A real big problem

Actor James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) circulates the image below via Twitter with the comment: “The real problem.” In my view it’s a real problem, not the real problem, but it’s a real big problem, so James Woods is close enough for full credit.

I would like to credit the creator of that image as well as well as Woods; if you know who deserves the credit, please drop us a line at powerlinefeedback@gmail.com. It’s a powerful image and a good reminder. As Henry Kissinger might put it, it has the added advantage of being true.

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The Redskins and the Cowboys — what a difference two years make

Tomorrow, the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys meet in the final game of the regular NFL season. Two years ago, these teams also played in the regular season finale.

Then, first place in the NFC East was on the line. The Redskins, led by their brilliant rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, prevailed.

Tomorrow, nothing much is on the line. The Cowboys have already won the NFC East; the Redskins have clinched last place.

At the end of the game two years ago, Griffin approached Tony Romo, the Cowboys’ outstanding but oft-criticized quarterback. The microphone picked up Griifin saying:

Hey Tony. I just wanted to say to you, don’t listen to what anybody else is saying about you. You’re a great quarterback, man. And this game doesn’t mean anything.

The comment captured part of what is likable about Griffin — his good sportsmanship and generosity of spirit. This is a guy who wants to do and say the right things.

But it struck me as perhaps a bit presumptuous for a rookie quarterback to assure a veteran star like Romo that he’s a great quarterback. By doing so, Griffin confirmed my fear that he had mistaken a single (the fine start to his NFL career) for a home run, a common error of the young.

My fear gathered momentum after the first game of the following season. Rushing back from serious injury to play in the opener, Griffin had a terrible game. Afterwards, he shrugged off the debacle as an aberration, saying “Alf (running back Alfred Morris) doesn’t fumble; Kai (Forbath, the kicker) doesn’t miss field goals; and I don’t throw interceptions.”

What Griffin missed was the fact that a big reason why he threw very few interceptions as a rookie was the offense designed for him by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. That offense utilized Griffin’s ability to run the ball, often in the context of a college style “read option” look, to (1) minimize the opposition’s pass rush and (2) produce receivers who would be open on Griffin’s first read.

Kyle Shanhan and his head coach father Mike were compensating for the fact that Griffin hadn’t played in a pro-style passing offense in college. As a result, they considered him shaky in the pocket and incapable of going through the “progression” by which quarterbacks find the proper receiver.

Reportedly, the Shanahans thought it would take around four years for Griffin to develop into a standard issue drop-back pocket-passer. Understandably, they were unwilling to wait that long.

As I noted, though, Griffin sustained a serious injury at the end of his first season. He came back unwilling, and perhaps initially unable, to be a running quarterback. He and his father made several public pronouncements to the effect that the great quarterbacks aren’t runners and that Griffin didn’t want to be one either.

Without this dimension, Griffin looked very much like a rookie quarterback in his second year. With the team’s record at 3-10, Mike Shanahan benched him, a clear showing of lack of confidence which he reinforced through leaks.

As soon as the season ended, owner Daniel Snyder, who had developed a personal friendship with Griffin, fired the Shanahans. Snyder brought in Jay Gruden, a quarterback guru, as the new head coach. His mission: develop Griffin.

By the beginning of the season, however, rumor had it that Gruden was questioning whether Griffin could be developed into a quality drop-back quarterback. Griffin’s performance in the opener could only have confirmed Gruden’s alleged impression.

Griffin was injured in the second game. In mid-season, when he was ready to return, backup quarterback Colt McCoy had just led the team to two straight victories (cause for celebration in these parts), including one over the Cowboys.

Gruden nonetheless handed the starting job back to Griffin. Rumor had it that the decision was imposed on him from above.

Many of the players reportedly were unhappy with McCoy’s demotion. Star receiver DeSean Jackson gave a pre-game talk urging the team to rally behind Griffin.

On his return, Griffin’s play continued to be substandard. Now, rumor had it, Gruden wanted to give up on Griffin. If the rumor was false, the coach’s biting post-game public criticisms of his quarterback represented an extreme manifestation of tough love.

A persistent criticism of Griffin, both in the Shanahan and the Gruden era, is that he doesn’t spend enough time studying film. I don’t know whether the criticism is valid but, as noted, Griffin has at times made me feel that he considers himself more advanced as a quarterback than he actually is.

Eventually, Gruden benched Griffin, as Shanahan had done. But when McCoy was injured early in the game two weeks ago against the New York Giants, Griffin returned to action.

That day, his play showed some improvement. And last week, in an upset victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, Griffin played well. Gruden even praised his quarterback during the post-game interview. Is the “tough love” starting to pay off?

It seems unlikely that Snyder will permit the Redskins to give up on Griffin, for whom he traded three first-round draft picks plus a second-rounder. And because Gruden is finishing the first year of a lucrative five-year contract, there’s a good chance that he’ll be back next year too.

Thus, though the Redskins in a sense have little to play for tomorrow, fans have a stake in seeing Griffin play well enough to increase his coach’s level of faith in him. Most of us also want to see Griffin succeed because we like him.

If the Cowboys win, Tony Romo may be tempted to assure Griffin that he’s a great quarterback, no matter what anybody else is saying. The problem is, there’s no case to be made that Griffin is a great quarterback. Redskins fans are just hoping that next year, after two poor seasons, he’ll be a good one.

My meditation on David Brooks and Peggy Noonan

Let me begin by confessing my weakness for pundits who produce original and/or against-the-grain ideas. I also confess to the related tendency of preferring a plausible but misguided center-right defense of President Obama’s latest offensive policy initiative to the umpteenth denunciation of the policy on sound conservative grounds.

These weaknesses help explain why I like David Brooks’ work. He’s the rare opinion-writer who comes up with ideas that I not only didn’t think of, but probably couldn’t have.

Unfortunately, original thinkers are more likely than most to make spectacular errors. As Scott points out, Brooks made one when he became infatuated with candidate Barack Obama.

Again, though, I must make a confession: in my lifetime, I have believed political propositions even stranger and more misguided than the view that Barack Obama would make a good president.

My follies are no defense for Brooks.’ But what about the fact that, unlike those of us who saw through Obama, Brooks actually spoke with him (on multiple occasions, I take it)?

I like to think that my deep skepticism about Obama would have withstood a charm offensive consisting, among other things, of the candidate speaking intelligently and sympathetically about my favorite political philosopher. But can I be sure it would have?

It doesn’t matter. Originality and independent-mindedness, not consistent sagacity, are what recommend Brooks’ work.

Peggy Noonan is an entirely different case. Little that’s original appears in her writing. She’s the voice of conventional wisdom, presented with a nice turn of phrase and, often, a moralistic tone. I can’t recall ever learning anything significant from a Peggy Noonan column.

To make matters worse, one can’t be sure that Noonan actually believes what she says. As I discussed here, during the Sarah Palin mania at the 2008 Republican convention, Noonan wrote a column in which she argued that Palin represents “a real and present danger to the American left” which therefore needs to “kill” her.

However, a few days later, when she thought her microphone was off, Noonan said that McCain had “blown it” by selecting Palin as his running mate. So much for the danger Palin’s selection presented to the left.

Brooks and Noonan both write political commentary. In a sense, however, they are engaged in different businesses. Brooks, it seems to me, is on a search, at times, perhaps, a quixotic one, for insights. Noonan appears mainly to be in the business of telling people what they want to hear.

Kneepad Alert: Foodie Obama Is Hippest President Ever!

By any reasonable standard, the Obama administration has been a train wreck. But that doesn’t prevent our state media from fawning over him as though he were the reincarnation of George Washington. Here, it is CBS, telling us that Obama is a “foodie” who eats at the trendiest restaurants, is “far hipper” than other presidents; in particular, “so much cooler than President Bush.” Actually, if you watch to the end you will get a clue as to why President Bush generally chose not to dine out at Washington restaurants:

Speaking for myself, after six years I have had about all the coolness I can stand.

A Funeral In New York

Some 25,000 policemen turned out for the funeral of NYPD officer Rafael Ramos in Queens, some of them flown to New York, free of charge, by Jet Blue. This was the sea of blue outside the church where the funeral was held:

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Ramos’s family, before the service. I had not realized it, but Ramos reportedly was studying to be a minister:

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Mayor de Blasio has been trying to mend fences with the police department, but so far many of them aren’t buying it. Thousands of officers watched the funeral service on a big screen outside the church; when de Blasio spoke, they turned their backs:

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Somewhat ironically, the funeral featured a lineup of Democratic Party speakers: de Blasio, Andrew Cuomo and Joe Biden. Biden’s speech was platitudinous–appropriately so. Biden is perhaps the only senior member of the administration who could have struck the right note, and sounded sincere doing it.

The national outpouring of support for the police following the murders of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu has cowed all but the most hard-core leftists into silence–temporarily at least–and it has exposed as juvenile and out of touch the anti-police racial politics of Barack Obama and Eric Holder. One assumes that it will be a while before Obama again reminds us that his “go-to guy on race” is Al Sharpton.

A meditation on Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan joined the crowd that turned on George W. Bush in what I thought was (in Noonan’s case) a grossly unfair manner in 2008. I wrote critically about one of Noonan’s weekly Wall Street Journal columns in which she identified with the public disapproval of Bush that April in “Season of the witch.”

Having turned on George W. Bush, Noonan moved on to support the election of Barack Obama later that year. Noonan all but endorsed Obama in her 2008 column “Obama and the runaway train.” The anti-Bush and pro-Obama columns fit neatly together. She wrote of Obama just before the election:

He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.

In a sense, Obama delivered, but in another sense Noonan got everything wrong. Obama has changed the direction and tone of American foreign policy, alright, yet the change hasn’t yielded the results Noonan anticipated.

Noonan has now turned on Obama. She actually turned on him a while ago. In a recent column — “The unwisdom of Barack Obama,” behind the Journal’s subscription paywall but accessible via Google — Noonan condemned Obama on one of the grounds she had supported him in 2008: “His essential problem is that he has very poor judgment.”

Now you tell us.

In her defense, Noonan might plead that she acknowledged the paltry evidence in support of her 2008 claim that Obama has “good judgment.” If “judgment” were the issue, perhaps the excuse would mitigate the verdict that Noonan herself is guilty of incredibly poor judgment.

Yet the problems with Obama run much deeper than poor judgment. Noonan overlooks his sophisticated ignorance and leftist ideological rigidity. If you were following the news in 2008 and acquainting yourself with Obama’s background, you had to work hard to miss the evidence. Indeed, Noonan must have worked hard to avoid mentioning any of it and to work up her lyrical tribute to Obama in her 2008 column.

We have written a lot over the years about Obama’s ignorance and ideology. Bret Stephens focused on Obama’s ignorance in the Wall Street Journal column “What Obama knows” (behind the Journal’s subscription paywall but also accessible via Google). Noonan to the contrary notwithstanding, Stephens writes: “[E]ven at an elementary level, Mr. Obama often doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It isn’t so much his analysis of global events that’s wrong, though it is. The deeper problem is the foundation of knowledge on which that analysis is built.”

I would go further than Bret Stephens in that column (as he would as well). Something beyond ignorance explains Obama’s affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, and his hostility to Israel. The ideological component of Obama’s failures is probably the most important.

He advertised it in his promise of “fundamental transformation” of the United States. He clearly meant it. He has done his best to deliver on it. He has another two years to work on it. And on this score, he knows what he is doing and it would be a serious mistake to count him a failed president.

NOTE: This is adapted from my post “High Noonan.” I am taking the liberty of reposting it as a companion to “A meditation on David Brooks.”

There’s something about Louie

We went to see the film Unbroken on Christmas day at a suburban St. Paul multiplex. We arrived punctually for the first afternoon showing only to find that it had long since sold out, as had each subsequent showing until 10:30 p.m. They had a few tickets left for that one, but we bought two tickets for a mid-afternoon showing yesterday.

It also sold out. Indeed, although we arrived 40 minutes early, a long line of patrons inside the theater was waiting to be seated for our showing and the theater suspected some of us of sneaking in with tickets for other movies. As some relative latecomers struggled to find seats just before the movie was scheduled to begin, a theater employee asked all of us who were already seated to pull our tickets for inspection. Even before the movie began we had already had a rich theatergoing experience.

Like the book, the film tells the utterly amazing, almost unbelievable story of Louie Zamperini, who died earlier this year at the age of 97. The movie is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s wildly best-selling book, now in paperback and in an adaptation for young adults. I wrote about it in “The improbable lives of Louis Zamperini.”

Zamperini’s story is one of family, love, suffering, physical skill and athletic competition, country, war, suffering, survival, cruelty, survival, suffering, and, finally faith and triumph over suffering. The survival story is, as I say, almost beyond belief, as is the suffering he endured. I have never read a book so full of suffering.

Louie survived in part through indomitable will and finally through his faith, but Louie’s life was saved many times before the triumph over his suffering. Among those who saved his life were his brother, his pilot on one of his doomed WW II missions, President Truman (in ordering the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki inducing Japan’s surrender just before Louie would have died in the prison camp), his wife and, perhaps most strikingly, Billy Graham. Truman, Louie’s wife Cynthia, and Billy Graham are shortchanged by the film. If you’ve read the book you’ll want to see the movie, but please do read the book.

The movie tells Louie’s story essentially up to his return home at the end of the war. It leaves off the last part of the book in which Louie gets married and sinks into the depths of drunkenness and despair. It therefore leaves off the conversion to Christianity that saved his marriage from divorce. It was his conversion that also rescued him from drunkenness and from the suffering inflicted by the nightmares that drove him to drink. The film purports to cover Louie’s postwar story in a cursory written postscript that studiously avoids the details Hillenbrand diligently uncovered and vividly conveyed.

Nevertheless, Louie’s spirit shines through. Insofar as it covers Louie’s story, it does a good job of depicting it. Actor Jack O’Connell is a wonderful Louie.

This is not meant to be a review of the film. I’d have more to say if it were. This is meant to be a review of the audience for the film. I could and should have made this point about the success of the book, which reflects the phenomenon we saw at the theater this week.

There is something about Louie. He had something we are hungering for in the the Age of Obama.