The Ugliest Negative Ad of the Political Cycle…Is Against Jonathan Miller?!?!

This shocking negative campaign ad was recently posted on YouTube by a shadowy political campaign finance group, likely funded by billionaires who desperately want The Recovering Politician, Jonathan Miller, to lose Dancing with the Lexington Stars:

If you despise this type of campaigning please vote for Jonathan Miller here to win Dancing with the Lexington Stars. Each vote costs $5 and benefits the extraordinary work of Surgery on Sunday and the Lexington Rotary Club Endowment Fund.

Of course, if you agree with the message of the ad, then please go here and vote for anybody but Jonathan Miller.  Every $5 contribution helps some truly needy and deserving people in our community.

Please Vote for Me — on Dancing with the Stars

Dancing with the Stars 2I never thought I’d say this again, but…I’d like to ask for your vote.

Don’t worry: I haven’t fallen off the recovering politician wagon.

Lisa and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary by competing in Lexington’s version of Dancing with the Stars (sponsored by our local Rotary Club).  And despite my two left liberal feet, with the awesome instruction of Arthur Murray dance teacher Rae Dunn, and the continued fitness direction of globally-recognized personal trainer Josh Bowen, we’re actually getting in pretty good shape for the competition on May 10.

But I need your help.

(Sorry for that last sentence.  My fundraising letter-writing muscle is to blame)

Your vote matters. and it is easy, affordable and for a great cause.  Click here and scroll down the left side of the page to my picture, enter the number of votes you want to cast (at $5 per vote), and click the button at the bottom of the page to “pay now and vote.”

Your $5 contribution will go straight to benefit an incredible local program: Surgery on Sunday, as well as to the Lexington Rotary Club Endowment Fund, which supports more than 15 local community initiatives and charitable endeavors including the Carnegie Center of Literacy and Learning, Central Kentucky Radio Eye, Saint James Place, Explorium of Lexington, The Friends of the Arboretum, God’s Pantry Food Bank,  International Book Project, Ronald McDonald House, Salvation Army, Mustang Troop, OWL-Opportunity for Work and Learning, Toyota Bluegrass Miracle League, World Fit and the YMCA of Central Kentucky Back to School Rallies.

So please click here, vote for me early and often (just $5 a vote!!!), and I promise not to run any negative campaign ads against my opponents.  (Of course, if independent groups and 527s join the fray, I can’t do anything about that.)

In Defense of Kentucky Basketball

Aaron Harrison Shot WisconsinFor a few laughs on this official day of mourning in Big Blue Nation, be sure to check out my tweet recaps from the tourney games: Connecticut, Wisconsin, Michigan, Louisville.

An unwelcome and unfamiliar deep blue fog envelops the Bluegrass State this morning. In grocery stores and city parks and shopping malls, neighbors who months before felt nothing in common are now greeting each other with sad, knowing nods, exhausted shrugs, and wane, funereal “just wait ’til next year” salutations.

For after one of the most thrilling three weeks of cardiac-inducing, last-second-thrilling, and yes, community-building hardcourt theatre, the University of Kentucky Wildcats’ unexpected NCAA basketball tournament run came to a sudden and heartbreaking end at the hands of the newly-crowned national champion UConn Huskies.

And yet, while the Big Blue Nation mourns, much of the nation’s chattering class is leaping in giddy celebration. Kentucky basketball embodies to them everything that is wrong with the game, indeed with college sport as a whole. The focus of special ire is head coach John Calipari, for his diabolical exploitation of the NBA’s controversial “one and done” rule that permits pro teams to draft 19 year olds who are at least a year out of high school. As the Cats’ NBA-focused, all-freshman starting squad marches through March Madness — squashing upperclassmen-dominated rivals like Wisconsin, Michigan, and previously-undefeated underdog Wichita State — the righteous guardians of the Athenian ideal of amateur student athletics loudly decry the vulgar capitalist reality…in the form of a collection of mostly African-American teenagers representing one of the nation’s poorest states.

No doubt, many gripes with college hoops are quite legitimate. From its economic exploitation of teenage athletes, to the shady shoe contracts secured by its plutocratic coaches, to the blatantly unfair and hypocritical NCAA governance regime – big-time, big-money college roundball leaves many the casual fan with a guilty hangover after the last shimmy of the Big Dance in April. There also lies another, more intimate truth: Since middle school, much of my kind — the jump shot-challenged intelligentsia, that is — have scoffed at the popularity, coddling, and public financing of the jock culture. College is our sacred realm — for academics, scholarship and research, not professional sports-grooming.

But in rooting against the team that has mastered the flawed system, the critics are missing a greater truth: The keys to fixing the sport’s soul can be found precisely in the qualities that make Kentucky basketball so special. For while cerebral baseball and primal football continue to be heralded as our national pastimes; college basketball, particularly here in the heartland, really does matter.

hoosiersAt its core, basketball is the most populist and egalitarian of major sports. Its character derives in part from its tiny barriers to entry—all you need is a ball and a hoop to practice alone, and a bona fide game can be played with just a pal or a small group of friends. While its complex choreography and mosaic interpersonal psychodynamics are often underestimated, basketball is the simplest game to understand and appreciate. Ball goes into basket; your team scores. A contest’s time is precise and limited; its court dimensions, clear and uniform: As Gene Hackman famously proved in Hoosiers, the rim is always exactly ten feet from the ground whether at an urban playground or in a professional arena.

Basketball is also the ultimate spectator sport. Unlike radio-friendly baseball or HDTV-enhanced football, hoops are best enjoyed in person. With much, much less downtime than the Big Two, basketball games are filled with relentless exhibitions of artistry in action—colorful feats of intensely-rehearsed talent and gravity-defying acrobatics, while the participants remain in near constant motion. Because the vertical plane is regularly pierced, only basketball can provide those rare, sublime moments of transcendental grace. The courtside crowd isn’t distracted by the weather, organ player, food, bands, or tailgating: Until the final buzzer sounds, the game itself is the only thing that matters.

Whether in a high school gym or a professional arena, the game is played indoors, the fans on top of the action, literally involved in the hum and flow of the game, the most intimate among the major sports. In a game in which improvised and instinctual play is the norm, where fatigue and self-confidence are critical to performance, an enlivened and vocal crowd can provide enormous emotional and psychological comfort to the home squad, or can harass and dispirit the visitors. A home crowd—particularly at the college or high school level—becomes, for a few hours at least, a cohesive, interdependent community: Fans who might disagree sharply on matters of politics, religion, lifestyle, or just about any topic, join voices in passionate advocacy of their squad, or, almost as often, in intense criticism of the referees. It’s no coincidence that in many rural communities, most community-building events—graduation ceremonies, formal dances, citizen forums—take place in the high school gym.

The_Book_of_Basketball_The_NBA_According_to_The_Sports_Guy-124170323458261Indeed, a potent communitarian strand of populism—in contrast with the “me first” Tea Party variety—is modeled in the game itself. Bill Simmons’ bestseller, The Book of Basketball, reads in places like a Michael Sandel philosophy lecture or a 1968 Bobby Kennedy campaign speech: “The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball…Teams only win titles when their best players forget about statistics, sublimate their own games for the greater good and put their egos on hold.” And the greatest of the greats — Jordan, Magic, Bird — only earned their iconic status after they learned to surrender their own self-interest (high scoring averages) for the common good (winning championships), a noteworthy lesson in unselfishness and the Golden Rule for the boys, girls, and grownups who consider these hardwood heroes role models.

There’s been no better example of this phenomenon than this year’s Kentucky Wildcat squad. Heralded last year as the best recruiting class in the history of college basketball, the freshmen-dominated Wildcat team suffered through a disappointing regular season — falling from number one in the preseason polls to out of the top 25 by season’s end. Undeniably, these teenage phenoms were extraordinarily talented individual ballers, but they simply weren’t gelling as a cohesive unit. It wasn’t until postseason that they learned to overcome their stereotypically-Millenneal narcissism and played selfless ball. And as a result, they emerged as one of the most beloved teams in the long, long lore of the blue and white tradition.

It’s no wonder then why college hoops have made such a remarkable and substantive impact on education at the University of Kentucky. The administration understands that many Kentucky families — especially those in the most remote, economically-depressed areas of the state — dream of sending their kids to UK, and it has leveraged roundball prowess to help market and fund all of its major academic initiatives and capital campaigns, including its ambitious long-term effort to transform the school into a Top 20 public research university. And while it’s an unusual, although not a unique, collegiate example, UK basketball not only sustains itself financially; but along with football, its profits help enable the athletic department — with 20 other sports teams–to pay for itself, plus provide millions of dollars to the school for non-athletic scholarships

freeenes1There’s also been perhaps no force more powerful for religious and racial fence-mending, at least here in the South. A few years ago, the hoops-mad University of Kentucky’s cause celebre was Enes Kanter, a recruit who was blocked permanently from college ball by the NCAA, citing his acceptance of payment in a professional league in his home country of Turkey. A “Free Enes” campaign grew organically from the grassroots, uniting the overwhelmingly Christian state behind a Muslim — not mind you, a more familiar American convert such as Louisville’s Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, but an honest-to-goodness, olive-skinned, Middle-Eastern Muslim. Imagine the impact Kanter could have made on religious tolerance had he been allowed to play and lead the Wildcats to another national title.

Perhaps more poignantly, just a half century since UK’s all-white “Rupp’s Runts” lost the national championship to Texas Western’s history-making all-black starting lineup — the whitest of all southern states has fallen in love with a series of mostly “one and done” teams composed almost entirely of African-American teenagers, and reveled in their soul swagger and hip-hop sentimentality.

From this egalitarian spirit comes the reform necessary to rebuild the sport’s integrity. Most legitimate complaints about the sport revolve around the same principle that animates our current national debate about income inequality: The 1% (NCAA, elite coaches, broadcast networks, and advertisers) are acquiring obscene wealth at the expense of the 99% (the student athletes) who don’t earn a dime. Even under the NCAA’s rosiest recent projections, more than a third of college basketball players, the vast majority of whom will never gasp a whiff of professional riches, don’t graduate, and many that do fail to develop any meaningful job skills, or even middle school level reading skills.

If we can simply apply a dash of the same communitarian principles found in the sport itself to the policy deliberations of the sport’s governing bodies, we can enhance the people’s sport by ensuring that we provide sufficient economic opportunity to the young men who bring the rest of us such enjoyment.

One core flaw is the ludicrous and pernicious assumption that every “scholar-athlete” has the preparation, the aptitude — or even the need — to earn a four-year, liberal arts bachelor’s degree. For decades, outside of sport, policymakers have been encouraging youth from lower income environments and underachieving high schools (a common background for many a collegiate hoopster) to enroll in two-year vocational and technical colleges, where they can be empowered with the skills they need for the 21st century job market. That’s why it is incumbent on the NCAA and its member schools to direct athletes, when appropriate, to focus their academic attention on job skill and technical programs that interest them, prepare them for postgraduate life, and enable them to earn associates degrees at the university, or through an affiliated community college or vo-tech program. Similarly, while the vociferous criticism of “one and done” is overblown (It worked well for Bill Gates after all), the NBA and its players’ union should effectuate a new “two and done” system, which will enable each player to earn sufficient credit to graduate with at least an associates’ degree.

 (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Further, while full compensation of athletes is both unmanageable and fiscally infeasible among already-financially strapped institutions, I suggest that athletes be paid an hourly living wage—the same for each player on scholarship; adjusted slightly among universities by local standards of living—that would provide athletes with some (but not too much) walking around money for the occasional restaurant jaunt or shopping spree (maybe they could finally afford their own replica jersey at the campus book store), as well as the exceptional luxury of flying their parents in for special games. Let some of the funding come from the schools’ much-criticized shoe contracts so that players don’t continue to serve as unpaid jumping billboards for their product.

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball to hold a mirror to itself, and apply what is so right about the sport to fix what is so wrong about the institution. By working towards a system that reflects the same principles that are taught on the court and imitated by the fan base — equality, selflessness, and community — college basketball can truly take its rightful position as an American pasttime that truly reflects American values. And the talented band of teenagers that led Kentucky to the precipice of its ninth national championship can be held up as role models for the nation.

The National Championship Game — A Recap in Tweets

college-basketball

UK vs. Wisconsin, A Tweet Recap (SPOILER ALERT: Bad jokes ahead)

The biggest shot taken in Dallas since Kristen winged J.R.

The biggest shot taken in Dallas since Kristen winged J.R.

 

Best Speech of the 20th Century? RFK or Blutarsky?

rfkbelushi

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, on the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., I wrote this piece at The Daily Beast declaring Robert Kennedy’s eulogy to King as the greatest speech of the 20th century.

A loyal reader, the obscenely youthful looking media personality/stand-up comic/right-wing-nut-job Lee Cruse disagreed:

Cruse makes a point: John “Bluto” Blutarsky’s most famous line:

What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!…

is certainly more quotable than RFK’s exegesis on Greek poet Aeschylus:

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

But it is only fair to compare the speeches as a whole.  So, in the spirit of a fair competition, I post the videos of both orations and ask the RP Nation to decide.  Is either the greatest speech of the 20th Century?  Or does another surpass it?  King’s “I Have a Dream”? Reagan’s “Tear Down that Wall”?  Carl Spackler’s “It’s in the hole!”?

Let us know in the comments below:

RFK and the Healing Power of Improvisation

In my latest column for The Daily Beast, I discuss what I believe was the greatest speech of the 20th Century.  Here’s an excerpt:

rfkmlkAmerica is the story of improvisation.

From the ad hoc debates that framed our founding documents, to the native jazz syncopations that power our cultural soundtrack, to the deeply American notion that we all deserve second chances – our national fabric is woven together by motley patches of spontaneous innovation, creativity and reinvention.

It’s no wonder that we cherish the myth that our history’s greatest oration was scribbled furiously on the back of an envelope during a train ride to a Pennsylvania battlefield.

But while Lincoln’s words were more planned and deliberate, the most significant speech of the 20th century was indeed improvised, a spontaneous burst of prose and poetry in the immediate wake of national tragedy. And much as the Gettysburg Address forever redefined the Founders’ promise that “all men are created equal,” Bobby Kennedy’s extemporaneous eulogy to Martin Luther King, Jr. — delivered 46 years ago today — can offer a path toward a more just, compassionate second act for our country.

===

It was the evening of April 4, 1968, and a bitter, black nightfall had descended on one of our nation’s grayest days.

Rejecting the impassioned urging of local officials who feared imminent violence, Senator Robert F. Kennedy ascended the back of a flatbed truck in a vacant lot, surrounded by dilapidated public housing units, in the heart of the Indianapolis ghetto. Hair tussled, wearing the old overcoat of his fallen brother, Bobby stepped up to a single microphone before a growingly angry African-American audience that had waited hours in the freezing cold to confirm what many had already heard: that Martin Luther King, Jr. — their Voice — had been permanently silenced.  And without notes, speaking directly from his heart, a heart that ached from an unimaginable half-decade of grief — grief for a brother, for a comrade-in-peace, for a nation in turmoil — Robert Kennedy improvised the speech of his life.

Click here to read “RFK and the Healing Power of Improvisation.”

And watch RFK’s moving oratory below:

The UK/Michigan Insta-Classic — A Recap in Tweets

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A Twitter Summary of One-Liners from the UK/UL Dream Game

Is Mitch McConnell Trying to Lose?

Is Mitch McConnell the real-life version of Bulworth?  Here’s an excerpt from my piece from yesterday’s The Daily Beast:

mcconnellMitch McConnell has thereby found himself in an unprecedented situation — the master politician is running an embarrassment of a campaign.  And there is little that is tougher to survive politically than become a laughingstock, particularly with 24/7 cable news and social media replaying your humiliations on a virtual endless loop.

Veteran Kentucky political observers are shaking their heads at McConnell’s sudden loss of political mastery.  Some blame his lack of traction on the high level of difficulty of running his traditionally scorched earth strategy against a young female opponent — early sexualized GOP attacks on Grimes as an “empty dress” and an “Obama girl” backfired and perhaps have led to a heightened defensiveness from the McConnell camp and a more desperate effort to reach outside of their comfort zone into, yikes, positive advocacy.

Others blame the campaign leadership, specifically campaign manager Jesse Benton, a Ron and Rand Paul confidante and family member.  The manager’s hiring was seen as a bold strategic move by McConnell to blunt Tea Party primary opposition; but after a recording emerged of Benton claiming that he was “holding my nose” while he worked for the establishment icon — and then after McConnell’s refusal to fire or even discipline Benton for his insubordination — it appeared that the powerful Senate leader was being held captive by insurgent forces that lack the professionalism and experience to run a top-tier Senate campaign .  And perhaps some of the campaign’s mistakes over the past month might be attributed to a manager whose head and heart aren’t really in the race.

But my theory involves none of the above.  I believe that Mitch McConnell is having a Bulworth moment.  Just like the suicidally disillusioned title character of the 1990s Warren Beatty feature, Kentucky’s senior senator has simply had enough of Washington.  Why, after all, would anyone want to return to the polarization, the hyper-partisanship, the paralysis that has engulfed the nation’s capital?  And with some sense of responsibility for helping create that status quo, I believe McConnell now desires to leave on his own terms — smirking on camera, sticking it to the liberal media, and poking the eye of absurd traditions such as our undeserved ardor for a bunch of teenagers running up and down a hardwood floor.

Click here to read “Is Mitch McConnell Trying to Lose?

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