Friday, December 21, 2007

Pap for the stump

One durable Republican staple is the alleged commitment to "small government." I've heard this repeatedly during the GOP presidential debates. The candidates declare that the feds should butt out, that "one size fits all" policies enacted by Washington would burden the states. On everything from guns to abortion, the GOP politicians say that states should be allowed to come up with solutions that reflect the will of their own people. This is supposed to be a cornerstone of the conservative ethos.

But it's really just pap for the stump. In reality, and for a fresh insight into contemporary Republican hypocrisy, let us behold (yet again) the Bush administration in action.

A couple days ago, the Bush team - acting through the Environmental Protection Agency, in violation of the law that created the EPA, and in defiance of federal court rulings - decreed that the state of California, and 16 other states, would not be permitted to act on their own to reduce global warming emissions from automobiles. The EPA explained that it favors a "national solution" (i.e. one size fits all), over what it calls "a confusing patchwork of state rules."

The catch, of course, is that the EPA - once considered a protector of the environment, before the Bush team go ahold of it - has no interest in a "national solution" to cut the carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. The Bush EPA fought the idea for years, claiming that the 1970 Clean Air Act failed to specify carbon dioxide as a pollutant. They haven't budged in that belief, even though, back on April 2 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the '70 law gave the Bush EPA plenty of authority to regulate those emissions.

There's another key feature of that '70 law (which created the EPA, and which was signed by Republican President Richard Nixon): It allows states to set their own clean air standards in the absence of federal action, as long as the feds give their permission in the form of waivers. Over the past four decades, California has sought 50 waivers from the feds, and it has received 50 waivers. Until now. The EPA administrator’s Wednesday ruling overrode the advice of his own legal staff.

President Bush said yesterday that EPA chief Stephen Johnson made his decision entirely on his own. There are two ways we can react to that assertion. We can either believe that this president is telling the whole truth...or we can simply note the fact that auto industry executives, who were adamantly opposed to California’s initiative (and all California initiatives over the years), aired their complaints during October and November in a series of meetings with Vice President Cheney and high-ranking White House officials.

The White House and Johnson insist that the states' actions are unnecessary anyway, given the congressional passage this week of a new law that would set tougher fuel-mileage standards (while not tackling the global warming problem nearly as vigorously as the states have intended). Somehow the "one size fits all" federal argument has not been deemed persuasive by the states, because they are now determined to sue the Bush EPA.

The bottom line: The traditional conservative rhetoric about "small government" and "state's rights" bears no relation to how power is actually exercised by conservatives in Washington. Bush's 2000 stump rhetoric about "compassionate conservatism" is closer to the mark, as long as we recognize that it's the special interests - in this case, the auto industry - who are the beneficiaries of his compassion.


This week's Bill Clinton Award is hereby given to Mitt Romney.

For many months, Romney has been repeating a lie that he apparently has come to accept as the truth. Actually, it's a two-part lie. The first part is that his father, the late Michigan Gov. George Romney, marched in a civil rights demonstration with Martin Luther King. The '08 hopeful has said this a number of times, most recently last Sunday, on Meet the Press. The second part, which dates back to a 1978 interview, is that he, Mitt, marched along with his dad and King (in his own words, "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit").

These fantasies are probably attempts to compensate for the Mormon church's history of racism, which persisted until 1978, when it finally lifted its ban on black members. What's most telling, however, is Romney's current attempts to defend his claim - now thoroughly refuted by documented reporting - that he "saw" his father march with King.

Remember, his father never did actually march with King, so he couldn't have seen it anyway. But here's how Romney explained it yesterday: "If you look at the literature, if you look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of in the sense I've described. It's a figure of speech and very familiar, and it's very common. And I saw my dad march with Martin Luther King. I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort."

It's a figure of speech...or maybe it all depends on what the meaning of the word saw is.

No wonder this guy is having problems getting traction in the Republican race. GOP voters are looking for authenticity, not somebody who speaks in Clintonese.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Meanwhile, in a war far far away...

I'm stressing brevity today, due to other deadlines. But it's worth expending a few words on the latest Pentagon assessment of the war in Iraq.

You may remember the war in Iraq. That's the place where, as recently as last May, roughly four American soldiers were being killed every day. But now that the death rate has dropped to one soldier a day, and that the volume of Iraqi civilian deaths has declined, fewer Americans at home seem to be worked up about the war.

National polls indicate that Iraq is no longer viewed as the overriding issue in the '08 campaign; the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal survey, released late yesterday, reports that only 18 percent of Americans list Iraq as the top priority - tied with health care. In the same poll last month, 26 percent cited Iraq, with health care at 16.

Clearly, the troop "surge" has acted as a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding, and that has apparently calmed the millions of Americans who care about Iraq only when people (especially Americans) are being killed in unacceptably large numbers. Apparently the current death rate - 600 Iraqi civilians a month, or 20 a day - is considered acceptable.

The new Pentagon report, a quarterly document required by Congress, reminds us of the grim realities that persist in President Bush's elective war. Amid the cascade of presidential campaign news, it was easy to miss this story, which surfaced in the press yesterday, before vanishing again. The bottom line conclusion:

The U.S. troop surge has tamped down the violence quite nicely. But the purpose of the surge was to create enough space for the central Iraqi government to successfully pursue political reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis, and thus lock in the gains achieved by the surge. And it turns out - I know this will come as a shock - that the central Irqai government has done virtually nothing. Which means that the gains achieved by the surge could be reversed at some future point - probably the point at which U.S. troop levels are reduced. If they are reduced, given the dangers of the fractious failed state that Bush and his war team have created.

The report found that the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has done nothing to reconcile the warring sects, passing no legislation; that it has made only "minimal advances" in delivering basic services to the people (a move long urged by the Bush administration, as a way to improve morale and ease tensions); that the central Parliament can barely muster enough lawmakers for its sessions; and that its security forces still can't operate on their own.

Regarding the latter, the report cites "deficiencies in logistics, combat support functions and...shortages of officers at all operational and tactical levels." Also: "The aggressive growth of police forces to meet present challenges . . . requires a mature, integrated recruiting, screening, training, equipping and basing system that does not fully exist." (Here was Bush, 11 months ago: "We will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces.")

The Pentagon report says that corruption and "sectarian bias" persists at all levels; in translation, services are still skewed to Shiites, at the expense of Sunnis. All told, the report concludes, "Although security gains, local accomodation and progress against the flow of freedom fighters and lethal aid into Iraq have had a substantial effect, more needs to be done to foster national, top-down reconcilation to sustain gains."

So the question is, what happens next spring, when the Bush war team has to decide whether to loosen its tourniquet? Presumably, the major presidential contenders - or, by then, the presumptive nominees - will need to weigh in on that. With an election looming, there's no way this war can stay under the radar.

So much for my vow of brevity.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The canny politics of "Merry Christmas"

As a political tactician, Mike Huckabee is one clever guy. His new TV ad – a video Christmas card extolling the birth of Jesus, complete with Christmas tree and Silent Night soundtrack and the candidate encased in a warm and fuzzy sweater – sets a precedent with its the deft fusing of Christianity and electioneering. Most importantly, the ad potentially helps Huckabee in a number of ways.

The text: “Are you about worn out of all the television commercials you’ve been seeing? Mostly about politics. I don’t blame you. At this time of year sometimes it’s nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends. I hope that you and your family have a magnificent Christmas season. And on behalf of all of us, God bless and Merry Christmas. I’m Mike Huckabee and I approve this message.”

First, it reminds the Christian conservative voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina that Huckabee is one of them, a rare candidate willing to put his faith front and center and say it loud and clear. And he’s timing it for the holiday season, when traditional campaign ads might strike many viewers as intrusive and inappropriate.

Second, it sounds like a purely apolitical appeal – how can anybody object to a guy who says “Merry Christmas?” – whereas in reality we should not forget that this is a politician who is taking money from his campaign kitty in order to say “Merry Christmas.” What he’s really saying is, “Vote for me, I’m with Jesus.”

Third, it’s a sly dig at rival Mitt Romney, who has been wearing out Iowans with all his television commercials. Huckabee can’t hope to match Romney’s expenditures, so he’s inviting “worn out” voters to summarily reject whatever Romney puts on the air – especially any and all attack ads that go after Huckabee’s record. He wants voters to ask themselves, “Why are these other candidates saying such mean things about the nice Christian man in the warm and fuzzy sweater?”

Fourth, it’s naturally the kind of ad that draws a lot of media attention. And, for Huckabee, media attention serves two purposes. He gets more bang for the buck, thanks to all the news coverage he doesn’t have to pay for. And every time the secular talking heads on TV assail his invocations of Christ, he looks like a hero to Christian conservatives who dislike the secular talking heads on TV.

All told, it’s an ad that well serves Huckabee’s short-term interests. More problematic is its broader implicit message, and what it potentially says about a Huckabee-led Republican party. It is not a message of inclusion.

George W. Bush’s faults notwithstanding, he and his handlers had repeatedly sought to reach out to non-Christians, particularly Muslims and Jews. Bush won the Muslim-American vote by a landslide in 2000. And the Bush team has spent most of this decade trying to woo more Jews to the GOP - with measurable success. In 2000, 19 percent of Jewish voters cast ballots for Bush; in 2004, 25 percent did so. The Bush people felt strongly about Israel, as a philosophical matter, but they also saw the pragmatic upside of their strategy. Jews comprise only four percent of the electorate, but they’re heavily concentrated in big states, including potential swing states such as Florida and Ohio.

But now we have Huckabee, a candidate who, in one ad, bills himself solely as a “Christian leader,” and, in the new ad, defines “this time of year” as being solely about “the celebration of the birth of Christ.” It’s my general understanding that a president is supposed to lead all Americans, regardless of faith (or lack thereof). And if my calendar is correct, “this time of year” also includes the celebration of Hannukkah, which ended only last Tuesday.

If Huckabee’s candidacy truly takes off (he's now virtually tied with Rudy Giuliani in a new national poll of GOP voters), it will be interesting to see how his megachurch message is received outside the Christian conservative community. Elections are won in the middle; the middle includes a lot of people who dislike overt religiosity on the stump, and a lot of people who don’t worship at all (regarding the latter, Huckabee was citing the Bible when he wrote in a 1998 book that such people “are more often than not immoral, impure, and improvident”). Put another way, inclusiveness wins elections.

But I suppose that Huckabee skeptics can console themselves with the thought that the new TV ad could have been worse. It could have ended with a portentous voiceover: “I’m Jesus Christ, and I approved this message.”


Any other thoughts that I had today (coherent or otherwise) were shared on the radio. I talked national politics on Philadelphia NPR this morning. It's archived here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why most endorsements don't mean squat

It's endorsement season, and you need a scorecard to sort out the enthusiasts. Curt Schilling is pitching for John McCain, Bonnie Raitt is singing for John Edwards, Magic Johnson is playing for Hillary Clinton, Oprah and Chris Rock and Ken Burns are vetting Barack Obama, Chuck Norris hearts Mike Huckabee, odd couple Robert Duvall and Pat Robertson dig Rudy Giuliani, the First Lady of Iowa is touring with Hillary, the Des Moines Register has blessed both Hillary and McCain, who in turn got the nod of the Boston Globe, which also came out for Obama...and this random sampling doesn't include all the lawmakers and religious leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina who are far less famous than journeyman actor Judge Reinhold, who has endorsed Bill Richardson.

The thing is, most endorsements don't mean squat.

Since voters have easy access to so much information about presidential candidates, they hardly need to be advised by a celebrity or a politician on how they should cast their ballots. Does it really matter, for instance, that ex-Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt has come out for Hillary? Not even Gephardt thinks so; as he remarked not long ago, "I'm a has-been politician, so I don't know that I can do anything more than bring my own vote, but maybe I can get my family to vote the right way."

Here are my other rules for this quadrennial ritual:

Even a prominent endorser can't save a flawed endorsee. Witness what happened four years ago. With the Iowa caucuses on the horizon, Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean. Shortly thereafter, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin endorsed Dean as well. The latter, in particular, was ballyhooed in the press as a major coup; as a Wall Street Journal reporter told NPR on Jan. 10, 2004, "(Harkin) has got a political organization that can help pull some of the voters out...This is a big boost for Dean as he moves toward the finish line." But in the end Harkin's imprimatur meant nothing. Iowa's Democrats judged Dean to be unelectable, and he never recovered.

Endorsers with baggage aren't necessarily much help to their endorsees. We'll have to wait and see whether renegade Democrat Joe Lieberman boosts John McCain in New Hampshire, but I'm skeptical. Lieberman, who endorsed McCain yesterday, is supposed to help McCain attract New Hampshire's independent voters; the problem is, Lieberman (like McCain) is a staunch war hawk on Iraq, and independents, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, have largely bailed on the war. Moreover, Lieberman is hardly an iconic figure in New Hampshire; lest we forget, as a 2004 presidential candidate he finished fifth in the Democratic primary, with nine percent of the vote. (He tried to spin the results by saying he was tied for third, but New Hampshire effectively finished him off.)

Endorsers who step on their own tongues wind up embarrassing their endorsees. Andrew Young, the former civil rights activist, congressman, and mayor of Atlanta, has chosen Hillary over Obama. But here's how he explained his reasoning: "Bill (Clinton) is every bit as black as Barack - he's probably gone with more black women than Barack." I bet the Clintons were thrilled with that one.

Endorsers who are presumed to be big shots can't necessarily deliver their own states. During the 2000 Republican primaries, Michigan GOP governor John Engler was supposed to deliver his state for his guy, George W. Bush. Engler reputedly had a lot of political clout on his home turf, and Michigan was therefore deemed to be a "firewall" for Bush. But after nine years in office, Engler's popularity had begun to wane, and Michigan voters were not inclined to follow his lead. Bush wound up losing the state to McCain, by eight percentage points. And Engler later wound up getting bounced from Bush's list of running mates. (As for Tom Harkin, in the aforementioned '04 Iowa caucuses, he was not universally popular among Democrats. I remember asking Don Hewitt, an Iowa farmer, whether Harkin's endorsement of Howard Dean had swayed him toward Dean. Hewitt's response: "I'd like to get Tom Harkin down here and kick his ass.")

Endorsers who can't even speak for their own organizations are probably of little value. Last week, Mike Huckabee, who wants conservative voters to believe that he too is sufficiently tough on illegal immigrants, announced that he had secured the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minutemen (the activist group that believes in sealing and policing the border). Gilchrist went to Iowa to deliver the requisite praise, and Huckabee said he was honored to have him. But now it turns out that Gilchrist was virtually acting alone, and that the internecine Minutemen movement (which has all kinds of independent offshoots and non-profit components) considers Huckabee to be "pro-amnesty," and therefore unworthy of consideration. Which means that Gilchrist's usefulness to Huckabee has already expired.

Endorsers without a ground game can't deliver any votes. For instance, McCain's top man in South Carolina is Senator Lindsay Graham, but he doesn't have the kind of grassroots organization that can pull voters to the ballot box in a GOP primary. Strom Thurmond used to have that kind of local pull, but he finally bowed to the dictates of mortality at age 100.

Yes, there are rare instances when endorsements can indeed matter - particularly if the timing and cirumstances are right. John Edwards may well have finished a strong second in the '04 Iowa caucuses because he won the late endorsement of the Des Moines Register. And in this campaign, despite my initial doubts, Barack Obama might benefit from Oprah's endorsement, because she has arrived at a time when he is already being viewed more favorably by black voters, and when he's preparing for the January contest in South Carolina -the first Democratic primary with a large black electorate, roughly 47 percent of the vote. More importantly, Oprah has crossover appeal to whites, and her presence underscores the current story line about Obama's surge in the Democratic race.

But these are exceptions. Who really cares that twice-failed GOP candidate Steve Forbes has endorsed Rudy? Or that New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez has endorsed Hillary? Or that Kevin Bacon is in Iowa for Edwards? Or that ex-Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey is boosting Hillary?

In fact, when Kerrey talks the way he did on Sunday, seemingly trying to flatter Hillary's rival, while nevertheless spreading the negative subliminal message of the far right - "I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim" - he's probably no help to Hillary. See rule number three, above.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Can't anybody here play this game?"

Given the latest pratfalls committed by some of the Republican presidential candidates, is it any wonder that Republican voters are generally turned off to the entire field? That more than half of the GOP electorate has an unfavorable opinion of each and every GOP hopeful?

For starters, consider Mitt Romney – who is viewed favorably by only 36 percent of his fellow Republicans. On Meet the Press yesterday, he provided us with a tour de force of his serial flip-flops on guns, abortion, immigration, gays, and Ronald Reagan. (If you’re wondering about the Reagan flip-flop, here’s what Romney said in 1994, while running for the Senate in Massachusetts: “I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan.” And here’s what he said last Friday: “The right way for America to proceed when we face the kind of challenges we face is to pursue the strategy which Ronald Reagan pursued when we faced the challenges of the last century.”)

Romney’s abortion flip-flops are well documented, of course. What fascinated me yesterday were his fumbling attempts to explain his convenient journey from pro-choice to pro-life. During the ’94 campaign, he explained his pro-choice stance this way (italics are mine): “Many, many years ago I had a dear close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that.”

Yet here was Romney yesterday, insisting to Tim Russert that he has always been a closet pro-lifer: “Well, you know, Tim, I was always personally opposed to abortion" -- which helps explain his current support for the Republican party platform, which calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortions nationwide.
Such an amendment, of course, would impose anti-abortion beliefs on those who disagree - precisely the opposite of what Romney pledged in 1994.

And when Russert asked yesterday whether he believed that life begins at conception, he revealed his true self. From the transcript:

“I do. I believe, I believe, from a, from a political perspective that life begins at conception. I, I don’t, I don’t pretend to know, if you will, from a theological standpoint when life begins.”

Wait...Did he just say that he believes life begins at conception “from a political perspective?” No wonder so many grassroots Republicans don’t trust this guy. They want somebody who hews to that belief for theological reasons – not somebody who goes on TV and admits to the entire nation that his stance on life is “political,” and therefore just an exigency of the campaign.

I sense that Romney is basically a moderate Republican (as his father was), and it’s embarrassing to watch his incessant attempts to retrofit his convictions, all the while claiming that he is doing no such thing. There’s a reason why his lead in Iowa has evaporated, despite his expenditure of $7 million; conservatives smell an opportunist.

(Worse yet, an opportunist who makes stuff up. At one point yesterday, he stated that, while running for governor in 2002, "I received the endorsement of the NRA." The factual reality is that he did not receive the endorsement of the NRA. The gun lobby didn't back anybody in that race.)

And here's a lesser-known tidbit from the Romney oeuvre, something that came up yesterday: He had declared in 1994 that, if elected senator, he would vote to enact the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a long-gestating bill aimed at banning job and housing bias against gay people nationwide. But that was then. Here’s what he told Russert yesterday: “I would not support (ENDA) at the federal level, and I changed in that regard because I think that policy makes more sense to be evaluated or to be implemented at the state level.” Suddenly, on the issue of banning anti-gay discrimination, he’s a state’s rights guy. Guess why.

Yet, with respect to one issue, Romney did manage yesterday to exude a sense of conviction: He thinks it’s wrong to strongly criticize “our president,” George W. Bush.

Unfortunately for Romney, that particular conviction will not click with about 70 percent of the American people. But he’s only thinking right now about the GOP electorate, most of whom still support the failed president, and he thinks this stance might help him recoup some of the ground he has lost in Iowa to Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee, the upstart, underfunded rival who has supplanted Romney as the Iowa frontrunner (and who, nonetheless, is viewed favorably by only 30 percent of the GOP electorate), wrote a piece for the January issue of the august Foreign Affairs magazine (or maybe a policy wonk wrote it for him, given Huckabee’s death of foreign policy knowledge), laying out the Huckabee vision for America’s role in the world. It contained this passage, which had Romney in high dudgeon all weekend:

“American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad.”

Romney first assailed Huckabee on Saturday, contending that this passage sounded like something a Democrat would say. (It’s actually something that anyone with a grasp of empirical reality would say, but never mind.) Then yesterday, he said: “That’s an insult to the president, and Mike Huckabee should apologize to the president…he went over the line.”

In response yesterday, Huckabee slam-dunked Romney: “There's no apology necessary to the president. I'm the one who actually supported the president's surge. I supported the Bush tax cuts when Mr. Romney didn't. I was with President Bush on gun control when Mitt Romney wasn't. I was with the president on the president's pro-life position when Mitt Romney wasn't. I was with the president on his position on same-sex relationships and marriage when Mitt Romney wasn't. I was with the president on the legacy of the president's dad and Ronald Reagan when Mitt Romney wasn't. So, you know, I don't have anything to apologize for. I'm running for president of the United States. I've got to show that I do have my own mind when it comes to how this country ought to lead, not only within its own borders but across the world.”

Huckabee is calculating that he can afford to take a shot at Bush’s foreign policy record, given the general mood of Republican discontent, and given his own support for Bush on so many other fronts. He’s calculating that GOP voters will applaud his promise to break with the past – in his words, “I do have my own mind” – and that’s why he has Mitt Romney on the run in Iowa. Because the perception persists that Romney’s mind is shaped by the pragmatics of the moment, and therefore is not his own.

And yet…just when it appears Huckabee might be the man of conviction that grassroots Republicans are yearning for, we get the news that he was once a wholly owned subsidiary of the tobacco industry.

It turns out that, while Huckabee was serving as lieutenant governor of Arkansas back in 1994, R. J. Reynolds helped finance a non-profit organization that paid Huckabee to crisscross the country and attack Hillary Clinton’s health care plan. The tobacco giant’s role was kept secret for years – Huckabee neglected to report this income on his ’94 state financial disclosure form – but now it’s all coming out. A former Huckabee political advisor – who doubled as a consultant to R. J. Reynolds – is talking openly about how the tobacco giant put money in Huckabee’s pocket, and the company has now confirmed it.

But here’s the good part: Huckabee claimed last Friday that he didn’t know he was taking big tobacco money while he was on the public payroll. His former advisor, J.J. Vigneault, reportedly has a big problem with that denial, particularly because Vigneault recalls that Huckabee met with R. J. Reynolds officials in his Little Rock apartment.

Vigneault is quoted as saying: “There’s no way he could not have known about the money from R. J. Reynolds. If he’s saying he didn’t know about the Reynolds money, he’s been less than truthful.”

And speaking of untruths, the whopper of the week (last week, anyway) was uttered by Rudy Giuliani, during the final Republican debate of 2007. Giuliani (who is viewed favorably by 41 percent of Republicans) promised that, if elected, he would run an open administration, just as he had as mayor: "I would make sure that government was transparent. My government in New York City was so transparent that they knew every single thing I did almost every time I did it. So I would be extremely open...I think I've had an open, transparent government."

Those statements contradict factual reality. In truth, Rudy was the opposite of transparent. When independent budget watchdogs - seeking to their job, as outlined in the city charter - tried to audit the fiscal practices of his administration, Rudy's stonewalling on data was so endemic that the City Council had to set aside money for the specific purpose of suing him. Later, when the state comptroller tried to do routine audits of city performance, Rudy stonewalled him, too - which prompted the comptroller to issue multiple subpoenas for information, all of which Rudy simply ignored. The comptroller finally sued Rudy for the data; the case dragged on for two years, with Rudy stonewalling all the way. In the end, Rudy lost when the state's highest court ruled against him.

Flip-flopping panderers, faith-based trimmers of truth, outright wonder the Republican electorate is so restive. As Casey Stengel once said, while describing his 1962 New York Mets, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”