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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

One Week To Go...

Are you sick of hearing about the impending Iowa caucuses?

Me neither. One week from today, voters in the Hawkeye State will kick off the 2012 election cycle with their mystifying mêlée of...whatever. Anyway, before parsing the polls out of Iowa, I'd like to discuss an interesting development in the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.

It seems that neither Texas Gov. Rick Perry nor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who until recently the undisputed frontrunner in the GOP primary campaign) have been able to collect and submit the 10,000 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot in Virginia. For Perry, this is not that big a deal; he wasn't going to be the nominee anyway (thank God), and it will be pretty pathetic if he hasn't dropped out of the race by the time Va. holds its primary. But for Gingrich, not being on the ballot in Old Dominion is a pretty big embarrassment, not least because it's his home state.

Yes, the former Speaker spent twenty years representing an Atlanta-area district in Georgia, but he currently resides in the state that has already delivered us more presidents than any other (eight, to be exact). I recently made the acquaintance of one Bryan Eppstein, a legend in Texas politics. Bryan's reputation as a political shark is such that politicians here have been known to retain him, even if they have no need for his services; they just don't want him working for an opponent's campaign. He told me that Al Gore did not lose the 2000 presidential election because he lost Florida; he lost the election because he failed to carry his home state of Tennessee.

I can remember watching the returns roll in on Election Night 2000, and while the race was still up in the air, I remarked that Bush had won Tennessee. (For the record, Bill Clinton carried Tennessee twice.) I wasn't as politically astute back then as I am now, but I found it strange that the election was so close when one candidate couldn't even carry his home state.

Gingrich's failure to make it onto the Virginia primary ballot is all the more galling when you consider that he's been leading the polls there. In a protracted race for the nomination, every delegate counts, and if Newt and Mitt are still duking it out come February, then effectively conceding a state with more delegates than New Hampshire and Iowa combined before any votes are cast will go down as one of the greatest campaign blunders of all time.

The Gingrich campaign didn't do their candidate any favors with their apparent sour-grapes attitude yesterday. Campaign director Michael Krull:

Only a failed system excludes four out of the six major candidates seeking access to the ballot. Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates.

I agree; voters should have the right to vote for any top contender, which is why Virginia, like all states, has certain requirements that candidates must meet in order for their names to appear on the ballot. Newt Gingrich failed to satisfy all the necessary requirements, so I don't think excluding him from the Virginia primary ballots evinces a "failed" system.

Back to Iowa: Gingrich's decline in the polls has not been matched by an equal surge in one candidate's numbers; instead, it appears that his loss is Mitt Romney's, Ron Paul's, Rick Santorum's and Michele Bachmann's gain. Every poll out of the state in the last two weeks has shown either romney or Paul leading; this has pundits buzzing about the prospect of the 76-year-old Congressman and cantankerous old coot winning (or even finishing a close 2nd in) the Iowa cacuses. Such a result would be in affront to the political narrative that the Iowa GOP caucuses are dominated by social conservatives. (Hence, the impressive performances of Mike Huckabee in '08, George W. Bush in 2000 and Pat Robertson in '88.) One interesting quirk in the run-up to the caucuses this year is the failure of any one candidate to lock in the evangelical vote; Michele Bachmann was the early favorite to win this group, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and now it appears evangelical Christians are torn between Bachmann, Santorum, Perry and Gingrich. The latter two have had their moments as King of the Hill, and I highly doubt that either of them are coming back. Ditto Bachmann, but swap "Queen for a Day" for "King of the Hill." Santorum, however, has never topped the polls in any state and may just be the next candidate to surge. He's arguably devoted more time and energy to Iowa than anyone else, and his fervent appeal to church-going folk in middle America while running his campaign on a shoestring budget conjures up memories of Huckabee four years ago. (For the record, it was in December of 2007 that the former Arkansas governor surpassed Mitt Romney in the polls in Iowa, where Romney had held a steady lead for months.) My predictions: Ron Paul will soar no higher; he has reached his peak in Iowa, though his current poll position (22.7% in the RCP average) is probably pretty close to what he'll actually pull next week in the caucuses. Santorum will outperform Bachmann among evangelicals and finish well ahead of her in the final tallies. Romney looks good to win; he'll definitely be first or second. Perry and Gingrich will underwhelm but stay in the race, and Baylor will crush UW in the Alamo Bowl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Freedom Fighter and the Farce

This past Sunday, we learned of the deaths of two world leaders. Former Czech president Václav Havel died in Vlčice at age 75, and Korean Central Television reported that Kim Jong-il had died of a massive heart attack Saturday morning.

It seems fitting to do a compare-and-contrast piece on the lives and legacies of these two men; one a Communist dictator, the other a dissident who rebelled against Communism and spent many years in jail. While one made human rights a focal point of his career and even chaired the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, the other presided over a government that Human Rights Watch called "among the world's most repressive". The similarities between the two leaders extend far beyond their status as heads of state, however. Both emerged as major players on the world political stage in the late 20th Century, and both led storied personal lives, the details of which we may never be sure of. Perhaps most noteworthy is that both men were born into powerful families.

Havel was born in Prague in 1936. His father, Václav Maria Havel, was a wealthy entrepreneur who owned various high-dollar real estate properties throughout Bohemia. Havel's mother, Božena Vavrečková, was the daughter of an ambassador and well-known journalist. The Havel family was closely connected with the Czech cultural and political scene, and it was Bozena herself who encouraged young Václav to convene his first literary circle. Kim Jong-il, meanwhile, was born Yuri Irsenovich Kim, according to Soviet records, in the small Russian village of Vyatskoye in 1941. His father, Kim Il-sung, commanded the 1st Battalion of the Soviet 88th Brigade, made up of Chinese and Korean exiles.

1948 proved a pivotal year in the lives of both men and their families (as well as millions of other people). In February, the Soviet-backed Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took over the Czechoslovakian government. Havel's family holdings were seized by the authorities. Then, on May 1, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was officially founded. Kim Il-sung was installed as prime minister September 9th.

While Kim purportedly composed six operas in two years and enjoyed staging elaborate musicals, Havel actually wrote more than 20 plays, including The Garden Party (1960), The Memorandum (1965) and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (1968), all of which were performed at the famous Theatre on the Balustrades ("Divadlo Na zábradlí") in Prague. "The cultural tradition prevalent in his family focussed Havel's attention on humanistic values of Czech culture which were suppressed in the fifties," according to the former president's official biography on the Prague Castle web site. He also wrote countless essays and worked as a magazine editor.

Following the Soviet invasion and crackdown in 1968, the government banned Havel's plays and sent him to work at a brewery. Not even the rank fumes of totalitarian swill could stifle his prosaic propensity, however. He was the principal author of Charta 77, a kind of dissident manifesto that gave rise to an anti-Communist movement among a section of Czechoslovak citizens.

While Havel was repeatedly being jailed and released by the Communist government, Kim Il-sung was grooming his son as the heir apparent to his all-powerful position. In the 1970s, Kim Jong-Il moved quickly through the ranks of the Korean Workers Party (Communist) hierarchy, eventually becoming a member of the Central Committee, the Military Commission, and the politburo. He assumed the title "Dear Leader" (친애하는 지도자) and was made a member of the Seventh Supreme People's Assembly (whatever that was) in February 1982.

If there was a singular event that marked the death knell of Communism as a major statist force/threat, then it was probably the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Eight days later, riot police suppressed a peaceful student demonstration in Prague. A series of popular, largely nonviolent demonstrations followed, and by November 20th the number of peaceful protesters assembled in Prague had swelled from 200,000 the previous day to an estimated half-million. A two-hour, nationwide general strike was successfully held one week later. The following day, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced that it would relinquish power and dismantle the single-party state.

At the center of this so-called Velvet Revolution was Václav Havel, who along with other members of the Charter 77 dissident movement founded Civic Forum (not to be confused with the online symposium for Honda Civic owners/drivers). After Pres. Gustáv Husák resigned on December 10, Havel was elected president.

According to at least one Havel biographer, it was at this pivotal time that Havel's Machiavellian side emerged. Alexander Dubček, the one-time leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia whose attempted liberalization was crushed in 1968, looked to be the likely choice to take over as president during this transitional period, but Havel deftly ushered him aside and was reelected in 1990, when what was then Czechoslovakia held its first free elections. Dubček had to settle for being Speaker of the Federal Assembly. Compare this to Kim's early days on the KWP Central Committee; he reportedly wrested the post of party organization secretary from his uncle in September 1973 and used his position as head of the Organisation & Guidance Department to purge the KWP of those not sufficiently loyal to his father. He became Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army in 1991.

Havel lost the presidency in 1992, shortly before his country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The following January, he was elected the first President of the Czech Republic. That same year, Kim Jong-il assumed the role of Chairman of the National Defence Commission in North Korea. After his father's death in 1994, Kim succeeded him as supreme leader of the God-forsaken Communist state. In 1997, he officially took over as both Chairman of the Military Commission and General Secretary of the WPK.

As president of the Czech Republic, Havel led his country into the OECD and NATO and laid the groundwork for its 2004 accession to the European Union. He left office in 2003, the same year that North Korea began participating in six-party talks sponsored by China that went absolutely nowhere. At the very least, Kim Jong-il can tout his country's acquisition of "the bomb" as an achievement during his tenure.

The contrast is striking: one man led a government that propogated fantastic tales of its leader's musical talent, athletic prowess and influence in the fashion world, the other actually lived an incredible life, accomplishing feats that lesser men could not have.

Havel and Kim were both powerful men during their lifetimes, and now they are no more. But, while one leaves behind a legacy of leadership marked by courage in the face of oppression by a brutal Communist regime and shepherding his country through a peaceful transition from a Soviet-dominated police state to a democratic republic, the other will be remembered as an evil dictator, a nepotist clown who presided over the mass starvation of his own people and whose actions led to the further ostracization of his already isolated state. While Havel rebelled against the intimidating power of the Soviet Union that had supported Czechoslovakia's Communist government for over 40 years, Kim Jong-il spent his time as supreme leader trying to model his state after the former U.S.S.R. in a futile attempt to attain that unattainable goal, a socialist paradise. North Korea was only a paradise for the Kim family. Havel, meanwhile, is experiencing true paradise right now, in the eternal kingdom of the Almighty.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: A Man of Himself

When I heard that Christopher Hitchens, the short, pudgy, British athiest, had died, I immediately wondered, What happened to his soul?

The self-described “anti-theist” wallowed in obscurity for much of his career but gained international renown for his 2007 best-seller God is Not Great. I'll refrain from making specific comments on the book because I have not read it and probably never will, but I want to call attention to something Hitchens said while promoting his magnum opus back then.

After the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Hitchens appeared on CNN. When Anderson Cooper asked him if he thought Falwell had gone to heaven (qualifying it by acknowledging that he didn't know whether his guest believed in an afterlife), Hitchens responded, "No, and I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to."

There's so much wrong with that statement that I don't quite know where to begin. Hitchens went on to make numerous incedniary remarks about Falwell throughout the interview, calling him "evil", "a little toad" and an "ugly little charlatan", among other things, but that first remark really stood out to me and other Christians who saw/heard it. It encapsulated Hitchens's view of Judeo-Christian beliefs in general and specific religious leaders. Granted, Hitchens had a special disdain for Falwell and those like him, the so-called "televangelists" who appeared to serve mammon over God, but his contempt for organized religion and people of faith went far beyond feelings that many of us share about the more reprehensible among us who, in addition to using Christianity as a profit-making tool, poison society with irrational, bigoted messages of intolerance.

Hitchens believed it was possible to lead a moral, ethical life without God (who he always referred to as "god"). He discounted the myriad ways in which people's faith had motivated them to do good, even great, things for mankind. To his credit, he was an equal-opportunity offender, writing frankly about the atrocities perpetrated by radical Islamists in the name of "Allah", which many so-called journalists who shared his beliefs (or lack thereof) refused to do. He also didn't shy away from intellectual discussions or fervent arguments with those who challenged him. I can recall watching him spar with the likes of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham on FOX News. This is not to say he couldn't be condescending; he was so confident in what he believed that, even when he was facing off against someone he respected, he exuded arrogance and hauteur. His ovoid visage, sallow skin and English accent made him almost like a caricature of the stereotypical obnoxious, left-wing faux-intellectual, but I return to my original question: what became of his spirit after his body expired? Is he burning in Hell? For that matter, I wonder, since he so adamantly believed there was no God, no heaven or Hell, no afterlife, whence did he think his soul came from? I suppose I might find the answer to that last question in some of his writings, but being a full-time law student, I haven't much time to read for pleasure. (Then again, I have no guarantee that reading Hitch's polemic prose would be pleasurable.)

Friday, December 16, 2011


As you may have heard, our military engagement in Iraq officially ended yesterday. The last U.S. convoy will leave Iraq tomorrow, making good on the status-of-forces agreement signed by President Bush and approved by the Iraqi Parliament more than three years ago, in which the U.S. agreed to withdraw all our military forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011. Doubts persist, however, about the Iraqis' ability to defend themselves against foreign aggression and internal threats. Many Iraqis have expressed concerns that sectarian strife will return and throw their fragile democracy into chaos. Here at home, some have called our withdrawal "precipitous," and military leaders worry that it is a bit premature for the still-maturing Iraqi security forces, who face continuing struggles to develop the logistics, air operations, surveillance and intelligence-sharing capabilities they will need in what has long been a difficult region. Top U.S. military commanders had recommended leaving a residual force of about 15,000 troops to train and support Iraq's fledgling forces, but the Obama administration was unable to reach a deal with Iraqi political leaders whereby our troops would be granted legal immunity, a practical necessity (and, in my humble opinion, a relatively small price to exact from an Iraqi government that really owes its existence to us).

Still, despite these legitimate reservations about the premature evacuation and concerns about what lies ahead, it's difficult to say our troops are not coming home as victors, and it's worth reflecting on those days when the outlook for Iraq and the War on Terror in general was much more bleak.

Nearly five years ago, Pres. George W. Bush went on national television to announce a critical shift in strategy in a war that had become increasingly costly, unpopular and difficult to prosecute. In selling the country on the counter-insurgency strategy (a.k.a. the “Surge”), then-President Bush didn’t mince words about the sobering reality of what the months and years ahead would bring:

“The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent,” he said. “Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue -- and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.”

While averring his unequivocal belief that "our new strategy will bring us closer to success," the President made clear that victory in Iraq “will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.”

No kidding. What began with “shock and awe” ended rather unceremoniously, marked by the lowering of Old Glory at Baghdad Airport. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially called our military mission to an end, saying that, while “the cost was high, in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people ... those lives have not been lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”

They did, and we must not forget that. But we must also not forget that this in not the end of a war; the War on Terror continues; it is just now being fought on one less front.

Before I conclude, I want to return to that night in January 2007, when the war-weary commander-in-chief of a war-weary military addressed a war-weary nation to announce an escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Most Democrats predictably voiced their opposition to this ultimately successful change in strategy, even those who had called for deployment of more troops to stabilize Iraq. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, a lawyer who had spent much of his professional life as a member of Congress but never served in the military, delivered his party's official response to the president's speech. I can remember watching both speeches, and it was obvious that Durbin had not changed/altered his prepared remarks after hearing what President Bush actually said. The Illinois Democrat predictibaly asserted that "the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction."

He said that it was "time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation," adding:

The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.

No word from Durbin or other Democrats on how they intended to facilitate the Iraqis in doing this, nor did the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate explain why it was not our duty to help the Iraqi government out.

That same night, Durbin's fellow U.S. Sen. from Illinois said:

I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.

So confident was Barack Obama in his position that he sponsored a bill that would have prevented the deployment of any more troops to Iraq and initiated a "phased redeployment" beginning on May 1, 2007, with a goal of total redeployment of combat forces by March 31, 2008. The bill died in committee.

In the months that followed, as it became increasingly clear that the surge was having the desired effect, many on the Left stubbornly insisted that it was not working. Realizing that they were losing credibility on this issue, Democrats trotted out more respectable figures to recite their talking points. In September, after President Bush delivered another address to the country, this time speaking on the progress that had been made in Iraq and the work left to be done, Sen. John Reed (D-RI), a Vietnam veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, followed him with a response that was long on politics and short on substance. He actually had the gall to declare that "too often, the President’s Iraq policies have worsened America’s security," without providing anything--anything at all--to support such a ridiculous claim. (Then-Senator Obama also offerred up his keen foreign policy insight, but his remarks from that night have curiously been scrubbed from his web site.) As I read over the transcript of Reed's speech today, one line stood out to me: "An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option." Such a statement could have easily been dismissed as absurd at the time by pointing out our permanent military presence in Germany and South Korea, where no serious person would argue our troops are in constant danger, but it seems even more inane now that we've withdrawn all our forces from Iraq, just a little more than four years later.

Despite the Democrats' efforts to make foreign policy heavyweights like Reed the unofficial spokesmen for their opposition to victory in Iraq, they couldn't stop some of their more loquacious gadflies from voicing their considered opinions on the subject. In a November 11 appearance on Meet the Press, Obama, now in full campaign mode, said very clearly, “not only have we not seen improvements, but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there.”

What I did find amusing was the visible split that developed between Democrats who began to grudgingly acknowledge the success of the Surge and those who continued to stick to their guns. In a debate at St. Anselm College on January 5, 2008, Obama claimed that he “had no doubt ... that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence.” Apparently, he even said as much "at the time when [he] opposed the surge."

I wouldn't have taken such pains to revisit George W. Bush's immense political courage in calling for the Surge and defending it against relentless criticism and attacks that bordered on treason if it weren't for the atrocious behavior of so many on the Left who insist on showering the current president with praise and exaltation while giving no credit where credit is due, viz., Obama's predecessor.

To his credit, President Obama has not overtly claimed credit for bringing Operation Enduring Freedom to a peaceful conclusion, nor should he. However, his surrogates in the media have not been so discrete. In an interview with Mike Huckabee set to air as part of the former Arkansas governor's FOX News show this weekend, Democratic apparatchik Jehmu Greene told the former presidential candidate, "As--you know--he said that he was going to end the War, and as a president, he has. ... I have a question for you, Governor. Given that he has, like, lived up to every single promise he made with Iraq, is he not the greatest commander-in-chief in modern history of presidents, not just the 21st Century, but the 20th Century?" (The audience rightly booed her, and Huckabee politely reminded her that Obama "inherited a War that had turned because of a surge that he opposed.")

Perhaps Ms. Greene was just being provocative, but I doubt the same could be said of Vice President Bident when he told CNN’s Larry King last year that Iraq "could be one of the great achievements of this administration." I suppose that getting elected and taking office after someone else has done the heavy lifting and taken all the political flak necessary to bring about a victory in Iraq is an "achievement" per se, but I doubt that's what Biden was referring to. (I might also be willing to cut the VP a little slack had he not said in 2007, “This whole notion that the surge is working is fantasy.")

The unwarranted adulation of Obama/slights to Bush is not limited to Iraq. After Navy SEAL Team Six iced Osama bin Laden in Pakistan without losing any of their own, President Obama had the decency to call his predecessor before going on national TV to announce what was a historic moment. George W. Bush, in turn, graciously refrained from rushing to claim credit or even speaking publicly on the demise of the Earth's most loathsome creature, save for acknowledging what a great thing it was for America and the World to be rid of him. Unfortunately, the Left did not follow suit. I could list examples of anti-Bush Obamapologists dissing the former commander-in-chief while exalting their messiah for smiting bin Laden, but the media was so replete with such behavior seven months ago that I don't frankly see the need to. Conjure up your own memories to supplement this commentary: I'll acknowledge that President Obama had a decision to make when he received actionable intelligence as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He had options, and the course of action he chose was the best one. I don't even object to people giving him some credit for finding and killing Osama bin Laden. What I take umbrage at is giving him more credit than former President Bush. Remember, all the intelligence that enabled the CIA to ascertain the location of Osama bin Laden was collected during the Bush administration. The Obama administration and the U.S. Navy used the tools provided by the Bush administration to carry out this ultimately successful mission. Is that so hard to admit?

For some people, it is, but I digress. The "War in Iraq" (a term I never liked, as I didn't see our operations in Iraq as a separate war) is over. We won. Those brave men and women who were fortunate enough to make it home alive are not only heroes; they are victors. Millions of people--not just here and in Iraq, but across the globe--are better off because of them and their fellow soldiers who our allies sent over to fight alongside them. As we revel in this tremendous victory, the forgotten cries of defeatism from the not-too-distant past echo in the distance:

"Victory is no longer an option in Iraq, if it ever was."

--Editorial in the New York Times, March 29, 2007

"I believe ... that this war is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday."

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, April 19, 2007

"The reality is [that] despite heroic efforts by U.S. troops, the Bush surge is not working."

--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), September 7, 2007

“We are sending our troops where they’re not wanted, with no end in sight, into the middle of a civil war, into the middle of the mother of all mistakes.”

--Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), September 11, 2007

"Tonight, ... the President failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it."

--Sen. John "Jack" Reed (D-RI), September 12, 2007

"We are going in the wrong direction in Iraq."

--Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), February 7, 2008

Are they the least bit happy now? Will they ever be?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Not Your Typical Saturday

This was an emotionally draining day.

This afternoon we laid my grandmother to rest. She went to be with Jesus last Sunday, and I traveled to Arlington yesterday for the visitation and funeral. My mother wanted me to speak at the service. A series of her friends and relatives spoke; I opened and closed. It was my first formal eulogy. I was very pleased with the turnout; that little chapel was packed. It was also the first time I was a pallbearer. After the service, we held a reception at this nice place in southwest Arlington called the Ventana Grille. Nearly all of the relatives who came to the funeral showed up, which really meant a lot, especially since some of them had to drive all the way back to Houston that evening. I myself had to drive back to Waco, where I learned that Robert Griffin III had won the Heisman Trophy. Now that was exciting. No Baylor footballer had ever won the Heisman before. Naturally, I and the rest of the Baylor Nation were very excited.

There's a tie-in here: my maternal grandfather and his brother attended Baylor back in the '40s. I didn't learn this until I had started college, but I think that my grandparents came down here while I was an undergrad. I was glad to have the chance to walk around the campus with my grandfather, especially since after he succumbed to Alzheimer's disease and died in 2008. His deterioration and death were a terrible blow to my Grammy, who was already dealing with serious health problems of her own. They had been married for over 55 years. She was never the same after Papa died. That was three and a half years ago. Now they are together again.

It's always appropriate to grieve after the loss of a loved one, but in the case of both my maternal grandparents, the worst tragedy was watching them decline and not being able to do anything about it. While I mourn the loss of my Grammy, we are all happy that she has been reborn and will spend eternity with her sweetheart in the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gingrich Gains in Polls, While Romney Gains Endorsements

I spent three days working on this post before discovering Care2 (a web site I had never heard of before) reporter had scooped me. Think that would cause me to scrap an entire blog post? Not hardly. See, Marty's piece focused on newspaper endorsements, but I've noticed that Romney has been racking up a significant number of endorsements from several high-profile figures in the GOP. No, not Dan Quayle, but that's a good one to have too.

Let's start with the site of the first-in-the-nation primary, New Hampshire. While Newt may have the backing of the state's leading newspaper, Romney has the state's newest political star in his corner. Last month he trotted out the endorsement of Kelly Ayotte, the freshman U.S. Senator and former state attorney general who gained national renown in conservative circles after successfully defending her state's restrictions on abortion before the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago. At 43, Ayotte has plenty of time to make a lasting name for herself in Congress, and her support may provide Romney with a liason to TEA Partiers who have so far been cool to him.

In another early primary state, Florida, Romney can now boast the support of three prominent Latino Republican lawmakers: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (the first Cuban-American elected to Congress), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Mario's brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. All three hail from Havana and should prove invaluable to Romney as he courts Florida voters. The candidate also has the backing of former Florida Senator, RNC Chairman and H.U.D. Secretary Mel Martinez, who chairs his campaign’s National Advisory Council. Of course, the state's most popular pols–U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush–have yet to make their choices known this cycle.

Even if endorsements don't sway many votes, they're still immensely helpful for two other purposes: organization and fundraising. Few will dispute that both of these are areas in which Romney has the advantage over the latest frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

Speaking of which, there's no denying Newt's surge in the polls. Two months ago, he was at 9.2% in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, fourth behind Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Now he's at 31%, higher than any of his primary rivals at their peak (except Rick Perry, who spiked at 31.8% in the RCP average the second week of September). He also currently leads by double digits in Iowa, South Carolina, Florida and a host of other primary states. Will his leads hold up? I'm willing to take bets, but doing so would violate my parole. Good night, everybody!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Case for RG3

The five finalists for the 2011 Heisman Trophy were announced Monday. Not surprisingly, Baylor’s junior QB Robert Griffin III was among those selected.

It would certainly be a coup for my alma mater, whose football team has slowly gained national renown in recent years, after nearly a decade of ridicule, scorn and derision from other schools who questioned why we were still in the Big 12. Under the leadership of Coach Art Briles, the Bears have risen from a 3-9 team that lost every conference game in 2007 (the year before Briles took over) to a 9-3 team that is now headed to its second consecutive bowl game. (Yes, it's the Alamo Bowl, but still.) After Baylor's 48-24 rout of Texas on Saturday night, the characteristically humble and down-to-earth star of our football team told ESPN's Samantha Steele, “I could be wrong, but I think Baylor won its first Heisman tonight.”

Griffin was right: He could be wrong. I'll leave it to more learned sprots analysts to speculate on each finalist's odds of winning the trophy. Right now I just want to offer an argument why Griffin is the best choice of the five.

I'll start with the only other QB in the running. No doubt Andrew Luck is an impressive player. Anyone who's seen him in action should acknowledge that. I'm not going to try and compare the finesse displayed by him and RG3 on the field this season; you would need to see them perform to get the full picture. So let's compare their stats. Luck has passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns while completing 70% of his attempts this season.

Pretty good stuff. RG3, however, finished the regular season with 3,998 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and a 72.4% completion rate. He was intercepted six times to Luck's nine, and, while Luck ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency, Griffin leads the nation in passing efficiency. He has also rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns. By almost every measure, Griffin has outperformed Luck on the field this year.

As to the two running backs still in contention, Trent Richardson of Alabama and Montee Ball of Wisconsin, I won't endeavor to declare one of them superior to the other; I'll only say that neither deserves the Heisman as much as RG3. Statistically, Ball has a more impressive record than Richardson this year: He leads the nation in rushing yards (1,759) and touchdowns (32 Rushing, 6 Receiving). Unfortunately, I'm out of time and have other things to do. Let's just say the Honey Badger is amazing, and it would be interesting for a cb to win a trophy that usually goes to offensive stars, but it's just not his time yet. I'll probably update this post later in the week.