Thursday, August 28, 2008

Warner Refuses and Redpath Steps Up

Former Governor Mark Warner, basking in the limelight of having delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Tuesday, now refuses to debate his opponents in the race for the open U.S. Senate seat in Virginia.

Consequently, the League of Women Voters has announced it is canceling the televised debate it traditionally sponsors for statewide races. According to a report in C-VILLE Weekly, a Charlottesville tabloid:

In a press release, The League of Women Voters of Virginia says it won’t hold its customary senatorial debate because former Governor Mark Warner has opted not to participate.

“Exposing voters to a rigorous debate of the critical issues facing this nation today is a cornerstone of the democratic election process in America,” said Peter Maroney, vice president of WTVR, a CBS station that would have aired the debate. “It is regrettable that former Governor Warner has chosen to deny Virginians that opportunity by declining this statewide broadcast opportunity.” WCVE, a PBS station, would have also aired the debate.
In response to this news, Bill Redpath, the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican John Warner, stated that he will debate former Governor Jim Gilmore even if Mark Warner continues to run away from his opponents. A press release from the Redpath campaign (distributed by email and likely to be posted to the campaign web site tomorrow) said:
Redpath said on Thursday, “I know Mark Warner is leading in the polls, but I find his decision not to debate Jim Gilmore curious. The recent history of politicians who refuse to debate their opponents in Virginia is that of defeat.”

In 2001, when Redpath was the Libertarian candidate for Governor, Mark Warner allowed him into at least one debate, but Republican Mark Earley said ‘No.’ Earley lost. In 2005, when Russ Potts ran as an Independent for Governor, Democrat Tim Kaine debated him, but Republican Jerry Kilgore refused. Kilgore lost.

“There are so many vital issues that need to be fully aired for voters of the Commonwealth, that I ask the League of Women Voters to hold their debate anyway. I would certainly be there and would debate former Governor Gilmore on any topic that is germane to the U.S. Senate race in Virginia this year. The voters of Virginia deserve no less,” said Redpath.

We shall see if former Governor Warner relents and chooses to face his opponents, and the voters, on television or in any other forum.

Just what is he afraid will happen if he appears on the same stage with Gilmore and Redpath?

Obama, McCain Fail to Make Texas Ballot

The two major party candidates for president, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, will not appear on the election ballot in Texas this year.

That is, of course, unless Texas ignores the clear violation of the law by both parties. The relevant section of the Texas code can be found here.

Texas, with 34 electoral college votes, is a dependable Republican state and is crucial to McCain's chances to be elected president. (This may be embarrassing for Obama but it is not nearly so consequential.)

Libertarian candidate Bob Barr is the only presidential candidate whose name will be on Texas ballot this year, according to the Texas secretary of state. His was the only campaign that fully complied with the law by submitting a sufficient number of petition signatures by the statutory filing deadline.

Richard Winger reports in Ballot Access News:

Section 192.031 of the Texas election code says that political parties must certify their presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the November ballot no later than 70 days before the general election. It says, “A political party is entitled to have the names of its nominees for president and vice-president placed on the ballot if before 5 p.m. of the 70th day before presidential election day, the party’s state chair signs and delivers to the secretary of state a written certification of the name’s of the party’s nominees for president and vice-president.”

This year, that deadline is August 26. UPDATE: At 2:30 pm Texas time, August 27, Kim Kizer of the Texas Secretary of State’s elections division says neither major party’s certification has been received in the Elections Division. The Executive Office of the Secretary of State refers all questions back to the Elections Division.

This year, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party obeyed this law. See this link to the Secretary of State’s web page showing a blank for the Republicans and Democrats for president. It does show Bob Barr on the ballot; scroll down a little bit. If the Republicans have indeed filed, one wonders who they listed for vice-president, and why their filing is missing from the state web page.

Since the major parties do not even obey their own rules (Democrats, for example, seated the Florida and Michigan delegations at this year's convention even though both states ostentatiously flouted the party's rules about holding early primaries), they will probably find some compliant judge to allow their candidates on the ballot.

Of course, when a minor party misses a deadline like this, the Democrats and Republicans insist on strict adherence to the law. Republicans and Democrats write the laws, then maneuver themselves into exemption; all others must obey.

August 28, 1963

Whatever Barack Obama might say in his convention speech tonight in front of a mere 75,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver, it will hardly approach the quality and significance of this speech by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered 45 years ago today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

100 Years of LBJ

The Dallas Morning News notes that today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States. There will be several events in Texas commemorating LBJ's birthday, including:


The late president's two daughters and others will celebrate his birthday at the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall. LBJ's working office at the ranch, which was the Texas White House from 1963 to 1969, will be open for tours.


A party – open to the public – will be held at the library in Austin, which will open a new exhibit, To the Moon, the U.S. space program in the 1960s.
Radio station KLBJ -- naturally -- offers more details on the celebrations in Austin:
Today would have been LBJ's 100th birthday, so the Presidential library here in Austin is throwing a party; complete with bar-b-que, peach ice-cream and Fresca... It *was* President Johnson's favorite soft-drink.

Dr. Betty Sue Flowers - Director of the LBJ Presidential Library says today also has other significance... It was on this date in 1964 he accepted the Democratic nomination for President.

The celebration will be held from 6 to 8 tonight on the lawn in front of the library, and yes, they will have the Democratic Convention on the big screen... just as LBJ would want it.
More information about the centennial celebration can be found at

As it happens, almost precisely one year ago, I was in Austin and had the opportunity to tour the LBJ Library and Museum, which is on the campus of the University of Texas.

I posted some video from that visit (which was on August 29, two days too late for LBJ's 99th birthday) on the anniversary of President Johnson's famous announcement of his decision not to seek re-election, but it seemed appropriate to post it again today, given the historical significance of the day and the coincidence of it taking place during the Democratic National Convention.

Part I is largely a montage of images and sounds from the main exhibition area of the museum. It includes some items meant to evoke the pop cultural reference points of Johnson's life, and especially of the turbulent 1960s, when LBJ served as president.

One highlight is a recording of Lady Bird Johnson recalling, in her own words, the events of November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Other images are meant to recall Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!, and the Vietnam War as reported on television. (One exhibit refers to 1968 as "The Nightmare Year," with its assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy -- two events we have been remembering this year, forty years on.)

The library displays many letters written by and to President Johnson, including letters from Barry Goldwater (who lost the 1964 election to Johnson but sparked a political revolution in the process) and the Smothers Brothers (whose CBS-TV show was canceled in large part because of their satiric barbs aimed at the President and his Vietnam War policies).

Part II begins with a rather creepy animatronic rendering of President Johnson in a stable at the LBJ Ranch, with recordings of him telling funny stories on various occasions, including an anecdote about Winston Churchill. Part II also includes pictures of the reproduction of the Oval Office that has been installed in the LBJ Library and Museum, which is 0ne-eighth smaller than the real one in the West Wing of the White House. (For a look at the Reagan-era Oval Office, check out the video I posted of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. I visited the Reagan Library just about one month before my trip to Austin last year.)

This part also features more Carol Channing memorabilia. (Hello, Dolly! had its pre-Broadway try-out at the National Theatre in Washington, and its title number was transformed into the campaign song, "Hello, Lyndon!")

I happened upon a YouTube video of Walter Cronkite learning of President Johnson's death at the age of 64 on January 22, 1973, and breaking the news live on the air, which I have added as a bonus.

Cronkite's skills as a journalist are demonstrated by the way he segues from this unexpected news to a pre-written story about negotiations to end the Vietnam War. It's also interesting, by the way, given current global petroleum prices, how Cronkite ends the segment by saying "I'll be back in a minute with our report on the energy crisis." This was about ten months before the OPEC oil embargo precipitated what was the first energy crisis of the 1970s, with the second one due largely to misguided policies of the Carter administration, policies which are likely to be emulated by the Obama administration.

Part I:

Part II:

Bonus Video:

I wonder whether the LBJ centenary will be commemorated in any significant way at the Democrats' convention in Denver. Is it something worthy of prime-time, or would mention of a stubborn and unpopular leader who presided over an ill-conceived and unpopular war bring to mind undesirable parallels to the present day?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

'Dr. Cook's Garden' Opening TACT's Season

True to its mission, the American Century Theater in Arlington opens its 2008-09 season with a rarely-produced American play of the 20th century, Dr. Cook's Garden.

Based on the press release I just received, this could prove to be an intriguing choice.

Here's the text of the news release:

American Century Theater 2008-2009 Season Opens September 9
With Ira Levin Thriller Dr. Cook’s Garden Press Night is Wed., September 10.

The American Century Theater’s 2008-2009 season opens with a seldom-seen 1968 Broadway thriller, Dr. Cook’s Garden, by Ira Levin. Levin is best known for his later Broadway hit, Deathtrap, and such best-selling novels as Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, both of which also became successful films.

Why Dr. Cook’s Garden? “First, we try to salute under-appreciated American playwrights who have recently died; Levin passed away earlier this year,” says Artistic Director Jack Marshall. “And Dr. Cook’s Garden holds interest for several reasons. It is about a subject that is more controversial today than when the play was written. It has elements of the horror genre, something The American Century Theater seldom gets to explore. And the play never really had a chance on Broadway. It was miscast, I think, and the director, George C. Scott, essentially abandoned the production at a critical point. Most of all, we think our audiences will enjoy it.”

Without spoiling the fun of discovering the dark secret at the center of the plot, it can be noted that the play has common elements with both Deathtrap and The Stepford Wives. Like Stepford, it involves an outsider moving into an idyllic New England town that is not quite as perfect as it seems. And like Deathtrap, the play involves a complex and betrayal-filled relationship between an older man and his younger protégé. “I think the play may have been a trial run for Deathtrap,” says Ellen Dempsey, who is directing. “There are a lot of structural similarities. But it’s a darker, scarier play.”

She has assembled an ensemble of actors new to TACT to bring it to disturbing life (and death) on stage. David Schmidt plays the title role created by Burl Ives on Broadway and Bing Crosby in the film version. His young protégé is played by J.B. Bissex. Kathryn Cocroft, Bob Lavery, and Carol McCaffrey complete the cast.

Producer Karen Currie has turned to several TACT regulars for the design and construction of the show, including Trena Null, set design; Rip Claassen, costumes; AnnMarie Castrigno, lighting design; Steve Lada, who is choreographing a key fight sequence. Christopher Baine, whose work for The Source’s recent One Act Play Festival was extraordinary, makes his TACT debut as sound designer, as does David Olmsted on props. The Tech Director for Dr. Cook’s Garden is Michael Null, and Zoia Wiseman is the stage manager.

The American Century Theater is performing on a different schedule in 2008-2009, with more weekday performances. Dr. Cook’s Garden will have its opening on Tuesday, September 9, with the Press performance the next night, on Wednesday, September 10. Dr. Cook’s Garden will continue its run until Saturday, October 4, 2008.

The American Century Theater performs at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, Virginia 22206. Subscription season packages are available. Friday or Saturday evening ticket subscriptions are $130 each ($170 value). Tuesday-Thursday evening, or weekend matinee subscriptions are $115 each ($145 value).

For tickets, subscriptions, group sales or information call 703-998-4555, email, or visit

The American Century Theater is a 501(c)(3) professional nonprofit theater company dedicated to producing, great, important, and neglected 20th Century American playwrights. TACT is funded in part by the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, numerous foundations and many generous donors.

# # #

One fact about Dr. Cook's Garden really piques my interest: That the role played by Burl Ives for six previews and eight performances on Broadway was played by Bing Crosby in the made-for-TV film. How did that happen? (It's puckish to imagine what Cat on a Hot Tin Roof would have been like with Der Bingle as Big Daddy.)

Update: My review of Dr. Cook's Garden was posted on September 12.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Governor Notes Need for Election Officials

No matter which political party or presidential candidate one supports, it is impossible to ignore the likelihood that this November's election will have one of the highest voter turnouts in recent memory. Both Republicans and Democrats are registering new voters and, judging from the heavy interest in the Democratic primaries, many of these new voters will be coming to the polls this fall.

Across the country, election administrators are scrambling to recruit and train new poll workers to serve the voters on election day. The anticipated long queues of voters will move much faster if there are sufficient numbers of poll workers to process them, answer their questions, solve any problems that might arise, and count the votes at the end of the day.

In Virginia, the term of art we use for "poll worker" is "election officer," (or "EO"). Each precinct is required to have at least three EOs, including at least one from each of the two legally recognized political parties (Republicans and Democrats). Election officials work a long day, since polls open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 p.m. (Their tasks begin earlier than 6:00 o'clock and do not end at 7:00 o'clock, however, since there are detailed procedures for opening and closing the polls to assure that votes are accurately counted and all the various forms documenting the day's activities are fully and correctly filled out.)

Last week Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia (who will not, it turns out, be a candidate for vice president this year) acknowledged the need for additional election officials in Virginia in a news release. Here is the text of what he distributed to the press on August 20:


~ Outreach efforts include partnering with businesses ~

RICHMOND - General Registrars and Electoral Boards around the Commonwealth are beginning to realize their goal of fully staffing their election precincts for the November presidential election. Localities are continuing to recruit people to serve as Officers of Election to help voters at the polling places on Election Day, November 4.

"In every election there is an opportunity for citizens to be part of the process," Governor Timothy M. Kaine said. "This year, we launched the 'Ensure the Vote' campaign to inform voters of the opportunity to help with elections in their communities. We are appreciative that employers throughout the Commonwealth are embracing this opportunity for community participation and encouraging their employees to get involved in their community on Election Day. State Farm Insurance, for example, has provided nearly 300 people ready to act as Officers of Election. "

Officers of Election assist the voter on Election Day. An individual must apply to become an Officer of Election and must be a qualified voter.

Virginia still needs more than 2,000 people to help on Election Day. Originally, 10,000 people were needed, but through community outreach efforts and business partnerships that number has been reduced. The increased need stemmed from the creation of 300 new precincts since 2004 and the projected increase in voter turnout for the November election.

In order to further focus the recruitment process, areas around the state have been designated as "hot spots" or places with substantial vacancies. These areas have recruited a large number of Officers of Election, but need more. These areas include: City of Fairfax, City of Richmond, Alexandria, Chesterfield County, Henrico County, Loudoun County, Virginia Beach, Frederick County, Norfolk and Pittsylvania County.

Earlier this spring, the Virginia State Board of Elections, in partnership with the Virginia Electoral Board Association (VEBA) and the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia(VRAV), launched a statewide campaign called "Ensure the Vote" to encourage individuals to become Officers of Election. The State Board of Elections has subsequently developed community partnerships with numerous businesses such as: State Farm, Bank of America, Erie Insurance, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Ukrops Grocery, League of Women Voters, US Investigation Services, Rockingham Group, LandAmerica, State Employees of Virginia and Phillip Morris: an Altria Company. These partnerships provide an opportunity for their employees to work the polls in their respective communities.

Applications to become an Officer of Election are available online and can be submitted through the web site. For more information on applying to become an Officer of Election visit the Virginia State Board of Elections web site at or contact your local registrar.

# # #
In the City of Charlottesville, we have about 150 election officers ready to go on November 4. Fifteen of them (or about 10 percent) work for State Farm in their daily lives. Others work for the University of Virginia, Martha Jefferson Hospital, SNL Financial, and various local businesses. Many are retirees. (The average age of pollworkers in the United States is 72.) We also have high-school student pages drawn from the ranks of future voters who are not yet eligible to vote by dint of their age.

One hundred and fifty election officers is sufficient for most elections, but we could easily use 50 or so more. We have scheduled several training sessions during the month of October, so nobody should be afraid to offer themselves for the job out of fear that they will not have time to learn how to do it right. Pollworkers are also paid for their time and provided with lunch on election day.

Any registered voter is qualified to work as an officer of election. There is no requirement that he work in his own precinct, or even in her own voting jurisdiction. (Some of the EOs in Charlottesville live in Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Greene counties; they choose to work in Charlottesville for convenience or other reasons.)

Those interested in working as an election officer in Charlottesville can get more information through the Office of Voter Registration and Elections on the city's web site.

Democratic Delegates: A Look Back

Democrats from across the country (and from overseas U.S. territories, as well) are gathering in Denver this weekend for their party's national convention, which opens tomorrow at the Pepsi Center.

Twelve years ago, I attended the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as a correspondent for the Metro Herald, a weekly newspaper published in Alexandria, Virginia. I eventually filed four stories that ran consecutively in September and October, each with photographic illustrations. (The 1996 Democratic convention ended the Friday before Labor Day, rather late in the season, much like this year's Republican convention in St. Paul, which begins on Labor Day itself.)

Over the past couple of months, I have posted two of those articles: "Protest and Dissent: The People Speak" and "Feeding Frenzy: The News Media at the Democratic Convention".

Here is the third, a look at the delegates from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia who participated in the 1996 Democratic National Convention, as it appeared in The Metro Herald in October of that year. (Click on the photos to embiggen and make the captions legible.)

Doing the Macarena: The Democratic Convention's Delegates
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
Exclusive to the Metro Herald

Democratic Party officials were proud of what they called the "diversity" of their convention's delegates. Certainly in racial and ethnic terms, the 1996 Democratic National Convention was diverse. According to a survey by the Chicago Sun-Times, of the 4,320 delegates, 67 percent of delegates were white, 18 percent were black, 9 percent were Hispanic, 3 percent were Asian, and 1 percent were native American. If the convention was trying to "look like America," it came close in these terms -- although blacks and Hispanics were somewhat overrepresented while whites were underrepresented in comparison to the general population.

If one looks at professions, however, the Democratic delegates looked far different from America. Fully 27 percent of delegates were members of labor unions (largely public employees or teachers unions), 24 percent were elected officials, only 13 percent were business people (with the same percentage of attorneys), and 12 percent were teachers. Since fewer than 10 percent of American workers now belong to a labor union, the percentage of union members at the Democratic convention is quite astounding. It explains in large measure how the Democratic Party approaches issues of employment, including minimum wage laws and requirements for paid leave and insurance coverage.

What was not mentioned much during the convention was the fact that a large fraction of delegates -- perhaps more than one-third -- earn over $100,000 a year. When it came to light that many delegates at the Republican convention fell into that tax bracket, the GOP was criticized for not "looking like America." The Democrats somehow escaped such criticism.

The delegates also spanned a large age range. The Sun-Times reported that the convention's oldest delegate (at 93) was former Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, who served both as Senate Majority Leader and as U.S. Ambassador to Japan in his long career. Two 17-year-olds were the convention's youngest delegates, Paul Kraus of Dubuque, Iowa, and Ida Rukavina of Virginia, Minnesota.

Diversity in age, race, and career did not, however, translate into diversity of ideas. Most observers agreed that the delegates represented the left-wing activists of the Party far more than the moderates in the Democratic grassroots or the moderate image presented by the Party's standardbearers, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. The platform was not subject to debate, and delegates rubberstamped the document even after an unannounced change was inserted in the published version, modifying the party's stance on welfare reform from opposition to the Republican welfare bill (as the platform stated before the bill was passed) to support for the bill (as the platform stated, on orders from the White House, after President Clinton signed the bill into law). Few dissident voices were heard on any issue.

This subject came up in a conversation with Virginia delegate Adam Ebbin, who lives in Alexandria. Asked for his impressions of the convention, Ebbin answered: "Spirited, a lot of energy, a lot of fun but people are pretty serious about re-electing the President. We've got unity, but we're not silencing different points of view." This seemed an interesting statement, given the Democrats' record for denying opportunities to anti-abortion proponents to speak from the podium or convention floor, so I inquired further: "Have there been any pro-life speakers?" Ebbin paused and said: "None that I've heard yet." I pressed him: "So there are some points of view that are not completely represented?" Ebbin's response: "That's not true. See you later." At that, he cut the interview off and left the floor.

Since the delegates had no real responsibilities during the convention -- as reported in these pages earlier (Metro Herald, September 27), U.S. political conventions have forsaken their roles as forums for debate, discussion, and decisionmaking -- they relieved the boredom by repeated renditions of the dance craze the Macarena, various stretching exercises, and feeble attempts at "the Wave." When Vice President Al Gore came to speak on Wednesday night, he joked about his own reputation for stiffness and the convention's ad nauseum macarena-izing by saying he wanted to demonstrate the dance, then standing perfectly still. The audience laughed, on cue.

"On cue" may be the operative phrase for the entire convention so far as the delegates were concerned. For the Democratic Party, the delegates were mostly props for a four-day television event.

Through subtle manipulation of lights and sound, the delegates laughed, applauded, sobbed, and sat in stone silence according to the needs of the organizers. Convention runners were tasked with distributing signs ("Welcome Home Hillary" or "Gore" or "Clinton" -- all in variations of red, white, or blue, of course) at sharply defined times in a strict schedule, so that when the order was given, the delegate-automatons waved the signs, cheered, whistled, or stomped their feet. Discipline was strong, but coercion was invisible. Discipline was achieved through clever psychological ploys rather than through threats of punishment or promises of reward.

Some of the delegates, of course, had real roles to play, but that was mostly "off-stage" -- that is, during the hours that the convention was not in session. These delegates were primarily elected officials or candidates who used the gathering of some 10,000 Democrats to raise money, collect friends, and influence people. Among the prominent candidates were former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who faces a tough but close race in his attempt to unseat longtime Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Gantt's broad smile and friendly handshake was much in evidence throughout Chicago, but particularly on the convention floor.

Each day, in the hours before the official convention "business" opened, delegates met in state caucuses at various hotels around Chicago. These caucuses provided opportunities to discuss political events back home and also to receive visits from high-profile Democrats, such as Jesse Jackson, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, or Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Favored delegations also met with Vice President Gore or his wife.

Some of the delegates were worried about the upcoming elections back home. Eve Wilson of McLean, Democratic chairwoman for Virginia's 10th Congressional District, expressed her views about the three-way race for the House of Representatives in her district, where incumbent Republican Frank Wolf faces Libertarian challenger Gary Reams and second-time Democratic challenger Stanley Weinberg.

"We have 10 counties and three cities in the 10th District," she said. "It's the fastest growth area in Virginia and a very exciting area to be in." The Metro Herald asked her what she thought of the Democratic Party's prospects in the November election. "I don't think the prospects are very good," she said, adding: "I think it's a very tough district. You've got an incumbent who's been there a very long time, even though he himself had promised to serve only 12 years," and of course that was 16 years ago. "I think he's running now on publicity, okay? People are really questioning what he does and he's actually as far right as you can go."

Wilson was asked whether 10th District Democrats have a "groundswell of support for term limits." She replied: "No, not necessarily. I think we're divided on it."

In comparison to the Republican convention, which had only about half as many delegates, there were far more elected officials of prominence attending the Chicago celebration. For instance, Virginia Senator John Warner chose not to go to San Diego, but his counterpart from the Democratic side of the aisle, Chuck Robb, was very much in evidence. Local elected officials seen enjoying themselves in Chicago included D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Councilmembers Jack Evans and Harry Thomas, and Maryland officials ranging from Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski to Governor Parris Glendening and U.S. Representative Al Wynn. Virginia's 8th District Representative, Jim Moran, dutifully sat through the proceedings on the convention floor, joined -- no doubt -- by over a hundred of his congressional colleagues.

As Chicago conventions go, this one was small -- only the 17th largest of conventions meeting in the Windy City in 1996. With 35,000 attendees (10,000 delegates and guests plus 15,000 media representatives), the Democratic convention is dwarfed by a high-technology gathering planned for November, which expects to attract over 125,000 people. Yet because of the high profile of political conventions, Chicago pulled out all the stops -- and rolled out the red carpet -- so that these influential attendees went home with positive impressions and words of encouragement to friends and neighbors to visit the city on Lake Michigan. Millions of dollars were spent to encourage good feelings, but in return, Chicago received tens of millions of dollars of tourism revenue. Mayor Richard Daley no doubt felt both exhausted and elated when the convention closed on August 29. So, I'm sure, did the thousands of delegates from around the country.

It's interesting how some things change, but others remain the same:

Eleanor Holmes Norton is still the congressional delegate from D.C., and Marion Barry and Jack Evans still serve on the District Council. Chuck Robb is no longer in the U.S. Senate, however, having been defeated by George Allen in 2000, who was in turn defeated by Jim Webb in 2006. Paul Sarbanes retired from the Senate, but Barbara Mikulski still represents Maryland there. Adam Ebbin is now a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and Jim Moran still represents Virginia's 8th Congressional District.

Even in 1996, opponents of Frank Wolf were reminding voters that he had pledged to serve no more than 12 years in Congress, something his opponents are still doing today, nearly 28 years after he was first elected.

At least nobody is doing the macarena these days.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bob Barr in the Washington Post

As much as I hate to admit it, I had a pile of newspapers accumulate over the weekend while I was entertaining out-of-town guests, so I am just catching up on my reading tonight.

To my surprise, Monday's Washington Post carried a Style section feature on Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr. The story was placed well above the fold on page one of the section, and continued for a full broadsheet page on the inside.

Written by Libby Copeland (who, curiously, had another piece on the same page, this one on soap opera actors posing as Presidents and First Ladies for a magazine scheduled to be published coincident to next year's inaugural festivities), the article emphasized Barr's human side, with little attention to policy positions.

For instance:

Is there any human being on the planet more committed to his seriousness than Bob Barr? The 59-year-old Barr is so into the Founding Fathers that most of his phone numbers, including his cellphone, end in "1-7-7-6." He only reads weighty books, his wife says, like "George Washington on Leadership." He talks about himself in the third person. In his office, he keeps a photo of himself as a Republican congressman -- calling for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Even Bob Barr's mustache is serious.

Bob Barr's law: "Never run a 100-yard dash in a 90-yard room."

What does that mean?

"It doesn't mean anything," he says, and then adds, sternly, "It's a joke."

And yet, every once in a while, the strangest thing happens. He does something surprising, like announces he really likes Bob Marley. Or says he kind of liked that Borat movie, except for the part where he was unwittingly in it as the butt of a joke, eating cheese purportedly made from human breast milk. He's still Bob Barr the bulldog, but in person he can be quite solicitous. And every so often, he smiles.
I have been following libertarian presidential candidates since the 1992 campaign, when Andre Marrou was running, and I never remember seeing such a big article about one of them placed so prominently in a newspaper of record. (Marrou was able to snag a column by George F. Will, published in the dog days of July and thus earlier than election day than even this piece, but that was also the year that Ross Perot stole the bulk of third-party thunder, so any coverage at all, at any time, was gratifying.)

Despite the lack of attention in Copeland's article to policy issues, I can appreciate any attempt to humanize (and therefore make more familiar) a Libertarian candidate. As political consultants know, voters care less about issues than they do about their inchoate feelings about candidates. Remember the contest in 2000 about which candidate voters would rather drink a beer with at a backyard barbecue? Al Gore came out short on that one. So did John Kerry four years later, though he did win the brie-and-chardonnay vote.

I hope that this Style section piece will reassure editors of other newspapers that it is acceptable to publish features about Barr.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Charlottesville First Amendment Wall - 08/17/08

Wandering through Charlottesville's downtown mall this past Sunday, I happened to come across the First Amendment monument sponsored and erected by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. The monument is near Charlottesville City Hall, the Pavilion, and the Transit Center.

Just for the heck of it, I pulled out my cellphone and snapped a few shots of messages left on the chalkboard section of the monument. (The other section is a podium for public speakers, with the intention that the monument might become Charlottesville's counterpart to Hyde Park Corner.)

What was odd was there was no chalk (nor were there any erasers) anywhere near the slate surfaces of the monument. Consequently, it was hard to know how old (or new) the messages were. That didn't diminish their capacity to amuse.

Most of the images are self-explanatory, but I've added captions for clarification.

"McCain '08: 'Old Enough to Know Better'"

"I Belive in [anarchy symbol]" (sic)

And another angle:

"My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way. -- Ronald Reagan"

Another Reagan quotation: "Tear Down This Wall!" plus "Billy Sux"

"Pray for lower beer prices!" and "Life's a Witch and Then U Fly"

Monkeys snuggle under a coconut tree, topped with "Bob Barr '08"

VCU math major Steven Latimer stands next to some untranslated Chinese (or Japanese) characters and the incomplete definition of a derivative (which he later corrected after we found some chalk)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Free Speech Affirmed ... for Now

The outgoing members of the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) have affirmed the rights of bloggers to comment upon and participate in politics. While the language of the ruling is both straightforward and logical, knowing that new FEC commissioners will be appointed by either John McCain, who views the First Amendment as an impediment to political progress, or Barack Obama, whose party wants to reinstate the Orwellian-sounding "Fairness Doctrine," means that doubts about the ruling's permanence are not unfounded.

The Heritage Foundation's Dave Mason writes on The Foundry blog:

Bloggers and web site operators may support, oppose, link to, and work cooperatively with federal political candidates. This freedom was reaffirmed when the newly re-constituted Federal Election Commission released its first two enforcement cases August 12.

The Commission’s refusal to regulate blogging and internet sites is not new, but it is notable is that the pro-blogger decision was made within a week or two of the new Commission taking office. Of the scores of items on its docket, the new Commission chose to address this one first: quite likely because they wanted to send a signal to that bloggers are free to engage in politics
Mason continues:
Bottom line: by making this case one of the first two it released, the Federal Election Commission reaffirms that bloggers and web site operators may support and oppose political candidates, republish or link to campaign material, and work as closely as they wish with campaigns in doing so.

The one activity that remains subject to FEC regulation is paying for an ad on someone else’s web site supporting or opposing a Federal candidate.
(Thanks to Leslie Carbone for alerting me to this news.)

Yiddish Cocktail

At the end of a long, informative, and amusing discussion of Yiddish words and phrases used in relation to alcoholic beverages, Daily Forward columnist Michael Wex adds an unusual cocktail recipe, which I have not previously encountered:

The Yiddish Mixed Drink

The single most Jewish liqueur ever known — at least back in my youth, when it was all the rage with the ladies who bar mitzvah — is Cherry Heering, a brandy-based cherry liqueur with a name that inspires confidence at any event at which Yiddish might conceivably be or have been spoken. Real cocktails, though, have never been developed. There is but one:

Alter Kaker (invented by Paul Lewis of the Joffrey Ballet)

1.5 oz. Old Grand-Dad
5 oz. Prune Juice

Pour into highball glass over ice cubes.

Stir well.


I don't think I'll be the first to belly up to the bar to order that one, but I'd be curious to learn if any of my readers have tried it. If so, how was it?

Setting the Alter Kaker down on a cocktail napkin, I should at least mention a potentially useful phrase that Wex drops into his article:

Mevisem can also be used of other intoxicating substances. As Ray Charles would have sung on “Modern Sounds in Yiddish and Western”:

LOmeer GAYN meVIsem VERN
(You can look it up.)

Just Too Good to Pass Up

Leave it to the Washington Post's Al Kamen, who presides over the "In the Loop" column, to dig up an old item that, with the perspective of almost a decade, rings with delicious irony.

Here is what he found:

This from a Nov. 12, 1999, Loop column.

Bipartisanship Never Sleeps Quote of the Week: Sure, it's only Friday, but we're confident this one can't be topped. It's from Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), remarking Tuesday on how he and Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) were in sync on some mining issues.

"Politics makes strange bedpersons," Craig said, according to the New York Times. "I would not be uncomfortable in Bob Byrd's bed."

But Byrd might be.

"Bedpersons"? I always thought the term was "bedfellows." Odd fellows, I'd say.

Fold the Tents Now

A definitive survey has predicted who will be the winner of the U.S. presidential election this year, so we might as well pack it up and go home. Why bother with the campaign, the conventions, and the commercials if the decision has already been made?

Here are the details of the impeccably scientific survey:

Minor league teams in six cities handed out bobbleheads of the two Presidential candidates during special promotions last week, with each fan choosing either a Barack Obama or John McCain model, each of which represented a Presidential vote. (In 2004, the same promotion predicted a narrow GW Bush victory). And when the dust had cleared on Monday, one candidate emerged with a clean sweep of all venues. So please nod your head comically and whistle Hail to the Chief for ...

Barack Obama.

If presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama wins the election in November, he will look back at the Goldklang Group’s “Bobblection 2008” as his springboard to the White House. Obama finished a clean sweep taking the Fort Myers vote on Monday night, to complete a six-city blanking of John McCain. Obama garnered 54.4% of the vote (500 bobbleheads), while McCain notched 45.6% of the vote (419 bobbleheads). The six cities represent the homes of Goldklang Group teams.

The junior United States Senator from Illinois started strong at Hammond Stadium and never looked back. The first 10 voters marked their ballot for Obama. McCain tried to rally late, but came up short for the sixth straight day. Four years ago, George Bush defeated John Kerry 53% to 47% in Fort Myers. The tally was nearly identical to the final national percentages.
"Barack the Bobblehead": Does that have the same resonance as, say, "The Great Communicator" or "The Rail Splitter"?


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bob Barr Comes to Richmond

Circumstances prevented me from attending the Tuesday Morning Group Coalition meeting in Richmond this morning. The Tuesday Morning Group is hosted by John Taylor and Tertium Quids. It meets generally on the second Tuesday of each month so that Virginia political activists can hear from prominent speakers on the issues of the day and compare notes with each other about current events.

Today was quite a program and I had looked forward to it. (As recently as late yesterday afternoon, I had exchanged emails with John Taylor about my plans to record part of the meeting on video.) The speakers included Paul Jacob of the Sam Adams Alliance and the new chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Delegate Jeff Frederick.

The star of the show, however, was to be former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, who is currently running for president as the nominee of the Libertarian Party. I have not previously met Congressman Barr and I hope today's missed opportunity does not mean I will not have a chance to do so before the election campaign is over. (I am counting on the University Libertarians to invite the candidate to Charlottesville in September or October.)

Fortunately, I knew that Steven Latimer would be attending the meeting and I implored him to get Congressman Barr's remarks on video so that they could be posted to YouTube (and, by implication, here).

Steven was more than willing to take up the task.

(For those who might be interested, Norm Leahy has a full report of the press lunch Barr had after the meeting.)

In the first part of this four-part video, John Taylor introduces Bob Barr. A couple of good lines worth noting, first from Taylor:

"The federal prosecutor who sent my congressman off to the Big House was Bob Barr -- something I will forever be grateful for..."
Then from Barr:
"Whenever you get libertarians into a room together, even if they agree on everything, they'll find something to argue about."

"The one thing that's missing from the Republican Party is any sense of excitement."

In part two, Barr starts off by noting:

"Neither of the two major parties has any vision or leadership whatsoever. It seems as if they not only have no leadership or vision or agenda for the American people, but they go out of their way to avoid it."

Here's the whole segment:

The expected third and fourth parts have not yet been uploaded to YouTube. When they are, I will post them here, too. Watch for an update soon.

Update #1: The mainstream media also covered Congressman Barr's speech: WTVR-TV in Richmond (with video); Julian Walker in the Virginian-Pilot; NBC29 in Charlottesville (WVIR-TV); WDBJ-TV Channel 7 in Roanoke; and Tyler Whitley in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Update #2: Part 3 of the video of Barr's remarks, in which he talks about ballot access challenges (especially Oklahoma and West Virginia, the hardest nuts to crack).

In this segment, Barr proposes a "new Grace Commission ... one on steroids" that would focus not just on government waste "but wasteful government," not just the "bad aspects of what government is doing, but the bad aspects of government itself."

He said we need to educate the American public about the tremendous waste, "not just in the money involved, but the power involved" and we need to characterize every government program according to three criteria: (1) "Is there a basis, explicit or reasonably implied, in the Constitution for that federal agency or program?" (2) "Even if there is, is it a program or a function that is best performed by the federal government ... as opposed to state or local government?" (3) "Do the benefits outweigh the cost?"

Waste in government, Barr said, represents a "loss of freedom."

See the rest here:

Update #3: Chelyen Davis has the story in the Free Lance-Star.

Update #4: This is the third and final part of the four-part Bob Barr video, in which the former Congressman says, "I didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me."

Asked by a member of the audience whether he is concerned that votes for himself might contribute to a victory in November by Barack Obama, Barr replies:
"Standing up for principle should never be something that any American shies away from or feels guilty about. It would be a sad state of affairs if we ever reached a point in this country where somebody stands up and stands for principle, does the right thing for the right reason, but is criticized because that gets in the way of practical politics.

"In point of fact ... it's not an accurate scenario. The fact of the matter is that individuals who would go to the polling booth on November 4th and vote for a Big-Government Republican, that is, Senator McCain ... it would be very difficult for us to pull them away, even if we were trying to, to vote for a small-government Libertarian.

"The voters on that side of the ideological spectrum, or political spectrum, that we are targeting and tend to reach and, I think, will reach, are not voters that McCain has or is likely to have, but are sort of libertarian or true-conservative Republican voters who would not vote for McCain at any rate. We intend to reach out to them, and I think we'll get an awful lot of them."
Asked about an issue that divides some Libertarian Party members (and other libertarians), Barr responds by saying:
"The Libertarian Party nowadays is a very diverse party, but the one thing that unites virtually all -- not every single, but virtually all -- Libertarians is a strong desire to have a meaningful role in reigniting liberty in America, to really begin the process through a legitimate political party and all the attributes that come with that: paying attention to raising money, paying attention to grassroots organization, selecting good candidates, prioritizing your issues, delivering those issues in language that the average voter can relate to.

"That is very much what the modern Libertarian Party is. There are differences, whether it is on the drug issue, the abortion issue, other issues as well. But I think it's a real sign of maturation of the Libertarian Party that we are able to largely (not entirely, but largely) put aside differences that we have and move forward, particularly in this election year where there is a tremendous opportunity for a party of change, as the Libertarian Party is ... even though our philosophy is not a philosophy of change, it's the core beliefs of our Founding Fathers, and it's a very mainstream message."
Watch the full segment, in which Barr concludes by mentioning the campaign web site,

Update #5: Hugh Lessig reports on Barr's speech in Richmond in the Daily Press.

Update #6: The Free Lance-Star posted an editorial about Barr's appearance at the Bull & Bear Club on August 14.

Schilling Profiled in 'Daily Progress'

Columnist Bryan McKenzie profiles former Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling in this morning's edition of the Daily Progress. McKenzie focuses on Schilling's new role as a talk-show host on WINA-AM:

“I know a lot of people in City Hall are listening — at least they’re monitoring — and I really like that,” said Schilling, chilling in a local coffee shop prior to a live broadcast of “The Schilling Show.” “They may not like what I say or how I say it, but it gives them a chance to hear a viewpoint other than the official party line.”

“The Schilling Show” is one of four locally produced daily talk shows on the station, joining “Morning News with Rick and Jane,” “Charlottesville Right Now with Coy Barefoot” and “The Best Seat in the House” sports show, with Jay James. “The Schilling Show” runs 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and for three hours Saturdays, beginning at 6 a.m.

Rick Daniels, WINA’s program director, said Schilling’s sometimes strident advocacy on local issues fits with the station’s mission.

“WINA has always been about news and stimulating talk radio,” Daniels said, standing outside the studio as “The Schilling Show” started. “He stimulates people. He motivates them to listen and call in.”

“The station wanted me to have an opinion and to advocate,” Schilling said. “I think I bring the sense of being an outsider who has been on the inside. Because I have been on the inside, I know where some of the bodies are buried.”
No doubt both fans and detractors of "The Schilling Show" will find something to like -- or something to respond to -- in McKenzie's article. The whole thing can be read here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sad News: George Furth Dead at 75

Earlier today, I received an email from a correspondent who told me he had heard that George Furth had died yesterday. I was unable to confirm the news through regular media sources, so I chose to forestall blogging about it until now, when I could, in fact, confirm it.

TheaterMania has posted an obituary confirming that Furth, who collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on both Company (which started off as a night of unrelated playlets about marriage by Furth before Sondheim joined the project) and Merrily We Roll Along.

Brian Scott Lipton writes on TheaterMania:

George Furth, who won the Tony Award for writing the book to the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, died on August 11 at age 75 in Santa Monica, California, according to published reports. No cause of death has been announced.

A graduate of Northwestern University, Furth began his career as a performer, appearing on Broadway in A Cook for Mr. General and Hot Spot, and appeared in numerous films and television shows for over 35 years, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Blazing Saddles, and Murder, She Wrote.

Furth originally wrote Company as a series of one-act plays. He later collaborated with Sondheim on Merrily We Roll Along, which was adapted from a play by George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart, and the thriller Getting Away With Murder.

As a character actor, Furth's face was familiar to television audiences for his appearances on Batman, That Girl, The Odd Couple, and Happy Days, among many other shows. (IMDB lists 86 separate television or film credits for Furth as a performer.) According to IBDB, Furth had credits as a performer in two short-lived Broadway plays (the above-named A Cook for Mr. General and Hot Spot) before he became an award-winning playwright.

Furth also collaborated with John Kander and Fred Ebb on the Liza Minnelli vehicle, The Act, in 1977.

While George Furth will no doubt be missed deeply by his friends and family, he left behind a durable legacy that will be enjoyed by theatre audiences for many decades to come.

What Tourists Ask in England

On my other blog ("Where Are the Copy Editors?"), I have a new post on embarrassing misspellings in an article in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

It was the substance of the article, however, that first drew me to it.

Apparently tourists -- not all of them American -- are asking what the Telegraph politely calls "embarrassing" questions of docents at various English Heritage sites (the stately homes of England, as it were). A British tourism organization has revealed the ten most embarrassing questions posed by visitors to these castles, manors, and estates.

The Telegraph's Andy Bloxham explains:

The series of questions were released to mark the start of an English Heritage campaign to encourage shy tourists to ask guides if they have a query about the building they have come to see.

The organisation's hope is that more questions will mean that the buildings make more of an impression, which will encourage the visitors to tell others of what they have experienced and could boost visitor numbers.
It seems to me that by publicizing what are often -- not to be as polite as English Heritage -- stupid questions, the organization might actually stifle inquiries by tourists who are now afraid of embarrassing themselves.

While the questions English Heritage has compiled are not exactly fodder for David Letterman's Top Ten List, a number of them are amusing in a "boy-i'm-glad-that-wasn't-me" sort of way.

Here are English Heritage's top ten, in no apparent order (and including the misspellings):
"Is this where Sharon and Ozzie actually live?" - a visitor to Osborne House, Isle of Wight

"What time do you switch the mist off?" – a visitor to Dover Castle and the Secret Wartime Tunnels, in Kent

"Where are the monkeys?" – a group of children at Cleeve Abbey in Somerset

"Why did they build so many ruined castles and abbeys in England?" - a tourist at Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire

"Is it a bouncy castle?" - a little girl at Clifford's Tower, York

"Can you tell me where I can see the Hobbits?" - a visitor to Kenwood House, Hampstead

"Did they all have the same dad?" – a visitor to Osborne House, Isle of White, who learned of Queen Victoria's nine children

"How many bricks are there?" - a visitor to Witley Court and Gardens, Worcestershire

"Does my ferret need to be on a lead in this area?" - a visitor to Kenwood House, Hampstead

"How long does life membership last?" - a visitor to Osborne House, Isle of White

"Did Lady Rachel ever de-bone her fish before eating it?" - a visitor to Witley Court and Gardens, Worcestershire

"Are the tunnels underground?" - a visitor to Dover Castle and Secret Wartime Tunnels, Kent

"Is that a manmade jetty?" - a visitor to Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, pointing at a 300 million-year-old rock formation

"Is this Dracula's Castle?" - a visitor to Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire.
Embarrassing or not, English Heritage also has a list of Frequently Asked Questions on its own web site.

I do have to admit that asking whether all of Queen Victoria's children had the "same dad" is not as silly as it sounds. As Art Linkletter might remark, "Kids say the darnedest things."

Godwin's Law and Georgia

This tidbit comes from the FOCUS News Agency:

Moscow. A top Russian politician on Monday compared Georgian actions in South Ossetia with Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin likened them to Saddam Hussein's war crimes, AFP reports.

"I can compare this treacherous attack with the attack by Hitler on the Soviet Union in June 1941," the Speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament, Boris Gryzlov, was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS news agency.
Apparently Godwin's Law applies even in international diplomacy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Revisiting 'The Fix'

Leslie Carbone brings our attention to this quotation-cum-apologia from failed Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who explains how he fell from the hair-perfect heights to the hair-shirt depths:

"I went from being a senator, a young senator to being considered for vice president, running for president, being a vice presidential candidate and becoming a national public figure. All of which fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want. You're invincible. And there will be no consequences."
The first thought that came to my mind as I watched the Edwards saga unfold was: Isn't it a shame that Saturday Night Live is on summer hiatus?

My second thought was: John Edwards makes Newt Gingrich look like Husband of the Year.

My third thought was: This reminds me of a play I once saw; which one?

"The one" turned out to be The Fix, which premiered in London in 1997 and had its American premiere a year later at Signature Theatre in Arlington.

Written by the same team (John Dempsey and Dana Rowe) that later gave us The Witches of Eastwick, The Fix is musical play about politics. Those are rare. (What else falls into this niche category? Of Thee I Sing, which was a Pulitzer Prize-winning success. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a miserable flop. Mr. President, Irving Berlin's last original musical, unmemorable. One could include Call Me Madam in this category, simply to add another hit, but that would be a stretch. However you count, the numbers are few.)

It's unfortunate that The Fix has not had another life beyond its London and stateside premieres. It deserves another look, and an election year may be just the best time to do it.

With John Edwards adultery still in the headlines and the political conventions just around the corner, what better time to revisit my review of Dempsey and Rowe's The Fix?

This review appeared in The Metro Herald in April 1998.
Signature Scores with 'The Fix'
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Arlington's Signature Theatre has another hit on its hands, a welcome antidote to the disappointment of its last production, the flaccid Shooting in Madrid.

With The Fix, however, Signature has produced a rich, raunchy, cynical musical comedy that combines the best of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber without being derivative from either. This American premiere of The Fix has been made possible by a grant from megahit producer Cameron Mackintosh, who also underwrote the show's London premiere last year at the Donmar Warehouse, a non-profit theatre that shares many characteristics with Signature.

Director Eric D. Schaeffer, working with librettist John Dempsey and composer Dana P. Rowe, has made some changes -- invariably improvements -- from the London version of The Fix. What remains is a tight, nearly operatic, look at the tragedy that ensues from political ambition, personal weakness, and corruption. Not a moment is wasted.

The plot centers on a prominent political family -- it could be the Kennedys, it could be the Caesars -- whose leading light, Senator Reed Chandler (Jim Walton) collapses and dies in the embrace of his mistress on the eve of his near-certain election to the presidency. Not missing a beat, the Senator's widow, Violet (Linda Balgord), decides to push her young son, Cal (Stephen Bienskie) in the direction her husband was heading, saying "If I can't be the wife of the President, you can bet your ass I'll be his mother!" Cal is none too sure about this course of action, correctly doubting his own abilities, but he cannot withstand the pressure from his mother and his uncle, political strategist Grahame Chandler (Sal Mistretta). After a stint in combat with the Army, Cal is elected to the city council, then the governorship. Along the way he gets married, becomes a father, gets addicted to cocaine and heroin, and takes a mistress of his own, an ex-stripper named Tina McCoy (Natalie Toro). Entangled with the mob, Cal takes hits from the media and law enforcement officials, finally coming clean at a press conference intended to announce his entry into a campaign for the U.S. Senate. True to The Fix's roots in Greek tragedy, Cal comes to an untimely end -- but not before we see his seven-year-old son, Cal Jr. (Joel Carron), emerge as a true heir to his father and grandfather.

In some ways, this play seems torn directly from today's headlines. A philandering politician -- where have we heard that one before? At one point, when Cal announces to the public that he has ties to a prominent mobster, a TV reporter notes that polls show his favorability rating has gone up and continues to rise. Yet the themes outlined here are far more universal than current events would allow. The story could be set today or in the 1830s or in the Roman Empire.

In fact, creators Dempsey and Rowe first conceived The Fix as a play about Caligula and Claudius, the third and fourth Roman emperors and members of the clan founded by Caesar Augustus. Their story -- as anyone familiar with the TV series "I, Claudius" remembers -- involved multiple court intrigues, ambitious mothers and grandmothers whose weapon of choice was poison, sexual and psychological excesses, extramarital affairs, and common murder. Translate that rough story into modern dress, and you get The Fix.

Musically, this show is nothing but a success. The score is a mixture of rock, gospel, blues, Tin Pan Alley, vaudeville, country and western, sweet ballads, inspiring anthems. Each character is defined by the music that he or she sings. One result is that most of the characters get a solo number that allows them to comment on the action and, indeed, on the state of their own souls. An exception is Reed Chandler, who despite a rousing opening number in which he takes a lead, is denied the second-act hit tunes that his wife, brother, son, and son's mistress all get. Sadly, this means that the talents of Jim Walton, who originated the role of Franklin Shepard in Merrily We Roll Along, are underutilized. If the creators plan any future changes in the play, this is one that should be rectified.

The Fix owes much to Merrily We Roll Along, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1980 morality tale that follows the financial rise and spiritual fall of a talented composer. There is one musical phrase, in fact, repeated several times by the chorus in The Fix that is lifted directly from Merrily's score, where it served the same purpose. One speculates as to whether this is due to the influence of director Eric Schaeffer and his longtime collaborator, musical director Jon Kalbfleish, both Sondheim aficionados for many years, since the phrase is not heard on the London cast recording. In any event, this probably represents a tribute to Sondheim rather than anything more sordid.

There are so many brilliant moments in The Fix that it is hard to list them. One song, "I See the Future," is Cal's victory speech on election day. It is completely platitudinous and insubstantial. The brilliance in the number is this: The audience can read the speech on the "teleprompter" used by Cal, complete with stage directions for "spontaneous" gestures. The façade of politics is split wide open.

The Fix is an adult musical, with mature themes and strong language. It is satire in the tradition of Of Thee I Sing, but it is much deeper than that. The Fix deserves wide attention.

Could The Fix be Broadway bound? An earlier Signature production this season, Never the Sinner, arrived in New York to great acclaim. Signature Theatre is already swimming in Helen Hayes awards and nominations -- with The Fix, there could be a Tony within its grasp.

The Fix runs through April 26 at the Signature Theatre, 3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington. Tickets are available by calling ProTix at 1-800-955-5566 or 703-218-6500. Multiple sellouts are likely, so call quickly to make reservations.
As we now know, The Fix never made it to Broadway. (If the Wikipedia article on Dempsey and Rowe is correct, there have been no other productions of the show since it played Signature.) Too bad.

Maybe there are some producers out there, reading this article today, who might be inspired to get The Fix back on the boards before Election Day. Timing is everything -- in politics as in comedy.