennedy, and Hart).

But I think the more important reason for the double standard is that conservative voters demand more from their politicians than do liberal voters.  When Newt argued on “Face the Nation” that his jewelry purchases were a personal matter, the media would be forced to accept that unless it were willing to pursue this information from all candidates.  But that doesn’t mean that conservative voters have to accept it.  This issue resonates and the damage has been done regardless of Newt attempting to say the subject is off-limits.

Although I don’t remember Nixon’s “Checker’s” speech in 1952, I have read about it, and it provides a how-to guide for conservatives dealing with charges of hypocrisy from liberals.  Nixon had been elected to the Senate in 1950, and his campaign team decided to campaign continuously for his re-election in 1956.  To pay for these campaign activities, Nixon set up a fund that accepted large contributions ($1,000) from sixteen rich benefactors.

The fund was legal, and Nixon took the additional precaution of not being told who the benefactors were, but that didn’t stop his opponents from arguing that the fund was morally wrong and that a Senator who campaigned on returning integrity to the Senate shouldn’t be taking money from others so that he could live above his means.

Shortly after the existence of the fund was leaked to the press, there was an avalanche of criticism that threatened Nixon’s recently secured place on Eisenhower’s presidential ticket.  Nixon’s campaign was met with posters that read, “Pat, what are you going to do with the bribe money?” and “No Mink Coats for Nixon — Just Cold Cash.”

Unlike Gingrich, Nixon decided to meet the issue head-on.  He gave a speech to the nation that was heard by 60 million Americans.  In the speech, he said that none of the money in the fund was spent for personal use and there were no mink coats for the Nixons.  He was “proud of the fact that Pat Nixon wears a good Republican cloth coat, and she’s going to continue to.”  The only gift for personal use was a puppy by the name of Checkers for his daughters, and Nixon was keeping him.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Newt has as good an answer to give.  He seems to like buying expensive jewelry, and most frugal people would accept a vendor’s standard offer to accept payment over time with no charged interest.  Neither of these acts is particularly sinful, but together they are a lethal combination for a conservative politician.  RIP Newt.

September 25, 2010

Lists from a 57-year-old man

Yesterday was my 57th birthday, but, no, I have not decided to create a bucket list.  Instead the following is more like The Book of Lists, which was a popular book first published in 1977 when I was attending law school.  The Book of Lists was written by David Wallechinsky, his father Irving Wallace (author of porn classic The Fan Club), and his sister Amy Wallace, and it contained hundreds of interesting lists.  I hope you find these lists interesting. 

My favorite sports teams

Having grown up as a provincial, parochial rube in North Dakota, I had five predictable favorite teams as a kid:

  1. Milwaukee Braves (with Hank Aaron) – the Braves were the MLB team closest to North Dakota until the Washington team moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1961.  I stuck with the Braves while my brother Greg switched to the Twins.
  2. The Green Bay Packers (with Paul Horning and Bart Starr) – the Packers were the NFL team closest to North Dakota until Minneapolis/St. Paul was awarded a franchise in 1961.  I would rather fight than switch (an old cigarette commercial), but my brother Greg switched to the Vikings.
  3. Los Angeles Lakers (with Jerry West) – the Lakers were the NBA team closest to North Dakota until they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1960.
  4. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (with Ara Parseghian, John Huarte, and Terry Hanratty) – although the school’s Catholicism probably had something to do with my fandom, it probably was due to their Midwestern base and nationwide network and prominence.
  5. The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (with Dave Osborn and Phil Jackson) – I only knew one other area team (North Dakota State Bison).  UND was a liberal-arts school while NDSU was a science/agriculture school.  I was a liberal-arts guy who planned to go to law school.

Forty years later, I have evolved into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, worldly guy and my favorite teams reflect that evolution:

  1. Minnesota Vikings.  If only one of my teams could win its championship, I would want it to be the Vikings, and Brett Favre is the reason.  Two years ago, when he was at the Jets, they were my favorite team.  And before that, the Packers.
  2. San Antonio Spurs.  Although they are the only MLB team in San Antonio, I suspect they would be one of my favorites even if I lived elsewhere.  Pop is my kind of coach (reminds me of Tom Laughlin of the NY football Giants), and Duncan, Ginobli, Parker, and owner Holt are great.  What’s not to love?
  3. Texas Longhorns.  I fell hard for the Longhorns during my law-school years, during which I experienced first-hand Darrell Royal’s last year of coaching and Earl Campbell’s Heisman victory.  My love for the Horns ensured that I had no mixed emotions when the Horns played and lost to Notre Dame for the national title in the 1978 Cotton Bowl, and I’ve never rooted the Irish since, except when I felt sorry for their coach Jerry Faust.
  4. Dallas Cowboys.  I have almost forgiven Jerry Jones for firing Barry Switzer.  Although Switzer was a mortal enemy of my all-time favorite coach Darrell Royal, I took a shine to Switzer and rooted against the Cowboys for several years after his firing, but Wade Phillips and Tony Romo are winning me back.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers.  My love for New York City caused me to switch from the Braves to the Yankees many years ago, and their Torre years were the best.  But when the Steinbrenners rudely showed Torre the door, I went with him to LA.

My five least favorite teams: 

  1. New Orleans Saints.  If I could only one team to lose its championship, it would be the Saints because they are the only team that can threaten my most cherished record in sports – the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi won three NFL titles in a row (1966-68).  The Saints have only won one, but any streak that reaches two is too close for comfort.  (I know this sounds like the small-minded Dolphins rooting against any unbeaten team.)
  2. Miami Heat.  It’s natural to hate a team that is loaded with dominating talent.  Thus, the Heat should be the most hated team of all time.
  3. USC Trojans.  I hate coaches who show no loyalty to their school.  Lane Kiffen appears to be the quintessential opportunist.
  4. San Diego Chargers.  Ever since they discarded Drew Brees for Phillip Rivers, I’ve been rooting for Rivers to fail.
  5. St. Louis baseball Cardinals.  I’m tired of hearing that LaRussa is a genius, and I don’t want Puhols to replace Aaron as the greatest home-run hitter of all time.

My favorite politicians

Although not nearly as important as sport teams, politicians are one of my fascinations.  My favorites are the following:

  1. Richard Nixon.  I like to describe Nixon as a junkyard dog.  By that, I mean that he grew up having to scrap for everything he got; kind of like a kid in a big family with not enough money.  That’s why some characterize him as having a chip on his shoulder and not fully refined or civilized.  I have some of those same traits, and I attribute some of it as due to affirmative action, which became popular in government and large corporations just as I was looking to get ahead in the world.  All of a sudden, these employers that were traditionally a route for all disadvantaged people to get ahead were reserved primarily for women and minorities.  Disadvantaged white males were supposed to “take one for the team.”  
  2. Dwight Eisenhower.  Although Nixon and Eisenhower grew up in similar circumstances, Eisenhower’s personality was diametrically different in that he was always a graceful winner and comfortable in his own skin.  His biographers describe him as not particularly creative or brilliant, but someone with integrity, intelligence, personal skills, and an abundance of judgment and common sense.  I wanted to be like him, and when Debbie wouldn’t let me name our third son after Nixon (she hated the nickname Dick), I compromised with Thomas Dwight.
  3. George W. Bush.  W. is a Texan, a sports guy, a patriot, and a right-center politician who transformed education policy and tried to fix immigration.  And he was just what America needed after 9/11.  His big mistake was to cut taxes instead of raising them to pay for our wars.
  4. Ronald Reagan.  I was a huge Reagan fan during his administration and was so happy when Bush-41’s election provided the ultimate popular ratification of Reagan’s tenure.  But I grew tired of the Reagan revolution by the end of Bush’s term and voted for Perot.  By that time I had become a deficit hawk, and although Reagan made fundamental changes to America’s direction by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending, he sacrificed fiscal responsibility by failing to cut domestic spending.  
  5. Mitt Romney.  While looking for a presidential candidate for 2012, I read Romney’s No Apologies and found his positions to be a perfect match for right-of-center me and America.  Just as importantly, his positions were based on a sound analysis.  My only concern is that, although his book stayed away from social issues like abortion because they are not as amenable to analysis, he revealed some intolerant righteousness when he discussed legalization of marijuana.

My top-ten BFFs (girls and family excluded)

  1. Landis Tande
  2. David Odegaard
  3. Mike Crocker
  4. Marv Leibowitz
  5. Tom Wynne
  6. Mike Vigus
  7. Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez
  8. Kevin Brown
  9. Don Iverson
  10. Mike Callen
  11. George Joy – not
  12. Michael Foley – not

My top-ten favorite books of fiction

  1. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  5. The Fan Club by Irving Wallace
  6. Sayonara by James Michener
  7. Wheels by Arthur Hailey
  8. Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig
  9. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

My top-ten favorite books of non-fiction

  1. The Great Bridge by David McCullough
  2. The Power Broker by Robert Caro
  3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
  5. The Next 100 Years by George Friedman
  6. Free to Choose by Milton Friedman
  7. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
  8. The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams
  9. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  10. The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch

My top-ten favorite movies

  1. Lonesome Dove
  2. Hud
  3. Casablanca
  4. Gone With The Wind
  5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
  6. Shane
  7. Centennial
  8. Patton
  9. Pretty Woman
  10. American President

My top-ten movie stars

  1. John Wayne
  2. Clint Eastwood
  3. Paul Newman
  4. Robert Redford
  5. Marilyn Monroe
  6. Mel Gibson
  7. Clark Gable
  8. Humphrey Bogart
  9. Robert Duvall
  10. Angelina Jolie

My top-twenty favorite songs

  1. Universal Soldier by Donovan
  2. Father & Son by Cat Stevens
  3. Amarillo by Morning by Terry Stafford
  4. Wrapped by George Strait
  5. Ringo by Lorne Greene
  6. It Must Have Been Love by Roxette
  7. Wild Geese by Joan Armatrading
  8. Austin by Blake Shelton
  9. I’m Gonna Be Strong by Gene Pitney
  10. Angie by The Rolling Stones
  11. No Place That Far by Sara Evans w/ Vince Gill
  12. Burn by Johnny Cash
  13. The Poor Side of Town by Johnny Rivers
  14. The Lady in Red by Chris de Burgh
  15. I Will Always Love You by Vince Gill and Dolly Parton
  16. I Want to Love You Forever by Jessica Simpson
  17. Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers
  18. Something in Red by Lorrie Morgan
  19. El Paso by Marty Robbins
  20. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf

My top-ten evocative songs

  1. Rumors by Fleetwood Mac – Valerie Lebeaux and Tom Wynne
  2. Fire & Rain by James Taylor – Katie Taylor and Julie Ophaug
  3. Kind of a Drag by the Buckinghams – Debbie Lee
  4. Tiny Dancer by Elton John – Larry Honnel, West Hall, UND
  5. Billy & Sue by B.J. Thomas – Mark Kueber in Korea
  6. Mr. Lonely by Bobby Vinton – Winter chores in ND
  7. He’ll Have to Go by Jim Reeves – Dad
  8. Foolish Games by Jewel – Sakina Hassonjee
  9. Should’ve Never by JLo – Tejana Temptress
  10. Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground and anything else by Willie Nelson or John Denver – Debbie Kueber
  11. She’s in Love with the Boy by Trisha Yearwood – Stephanie Melain
  12. I Wanna Talk About Me – Tina Spencer

Upon further reflection, maybe I haven’t evolved into a wordly, cosmopolitan, sophisticated person after all.