Tuesday, June 28, 2011


JEANNETTE BRENNAN; June 28, 1902 to November 27, 1992

On the bottom shelf of the bookcase in the corner of my office at Cooley Law School in Lansing, there are five big volumes of speeches I have given, going all the way back to 1945.

But I’ve never given a eulogy before. So I really don’t know how to do this. I really don’t know what I am supposed to say.

Certainly, I want to say ‘Thank you’.

For myself, for Sally and Ray and Mary, and on behalf of mother, too, I want all of you who are with us here this morning to know how much we appreciate, and how much she appreciates, your thoughtfulness in coming here to help celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass and to help celebrate a lifetime of sacrifice and devotion to Church and family.

You honor us by your presence. You comfort us by your prayers and your concern.

Thumbing through a file of mother’s letters last night, I found one dated in 1977, shortly after Terry’s death.

It was one of those explanatory epistles I have received from my mother. The kind she used to write after we had had a good old fashioned nose to nose confrontational dialogue.

The gist of her complaint on that occasion was that I didn’t think of her as a person. I thought of her only as my mother.

Well, I got to thinking that maybe this morning I wouldn’t talk about my mother. I’d just talk to you about a person named Jeannette.

She was born in 1902.

Detroit, Michigan was then about the size of Lansing today. There was no television. No radio. No automobiles. Telephones were rare. Electricity was a novelty. Think of a kitchen without electricity. No microwave. No toaster. No refrigerator.

Her father, John Emmett Sullivan, was a lawyer. He was a good man. Loved his family. But he was not particularly successful. He moved his office a number of times, and seemed always to be waiting for that one big case or client that would enable him to do all the things he wanted to do for his family.

They lived in a rented house in Rosary Parish, in what is now known as the Cass Corridor.

Once, when she was nine years old, the gas was cut off because her father couldn’t pay the bill. There was no heat. There was no light. Sitting on the cold, dark stairway --- she remembered --- eavesdropping on her parents. And she never forgot the sense of shame and embarrassment she felt. And her determination never to suffer that kind of humiliation again. She would work. She would fight. She would never give up.

But she would never again sit in a cold, dark house.

Jeanette was a pretty girl. A good student. She had a flair for drama. And writing. In our time, she would certainly have gone to college. In 1918, she couldn’t even finish high school.

Her father died when she was still in grammar school. Her mother took in boarders to make ends meet.

At 16, she enrolled in a secretarial course at T.B. I., The Business Institute. She did well. Finished the course in record time, and was promptly hired by the school.

Before long, she found a job at Ford Motor Company, and when her older sister, Adele, was married, Jeannette became the principal breadwinner in the household, supporting her mother, her sister Gertrude, and her younger brother, Emmett.

The early 1020’s were good years for Jeannette. She progressed at Ford; became personal secretary to Mr. Gregory, a top executive who handled all of Henry Ford’s real estate holdings.

She was popular. Dated college men. Attended dances at the University of Detroit. And football games. It was then that she met and was courted by Joe Brennan, a young car salesman from the east side.

They fell in love, and during an engagement that lasted nearly two years, they made careful plans to buy a home. She wanted the security of a home. Their own house.

Joe Brennan shared the dream, and in 1925 they bought a two bedroom bungalow on a muddy lane called Elmira Street way out on the west end of town.

And so, on a Wednesday morning, they were married. She wore a suit. It was a small, family affair. They went to Boston on their honeymoon. When they returned, Joe found out that he had lost his job at Studebaker Motor Care Company.

Hang on Jeannette. Dig in, Jeannette. Work hard. Say your prayers.

Soon enough, Joe had another job. It took nearly half of his salary at the Secretary of State’s office to make the monthly payment on the land contract. But they never missed.

In August of 1926, Terry was born. Thirty-three months after, I came along. In October of that year, the stock market crashed, and America began to decline into the deepest, most devastating economic depression in its history.

Now the cute, petite, wavy haired secretary became the total wife and mother.

Through trial and error and the inventions of necessity, she learned to cook, to sew and to launder. She had no washing machine, not even the old fashioned kind that slopped clothes back and forth. She had one of those bumpy scrub boards to rub the clothes on, and a hand operated wringer that attached to the side of the washtub.

There were no automatic hot water heaters; no thermostats. Once, when she left the tank on too long, steam spewed out of the hot water hose and scalded her arms and neck. There was no 911 emergency number to call. You just screamed and screamed until neighbors rushed over to help with fumbling hands and home remedies.

There was no Blue Cross in those days either. When scarlet fever caught a child in its grip, you were quarantined for weeks. Locked in the house alone with a sick little boy, waving at your husband on the sidewalk. Throwing kisses to the younger boy who didn’t understand why he couldn’t go inside and hug his mama.

Hold on, Jeannette. Keep fighting, Jeannette. Never give up, Jeannette.

In 1933, Sally was born. In 1934, they lost the house. They had never missed a payment on their land contract with the builder. Unfortunately, the builder wasn’t making his payments to the bank. One day, the bank hung a notice on the front door.

So much for the security of home ownership.

In 1935, they bought the house on Morley Avenue. Three bedrooms and one bathroom on a 35 foot lot. To Jeannette, it was a castle. In 1937, Raymond, like his sister, Sally, was delivered at home.

In those days a big evening’s entertainment consisted of renting a 500 piece picture puzzle from the drugstore for a nickel, and working late into the night to watch a mountain waterfall take shape on the dining room table.

By the end of the decade, things were beginning to look brighter. Joe got a new job at Chevrolet. They even gave him a car to drive. The other car was left at home, and now at last, Jeannette could learn how to drive.

Then suddenly, while the family rode down West Chicago Boulevard on a Sunday morning trip to visit Grandma Brennan, the words “Pearl Harbor” blared from the radio and once again life was reduced to a struggle for survival.

Chevrolet stopped making passenger cars. Joe was let go. He was 41 and eligible for the draft. Terry would soon be old enough to fight. Maybe even little Tommy.

Hold on, Jeannette. Keep working, Jeannette. Keep praying.

Her husband got a job at McCord’s where they stamped out helmets for the army. The din on the factory floor was incessant. Every night he came home with a headache. There was gas rationing. There was meat rationing. Shoes were rationed. Somehow, she made do. Patch up. Fix up. Clean up. Hand me down.

In 1943, she had another baby. Mary was no accident. She was an affirmation of life. Of love. Of hope in a future that couldn’t be seen. Of determination to fight on. And to win.

When Terry went in the navy, she began to write. She wrote letters. She wrote poems. She wrote about the news. She wrote about the family. She gave witness to her deep and abiding Catholic faith. She gave advice and encouragement. Her words were the glue that held the family together.

When the war ended, Jeannette’s life seemed finally to be fulfilled. Her husband embarked on a new and successful career in banking. Her children went to college. Got married. Had grandchildren.

She and Joe even realized that ultimate dream of building a cottage at Rondeau Park. Now the little brown eyed girl from Cass Avenue could breathe easy. Now there was security. Laughter. A time for resting. A time for enjoying.

And then in 1958, Joe Brennan died.

Once again, she was alone. Once more, she dug down and clutched to that tenacious self reliance, the unbending personal pride that wouldn’t admit to vulnerability. That would never be overcome by misfortune.

And so her 33 years of married life were followed by 34 years of widowhood.

Competing with people half her age, she learned to support herself. She managed the modest estate of her husband’s life insurance skillfully and prudently. She reared a teen aged daughter.

And she stood like a rock of support for her married children, guiding them through troubles and tears. She kept the family together with tough love.

She survived complicated surgery. A brain aneurism. The death of her oldest son. Not as a stoic victim, but as an undaunted, scrappy fighter. Always thankful for blessings received. Always hopeful for a better day.

Hold on, Jeanntte. Keep going, Jeanntte. Keep praying. Keep working. Keep fighting. Never give up.

In the end, she outlasted her beloved Ford Mustang and the neighborhood Red Lobster. She outlived all her friends; the Tenbushes, the Gumbletons, the Drolshagens and the Garveys. And she gave us all a new respect for cheese whiz and leftovers.

She was feisty and opinionated. Full of love and brimming with romance. A heart full of girlish imagination and beautiful, fanciful dreams was never completely overcome by a head full of numbers and practical rules for living.

She was the Scarlet O’Hara of the rust belt. The Katherine Hepburn of the Altar Sodality.

Jeannette Brennan was my mother. She was also my friend.

I knew her as a person. I knew her as an old lady who was still part young woman and part little girl.

And I knew her as a fellow Christian, for whom, today, the words of Saint Paul to Timothy seem most fitting:

“As for me, I am already poured out in sacrifice, and the time of my deliverance is at hand. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. For the rest there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will give to me in that day. Yet not for me only, but also for those who love his coming.”

Monday, June 27, 2011


I’m not saying that the New York Legislature did something it should not have done.

The people of the Empire State are guaranteed a Republican form of government by the United States Constitution. They are governed by a popularly elected legislature, and legislators always do what they think will get them reelected.

A republic is not the same as a democracy.

The people of New York were not asked to vote on same sex marriage. Maybe they would approve it, maybe they wouldn’t. But it doesn’t matter. In a republic, the elected representatives of the people make those decisions. In 2012, the people of New York will have a chance to replace anyone they think does not represent them well.

No doubt there will be some hotly contested elections in New York next year, with lots of shouting and name calling on both sides.

What there will not be is calm, intelligent, rational dialog among supporters and opponents of same sex marriage.

The vast majority of the people of New York are heterosexual. Indeed, the vast majority of human beings on this planet are attracted to members of the opposite sex. It is simple and substantially universal human nature.

Anthropologists tell us that every known human society has had some form of mating ritual or custom. Human beings are instinctively monogamous, and typically live in family units. It is the natural way to procreate, nurture, and educate children.

At the same time, homosexuals have been seen in many cultures for centuries. Sodomy was once called ‘the sin of the Greeks’ because of its prevalence in that ancient kingdom.

But the demand for same sex marriage, as a recognized legal relationship is something new. It is part and parcel of the effort to establish homosexual conduct as a legitimate and equally appropriate and acceptable way for human beings to live in society.

The ramifications of that change in our culture are considerable and have not been fully explored.

For example, our marriage laws forbid unions between persons within specified degrees of consanguinity. These laws are the product of human experience, and reflect the fact that the progeny of such unions are at risk of severe mental and physical affliction.

But same sex marriage will not produce natural offspring. Don’t the consanguinity restrictions become meaningless in those cases?

If the only test for the legitimacy of a sexual relationship is that the participants be consenting adults, what will be the logic for prohibiting unions between close relatives? Mother-daughter? Father-son? Brother-brother or sister-sister?

Indeed, what will be the logic in restricting marriage to unions between only two people? Why not three, four, five, or a dozen consenting adults?

When I ask those questions of proponents of same sex marriage, they look at me with perplexity . Their response is usually something like, “No one wants that. It would never happen.”

Forty years ago, they would have said the same thing about homosexual marriage.

The thing about our republic is that it is not a democracy. It is an aristocracy of the interested. The outcome of an election is not just a matter of taking a poll. Militant, vocal, committed minorities set the agenda and affect the outcome of our elections.

The prevailing public sentiment is always passive, permissive and timid. In the face of name calling, mob demonstrations, and media hype, the average citizen shrugs his shoulders and says something like, “Let them have what they want. It’s no skin off my nose.”

The opponents of same sex marriage in the New York legislature argued that it violates God’s law. They were shouted down as bible thumping radicals. They tried to show that homosexual unions would increase venereal disease, and they were scoffed at. Arguments based on natural law, history and tradition were likewise ignored.

The State of New York has a large homosexual population. They have effectively redefined the word ‘gay’ so that it no longer simply connotes light heartedness, and care free happiness. Especially in the big cities, there are gay bars, gay parades, gay publications, gay public officials.

If the majority of New Yorkers don’t approve, at least they don’t disapprove. Live and let live is the common sentiment.

What no one likes to talk about or think about in all of this are the long range consequences of a homosexual culture. The first and most obvious is a declining population.

Proponents will claim that lesbian women can have babies through artificial insemination, and that fatherless and motherless homes are commonplace due to divorce and illegitimacy.

And anyway, aren't we in danger of overpopulating the planet?

True enough of course, but are those things really good for society? No one really knows what kind of a nation we will become when and if the traditional American family is no longer the norm or even the ideal.

A people who are not reproducing themselves are a dying culture. In the long term, the planet will be populated by humans who have learned the lessons of history and who live in a stable, natural and nurturing environment.

We worry about global warming and about the impact of carbon emissions on our atmosphere. We fret about endangered species of plants and animals.

Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves if our culture is also in danger of pollution.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I have been meaning to write a blog about the antics of Congressman Weiner.

No need. My daughter, Marybeth Hicks, who writes for the Washington Times, has said it all. (By the way, her third book, entitled "Don't Let The Kids Drink The Kool-Aid: Confronting the Left's Assault on our Families, Faith and Freedom" comes out August 22 from Regnery Publishing. Don't miss it!)

Her column appears in Wednesday's paper. Here it is:

It must be said: Rep. Anthony D. Weiner is what’s wrong with America today.

Once again, when confronted with behavior that clearly speaks to the character of a man’s heart, we’re being asked to accept that he’s not entirely responsible for his actions because of some unspecified “disorder.” (Maybe narcissism, maybe obsessive-compulsive disorder, maybe chronic nerdism; hard to say without a psych assessment.)

There was a time - in low-tech America - when actions like Mr. Weiner’s would have taken place in a park and involved a trench coat. But there I go again, longing for a simpler era when a pervert was a pervert and not necessarily a guy with a condition.

As it is, now that Mr. Weiner has used Twitter to indulge his icky sexual proclivities and yet refuses to resign from his congressional seat, we’re again confronted with the new American reality: You don’t have to suffer the consequences of your actions.

Not just that. Even if you’re as skeevy as yesterday’s sweaty socks, people who like your politics will tolerate your creepiness. To wit: Mr. Weiner maintains the support of the president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, Julie Kirshner. She claims that just because she has learned her congressman is “a 14-year-old boy” doesn’t mean he doesn’t support feminist causes.

Sorry, Ms. Kirshner, but you’re making a big mistake. You can’t simply write Mr. Weiner’s antics off as immature for the purposes of political pragmatism. At least, not without further eroding our national ethos.

Our habit of detaching a person’s behavior from his character is having a deleterious impact on our country, and, at the risk of using hyperbole, is going to be our ultimate undoing. Maybe not in this specific case, as it’s likely the two-week leave of absence that has been granted to Mr. Weiner will turn into an early retirement with well-wishes for a “full recovery.”

No, it’s not Mr. Weiner, but the habit of moral relativism he represents that scares me. The now-familiar pattern - heinous immoral behavior, indignant denial, public humiliation, victimization through disease - is likely a manifestation of our decades-long infatuation with unconditional self-esteem.

Americans are so focused on feeling good about themselves, no matter what abhorrent behavior they put on display, they no longer exhibit the shame that ought to come with wrongdoing. You might say, well, Mr. Weiner must have felt shame because he tried to lie his way out of the mess he created for himself. That was only an effort to cover his … tracks.

No, if he feels shame, he quits Congress. Simple as that. A person of good character knows a congressman would never, could never, do the things Mr. Weiner has done and remain in office. It’s insulting to the office and the constituents he serves, not to mention humiliating for his family and friends.

Which is why this incident doesn’t prove Mr. Weiner is “a 14-year-old boy,” it proves he’s a man without a conscience, and this is what’s wrong with America.

The bad news? It’s only going to get worse.

We already know the next generation of Americans is growing up without a proper moral compass. In its biennial survey of teenagers, the Josephson Institute of Ethics in 2010 once again established the alarming disconnect between the immoral and unethical behavior of our teens - which it describes as “entrenched” - and their positive self-esteem. More than 90 percent say they feel good about their moral and ethical selves despite habitual lying, cheating and stealing.

Can’t wait until they run for Congress.

To be fair, everyone makes mistakes. Actually, to be more accurate, everyone sins. Guilt and remorse are how a well-formed conscience tells us we’ve sinned, and repentance is how we recover and make amends.

But sin has consequences, and in Mr. Weiner’s case, those consequences must be more than therapy.

Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times and the unconditional approval and admiration of her father.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


In 1983, the New York Times editorial page carried a reference to the “nine men” on the United States Supreme Court.

It earned them a feisty letter to the editor from Sandra Day O’Connor, who at the time had been a Justice for two years. She said that if the President is called POTUS and the Supreme Court given the acronym SCOTUS, she should be known as FWOTSC. Meaning, of course, First Woman On The Supreme Court.

And, to be sure, she was.

On July 1, 2005, after nearly 25 years on the high court, Justice O’Connor announced her intention to retire, effective when her successor would be confirmed. She was succeeded by Samuel Alito on January 31, 2006.

Since then, she has been remarkably busy, teaching, speaking, writing, and occasionally sitting as a lower court federal judge.

One of Justice O’Connor’s pet projects is to promote the improvement of the judiciary, specifically by advocating what is commonly known as ‘merit selection’ of judges.

Typically, merit selection plans are patterned on a law adopted some years ago in Missouri. In fact, the ‘Missouri Plan’ has become short hand for a system in which the Governor appoints judges from a list of candidates nominated by a blue ribbon panel of citizens.

Supposedly, these blue ribbon nominated judges are a cut above the usual elected judges. The Missouri Plan gives the public a chance to oust unpopular judges in a so called ‘retention election.’ The ballot says, Should Judge X be retained? YES or NO.

Justice O’Connor is coming to Michigan next week to lend her support to the efforts of a local Task Force, which is trying to revive the oft defeated efforts to install merit selection in the state.

The people of Michigan have repeatedly expressed their preference for electing judges. Whether Justice O’Connor can light an opposing fire remains to be seen.

Frankly, I would be more interested to know what Justice O’Connor thinks about ‘merit selection’ for the United States Supreme Court.

She has had some things to say which suggest that she is not a fan of the present system.

On July 21, Justice O'Connor spoke to a 9th U.S. Circuit conference and blamed the televising of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for escalated conflicts over judges. She expressed sadness over attacks on the independent judiciary.

In May 2010, she warned female Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan about the "unpleasant" process of confirmation hearings.

Certainly the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices can hardly be called non-partisan.

Superannuated jurists hang onto their seats waiting for a President of their party to be elected before retiring. Candidates for the Presidency run for office campaigning on promises to appoint this or that kind of judges. The United States Senate convenes a circus of committee hearings to probe, question, expose and often discredit Supreme Court nominees.

If a select committee of citizens is needed to nominate state court judges, why is it not desirable at the highest level? Who vets the people being considered for appointment?

Recently a group of law school professors and deans put together a proposal for reforming the United States Supreme Court. Got me to thinking. Isn’t it time for us to have a non-partisan Supreme Court in America?

Isn’t it time to stop naming Justices because of their party affiliations, partisan connections and political preferences?

The job of the courts is to interpret the constitution and laws so as to give effect to the intention of the people who adopted them. Courts aren’t supposed to make new laws, declare new rights, and ‘modernize’ the constitution.

Judicial service is a high and noble calling. The process of selecting judges should be professional, solemn and free from partisanship.

Here’s what I propose:

The Supreme Court shall consist of the nine present members and their successors, who shall be appointed by the President without confirmation by the Senate, for eighteen year terms, from among a list of five persons nominated by a majority of the Chief Justices of the highest appellate courts of the several states.

This non-partisan amendment would insulate the court from a Rooseveltian court packing. It would provide a truly ‘blue ribbon’ committee of state chief justices who know the law and the constitution, and who are familiar with the leading members of the bar.

It would moderate the present incestuous tendency to appoint law clerks and judges from a select few law schools which are not representative of the people of America or the legal profession in our country.

Sandra Day O’Connor was born in Texas, educated in California and served as a legislator and as an appellate judge in Arizona. While her alma mater, Stanford University is a prestigious institution, it’s a long way from the Atlantic seaboard.

She would be a powerful spokesperson for an effort to reinvigorate the principle of federalism in the selection of Supreme Court Justices.

What say you, Madam Justice?

Monday, June 6, 2011


Mary Ellen asked me to say a few words about Jim.

And I suppose at a gathering such as this, most folks expect to hear a eulogy praising the deceased, remembering his finer qualities and expressing our sense of loss.

But if you knew Jim Canham, and I guess I knew him about as well as anybody, what he would really expect is to be roasted.

That’s the way he was.

Insulting people was his favorite way of showing affection. You knew he really liked you when he called you a dipstick.

Jim Canham was bigger than life. His voice was modulated at two levels. Loud and louder.

He was often wrong, but never in doubt. And he was smart. Very smart. Certainly a lot smarter than I am. He knew everybody’s name, and where they lived, and where they came from, and what they did for a living, and how many times they had been married. And what their golf handicap was.

A voracious reader, Canham was always well informed. About the law. Politics. Religion. Sports. Movies. History. Current events. He knew it all. And what he didn’t know, he made up. And then believed it.

He was the leader, the chairman, the CEO, the boss of well, just about everything. And everybody. What are we gonna do? Ask Canham. Where are we gonna go? Ask Canham. Who’s gonna be there? Canham knows. Ask him.

A few people called him Jim. A few more called him Judge. But mostly people called him Canham. Even Mary Ellen called him Canham sometimes. That’s when you knew he was in the dog house.

He liked people. He loved people. He was gregarious and he was generous. He gave me my first set of golf clubs. Haig ultras. I used them for years. He told me how to use them. And he never hesitated to correct me if I didn’t use them properly.

But he was generous. I remember once when we played golf together, he even let me drive the cart.

Actually, he always insisted on driving the cart because of his deaf ear. I never could remember which ear was the deaf one. So I never knew if he insisted on driving because he wanted to hear me, or because he didn’t want to hear me.

Canham and I were law school classmates. Later we were colleagues on the Wayne County Circuit Court. Our wives are the dearest of friends, so Jim and I were often traveling companions, drinking buddies, golfing buddies, tennis partners, gin rummy partners, and coconspirators of one kind or another.

But we never won. Never won at anything.

We played in the Green Coat a number of times. Always finished back in the pack.

Canham was the chairman of the tournament. He’d be fretting about whether the bananas were too ripe or not ripe enough. Whether the so and sos had the right table at the banquet. If it would rain, or if we needed rain. Or if what’s his name had invited the same sandbagger he brought last year.

Invariably by the end of the second day, he couldn’t putt a golf ball into an open man hole, and he would be longing for Monday to come so he could play with his usual pals.

It got so bad, I finally bought a condo and joined the club, so I wouldn’t have to be his partner in the member-guest tournament. Then he decided we had to play in the member-member tournament.

I wrote a blog about him a little more than a year ago. He had already lost more than fifty pounds, and he knew that his time had come. He resigned himself to it. He didn’t like being sick, being helpless. Even his dog Angus was dying, but Canham could still laugh.

He went out slow and hard. Lots of time to say goodby. Lots of time for tears. Lots of time for self pity or regrets. Canham did neither. He saw his friends, and made new ones. He’s the only man I know who would hit on a hospice nurse. He loved that line. It made him laugh. He never lost his sense of humor.

One of the last times I saw him, he was flat on his back on the kitchen floor. Mary Ellen called me and I ran over to help get him up. We struggled awhile, and finally the nurse came. She knew what to do, soon had him in a sitting position, and asked him what happened.

I saw that old familiar twinkle in his eye when he answered, “Mary Ellen pushed me.”

Truthfully, for that last year, Mary Ellen not only pushed and pulled him. She dressed and bathed and fed him and waited on him hand and foot. She was the one constant love of his life. She gave him sixty years of devotion and sacrifice. Even put off joining the Emmet County Women’s Republican Club.

One of my favorite movies is “Waking Ned Devine.”

There’s a scene where Jackie O’Shea is speaking about his friend Michael O’Sullivan, and he says what many of us here this afternoon would like to say ourselves:

“Jim Canham was my great friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself. Canham and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”

I’ve thought about that scene many times since Jim Canham died. And I’ve wondered just what he would say to us. Now. Today. If he were standing here.

His life was full of contradictions. Of highs and lows. Of great achievements and loud crashes. Of public attention and private solace. He was the quintessential human being, a mixture of confusion and confidence, of greatness and banality, success and failure, adversaries and admirers.

But no one would deny that he was his own man.

And I suspect that his parting speech to us would be cast in the words of a ballad he loved.

I can close my eyes and hear him singing it:

Regrets, I’ve had a few,
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do,
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Mark it down. It’s never too late to learn, never too late to change your mind.

That truism came to the fore a week or so ago when my friend Don LeDuc, who succeeded me as President of Cooley Law School, sent me a thick book entitled “Every Vote Equal: A State Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.”

Like most Americans, I have always been conflicted about the process of electing our President. While the Electoral College sounds arcane, still it was established by the Founders, and that gives it a leg up for most of us.

Americans are wary of amending the Constitution, and the politicians who have the power to propose amendments are also the beneficiaries of the present system. So the status quo is what else? The status quo. What is, is.

On the other hand, along with nearly 75% of my fellow Americans, I think the President of the United States should be elected by a majority of the voters of the United States.

Now comes a web site, www.NationalPopularVote.com with a prestigious bi-partisan advisory board, which announces that we don’t need to amend the constitution. All we need is enough state legislatures to agree to popular election and it’s a done deal.

The book is 894 pages of solid information. Historical. Statistical. Legal. It makes a strong case.

First off, there is the business of how Presidential elections are run these days.

We have all heard about the red states and the blue states. New York is blue. California is blue. Texas is red. In fact about 32 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia are solidly and ‘safely’ either red or blue.

That leaves 18 ‘battleground’ states. Ninety-nine percent of the money spent on political advertising gets spent in these states. In New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio and Florida, for example, the political parties pay out more than four dollars a vote on their Presidential campaigns.

The State of Washington sees about 20 cents a vote and eleven other states get less. In 23 states neither political party spends anything.

If you are a blue voter in a red state or a red voter in a blue state, you might as well stay home. The candidates won’t waste their time or their money on you.

What emerges with the Electoral College is not the bastion of states’ rights I always thought it to be. Instead, what we have is a system in which the big money boys from Wall Street and the Union Halls compete to buy electoral votes in a third of the nation, while everyone else gets to stay up late on election night and see how the auction turns out.

In the 221 years of our history, there have been four Presidents who didn’t win the popular vote. About a dozen more losers could have won, but for a few votes here and there.

The Constitution intended the Electoral College to be a deliberative body. What has evolved over the years is something different. Presidential electors are required, or at least expected, to vote for the winner in their state everywhere but in Maine and Nebraska.

Still there have been eleven “unfaithful” electors who jumped ship and voted for somebody else. Eleven out of 21,915 isn’t very significant, except to prove that it is possible.

Which brings me to my latest brainstorm.

What if one of the Republican hopefuls were to make popular election of the President his major issue?

What if he promised to ask all electors pledged to him to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote?

What if he says, “I will not take the oath of office unless I am elected by a majority of the American people?”

And what if he challenges his opponent to make the same promise?

That would sure stir things up in the White House.

Not to mention the New York Times.