Monday, November 19, 2012


We’re going to miss Tom 3 and little Collin, the fourth generation Brennan man child, who will be in Missouri with Meghan’s family on Thursday.

And Jenny Radelet. She’ll stay California tending to her new job in radio.

But the rest will be here in Harbor Springs. Breathing the crisp North Michigan air. Catching up. Remembering.

Remembering the year Dad rented a bus and drove all around Lansing. To the hey ride. To play touch football. Out to dinner. Wherever.

Remembering the house on Park Lake Road and the magical Pookie room at the bottom of the back stairs, where little cousins became logo architects and lifelong friends.

Remembering the poster in the stairwell that said everything they needed to know about life they learned in kindergarten.

They’ll be here on Wednesday. Thirty-four places at the turkey table.

Our six children, none of them children any more. Seventeen grandchildren, two great grandchildren, assorted in laws and a gentleman friend of Katie’s whose metal will surely be tested by our raucous crowd.

The election, thank God, is over.

Heated debate will give way to a few benign zingers.

A time for healing in America has come and our clan will rejoice in it.

We’re all Catholics – some more American than Roman – sharing a common denominator of faith that undergirds a kaleidoscope of liturgical preferences. But time and living have pushed us all in different directions.

I shake my head in wonderment at the diversity of higher education that will be represented at dinner. Polly and I met at the University of Detroit, both living at home, riding the bus or streetcar to school.

But the next two generations fanned out across the land. Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, Dayton, Colgate, Boston College, Holy Cross, Marquette, Michigan State and the University of Michigan, Wake Forest, Georgia, DePaul, Illinois, Northwestern, Detroit, Williams, Columbia, Washington and Lee, and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

Whatever the divergence of experience and loyalties may be, there will be one point of certain agreement.

Our family has been blessed. Blessed beyond expectations. Beyond statistical probability. Beyond the fondest hopes and dreams Polly and I shared at the altar sixty-one years go.

And so we will give thanks. Not just for health and home, for the laughter and the love, for the handshakes and the hugs.

But also for the incomparable good fortune to be citizens of the United States of America.

Sometimes we forget to do that. There’s so much about our beloved country that needs fixing, so much that is out of sync with the vision of the founders.

When George Washington established the Thanksgiving tradition, he declared that “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

Abraham Lincoln urged his fellow citizens “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

The incumbent President has been careful to keep his proclamations more secular in tone. Still he has acknowledged the need to thank God, if only by way of quoting Washington and Lincoln.

So maybe we should thank God that we Americans are still encouraged to thank God.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


In 1962 and 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States decided three cases which declared prayer and bible reading in public schools to be a violation of the First Amendment ban on the establishment of religion by the government.
You might wonder why it took 173 years from the adoption of the Constitution before somebody complained about prayer and bible reading in the public schools.
You might even suspect that maybe, just maybe, the people who wrote and voted to ratify the federal constitution didn’t think they were outlawing prayer and bible reading in public schools.
Matter of fact, the Continental Congress in 1787 passed the Northwest Ordinance, which said, among other things that “religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Folks took those words to heart, back then.
In 1859 Massachusetts law required that the ten commandments be recited in every classroom every morning, and that Bible passages be read aloud.
On March 7 of that year, a teacher at the Eliot School in Boston, Miss Sophia Shephard, called on ten year old Thomas Whall to recite the Ten Commandments.
Young Thomas was a Catholic boy. He refused to recite the King James version of the Commandments.
The next Monday, Miss Shephard called on Thomas again.
He said he was ready to recite the Ten Commandments as written in the Vulgate, or Catholic version of the Bible, but she said that was unacceptable, and called the Principal.
The Principal beat Thomas’s hand with a stick for 30 minutes until it was cut and bleeding, but the kid wouldn’t give in.
Finally, the Principal told all the boys who wouldn’t recite the King James version of the Commandments to leave the school.
One hundred boys walked out.
The next day three hundred more boys left.
And thus began Saint Mary’s Institute, later named for Father Bernadine Wiget, who organized a school for the recalcitrant Catholic boys.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Catholic Bishops had ordered every parish in America to establish a school.
In 1875 President Ulysses Grant called for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the use of public money for “sectarian” schools.
Dubbed the “Blaine Amendment,” it passed the House of Representatives but never got out of the United States Senate.
A number of states have put Blaine Amendments in their constitutions. While they outlaw giving public funds to sectarian schools, they do not prohibit sectarian education in public schools.
So here’s my question: what will the Supreme Court say when someone sues the Dearborn public schools for teaching the wisdom of the Noble Quran as expounded by the President of the United States?
My point is this: schools function “in loco parentis.” That means they act in the place of the parents.
Public school teachers should be able to teach whatever the community wants them to teach.
Neither the Congress nor the Federal Courts have any authority to dictate what can or cannot be taught in a public school any more than they can dictate what can and cannot be taught to children in their homes.
The curriculum of a public school is for the school board to decide, as provided by state law.
People buy houses where they like the schools. If you don’t like what they teach your kids, you can complain to the school board, vote them out, or move.
Or send your kids to the Catholic school.
It’s the American way.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


By the time we all get to bed tonight – or more likely tomorrow morning – we will have heard a lot about the Electoral College.
First of all, there’s no such thing.
“Electoral College” is simply a convenient nickname for the body of electors who choose the President and Vice President of the United States.
Under the federal Constitution, the President isn’t elected by the people. He or she is elected by a group of delegates chosen by the people.
Each state gets to choose as many electors as it does members of Congress.
So every state has at least three electors. Two for its Senators, and at least one for its Congressman.
Of course, the bigger states have lots of Congressmen, so they have lots of electors.
These electors are supposed to get together and decide who will be the President. At least that’s what the Constitution says.
It doesn’t exactly work out that way.
The electors themselves are elected by the people. Right from the beginning of our nation, candidates for electors ran around telling everybody who they would vote for as President, so the idea that these electors are all pledged to somebody is a pretty solid tradition.
In 200 years, there have only been about one or two unfaithful electors who went back on their pledge.
Of course, if somebody wins the Presidential election, then dies before Christmas, the electors will have some real work to do.
There have been many efforts to change the system. The Constitution requires a candidate to receive a majority of the electoral votes.
So, if Ross Perot or Ralph Nader get enough votes to keep either major party from winning a majority, the electors will stalemate and the decision will go the House of Representatives.
The electoral system can frustrate the popular will. Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George Bush in 2000 both lost the popular vote but won the election.
From the earliest times, the states have required their electors to vote for the candidate who gets the most votes in the state. The winner-take-all custom is not required by the U.S. Constitution.
In fact two states allot electors otherwise. Maine and Nebraska each elect two electors statewide and one from each Congressional district.
There is currently a movement afoot to persuade state legislatures to agree that their electors should vote for the candidate who wins the national popular vote.
It’s called the Fair Vote organization. Their strategy is to get states with a total of 270 electoral votes to agree that their electors will vote for the national popular vote winner, no matter how their own state goes.
This is an interesting approach since it can be accomplished with far less support that would be required for a constitutional amendment.
The Fair Vote people make some very good arguments. They show that more than 90 percent of Presidential campaign effort goes into about 16 so called pivotal, battleground or ‘swing’ states.
If you are a Republican in New York or a Democrat in Texas, forget about voting for President. You have nothing to say about it.
Over 80 percent of the American people think the President should be popularly elected.
I thought Mitt Romney would have been very wise to announce in Tampa that he would not accept the Presidency unless he received a majority of the popular vote.
Would have made it an interesting race.

Monday, November 5, 2012


But for the empty refrigerator or the bedspread and decorative pillows piled on a chair in the corner of the bedroom, you couldn’t tell that the plaee is occupied by just one 83 year old man.

I sleep on my side of the bed, leaving her pillows where they are. Where they belong.

The ritual is the same each sunny Florida day. Stretch out in the Jacuzzi. Swim ten laps. Dress and suit up for golf. And don’t forget the sun block.

She’ll call a couple of times. Or I will. Whachadoon?

We share a laugh or a bit of news.

Or click glasses to toast somebody, a nightly ritual even when we are 1,200 miles apart.

I came South ostensibly to check on the place, get the lanai furniture out of the garage, make sure everything still works.

And just incidentally to play a little golf.

Three weeks is the longest we have been apart in sixty-one years.

She wouldn’t come with me. The kids are coming for Thanksgiving. She has to get ready.

And she loves Autumn in the North. The first snow. Quiet days by the fire side with a good book or an old movie on TV. Bridge with friends. Charity work.

And the ubiquitous computer. Emails and texting to children, grandchildren, and old friends. Browsing, and the occasional game of spider solitaire.

She loves to cook, makes beautiful meals, even when eating alone.

I go to Subway. Or Beef O’Brady’s.

I’ll be back in Michigan a week before the turkey day. I’ll pitch in to help get the house ready to host 35 assorted children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, in laws, and even a boy friend.

They are already trash talking about the Harbor Springs 5K Turkey Trot and the Black Friday, nine hole, ear muff and snow boots golf classic.

I miss my sweet Pauline. Even wrote her a note to tuck away with the stack of long forgotten letters buried in the wicker chest downstairs.

I took her Dad out for dinner to ask for her hand in marriage in the summer of 1950. He told me she is a good worker and gave me his blessing.

We picked out the diamond ring on October 7th that year. Four days later she called me at midnight to say that her father had died in her arms.

Death was a stranger to me. Not to her. Before she was a woman, she had lost two brothers and her mother in separate traumatic tragedies.

Now she was alone. I promised her that when we got married, she would never be alone again.

We skipped three days of class at the University of Detroit to honeymoon at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. It was torn down long ago, but the memories abide.

She wanted six children. I did my part. For sixteen years we alternated between having babies and campaigning for public office.

I called the house. No answer. Called her cell phone. No answer. Called her friend and learned that she went to the club for some social event.

I worry.

Some day one of us will go and one will stay behind. We’re both tough enough, I suppose. And there’s all that family.

But still, you can’t blame a guy for choking up a little.

Especially if he happens to be all alone.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


I have been saying for some time now that if Barack Obama is re-elected, there will be a serious effort in the next four years to repeal the 22nd Amendment.

When I say it to my golfing buddies, the usual reaction is to ask what the 22nd Amendment is.

They know what the First Amendment is, and they certainly know what the second amendment provides.

But number twenty-two? Tell me again.

It’s the amendment that says a President can only be elected to two terms.

Oh yeah. Are you saying Obama would run again in 2016?

Well, he’ll only be 55 years old. And he’ll only be 59 in 2020. And 63 in 2024. By then the cute little kids who learned in kindergarten to sing, “Barack-Hussein-Obama-uh-uh-uh,” will be old enough to vote for him.

OMG! Repeal the 22nd Amendment? That couldn’t happen, could it?

Well, let’s see. The 22nd Amendment was proposed in 1947 by the first Republican Congress to be elected in almost 20 years. It took four years to garner 36 states to be ratified.

The Republicans were in favor of it because they were still seething over Franklin Roosevelt’s third and fourth elections. It never would have been ratified at all, if it were not for the Dixiecrats who were mad at Harry Truman over his stand on civil rights.

Google “No More Second Term Blues” in the New York Times. You’ll find an article by a couple of Williams College Professors who are all in favor of repeal.

Their argument? They tell us that second term Presidents are just lame ducks. Nobody listens to them. And they don’t listen to anybody. Since they can’t run again, they don’t care what the people think or want.

They say second term Presidencies are more apt to be stained by scandal. Unconcerned about re-election, Presidents don’t run a tight ship, the Williams Professors argue, and they cite Watergate and the Iran Contra affair as examples.

And lots of people claim that the 22nd Amendment is undemocratic. They insist that it deprives the People of the right to elect the one person they really want in the White House. The person with the most experience. The person they know and trust. Their beloved leader.

It’s hard to ague with majority rule. That’s what most people think democracy is all about,

But majority rule has its limitations, and that’s what constitutions are for. The majority may want to lynch somebody, but the Constitutions says, “No, you can’t.” The majority may want to silence a protester, but the Constitution says, “No.”

Our Constitution is designed to provide checks and balances; to temper the human desire to exercise unlimited power.

An incumbent President has an enormous advantage in an election. Air Force One is only part of it. Media exposure is exhaustive and free. A virtual army of dependent federal employees hustle and bustle to please the White House.

The President has access to unlimited information and resources, which a challenger would have to find and pay for. Not to mention the ability to raise money from people who want something from Uncle Sam.

The Founders knew that Power corrupts. They adopted a Bill of Rights to protect the people from arbitrary government.

The Twenty-Second Amendment protects us from Monarchy. From Dictatorship. In the United States we obey the rule of law, not the law of a ruler.

The Twenty-Second Amendment is a good thing. We ought to keep it.