Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Top Ten All Time Favorite Politicians

by Tom King (c) 2009 - All Rights Reserved

The words favorite and politician are not words I often use in the same sentence, but I do have some. To get a full ten, I have to go back a ways in history. Some are obscure. All are personal choices. They all have one thing in common.  They all are courageous and have taken risks that could have cost them their careers. Their actions often earned them the wrath of their contemporaries. In every case, reading their stories made me smile. Having the position of standing up to "the man" in defense of the little guy, I appreciate the type of sand it takes to plant your feet in the breech and stand for something you believe in. What follows is my personal roster of politicians in the breech!

1. George Washington:  Okay, George is a no-brainer, but these days most people don't realize what a gutsy guy the general was. First there was the whole crossing-the-Deleware/Battle of Trenton deal which nobody thought would work and if it had failed, that might have been the end of the revolution. Certainly Washington, himself, would have been killed or captured and hung. Then he refused a kingship.  He refused to let them call him "your excellency" or give him the trappings of royalty as first president. He refused to serve more than two terms and set a precedent so powerful that when FDR broke it, the Congress waited till he died and then passed an amendment to prevent it from every happening again. These are only a fraction of the stories I could tell of Washington's courage and faithfulness to his principles.

2. Abraham Lincoln:  Lincoln is another no-brainer. The man had the courage to do what he had to in order to hold the country together in the face of the greatest crisis in the nation's history. His second inaugural address sounded the call for the liberation of those in slavery and defense of the union. The Emancipation Proclamation was opposed even by members of his own cabinet. He risked his life by what he did as president and he knew it. He did not shrink from doing the right thing even though he understood what price him might have to pay and he did pay that price at the end. He was a wise, compassionate and gentle soul whom I think was chosen by God to be where he was at that moment in time and to stand in the breach. The more I learn about Lincoln, the better I like him.

3. Arlene Wohlgemuth: Arlene is someone you likely do not know. She served as Texas state representative from District 58 back in the 90's. During her first term, Texas Monthly called her one of the top ten new Texas legislators. The notoriously liberal leaning magazine changed its tune next go round and demoted her to the ten worst legislator's list. What happened.  It's called the Memorial Day Massacre by Texas political junkies. The back story is this. Ms. Wohlgemuth proposed a bill that if a teenage girl wanted an abortion, her parents had to be notified. The Democrats killed her bill by delaying it with a procedural motion that prevented the bill from being voted on. Furious, Arlene didn't get mad. She got even.  She invoked the exact same procedural motion and killed 52 Democrat proposed bills that the Dems were bringing in under the wire in the last days of the session (a common way to sneak stuff by the public without a lot of uproar).  The wailing in Austin was a thing to behold. Arlene got death threats. Texas managed to remain standing for another 2 years without an expansion of government till the Democrats lost their majority hold on the Texas legislature. Gotta love the woman!  I hope she runs for congress again. We could use someone like her.

4. Sam Houston:  Sam Houston was an alcoholic and by all reports a venal, self-serving vindictive bastard. His men had to drag him to the Battle of San Jacinto to confront Santa Anna. Then, he bungled negotiations with Santa Anna and let him go to harass Texas again just a few years later. He persecuted the members of the Texas Navy at a time when the Navy was single-handedly keeping the Mexican Army off the coasts of Texas. Despite Houston's efforts to torpedo them, the Texas Navy probably preserved the state's independence. Sam didn't like sailors for some reason and tried to prosecute the secretary of the Navy for treason.  Old Sam had a lot of faults. But when the state of Texas decided to blindly follow the southeastern states into rebellion, Houston, in a rare display of honorable behavior, opposed secession despite its popularity.  He resigned his office in protest. His example inspired an underground resistance movement in Texas that interfered with military supply and support operations throughout the war. For that alone he deserves the big ugly statue on the road between Houston and Dallas.

5. Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson gets my vote for two big things - writing the Declaration of Independence and forcing the issue with the Bill of Rights. T.J. also had problems with the navy and his stingy support of the fledgling U.S. Navy emboldened the British and may have played a part in encouraging the War of 1812. Despite his failings, old Tom was capable of taking risks.  The Louisiana Purchase was a risk well worth taking. He also slipped language into the Constitution and Declaration that mollified southern slave-holders, but managed to implant principles into the founding documents that flowered in the fires of the Civil War and led to the end of slavery.

6. Ronald Reagan: Reagan makes the list because I absolutely love this guy.  Reagan was a genuinely decent man. If this list were in order of importance, Ronnie would be tied with General George for #1. Reagan articulated a positive vision for America that actually worked. He genuinely believed all the stuff he said about American excellence. If we are indeed a city on the hill, then it was Reagan who turned the lights back on so people could see us again. His first defining moment was at Reykjavik when he walked away from the negotiating table against the advice of his advisors, his cabinet and every political pundit that could be dragged in front of a microphone. His guts and stubbornness vastly reduced the number of nuclear weapons pointed at us when the Russians caved a year later and signed a ground-breaking nuclear disarmament treaty. His second defining moment was in front of the Berlin Wall when he had the cheek to challenge Premier Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!". Again, everybody screamed "Take that line out of the speech!".  Reagan's response?  "We better leave it in.  It's the right thing to do!" God bless him for that.

7. George W. Bush: For all GW's shortcomings, his overspending, his economic compromises with liberal Democrats, I am glad he was the occupant of the Oval Office when the terrorists hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11. He declared war on terrorism, calling it a war and not a police investigation. Because he stood straight, stuck by his guns and prosecuted a war against terrorist strongholds, during the balance of his time in office the United States was not attacked by terrorists - period!  Within a year of his leaving the presidency, a terrorist attacked a U.S. military base. Whatever you may say otherwise about President Bush, he did keep us safe here at home. I suspect we'll never know what it cost him to do that.

8. Sarah Palin: You've got to admire the courage of this woman. She starts out as mayor of a tiny town in Alaska. She cleans up things there and runs for governor. As soon as she hits office, she turns on her own party and cleans house. She negotiates a pipeline deal that increases the flow of oil to the lower 48. She disrupts Alaska politics as usual by shining the light on a host of nasty little political deals. She accepts a spot on the presidential ticket and endures brutal attacks by folks on the left. They go after her, her family and file a flood of lawsuits designed to cripple her ability to govern. She resigns the governor's office for the sake of the state, despite the universal opinion of political pundits that this will be the end of her political career.

Anybody wanna bet?

9.  Louis Gohmert:  Louis is the U.S. Congressman from the 1st District - my district here in East Texas. I wasn't sure about Judge Gohmert when he first hit the Congress.  My opinion of him soon changed. He stood up on the House floor and pointed out that after just two months of the new Democrat majority talking about raising taxes and expanding government, the stock market took a dive. Then he proposed a tax holiday instead of a cash stimulus. The idea was genius. It placed money in the hands of people who could use it to stimulate economic activity and at the same time reduce the ability of the government to meddle. Instead of passing the money through the government where it could be misdirected, misappropriated and wasted before going to the people, the people would simply keep what they already had and it would happen fast. Then when Obama did a speech on health care to a joint session of Congress, Louis sat there big as life with a sign on his lap that said, "What bill?"  and "What plan?".  Ya gotta love this guy!

10. Theodore Roosevelt:  Teddy was a progressive. He was caught up in the whole progressive movement and as we have learned since there are some really bad things about progressivism. But there was more to Teddy than that. He did a lot of things that were downright un-progressive as president.  The "Big Stick" policy alone wins my admiration. He went after the big trusts that had long enjoyed government protection of their monopolies. He reduced the power and influence of the robber barons and restored opportunities for smaller companies to get back into the game. Teddy was wrong on a lot of things, but then progressivism had yet to reveal itself as the pernicious doctrine that led directly to the rise of socialism, facism and nazisim in Europe. I suspect that as that became clear to Teddy, he'd have slapped that idea down as enthusiastically as he went after the corporate crooks that had been squashing competition and exploiting their employees with the willing complicity of government for decades.  While giving a speech once, someone tried to assassinate him. With a bullet in him, President Roosevelt gave the speech in full before going to a doctor for treatment. That's my kind of guts.

Admire who you like, but these guys are some of my favorites. They all have one thing in common. Each of them have taken stands that earned them the disdain of the elitist snobs of their eras. Having received hate mail from bureaucrats myself, I tend to like that quality in my politicians. We need more of these people if our country is to survive. How many of our elected officials would stand up in the legislature and say as another of my favorite obnoxious politicians once said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Patrick Henry had his flaws, but like King Arthur in the legend, he had his one brief shining moment!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Dozen Movies that I Like to Watch Over and Over

I like movies.  There are a few that have stuck in my head and I find that I come back to them regularly to watch them over and over. Here are my favorites - the ones I see often enough to quote from and buy a copy of on DVD.

1. Camelot - "Not 'Might' IS right," says Richard Harris as King Arthur, "But 'Might' FOR right!" This musical version of T.H. White's profound "The Once and Future King" uses all the best lines from White's masterpiece to tremendous effect.  King Arthur was a father figure/role model for me.  My own Dad cut and ran when I was 5 and I found my heroes in books and movies. Camelot got me into a lot of trouble in my life when I've stood and fought till the castle came down around my ears. But at least, for one brief, shining moment......

2.  It's a Wonderful Life - George Bailey was another one of those movie heroes who did the right thing even though it wasn't always exactly what he wanted to do. This is one I have to watch at Christmas, just to recharge my "do-gooder" batteries to get through another year.George's speech to Mr. Potter captures the frustration of every man who ever tried to do the right thing only to be thwarted by some selfish evil old spider.

3.  Scrooge - The musical version with Albert Finney is brilliant. Finney is Scrooge at his nasty best and convincingly delivers the moment of giddy release that comes from letting go of your sins and accepting the forgiveness and good will of your fellow man.  Again, another movie where the good guys do the right thing no matter the consequences. Bob Crachett is as brave a man as any muscled up knight in armor. "Thank you very much....that's the nicest thing that anyone's ever done for me!"

4.  Haunted Honeymoon / Hold That Ghost / Ghostbreakers - These three movies are our Halloween trilogy every year.  We don't do horror movies at my house. These are great fun. Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner are wonderful and the "Ballin' the Jack" duet between Gilda and Dom Deluise is priceless. The bit with the candle that Lou Costello does in Hold That Ghost is fall on the floor funny no matter how many times you see it. Bob Hope has possibly the greatest line in movie history when a local guy describes zombies as "...walking around with dead eyes and no will of their own."  Bob shoots back.  "Like Democrats?"

5. Star Wars - When I sat in the theater during the opening of that movie and that enormous star destroyer passed overhead, lasers blazing, I knew I was in for something I'd never seen before. I love every episode. "“It’s not impossible. I used to bulls eye wamp rats in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than 2 meters."

6. The Quiet Man - John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara at their best. The scene where he drags her 5 miles back to her brother, across the fields and through the sheep poop is hysterical. One of the bystanders offers Wayne a stick saying, "Sir! Sir! Here’s a good stick to beat the lovely lady!"  The look on his face is priceless.

7. The Princess Bride - "This is true love.  You think that happens every day." This rolicking swashbuckle has one of the best sword duels ever filmed AND nobody dies.  There are a few movies that are perfect and this is one of them.  MIRACLE MAX:  He probably owes you money huh? I'll ask him. INIGO MONTOYA: He's dead. He can't talk. MIRACLE MAX: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do. INIGO MONTOYA:  What's that? MAX: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.   I never tire of watching this. If you haven't seen it in a while, toss it on the old DVD player and "Have fun storming the castle!"

8.  The Lord of the Rings - This stunningly beautiful and surprisingly faithful version of Tolkien's classic is even better in the extended version. I was very happy that it took a half dozen endings to close the story. I love Samwise,  "Mr. Gandalf, sir, don't hurt me. Don't turn me into anything... unnatural."

9. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis' classic was well and truly brought to film and was all I could have hoped. I always tear up at the stone table scene. Edmund Pevensie: [horse rears up] Whoa, Horsey.
Philip the Horse: My name is Philip. 

10. Serenity - Captain Malcolm Reynolds thinks he's a scoundrel, but like Han Solo, this space cowboy can't help but be a do-gooder.  This movies caps the canceled TV series "Firefly" nicely and I watch that over and over too. Not everyone gets this movie.  I'm one that does.

11. My Favorite Year - Peter O'Toole plays a fading swashbuckling actor forced to appear on a TV show to pay his taxes.  He and a Jewish comedy writer make it a night on the town in which everyone learns something. The climactic scene in which O'Toole and the TV show's star fight it out onstage with mob thugs is nothing but fun. Benji Stone: "Catherine, Jews know two things: suffering, and where to find great Chinese food."

12. Captain Hornblower -I love the Hornblower books, so I like to watch the movie and the TV mini-series. Hornblower is another man trying to do the right thing in hard circumstances.  I think there's a theme here. HORNBLOWER "Flogging only makes a bad man worse, Mr. Gerard... but it can break a good man's spirit. Is Hummill a bad man?  GERARD: Aside from his temper, sir, he's a good sailor.
 HORNBLOWER: A good sailor, ill-fed and thirsty. Watch the cat as it cuts his back to pieces, Mr. Gerard... and in the future, perhaps you'll think twice when you threaten a man with flogging.

Also, my son, Micah used to fall asleep watching the same movies over and over.  Micah's movies seemed to have a theme as well. Here are the ten I most remember seeing on his TV when I went to check on him at night.

Micah's Top Ten

1. The Hunt for Red October
2. Braveheart
3. Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
4. The Patriot
5. Lean on Me
6. Young Guns
7. Star Wars
8. Lord of the Rings
9. Shrek
10.Dances with Wolves

Micah could quote from all of them. I think some of them seeped into his brain like sleep learning. He could almost speak Lakota Sioux from watching Dances with Wolves so much..