Slack Chat: Vet the House on the Dark Horse


T: With apologies to Meat Loaf  (the singer, not the artery-clogger), Joe Biden is going to announce his Vice President choice in the next week or so.

“So who’s it gonna be, boy?”

J: I’d say Kamala Harris has the inside track.

T: I watched the FiveThirtyEight podcast yesterday; they listed several candidates, but said only about three of them are seriously in the running. They agreed with you, calling Harris the favorite.

J: She just makes too much sense NOT to be the pick.

T: Who are the main candidates?

J: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Val Demings, Susan Rice, Gretchen Whitmer and Tammy Duckworth.

T: No Stacy Abrams?

J: No. Whether it was her idea or not, Abrams doesn’t seem to be under serious consideration any more.

She was campaigning for it, and I think that may have rubbed Biden the wrong way. Biden’s old-scholl; to him, the office is supposed to seek the person. Not the other way around.

T: So we’ll assume that Abrams is scratched; let’s run through the rest of them.

Since she’s the heavy favorite, let’s start with Kamala Harris.

J: As I said before, she just makes too much sense NOT to be the pick. Former prosecutor Harris very much in the Obama mold – intelligent, charismatic and articulate – and ideologically fairly close to Biden on most issues.

T: The prosecutor angle is interesting; Trump is leaning heavily on law and order in his campaign, trying to make it look like the democrats are carpooling rioters to Portland.

J: It can’t hurt.

T: Does she have any negatives?

J: She was pretty hard on Biden during the primary campaign… I think Joe has forgiven her, but I don’t think Jill Biden has. That would count against her.

The GOP would run ads of her ripping Biden during the debates. She also was a pretty hardcore prosecutor; there would be some scrutiny of her record in that regard.

T: An outsized factor this time around is Biden’s advanced age. The VP candidate has to be somebody the nation will accept as its president if something happens to Biden. 

Does Harris pass that test?

J: I would say so. I think being a senator is better preparation for the Presidency than being a governor or a non-congressional office, because Senators have to have some familiarity with foreign policy. Pete Buttigieg was a great candidate, except that South Bend, Ind. didn’t have to worry too much about nuclear proliferation.

T: So where does that land Harris overall?

J: In horse racing terms, she’s the chalk pick. She’s not particularly risky, doesn’t have a lot of electoral upside – she’s not from a battleground state – but she won’t drag the ticket down, either. Being a former candidate helps her in the sense that she’s prepared to step in if needed and be accepted as the President. She’s a known quantity in political circles something democrats value more than republicans.

T: Let’s take another one: Elizabeth Warren.

J: Warren has some pretty distinct negatives; the main one is that she is extremely liberal, almost AOC liberal. Biden appears to be charting a path away from that wing of the party. She’s also nearly Biden’s age (71) so there’d be some chatter about the age of the democratic leadership: “Another old-timer? We need new blood … ” 

T: Also, she’s white; this time around, the undertow against choosing a white candidate would take down Abraham Lincoln. And Fox would play the Pocahontas thing on a dammed loop.

I’ll tell you what, though. Warren is going to have a huge role in Biden’s administration, assuming he wins the White House.

J: I don’t think the Pocahontas thing would be that big a deal; Trump’s done a thousand times worse during his Presidency.

T: The insulter doesn’t say, “she’s worse than me.” The insulter says, “she’s worse than you.”

J: The voters will know the difference, though.

T: Yeah, it probably wouldn’t matter to the vote. But it would be annoying to hear about it all the time from the same morons who would deny the holocaust during an Auschwitz visit.

J: Agreed. I also agree with you that being white is probably death to her chances.

I’d be very surprised if she was the VP pick, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her in the cabinet if Biden is elected.

T: What do you think is her most likely cabinet spot? She could be a lot of things and do them well, but I’d like to see her front and center in the Medicare-for-all push.

J: I think HHS secretary would be ideal for her; she could lead the Medicare-for-all push from there.

T: So what are her odds? At what odds would you bet on her?

J: I’d put her at maybe 10/1 to get the Veep nod, but better than even money to be in the Cabinet. She will have a voice in the Biden administration, if there is one.

T: She might be 10/1 in the polls, but I don’t think I’d take even 30-1 on VP, honestly; Warren ain’t getting VP.

But a Cabinet position … 2/5, maybe? She might turn one down, but I’d be shocked if she didn’t get an offer.

J: I was gonna say 3/5, so we can average it to 1/2.

T: She’ll be offered at least one; she might be offered her choice. She is the democrats’ best high-profile policy wonk.

Ok, next victim: Susan Rice.

J: Rice is an interesting pick. She’s got by far the best foreign-policy chops as a former UN ambassador, and as a former national-security advisor she certainly understands defense policy and alliances and whatnot. Her weakness is that she’s never held elective office; she’d be painted as a creature of the Swamp, rather than a candidate of the People.

She would make an excellent Secretary of State if she doesn’t get the Veep nod.

T: In the past, Rice has been prone to rash statements and judgments … I don’t want to compare her to Rudy Giuliani – she’s a very different person – but she shares some of his (cough) “unfiltered” characteristics. She may or may not survive the VP vetting process.

That said, I think she’ll be useful and valuable in whatever position she takes, including the VP. She is a dedicated, experience foreign policy wonk, and regardless of her reputation from Benghazi, history has largely exonerated her position.

J: History maybe; we’ll see about public opinion.

T: Yeah. But that’s kind of a partisan thing, isn’t it? I don’t think independent voters care about it.

J: Yeah, and it’s really old news.

T: If she’s the choice, we’z gonna hear ALL about it, though.

J: Oh yeah.

T: By the way, I don’t think Rice is as loony and nutso as Rudy G. She is a sober, serious administrator.

But you don’t need to own the crayons to be the canvas, and the GOP’s job is to paint pictures with whatever they can find. Rice might be vulnerable to that sort of attacking style.

J: Yeah, she’s said some, shall we say, problematic things in the past. I think she’d be an excellent SecOfState or VP, but I’d lean more towards SecOfState for her if I was Biden.

Also, there isn’t a lot of info out there about her position on issues; she’d largely be a blank slate, for good or ill.

T: The overriding factor for Rice and Abrams (if she was in the mix) is that they have not held national elected office. At what odds would you be willing to bet on Rice?

J: A little lower than Warren, but not much; maybe 8/1. But, like Warren, Rice is a mortal lock for either a cabinet position or as the National Security Advisor.

T: I think Rice is more likely than that, somewhere around 7/2 or 4/1. I think Biden is cooler on the idea of choosing Harris than the democratic party is. If Biden knew and trusted Harris as well as he knows and trusts Rice, I think he’d have announced Harris as his sidekick months ago and got her out campaigning.

I think if Rice had elected experience she’d be the favorite, because I think Biden wants Rice. But that lack of office experience and Biden’s advanced age means he is probably being counseled against choosing Rice.

But even against the wind, I think she’s either the second or third choice.

Next on the hit parade: Val Demings.

J: Who?

T: Just go to Wikipedia like I did.

J: We do that a lot, don’t we?

T: These slacks wind up being Wikipedia book reports half the time.

J: Only half?

T: So what does Val Demings’ wiki page say?

J: She’s a bit of a reach, I think; she was an impeachment manager and you KNOW that’d be all over Fox News. Also, she was a police chief, and given the current feelings towards law enforcement, she might be a problematic choice. Her positives are that she’s black and she’s from Florida; the combination would give the ticket a boost in a critical battleground state. 

T: I don’t think her profile is strong enough for this particular position; she has a few years in the House, which is enough in a normal year, but this ain’t a normal year. Biden’s advanced age means the VP has to be fully qualified to be the P; it’s a long way from the House to the Oval.

J: That’s a strong limiter this year; any Veep candidate has to be vetted like a POTUS, too.

T: I think her credential are interesting, though. Her career in law enforcement is a double-edged PR sword, but overall I think her record is a positive one. Most of the naysayers would be your typical trolls, addicted to booing, and there are more shy law and order types than you might think among the independent voters.

J: Yeah, the extended “protests” are not universally supported outside of the hard left at this point.

T: Not at all; most of the rank and file voters are getting protest-fatigue.

My guess is that Demings will be a strong candidate for a senatorial position when the next opening presents itself.

J: That sounds right.

T: What odds? I’d toss a fin or two on 100/1, but it’s just a wild stab. I don’t think her profile is high enough to qualify as the Biden-understudy.

J: I’d put her at about 20/1… she’s an up-and-comer, definitely, but her time is not yet. Maybe not even 2024, but by 2028 she’ll be ready for a national-profile position.

T: I should (gently) point out that she is 63 years old.

J: Well, Biden’s 78… in eight more years Demings would be Warren’s age.

T: Does it seem like the Democratic party is on the final fumes of the Clinton era now?

J: It does seem that way; it’s the last stand of the Democratic old guard. The young Turks are coming to take over.

T: Harris and Rice are 55.

J: That’s barely old enough to get a drink at the DNC these days.

T: Demings has an impressive visual bearing. She looks Presidential.

Well, she looks like she goes to the same hairdresser as Julia-Louise Dreyfuss did on “Veep,” anyway.

J: I didn’t know hair was a handicapping category.

T: It’s not; I just thought it was interesting that some people still buy hairspray from Costco.

J: Can we get back to the VP race?

T: Ok. Anything else on Demings?

J: Right now, Demings would  be a risky Veep pick because of her relative inexperience, and Biden’s not in a position where he has to make a risky pick. If this was a margin-of-error race, maybe he might gamble on a relative unknown with solid law and order credential. But with a pretty solid lead I would say no.

T: We agree, she’s a longshot. And I think we agree that she’d be a good choice, if chosen.

J: Oh, she’d be terrific. A retired police chief from Florida with solid liberal credentials? She could be useful in a bajillion ways.

T: Speaking of younger democratic candidates, what do you think of 48-year-old Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer?

J: Whitmer has been kind of a lightning rod for controversy with her handling of the pandemic, although she remains popular in Michigan. She might eventually run for Senate if she wants to cultivate a national profile; I don’t think she can do it from the governor’s mansion. I don’t know if she is term-limited, but I would look for her to make a move to the national stage in the next few years if she’s going to.

T: She has a pretty solid career arc going on, having served in the Michigan state House, Senate and now Governor’s mansion; if and when she decides to go national, I’m sure she’ll be a force.

That said, I don’t think much of her chances in the VP race. Much like Demings, she became a hot prospect during a particular news cycle that is no longer newsy. She’s white and has no national experience.

She made the shortlist after a splashy exchange with Trump, but that was months ago. I doubt Biden even remembers when she was on the list.

J: I looked it up; Whitmer was elected Governor in 2018 and can only be re-elected once, so she is term-limited to 2026.

T: The next Michigan Senate seat opening will be 2024, when democrat Debbie Stabenow will be 74 years old. Stabenow has been in the Senate since 2000.

The other senatorial election is this year; democrat Gary Peters is the incumbent. So there will be another one in 2026.

J: So maybe she’ll run for Peters’s seat.

T: That’s the most likely, I think. Stabenow will be 74, but she looks like she is in great shape and senators often serve well into their eighties.

Where to you see Whitmer’s VP odds? Does she have any?

J: She is under consideration, I guess, but her odds are probably fairly long… she’s white and would come under criticism for her heavy-handed management of the pandemic. Like Demings, she’d be a risky pick, and Biden doesn’t need to make a risky pick.

T: I’d say she’s maybe worth a coupla bucks at 500/1, but I’m worth a coupla bucks at 500/1. Ok, maybe not me.

Ok, we are down to our personal favorite candidate. What say you about Senator Tammy Duckworth?

J: As you know from past conversations, I think she would be absolute kryptonite for Trump.

None of his juvenile names would have any effect on her, and using them would probably cause him more blowback than anything else. She would be a terrific president if needed; she definitely has that look about her.

That being said though, looking at her objectively, her positions are really, really liberal, as much so as Warren. That would be a problem for a self-styled moderate like Biden.

T: I roared, cooled and settled into a nice middle ground on Duckworth as the nature of the presidential race itself roared, cooled and settled.

Duckworth clicks all the important boxes. She’s a respected administrator with hard-left credentials but also some good-sense fiscal credentials that will appeal to the moderate wing of the party. As a disabled war veteran she strikes a tough, commanding, inspiring figure. As a long-married mother of two small children she strikes a compassionate, nurturing, empathetic figure.

If the race was close, I’d be a lot less enthusiastic about Duckworth; the enthusiasm in the Black community could be a big deal in a close race, and Duckworth would not generate that sort of enthusiasm. When the race looked close, I was very cool on Duckworth as the choice.

But the race doesn’t appear to be close, and the candidates that have that enthusiasm don’t have answers for Duckworth’s other attributes.

If the race was Trump’s to lose, I’d be a LOT more enthusiastic about Duckworth. She can knock Trump on his ass and Trump can’t whine back like bullies always do when they get punched in the face. I thought she was the best option if Biden needed to make up ground. She is, like you said, kryptonite for Trump’s bullying tactics.

Harris will be the chalk, but my money is on Duckworth. I honestly don’t think Biden wants Harris if he can sell the party on someone else.

What odds would you give Duckworth?

J: I’d make her the second choice, maybe 3/1.

My odds, after kicking it around a little in my head:

  • Harris: 1/1 (and my pick)
  • Duckworth: 3/1
  • Rice: 6/1
  • Whitmer: 8/1
  • Demings: 10/1
  • Warren: 20/1
  • Abrams: Hell freezes over/1
  • Field: 15/1


T: My odds:

  • Harris 8/5
  • Duckworth 5/2 (and my pick)
  • Rice 4/1
  • Demings 50/1
  • Whitmer 500/1
  • Warren return bet, seek help

J: Oh, and field: 20/1. Not Sally Field.

T: The nature of these sorts of  campaign choices is that the field is still viable, and worth a flyer bet. The two largest factors this time around point in both directions, though:

  • Since the VP is more likely than usual to become the president, the field is limited to candidates who have presidential credibility.  
  • Since the nominee (Biden) is cool toward the chalk candidate (Harris), it’s likely that the campaign isn’t done casting its net.

The English betting pools, who mostly bet on names, like Michelle Obama. What would you set her odds at? What odds would tempt you?

J: As far as I know, Michelle Obama has absolutely no interest in politics and has steadfastly refused to entertain any offers to run for office.

That’s not to say she wouldn’t be an excellent candidate; she’s smart, articulate, and was married to the president for eight years, so she has some grasp of how the levers of power work. The only issue is that she has no interest in politics whatsoever. I’d say 1,000 to 1.

T: Yeah, the interest in her far outstrips her own interest; if she was interested we’d have heard by now.

J: I would think so.

T: If there was a dark horse … Hillary? Just kidding. Betty White? Mostly kidding. Is there someone completely off the grid who might pop up late? Give me one and sell me.

J: How about a recasting? I’ll go with Amy Klobuchar. She’s been through the vetting process as a presidential candidate, she’s a sitting senator so she has some foreign-policy chops, she’s from the battleground state of Minnesota, and she’s fairly moderate in her views, “simpatico” with Biden, to use his word.

T: Klobuchar has strong moderate credentials, but she herself said Biden should not pick a white VP, so I assume she is still on the “do not resuscitate” list.

Another name that has been mentioned a time or two is Karen Bass. I know nothing about her, pending the inevitable trip to Wikipedia.

J: They should sponsor our blog.

T: I just sent them 20 bucks last week.

J: We we are sponsoring them?

T: Us and about 400 million other people, hopefully. Bass?

J: Bass is a four-term congress member from California… she’s got a history of controversial statements; she called Castro “Comandante in jefe” (Commander in Chief), which was considered not just the thing.

T: Barring a late darkhorse, I think we have the field lined up. So who’s it gonna be, boy?

J: Lemme sleep on it.

T: Oh, very funny. Nobody reading this is going to remember the Meat Loaf joke.

J: But you had to know that was coming, right?

T: I didn’t remember the Meat Loaf joke and I WROTE it.

J: Well, two out of three aint –

T: Nope. Not having it.

J: Ok, I guess I’m done anyway; I only know about four Meat Loaf songs.

T: So … who’s it gonna BE, boy?

J: Well, my head says Harris, but my heart says Duckworth. If I can only put one bet down, I’ll go with Harris.

Either one would be an excellent choice, though.

T: That’s the difference between us as handicappers-slash-degenerate gamblers. I would actually ignore the chalky pick and put my money on Duckworth. Harris should be the chalk, she’s the public’s choice. But I can’t help thinking that the delay in choosing a candidate means Biden doesn’t want to choose her.

J: Well, as you know, I’m a conservative bettor, I lean to the chalk. I’d personally be delighted if Duckworth was the pick; she would absolutely neuter Trump.

And watching her debate Pence would be must-see TV.

T: The handicapping is fun, but the VP rarely has that much of an impact.

And it’s not like Biden is going to listen to a woman, anyway.

J: Oh, you’re a dead man walking when the girls on Bajolers see this.

T: Probably. But Biden is still a million-year-old white guy. Do YOU think he’ll listen to a female VP?

J: Point taken.  

No. 29 Alex Rodriguez (Number 2 Shortstop)

I don’t understand how Rodriquez didn’t win more MVPs early in his career. Take 1996. He is a solid fielding shortstop who is just 21 years old. He wins the batting title and scores 141 runs to lead the league. You want power, you have power, 54 doubles (to lead the league) and 31 home runs. He drives in well over 100 RBIs with 23 doubles. He is runner-up for the award. The winner Juan Gonzalez had a solid year and hit 47 home runs and had 144 RBIs. He was lucky modern statistics weren’t available though as Rodriguez had 2.5 times the WAR that Gonzalez had. However, Gonzalez only scored 89 runs more than 50 less than Rodriguez. He wasn’t even a very good fielder for a left fielder.

The excuse. Gonzalez led his team to first place. However, Rodriguez wasn’t playing for a bad team where he could just worry about his stats. He played for a team that was in contention the whole year. They finished in second only 4.5 games behind the Gonzalez’s Rangers and only 2.5 games from the wild card.  Gonzalez hit slightly better late in the game when the score was close, but there is hardly any difference between the two. It might be worth maybe 1 or 2 extra runs. If Gonzalez hit that way all the time, he would have had a better season on offense than Rodriguez, but he didn’t and I would have voted Rodriguez MVP then and now.

Rodriguez was the leader in WAR for position players 6 times in his career. The last three times he won the MVP award. I would have voted him MVP all six times. One time his team the Ranger’s did play below .500 ball and that time I have an understanding why he didn’t win the award, but I disagree with the writers. Then he might have gotten more consideration for the greatest shortstop of all time. He would have had more points as I awarded MVPs points.

However, I can’t see him as the greatest shortstop of all time.  Even without the 10 percent penalty for steroids Wagner would have beat Rodriguez. However, it was more than that. He played 3rd base a lot at the end of his career. He did move to accommodate Jeter, so that isn’t much of a penalty even though he won 2 of his 3 MVPs as a third baseman. He had some poor playoff series for the Yankees. Not as poor of a playoff player as one time made out by the press, but there were a lot of series he just didn’t hit well. Overall, he is a solid player in the post season, but was a great player in the regular season. Also, Joe Torre his manager for manager for 4 years on the Yankees had nothing complementary to say about him in his book, The Yankee Years. That I have never gotten a good feel how much his career was assisted by steroids, so I cannot put him number 1 at shortstop.

Slack Chat: Did I say that out loud?

T:  Hey J, how deep is Trump’s foot in it this time? He called the Floyd protesters thugs. The Floyd protest isn’t a thug movement, is it? I mean, Trump does the ‘thinly veiled racist comment’ thing all the time, but that’s a very thin veil.

J: At any other time and any other place, with any other voting base, that could literally end his chances of getting any non-racist votes.

T: But today, after four years of carpet-bombing the public with thinly veiled racist comments, it might not even be news.

Do you think this one sticks?

J: In the current environment it’s hard to say… there’s so much shit going down that it might get lost in the storm.

Speaking of shit, I really, seriously think that Trump’s cheese is sliding off his cracker, to coin a phrase. The dude is losing it, mentally. And it’s scary to watch, because his base still supports him even as he goes off the deep end.

T: Did he really threaten to shoot protesters?

J: He said something like “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” That goes back to some cracker mayor in 1967 Georgia, I think.

T: Lovely, quoting racists past.

Cake’s Presidential Quickies: Chet Arthur

Today’s Chief Executive is Chester (or Chet, as I like to call him) Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. He was succeeded by a Grover, a Teddy, a Bennie, two Willies and a Woody and preceded by an Abraham, a Ulysses and a Rutherford. This places Chet near the pinnacle of the Era of Presidents with Stupid First Names.

Arthur was born in Vermont, although Ye Olde Infowars (they’ve been around forever) posited a theory that he was actually born in Canada, which would have made him ineligible for the presidency.

We’ll come back to this.

Arthur moved to New York when he was 14 and eventually moved into state politics. He rose to become the Collector of the Port of New York, which in those days before civil service reform was an immensely powerful patronage position; he had thousands of employees who served at his whim, and therefore were apt to support whatever political party or cause Arthur backed.

Chet rose to the presidency through some of the strangest circumstances in history.

First, the Republican convention deadlocked between James Blaine and John Sherman for 34 ballots. James Garfield was Sherman’s campaign manager, and after the 34th ballot Garfield rose to give a speech in support of his candidate.

From all reports, this speech was a work of art; because of it, Garfield got 50 votes on the next ballot and got a majority on the 36th, against his will. Remember, he was Sherman’s campaign manager.

Arthur was attractive as a running mate for the Republicans because (1) he would geographically balance the ticket after the GOP chose Garfield — who was from Ohio — and (2) he could raise a bazillion dollars in campaign contributions due to his Port of New York Collector position.

This was about this time that Ye Olde Infowars started the whispering campaign that Arthur was not born in the US and therefore ineligible to be vice president. The rumors were largely ignored at this point.

Garfield was elected and then, a few months later, was shot in the back by rejected jobseeker Michael Flynn Charles Guiteau. Ironically, Garfield wasn’t badly hurt in the shooting, but as a result of his doctors probing the wound with unsterilized instruments, he developed a massive infection and died.

Arthur took office and, much to everyone’s surprise, was quite a good president. He signed the Pendleton Act reforming the civil service and approved the first steam-powered battleships, moving the US Navy finally out of the Age of Sail.

On the downside, Chet signed the Chinese Exclusion Act barring all immigration from China for ten years. To be fair, though, he vetoed an earlier version that would have banned Chinese immigration for 20 years.

By all accounts, Chet was much more interested in fine dining and good cigars than actually being President. He was widely mocked as “Prince Arthur” early in his term and rumors persisted that he was born in Canada (stoked by you-know-who), but by the end of his administration he was generally well regarded.

Chet made only a token attempt to win re-election; he suffered from serious kidney disease and died only two years after the end of his term.

Cake’s Presidential Quickies: Harry Truman

Today’s Chief Executive is Harry Truman, failed haberdasher and artillery battery commander.
Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri in 1884 and worked on the family farm into his twenties, when he was drafted into the Army and served in France during World War I. The artillery brigade he served with provided support for a guy you might have heard of, then-Colonel George S. Patton.
After the war, Truman returned to Missouri and went into politics, eventually winning election to the Senate. There was some scandal associated with this; Truman was seen, wrongly, as it turned out, as a product of the Kansas City political machine. He became Vice President through a series of events that disqualified most of his rivals; Franklin Roosevelt had little choice but to put him on the ticket as he was the only candidate who hadn’t offended some major Democratic constituency. 
Roosevelt died less than three months into his fourth term; Truman was notified of his ascendance to the Presidency in what had to be one of the most sphincter-clenching conversations of all time. Remember, World War II was still raging, not to mention the million other pressures a president faces. As Truman recalled it, it went like this: Truman received a call to the White House. Rushing in, he stopped at the secretary’s desk.
Truman: I need to speak to the President right away.
Secretary: Sir, you ARE the President.
Truman guided the nation through the rest of the war, and made the controversial decision to drop the A-bomb on Japan. He justified it as ultimately saving millions of lives that would have been lost invading Japan, which might very well be true.
After the war the economy tanked after ramping down from war production and millions of unemployed soldiers came home, sapping Truman’s popularity. He also made some unpopular decisions; he integrated the military by executive order and was the first head of state to recognize the newly proclaimed State of Israel.

Truman was thought to have no chance of winning reelection in 1948 against popular New York governor Thomas Dewey; civil rights legislation split the party, leading to Strom Thurmond’s notorious “Dixiecrats,” and a surge in communist sentiment further diluted the liberal voting bloc.

The most famous picture of Truman shows him holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”. As it turned out, Truman’s folksy, responsible, “the-buck-stops-here” style played well in America’s heartland, and they carried him to the win.

After his Presidency, Truman continued to lead the fight for government-sponsored health care; he and his wife Bess received the first two Medicare cards issued from President Lyndon Johnson at a signing ceremony at the Truman Library in 1965.
Truman died in Kansas City in 1972 at the ripe old age of 88. He outlived Dewey by a year, so you could say he defeated Dewey that way, too.

Cake’s Presidential Quickies: Millard Fillmore

Today’s featured Chief is Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States. Fillmore was a congressman from New York State when he was chosen to be Zachary Taylor’s running mate.

Fillmore was chosen because he had actual positions on issues, which distinguished him from Taylor, who had no public positions on anything.

But Taylor was by God the hero of the Mexican War and had a cool nickname (“Old Rough and Ready”), which in those days was enough to get you elected president.

This is different from today, when being a third-rate reality TV star and a failed real-estate developer is enough to get you elected President.

Anyway, Taylor died sixteen months into his term (supposedly of cholera, but Ye Olde Infowars has claimed for the last 170 years that he was poisoned) and Fillmore ascended to the presidency, ushering in the age of Presidents with Stupid First Names (he was followed by Abraham, Ulysses, Rutherford and Grover).

Fillmore actually wasn’t a bad president; he signed the Compromise of 1850, which delayed the Civil War by ten years, and signed several bills to improve rail and water transport throughout the nation.

One thing he did NOT do, though, was install a bathtub in the White House. That story is a hoax. Presidents DID bathe before (and after, presumably) Fillmore.

Fillmore’s biggest historical distinction is that he was the last President who was not either a Democrat or a Republican; he was a Whig.

Whigs were kind of the progressives of their day — big-government types — favoring federal construction of roads and canals and such. They were quite popular in the first half of the 19th century, electing three Presidents. You hardly see them around anymore, though.

Cake’s Presidential Quickies: Grover Cleveland

Today’s chief executive is Grover Cleveland, the 22nd AND 24th President of the United States. Cleveland is the only president ever that the people said “Hey, how about we elect that guy we had before?”
Cleveland was born in western New York; his birth name was Stephen Grover Cleveland, but being a man of the “Era of Stupid First Names,” he went with Grover. He went into politics at an early age and got a reputation as a reformer; he rose quickly and became governor of New York at 45. Governor of NY is a good stepping-stone to the Presidency; Cleveland, Fillmore and both Roosevelts were guvs of NY.

Cleveland also got a reputation as a horndog; he was dogged through his Presidential campaigns by charges that he had an illegitimate child. The charges were true, and he was roasted in the famous jingle “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” and the equally famous reply, “Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!.”

One of just three presidents who were unmarried when he took office, Cleveland (49 at the time) married 21-year-old Frances Folsom in 1886. Frances Cleveland remains the youngest First Lady in history, and will likely hold that distinction forever. 

As a President, Cleveland was pretty good; he continued the civil-service reforms that had been begun under his predecessors. He worked to keep the country on the gold standard and keep the currency stable, and he built up the military around the world. He was the first president to have cancer surgery, having a tumor secretly removed from the roof of his mouth aboard a friend’s yacht early in 1893; he lived another 15 years.

Even as President, he never lost the common touch; presented with a fancy French meal on his first night in the White House, Cleveland told the waiter to take it to the kitchen staff and to bring him the corned beef and cabbage that members of the staff were cooking for their own meal.

Cleveland died in 1908 in New Jersey. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Ruth; this little girl was supposedly the inspiration for the “Baby Ruth” bar, and certainly NOT Babe Ruth who was still alive and could still sue people when the candy bar came out in 1921.

Slack Chat — Revenge of the Betty III: The Class of 2019 Gets Dirty

T: Another year, another Betty White grave-dancing party.

J: I don’t think she really does that.

T: No, of course not. She just walks by the cemetery, blowing the smoke off her pistol.

J: She may outlive us all; she turns 98 in January.

T: She’s immoral, man.

J: I’m sure she knows her way around a French tickler, but I think you mean immortal.

T: Oh, crap. Yes, I’m referring to her longevity. Not her love of cheap hotels and dwarf tossing.

J: And Kirk Douglas can’t get a “huzza, whazzup?” to save his life. Which, incidentally, is still going; 103 and counting.

T: Holy crap … he was born in 1916. There are geological formations that aren’t as old as he is. He was born before radio, for gawd’s sake. He was born before Dr. Ruth, who has been old since I was a kid.

J: Dr. Ruth is still alive?

T: As of right now, yes. But I don’t have a direct feed to her Kevorkian personal physician.

J: How old is she?

T: She’s 91.

J: I guess all that penis-grabbing is healthy exercise.

T: Not for the husband. He died in 1997.

J: Cause of death?

T: Ain’t touching it.

J: That was the cause of death?

T: Can we move on? There’s got to be something better to do than thinking about a penis-grabbing old woman who looks like a Pomeranian Oompa Loompa.

J: You prefer to speak ill of the dead?

T: In this case, yes.

J: We’ve reached the end of 2019; I think it’s time for the third installment of our “Dirt Naps of the Too Famous to Sue Us for Libel” series. Whaddya think?

T: Absolutely, let’s do it. Another year, another long list of dearly departed cultural deities. You can throw out the first slack-a-bituary.

J: Slack-a-bituary?

T: Give it time, it’ll catch on.

J: Gawd, I hope not.

T: So who’s your opener?

J: At the top of my list, but only because he was 7 feet 3, is Peter Mayhew.

T: Was he a basketball player?

J: No, you moron. He was Chewbacca in all the Star Wars movies.


J: That’s awful. Mayhew was probably more famous for doing less than anybody not named Kardashian. I mean, all he ever did was be tall and furry, arch his back and growl a lot. Again, kinda like a Kardashian.

T: I don’t remember any Kardashians being tall. Wide, yes. Tall, no.

J: Well, if they’re lying on their stomachs, they’re pretty tall.

T: If you were in the snack aisle and you came across something called a Chewy Kardashian, would you (1) buy it and eat it, (2) call security or (3) run?

J: I’d (4) Get someone else to eat it and watch them carefully for ill effects.

T: I imagine it would come in a tiny box, spilling out the sides, the top and the bottom.  Especially the bottom.

J: They’re all about the bottom.

Who’s at the top of your 2019 death list?

T: What are you saying? You don’t want to spend the next 10,000 words making up Kardashian jokes?

J: No.

T: Fair enough. My first grudging addition to the ranks of the departed is Tim Conway.

Tim was the ultimate scene-breaker, a guy who seemed to dedicate his entire career to making sure everyone around him was reduced to gooey spasms of laughter.

Not grudging as in I actually killed him. I want to be clear about that.

J: He was the ultimate second banana; he made everyone around him funnier, just by existing. Even if he didn’t do anything, you knew he was going to do something, so you watched for it.

And he never disappointed.

T: I think Tim’s greatest moment, in a career of great moments, was his Elephant joke during a Mama’s Family sketch.

J: The outtake sketch from that show might have been the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

T: Tim did a star turn in McHale’s Navy that was well-received, but I wasn’t as big a fan of that performance. Tim was always at his best without a script chaining him to reality.

J: I’m not sure they even used scripts for him on the Carol Burnett Show. They just gave him a premise and let him run with it. That was why Harvey Kormann had such a legendarily hard time keeping a straight face; he never got what he thought was coming. I doubt Conway knew what was coming, either, most of the time.


T: I’m pretty sure Conway’s script just said, “go out there and fuck Harvey up.”

J: And he did. Over and over and over and …

T: Speaking of fucking people up, who’s your next victim?

I should stop implying that we are actually killing these people.

J: My next dirt-napper is one I’ve actually seen live; Eddie Money. I liked him because he never seemed to take himself too seriously.

J: I saw him in ’99 or ’00; it was at some kind of outdoor event, a fair or something. At one point people started drifting away to go do something else, and Money yelled, “Hey! This ain’t the fuckin’ MONKEES, here! This is Eddie Money!”

Whereupon, the band struck up “Last Train to Clarksville.”

T: I saw him about the same time – early 1999, on Fremont St. in Vegas – and he was terrific. Where were we?

J: We were about to get your second choice.

T: Got it. I’m going to go with Danny Aiello. He had a long career – six decades, something like that – but for me he was all about two movies, made fairly close together: Hudson Hawk, and Two Days in the Valley.

J: He had a distinguished career; “Michael Corleone says hello” is an iconic line. He started late; he didn’t get his first movie role till he was 40.

T: Hudson Hawk was roundly panned by critics, movie goers and even Bruce Willis, the guy who wrote it. But I thought it was a fun movie, and Danny was terrific as Willis’ sidekick. The two of them blowing up a castle with grenade launchers, all the while singing “Side by Side” like a couple of assholes on Karaoke night, was almost as fun as Willis shooting that stupid dog in the face with a tennis ball.

J: Hudson Hawk routinely appears on lists of the ten worst movies of all time. I don’t know if it’s that bad; it does have some classic comic scenes. The ambulance bit is as good as anything in Airplane!

T: I loved it. I think the critics always need something to hate, so they choose a movie that was interesting enough to watch but had some perceived fatal flaw. Hudson Hawk’s ‘flaw’ was that it wasn’t serious enough for all the Die Hard fans.

But that’s what made it so fun, to me. It was Bruce Willis from Moonlighting, making fun of Bruce Willis from Die Hard.

J: Aiello had a perfect Italian Mob associate face and manner, and he could have made a nice living playing nothing but stereotypical characters. To his credit, he rose above his natural look and showed a wide range of acting chops.

T: Who’s next?

J: Peter Tork. Speaking of the Monkees, he became the second of them to go to the great banana patch in the sky.

T: I don’t think they were actually monkeys.

J: Leave me alone. Despite the criticism leveled at the Monkees for not playing their own instruments, Tork actually did play keyboards, and quite well; that’s him playing the intro on “Daydream Believer.”

T: I think they were all musicians of a sort; the issue was muddled by Hollywood hyperbole. Because they weren’t famous musicians – just musicians – when the show hit big, the media mostly scorned them for not graduating from Julliard and spending 20 years on the road.

J: Weirdly, that lack of regard for the Monkees led to some famous bands that actually weren’t musicians.

T: Yeah, like the f*&#ing Partridge Family. David Cassidy could play, but the rest were just faking it. And don’t get me started about the (deleted) Brady Bunch.

J: And the Kardashians.

T: Who have the added advantage of being second-generation actual monkeys.

J: That’s just a rumor.

T: I know. I started it.

J: David Bowie’s real name was David Jones. He once wrote a fan “I don’t have to tell you why I changed it. No one’s going to make a monkey out of me.”

T: My next choice is Katherine Helmond. Like Danny Aiello, she hit her stride after turning 40, becoming a post-menopausal sex symbol as the star of “Soap” and the wisecracking cougar in “Who’s the Boss?”

J: Katherine Helmond…. it seems like she got a call in the slack last year, too, right? The Soap creator passed last year, too.

T: Yep. Take a mix of 30- and 40-something actors, add 40 years, and voila! Funerals everywhere.

J: Helmond was a rare bird, she got sexy in her 40s and 50s, at a time when you were disposable in Hollywood after your 30th birthday.



T: Who’s your next pick?

J: Daryl Dragon. The Captain of the Captain and Tennille. They were the hottest thing going for a while there when I was growing up.

T: Oh, for sure. I remember when they did “Love Will Keep Us Together” on the Merv Griffin show … they seemed really old to me, like grandparents old, but they were actually in their early 30s. Perceptions, I guess. All I know was that I loved the song, and apparently so did everyone else. It was the number one song of 1975.

J: They ended up getting divorced for health-insurance reasons a few years ago, after the Captain came down with Parkinson’s disease. They didn’t want everything they’d earned over the years to get eaten up by his care, so they put all their assets in her name and put him in a care facility. She was with him when he died. So, I guess love really did keep them together.

T: We know him as the Captain, of course. But he was also a member of the Beach Boys.

J: They were the ones that gave him the Captain nickname, for Captain Keyboard.

T: Speaking of keyboard idols, my next choice is Basin Street icon Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., known to the masses as Dr. John.

J: Dr. John was a Cajun icon all right. He was one of those real flamboyant guys, like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and a terrific musician.

T: A session player back to the 1950’s, Dr. John put out 30 albums and played with … well, with everybody. His Delta-tinged jazzy blues style had more Cajun flavor than a bucket of dirty rice.

The good Doctor was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

J: A well-deserved honor. He did more to bring Delta music out of the bayou than, well, than anybody.

T: He was genuinely into voodoo, adding rituals to his shows and selling gris-gris next to his albums and t-shirts. A true Louisiana legend.

Who’s your next pick?

J: Jan-Michael Vincent. One of the great TV action heroes of the ’70s and ’80s. Airwolf was a great show. Lots of explosions and car chases, which appealed to a teenaged me. If they made a show just called Explosions and Car Chases, it’d pull big ratings among the teenage male demographic.

T: Family Guy did a sendup on him recently … I don’t remember him all that well. To me, I always sort of confused him with Val Kilmer. I think it was the feminine first name, plus they looked a little bit alike.

J: He was all over the place as a guest star; he was on Gunsmoke a lot, Bonanza, Dragnet… but he really didn’t hit his stride till Airwolf.

T: It’s funny how we are the same age, but we remember different people from our youth. While you were watching Airwolf, I was probably watching Emergency.

J: I remember that show, but only because they used the fire station that my uncle Jerry worked at for their location shots.

T: My next choice is Arte Johnson. He lived so long that the world forgot about him, but he was a big part of what made Laugh-In funny.

J: He didn’t do much on Laugh-In except say “verrrrry interesting … but schtupid” and hit on Ruth Buzzi, but those were some of the best bits on the show.

T: “Learn a German accent, or stay out of the act!”

J: As an aside, it’s remarkable how many of the pop-culture references that got started on Laugh-In are still around. “Sock it to me,” “Veerrry interesting”, “We’re the phone company: we don’t care; we don’t have to”, and on and on. That show had a huge influence on Americana.

T: The tricycle falling over, by itself, would make Arte an icon. And he did the German helmet bit, the old man hitting on Ruth Buzzi as you said, and (or course) his tag line — usually while wearing the German helmet but not always.

J: Elvis wanted to do that bit at the end with the tricycle… he wanted to do it in full costume, fall over and have the camera zoom in to show that it was really him. The Colonel wouldn’t let him do it, though.

My next choice is Rene Auberjonois, who played Clayton on Benson. I’ve always felt like I knew the Benson cast, because I actually did know one of them (James Noble, who played Governor Gatling) and he’d tell me stories about being on the set with them. Auberjonois was probably better known as Odo on “Deep Space Nine”, but to me he’s Clayton, now and forever.

T: Me too; one of the most difficult and thankless roles on sitcoms is the heel. Aujus … Aber … Eber … Rene was one of the more iconic heels of his time.

J: Who’s your next choice?

T: For my next choice, I’m taking my young ass back to Goat Hills. Dan Jenkins wrote for Playboy and Sports Illustrated for decades – well into his 80s – but to me he will always be the guy who brought Fort Worth drunk society to the masses with his books, the most famous of which was Semi-Tough.

J: He was the best sportswriter of our generation, and his best work stands up with the all-timers. Semi-Tough is one of the best sports books ever written, comedy or not.

T: He wrote a mix of autobiographical and fan fictionalized prose, mixing stories from Fort Worth with his redneck heroes mixing with New York society, playing them off each other in high and low comedy like an erudite fly on both walls. Which, of course, he was.

He brought us the Catcher’s Mitt (a chicken-fried steak big enough to fill a full dinner plate, covered in hash browns, pinto beans, red-eye gravy and eggs), Goat Hills (the long, flat, windy golf course in east Texas where MaGoo blowed the Open and Lee Trevino learnt to hit it low) and, of course, Billy Clyde Puckett, Shake Tiller and Barbara Jane Bookman.

Puckett was the first-person hero, a conventional straight man but no sissy. Tiller was the outrageous maverick who fulfilled all our rebellious fantasies, and Barbara Jane was the perfect Fort Worth hottie next door. Literally next door; they all grew up together.

J: My next dirt-napper is Ginger Baker. He was the drummer for Cream and played behind Eric Clapton for years. His drumming influenced a whole generation of musicians who came after him.

T: Cream was as famous as any band in their time, and they were considered more artistic, I think, than most of their contemporaries.

J: They did have a more traditional rock sound than some other groups, but they never got into the big prog-rock sound of groups like Yes or the Moody Blues.

T: They were before my time, but I think of them as one of the key bands that brought a more blues-based sound to the masses, paving the way for Led Zeppelin, CCR and the rest of the 1970s guitar-based, lick-based bands. A generation of guitar players learned Clapton’s licks, and a generation of drummers copied Baker’s patterns.

J: Who’s your next passenger on the Brass-Handle Railroad?

T: My next tribute act is Stewart Robert Einstein.

J: Who?

T: I don’t know if he’s related to Albert Einstein the physicist, but his brother is the comedian/writer/producer/director/all-around funny guy Albert Einstein, known to the masses as Albert Brooks.

Stewart, or Bob as he was known publicly, was most famous for three characters. The most recent character was Marty Funkhauser on Curb Your Enthusiasm; he also played Larry Middleman on Arrested Development.

But to me, and to most people our age, he was, is, and always will be Super Dave Osborne.

J: Super Dave was one of the most iconic characters ever created. He was funny as hell in those jeans commercials… “They’re still not wrinkled!” after being hit by a truck or smashed into a bridge abutment.

T: He was like a real-life Mr. Bill with a death wish. To Super Dave, the whole world was Sluggo.

In his natural persona, Einstein loved to tell jokes. Most of them were too disgusting for public consumption, but we aren’t exactly public, so here’s a medley from YouTube.


Who’s next?

J: I’m gonna go with one of the latecomers in this sweepstakes (well, lategoers I suppose), Don Imus. He paved the way for guys like Howard Stern and Opie and Anthony. He was the first of the shock jocks, and he kept on shocking people his entire career.

T: I personally despise the shock jock culture, but that’s just me. Imus was so famous that even I knew who he was.

J: I’m not really a fan of it either, but Imus more or less invented the genre. For good or for bad, he was a pioneer. He also was a tremendous philanthropist; he donated tens of millions of dollars to various charities. It was like there were two of him, the good one and the bad one. I think “Bad Imus” was a persona, something he used to get attention and ratings and stir up controversy. It wasn’t necessarily who he really was, although there’s probably at least some overlap.

T: Who did we miss?

J: There were some other pretty big names we lost this year, Valerie Harper, Doris Day, Rip Taylor, Gloria Vanderbilt…

T: How about big names to you personally? I don’t mean actual friends, but famous people who had a significant effect on your life?

J: I was a big fan of Jim Fowler when I was growing up; he did all the work on Wild Kingdom while Marlin Perkins sat in the Land Rover and drank martinis out of a Thermos. I always thought that he had just about the most exciting job in the world, except for the nearly getting eaten by tigers part.

T: I remember that show well, mostly for the Mutual of Omaha commercials and the jeep driving everywhere with Perkins perched in the back like Washington crossing the Delaware, but when they stopped and got out, l it was always Fowler getting his hands dirty.

J: Caroll Spinney was the puppeteer for Big Bird. I was exposed to a lot of Sesame Street when I was little, and Big Bird was a big (no pun intended) part of that.

T: Was Big Bird a puppet? I always thought there was a person inside a costume, like a mascot.

J: Yeah, there was a person inside, but he wasn’t eight feet tall… they used puppetry to work the eyes and mouth and neck.

T: Who wins in the octagon? Big Bird or Chewbacca?

J: Chewy would have Big Bird on his back on a plate surrounded by potatoes in no time.

T: “Laugh it up, fuzzball.”


“Do you smell chicken?”

“Yeah … and barbequed grouch”

J: You know who we forgot who had a ginormous freakin’ influence on us? Jim effin’ Bouton of the major effin’ leagues!

T: Oh yeah, no kidding … Ball Four was just a book to the masses, but for us it was a 400-page list of sayings, tag lines and weird people who we wish we knew.

J: Ball Four was the first sports book I ever read. My dad told me I couldn’t read it because it had bad words and sex talk in it, so naturally I lost no time in checking it out at the local library. And yes, it was just chock-full of one-liners and taglines and a memorable cast of characters.

T: “All right, men. Act horny.”

“Why do I need a penicillin shot for his kidney infection?”

“I gotta take a shit, if that helps.”

J: ‘Hiya blondie, how’s your old tomato?”

“Just as I got called out on strikes, my greenie kicked in.”

T: “Shitfuck.”

J: “Give him some low smoke and we’ll go in and pound some Budweiser.”

T: “Fuckshit.”

J: “He said he was playing golf.”

T: “At three o’clock in the morning?”

J: “Who knows? Maybe he was.”

T: “You sure overestimated my curiosity.”

J: “The fine was more than I expectorated.”

T: “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in all my years in baseball.”

J: “Tell your statistics to shut up.”

T: We could go on forever.

J: Bouton was the first guy to really write a baseball expose. Before then it was all-American boys with good teeth and nice wives who didn’t smoke, drink, curse or have sex with groupies. Bouton ripped away the veil, and in doing so alienated a large part of the baseball establishment.

T: Bouton himself was not particularly revolutionary. He was a jock and probably an establishment republican most of his youth. He got caught up in the revolution, almost by accident, in the process of writing the book. But he was writing the book to make money. He was always an entrepreneur at heart.

J: That’s true; he was a revolutionary by accident, but never really a rebel. Big League Chew, his broadcasting career … he was at heart a conservative, at least financially.

T: Like a lot of us, I think.

J: You and me, for sure.

T: After Ball Four, Bouton made a comeback reminiscent of Rich Hill’s recent comeback, but in his case he decided not to continue once he demonstrated to himself that he could do it.

J: Hill signed a contract for $48 million. I’m sure Bouton would have kept going for that.

T: No doubt. As you said, he invented and marketed Big League Chew, and he was heavily involved in 19th century baseball reenactments later on.

Big-League Chew was originally meant to produce spit that looked like tobacco spit, but I think they got rid of that aspect. It’s still around; maybe we could try it. I’ve never actually tried any.

J: I tried it once; it’s basically shredded bubble gum. It’s not bad, if bubble gum is your thing.

I think a lot of the objection to Bouton writing the book was that he was a nobody; if it had come from one of the big stars of the day, no one would have said a thing. No one ever said that what he wrote wasn’t true; it was that he wasn’t a good enough player to tell the actual truth.

T: The Nixonian establishment went nuts … Bowie Kuhn, a tool of all tools if there ever was a tool, went to his own grave still bitter about how Bouton ruined baseball and milkshakes and white privilege.

J: After Bouton, baseball books went from assembly-line pap to assembly-line exposes. He forever altered sports books.

T: That may have been his most lasting impact. Not just in baseball, either. Writing in general opened up substantially after Ball Four; it may have anyway, as the Hunter Thompson/Dan Jenkins generation of writers took over, but I think Bouton helped make that transition easier, and it’s arguable that he made it possible. He brought counterculture to suburban baseball fans.

J: Like us?

T: Like us.

J: He was a pioneer, like Imus but more likable.

T: Was Bouton likeable?

J: More so than Imus, I’d venture. Idi Amin was more likable than Imus.

T: Bouton was persona non grata in baseball for years – Elston Howard died still despising him – but I think the general public sees him in a positive light. Imus was generally despised by people outside his circle, but quite popular within his circle.

So it could be said that they are opposites, maybe? Bouton told the truth, was ostracized by his peers but admired by the masses. Imus spouted off about whatever bullshit that came to his head, was worshipped by his followers but largely dismissed and despised by those who were not part of his cadre of hate-spewing trolls.

J: Both of them were ostracized for the things they said, but as you say for different reasons. Bouton’s sin was in telling the previously hidden truth. Imus’s sin was in being a racist, misogynist asshole. That’s where the difference lies to me.

T: The times were different, of course. Bouton was floutin’ the rules of secrecy, revealing truths that weren’t supposed to be revealed. People resented him – properly, I think – for basically spying on his teammates.

But in social media terms, Bouton was like the guy who shared funny memes around Facebook. Imus was a SPAM ad.

J: We need a Kardashian comparison.

T: I got nothin’. You?

J: I dunno …  something something Kim Kardashian’s butt.

T: Close enough.