Brush With Greatness: Fouad Ajami, 1945-2014

Fouad AjamiMy favorite professor passed away this week.

Fouad Ajami — Iranian by heritage, Lebanese by birth, American by choice — was an assistant professor of politics at Princeton in the late 1970s, and I took his International Relations course freshman year. He didn’t get tenure there — bad call, Princeton — and left in 1980 to become director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins, where he thrived for 30 years.

He was a bit of an imp at Princeton, and I mean that in a nice way.  You can see it in his picture — I remember the same grin, framed in a darker beard.  When I was casting about for a major after realizing that I wasn’t cut out for [shudder] physics, my enjoyment of his course was part of why I chose Politics.  I wish I could say I remembered some profound insight he shared that shaped my political development, but I can’t. I probably got a B in the course, because that’s how I rolled.  In classes I liked.

Here’s what I remember: he quoted Lyndon Johnson’s characterization of Vietnam as “a raggedy-assed, third-rate country,” and said some American leaders dismissed a wide variety of countries in that way.  As he made his pedagogical point, he just seemed delighted by the fact that he was saying a bad word in front of a classroom at a prestigious school and he could get away with it because we were nominal adults.  He grinned that grin.

He became my favorite professor retroactively three decades later, when I discovered that my emerging world view was finding eloquent expression in his commentary in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. I blogged about him here and here and here. Since no one ever follows links on my blog (prove me wrong, I double-dare you), I’ll quote a passage from September 11, 2009, in which he championed the decision to go to war in Iraq:

Those were not Afghans who had struck American soil on 9/11. They were Arabs. Their terrorism came out of the pathologies of Arab political life. Their financiers were Arabs, and so were those crowds in Cairo and Nablus and Amman that had winked at the terror and had seen those attacks as America getting its comeuppance on that terrible day. Kabul had not sufficed as a return address in that twilight war; it was important to take the war into the Arab world itself, and the despot in Baghdad had drawn the short straw. He had been brazen and defiant at a time of genuine American concern, and a lesson was made of him.

Professor Ajami never wavered in his belief that America made the right choice by overthrowing Saddam Hussein.  I wholeheartedly share that viewpoint. Despite the years of mismanagement of the war, the world is a better place today because of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I expect that will continue to be true despite the feckless blunderings of our current commander in chief.

In 2011, Ajami retired from Johns Hopkins and decamped to Stanford, where he was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His colleagues there have performed the invaluable service of compiling a page of links to his “best and recent articles,” the last of which was published in the Wall Street Journal on June 16, less than two weeks before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 68.  It was vintage Ajami, headlined “The Men Who Sealed Iraq’s Disaster With a Handshake.” In case you have any doubt, the men in question are Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

 (This post is the fourth installment in my Brush with Greatness series.)

The Biggest Loser This Week Isn’t Obama — It’s the Health Insurance Industry

Obama health care news conferenceThe President’s administrative decision to ignore another section of the Obamacare legislation for a year does not redeem his promise that “if you like your health plan, you can keep it,” but it’s a significant step in that direction.  It may slow the stampede of Democratic legislators seeking to distance themselves from the President, but it won’t eliminate it.  Yesterday 39 House Democrats voted for a Republican bill that would go slightly farther than the President did yesterday.  Politico reports:

It’s a significant show of disloyalty to the White House, but House Democrats had expected the defections to be far higher before the Obama administration said Thursday that it would pursue an administrative fix to the cancellation problem.

While Obama may have bought himself a little time, let’s pause for a moment to consider the plight of the health insurance industry.  No, really. The Obamafix hurts the insurance companies in three ways.

1. It worsens the problem of adverse selection.  The people who opt for their old plans will disproportionately be those who would have to pay more for coverage under Obamacare.  The whole financial structure of the law is based on convincing young, healthy people to overpay for insurance they don’t need, thereby subsidizing older, sicker people who cost the insurance companies a lot of money.  That’s why there’s an individual mandate to purchase insurance in the first place.

2. It creates crisis conditions for the industry.  Crises cost money, and could lead to bad decisions.  As insurance consultant Bob Laszewski writes (h/t: Megan McArdle):

The Obama administration may not be ready for Obamacare but the insurance industry is. The health insurance companies spent the last many months rolling their old policies off the books and replacing them with the 2014 Obamacare compliant products––Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

Cancellation letters have been sent. Their computer systems took months to program in order to be able to send the letters out and set up the terminations on their systems. Even post-Obamacare, the states regulate the insurance market. The old products are no longer filed for sale and rates are not approved. I suppose it might be possible to get insurance commissioners to waive their requirements but even if they did how could the insurance industry reprogram systems in less than a month that took months to program in the first place, contact the millions impacted, explain their new options (they could still try to get one of the new policies with a subsidy), and get their approval?

Plus, there will be increased ongoing costs for administering both sets of plans throughout 2014.

3. It sets the insurance companies up as the villains. Insurance companies have to decide very quickly whether to play along with Obama’s desperate gambit.  Playing along is very much not in their financial interest in the short term… but how much latitude do they have to make a prudent business decision and stand by the cancellations?   Remember, this is the president who, in the auto industry crisis, summarily fired the head of GM, forced Chrysler to begin selling itself to Fiat, and summoned the auto executives to the White House to tell them, “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

The president’s action is going to cost the health insurers a lot of money, and the only way for them to recoup that money will be by raising premiums in future years. Yes, I know that many consider Obamacare to be a giveaway to the health insurers, by forcing everyone to buy their products.  But I don’t think the industry is particularly grateful for Obamacare this week.

Meanwhile, still says ” If you like your plan you can keep it and you don’t have to change a thing due to the health care law” — now a full week after Politico pointed out that the falsehood is still there.  The phrase has been indefensible for longer than a week, of course, but I count the Politico story as the event that destroyed the fig leaf of a possible excuse that it’s just old website content that hasn’t been updated.

You know you’re in trouble when utter incompetence is your only defense against a charge of lying.

(Photo of Obama news conference from

White House Can’t Solve a Small Website Problem — How Will They Do With the Big Ones?

There are countless ideas floating around for fixing the Obamacare mess — and there are legions of partisans on both sides gearing up for a street fight over whatever approach may be taken.  In a post titled “Hope Is All Obamacare Has Left,” the indispensable Megan McArdle convincingly argues that none of the ideas will work.

What a mess.  But one thing is clear — the time to say “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” has passed.  A few diehards may still be trying to justify the use of that statement in the past, but surely all can agree that the phrase is poison and the White House should not keep saying it.

On Saturday, Nov. 9, weeks after the controversy erupted, Politico posted an article reporting that parts of the healthcare section of had been updated.  However:

“If you like your plan you can keep it and you don’t have to change a thing due to the health care law,” the website still reads.

I saw the Politico article on the 10th, I believe, and I kind of shrugged.  I’ve been responsible for website content, and I know how easy it is for outdated text to live on longer than it should.  I was curious to see how the White House had updated the passage based on the Politico article, so I clicked through to

Unbelievable.  The language was still there.  If you click on the tiny screenshot at right, you’ll get a version you can read.

And to spare you any further dramatic buildup, as I write this on the afternoon of Nov. 13, four days to the hour after the Politico story was posted, the official White House website still says “if you like your plan you can keep it.”

The mind reels.

(The unrelated photo of the president’s reflection seems metaphorical, somehow.)

Did the President “Lie” About Obamacare, or Did He Believe What He Wanted to Believe?

I’m always reluctant to accuse a politician of lying. Far too often, disagreements about facts morph into accusations of “lies” by political opponents.

Take the ludicrous but widespread notion that President George W. Bush “lied” about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. Never mind that the intelligence agencies of major Western powers, including war opponents like Germany and France, believed Saddam had WMD.  Never mind that the Clinton administration and prominent Democrats with access to intelligence reports thought Saddam had WMD. Never mind that it is an established fact, about which there is no controversy, that Saddam actually used WMD, in the form of chemical weapons, in the Iran-Iraq war and against his own people in the Kurdistan region.  Never mind that it would make no sense for a president to lie about something momentous, knowing that the lie will be discovered.

Never mind all that — it doesn’t even rhyme.  It’s much easier for opponents of the war to put their fingers in their ears and chant, “Bush lied, thousands died.”

All of this comes to mind as various voices on the Right, including some I highly respect, are ratcheting up their accusations that President Obama “lied” when he promised, “if you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it.”

He made this promise again and again in the campaign to sell Obamacare to a skeptical public, as you can see in the video above.  My favorite bit is from the president’s September 9, 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress, starting at the 56-second mark:

Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor that you have. Let me repeat this: Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

That’s simply not true, of course.  There was never any hope that it would be true.  Obamacare sets minimum standards for coverage, and any plans that don’t meet those standards have to be changed or discontinued.  CBS News, not exactly a hotbed of anti-Obama sentiment, reports that more than 2 million Americans have had policies canceled for this reason.

The White House is on the defensive, trying to explain how, when the president repeatedly said this: “If you like your doctor or health care plan, you can keep it” — he really didn’t mean it.

It’s not just conservative pundits throwing around the L word.  The Washington Post’s left-leaning “Fact Checker” yesterday awarded the president “four Pinocchios”, the rating reserved for the biggest “whoppers.”  Lefty comedian/commentator Bill Maher told Piers Morgan “I don’t think Obama should have lied to people,” and Morgan agreed, calling it “a barefaced lie.”

I’ve always been convinced that President Bush may be guilty of believing what he wanted to believe about WMD in Iraq — but there’s no doubt that he believed it. You can agree or disagree, of course — I presented my evidence above.  I’ll be looking to see if evidence emerges that Obama somehow, against all logic, believed what he said about Obamacare.

Jon Stewart Savages the Obamacare Rollout — And Why It Matters

Unsurprisingly, conservative pundits have been relentless in emphasizing the ongoing problems with the introduction of Obamacare. Some headlines: “The Obamacare Fiasco” (National Review);” “Obamacare Rollout Worst Since New Coke” (John Fund on Newsmax); “Poll: White House Blames ‘Volume,’ But Majority Believe’s Problems Hint at Broader Obamacare Problems” (PJ Media).

But now the funniest liberal in America, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, has lashed out with a scathing review; the video clip above (the audio of which is NSFW) is less than half of the 10 minutes he devoted to the “glitches” on Monday. A sample: After a news clip noting that less than 10 percent of applicants were successful in applying the first week, Stewart said:

“Less than ten percent — how bad is that? Twenty percent is the number of dentists who recommend sugared gum.”

I can just see some drone in the basement of the White House crafting a talking point in rebuttal: “Actually, when four out of five dentists recommended sugarless gum for their patients who chewed gum, most of the remaining dentists recommended not chewing gum at all.” But if you’re poking holes in the joke premise after Jon Stewart has gotten his laugh and moved on, you’re in trouble.

Here’s why it matters what one comedian thinks: The Daily Show‘s biggest demographic is 18- to 29-year-olds — the very people who have to be persuaded to purchase a product they don’t think they need at a price that will subsidize their elders. James Taranto dissects a new ad featuring a woman in her 50s who

“is purportedly getting a free lunch: better coverage with lower premiums, deductibles and copayments than someone with her risk profile would be able to negotiate absent price controls. But people can get a free lunch only if other people pick up the tab. The technical term for those other people is “suckers.” In the case of ObamaCare the suckers are young and healthy people who normally would be cheaper to insure.”

Gallup polling data shows that one in three uninsured Americans currently plan to pay the penalty rather than spend the money on a healthcare plan. Obviously, the penalty-payers will skew heavily toward young people who think they don’t need insurance. Older people with pre-existing conditions can be expected to enroll at a very high rate, thereby loading the insurance pool with the most expensive people.

I wonder, though, how compliance will shift once young people actually start doing the math. The first-year penalty is $95 or 1% of income, whichever is higher — increasing to $325 or 2% in 2015, and $625 and 2.5% in 2016. I think the first-year number that sticks in people’s minds is the $95, which sounds almost trivial — whereas the 1% is going to kick in for anyone making more than $19,500 a year (there’s a $10,000 income exemption for individuals). For an entry-level professional in New York City struggling to pay rent and college loans on a $46,000 salary, that’s $360.


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


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.”

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)


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.