The Lion Sleeps Tonight

At some point when I was a young boy, I learned that Bobby Kennedy and I had shared the same birthday. This was in the early 1970’s, when I was about 11 or 12 years old. At that point I really had no idea who he was, or that he had an older brother who had been an American President who had also been assassinated.

I actually do have a childhood memory of the 1968 U.S. Presidential election. I have a memory of living on American Street in South Philly, and most of the families that lived around us rooting for the Democratic Party candidate, Hubert H. Humphrey, to win the election against Republican Party candidate Richard M. Nixon.

While I didn’t understand politics on any level, I sensed a strong ‘vibe’ from the adults both in my own family and my friends’ families that this was a big deal. It was important in some way. It mattered. And since my people were rooting for Humphrey, well then, so was little soon-to-be 7 years old Matt Veasey.

As history tells us, Humphrey lost. I actually remember having the feeling for the first time in my young life of disappointment. I had no clue how all of the people around me could possibly be rooting for someone and expecting them to win, and then having that person lose. It just did not compute in my young mind, and I was disheartened.

Of course, as I said, I was about to turn 7 years old in just a few weeks. Between my birthday coming up, then Christmas, and the early months of 2nd grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel catholic school with the gorgeous Ms. Sarah Hillock as my teacher, there was plenty to distract me in short order and take my attention away from a silly election.

Despite having that impression of the 1968 election, I have no first-hand memory of the vital national events that had happened earlier that same year with first the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and then of Robert Kennedy. It was only by somehow randomly stumbling upon the fact of our shared birthday a few years later that I began my own infatuation with the Kennedy’s that would last for decades.

I began by going to my local library, and taking out and reading a book on RFK’s life. I honestly don’t recall which book it was, just that the impression left on my pre-teen mind was that it was a substantial book, a ‘hardcover’, which I had not read many of to that point, with lots of pages and pictures.

That book was also the likely beginning of a love affair that continues to this day, one that I have with non-fiction books, especially histories and biographies. I read and learned about both Bobby and his life and assassination, but also about his brother John, who had actually been President, and John’s own assassination

This initial reading of the Kennedy brothers led me to become interested and pursue reading about JFK, Jackie, and ‘Camelot’, the nickname given to his brief Presidential term. Much of what I read made heroes of the two men, and I took on a popular belief of the times that JFK had been the victim of a conspiracy. No way could a single gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, have pulled off the murder alone.

All of this pursuit of knowledge about the lives of JFK, RFK and their families and times came over the course of my later grade school years and through my high school years. I had also, of course, learned that they had a younger brother, Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy who had followed his brother’s paths into politics.

In November of 1979 I turned 18 years old, and so the following spring, in May of 1980, for the first time ever was allowed to vote in a Presidential election. I was a Democratic Party loyalist and socially liberal idealist in those days, and so I was registered with and would be voting in the primary for the Democratic Party candidate.

The leading candidate for the Democratic nomination was the current President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. A peanut farmer and former Governor of Georgia, Carter had a largely disappointing first term, and was being considerably weakened by a foreign affairs crisis in which radical Islamists had taken American citizens hostage in Iran.

Incredibly for me, especially considering my now fully developed admiration of the Kennedys, his leading opponent would be that younger Kennedy brother Ted. Just weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, Kennedy actually came to Philadelphia and made a downtown lunch-hour speech right near my workplace. I was able to slip out of my office at First Pennsylvania Bank and attend the speech in person, standing just feet from the stage.

When the date of April 22nd, 1980 rolled around, I slipped behind the curtain of my local polling booth where I was then living in suburban Prospect Park, PA and pulled the lever for Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy. I remember being excited to have the opportunity to vote, but also of being completely satisfied by the experience thanks to the Kennedy factor.

On that day, Kennedy was indeed the winner, easily taking the Pennsylvania primary. He would also count wins in New York and California for his column. Unfortunately, it was Carter who would easily take the Dem Party nomination, eventually defeating Kennedy by a 51-38 margin in the popular vote and easily receiving the Party nomination at the convention.

Carter would go on to be crushed under the weight of a perceived weak response to the Iran-hostage crisis and by an economy crippled by oil shortages and inflation. Ronald Reagan swept into office and began what became known as the ‘Reagan Revolution’, with Republicans taking charge of Congress for the first time in decades.

As for me, I continued as a card-carrying liberal Democrat throughout the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, and even after fully transforming into a conservative Republican while riding the wave of the Newt Gingrich led ‘Contract With America’, I still held the view that the JFK assassination was likely a conspiracy.

The beginning of the end of my Kennedy fandom had come some years earlier when I first began to learn about and read up on the incident at Chappaquiddick island. On July 18th, 1969 in the so-called ‘Summer of Love’, Ted Kennedy attended a party held on the small island which was attached to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

The party was a reunion for some female members of his brother Bobby’s campaign staff, including Mary Jo Kopechne who was just about a week shy of her 28th birthday. As the married Kennedy went to leave the party at around 11:15pm, he agreed to give Kopechne a ride back to her hotel. An off-duty sheriff saw them over an hour later stopped on a dark road. When he approached to see if they needed help, the car suddenly took off.

A short time later, Kennedy drove the car off a small wooden bridge and into Poucha Pond. He escaped the sinking vehicle and walked back to the party as Kopechne remained trapped inside, clawing at the inside of the roof of the sinking car. He later returned to his hotel room and went to sleep, never reporting the accident. A couple of fishermen discovered the submerged car the following day.

I had never heard of this incident as a child, and never researched it as a young adult. It was only further along in my adult life that I learned of all the details in what amounted to a drunk driving episode in which Kennedy’s female passenger, with whom he was likely engaging in some type of extra-marital sexual conduct, had been killed.

His culpability in the incident was largely covered up by his family’s wealth and power, though the incident did derail expected 1972 and 1976 runs for the Presidency. It wasn’t just Chappaquiddick, but numerous other Teddy drunken transgressions that emerged in my consciousness. During the 1990’s I also became aware of numerous chinks in the ‘Camelot’ armor as well, as sensational stories of John and Bobby involving Marilyn Monroe and others emerged.

When the motion picture ‘JFK’ was released in 1991, I saw the Kevin Costner vehicle as proving, at least reinforcing, all of my Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories and beliefs. Those would be quickly dispelled as reports came out refuting much of the film’s historicity. The final nail in the coffin of those conspiracy theories was my reading of the Gerald Posner book ‘Case Closed’, which completely dismantled all of those theories and leaves you understanding with no doubt that Oswald did indeed act alone.

The bottom line is that the Kennedy’s had evolved, or perhaps devolved, in my consciousness. From childhood and adolescent heroes they had become political icons in the idealism of my young adulthood. Finally, my own political conversion and intellectual development had led me to see them for what they truly were: flawed men.

There is nothing wrong with being a flawed man. Heck, I’m one, and so is any man or woman who is reading this piece. But when Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy passed away last week at the age of 77, I felt little remorse for the man for whom I had cast my first-ever Presidential vote. I did not share even a little in the remembrances and platitudes being publicly heaped upon him in the media.

To me, Teddy Kennedy at the time of his death had become a bloated, pompous, lying, cheating, drunken jerk who kept his political power due to his family’s fortune and power and by cow-towing to every liberal group that came down the pike. Worse yet, one who had gotten away with drunk driving and negligent homicide. And even worse yet, the vast majority of those feting him knew it and still applauded his life.

I will never dance on another man’s grave. But for me, Ted Kennedy is no loss. What I can look back on as a true loss is that vote that I gave him nearly three decades ago. A vote that he got because others led me to believe he was something that he was not, as well as because I was willing to listen to those talking heads and misleading journalists and scribes.

The man who had become known over the years as ‘The Lion of the Senate’ will roar no more. The ‘Lion’ sleeps tonight. RIP, Ted Kennedy. RIP also to my own personal political innocence and naivete.

Michael Vick Deserves a 2nd Chance

It was one week ago that the Philadelphia sports scene was thrown into a tizzy when the Eagles stole the headlines from the world champion Phillies, not with their efforts on the field in their first exhibition game, but off the field with the signing of quarterback Michael Vick.

For anyone who has been living in a cave during this past week, let’s catch you up on the Vick story.

He first burst on to the scene a decade ago when as a freshman quarterback at Virginia Tech he finished 3rd in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Following his sophomore college season he was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. Over the next six seasons, Vick grew into one of the most dangerous rushing quarterbacks in NFL history, and took the Falcons to the playoffs twice.

Vick became a major sports celebrity for his on-field excitement, but it was something that he was involved with off the field that would define the last few years. It came to light that Vick was not only involved directly in, but was also the financial backer for a major dogfighting operation. The losing dogs in the already vicious fights would usually be tortured and/or executed, often by brutal methods. Vick took an active role in this illegal and immoral activity.

In August of 2007, Vick plead guilty to federal charges that had been brought against him for the dogfighting operation. He was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. He was sued by the Falcons, and a court eventually ruled that he had to repay $20 million dollars in bonus money, some of which Vick had used to help finance the dogfighting. He went on to serve a year and a half in prison, then another couple of months under house arrest, and has filed for bankruptcy.

So a week ago when the Eagles announced the signing of Michael Vick, it wasn’t only an announcement of the signing of a new player, but it was an announcement of the signing of a man who had become a social pariah in recent years. A man who was considered by many to be an outcast from society. Cruel, sadistic, manipulative, and even downright evil.

This was a surprise on a number of counts. First, the talks between Vick and various members of the Eagles operation had been going on for days, perhaps even weeks, with no one in the media having even a hint that it was happening. And second, the Birds have always been considered one of the NFL’s more squeaky clean organizations, with coach Andy Reid in particular as one who did not tolerate bad behavior from players.

Fan and media reaction was immediate and intense. There were cries from fans stating that they would never again support the team. There were charges from radio talking heads that the Eagles had “gone crazy” and that the team was “forcing this on the fans” who now had to choose between loyalty to their longtime beloved team and their own moral convictions.

However, these were just a little more than half of the fan base speaking. About half of the people questioned on the subject believed that Vick deserved, in the spirit that everyone deserves, a second chance. This was my initial reaction, but I wanted to wait a little while until things settled down, and I had an opportunity to listen to others and also assess my own feelings a little more deeply.

For anyone who cares, here is how I see the Michael Vick situation.

I think that every person does indeed deserve that second chance, an opportunity to redeem themselves after a fall. I have personally committed actions during my own lifetime for which I have asked for and received that second chance. In fact, when examining your own lives, every single person reading this has needed or wanted a second chance at some point.

Now, having said that everyone deserves one, does that include Michael Vick? Of course it does. In saying that Vick deserves a second chance, does that mean that what he did wasn’t heinous? Of course not, it most certainly was. Does it mean that I think what he did was right? Obviously not. Does it mean that we simply wipe the slate fully clean and forget what happened? Can’t be done.

Does it mean that he gets away with it? Of course not, Vick served real prison time, lost a financial fortune, lost his personal and professional reputation. His name is now “Mudd” in as strong a way as anyone who has ever worn that label. Face it, Michael Vick has paid a price for what he did. What some people still need to reconcile with is how much punishment is enough, and are there some things in which he should never again participate?

Don’t try to sell me on the worn-out idea that pro athletes are supposed to be ‘role models’ in any way. A role model is supposed to be someone who you look up to, on whom you may even try to pattern your own life direction, who provides you with inspiration. As responsible parents, we should be directing our children towards appropriate role models, not allowing them to drift towards slackers and criminals.

Now it’s possible, likely even, that Michael Vick may indeed have become a role model for some youth of America due to his early career exploits and style. These young people likely would have had no idea of his off-field problematic behaviors, they just loved the player that they saw every Sunday on the field. For these individuals, the ultimate negative situations that Vick found himself in have valuable lessons that can be learned.

I believe that ultimately it is too important an idea to surrender, that idea of recovery, of restitution, of rehabilitation, of revival. I also believe that punishments should fit the crime, and in relation to this incident, I believe that a dog’s life is not as important as a human beings life. I own a dog. I really enjoy my dog. He has been a major part of our home life for the past decade. But he is simply not as important as my wife, or my kids, or my grand kids. Period.

To me, that bottom line difference means that a man should not be sent to jail for life, or be executed, for a crime such as that committed by Michael Vick. I think that all of the punishment that he has been through already fits his particular crime.

So now it comes down to a pair of questions: should Vick be allowed to return to pro football, and if so, should the Philadelphia Eagles be the team that signs him? To the first I say that he should be allowed to return. His crime was not against football directly. He did not bet on the game, or throw the outcome of a game. He is not the first NFL player to spend time in jail and then return to the league.

An electrician, or a plumber, or a lawyer, or a politician would expect to return to work following a drunk driving episode. It happens every day. Vick is a pro football player, he should have the opportunity to return to his profession, if he will be allowed to do so by the league, and if a team will have him.

For any number of reasons, the Philadelphia Eagles decided to give him an opportunity with their organization. For my money from his perspective, there probably is not a better team that he could have that opportunity with than the Birds. He can be mentored, on and off the field, by a true leader in Donovan McNabb. He will be held accountable from here on out by an owner in Jeffrey Lurie and a coach in Andy Reid who will accept no slip ups, and who in fact will expect not only his best behavior, but also will watch for his acts of restitution.

I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan, and I will obviously remain one. I don’t see me being ‘forced’ into anything by the team. I can support them or not, on various levels with my time and money. I choose to support them. I don’t believe that Michael Vick will get a ton of opportunities as the team’s quarterback, so I believe that the chance that I will have to root for him directly is small. If that time should indeed come, I will root for and cheer the result of any play that helps the Eagles win their games.

And as for Michael Vick, I will hope that he turns his life around. I hope that he truly grows to fully understand the depth of how wrong his previous actions were. I hope that he does everything in his power and then some to make amends to the community of his fellow man by donating time, money, and publicity towards the humane treatment of pets with the SPCA, the Humane Society, and other similar groups. And I hope that from this point forward he commits no further crimes or acts of cruelty.

If he should fail in some way, especially publicly, it will be he who is lessened for that failure, not us for giving him a chance. As a human being who has sinned and fallen and paid a large penalty, he deserves that second chance in my opinion, and I for one am glad that it was my Philadelphia Eagles who are giving it to him.

The Bogeyman Enters Health-Care Debate

I know things have been getting really bad for the ultra-liberal Obama crowd lately, what with real Americans turning out in force and voicing their opinions loudly denouncing the President’s policies at so-called ‘town hall’ meetings, particularly in regards to health care.

The policies instituted by the far-left, elitist Obama administration over the past six months have been staggeringly irrational and irresponsible, heaping tremendous debt on to the shoulders of our children and grandchildren, many of whom actually went out and voted for Obama with delusions of some non-specific “Hope” for some specious “Change”.

Is this what they voted for, really? They actually want to be burdened for the rest of their lives by the tax bills, higher prices, and fewer jobs that are coming from these Obama policies?

Polls are beginning to show the truth. A new poll from Time magazine showed that 62% of Americans believe that health-care reform will raise costs in the long term, 65% believe reforms will make things more complicated for regular folks, and 56% believe it will result in less freedom in choosing doctors or health plans.

At the same time, research by Pollster.com, which compiles the numbers of various high-profile polls to get a more significant number, shows that overall support for President Obama, his “approval rating”, is plummeting, down now to 52% from a high of 64% just six months ago.

These are significant developments, and the Obama administration and the Democratic Party-controlled congress are feeling the heat.

In almost every mid-term election, the party in power loses seats, and in next year’s 2010 congressional elections the Democrats are poised to continue this tradition. If the negativity surrounding the health-care reform issue, and the issues involving bailouts/stimulus plans continues with no significant turnaround in the overall economy, the Dems will pay a heft price in the voting booths next November.

Today on my way to work, I was doing what many Philadelphians do on our driving commutes. I was listening to KYW News Radio 1060am, Philly’s only all-news station. One of the stories that came on sometime around 7:20am was regarding an alleged growing “problem” involving militias.

Now don’t get me wrong, some militia groups across the country are extremist in nature, that much is for sure. But the tone and tenor of this broadcast piece involved how militia groups are not only growing, and that some may be militant, but the groups are also opposing President Obama’s proposals on universal health care and other of his policies.

The piece went on to also state that much of this opposition is taking on a ‘racial tone’, though they failed to elaborate on what that meant.

This is where things are heading. The Left has a big time loser on it’s hand in the health-care reform issue. Obama’s effort to send his congressional minions out amongst the people and sell us on it’s merits has failed miserably. So now it’s come down to the usual tactics of fear and negativity association. Time to break out the bogeyman.

Universal health care, what is becoming known as “Obamacare” in this case, is opposed by those crazy, gun-totin’, anti-government, conspiratorial militias. They are all against the President because he is black and they are all racist whites.

These people are against President Obama and the rest of us forward-thinkers. Are you on our side? On the President’s side? On the side of ‘progress’ over ‘failed policies of Bush’ and the past?

If your plan is going down in flames, all you need to do is mention ‘Bush’ or equate it with some other perceived bogeyman such as evil ‘militia groups’, and you can turn things around?

The liberal Left and their political puppets that make up the vast majority of today’s Democratic Party need to wake up and realize that their President has gone too far with his socialist-inspired policies and programs. They need to stop blindly supporting him just because he has a ‘D’ before his name politically.

There are many good, strong Democratic politicians whose overall policies I may not agree with very often, but who would not be turning America into a shadow of its former greatness. Democrats need to recognize the direction that their “Change” vote is taking the country, and recognize the scare tactics their pols and political supporters in the media are trying to foist on them.

America is very much in danger, but that danger is not from militias, multinational corporations, Republicans, or angry Nazi mobs at town hall meetings.

We are in danger of sinking under the weight of the tremendous debt load, individual taxation increases, government controls on private industry, and increased burdens on businesses that the Obama administration has wrought.

Take a good, long, hard look in the mirror, Democrats. The real bogeyman is right there looking back at you, and only you can stop him.