Is the Pope Catholic? Yep. He’s a Christian, Too.

Photo courtesy of the Catholic Church.

Photo courtesy of the Catholic Church.

As a practicing — but manifestly imperfect — Catholic, I am pleased Time magazine has named Good Pope Francis its 2013 Person of the Year. Also cheering is the most recent Wall Street JournalNBC News poll, which asked people to rate their feelings — “very positive,” “somewhat positive,” “somewhat negative” or “very negative” — toward the Pope and Catholic Church.

Not surprisingly, Francis, with positive feelings from 57 percent of those polled (34 percent of whom rated him “very positive”) and only five percent negative (barely one percent rated him “very negative”), is much more popular than the church he leads. The less impressive scores for the Church — the American leadership of which had too often been more concerned about limiting institutional damage control than relieving the agonizing pain and damage children experienced under the care and protection of the Church and its abusive priests — were 36 percent positive and 17 percent negative. The Catholic Church is indeed fortunate to have this Pope as its “human face.”

What is the key to his appeal? He is faithful to Church teaching. The words may be the same, but the music is much different. He accepted, and personally drove around the Vatican, the “gift” of a 30 horsepower, stick shift 1984 Renault with 186,00 miles on it. His “limo” is a Ford Focus. He eschews the luxurious papal apartments for simple quarters where he reportedly makes his own bed.

He speaks to and for the poor, teaching us that an economy exists to serve human beings and not the other way around. He corrects our “idolatry of money” and the false promise that “trickle down” economics would miraculously cure poverty. He calls himself “a sinner” and opens loving arms to those, including the divorced, gays and lesbians, who have been marginalized by Church authorities. But these items just describe, not define, what makes Francis exceptional.

For that, I turn to evangelical Protestant Michael Gerson, a columnist and former White House speechwriter and adviser for George W. Bush. Few experiences are more unwelcome for a writer than to have to quote, at some length, a colleague. But that’s what I have to do to try and understand the magical appeal of Francis.

Earlier this month at Georgetown University during an event sponsored by the school’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Gerson offered these thoughts on the Pope and the poor: “The reason that Francis is so powerful … is because he talks about Jesus and because he acts like Jesus.” Gerson’s other contributions: “Pope Francis is a troublemaker,” a characteristic, he noted, the pontiff shared with the founder of his faith who “wasn’t very popular with church and state in his own time.” He added that there is “nothing more dangerous than a troublemaker with a plan” and that “a Church that looks like this would transform the whole world.” I obviously could not have said it better, or as well, myself.

We are learning once again this holiday season that the best things in life are not things, and that, yes, Francis is both Catholic and Christian.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Time to Lead the Fight for Citizen Responsibility

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

In the historic struggles to extend and guarantee civil rights for African-Americans, women, workers, gays and lesbians, those with disabilities, and immigrants, American liberals have provided truly indispensable public and political leadership. Because of their efforts, the United States is today a fairer, better and more humane place.

But along the way, when almost every disagreement turns into each side asserting and insisting upon its rights, the national debate has sadly become impoverished. When was the last time you heard a national leader talk about the responsibilities each of us has as an American citizen? Perhaps your memory is better than mine.

We live today in an increasingly stratified country, where young Americans can go all the way through school without meeting or knowing anyone from outside their own social and economic classes. Americans are disconnected from each other and nowhere is this disconnect more alarming and more obvious than between those in the U.S. military and their civilian contemporaries. In spite of all the “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers on SUVs and the unvarying mantra of how “proud” all our public officials, irrespective of party, are of “our brave men and women in uniform,” the American upper class is happy to have all fighting and, yes, all dying done not by its own, precious children but instead by the sons and daughters of waitresses, secretaries and firefighters.

Back when Ronald Reagan was a presidential candidate, 412 members of the House and Senate — 77 percent of Congress — had worn their nation’s uniform in military service. Today, just 108 out of 535, barely 20 percent, have served. Interestingly, the two female House members in that group are both combat veterans.

Lyndon Johnson was the last president to have a son — or in his case, two sons-in-law — serve, both in wartime. Franklin Roosevelt had four sons. All went to war. Elliott Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew 300 combat missions. Jimmy Roosevelt joined the Marine Corps, and in combat in the Pacific, earned both the Navy Cross and the Silver Star. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Franklin Roosevelt Jr.’s bravery saving the lives of crew members when under heavy enemy fire was rewarded with a Silver Star. And Navy Lt. John Roosevelt earned a Bronze Star during World War II.

It’s not just about who is in today’s all-volunteer military but also about who is not. The last major star to serve from the entertainment world was Army draftee Elvis Presley. Because the country’s political leadership failed to draft upper class youth during the Vietnam War, the draft lost its legitimacy.

Here is the challenge to my fellow liberals. Let us lead by reminding our fellow Americans and ourselves that our citizenship, while priceless, is not free. We have responsibilities, beyond paying the taxes we owe, to each other and to our country. Universal national service and two years of training and service with no exemptions for every young American could be the liberals’ summons to collective sacrifice for the common good.

With a son or daughter in uniform, foreign policy — along with serious questioning of any future president’s rush to war — would become the central concern of every family. Beyond military service, other important national tasks include cleaning up our country, bringing hope to children at risk and help to the helpless, and providing company to the lonely. We’re winning the fight for citizens’ rights. Now it’s time to lead the fight for citizen responsibility.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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The Man Who Should Terrify Everybody in Congress

Vance McAllisterIn the U.S. House of 435 members where seniority still counts, Republican Vance McAllister is last in seniority, 432nd to be precise. That’s because there are currently three vacant seats. He was sworn into office on Nov. 21, following his upset victory in a special election held by Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District. Five days earlier, when McAllister won 60 percent of the vote against his favored opponent, state Sen. Neil Riser, who was very well-financed and backed by the Louisiana Republican Party, including the state’s Republican House members, House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, and the Louisiana tea party.

Why were two Republicans running? Because under Louisiana law, if no candidate wins a majority during the primary in which all candidates appear on the ballot (there were 14), then the top two finishers, irrespective of party, qualify for the runoff. Riser had handily won the primary 12 percentage points ahead of McAllister, 39, who had never before run for any public office.

Both candidates opposed abortion, gun control, and the size and reach of the government. But they differed on Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to reject the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would extend coverage to more low-income, uninsured state residents. Riser backed Jindal and went on TV to denounce McAllister for publicly endorsing Medicaid expansion to citizens of the 5th District, one of the nation’s poorest in which close to a quarter of households survive on an annual income of less than $15,000. Riser’s paid message: “A vote for Vance McAllister is a vote for ObamaCare.”

So what is the possible significance of one Republican defeating another in a Louisiana special House race for the 2014 national elections, which are still almost a year away? In fairness, McAllister, an Army veteran and self-made business success who was able to self-finance his own campaign, had a strong personal story to tell. He did not seek to run to the right of Riser and oppose the shutdown of the federal government in a doomed gesture to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And unlike Riser, who backed the shutdown and pledged repeal of the health law, he argued that with Democrats controlling both the White House and Senate, repeal was unattainable. He suggested working to change and improve the health law instead.

What McAllister had going for him in his upset victory — and what no current member of Congress running in 2014 will ever be able to claim —- is that he truly was the fresh face, the nonpolitician who was unbossed and unbought. He did not hesitate to remind voters of the 5th District that despite his affluence, he had never been to Washington, D C.

Seven out of 10 Americans believe their country is headed in the wrong direction, and fewer than one in 10 has a positive opinion of Congress’s performance, so the McAllister model could truly become a nightmare scenario for congressional incumbents. The appealing, solutions-minded outsider with a positive personal story to offer cannot be portrayed as part of the problem. Riser had the resume. He had incumbency, experience and the support and praise of elected leaders of his state and party. He had plenty of campaign money. And yet, he lost. This is why McAllister’s victory should send chills about the 2014 elections through everybody in Washington, Democrat or Republican.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Democrats, Don’t Pop the Champagne Yet

elephant-donkeyThe numbers for the Republican Party are beyond discouraging. The Grand Old Party is hemorrhaging support. In the most recent Wall Street JournalNBC News survey, only 24 percent of voters, an all-time low in the poll’s history, now have a favorable view of the Republican Party. The public blames Republicans more than they do President Obama, 53-31 percent, for the shutdown of the federal government. In this week’s Gallup poll, just 28 percent of voters — a 10-point drop since September — favorably viewed the GOP. This is the lowest favorable number that either political party has registered in the 21 years Gallup has been asking the question. Seventy percent in the Washington Post-ABC News poll, one week into the government shutdown, disapprove of congressional Republicans.

Democrats whose own favorable and unfavorable numbers — 39-40 percent in a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll and 43-49 percent in the Gallup — are nothing to write home about, yet Democrats are barely able to conceal their glee. It’s not that voters are smitten with the Democrats; they most definitely are not. It’s just that compared to the historically unpopular GOP, the Typhoid Mary of American politics, Democrats don’t look nearly as bad. It’s a little bit like winning a humility competition against Donald Trump and Kanye West.

But before Democrats start popping their chilled champagne in anticipation of their inevitable comeback in the election of 2014, they should understand that the government shutdown, coupled with the very public game of chicken over the nation’s debt ceiling, has led to even further hemorrhaging of voters’ already shrunken confidence in Washington and the public sector. Democrats historically have believed and argued that the federal government, at its best, can be an instrument of social justice and economic progress. Republicans, by contrast, have mostly been the anti-government party.

This was not always the case. In the middle of the Civil War, in which more Americans died than in all of the nation’s other wars combined, Justin Morrill, a Republican congressman from Vermont, wrote the Land Grant College Act, which the Congress passed and President Abraham Lincoln signed into law. It mandated the federal government to give every state 30,000 acres of land for each U.S. representative that a state had in Congress. The land was used to establish federal funding for every state to found at least one public college accessible to all. The first college built under the Act was MIT, the second Cornell and it has gone on to include 215 public colleges and universities.

In 1862, not even one percent of the U.S. population had set foot on a college campus when, brimming with confidence and optimism, Americans dared to establish a national university system, which would become the envy of the world. Given today’s pervasive pessimism and mistrust in government, it is almost impossible to believe that Americans would dare to accept Justin Morrill’s challenge.

Barely fifty years ago, three out of four Americans trusted their government to do “what is right” either “just about always” or “most of the time.” This year only 22 percent of us express similar levels of trust in the public sector. Optimism is the parent of confidence and trust is confidence’s offspring. We now have an acute national deficit of all three crucial characteristics.

The Republican Party brand is deep in the cellar; make no mistake about it. But bad news for the GOP is not good news for Democrats as long as Americans continue to lose confidence in our capacity to act collectively, through our freely elected government, for the common good. It’s time to put the champagne back on ice.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Isn’t It Time We Americans Got to Know Each Other?

Air Force personel watch as the caskets of six fallen soldiers are loaded onto a waiting hearse at Dover Air Force Base Delaware July 8, 2009. All fallen service members are transferred directly from theater to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center at Dover Air Force Base Delaware. (DoD photo by Benjamin Faske)

The late Tom Pettit, who covered American politics so well for NBC News from John Kennedy in 1960 to Bill Clinton in 1992, was missed even more during this year’s uninspiring presidential campaign. My personal favorite Tom Pettit professional moment was when he was interviewing Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, who served in the Cabinets of both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Secretary Butz, an unrelenting critic of the food stamps program then under his department, unloaded on the “greedy” exploiters of food stamps he and his people were chasing down. Pettit asked Butz if he knew anyone who had used food stamps. Butz spoke about how he was no stranger to supermarkets, that he accompanied his wife on the grocery shopping and that he had personally seen people at the checkout counter paying with food stamps.

Pettit pressed Butz: Did the secretary know anyone — personally — who depended upon food stamps to feed her children? After an extended silence, the obviously displeased agriculture secretary answered the question, “No.” The only thing that followed was the close: “Tom Pettit, NBC News, Washington.”

This anecdote reminds me why the military draft between 1940 and 1973 educated so many of us about what it meant to be an American and, more importantly, tells me why in the second decade of the 21st century the United States desperately needs every 18-year-old American to give two years of national service, military or civilian, to their country.

First, a personal note: At Parris Island, S.C., in Marine Corps boot camp, for the first time in my life I slept in the same quarters with African-Americans and took orders, as a matter of course, from African-Americans. In that boot camp platoon, there were six college graduates, four young men who, given the option by juvenile courts, had chosen to enlist rather than have the judge impose a sentence and one of us, who proved to be both a gentle giant and a superb rifleman, who had never gone beyond the eighth grade.

We were mostly Catholics from the North or Baptists from the South. But we also included four Jewish Marines and even a couple of, to the manor born, Episcopalians. After the longest 13 weeks of our lives, we all came to know that while our ancestors may have come to America at different times and in different ships, now we were all in the same boat — and that each of us was an American.

The draft — when three out of four male college-graduates as well as high-school graduates served — guaranteed that Americans of all classes, all social strata and all areas of the country would shoulder the responsibility of defending their nation. And that in doing so they would rub shoulders with and — while sharing bunks, a weekend pass and, sometimes, even foxholes — get to know, and to depend upon, other Americans very different from themselves.

Which brings us back to a variation of Tom Pettit’s great question of Earl Butz: Do you, Mr. Commentator, or do you, Madame Senator, PERSONALLY know anyone whom your arguments or your votes have sent into combat? Have you attended the funeral of anyone whom you PERSONALLY knew who was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan?

A “Support Our Troops” decal on your SUV or a flag pin in your lapel does not qualify. The American Establishment — political, economic, academic and journalistic — has next to no personal stake in men and women who risk their life and limbs to defend the United States. Our military is increasingly integrated by race and increasingly segregated by class.

Tragically, most Americans today only know people exactly like themselves. Universal national service would introduce Americans to each other and to what it means to be a citizen.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Never Eat at Any Place Called “Mom’s”

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Nelson Algren, the great Chicago writer, provided American males with three timeless rules for life:

Never play cards with a man named “Doc.” Never eat at a place called “Mom’s.” And never lie down with a woman who has more troubles than you do.

It must be obvious by now that the recently resigned CIA director, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, with a Ph.D. from Princeton, either did not read or did not heed Nelson Algren.

We have learned that Petraeus — almost revered by the press corps who covered him and by so many in Congress for his intellect, leadership and skill — was a man of flawed judgment. In February 2010, when Petraeus was commander of the U.S. Central Command, with its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., he and Mrs. Petraeus attended a Gasparilla Pirate Festival party at the Tampa home of Dr. Scott and Jill Kelley.

The general made the approximately nine-mile trip to the Kelley home in the company of a 28-police officer motorcycle escort. That’s right, 28 on-duty police officers, instead of patrolling the city or walking a neighborhood beat, were diverted in order to provide a papal-size motorcade to accompany Petraeus to a social event.

What level of self-importance would you have to have reached in order not to reject out of hand as personally unacceptable so obvious a misuse of the time and talents of public safety officers?

You want more evidence? How about Petraeus’ backing of Jill Kelley’s twin sister, Natalie Khawam, who, according to District of Columbia Superior Court Neal Kravitz, who had ruled against her in a custody case involving her 4-year-old son, “appears to lack any appreciation or respect for the importance of honesty and integrity in her interactions with her family, employers and others with whom she comes in contact.”

So Petraeus chooses to wade into the middle of a bitter domestic relations fight and “having known her for approximately three years,” writes a letter to the court stating that he and his wife, Holly, had seen first-hand “a very loving relationship” between Khawam and her son when they and the Kelleys had been the Petraeuses’ guests for Christmas dinner.

The nation’s top spy, ever discreet and shrewd, in order to communicate with — perhaps to send coded sweet nothings to — his biographer-lover, Paula Broadwell, sets up a gmail account.

Broadwell, possibly upset by that Christmas dinner invitation, was not pleased with Jill Kelley’s personal friendship with Petraeus and, according to law enforcement officials who have investigated the case, sent anonymous, harassing emails to Kelley.

According to the New York Daily News, one unsigned email allegedly threatened to make Kelley “go away,” which has a menacing sound to it. If this is accurate, then Kelley’s seeking an FBI friend to find the identity of the sender of such messages becomes more understandable.

The hint of overly possessive-obsessive behavior toward the Married Man by the Other Woman recalls Alex Forest, the character so superbly created by Glenn Close in the 1987 blockbuster “Fatal Attraction,” who after a mad weekend fling with seemingly happily-married lawyer Dan Gallagher, believably played by Michael Douglas, refuses to be “ignored” and makes unbearable the lives of the adulterous Gallagher and his family.

This movie, someone wisely observed, scared the pants ONTO countless married men. I recall meeting Close during the 2004 New Hampshire primary, when she wanted to talk politics and I just wanted to tell her (as she had probably heard 10,413 times) that she had done more for male marital fidelity in that one movie than all the sermons given from all the pulpits since 1950.

It was the great Southern writer Walker Percy who urged, “Do not be the kind of person who gets all A’s and flunks ordinary living.”

Judgment really does matter.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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An American Original Leaves Voluntarily

Photo courtesy of Kalex Nova

War is hellish and hateful. But even more hateful is the “chicken-hawk” who cheerleads and champions war while ducking any personal risk of engagement for himself, his blood relatives or his social peers. These are the tough-talking, think-tank commandos in and out of Washington, including the press corps, who love to expropriate the language of the combat they have done everything to personally escape.

Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf silenced the flatterers who tried to lionize him after his successful leadership in the Persian Gulf War: “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

Nobody understands that hard truth better than Sen. Jim Webb, who has chosen to leave the U.S. Senate after serving a single six-year term from Virginia. Long before he would become the first graduate of the Naval Academy to serve as Secretary of the Navy, under President Ronald Reagan, 23-year-old Webb was a Marine company commander in Vietnam combat where he earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

Proud of his service in that war, Webb has never hesitated to challenge directly those who, so often as a first resort, urge sending American Marines and soldiers once more into harm’s way. Rebuking those national security types who are able to reduce flesh and bone into policy abstractions, Webb has been emphatic: You don’t use ‘force.’ You send young people who have dreams, who want a future.”

By 32, Webb had written “Fields of Fire,” which Tom Wolfe called “the finest of the Vietnam novels” and in which a Marine sergeant returns to Vietnam for a second tour after visiting his hometown in the States and says: “Lieutenant, you’d hardly know there was a war going on. It’s in the papers … but that’s it. Airplane drivers still drive their airplanes. Businessmen still run their businesses. College kids go to college. It’s like nothing really happened except to other people. It isn’t touching anybody except us.”

Vietnam then, Iraq after that, and Afghanistan now. History teaches us the painful truth that the strength of a nation is measured directly by the will and the resolve of the people of that nation to stand together through individual and universal sacrifice for the common good. War demands equality of sacrifice. Yet we, the vast majority of Americans, have shown in the 21st century that we prefer instead to pay no price, to bear no burden, thank you.

This past week, introducing President Obama to a Virginia crowd, Webb reminded his audience that at least one American politician was capable of straight talk. Referring to Gov. Mitt Romney‘s “comments about the culture of dependency in our society,” Webb continued: “Gov. Romney and I are about the same age. Like millions of others in our generation, we came to adulthood facing the harsh realities of the Vietnam War. … This was a time of conscription where every American male was eligible to be drafted. … I have never envied or resented any of the choices that were made as long as they were done within the law…

“These young Marines that I led have grown older now. They’ve lived lives of courage, both in combat and after their return, where many of them were derided by their own peers for having served. That was a long time ago. They are not bitter. They know what they did. But in receiving veterans’ benefits, they are not takers. They were givers, in the ultimate sense of that word. There is a saying among war veterans: ‘All gave some, some gave all.’ This isn’t a culture of dependency. It is part of a long tradition that gave this country its freedom and independence. They paid, some with their lives, some through wounds and disabilities, some through emotional scars, some through lost opportunities and delayed entry into civilian careers which had already begun for many of their peers who did not serve.”

Washington doesn’t understand how much it will miss Mr. Webb of Virginia.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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“Those Who Know Him Best”

Photo courtesy of Austen Hufford

In 1976, with voters still fuming over the Watergate scandals and Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, President Ford faced a tough uphill fight against a newcomer with anti-Washington credentials, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. I remember a TV ad the Ford campaign’s brilliant media team of Doug Bailey and the late John Deardourff crafted to plant doubts about the not-well-known Democratic nominee:

“Those who know Jimmy Carter best are from Georgia. That’s why we thought you ought to know …” And what followed was the viewers seeing on-screen and hearing a voice read a scroll of Georgia newspapers such as the Savannah News, the Augusta Herald and the Marietta Journal, with the announcer adding for each, ‘… endorses President Ford.”

The argument was uncomplicated. If the candidate’s neighbors and friends who have know him the longest have doubts about him, then maybe I, as a voter, ought to have a few second thoughts.

That Ford ad, not surprisingly, had no influence on Georgia voters, some 67 percent of whom voted that November for favorite son Carter. In fact, most presidential nominees, perhaps aided by hometown pride, do carry their home states — or at the very least run better there than they do nationally.

In 2008, John McCain won Arizona, just as Barack Obama carried Illinois and Hawaii. In 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale, who lost 49 states to Ronald Reagan, still won Minnesota, his home state.

Two exceptions do come to mind. In 1972, Democrat George McGovern won just over 37 percent of the national vote against Richard Nixon and also lost 49 states, including his home state of South Dakota, where the Democrat ran eight points better than he did nationally. In 2000, Al Gore by 4 percent of the vote lost his home state of Tennessee — and, with it, the White House — to George W. Bush.

The last candidate to win the White House while losing his home state was President Woodrow Wilson, who despite being re-elected failed to carry New Jersey.

Why all this could be relevant in 2012 is contained in the most recent Suffolk University poll (the same poll that in 2010 accurately forecast Republican Scott Brown’s upset win to succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate) of voters in Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney has lived for 40 years and where he served as governor from 2003 until 2007. True, Massachusetts is a deep blue state, but Romney, according to the survey, trails Barack Obama among likely voters by a landslide 64 percent to 31 percent.

Democratic partisanship cannot fully explain why, when asked to rate Mitt Romney personally, just 32 percent of his home state electorate judges him favorably and some 60 percent of voters judge Romney unfavorably.

No presidential nominee in U.S. history has ever risked receiving such a cold shoulder on Election Day from, to paraphrase the 1976 Ford campaign, “those who know him best.”

Mitt Romney is smart, successful and exceptionally well-educated. He is by all reports a really good husband, father, grandfather and friend. He is handsome and well-spoken, not completely unimportant factors. Yet in the most recent Pew Research national survey, when voters were asked “which presidential candidate connects well with ordinary Americans,” 66 percent named Obama and just 23 percent said Romney.

One possible explanation comes from a Republican friend who compares the current campaign to an old advertising story. In an effort to corner the U.S. dog food market, a pet food CEO assembled a team of the world’s best canine nutritionists to develop the new dish and deployed the most brilliant packaging people to present the new product. He hired a crack advertising team, which created a dog food jingle half the nation was humming, and using the best sales force, got the new dog food the best shelf placement in U.S. supermarkets. Sales of the new dog food were abysmal. Nobody could explain why. The angry manufacturer was disbelieving, until his secretary leveled with him:

“The dogs don’t like the dog food.”

That may be one explanation.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Questions I’ll Never Ask

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

For 25 years, Jim Lehrer has been my friend and colleague on “PBS Newshour.” He has been an exceptional journalist for more than twice that long. On Oct. 3 in Denver, Jim Lehrer will break his own indoor-outdoor record and establish a new world’s record when he moderates for the 12th time a U.S. presidential debate.

Because Lehrer both completely appreciates and accepts that presidential debates are about the presidential nominees and not about the moderator or the panelists, nobody is better at doing what he does. The often-overlooked asset Jim Lehrer brings to this pressure-cooker assignment is the ability to pay complete attention to the answers being given to the questions he asks.

In “Tension City,” his book written from inside the presidential debates, he gives us his favorite made-up example of the interviewer who fails to listen to the answer:

“Q: Senator, do you believe the the U.S. should sell more grain to Cuba?

“A: Yes, Jim. I do. But first we should bomb Havana.

“Q: What kind of grain, Senator?”

Just because I am never going to be invited to ask questions in a presidential debate does not mean that I do not have some questions I would like to ask President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. Here are a few, which I concede are not as classy or fair as the ones Jim Lehrer will pose.

If you had complete assurance that it would be ratified, what one amendment to the Constitution would you propose?

During the 2012 campaign, both of you have spent virtually no real time at all (other than to raise campaign money) talking to or listening to any voters in 42 of our 50 states. Virtually all your efforts, energy and attention have been spent courting voters in the eight battleground states. Colorado voters matter, while Maine and Montana voters do not. Why shouldn’t we abolish the Electoral College so that every American’s vote will matter and count the same?

What is the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline today?

During the time period from your own adolescence until today, what president of the other party do you most admire and why? (No Abraham Lincoln or Harry Truman cop-out answers allowed.)

When was the last time you visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington? If you haven’t, why not?

What is your favorite children’s book? Why?

What would be the reason — other than to avoid paying taxes to the U.S. Treasury — for depositing one’s money in Swiss bank or a Cayman Islands account, instead of in an American bank?

With all the tension in that area, much attention has been focused on the Straits of Hormuz. What, if anything, do you wish to say about the Gays of Hormuz?

Mike Mansfield served honorably in this nation’s Navy, Army and Marine Corps — all three services before he was old enough to vote — and went on to serve longer than anyone else before or since as both Senate majority leader and U.S. ambassador to Japan. Before he died, he directed that his simple grave marker at Arlington Cemetery read: “Michael Joseph Mansfield, Private, U.S. Marine Corps.” In one sentence, what would you want your own epitaph to read?

On Oct. 22, 1976, the first panelist to ask a question of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter was the columnist Joseph Kraft: “Americans all know that these are difficult times. … They don’t expect something for nothing. … As you look ahead for the next four years, what sacrifices are you going to call on the American people to make? What price are you going to ask them to pay?”

Joe Kraft’s question is even more timely today.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Third Term Anyone?

Photo courtesy of Thomas Stahan

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the last 76 years — since Franklin Roosevelt carried 46 of the then 48 states against Republican Alf Landon — just one Democratic president has been re-elected to a second White House term. Republicans who were unable to defeat Roosevelt in four presidential contests exacted posthumous vengeance upon FDR by winning ratfication in 1951 of the 22nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees that no person shall be elected to the office of president more than twice.

After this city’s Democratic convention, that amendment may be effectively “repealed,” because in 2012 Democrat Bill Clinton, his party’s only chief executive to have won re-election since FDR, could be said to be running for his third White House term.

To watch President Barack Obama make his first appearance on the Charlotte convention stage there to congratulate and thank Bill Clinton after his speech was, for this observer, to see an expression of admiring awe this observer had never before seen on Obama’s face. It was completely understandable, because in less than 45 minutes, the 42nd president had just made a better public case for the Obama administration than the Obama adminstration had made for itself in 45 months.

And a better case than the 44th president would make for himself and his own re-election the next night.

There is an old Marine Corps maxim that states that no duty station is better than the one the Marine just left and none is worse than the one to which the Marine is currently assigned.

The same may be true for presidents. Bill Clinton has rebounded from the dark days following his 12th-hour pardon of fugitive financier and tax cheat Marc Rich, a certified sleazeball who had repudiated his own American citizenship. Eleven years later, after humanitarian work on a global scale, Clinton is that rare American ex-president who is not only favorably regarded by seven out of 10 of his countrymen, but who is the featured guest of honor and star attraction at his party’s national conventions.

Ironically, the totally scandal-free Barack Obama seeks the political equivalent of ‘innocence by association’ through sharing the spotlight and the platform with the only U.S. president impeached by the U.S. House in the last 144 years.

Why? Because Bill Clinton has the ability, lacking in both Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, to “connect” with people in a personal way. Clinton possesses both the human touch and the rare gift of being able to convince almost anyone whom he meets — I can testify — that he, Bill Clinton, has been on this planet for 66 years just for these precious minutes he is spending with you.

Clinton likes, maybe needs, attention and affection, while the self-contained Obama needs Clinton. Temperamentally and politically, theirs is a shotgun wedding.

In his convention speech, Bill Clinton did something rare in U.S. politics: He treated his audience like they were grown-ups capable of understanding policy and able to process political arguments he frames that rise above the intellectual level of a bumper sticker or a wall poster. He even commended — by name and for cause — Republican presidents who had used government to bring justice and progress to the nation’s people.

This was a convention where speaker after speaker unsubtly caressed the erogenous zones of the body politic, especially on the thorny issue of abortion — where a majority of voters, including more than one out of three Democrats according to Gallup, self-identify as “pro-life’ rather than “pro-choice” — totally unrestricted access to which has become a Democratic commandment on which no argument will be brooked.

So, after Charlotte and President Obama’s solid but unmemorable acceptance speech, the 2012 Democratic ticket — with all due respect to the completely loyal Joe Biden — will be Clinton-Obama.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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