3 Questions About the Tea Party Debacle

1. Will Obama ever learn to be a gracious winner?

No.  As with the fiscal cliff, he couldn’t resist the temptation to dance in the end zone.  From his remarks this morning:

Because Democrats and responsible Republicans came together, the first government shutdown in 17 years is now over….

We hear some members who pushed for the shutdown say they were doing it to save the American economy.  But nothing has done more to undermine our economy these past three years than the kind of tactics that create these manufactured crises. …

Some of the same folks who pushed for the shutdown and threatened default claim their actions were needed to get America back on the right track. To make sure we’re strong. But probably nothing has done more damage to America’s credibility in the world — our standing with other countries — than the spectacle we’ve seen these past several weeks.  It’s encouraged our enemies; it’s emboldened our competitors; and it’s depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership.

My point is not that anything quoted above is wrong — I agree with all of it (except the tone). My point is that it’s counter-productive for the president to spend four minutes bashing his opponents before he talks about issues where the two parties might be able to agree on something.

The most gratuitous and unnecessary bit was the reference to “responsible” Republicans, which was the second sentence out of his mouth.  In a victory speech, the president should leave it to others to make that point. The man who promised in 2008 to “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” has once again exposed himself as the Great Divider.

2. Did the Tea Party win anything?

No.  Peter Wehner breaks it down at Commentary:

The approach first championed by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and embraced by a significant number of House Republicans, resulted in (a) no substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act; (b) an increase in its popularity; (c) diverting attention away from the epically incompetent roll out of the new health care exchanges; (d) the GOP’s popularity dropping to the lowest point for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992; (e) more than washing away the gains Republicans had made on the issues over the course of this year; (f) reviving the Obama presidency, which until the shutdown was drifting and suffering a terrible year; and (g) set back GOP prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal:

Let’s replace all the Republicans in Congress with their children or grandchildren. Bring in the 15-year-olds. How could it get worse? … Defund ObamaCare is now the Republicans’ New Coke.”

In Politico, Rich Lowry said of the defunders:

At best, their approach was a high-risk, low-reward strategy. As it turns out, there wasn’t even any reward.

President Obama didn’t need to twist the knife after winning. Conservative pundits are lining up to do it for him.

3. What’s the most obnoxious aspect of the legislation that ended the shutdown?

After all the drama about needing “a clean bill” focused just on the immediate crisis, the bill that passed was larded with pork: $2.2 billion for a dam project in Kentucky, $450 million for rebuilding projects in Colorado, money for a variety of federal agencies, $174,000 for Frank Lautenberg’s rich widow.  Senator McCain:

“These people are like alcoholics. They can’t resist taking a drink. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona to the Daily Beast, referring to the dam project. “It shows that there are people in this body who are willing to use any occasion to get an outrageous pork-barrel project done at the cost of millions and millions of dollars. It’s disgusting.”

Preach it, brother McCain, but I think the comparison is unfair to alcoholics.  Alcoholics at least can go to meetings.  There’s apparently no hope for Congress.

(Video from CNN, photo from whitehouse.gov)

 

Is It Bad if I Don’t Vote in an Off-Year, Off-Month, Off-Week, Off-Day NJ Senate Election, the Outcome of Which Is Not in Doubt?

As you can clearly see in the chart, the polls have tightened, but Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker maintains a 14-point edge in his race against Republican Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of some town that I don’t know where it is.  Not a hanging-chad situation.

New Jersey has always had off-year elections for governor, and I kind of like that — New Jersey and Virginia are the center of attention the year after every presidential election year.  But elections should be held on the first Tuesday after the First Monday of November, not on the third Wednesday after the first Tuesday of October.

The weird timing is the brainchild of Republican Governor Chris Christie, who didn’t want Booker’s name on the same ballot as his own.  Even though they’re running for different offices, the popular Booker can be expected to boost Democratic turnout.  Christie’s re-election is not in doubt — he maintains a 28-point lead over Democrat Barbara Buono.  But every seat in the legislature will be decided on November 5, and Christie wants as many Republican seats as possible.

This deeply cynical ploy will cost New Jersey taxpayers $12 million for the special election, which makes me annoyed at my off-and-on hero Christie.  On the other hand, it’s kind of ingenious, and it will probably work out for him.

If I were going to vote today, I’d have to figure out how to cast my ballot.  Steve Lonegan is the Republican, which makes him the logical choice for me.  But I like and admire Cory Booker — I live in a suburb of Newark, and I think he’s providing the kind of inspirational leadership that the city needs.

I’m also a big fan of civility in public discourse.  Candidates have to say negative things about their opponents during election campaigns, of course, but they shouldn’t go over the top.  Lonegan yesterday said Booker had been “a total failure as the mayor of Newark,” which simply isn’t true.  Uniquely among Newark mayors of the past half-century, Booker hasn’t even been indicted for anything, let alone convicted.  So you’ve gotta give him that.

Yes Mr. President, Raising the Debt Ceiling DOES Raise Our Debt

I grow weary of hearing Democrats intone that the debt ceiling — the first word of which is “debt” and the second word of which is “ceiling” — has nothing to do with the level of the debt.*  The President just said it again on TV:

“And because it’s called ‘raising the debt ceiling’ I think a lot of Americans think it’s raising our debt. It is not raising our debt. This does not add a dime to our debt.”

In a Clintonian “what the meaning of is, is” kind of way, I suppose you can justify the statement that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t increase the country’s debt.  It “merely” gives the Treasury Department permission to increase the country’s debt — and of course the Treasury will promptly do so.

Yes, raising the debt ceiling means that the government would be able to continue to pay obligations that already exist.  But it doesn’t just mean that — it also means we’ll be deeper in debt.  More debt is not the only option the government has for paying its existing obligations. Unfortunately, the alternatives are far too cumbersome to put in place by October 17, and some are arguably more harmful: raise taxes, print more money, reduce spending going forward and use those funds to service existing obligations.

I do not favor the current Tea Party strategy of tying first the continuing resolution and now the debt ceiling to the demand for defunding Obamacare.  First, as a pragmatic matter, it will not work. Second, the prospect of defaulting on Treasury bonds is scary. I examined the risks back in January, and discussed why it’s unrealistic to think the Treasury could stave off default for long by prioritizing debt payments.

A default might not be apocalyptic — damage from the 2011 credit rating reduction was tempered by the fact that everyone knew the United States still had the world’s strongest economy.  But default can’t be good, and Republicans will get the majority of the blame.

The debt ceiling law was passed in 1917, and probably should be changed.  I’m all in favor of workable mechanisms to reduce spending and indebtedness, but the debt ceiling process as it currently exists is too blunt an instrument.

The fight to reverse Obamacare can and should continue, but I expect enough Republicans will back raising the debt ceiling in time to avoid default. However, in the words of Kevin D. Williamson, “one should never underestimate the Republicans’ ability to screw up being on the right side of an issue.”

(Public domain chart via Wikipedia.  Yes, I know it only goes up to 2011 — it still shows a trend.)

* Apologies to Maureen Dowd, whose 1998 punchline was more elegant: President Clinton, she wrote, “denies that oral sex (the second word of which is sex) is sex.”

Ted Cruz Casts Himself as Shaw’s Unreasonable Man

Ted Cruz’s daughters watch him reading “Green Eggs & Ham” during his marathon speech

“Politics is the art of the possible.”
Otto von Bismarck

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
George Bernard Shaw

Part of me wants to admire Ted Cruz.

If you believe, as I do, that the current welfare state is unsustainable and Obamacare will make it worse, it follows that at some point there will be a wrenching readjustment.  When that readjustment occurs, we will wish it had happened earlier, when the problem was more manageable.  Cruz and his confederates are trying to make it happen now.

Besides, it’s about time somebody read “Green Eggs & Ham” on the floor of the Senate.

But Cruz doesn’t make himself easy to like.  Surely no other senator has ever become so unpopular among his own party in just nine months in office.  Rep. Peter King described his fellow Republican as “a fraud.”  Sen. John McCain reportedly “hates” the man.  Sen. Bob Corker suggested Cruz is “confused” and, channeling Bismarck. Sen. Tom Coburn said:

“Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this.”

Cruz has created what right-leaning columnist Kathleen Parker (or her headline writer) describes as “the GOP’s lose-lose proposition“:

Here’s the problem for Republicans, which will not be news to those with a view of the long game. The short game is to stall Obamacare, but to what end ultimately? Until Republicans can seize the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, at which point they can repeal the whole thing?

Skinny chance, that.

More likely, whether the government shuts down or, should Tinker Bell suddenly materialize and persuade Obama to cave and postpone his personal dream act, Republicans will be viewed by a greater majority than previously as having no talent for leadership.

Democrats own Obamacare — they passed it without a single Republican vote, in a series of shady maneuvers and dead-of-night debates, against the clearly expressed will of the American public.  People are supposed to be able to start purchasing health care coverage on the exchanges on Tuesday — good luck with that — and the costs and shortcomings of Obamacare will become more apparent as the rollout lurches along.  This is the very time when the GOP should heed Paul Begala’s advice: “Never interrupt your opponent when he is destroying himself.”  But Cruz & Co. are about to change the subject with a costly government shutdown that will accomplish nothing.

Former Rep. Artur Davis, a Democrat-turned-Republican, said just now on CNN (I’m paraphrasing): Republicans win the argument over the substance of Obamacare, but we’re going to lose on the brinksmanship.

Just so.  Shaw may be right that all progress depends on the unreasonable man — but not every unreasonable man creates progress.

(Photo from a Cruz staffer’s Twitter feed)

Syria Crisis Creates Strange Bedfellows in the U.S. and the World

There’s no telling who will pop up next on which side of the Syria debate.  Let’s review the recent state of play:

Barack Obama, who became President in part because of the purity of his opposition to taking military action against a Middle Eastern country, proposed taking military action against a Middle Eastern country. (Twice the Nobel Peace Prize winner has done this!)

Months after bitterly opposing Obama in the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling crises, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of the GOP linked arms with former Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi in support of a Syria strike.

In Congress and in the country at large, Republicans — normally the more hawkish party — opposed attacking Syria more lopsidedly than Democrats.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pounced on an off-the-cuff remark by John Kerry to launch a WMD negotiation process that will buy months of time for his Syrian client Bashar al-Assad.  Without the necessary votes in Congress, Obama leapt through the Russian escape hatch.

Putin lectured America in a New York Times op-ed article, prompting stirring defenses of American exceptionalism from both the left and the right.  (My favorite line in the op-ed, from the former KGB colonel who recently signed a law banning gay-rights advocacy in Russia, is the last sentence: “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”)

Quick, guess which commentator said this about Obama’s performance in the past week:

He willingly jumped into a bear trap of his own creation. In the process, he has damaged his presidency and weakened the nation’s standing in the world. It has been one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed.

Was it 1) Charles Krauthammer; 2) Newt Gingrich; or 3) Rush Limbaugh?

Ha! Trick question. It was liberal blogger Joe Klein, writing on Time.com.

I don’t know, of course, how the Syria situation is going to play out.  But I do know that a lot of people have been rethinking some of their most basic assumptions.  Maybe some good can come out of that.

Vladimir Putin as Peacemaker?

I’m more inclined to believe in the Tooth Fairy.

I think President Obama played a very bad hand as well as he could with his speech last night.  But that analogy doesn’t quite work, because a bad hand in a card game is a function of chance.  Obama (and Kerry) didn’t get here by chance, they created this situation through their own impulsiveness and lack of message discipline.

The Peacemaker

In a file photo, Putin uses a tranquilizer gun to sedate a tiger. The metaphor writes itself.

Let’s review:

1. The original “red line” comment in August 2012 was an ad lib in response to a question at a news conference. “With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back,” The New York Times reported.

2.  Obama said he would use his authority as commander-in-chief to punish Assad militarily for using chemical weapons.  As public and Congressional opposition mounted, he then abruptly decided in a Friday-evening stroll with his chief of staff to seek authorization from Congress (despite declining to consult Congress before attacking Libya).

3.  As it became clear that the authorization effort  would lose badly in the Republican House and might lose in the Democratic Senate, John Kerry floated a nonsensical hypothetical about how Assad could avoid an attack by turning over all of his chemical weapons to the “international community.”  In the next sentence, he noted (correctly) that this “obviously” will not happen.

4. But former KGB operative Putin recognized an opportunity when he saw it.  Putin remembers, even if Obama does not, how adeptly a dictator can string out a UN search for weapons of mass destruction (cf: Hussein, Saddam, 1991-1998 and 2002-2003).  So Putin paused in his review of Edward Snowden’s hard drive long enough to throw a lifeline to his Syrian ally and offer to develop a plan for chemical disarmament.

5. This allowed Obama to save face by asking Congress to postpone a vote he knew he would lose, “while we pursue this diplomatic path.” It’s a path on which Putin and Assad will lead Obama in circles.

Max Boot at Commentary did a good job of laying out the patchwork nature of the speech, then asked:

What, one wonders, was the point of the speech? Was it simply that the White House had already booked the TV time and wanted to carry on regardless of the facts? Or does Obama imagine that his stern words will cow Assad into compliance even as it is obvious that opposition in Congress will not allow air strikes?

The former comes closer to the mark, but I think he carried on with the already-scheduled speech because of the facts, not regardless of them.  The fact is that canceling the speech would have reinforced the impression of utter disarray.  Giving the speech was an opportunity to look presidential, which he did pretty effectively.  It was an opportunity to emphasize the horror of chemical weapons, which he did very effectively.  He may have moved the needle on public opinion by an “unbelievably small” amount (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

But he may also have set one more trap for himself.

If diplomacy fails, he’s painted himself in a corner” by laying out the moral case for punishing Assad, said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a leading advocate of punishing Assad militarily. “The leader of the free world can’t say all these things and at the end of the day do nothing.”

(2008 photo of Putin from premier.gov.ru, via Wikipedia)

About That Newfound Respect for John Kerry: Never Mind

It seems like just yesterday when I was praising our Secretary of State for his role in the Syria controversy.  Let me check… actually, it was the day before yesterday.

Throughout many hours of congressional testimony last week, John Kerry stayed relentlessly on message and forcefully laid out the administration’s case for intervening in Syria. He was good.  Even though I’ve cast three presidential votes against him and his boss, I found myself oddly kinda proud of him.

Then, in a spasmodic eruption of staggering incompetence, Kerry stumbled his way onto a path that will likely lead to months of further indecision.  In response to a question yesterday about whether there was anything Assad could do to to avoid American military action, Kerry fled the confines of message discipline and ad libbed:

“Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that.”

Even as he said the words, he must have begun to realize the trap he was setting for himself, because he started walking the idea back in the very next sentence:

“But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

Too late.  Russia jumped into the opening almost immediately, and Syria signed on today.  But Kerry had another arrow in his quiver of incompetence, and later in the day he let it fly.  Talking in London but aiming to reassure the audience back home, Kerry said any American airstrike would be “unbelievably small.”  That should clear up any remaining illusions Assad might have about facing danger from the United States.

Now that we’ve entered a process started by our own Secretary of State, the administration has no choice but to let the game play out.  There’ll be some sort of proposal from the Russians, who have repeatedly demonstrated that they have only our best interests at heart *cough* Snowden *cough*.  Assad will stretch the negotiations out, then eventually let some UN inspectors visit a site where the regime will hand over a few barrels and say, “there you go! That’s our chemical weapon stockpile.”  Writing at Commentary magazine, Max Boot describes the hurdles inspectors will face when they seek to broaden their search:

It is hard to know how such a deal could be implemented or enforced. It is one thing for inspectors to travel to Libya in 2003 to make sure that Gaddafi was giving up his entire WMD program. Libya then was a peaceful if despotic place. It is quite another thing to do so now in Syria where violence is commonplace–in fact UN inspectors looking for evidence of chemical-weapons use have already been shot at. How on earth could international inspectors possibly roam Syria in the middle of a civil war to confirm that Assad has no more chemical weapons left?

The task is daunting, indeed nearly impossible, in no small part because of our lack of knowledge about the whereabouts of his arsenal. The New York Times reports: “A senior American official who has been briefed extensively on the intelligence noted in recent days that Washington has firm knowledge of only 19 of the 42 suspected chemical weapons sites. Those numbers are constantly changing, because Mr. Assad has been moving the stores, largely for fear some of them could fall into the hands of rebels.”

As I write this Tuesday afternoon, I’m sure President Obama’s speechwriters are desperately trying to figure out what he can say in his televised address this evening to make sense out of this mess.  Good luck, Mr. President.  Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry is back testifying in Congress again.  Stay tuned.

(Screen grab from State Department video of Kerry in London yesterday)

 

Syria Debate Prompts a Newfound Respect for John Kerry. Yes, John Kerry.

I’m still glad John Kerry didn’t become President, but I’m starting to like him as Secretary of State.

I’ve been riveted by the Congressional hearings on Syria this week.  (One of the few advantages of being underemployed — I work part-time again, evenings, at a supermarket — is that I’m often free during business hours.)  Again and again I’ve been impressed by the eloquence and clarity of the man who once said “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

Here’s my favorite passage, from testimony Sept. 4 at the House Foreign Affairs Committee (my emphasis throughout):

Iran, I guarantee you, is hoping that we look the other way.  And surely they will interpret America’s unwillingness to act against weapons of mass destruction [pause] as an unwillingness to act against weapons of mass destruction. … North Korea is hoping for ambivalence from the Congress. They’re all listening for our silence.  So the authorization that President Obama seeks is distinctly and clearly in our national interest.

When Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama launched his third war, in Libya, I was astonished and skeptical.  It took quite a while to sort out how I felt about it — I started out lukewarmly opposed, then eventually became optimistic about a positive outcome (long before Benghazi).

Syria is different.  From the moment I heard of Obama’s plan to attack Assad’s regime over the use of chemical weapons, it felt like the right thing to do — to the extent that I was initially dismayed when he seemed to be punting to Congress.  But after writing my first post on the topic, I was surprised by the vehemence of the opposition by some Republican lawmakers, and by many in the public.  Maybe I needed to think more about this.

To road-test my initial impression, I read a lot of commentary and watched the hearings.  I’m more convinced than ever about the need to punish Assad.  I think, and hope, that Obama will strike under his authority as commander-in-chief even if Congress refuses to approve.

Why?  Well, Kerry (and his speechwriters) can say it better than I can.  I never thought I would say this, but on this topic, I’m with John Kerry.

From the Senate testimony on Sept. 3:

As confidently as we know what happened in Damascus, my friends, on August 21st, we know that Assad would read our stepping away or our silence as an invitation to use those weapons with impunity. And in creating impunity, we would be creating opportunity — the opportunity for other dictators and/or terrorists to pursue their own weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. …

So this is a vote for accountability. Norms and laws that keep the civilized world civil mean nothing if they’re not enforced. …

This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter. Neither our country nor our conscience could afford the cost of silence. We have spoken up against unspeakable horror many times in the past; now, we must stand up and act. And we must protect our security, protect our values and lead the world with conviction that is clear about our responsibility. …

Doesn’t this make the United States the policeman of the world? No. It makes the United States a multilateral partner in an effort that the world, 184 nations strong, has accepted the responsibility for. And if the United States, which has the greatest capacity to do that, doesn’t help lead that effort, then shame on us. Then we’re not standing up to our multilateral and humanitarian and strategic interest.

Are you going to be comfortable if Assad, as a result of the United States not doing anything, then gasses his people yet again and they — and the world says, why didn’t the United States act? History is full of opportunity, of moments where someone didn’t stand up and act when it made a difference.

And from the House testimony, my second-favorite passage:

No country has liberated as much land or fought as many battles as the United States of America and turned around and given it back to the people who live there and who can own it and run it. We are the indispensable nation. This is because of who we are and what we have achieved. And we should be proud of it. And we have a great tradition to try to live up to in terms of trying to help people to see a peaceful road, not a road of jihadism.

Early in his presidency, Barack Obama demonstrated that either he didn’t believe in American exceptionalism, or he just didn’t know (at that time) what the term meant. It’s great to hear a senior member of his administration assert America’s duty to lead in a clear voice.

(Screen grab from State Department video of Kerry testifying in the House.)

On Reflection, I’m Surprisingly OK With Where Obama Is on Syria

When President Obama changed course abruptly on Saturday and announced that instead of attacking Assad’s regime in Syria, he would “seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes.  Here we go again, trying to have it both ways.  It’s reminiscent of announcing a surge in Afghanistan, then simultaneously announcing a date certain for beginning to draw down the extra troops.

Conservative pundits whose national security opinions I generally respect jumped on Obama with both feet.  Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz breached the magazine’s normal practice of not publishing new material on the Jewish Sabbath, with a blog post headlined “Obama’s Bizarre Syria Policy.”  The next day, Peter Wehner weighed in with a blander headline, but stated high in his post that “President Obama has handled the Syrian situation with staggering incompetence.” They both make a strong case, which you can read for yourselves.

Other pundits opined that the delay would give Assad time to hide his chemical weapons; that it made Obama look ridiculous to decide we should strike Syria, but delay it until Congress returns from vacation; and asked why does the commander-in-chief think he needs Congressional approval for limited military action in Syria, but did not feel the same way in Libya?

All reasonable arguments.  But then military leaders declared that the delay is not a significant tactical setback.  Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said:

Many of Assad’s assets we’d like to target are “fixed installations” he can’t move; the amount of intelligence and surveillance assets being devoted to the region should make it difficult for him to move matériel out of sight; and Assad’s current position, engulfed in a civil war, means he can’t exactly be moving military units, such as rockets or artillery, as he wishes.

Obama can be criticized for being indecisive, which is not what you want in a commander-in-chief.  But stubborn persistence also can be taken too far.  President George W. Bush — whose decision to overthrow Saddam I supported then and support to this day — has to answer for staying with a failed strategy in Iraq for years after it was clear a change was needed.

I think faster action on Syria might well have been preferable for the immediate tactical situation.  But if Obama succeeds in getting Congressional approval — a big if, but not impossible — it may be worth it in the long run to have an intervention supported by Democrats as well as Republicans.

Despite Obama’s wishful declaration that “this war, like all wars, must end,” the war against Islamic extremism will certainly outlast his presidency — and it may outlive all of us.  Future presidents will also have to wrestle with how to make war against Middle Eastern terrorists and despots, and I’m thankful that Obama is helping to build a bipartisan history of asserting America’s strength.

(Syrian flag from Wikipedia)

Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of “The Dream Series”

The logo is 30 years old now, and looks its age.  In that pre-Photoshop era, it was laboriously created by hand, with physical layers of text, photo and black tape on a two-column backing cut from a newspaper layout page.  (The light blue typography guides didn’t show up when the page was shot back then — my 21st Century scanner uses different technology.)

I slapped the logo on the inside cover of my 1980 AP stylebook after the conclusion of what all of us referred to as “the Dream series.” I still have the stylebook, and the logo is not going anywhere — it was designed to be moved and reused, but the paste has fused the logo to the book cover.

What may be the greatest speech in American history (Gettysburg? Please.) led to what undoubtedly was the most lucrative week of my brief career in journalism.  I was on the night copy desk at what was then The Home News, a family-owned, 60,000-circulation newspaper in New Brunswick, NJ.  For the 20th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, a team of reporters wrote a huge, week-long series of articles examining race relations and issues in Central Jersey from every perspective you can imagine.  (There was even an article about racial imbalance at The Home News itself — I think there were seven or eight black employees out of a workforce of perhaps 200.  The article carefully noted that union contracts compelled the company to hire its typographers, printers and drivers from among the membership of the respective trade unions — and all of those employees were white.)

I’ve lost track of the tear sheets, unfortunately, but as I recall the series included two to three full pages of articles every day for seven days, or maybe it was five days, in addition to the normal news hole.  It was a huge commitment of staff and other resources for a small daily.

The powers that be decided they wanted one editor to do all of the copy editing, headline writing and layout for the series, to give it a consistent look and feel.  That editor was me — and I was told to do it all on overtime, because they couldn’t spare me from my regular duties.  So after each day’s local news was put to bed, I started working on the following day’s batch of Dream series stories.  I ended up putting in for my normal 37.5-hour work week (union contract, you know) plus 37.5 hours of overtime, because that’s what it happened to total.  The payroll department thought I was putting in for a week’s vacation pay in advance, so they paid it out at straight time, and corrected it to time-and-a-half the following week.

The New Jersey Press Association gave the paper a special award for the series, along with a $1,500 prize.  The company matched the prize and passed out low-three-figure bonuses to the reporters, and to a copy editor who already had been well-paid for the project.

I was five years old when Dr. King gave the speech, and most of the reporters on the Dream series were around the same age.  We all marveled at the impact of this man and this speech, and at what had (and had not) changed in 20 years.  None of us dreamed that the 50th anniversary would arrive with a black man in the White House.