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Barack Obama has certainly brought Americans together in unprecedented ways, but America’s black and white racial divide still exists.
And every once in a while, an event happens that starkly reveals how just deep this racial divide remains.
The untimely death of Michael Jackson is such an event.
Last week, at a meeting of progressive Democrats in Southern California, I heard speaker after speaker bemoan the fact that Michael Jackson’s death had taken over the cable news, shunting to the side what they believed to be obviously more significant topics – the revolt in Iran, the fight in Congress for new health care legislation, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I see similar comments from many of my politically progressive Facebook friends.
None of them seems remotely aware that their disdain for the wall-to-wall news coverage of Michael Jackson’s death is a reflection of their own racial perspective – or that black people might view it differently.
For many, perhaps most, white people, Michael Jackson was, at best, a fading pop star and entertainer, someone whose music and persona they may have liked in their childhood but not now.
For black people, Michael Jackson was, and remains, a cultural figure of heroic, almost mythic, proportions, someone who changed not just music but the world, and who tirelessly worked for African and African-American causes and charities.
Today Michael Jackson will be honored and memorialized as a hero.
As a white American, I may not really get it.
But I get why I don’t get it.
And for that reason, I give my respects today and I say:
Michael, Rest in Peace.
If I’m correct that Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska governor in order to lead a right wing movement that is ostensibly independent of the major political parties, then the next question is: where will she establish her new home and base of operations?
The Northeast is too liberal, the South is too connected to racial politics (and there’s too much competition for conservative leadership and not enough big money), Washington, D.C., is too much of an enemy camp, and the Midwest doesn’t have enough access to the media.
Texas is certainly a possibility, but I don’t think she’ll want to compete for power with the Bush clan.
Florida also is a possibility, but I don’t think she’ll want to compete for conservatives with both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.
Utah is solidly Mitt Romney and Mormon territory, and Arizona belongs to former running mate (and now political rival) John McCain.
And while Idaho might have the most ideologically receptive population, it is so far off the media radar that she might as well stay in Alaska.
That leaves California.
Specifically, Southern California.
And more specifically, Orange County.
Orange County is rich, conservative, and close to Los Angeles’ enormous media network.
And California has no nationally known conservative political figure (Arnold doesn’t count) to offer her any real competition.
In fact, the California Republican Party is so fractured because of the budget battle and the hang-them-all ideology of its tea party militants that the Republican establishment wouldn’t be able to offer any real competition to Palin’s brand of radical right-wing conservatism.
It might be very bad news for more moderate Republicans like Meg Whitman and for the statewide chances of the Republican Party, but you can bet that John and Ken would welcome her with open arms (and air waves).
Are you ready for the new Terminator?
California, here she comes!
Sarah Palin is not done causing headaches for the leadership of the Republican Party.
In fact, my guess is that she is going to cause them far more pain in the near future than they or the media could ever have imagined.
At this point, politicians and the press are trying to decipher Palin’s motivation for her stunning announcement yesterday that she is resigning as governor of Alaska.
The standard analysis is that she is resigning in order to concentrate her efforts on securing the Republican nomination for president in 2012. As Bill Kristol told Fox News after Palin’s speech: “We just saw the opening statement of the 2012 campaign.”
Others — including NBC’s Andrea Mitchell — think Palin is stepping away from politics for good.
And some claim that Palin is resigning because of soon-to-be-announced scandals, including an alleged federal criminal investigation into the rebuilding of Palin’s home.
I think they’ve all missed the forest for the trees.
Sarah Palin isn’t done with politics.
But she might well be done with the Republican Party.
Rather than relying on alleged experts (who are not in Palin’s close circle) or taking the supposed word of unnamed sources, I suggest that the best indication of why Palin resigned – and what she plans to do – comes from Palin herself.
In her speech, she specifically states that she is not stepping away from politics. On the contrary, she repeatedly emphasized that she going to continue to work to “effect positive change,” although it would be from “outside government at this moment in time.” She was, she said, following in the never-give-up tradition of General Douglas MacArthur. “We’re not retreating,” she said, “we are advancing in another direction.’” (As the New York Times points out, Palin got the author of the quote wrong; it was not said by MacArthur, but by Maj. Gen. Oliver Prince Smith.)
She also was clear about the kind of “positive change” she planned to effect: she was going to continue to fight against “the heavy hand of federal government [intruding] into our communities with an all-knowing attitude,“ fight against “the obscene national debt that we’re forcing our children to pay because of today’s big government spending,” and “protect states’ rights, as mandated in the 10th Amendment.”
As she did during the 2008 campaign, Palin cast herself as the champion of the people: those “hardworking, average Americans fighting for what’s right” and those people “who still believe in free enterprise and smaller government and strong national security for our country and support for our troops and energy independence and for those who will protect freedom and equality and life.”
In other words, Palin sounded much same as she did during the presidential campaign – and she certainly didn’t sound like a person getting out of politics.
But there was a difference from her speeches during the presidential campaign.
And the difference involves the political party that she supports.
In her resignation speech, Palin said: “I’ll work hard for and I’ll campaign for those who are proud to be American and who are inspired by our ideals and they won’t deride them. I will support others who seek to serve in or out of office, and I don’t care what party they’re in or no party at all, inside Alaska or outside of Alaska.”
Repeatedly referring to her course of action as “unconventional,” “a new direction” and “no more politics as usual” — and comparing her actions to those of William H. Seward, (Lincoln’s Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of Alaska — ”Seward’s Folly”), who took the “the uncomfortable, unconventional but right path to secure Alaska, so that Alaska could help secure the United States” — Palin dropped clue after clue that, like Seward, she too was going to take an “uncomfortable, unconventional but right path” to “help secure the United States.”
I think Sarah Palin told us what she is planning to do.
Yes, she is running for President.
But not necessarily as a Republican.
Sarah Palin has declared herself the leader of a movement, not merely a political party.
It was not a coincidence that Palin gave her speech on the weekend of Independence Day.
She just declared her independence from the Republican Party.
When I was child, my father, a World War II Navy veteran, taught me the story of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.
I thought of the four chaplains during the presidential election when I listened to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell explain why he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States.
In stating why he could not support the candidacy of John McCain, Powell referred to the death of U.S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20 year old from Manahawkin, N.J., who was killed in Iraq and to a photograph he had seen of the soldier’s mother pressing her head against his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.
The headstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, his military awards (the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), and the Muslim symbol of the crescent and star.
As the New York Times observed, “Powell mentioned Mr. Khan’s death to underscore why he was deeply troubled by Republican personal attacks on Mr. Obama, especially false intimations that he was Muslim. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim, he said. But, he added, ‘The really right answer is, what if he is?’ ‘Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that’s not America,’ he said. ’Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.’ Mr. Powell said that he had heard senior members of the Republican Party ‘drop this suggestion that he [Obama] is a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ ‘Now, John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that within the party we have these kinds of expressions.’”
General Powell probably thought, too, of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.
On the night of February 3, 1943,United States Army Transport ship Dorchester was en route from Newfoundland to England via Greenland, when it was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine.
The Dorchester listed sharply to starboard and began to sink almost immediately into the icy water. The ship was overcrowded and there were insufficient lifeboats or lifejackets for the 904 men on board.
As the Dorchester sank, the ship’s four U.S. Army chaplains aided the wounded, helped get the men into lifeboats and then gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out.
A survivor later explained:
“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”
As the ship went down, survivors in nearby lifeboats could see the four chaplains – their arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.
Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedoes hit, the Dorchester was gone.
The four U.S. Army chaplains were:
Lt. George L. Fox, age 42, Methodist.
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, age 32, Jewish.
Lt. John P. Washington, age 34, Roman Catholic.
Lt. Clark V. Poling, age 32, Reformed Church in America.
According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the lesson of their sacrifice is “unity without uniformity” and “selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.”
My father had a simpler lesson to teach me: We are all Americans.
In a speech on in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, Barack Obama said that “The men and women from Fayetteville and all across America who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats or Republicans or independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag, They have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.”
(This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, on October 19, 2008.)
The death this month of 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart – killed by a drunk driver just hours after making a spectacular season debut – has lead to outrage against drunk driving in general and in particular against the driver who killed Adenhart.
The drunk driver who killed Adenhart — Andrew Thomas Gallo, also 22-years-old – has been charged with three counts of murder, one felony count of fleeing the scene of a traffic collision involving death or permanent injury, one felony count of driving under the influence causing injury and one felony count of driving with a blood-alcohol level above the .08 percent that is the legal limit in California – Gallo’s blood alcohol level was three times higher than the legal limit – and causing bodily injury.
If convicted, Gallo could spend 55 years in prison.
Gallo is a particularly unsympathetic figure: he was on probation for a prior drunk driving conviction, was driving on a suspended license, and fled the scene after the crash.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas expressed the community’s anger toward Gallo: “As the District Attorney, over the years I have seen some heart-wrenching things,” Rackauckas said during a media conference. “They don’t get much tougher than this. This Angel and his two friends were too young to be sent to heaven, but the defendant selfishly and recklessly got behind the wheel after getting drunk, and they didn’t have a choice…The defendant has acknowledged that he knew the dangers of drinking and driving based on his participation in this alcohol program… Knowing that he had caused this crash, Mr. Gallo cowardly fled the scene on foot without checking on the welfare of those he had just hurt.”
Of course, Rackauckas is correct.
But I question whether many of us are in a moral position to condemn Gallo.
There are people who don’t drink.
There are people who don’t drive.
Just about everyone else has driven drunk.
Especially in the car culture of Southern California – where it is just about impossible to get anywhere without getting behind the wheel – I venture to say that nearly everyone leaving a bar — or most people leaving a social occasion where they’ve consumed alcohol – are driving drunk.
Of course, most of these people don’t kill anyone.
But that’s just luck.
Coincidentally, in the midst of the outrage over Adenhart’s death, the Los Angeles Times reports that 70 sworn and civilian employees of the Los Angles County’s Sheriff’s Department were arrested for alcohol-related offenses last year, the majority for driving off-duty while under the influence of alcohol.
Each of them – and the hundreds more sherrif department employees who drove drunk but didn’t get caught — could easily have killed someone.
As could all of us who have ever gotten behind the wheel after drinking.
I am not suggesting that we should go easy on Gallo or other drunk drivers.
But in our culture of drinking and driving it is pure chance that many of us are not sitting in his place.
In 1998, the Iowa legislature, capitulating to a well-funded national campaign against gay marriage, amended the state’s marriage statute to define marriage as a union between only a man and a woman.
Today, in a stunning, courageous, and powerfully written decision, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state’s anti-gay marriage statute is invalid because it violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution.
The Court’s decision in Varnum v. Brien (2009) is enormously significant not only because it allows same sex couples to marry in Iowa, but also because it so clearly, cogently, and conscientiously dismantles and destroys each and every one of the arguments that the anti-gay forces have made – and continue to make — against sex same marriage.
The Court described the plaintiffs as “six same-sex couples who live in committed relationships. Each maintains a hope of getting married one day, an aspiration shared by many throughout Iowa.” According to the Court, these plaintiffs – “Like all Iowans” – are people who “prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected,” but are different from other Iowans in being “sexually and romantically attracted to members of their own sex.” These six couples, the Court observed, “seek to declare the marriage statute unconstitutional so they can obtain the array of benefits of marriage enjoyed by heterosexual couples, protect themselves and their children, and demonstrate to one another and to society their mutual commitment.”
The Court first asserted and defended its right and obligation to rule on the constitutionality of the anti-gay marriage statute. Among the “basic principles essential to our form of government,” the Court explained, is that the state constitution “defines certain individual rights upon which the government may not infringe” including the right to equal protection of the law. Citing the foundational United States Supreme Court case establishing judicial review of the constitutionality of federal statutes — Marbury v. Madison (1803) — the Iowa Supreme Court insisted that its “responsibility to determine if the law enacted by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch violates the Iowa Constitution” includes the obligation to “protect the supremacy of the constitution as a means of protecting our republican form of government and our freedoms.”
Certain fundamental rights, including the right to the equal protection of the law, are beyond “the vicissitudes of political controversy” and “beyond the reach of majorities and officials” to limit or deny. Accordingly, the Court has the responsibility “to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.”
Turning to the equal protection question, the Court first noted that “equal protection can only be defined by the standards of each generation… So, today, this court again faces an important issue that hinges on our definition of equal protection. This issue comes to us with the same importance as our landmark cases of the past. The same-sex-marriage debate waged in this case is part of a strong national dialogue5 centered on fundamental, deep-seated, traditional institution that has excluded, by state action, a particular class of Iowans. This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?”
The proper equal protection question is not, according to the Court, whether the classifications made by the law are applied equally; instead the law itself must be equal: “In other words, to truly ensure equality before the law, the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike.”
The Court noted that “courts apply a heightened level of scrutiny under equal protection analysis when reasons exist to suspect ‘prejudice against discrete and insular minorities . . . which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities.” Looking at the history of discrimination and prejudice against gay and lesbian people, the irrelevancy of sexual orientation to an individual’s ability to contribute to society, the immutability of an individual’s sexual orientation, and the historical political powerless of gays and lesbians, the Court determined that a “heightened scrutiny” standard should be applied to gauge the impact of the anti-gay marriage statute on same sex couples.
Nevertheless, the Court found that the anti-gay marriage statute did not pass constitutional muster even under an “intermediate scrutiny” standard because it is not “substantially related to an important governmental objective.”
The Court first emphatically rejected the claims that permitting same sex couples would undermine the institution of marriage or would harm the state’s children.
While noting the “superficial appeal” of the argument that same-sex marriage ban promotes the ‘integrity of traditional marriage’ by ‘maintaining the historical and traditional marriage norm [as] one between a man and a woman,” the Court found this claim to be circular: “When a certain tradition is used as both the governmental objective and the classification to further that objective, the equal protection analysis is transformed into the circular question of whether the classification accomplishes the governmental objective, which objective is to maintain the classification. In other words, the equal protection clause is converted into a ‘barren form of words’ when ‘discrimination . . . is made an end in itself’.”
The Court next unequivocally held that “scientific research has repudiated the commonly assumed notion that children need opposite-sex parents or biological parents to grow into well-adjusted adults.” The Court also found that, in regard to protecting children, the anti-gay marriage is both under and over-inclusive: “The civil marriage statute is under-inclusive because it does not exclude from marriage other groups of parents—such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support, and violent felons—that are undeniably less than optimal parents. Such under-inclusion tends to demonstrate that the sexual-orientation-based classification is grounded in prejudice or “overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences” of gay and lesbian people, rather than having a substantial relationship to some important objective. … The ban on same-sex marriage is substantially over-inclusive because not all same-sex couples choose to raise children.”
The Court also found that “If the statute was truly about the best interest of children, some benefit to children derived from the ban on same-sex civil marriages would be observable. Yet, the germane analysis does not show how the best interests of children of gay and lesbian parents, who are denied an environment supported by the benefits of marriage under the statute, are served by the ban. Likewise, the exclusion of gays and lesbians from marriage does not benefit the interests of those children of heterosexual parents, who are able to enjoy the environment supported by marriage with or without the inclusion of same-sex couples.”
The Court next rejected the claim that prohibiting same sex couples from marrying would advance the legitimate governmental objective of promoting procreation: “the sole conceivable avenue by which exclusion of gay and lesbian people from civil marriage could promote more procreation is if the unavailability of civil marriage for same-sex partners caused homosexual individuals to ‘become’ heterosexual in order to procreate within the present traditional institution of civil marriage. The briefs, the record, our research, and common sense do not suggest such an outcome. Even if possibly true, the link between exclusion of gay and lesbian people from marriage and increased procreation is far too tenuous to withstand heightened scrutiny. Specifically, the statute is significantly under-inclusive with respect to the objective of increasing procreation because it does not include a variety of groups that do not procreate for reasons such as age, physical disability, or choice. In other words, the classification is not substantially related to the asserted legislative purpose.”
The Court also rejected the claims that prohibiting same sex marriage promoted stability in opposite-sex relationships — “While the institution of civil marriage likely encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships, we must evaluate whether excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage encourages stability in opposite sex relationships. The County offers no reasons that it does, and we can find none. The stability of opposite-sex relationships is an important governmental interest, but the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is not substantially related to that objective” – and that prohibiting same sex marriage would conserve state resources – “Excluding any group from civil marriage — African-Americans, illegitimates, aliens, even red-haired individuals—would conserve state resources in an equally “rational” way. Yet, such classifications so obviously offend our society’s collective sense of equality that courts have not hesitated to provide added protections against such inequalities.”
Based on these findings, the Court concluded that none of the purported objectives of the ban on same sex marriage “were furthered in a substantial way by the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage.”
Strikingly, and courageously, the Court then addressed the real basis for the same sex marriage ban – religious opposition to homosexuality: “While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage and perhaps even shapes the views of those people who may accept gay and lesbian unions but find the notion of same-sex marriage unsettling… Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained — even fundamental — religious belief. Yet, such views are not the only religious views of marriage… other equally sincere groups and people in Iowa and around the nation have strong religious views that yield the opposite conclusion… Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them… civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.”
The Iowa decision can not be as readily overturned as the California Supreme Court’s similar decision in the Marriage Cases was overturned by Prop 8.
Unlike California, where the state constitution can almost immediately be amended by a simple majority vote in a ballot measure, the Iowa constitution can be amended only when majorities in both the state House and Senate in two consecutive general assemblies approve an amendment, and then the amendment is approved by a majority of voters in the next general election. Since each general assembly lasts for two years, the earliest that a proposed amendment overturning the Court’s decision could reach voters is November 2012.
It is also notable that in reaching its conclusions, the Iowa Supreme Court extensively cited and relied on the California Supreme Court decision in the Marriage Cases.
Let us hope that the California Supreme Court, which is now considering whether Prop 8 can take away the fundamental right of gay and lesbian people to marry, carefully reads the Iowa decision.
O my Lord
What a morning,
O my Lord,
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries’
to the ceiling.
Adaptation of the spiritual “My Lord, What a Morning” by William Waring Cuney, 1910.
While I’m skeptical about their motives, I applaud the efforts of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Peter King (R-NY) to obtain a presidential pardon for the great heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.
Arthur John “Jack” Johnson, who died in 1946 at the age of 68, was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World.
The crime that the pardon would cover is Johnson’s supposed violation of the Mann Act — “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.” Johnson eventually served 10 months in federal prison on the charges, which also destroyed his boxing career.
No one now doubts that Johnson’s Mann Act conviction was thoroughly racist: the women Johnson was convicted of “transporting” were white.
When Johnson started his boxing career at the turn of the last century, boxing was as segregated as the rest of America – there were separate (and far from equal) boxing matches for black and white fighters.
Johnson became World Colored Heavyweight Champion in 1903 and was widely believed to be the best boxer in the world, but he could not get a match with white Heavyweight Champion James J. Jeffries, who refused to face him.
According to Wikipedia, Johnson won the world heavyweight title five years later, on December 26, 1908, “when he fought the Canadian world champion Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, after following him all over the world, taunting him in the press for a match. The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police in front of over 20,000 spectators. The title was awarded to Johnson on a referee’s decision as a T.K.O, but he had severely beaten the champion. During the fight, Johnson had mocked both Burns and his ringside crew. Every time Burns was about to go down, Johnson would hold him up again, punishing him more.” The film of the match was stopped just before the fight ended, so that it would not show Johnson defeating a white man.
As the most famous black man in America and far ahead of his time in his outspoken defiance of white racism, Johnson was caricatured by the press as subhuman and an ape, and constantly harassed by local police and federal authorities. The press called for a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson and return the heavyweight title to the white race. Each of these “White Hopes” failed to unseat Johnson.
Heeding the call to defend his race, Jeffries eventually agreed to come out of retirement in 1910 and fight Johnson, explaining “”I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.” The fight took place on July 4th in Reno, Nevada, before an all-white crowd of more than 20,000, which chanted “kill the nigger” throughout the match. After being knocked down twice, Jeffries called it quits in the 15th round. Johnson’s victory over Jeffries led to white race riots across America, leaving at least 23 black men, and two white men, dead.
Johnson was not a “role model” in the Jackie Robinson mode. Loud, proud, defiant, and eventually very rich, Johnson reveled as much in ostentatiously breaking racial taboos as in his victories in the ring.
White America could not allow him to survive, and so Johnson was destroyed, with the Mann Act as the weapon. Following his conviction in 1913, Johnson fled the United States and fought in Cuba and Mexico. After his return to America and serving his prison sentence in 1920, Johnson was never able to regain his prowess in the ring. He lost seven of his last nine fights, retiring in 1938.
He died in a car accident in 1946, after angrily leaving a restaurant in North Carolina that refused to serve him because of his race.
McCain and King are to be praised for joining with filmmaker Ken Burns (who has made a documentary about Johnson called “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” and first sought a pardon for Johnson in 2004) in calling on President Obama to issue a pardon for Johnson.
Still, the politics of their appeal for Johnson should be noted.
In September 2008, both McCain and King sponsored resolutions in their respective congressional bodies urging then-President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson. Bush did not do so, despite McCain and King’s backing and wide bipartisan support. According to Ken Burns, President Bush gave him a telephone number to call about the pardon, which turned out to be the telephone number of Karl Rove.
Burns says that Rove told him that a Bush pardon for Johnson “ain’t gonna fly.”
Rove now denies that he ever spoke with Burns about the Johnson pardon.
It is time to put the Bush-Rove years behind us.
It is time to put racism behind us.
It is time for a Great American Hope.
It is time to pardon Jack Johnson.
Of all the cars that I’ve owned, my favorite was a yellow and black 1975 Fiat X1/9.
Designed by Nuccio Bertone, the X1/9 was a two-seater, hardtop convertible with a mid 1489 cc. engine and a five-speed transmission.
It was beautifully styled and it handled like a dream.
It was tremendous fun driving this sleek little skateboard on the freeway.
The only real problem was the carburetor, which kept failing when it idled.
And you couldn’t get parts, except by scavenging the junkyards.
And the mechanics here in Southern California would just laugh if you asked them to fix it.
I learned to keep it going (most of the time) using a combination of toothpicks and rubber bands.
Then my son was born.
My wife said:
The Fiat X1/9 is not a car for a parent.
There’s no room for a baby seat.
There’s no room for anything.
A sleek yellow skateboard racing down the freeway isn’t a very safe place for a child.
There are no air bags.
There isn’t much of anything between the driver and the road.
And Fiat’s reputation for unreliability doesn’t inspire the confidence that parents require.
You need a car that doesn’t require a toolkit of rubber bands and toothpicks.
So my Fiat X1/9 was abandoned for a safer, more sensible car, one that was appropriate for a “Baby On Board” sign.
My current car is a Chrysler PT Cruiser Turbo convertible. All in all, a reliable but fun car with plenty of room for the kid, the dog, and the scout troop equipment.
But it isn’t half as much fun as the Fiat X1/9.
Over time, giving up the X1/9 came to symbolize my belated transition into adulthood and responsibility.
But now President Obama insists that my Chrysler must become a Fiat.
My son no longer needs to sit in a rear seat.
Is it time to talk to the wife about getting an X1/9 again?
Not just for me, of course.
But as a show of support for our president.