The San Bernardino murders


When he was in the Navy, my cousin Bob lost his wallet to a pickpocket in San Bernardino. That would have been in the 1940s.

I hadn’t thought about the crime for many years. But over the weekend, the city appeared once more on my radar. A heavily-armed Muslim couple showed up at social agency where county workers and friends were celebrating the season with a holiday party.

Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik

She was a Pakistani national, the husband was born here.

Before police shot and killed them, the couple had killed 14 people and injured 21. This was the deadliest terror attack in this country since 9/11. The tragedy prompted President Obama to appear on television to denounce the attack. He assured the American people that his administration was doing everything possible to prevent such further tragedies.

I’m sure it’s a mystery to most people what motivated the couple to kill innocent people. It deepens the mystery that this couple’s mission left their young daughter an orphan to be raised by her grandmother. I bet it’s just as much a mystery to Muslims here than most everybody else.

Before the attack, the couple put a vow of allegiance on the Internet to a Muslim terror group leader. So among members of the group, the act gives special status. Because of their beliefs, the couple must have expected, in the event of their deaths, to go immediately to heaven.

To a religious skeptic like me, this Muslim couple’s murders in the name of their beliefs makes no sense whatsoever. Of course, the murders constitute no special reflection on religion. Atheistic Soviet leaders from Stalin on down murdered thousands of innocent people.

After the president’s address, Republican candidates for president took no time denouncing his speech. But I wanted to remind these people that before he was a U.S. senator and, then, president, he was a law professor. He’s a superb lecturer. That’s how he gives speeches.

With him, you’re out of luck if you want the country’s leader to sound like the late rabble-rousing Gov. George Wallace. Thank goodness he never became president.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump thinks he has the right answer. He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country. I suppose he’d exempt diplomats coming to the United Nations from Muslim countries. It doesn’t require a twisted interpretation of a religious text to justify killing innocent people.

I can assure you that the vast majority of killers on U.S. streets aren’t Muslim. These guys murder hundreds of people every year. If they profess any religion, it’s Christianity.

I doubt if most Americans know that our U.S.border control agents screen foreigners for two years before they’re given a visa that allows them to remain here. Seems reasonable. What doesn’t make sense is to have such lax gun laws that this one couple in San Bernardino was able to amass an arsenal of semi-automatic rifles and pounds of explosives.

No president will be able to put a stop to all terrorist attacks. George W. Bush didn’t do it. Bill Clinton didn’t do it. Obama didn’t.

What a president can do is to put forth reasonable plans to thwart attempted terror attacks and to offer reassurance to the American people that his administration is doing everything possible to keep us safe.

Meantime, we can all mourn such a great loss of innocent people in one California city. Surely, we also can endorse reasonable measures to protect public safety. That is, we can endorse those measures that don’t sacrifice our freedoms.

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President Clinton, again?

Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the CNN Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas
Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the CNN Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas

Well, so much for President Joe Biden.

In Tuesday’s presidential debate for Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton was the star.

Throughout the event, she showed a command of the issues that was second to nobody with her on the platform.

With no apparent lapses as a speaker, she exhibited polish and grace.

It’s hard to imagine why any political figure not already running would dare to announce his or her candidacy. So I count out Vice President Biden.

If you watched the debate, you might not have realized that five people stood at podiums on the Las Vegas stage. Besides Clinton and a sometimes inspiring Bernie Sanders, three other candidates made brief appearances:

There was former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Navy secretary and dour Jim Webb and Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

Hands down, the main event was Clinton and Sanders. Both spoke on behalf of the beleaguered middle class. I didn’t count the times we heard a call from either one about raising the minimum wage.

But income inequality is bound to be a major issue as next year’s race for the White House heats up.

When the subject of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server came up, it was Sanders who came to her defense.

“Americans are tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” he said.

She smiled and thanked Sanders, and moderator Anderson Cooper moved on to another subject.

I thought Sanders had the most trouble defending his Senate vote against the Brady bill that attempts to put restrictions on gun sales.

I liked Clinton’s answer to the old “flip-flop” charge that she’s changed her position on big questions.

She didn’t try to pretend that she hadn’t changed. But as she pointed out, people do change their opinions as issues and circumstances evolve.

Hitting few false notes, Clinton’s debate performance should remind voters that she’s one of the most experienced – and I dare say – smartest – persons who has ever run for president in modern times.

To be sure, Bernie Sanders has managed to nudge Clinton some to the left. But that should help broaden her appeal within the party.

She’s a far better candidate than she was in her first race, eight years ago. That was, as we all recall, against Barak Obama. Meantime, she has compiled a solid record as secretary of state and U.S. senator.

First Lady for eight years must count for something, too.

In the past, I found Hillary Clinton a bit stiff and haughty. I didn’t see that Tuesday evening. Rather, she seemed warm and as human as anybody else.

Yes, she was the star.

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GOP follies


GOP_elephant_upside_downI’m often reminded of how far to the right the Republican Party has moved in recent years.

Given the party’s views on abortion, Planned Parenthood, climate change, gay rights and immigration, it’s hard to imagine how today many of their past leaders could even be thought of as a presidential candidate.

Once upon a time, the party boasted a big tent, as does the Democratic Party still today. I recall too well the candidacy of former governors Bill Scranton and Nelson Rockefeller.

To be sure, neither of these moderate Republicans won the nomination. But if you look at today’s long list of those in the running, you can’t imagine Scranton and Rockefeller joining this crowd – even as contenders.

Indeed, I can’t imagine this Republican Party nominating Dwight Eisenhower who sent federal troops to integrate Little Rock schools. I can’t imagine the party nominating Richard Nixon who held moderate social views.

Yes, Barry Goldwater led a more conservative party in 1964. But his major cause was big government. I bet today he’d be considered a social moderate, if not a liberal. The party’s presidential nominee? No way.

Still, if Goldwater was regarded as too conservative to beat Lyndon Johnson in 1964, how is a Republican candidate even further to the right supposed to prevail against Hillary Clinton, the almost certain Democratic nominee?

What I’ve seen so far of the Republican hopefuls, I can’t see any of them measuring up with the seriousness and gravitas of those long-ago Republican presidential hopefuls – Rockefeller and Scranton for example. President Eisenhower belonged to a different world altogether.

No matter who the Republicans ultimately nominate for president next year, that candidate will face a huge electoral challenge.

Politically, American voters are pretty moderate, which helps explain why the conservative Goldwater lost the 1964 election in a landslide.

Meantime, it looks like the Republicans will nominate a candidate hobbled with a number of views out of the mainstream.

There’s no way this nominee can easily disconnect from the more extreme views he or she took to win the party’s nomination – without alienating the base.

For my part, I’d like to see the Republicans nominate a moderate for president. That would provide a healthy debate on the issues, a debate that didn’t veer off into divisive social issues or that didn’t demonize recent immigrants.

This remains a great country. It deserves great leaders who lead us to tackle the challenges of poverty, climate change and inclusion.

Maybe Hillary can rise to be such a leader. Right now, I don’t see a Republican nominee who can play that role.

But I’ll try to keep an open mind.

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The war we lost

Touching "The Wall" (source: Wikipedia)
Touching “The Wall” (source: Wikipedia)

You can find his name on the Wall in Washington D.C. at row West 47 – Micky Ray Highlander.

He was one of my students back when I taught high school English in Dayton, Kentucky. That was in the 1960s. Micky played one of the Gilbreth children in the senior play I directed, “Cheaper by the Dozen.” His antics stole the show.

Tuesday’s late evening special, “The Last Days of Vietnam,” brought Micky to mind. For me, it was an extraordinary examination of a time most Americans probably prefer to forget.

In one scene we see thousands of Vietnamese streaming down a main thoroughfare in Saigon, ahead of advancing North Vietnamese troops. In another scene we watch thousands more beg to get entry to the fenced-in yard at the American embassy.

Back in the United States, we watch President Nixon on television explaining the peace treaty with North Vietnam. Yes, the Paris talks produced just such an agreement. Yes, the North soon violated the treaty.

The narrator called the evacuation makeshift. That’s putting it mildly. It looked utterly chaotic in the film footage. Apparently, U.S. intelligence officers weren’t able to persuade Ambassador Graham Martin of the imminent collapse of South Vietnam.

Martin was one of those hard-liner, anti-Communist foreign service officers. From him, we learn, his refusal to accept U.S. defeat was personal. He had lost his son to combat in Vietnam.

North Vietnamese troops showed no mercy to their countrymen who had worked for the Americans in the South. Taken prisoner or shot, some of the uncounted victims of this war.

But then, there was My Lai, the massacre of men, women and children civilians. That was directed by U.S. Lt. William Calley, whose eventual punishment was a period of house arrest, as I recall.

Amid the unfolding fall of South Vietnam, President Nixon was impeached and Gerald Ford became president. It fell to President Ford to “save as many Vietnamese as possible.” This would have been April, 1975.

What a scene that became as people scrambled aboard Chinook helicopters that had landed on the roof of the U.S. embassy, then climbed rope ladders to board waiting American ships.

The PBS account had special meaning to me. No, I didn’t serve in the military. By the time Saigon fell I was writing editorials for The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne. For years, I had spoken out against the war. When the end came, you might say I wrote the obituary of Vietnam.

Then, years later, my wife Toni and I joined a tour group visiting Southeast Asia. That meant stops in Vietnam. We visited a museum that portrayed scenes from the war. One wall showed the scores of bodies in the ditch where Lt. Calley’s men had killed so many innocents.

Our Hanoi hotel wasn’t far from a park where the grass surrounded a small lake. Early in the day you’d see elderly Vietnamese practicing their exercises. Nearby, swans floated peacefully in the water.

Later in the day, traffic picked up, mostly motor scooters. One I noted carried a fat goose on the back. No American bombs. No busy recruiting stations. No lines of people waiting for rationed food at the marketplace.

The PBS account estimated that about 130,000 South Vietnamese escaped and were resettled in the United States. No visas or passports required. It was the least we could do.

Then 55,000 American servicemen never made it home alive. You can read their names on the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington. As I said, my student Micky’s name is there, W47, in case you want to see.

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Friend of Hillary

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

I’d met Bill Clinton a couple of times. That was when he served as governor of Arkansas. And I knew Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff when Bill was president. Never met Hillary.

But in the Democratic primary more than eight years ago, I voted for her over Barak Obama. I figured a white woman had a better shot than a black former college professor at becoming president.

Picking Obama over Sen. John McCain that year was an easy call. Same four years later when the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney.

All these years later, I haven’t changed my mind about Hillary. In fact,
her years as Secretary of State only deepened her credentials and made her an even more impressive as a candidate for president.

Sunday, she made it official. Before her announcement, though, potential Republican candidates unleashed a barrage of criticism. I expected that.

What of her announcement in a video? Even liberal columnists belittled that. Ruth Marcus and David Ignatius to mention only a couple.

But I learned years ago that it doesn’t matter so much what the pundits say as what voters think. And there is a persona in this extraordinary politician that voters can warm to. To be sure, she came across as stiff and overly scripted in the Iowa primary so long ago. She lost that race.

The New Hampshire primary was a different story. In that race, she appeared open, vulnerable and relaxed. She won that primary election. I’d bet anything she and her advisers have studied that success carefully.

To be sure, her You Tube video didn’t give viewers much of Hillary. And why? She must be one of best known Americans of the last 20 years. But I thought the focus on a diversity of citizens – an Asian student, an Hispanic businessman, a gay couple – managed to portray Mrs.Clinton as a champion of ordinary Americans.

Moreover, the video offered a powerful reminder of the kind of country we’re becoming. On the Republican side, we even have a candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants.

Without a doubt, Hillary Clinton has more experience in government than any possible candidate, either Republican or Democratic. She’s one of the brightest political leaders of our time. In testimony before Congress, she demonstrated a nuanced approach to foreign policy.

Inside the Obama administration, she often advised the wisest policy course, even when the president chose a different path.

But long before her role as a foreign policy adviser and ever-thoughtful senator on the gravest international issues, she was advocate for children as an adviser to the Children’s Defense Fund. A kid lover and a new grandmother to boot. That I especially like.

We’ll see how the race develops. But I was a big fan of Bill Clinton, despite the sex scandal. At this early point in the president race, I’m a big fan of Hillary Clinton.

She’d make us a fine president.

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Fixing the First Amendment

Indiana Governor Mike Pence
Indiana Governor Mike Pence

Apparently, Gov. Pence and Republican state legislators thought they could improve on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

We all love freedom of religion. As a rule, we don’t construe this as a license to be a bigot.

Now Pence and GOP leaders are scrambling to insist that the religious freedom bill they just passed without a public hearing doesn’t really mean that your business can refuse service to gays and lesbians. Oddly, a lot of people, including prominent business leaders and college presidents, understand the new law to mean exactly that.

By passing this law our Republican leaders have managed to put our state on the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers. The stories hardly present Indiana in a flattering light.

Roger Fisher, the late Harvard expert on negotiations, had the perfect formula for avoiding something so stupid: ACBD or “Always consult before deciding.”

It seems our state leaders missed that simple lesson.

They might well be able to fix the law. That’s now the plan. I can’t imagine how they’ll fix the damage they’ve done to Indiana’s reputation.

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Winding road to Mideast peace

Benjamin Netenyahu
Benjamin Netenyahu

Well I suppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt forced to resort to dirty tactics to win another term for his right-wing Likud Party.

But remember this guy is a consummate politician. A couple of days after the election, he retreated from his vow that there never would be a Palestinian state as long as he was prime minister.

The front-page news in the national papers Thursday featured “Bibi” retreating from his no Palestinian state and now adding a few conditions, most important better security arrangements for Israel than appear in earlier proposals touted by Western governments, including the U.S.

What American political junkie doesn’t understand what happened in Israel this week? Netanyahu simply played a familiar game when it looked like he might lose the election. He played the card that stirred the Israeli far right to get out the vote.

Sure he took it back. But it helped him win.

In 1982, with a group of other journalists, I got to see the Mideast political dynamics up close. In the Old Goliath Bar near my hotel, I tried to follow the evening news. All my interpreter was able to report to me was the political debate at that time.

A conversation with Vy Witte, the owner who grew up in Chicago, was all politics.

At the hotel desk, when I stopped by one time mid-day for directions, I got a political lecture from the clerk. I’m not sure I ever got the information I had requested. (I found all clerks and waiters spoke English. My Hebrew from graduate school days turned out to be useless following a conversation.)

Same at the shoe store where I had stopped to get inserts for the boots I thought I needed to climb around in the desert. Oh, I saw plenty of sand in the Sinai but mostly I was in cities and villages where the ground was either grass or hard clay.

I found lots of different feelings among Israelis. Like those settlers in the village of Yamit where Israeli soldiers were removing Jewish families as the Sinai was being returned to Egypt. Surviving photos I took show some very sad faces.

On the way back to Israel proper, Palestinian kids threw stones at my bus. It must have had Israeli markings. I don’t recall.

But everywhere I went I was reminded of the tensions and unresolved issues that remain to this day the hallmark of the Mideast. I gathered from the raised, sometimes angry voices I heard at the Knesset that even strict parliamentary rules didn’t keep feelings from running high.

In a bunker at the Golan Heights, as soldiers kept watch on the Bekka Valley below, I got the lecture. Yes, I was sure the rifles were loaded. On Land Day Palestinian shops in Old Jerusalem were closed. On the rooftops, though, armed Israelis observed the comings and goings of tourists and this curious journalist.

When I got on a city bus, riders in military uniform carried a rifle. Veteran newsman Daniel Schorr, now deceased, caught a ride on our bus from the Golan Heights back to town. His car had broken down. So much in this endlessly fascinating part of the world also features so much that’s routine. In one rural village I saw people milking cows and herding sheep while a young man, a rifle strapped over his soldier, kept watch.

At one government building, the legendary Yitzhak Rabin lectured the visiting American journalists on Israel’s turbulent history for an hour. Maybe longer. He entertained two questions – at most – then disappeared.

The intensity I found in the Israelis I also found among the Palestinians. I met some Palestinians in southern Lebanon at a school. I met lots of Palestinian shopkeepers in the Old City. Those who spoke some English tutored me further on Mideast politics. I respected the passion from all sides. I often found the logic lacking.

Whether Americans approved the outcome of the Israeli election or not, we still have many shared interests in that region. We can celebrate Israeli’s democratic ways. Indeed, the United States was present at the founding of the state. Many of our fellow citizens who are Jewish remain huge supporters of the state. Of course, we have a vital interest in the stability of the region because of our continuing dependence on foreign oil.

I’m not convinced that Netanyahu and Likud’s election victory is a setback for peace. Maybe it’s only a conservative that most all Israelis can trust to make peace. Meantime, I’d sure like to see the prime minister and President Obama patch things up. Peacemaking requires partners. This part of the world remains home to the great religions that for generations have taught the way to peace: talk and give, talk and give.

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I’d vote for him again


I invited Sheldon to join me for the editorial writers luncheon at a hotel in downtown Chicago. My wife Toni and I had joined Sheldon and Cindy in the city for an overdue get-together for a couple of days. Cindy was a pal of Toni’s from their Ball State time. By this time, I believe Sheldon had retired from his teaching post at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The luncheon speaker that year was the junior senator from Illinois and fairly new to national politics, although he’d given an impressive address at the recent Democratic convention in New York. There was lots of talk about his running for president, which he may have announced his intent by then. I don’t recall.

Of course, the nation’s editorial writers were eager to get a close look at this man. In what seemed then the unlikely event he’d get elected, he’d be the nation’s first African-American president.

I believe my friend Sheldon did live to see Barack Obama elected to his first term but died not long after that. After the lunch at the Chicago hotel, Sheldon and I agreed we’d vote for the man with the strange-sounding name.

This month Obama started his seventh year in office, giving his sixth State of the Union address this Tuesday. I think our friend Sheldon would have liked the speech. I sure did. One thing noteworthy was that he faced a newly elected Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

Yes, the president called for bipartisan cooperation on immigration reform and trade. But I thought he seemed less constrained, even liberated from the political constraints that can limit one’s policy choices when that president’s party holds the majority in Congress.

It was just an impression. But Obama sure made it clear he would wield the veto pen if the Republicans tried to undo his signature health care reform. He was even shameless as he put forth economic proposals most Republicans are bound to reject, more taxes for the wealthy, tax cuts for the middle-class.

At the same time, the president reminded the new majorities and the American people that it was under his watch that the economy has made a strong recovery. The shadow of crisis has passed, he said.

Recall that under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, the economy was in its worst shape in years. I thought this president was unabashed, too, when he called for a slew of liberal reforms.

I loved it all and felt like cheering from my recliner chair. As far as I’m concerned, it’s about time this country paid for a couple of years of community college. That’s cheer number one. And where has this country been on investing in the next generation? Most if not all western countries offer universal early childhood education. Obama proposes serious money for that investment. Cheer number two.

Then he called for new action on the environment. Most all climate scientists say we’re in trouble. There’s so much evidence of global warming, changes in our climate that are mostly man-made. Let’s get serious about this threat to our very world. Cheer number three.

Immigration reform, a no brainer. Paid sick leave for workers, a no brainer. An act of Congress to destroy the Islamic State, another no brainer.

I thought it was great when he reminded members of Congress that he had won two elections. A Washington Post columnist called that “best line of the night.”

I like the man’s calm. I like his intelligence. I like that he knows that it’s folly to make impulsive, half-baked decisions in foreign policy. I like that he recognizes that 50 years of isolating Cuba didn’t work and that he’s opened the door to a new relationship. I like that he’s exercised the patience and applied the diplomacy to persuade Iran to give up its weapons program.

I’m just sorry I’m not able to phone our friend Sheldon and chew over Obama’s proposals and celebrate our candidate’s sixth State of the Union. I would have really enjoyed that. I do miss Sheldon.

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Election day, your day


vote2014“Why vote, the elderly Kentucky woman said, “it only encourages ’em.”

With the mid-term elections just days away, I find myself remembering that line. I think I saw it in The Wall Street Journal.

During my years at The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, I wrote lots of editorials and columns urging people to vote. Of course, I did want to encourage the candidates to put their best foot forward, too. More than that, I hoped to challenge readers to exercise their right as citizens in our democracy.

This isn’t the year we vote for president of the United States. It’s an off year you’ll hear those who follow politics closely say. This not only means that the president stays put for the next couple of years. That it’s an off-year also means the turnout will be low Election Day. In some jurisdictions, fewer than half of the registered voters will make to the polls.

In some democracies you’re required to vote or pay a fine. Even if that were a great way to get people to exercise their constitutional right, I can’t imagine any such law passing. Americans aren’t all conservative by any means. But we don’t like change.

One issue up for a vote this year in our country is whether to adopt a single executive office, rather than the three-person commission that now runs the day-to-day business of county government.

I haven’t seen any polls on the issue. My old paper ran a thoughtful, persuasive editorial in favor of a single county executive office. The arguments sounded awfully familiar. They should have. I made them a dozen times in editorials myself. I know exactly how this
decision will turn out. The vote to abandon this 19th Century relic of local government will go down to defeat.

My daughter Robyn called to ask for my advice about the local candidates. I could only recommend a Superior Court judge up for another term. I’ve know Stan Levine since high school and know him to be a highly ethical and capable jurist. Beyond that judge, I told my daughter to simply follow the recommendations of the paper.

It’s not just out of loyalty to my old employer. I happen to know the members of the editorial board, including the writers. I know they carefully weigh each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. I also know they’ve personally interviewed the person seeking office. No question they’ll make their endorsement without regard to party affiliation.

After interviewing a dozen candidates or so, you can begin to feel exhausted. But I believe a newspaper performs no more important service for the community. I take my hat off to the current publisher, editor and writers of The Journal Gazette. Hats off also to the scores of daily newspapers that still invest the time and resources to offer editorial endorsements.

Among the newcomers to the political game and the old-timers, I’ve always enjoyed interviewing some especially talented, even wise candidates. For example, visiting with former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar was invariably a rich educational experience. I guess the conservative Republicans in our state found the senator too liberal and voted for his opponent. More like it, Lugar was too fair-minded and thoughtful.

Former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith, another Republican, proved a delight to interview. He’s a very sharp guy who was just fun to debate. He seemed to relish the lively exchanges with our editorial board members, too.

By contrast, a husband and wife both seeking the same office, very nice people, just seemed out of their league. As an expression of thanks for the interview, the woman brought her favorite cake recipe to share.

There’s no substitute for meeting a candidate in person. Whether you end up voting for that person or the candidate’s opponent, you’re in the game. Your invested in something greater than yourself.

We all know that the TV ads for candidates slant the person’s story. That’s the way it is with any commercial for a car or a carpet cleaner. But attend a fund-raiser to meet a candidate’s supporters or even him or herself. Attend a rally. Send a few bucks of a donation to the candidate of your choice. You’ll be hooked for good on American politics.

Then no editorial will have to remind you to get out and vote.

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Why I’m for Obama

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

In my more than 25 years writing editorials and columns for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette – I retired in 2000 – I interviewed hundreds of candidates for public office, local, state and national. I also wrote endorsements of both Republicans and Democrats. Like the paper’s editorial page for many years, I lean left but I don’t consider myself an ideologue.

I wrote the paper’s endorsements of mayoral candidates Republican Paul Helmke and Democrat Graham Richard. Over the years, I wrote the paper’s numerous endorsements for Republican Sen. Dick Lugar. I profoundly regret his loss in this year’s primary to a Tea Party favorite. Lugar’s leadership in the Senate on foreign policy, frankly, has had few peers.

I met President Obama at an editorial writer’s conference in Chicago, when he was still a U.S. senator. His serious manner and depth of knowledge impressed everyone at that luncheon, liberals and conservatives alike. Now, in the White House, he’s been the same guy. Think of what he’s been up against. Think of the challenge to get the country out of the economic hole his predecessor dug. One Obama fix hit close to home for me. That was the General Motors bailout. That alone saved hundreds of jobs at our truck plant here and in neighboring Defiance, Ohio, my hometown.

I’m sure no one is more sorry than he is that unemployment isn’t yet down where he’d hope. But now, just days before the election, the economy is showing signs of a solid recovery.

Meantime, Obama has set timetables and demonstrated real statesmanship to extricate the country from two wars, inherited from his predecessor. We’re essentially out of Iraq. We’re on schedule to leave Afghanistan.

He’s found no Republican partner on the economy. Or on the wars. Nor on health care reform. He won no praise from the far right taking out Osama Bin Laden.

Obama deserves a lot of credit for passing health care reform, an achievement that’s eluded presidents for decades. What a terrific win for America! This extends coverage to millions and protects coverage of people with the insurance they already have that once could be canceled. This is the very thing a humane, compassionate society does for its citizens. Is the Affordable Care Act perfect? Of course not. But don’t think for a second Mitt Romney would take the lead to improve the law and fix problems as they come to light.

To be sure, Romney may have been a moderate as governor of Massachusetts. He certainly sounded pretty moderate especially during the last debate. But it wasn’t a moderate who ran in the primaries. It wasn’t moderates who nominated him. If elected, he would remain hostage to those on the far right who’ve put him in office. Count on it.

Lots of issues I wrote editorials about remain on the public agenda. Where is Obama on those things? A woman’s right to abortion? He’s for it. Equality for women in the workforce? He’s for it. The right of everyone to marry the person they choose. Obama finally came around this year to say that included gays, too. Immigration reform? He’s already taken the right steps. I think his education policy is wrong-headed. But he doesn’t bash teachers and their unions. Action of climate change? That’s Obama. Development of alternative sources of energy? Yes, that’s Obama, too.

The late Charles “Bud” Meeks, former sheriff and Indiana state senator, used to tease me about being the champion of the underdog. But every American should be that champion. Yes, let’s protect Medicaid. Let’s protect access to health care for the disabled, physically and mentally. Let’s protect food stamps for the poor. Let’s protect Head Start. I’m confidant Obama will do all that.

I’m not sure about Romney. I don’t trust him to fight for the little guy. I can’t imagine Obama fiddling with Medicare, except to make this vital program fiscally stronger. Again, I just don’t trust Romney, given all his talk about offering private insurance as an alternative to the government program.

And I’m sure Obama’s nominees to the federal bench, including the Supreme Court, will continue to be highly qualified legal scholars, without political agendas. The two women he named prove the point. By contrast, you can be sure that any Romney appointment to the high court would be committed to casting a vote to overturn the 1973 abortion rights decision. What a step backward that would be.

In 1980, I was disgusted with President Carter. I thought Ronald Reagan more actor than plausible statesman. So I wrote the paper’s endorsement for Barry Commoner, the environmentalist and Citizen Party candidate. Naturally, Reagan won Indiana.

Well, I’ve been done for years with third party candidates. Still, the major parties never fail to produce flawed candidates. Some more flawed than others. But from my perspective, Obama has been a president to be proud of. I reflect about him on foreign policy. He’s simply been statesmanlike. He has not only represented American interests abroad. He’s represented our values.

At home, he’s worked to ease the suffering of those without work. Again, he’s fought to restore the greatness of our economy. I say, let him finish the job. Unlike his opponent, you don’t have to guess where Obama stands, what he really believes. He’s been a darn good president. Let’s see if he can become one of the great ones.

Since my retirement, I’ve written a memoir, “Monday I’ll Save the World” and “Mental Illness and Your Town,” a community guide on the disability. I can be reached at

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