Friday
May222015

So far at POLITICO

1. Jeb Bush and the Terri Schiavo case:

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”

Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

Keep reading.

2. From Silao, Mexico, Jeb Bush's forgotten father-in-law.

3. Jeb's Talk Radio Problem: As the country’s gotten more complicated, their public relationship has gotten more complicated, too. The crux of the split is a function of their fundamentally at-odds views about immigration—of the very notion, actually, of America’s changing demographics. They both think this country is “exceptional,” but for divergent reasons—Limbaugh extolling “a distinct, singular American culture,” Bush embracing its increasingly multiracial, multi-ethnic makeup. They both moved to South Florida, but to very different parts, and for very different reasons. Bush moved to Miami because he has a Mexican wife and three brown-skinned children. Limbaugh moved to Palm Beach because he’s rich.

4. The Long, Hot Summer Hillary Became a Politician:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Her husband, the governor, had made her the chair of a committee charged with the critical task of proposing more stringent standards for education in their state. “It is indeed an honor for me to have the opportunity to work with you,” she wrote in a letter to the 15 members of the group in late April 1983. She told them they had a chance “to make recommendations that will enable our public schools to offer improved educational opportunities for all our children.” Somebody had typed up a rough draft. The name at the bottom was Hillary Clinton — but she added a correction, in pen, inserting between the two names a third. Rodham.

If the interminable central question about the most-pulled-apart, most-argued-about, most-listened-to, most famous woman in the world has to do with who she actually, authentically is, and if her just-announced campaign needs to be the latest effort to “reintroduce” her, as insiders and advisers have said, it’s worth assessing the busy year here that in many ways introduced her in the first place.

For Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Arkansas education reform of 1983 was her first high-profile public policy initiative. It was a singular, pivotal window of time, too, between who she had been and who she hoped she would be. According to those who knew her and worked with her, it shows who she is because it shows who she was, before Whitewater, before Gennifer and Monica, before the health care crash-and-burn and the constant scandal smolder in Washington.

She was more open and more accessible. She was demanding, exacting and exhausting. And she was policy-first but politically astute, pragmatic, even calculating.

It worked.

“She can’t run for president because of what she did in Arkansas in 1983,” veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said. “But what she did in Arkansas in 1983 has to be a kind of a template.”

HRC, pre-“re.”

Keep reading.

5. The 'everyday people' who made Hillary Clinton's burrito bowl:

MAUMEE, Ohio — The 25-year-old who cooked the chicken that went into the burrito bowl Hillary Clinton ordered at the Chipotle here on Monday makes $8.20 an hour and splits rent with two roommates.

The 29-year-old general manager used to work three jobs and now is thrilled to be able to have just this one.

The young woman who was at the cash register was the only employee on duty at the time who thought she recognized her. She considered asking if anybody had ever told her she “looked like Hillary Clinton.” But she didn’t. It was 1:20 p.m., at the tail end of “peak time,” lunch rush.

They were busy.

Keep reading.

6. From Portsmouth, N.H., the woman who made Hillary Clinton cry.

7. From Dover, N.H., the people trying to convince people to try to convince Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

8. The life and untimely death of Warren Weinstein.

9. On where Mike Huckabee made his announcement: A place where Caddo Indians once lived in small groups on the banks of the Red River before Manifest Destiny and epidemic disease; a place where titanic watermelons long have grown in the sandy soil with its shallow roots; a place where the largest source of jobs is a Tyson chicken plant; a place where some of the commerce sucked from downtown by the completion in the 1970s of Interstate 30 has returned in the form of Clinton baubles and novelties hawked and displayed at the house where he was born, and the house where he then moved, and the old train depot that’s been turned into a museum, all of them stops on what the state sells as a “Billgrimage.” Hope.

10. The Year That Changed Jeb Bush Forever: What if the headmaster hadn’t created a committee to rejigger the curriculum? What if Lyons and Frederick hadn’t created Man and Society? What if Bush hadn’t re-done the ninth grade, and he had graduated from Andover in 1970, not 1971? What would he have become?

Friday
May222015

What changed Jeb Bush forever

Today's POLITICO Magagazine Friday Cover:

He was born in Midland, Texas, and he spent a good bit of his boyhood in Houston, and he went to high school in Andover, Massachusetts, and to college in Austin, Texas, and he has lived for the last three and a half decades in Miami. But at the top of the list of the most important places in the world in the life of Jeb Bush is the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, and its conservative, old-world Catholic capital of León.

León is why he proposed marriage in Spanish, why his three children are Mexican-American, why his favorite foods are enchiladas and chilaquiles — why he is not a Protestant like the rest of his pedigreed New England family.

Jeb Bush’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas; his youthful tour as a banker in Venezuela; his decision to live in bilingual, bicultural South Florida; his lucrative business partnership with a Cuban-American real estate developer; his stubborn insistence on a doors-open immigration policy in a Republican Party that has moved away from it; even the portrait of the patron saint of Mexico that hung in the mansion in Tallahassee when he was the governor of Florida — so much of it can be traced back to León.

“My life really began in earnest when I was 17 years old in León, Mexico,” Bush, the third member of his family to seek the American presidency, said this week in a packed living room in Bedford, New Hampshire.

In 1971, he met Columba Garnica de Gallo, the petite local girl who would become his wife, in the city’s central plaza on a Sunday afternoon, toward the end of a two-month study-abroad program in the middle of his senior year at Phillips Academy, commonly referred to as Andover. He has described the moment as “knock-down,” “knocked me out” love at first sight; earlier this month in Dubuque, Iowa, he called it “a lightning strike.”

But like all creation myths, Bush’s Mexico love story is more complicated than his stump-speech account: What changed him forever was an Andover story, too, about a privileged, tradition-bound place upended by the tumult of the 1960s, leading to a course different from any other Andover had ever offered, an experiment that exposed Bush and a small group of carefully selected classmates to a set of ideas and experiences that were contemporary, progressive and even radical. This was no mere academic reading list; it was an exercise in remaking young men, forcing them to endure physical stunts that seem in retrospect shocking, almost negligent — so stressful and unsettling many in the group later would liken the ordeal to Lord of the Flies. The man who would go on to become the self-described “most conservative governor in Florida’s history” had his life transformed by an edgy, leftist class.

It was called Man and Society.

Keep reading.

Tuesday
May192015

The Press Effect

Today's Hillary Clinton thing in Iowa made me think of something I read not long ago in a book I bought in Arkansas:

Even if a politician's performance accurately represents reality, it remains a performance and thus in some sense artificial. ... The idea of performance assumes an audience. In politics there are two relevant audiences. The larger is, of course, the voting public. The other — the press — is both an audience and a participant in the performance.

The shouting happened all at once.

Thursday
May142015

Joe Kovac Jr. on Sheriff Howard Sills

My favorite paragraph:

Cue the kooks, the great unhelpful, the psychics and busybodies who can’t resist injecting their cluelessness into the fray when tragic intrigue, no matter how remote the locale, achieves escape velocity via satellite truck.

Read it all.

Tuesday
May052015

Stephen Curry: MVP of the NBA

We've been watching. I've been writing.

November 2007: What he is, for Davidson, at Davidson, is the son of arguably the most beloved basketball player in the history of the city of Charlotte. What that means, according to Jim Murphy, the athletic director, is this: "Everybody that liked Dell now likes Steph. Which is a lot of people." Which gets back to the premise at the start of this story. Stephen Curry could be the Davidson basketball program's most important player ever.

March 2008: He was all of this waiting to happen.

November 2008: Not long ago, Stephen told me he had noticed some of the freshmen, at least earlier this fall, taking pictures of him with their cell phones. Weird, he thought. I asked him what he does when those kinds of things happen on campus.

His answer?

He introduces himself.

December 2008: We had a shot.

January 2009: But what I like about this idea here is that it at least starts to demystify. It doesn’t stop at the notion of some nature-and-nurture tonic that makes Stephen able in some extra-special way to do what he does. No.

The suggestion here is that perhaps a gift can be what’s not there.

That it’s up to us how we choose to respond.

March 2009: When the buzzer sounded, the TV cameras, I’d imagine, did something they haven’t done in a while. They shifted away from Stephen Curry. Charleston was jumping and hollering and TV cameras love winners.

So there was a moment there, perhaps, however small, when Stephen was, for the first time in quite some time, relatively unwatched.

He walked over to the bench. He stood at the rear of the line of his teammates as they started to walk up the sideline to shake the hands of their opponents. He looked down for not long and then looked back up. He seemed to take a deep breath.

And then he did what he’s always done. He tapped his chest, quick, with his right hand, and he pointed up high.

He turns 21 on Saturday.

May 2009: The Stephen story at this point looks to me like a three-act play.

Act 1, his freshman year, was an eye-opening introduction, innocent and giddy, a communal what … have … we … here.

Act 2, his sophomore year, was a steady drumbeat, a season-long sense that something special, really special, could happen here, and then it did—ten days that changed everything, Stephen's life, the life of the program, the wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament, and that shot that came this close to sending to the Final Four a bookish college of 1,700 students. It's hard, if you're a Davidson person, to talk about March 2008 without sounding hokey or melodramatic, but it was, for those who know the school, and love the place, a rare, rare moment, watched by so many wide, wet eyes.

Then … Act 3. Stephen's junior year was always going to be a question: can it happen again? And the answer to that question in the end was …

No. Of course not.

How could it?

June 2009: People were surprised when he did what he did as a freshman. People were surprised when he did what he did as a sophomore. People were surprised when he did what he did as a junior.

When will people stop being surprised?

October 2009: People who know Stephen as a shooter and a scorer aren’t wrong. They’re just not totally right.

Last night was only the first exhibition game, and I didn’t watch it -- Could you? Was it on? Anywhere? -- but reading some of the brief coverage, and looking at the stats, I can’t help but think that it’s the start of an introduction to a much wider audience to the fact that that’s not all he does. Because I think there’s a sense with some fans out there that at Davidson he was more than anything else a one-dimensional ball-hog beneficiary of one of the greenest green lights in the history of the sport. Nope. Sorry. Just not true.

Fall 2013: At the Garden in New York, and on the screens in the bus, Curry picked up a loose ball and raced up the court, braking at the top of the key, preparing to let the ball go from behind the three-point line, and that building sounded the way it sounded when he and Davidson had played there back in 2008—the anticipatory, expectant buzz, the briefest held breath, then the whoosh of aaaaaaaaaaah, open mouths, hands on heads. Stephen of Davidson had his 47th, 48th and 49th points of the game, on his way to 54, joining names like LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain while representing others. Cohen and Brooks. Sander and Kosmalski and Harwood. Alpert and Williams. Zimmerman and Matheny. McKillop.

“He is in a zone, right now,” the announcer said, “all by himself!”

Everybody on the rollicking bus on I-85 knew that wasn’t true.

March 2015: “Watch him,” a father said to his son. “Just watch him.”

Tuesday
May052015

How to Write (a Thesis)

Something I underlined in a book I picked up at Literati in Ann Arbor on my way back to the airport in Detroit after going to the Maumee Chipotle:

... remember this fundamental principle: the more you narrow the field, the better and more safely you will work. Always prefer a monograph to a survey. It is better for your thesis to resemble an essay than a complete history or an encyclopedia.

Tuesday
May052015

Bill Clinton in Hope

On July 23, 1993, talking to reporters in front of Jack Still's Watermelon Stand — and maybe my favorite thing I read in my reporting for yesterday's piece:

1. "... he said, 'I told you you were grabbing hold of a big hog by the tail.' He said, 'The problem with grabbing hold of a big hog by the tail is a hog's tail gets smaller and smaller and smaller. You just can't let one start to get away from you.'"

"What does that mean?"

"It means hold tight, I think."

2. "Now, in August, when they start having the contest for the biggest melon, they're really not much. They don't taste very good after they get about 65 pounds or bigger than that, they've got so much water in them. But you can almost literally watch them grow. I mean, they get up to 250, 60, 70 pounds. And you just have to keep pouring water—and they grow in real sandy soil—and pour water in them. The stalk is there, and it just sucks the water out of the ground, literally, like a vacuum cleaner."

3. "... it's been dry. We may not get many big melons this year. A lot of it is the seeds and the sand, the seeds and the soil and just proper care. It's really interesting to watch them get into the contest the last week or two because if the skin splits at all, if there's the tiniest rend in the fabric of the skin, then the melon is disqualified from the contest. It doesn't matter how much it weighs. It has to have a uniformly smooth skin, and yet the water is just bursting at it, you know. So they get down—it's really scientific—you thump it, you just have to have a—you have to know when to quit. General rule of life."

Tuesday
May052015

Mike Huckabee on things changing

The passage in God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy I mentioned in yesterday's quickie:

I was eleven years old before I ever heard the term "homosexual." I had no idea what it meant. There were no shows on TV like Modern Family or Glee, and it would be decades before movies like Brokeback Mountain became mainstream. Here's how it happened: As a member of a Boy Scout troop in my hometown of Hope, Arkansas, I heard rumors about the troop's Scoutmaster and his very odd practice of inviting boys from the troop, one at a time, over to his house to work on merit badges. One of my more worldly fellow Scouts bluntly said that the Scoutmaster was "queer." I had never heard the term applied to anyone and asked what it meant.

The answer he gave was way too descriptive and blunt for this book. I didn't believe at all what he told me, so that night I asked my dad what it meant. I'll never forget how my dad fumbled around  with a look of absolute panic  and then said that the term applied to someone who was homosexual. That was another term I'd never heard, so when I asked what that meant, he stumbled for a few moments before simply saying, "It's a man who loves another man."

That seemed really bizarre. It was so far from any concept I could imagine at that age that I hardly reacted at all. I couldn't even visualize how that might be lived out, so I said, "Okay," and went on my merry way. After the Scoutmaster was confronted about his extracurricular "work" with some of the Scouts in my troop, he was forced to resign and "go off and get some help." He was from a wealthy and influential family; there was no publicity and no criminal charges filed. After spending a few weeks "in the hospital," he came back and continued to live in our little community. People talked, but the boys he molested  a fairly sizable number  never went public, and he never had to register as a sex offender because in those days, the term didn't exist and no one would have known what it meant. (Even today, that's often unclear, but in this case it definitely would have meant child molester/pedophile.) To be clear, I am not equating all gay men with pedophiles; I'm just relating how this particular person was my introduction to the then-unfathomable concept of same-sex attraction. As I got into my teenage years, I would hear more about homosexuality, but it was far from mainstream and certainly wasn't openly promoted in the culture.

Things have changed.