Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Would The Original Fussbudget — Lucy Van Pelt ("Peanuts") — Say To Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI)? "Nyaah!" (With Outstretched Tongue)

One of the leading Dumbo/Teabagger Pinup Boys is U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). Today, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza takes a look at the Dumbo/Teabagger Pinup Boy. What a dork! Dorks are attracted to Objectivism like moths to a flame. Dorks to a flame: Allen Greenspan, Rand Paul, and their ilk. If this is (fair & balanced) exposure of True Believers, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
By Ryan Lizza

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One day in March, 2009, two months after the Inauguration of President Obama, Representative Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, sat behind a small table in a cramped meeting space in his Capitol Hill office. Hunched forward in his chair, he rattled off well-rehearsed critiques of the new President’s policies and America’s lurch toward a “European” style of government. Ryan’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all died before their sixtieth birthdays, so Ryan, who is now forty-two, could be forgiven if he seemed like a man in a hurry. Tall and wiry, with a puff of wavy dark hair, he is nearly as well known in Washington for his punishing early-morning workouts as he is for his mastery of the federal budget. Asked to explain his opposition to Obama’s newly released budget, he replied, “I don’t have that much time.”

Ryan won his seat in 1998, at the age of twenty-eight. Like many young conservatives, he is embarrassed by the Bush years. At the time, as a junior member with little clout, Ryan was a reliable Republican vote for policies that were key in causing enormous federal budget deficits: sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, the multibillion-dollar bank-bailout legislation known as TARP. In all, five trillion dollars was added to the national debt. In 2006 and 2008, many of Ryan’s older Republican colleagues were thrown out of office as a result of lobbying scandals and overspending. Ryan told me recently that, as a fiscal conservative, he was “miserable during the last majority” and is determined “to do everything I can to make sure I don’t feel that misery again.”

In 2009, Ryan was striving to reintroduce himself as someone true to his ideological roots and capable of reversing his party’s reputation for fiscal profligacy. A generation of Republican leaders was gone. Ryan had already jumped ahead of more senior colleagues to become the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, and it was his job to pick apart Obama’s tax and spending plans. At the table in his office, Ryan pointed out the gimmicks that Presidents use to hide costs and conceal policy details. He deconstructed Obama’s early health-care proposal and attacked his climate-change plan. Obama’s budget “makes our tax code much less competitive,” he said, as if reading from a script. “It makes it harder for businesses to survive in the global economy, for people to save for their own retirement, and it grows our debt tremendously.” He added, “It just takes the poor trajectory our country’s fiscal state is on and exacerbates it.”

As much as he relished the battle against Obama—“European,” he repeated, with some gusto—his real fight was for the ideological identity of the Republican Party, and with colleagues who were content to simply criticize the White House. “If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose,” he told me. A fault line divided the older and more cautious Republican leaders from the younger, more ideological members. Ryan was, and remains, the leader of the attack-and-propose faction.

“I think you’re obligated to do that,” he said. “People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, ‘Just criticize and don’t do anything and let’s win by default.’ That’s ridiculous.” He said he was “moving ahead without them. They don’t want to produce alternatives? That’s not going to stop me from producing an alternative.”

Ryan’s long-range plan was straightforward: to create a detailed alternative to Obama’s budget and persuade his party to embrace it. He would start in 2009 and 2010 with House Republicans, the most conservative bloc in the Party. Then, in the months before the Presidential primaries, he would focus on the G.O.P. candidates. If the plan worked, by the fall of 2012 Obama’s opponent would be running on Paul Ryan’s ideas, and in 2013 a new Republican President would be signing them into law.

Sitting in his office more than three years ago, Ryan could not have foreseen how successful his crusade to reinvent the Republican Party would be. Nearly every important conservative opinion-maker and think tank has rallied around his policies. Nearly every Republican in the House and the Senate has voted in favor of some version of his budget plan. Earlier this year, the G.O.P. Presidential candidates lavished praise on Ryan and his ideas. “I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan,” Mitt Romney said on March 20th, in Chicago. The following week, while campaigning in Wisconsin, he added, “I think it’d be marvellous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and adopt it and pass it along to the President.”

To envisage what Republicans would do if they win in November, the person to understand is not necessarily Romney, who has been a policy cipher all his public life. The person to understand is Paul Ryan.

Janesville, Wisconsin, where Ryan was born and still lives, is a riverfront city of sixty-four thousand people in the southeast corner of the state, between Madison and Chicago. Three families, the Ryans, the Fitzgeralds, and the Cullens, sometimes called the Irish Mafia, helped develop the town, especially in the postwar era. The Ryans were major road builders, and today Ryan, Inc., started in 1884 by Paul’s great-grandfather, is a national construction firm. The historic Courthouse section of Janesville is still thick with members of the Ryan clan. At last count, there were eight other Ryan households within a six-block radius of his house, a large Georgian Revival with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I grew up on the block I now live on,” Ryan told me recently. We were sitting in his new, more spacious Capitol Hill office, one of the spoils of being in the majority after the 2010 elections. “My aunt and uncle live across the street from me,” he said. “My cousin is next door, my brother is a block away.” Ryan’s line of the family strayed from the construction business, which is now run by his cousin Adam. His grandfather and father became lawyers instead.

Unlike most members of Congress these days, Ryan is relatively accessible to reporters. “The key to understanding me is really simple,” he said. “I am not trying to be anybody other than who I actually am.” Even his ideological foes comment on his friendliness and good nature. After his sophomore year in high school, back in 1986, he worked the grill at McDonald’s. “The manager didn’t think I had the social skills to work the counter,” he said. “And now I’m in Congress!”

But the summer of 1986 brought a life-changing event. One night in August, he came home from work well past midnight, and he slept late the following morning. His mother was in Colorado visiting his sister, and his brother, who had a summer job with the Janesville parks department, had left early. Paul answered a frantic phone call from his father’s secretary. “Your dad’s got clients in here,” she said. “Where is he?” Paul walked into his parents’ bedroom and thought his father was sleeping. “I went to wake him up,” he told me, “and he was dead.”

“It was just a big punch in the gut,” Ryan said. “I concluded I’ve got to either sink or swim in life.” His mother went back to school, in Madison, and studied interior design; his grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, moved into their home, and Ryan helped care for her. “I grew up really fast,” he said.

He took both schoolwork and extracurricular activities more seriously, he told me. In his junior year, he was elected class president, which made him prom king and gave him a seat representing the high school on Janesville’s school board, his first political position. He played soccer and was on the ski team. He joined nearly every school club: Latin Club, History Club, the Letterman’s Club, for varsity athletes, and the International Geographic Society, which was open to students who received an A in geography, and which met monthly to learn about a different country. At the end of his senior year, he was elected Biggest Brown-Noser. (“At least I didn’t have a mullet,” he said.)

His father’s death also provoked the kind of existential soul-searching that most kids don’t undertake until college. “I was, like, ‘What is the meaning?’ ” he said. “I just did lots of reading, lots of introspection. I read everything I could get my hands on.” Like many conservatives, he claims to have been profoundly affected by Ayn Rand. After reading Atlas Shrugged, he told me, “I said, ‘Wow, I’ve got to check out this economics thing.’ What I liked about her novels was their devastating indictment of the fatal conceit of socialism, of too much government.” He dived into Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman.

In a 2005 speech to a group of Rand devotees called the Atlas Society, Ryan said that Rand was required reading for his office staff and interns. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he told the group. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” To me he was careful to point out that he rejects Rand’s atheism.

In 1988, Ryan went to Miami University, in Ohio, where he got to know an economics professor named William R. Hart, a fierce and outspoken libertarian in a faculty dominated by liberals. The two quickly discovered their shared fascination with Rand and Hayek. Ryan got his first introduction to movement conservatism when Hart handed him an issue of National Review. “Take this magazine—I think you’ll like it,” he said.

In 1991, Hart recommended Ryan for an internship in the office of Senator Bob Kasten, a Wisconsin Republican. Two years later, Ryan went to work as a speechwriter and policy analyst for Jack Kemp, who led Empower America, an organization then in the vanguard of making policy for supply-side conservatives who were pushing Republicans rightward in their views on taxes and the size of government. “Jack Kemp is what sucked me into public policy, public service, and politics,” Ryan said. “He called it the battle of ideas, and I just really got into it.”

Hart told me, “He thought the world of Jack Kemp. I got the impression that Jack Kemp became something of a second father.”

In 1997, Mark Neumann, the congressman from Ryan’s district in Wisconsin, who was running for the Senate, called Ryan, who was just twenty-seven, and suggested that he run for the House seat. Neumann knew that the popular Ryan name couldn’t hurt. Ryan went back to Wisconsin, worked briefly for the family business as a “marketing consultant”—a bit of résumé padding that gave him his only private-sector experience—and decided to run. One ad showed him walking through a Janesville cemetery among the gravestones of his ancestors. He won the election, becoming the second-youngest member of the House, and he has been reëlected easily ever since.

Ryan’s first significant policy fight came in 2004. As President George W. Bush campaigned for a second term, largely emphasizing counter-terrorism and national-security policies, Ryan laid the groundwork for the Republican agenda should Bush be elected. For the first time, Ryan had the chance to pursue some of the more daring libertarian ideas that had captivated him. As a thirty-four-year-old representative, he set out to privatize Social Security.

For decades, policy wonks on the Republican fringes had talked about turning Social Security, the government safety-net program for retirees, into a system of private investment accounts. The architect of the movement was Peter Ferrara, a former Harvard Law School student, who, calling it “the craziest idea in the world,” sold it, in 1979, to the small-government fundamentalists at the Cato Institute. (Ferrara is now at the Heartland Institute, best known for its denial of climate change.) They evangelized on behalf of the idea for more than two decades, before pushing it into mainstream Republican politics. Bush was the first Republican Presidential nominee to embrace the idea, but it wasn’t a priority in his first term, which was dominated by the response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq.

Ryan and other conservative leaders, among them Senator John Sununu, of New Hampshire, wanted to be sure that Bush returned to the plan in 2005. Under Ryan’s initial version, American workers would be able to invest about half of their payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, in private accounts. As a plan to reduce government debt, it made no sense. It simply took money from one part of the budget and spent it on private accounts, at a cost of two trillion dollars in transition expenses. But, as an ideological statement about the proper relationship between individuals and the federal government, Ryan’s plan was clear.

The release of the Social Security proposal was a turning point in Ryan’s career. Bush could have chosen to push a bipartisan idea, such as immigration reform, as the first domestic proposal of his second term. But, during the 2004 campaign, Ryan, with such allies as Kemp and Ferrara, kept up pressure from the right to force the White House to make a decision on Social Security. Many Republicans were still wary. Two weeks after Bush’s Inauguration, Ryan gave a speech at Cato asserting that Social Security was no longer the third rail of American politics. He toured his district with a PowerPoint presentation and invited news crews to document how Republicans could challenge Democrats on a sacrosanct policy issue and live to tell about it.

Conservative editorialists and activists cheered him on. “What Ryan and Sununu have proposed is historic,” Newt Gingrich wrote in an op-ed piece. “They have fashioned a plan that makes the idea of a personal-account option for Social Security not only politically viable but, indeed, politically irresistible.” Jack Kemp lauded his former aide: “It will be proven the most efficacious of all the reforms.” For the first time, Ryan enjoyed a round of worshipful media coverage. “THAT HAIR, THOSE EYES, THAT PLAN,” proclaimed the headline of a long home-state magazine profile in 2005.

But Ryan’s assurances proved to be wildly optimistic. Bush, urged by Karl Rove to keep his distance from Ryan’s plan, released a far more cautious proposal, with smaller accounts and less expensive transition costs. He spent months on a national tour promoting it, as Ryan had in Wisconsin. Democrats savaged the plan. Bush’s poll numbers sank, and the plan was effectively dead by the fall. The following year, the Republicans lost thirty House seats and the Democrats took over Congress. Other factors contributed to Bush’s failures in 2005 and 2006—Hurricane Katrina, escalating violence in Iraq—but his push for a version of the Ryan Social Security plan marked the start of the decline. Bush, in his memoir, writes that he regretted pursuing the issue when he did.

What some might interpret as the failure of an unpopular idea Ryan insisted was mostly a communications problem. “The Administration did a bad job of selling it,” he told me. Bush had campaigned on national-security issues, only to pitch Social Security reform after reëlection. “And . . . thud,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to prepare the country for these things. You can’t just spring it on them after you win.” The lesson: “Don’t let the engineers run the marketing department.”

Although the ranks of House Republicans were thinner after the 2006 elections, Ryan was sent back to Washington and won the top Republican spot on the Budget Committee. Now he had a large staff of economists working for him and access to the resources of the Congressional Budget Office, which could provide detailed analyses of his proposals. Once again, he set about testing the bounds of conservative ideology within the Party. It was his job to draft an alternative to the new Democratic majority’s budget. Even for the smaller, more conservative G.O.P. caucus of 2007, Ryan’s draft was so extreme that forty out of two hundred and two Republicans voted against it.

He returned the following year with something more polished and more ambitious. In May, 2008, working with two other young Republicans, Kevin McCarthy, of California, and Eric Cantor, of Virginia, who had watched the immolation of the congressional wing of their party during the Bush years, Ryan remade his budget into something he called the Roadmap for America’s Future. Rather than just build support inside Congress, he promoted the Roadmap through the rich network of conservative media and think tanks that helped influence Republican members. “I thought fiscal policy was on the wrong path,” he told me.

Ryan had witnessed three periods when conservatism was ascendant: during the Reagan revolution of the nineteen-eighties; after the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress; and after Bush’s election in 2000. Notably, the federal government’s size and responsibilities grew through all three political epochs. Ryan’s Roadmap soon came to define a fourth conservative surge. Unlike the 1994 Contract with America, which in substance was not nearly as ideological as people thought, and unlike Bush’s compassionate conservatism, which was sold as a rejection of anti-government philosophy, the Roadmap was a comprehensive plan to reduce the welfare state and radically curtail the government’s role in protecting citizens from life’s misfortunes.

Ryan recommended ending Medicare, the government health-insurance program for retirees, and replacing it with a system of direct payments to seniors, who could then buy private insurance. (The change would not affect current beneficiaries or the next decade of new ones.) He proposed ending Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor, and replacing it with a lump sum for states to use as they saw fit. Ryan also called for an end to the special tax break given to employers who provide insurance; instead, that money would pay for twenty-five-hundred-dollar credits for uninsured taxpayers to buy their own plans. As for Social Security, Ryan modestly scaled back his original proposal by reducing the amount invested in private accounts, from one-half to one-third of payroll taxes. Ryan’s Roadmap also promised to cut other government spending, though it didn’t specify how. Likewise, it promised to lower income-tax rates and simplify the tax code, but it didn’t detail which popular deductions—mortgage interest? retirement contributions?—it would eliminate.

Conservative intellectuals at National Review and the Heritage Foundation loved the Roadmap, and Ryan became an icon within the insular world of right-wing pundits. In Congress, things were different. In 2008, with midterm and Presidential elections looming, the Roadmap attracted just eight co-sponsors. Only the most astute observers of G.O.P. internal politics noticed what was happening. In a celebratory column about the Ryan plan in the Washington Post, titled “Fiscal Medicine Man,” Robert Novak, the late conservative writer, predicted, “After what is expected to be another bad G.O.P. defeat in the 2008 congressional elections, Ryan, McCarthy, and Cantor could constitute the party’s new House leadership.”

By early 2009, when I first met Ryan in his office, he was caught between the demands of the Republican leaders, who wanted nothing to do with his Roadmap, and his own belief that the Party had to offer a sweeping alternative vision to Obama’s. Ryan soon had an unlikely ally, in Obama himself. Throughout that year, the Administration struggled to defend its ambitious agenda, in part because there was no Republican alternative for the President to attack. Ryan, deferring to the Party leadership, didn’t aggressively push his plan again. But in late January of 2010, a week after the victory of the Republican Scott Brown in the contest for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts—the first election fuelled by the new Tea Party movement—Ryan offered the Roadmap as an alternative to Obama’s budget.

He presented it not as a dry policy plan, with just numbers and actuarial tables, but as a manifesto that drew on the canon of Western political philosophy as interpreted by conservative intellectuals. The document’s introduction referred to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Hayek, Friedman, Adam Smith, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Georges-Eugène Sorel, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Charles Murray, and Niall Ferguson. Ryan himself seemed intent on entering the canon. “Only by taking responsibility for oneself, to the greatest extent possible, can one ever be free,” he wrote, “and only a free person can make responsible choices—between right and wrong, saving and spending, giving or taking.”

Obama saw an opening. Invited to speak before the House Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore, on January 29th, he seemed to extend an olive branch to Ryan. “I think Paul, for example, the head of the Budget Committee, has looked at the budget and has made a serious proposal,” Obama said. “I’ve read it. I can tell you what’s in it. And there’s some ideas in there that I would agree with, but there’s some ideas that we should have a healthy debate about, because I don’t agree with them.” Afterward, Obama made a point of shaking Ryan’s hand and signing an autograph for his seven-year-old daughter, Liza. There was talk in Washington that the two young, wonky Midwesterners might be able to build a working relationship.

Three days later, the White House started a livelier debate with Ryan. In a press briefing, Peter Orszag, the budget director at the time, dismantled Ryan’s plan, point by point. Ryan’s proposal would turn Medicare “into a voucher program, so that individuals are on their own in the health-care market,” he said. Over time, the program wouldn’t keep pace with rising medical costs, so seniors would have to pay thousands of dollars more a year for health care. The Roadmap would revive Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security and “provide large tax benefits to upper-income households . . . while shifting the burden onto middle- and lower-income households. It is a dramatically different approach in which much more risk is loaded onto individuals.” Ryan, who had always had a good relationship with Orszag, later described the briefing as the moment when “the budget director took that olive branch and hit me in the face with it.”

But the confrontation enhanced Ryan’s credibility among conservatives. He became the face of the opposition, someone who could attack the President’s policies with facts and figures. Indeed, at the retreat, Obama had mischaracterized Ryan’s Medicare plan, and Ryan politely corrected him. The two men sparred again the next month, at a summit at Blair House, over the President’s health-care plan. The details of Ryan’s proposals and his critiques of Obama’s mattered less than the fact that he was taking on the President. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders started to feel pressure to take a position on the Ryan budget.

In July, Boehner distanced himself from the plan. But Ryan’s outside-in strategy, of building support among conservatives who would pressure Republican leaders to embrace his ideas, started to pay off. An editorial in the Weekly Standard stated that “Republicans should embrace Ryan’s Road Map.” Dick Armey, the former congressional leader, who had become a Tea Party organizer, demanded that Republicans have the “courage” to back Ryan’s plan. Boehner’s position insured that most Republican candidates didn’t listen to Armey’s advice, and in 2010 they campaigned against Obama’s alleged cuts to Medicare rather than for Ryan’s plan to end the program.

Still, after the election, with the Republican Party racing rightward, Ryan provided an intellectual blueprint: there were eighty-seven Republican freshmen who wanted to starve the government but had no clear idea how to do so. In December, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Sarah Palin endorsed the Roadmap, and every potential Republican Presidential candidate knew that he or she, too, would have to take a position on it. In January, 2011, Ryan was chosen to give the official Republican response to the President’s State of the Union speech. “We hold to a couple of simple convictions,” he said. “Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first.”

During the next four months, Ryan and McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House, convened a series of listening sessions for their colleagues, placing special emphasis on the Republican freshmen. Wielding a PowerPoint presentation that included photographs of chaos in Greece, which was sliding into its debt crisis, the two led the new members of Congress through the perils of the government’s fiscal trajectory, and patiently explained how Ryan’s plan was both the only solution and a political winner. In April, after months of this education campaign, Ryan formally unveiled a third version of the Roadmap, renamed the Path to Prosperity.

After the listening sessions, Ryan had removed some of the most controversial ideas, including the manifesto-like introduction, and even the Social Security privatization plan. The credit for taxpayers to buy health insurance was scrapped as well, but Ryan added a new plank: to repeal Obama’s health-care law and to effectively cut Medicaid by a third. (Under the plan, Medicaid would no longer keep up with rising medical costs.) Ryan conceded that he couldn’t get his colleagues to go along with everything in the old plan. “I had to pass a bill—I had to get two hundred and eighteen people,” he told me. His original Roadmap “was just me, unplugged,” he said. “But when you’re writing a budget you’re representing an entire conference, and so you have to get consensus.”

Conservative opinion-writers again celebrated his bravery. But there was one note of caution. The ornery Charles Krauthammer doubted that Ryan’s ideas could survive a Democratic onslaught in the 2012 campaign. “House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has just released a recklessly bold, 73-page, 10-year budget plan,” he wrote. “At 37 footnotes, it might be the most annotated suicide note in history.”

In mid-April of 2011, in a speech at George Washington University, Obama once again decided to make an example of Ryan. Republicans were finally about to vote on the Path to Prosperity, and the President was eager to offer his opinion. Obama, for nearly the first time in his Presidency, emphasized the ideological divide between the two parties rather than offering bromides about what they shared. The White House invited Ryan to the speech and reserved a V.I.P. seat for him. Obama had personally called Ryan after Republicans won the majority in the House the previous November, and Ryan thought the two might have a rapport. They both liked sports and, because Ryan’s district runs along the Illinois border close to Chicago, knew many of the same people. “He’s a cerebral guy who likes policy, and he’s from my part of the country,” Ryan said. “At the beginning, I did have some hope.”

Ryan sat in the front row as the President shredded his plan. “I believe it paints a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic,” Obama said. “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.”

Ryan seemed genuinely shocked. During a radio interview later in the day, he complained that Obama had called him “un-American,” and he objected to the charge that he was “pitting children with autism or Down syndrome against millionaires and billionaires” and “ending America as we know it.” Ryan told me, “I was expecting some counteroffer of some kind. What we got was the gauntlet of demagoguery.”

Two days after the speech, despite some desperate appeals by Republican pollsters, Ryan’s plan passed the House of Representatives, 235 to 193. Only four Republicans voted against it. Ryan told me that the class of Republicans elected in 2010 was transformational. “Usually, you get local career politicians who want to be national career politicians,” he said. “They’re more cautious. They’re more risk-averse. They’re more focussed on just reëlection.” He went on, “This crop of people who came up are doctors and dentists and small-business people and roofers and D.A.s. They’re not here for careers—they’re here for causes.”

Whatever benefit the White House had seen in raising Ryan’s profile, his increasing power, and his credibility as the leading authority on conservative fiscal policy, soon made his imprimatur essential for any Republican trying to reach a compromise with Democrats. Ryan helped scuttle three deals on the budget. He had served on the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission but refused to endorse its final proposal, in December, 2010. When deficit negotiations moved from the failed commission to Congress, Ryan stuck with the extreme faction of the G.O.P. caucus, which withheld support from any of the leading bipartisan plans. In the summer of 2011, when a group of Democratic and Republican senators, known as the Gang of Six, produced their own agreement, Ryan’s detailed criticism helped sink it. And, also that summer, during high-level talks between the White House and Republican leaders, Cantor and Ryan reportedly pressured Boehner to reject a potential deal with President Obama.

Ryan had aligned himself with Cantor and the self-proclaimed Young Guns, who made life miserable for Boehner, their nominal leader. They were the most enthusiastic supporters of the Ryan plan, while Boehner had publicly criticized it. Cantor’s aides quietly promoted stories about Boehner’s alleged squishiness on issues dear to conservatives, and encouraged Capitol Hill newspapers to consider the idea that Cantor would one day replace Boehner. As the Republican negotiations with the White House fizzled in the summer of 2011, Barry Jackson, Boehner’s chief of staff and a veteran of the Bush White House and Republican politics, blamed not just Cantor, who in media accounts of the failed deal often plays the role of villain, but Ryan as well.

“That’s what Cantor and Ryan want,” Jackson told a group of Republican congressmen, according to Robert Draper’s recent book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do. “They see a world where it’s Mitch McConnell”—as Senate Majority Leader—“Speaker Cantor, a Republican President, and then Paul Ryan can do whatever he wants to do. It’s not about this year. It’s about getting us to 2012, defeating the President, and Boehner being disgraced.”

One afternoon in mid-July, John Beckord, a Ryan supporter and the head of Forward Janesville, a pro-business economic-development group, took me on a tour of Ryan’s home town. As the years went by, the successful small businesses of the old Irish Mafia came to be overshadowed by one employer, General Motors; at its peak, in 1978, the automaker employed seventy-one hundred people and later produced more than a thousand sport-utility vehicles a day. Janesville has often served as a backdrop for Presidents and Presidential candidates. During a campaign stop there in 2008, Obama said, “The promise of Janesville has been the promise of America.” Later that year, the plant announced that it would close, causing the loss of some five thousand jobs in the area. Mitt Romney gave his standard stump speech in Janesville recently, with Ryan at his side.

Beckord drove along the perimeter of the abandoned plant, which stretched across more than two hundred acres. He pointed out a wide plain of asphalt, now sprouting weeds, that had once served as a parking lot for thousands of cars. Through 2007, Ryan regularly requested government money for special projects back home. Earmarks grew out of control during the Bush years, but most of what Ryan asked for, and got, was defensible: four hundred thousand dollars for a water-treatment plant; three hundred thousand for a technical college where G.M. workers could be retrained; seven hundred and thirty-five thousand for Janesville’s bus system; and $3.3 million for highway projects throughout Wisconsin. In 2008, however, Ryan vowed not to request earmarks anymore; he later helped push through an outright ban. I asked Beckord whether Ryan’s libertarianism ever clashed with the needs of his constituents. He hesitated, then said, finally, “I suppose there could have been a full-court press to just cobble together as much federal money as possible on our behalf to make it irresistible for G.M. to keep this plant open.”

When we got beyond the auto plant, Beckord pointed out some of the promising initiatives in town. “We’re finding a new identity,” he said. Since the plant closed, Janesville, which sits almost at the center of a ring of major cities, including Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Des Moines, and Minneapolis, has partly reinvented itself as a distribution hub for major companies. “They don’t make anything here,” Beckord explained. “But they distribute their products from here.” We passed a John Deere facility where hundreds of lawn tractors and mowers were stacked on pallets. Janesville is a major distribution center for John Deere lawn-care products. Several other national companies, including Grainger, which sells various industrial products, and LeMans, which sells parts for motocross and snowmobiling equipment, use Janesville for the same purpose.

As Janesville increasingly becomes a base for the business of distribution logistics, its single most pressing economic concern is good roads. Beckord pointed toward Interstate 90, which runs southeast a hundred miles to Chicago. “From an economic-vitality and economic-development perspective, transportation infrastructure is huge,” he said. Next year, I-90 around Janesville will begin expansion from four lanes to eight. The project, the top issue for the local business community since the G.M. plant closed, will be financed as part of a billion-dollar federal and state highway project. “Paul has been as helpful as he can be to encourage that development,” Beckord said. “But, as you know, he also has a philosophical disconnect with the idea of earmarks.”

We passed a warehouse-like building under construction where several men in hard hats were at work. Beckord explained that it would soon house the Janesville Innovation Center, providing entrepreneurs with commercial space in which to launch their ideas. The money came from a $1.2-million government grant through the Economic Development Administration, one of Obama’s major stimulus programs.

There was one more success story that Beckord wanted to share. A few years ago, he had a melanoma that was treated with a radioactive isotope; this isotope is administered to fifty-five thousand patients a day but has a half-life of sixty-six hours after manufacture, so it must be delivered quickly. The isotope, known as a medical tracer, is made outside the United States by a complicated process requiring highly enriched uranium from nuclear reactors. The government offered twenty-five-million-dollar matching grants to companies that could devise a way to produce the material domestically, without using enriched uranium. “Two of the four companies that won that competition, incredibly, are going to build plants in our county, and one of them is going to be in Janesville,” Beckord said. In May, the federal government announced that it would contribute more than ten million dollars to the new facility, which could employ some hundred and fifty people.

The current Presidential campaign centers on the debate about the government’s role in the economy. Ryan, by forcing Republicans to embrace his budget plan, has helped shape this debate. Obama, on July 13th, told a crowd in Virginia, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” He added, “When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

To Ryan, Obama’s words were anathema. In a conversation three days later with James Pethokoukis, a conservative blogger for the American Enterprise Institute, he had harsh criticisms for the President. “His comments seem to derive from a naïve vision,” Ryan said, that is based on “an idea that the nucleus of society and the economy is government, not the people.” Obama’s “big-government spending programs fail to restore jobs and growth,” he said, and amount to “a statist attack on free communities.”

When I pointed out to Ryan that government spending programs were at the heart of his home town’s recovery, he didn’t disagree. But he insisted that he has been misunderstood. “Obama is trying to paint us as a caricature,” he said. “As if we’re some bizarre individualists who are hardcore libertarians. It’s a false dichotomy and intellectually lazy.” He added, “Of course we believe in government. We think government should do what it does really well, but that it has limits, and obviously within those limits are things like infrastructure, interstate highways, and airports.” But independent assessments make clear that Ryan’s budget plan, in order to achieve its goals, would drastically reduce the parts of the budget that fund exactly the kinds of projects and research now helping Janesville.

As in 2009, Republicans are divided between those who think they can win by pointing out Obama’s failures and those who want to run on a Ryan-like set of ideas. Romney seems to want to be in the first camp, but during the primaries he championed the ideas in Ryan’s budget. Ryan is frequently talked about as a future leader of the House Republicans and even as a long shot to be Romney’s running mate. He surely would take either job, but he seems better suited to continuing what he’s been doing since 2008: remaking the Republican Party in his image. You can’t “run on vague platitudes and generalities,” he told me earlier this month. He was speaking about Bush in 2004 and Obama four years ago. But he clearly believes that the same holds true for Romney in November.

“He’s already endorsed these things,” Ryan said. “I want a full-throated defense for an alternative agenda that fixes the country’s problems. I want to show the country that we have a solution to get us out of the ditch we’re in, and to be proud about it.”

Ryan seemed unconcerned that pushing his policy agenda on Romney might damage the candidate. “I think life is short,” Ryan said at the end of our final conversation. “You’d better take advantage of it while you have it.” Ω

[Ryan Lizza is the Washington Correspondent for The New Yorker magazine, where he covers the White House and national politics and writes the magazine's "Letter From Washington" column. Lizza joined The New Yorker after working at The New Republic, where he was a political correspondent from 1998 to 2007, covering the White House and Presidential politics. He was formerly a correspondent for GQ and a contributing editor for New York. He has also written for the New York Times, Washington Monthly, and the Atlantic Monthly. Lizza graduated from the University of California at Berkeley.]

Copyright © 2012 Condé Nast Digital

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Monday, July 30, 2012

Today, Sparky The Wonder Penguin (Wearing His Inuit-Style Goggles To Prevent Bull$hit Blindness) Shoots Down The Dumbo/Teabagger Gun-Nuts!

This AM, an e-mail landed in this blogger's In Box:

"Was this you in the 1990s?"

The e-mail included a link to this 'toon

[x Non Sequitur]
Pre-Internet Blogging
By Wiley Miller

(Click to embiggen)

[D.(avid) Wiley Miller studied art at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked for several educational film studios in Los Angeles before joining the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record as staff artist/editorial cartoonist in 1976. After a stint at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in California, he created his first syndicated strip, "Fenton," in 1982. He returned to editorial cartooning three years later, joining the staff of the San Francisco Examiner. In 1988, Miller was named Best Editorial Cartoonist by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for editorial cartooning in 1991. Also in 1991, Miller launched his popular "Non Sequitur" strip, eventually syndicated to 700 newspapers.]

Copyright © 2012 Wiley Miller

However, this blogger in his shorts while shouting with a bullhorn in the 1990s is beside the point. Tom Tomorrow provides an excellent take on the recent Aurora shooting tragedy in today's 'toon. If Sparky the Wonder Penguin gives us some great (fair & balanced) smart-assery, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
What We Really Need
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

(Click to embiggen — H/T to Daily Kos) Ω

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly.

Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002.

When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001.]

Copyright © 2012 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Story From Down In The Valley At The McAllen H-E-B Store

Professor Oscar Casares is a native son of Brownsville, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Casares has both a sharp eye and sharp ears. If this is a (fair & balanced) attempt to go home again, so be it.

[x TM]
Hecho En Brownsville [Made In Brownsville]
By Oscar Casares

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at TagCrowd.com
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Getting lost and showing up late to the grand opening was bad enough. Getting lost and showing up late with my aging parents in the car was a whole other matter. We had left Brownsville with enough time, but a couple of the smaller towns to the north weren’t so small anymore, and somewhere along the way I had exited too soon or too late and gotten completely turned around. Nothing seemed to be like it was before. In the almost twenty years since I’d left, all the cultural landmarks I’d felt were sorely lacking during my youth had arrived—IHOP, Red Lobster, Shoney’s, Target, Chili’s. Between the sprawling strip malls, glimpses of irrigation canals and cotton fields retold the story of how it used to be.

My father, who was about to turn 89, tended to be lulled to sleep in any moving vehicle, unless the vehicle happened to be traveling in the wrong direction. This is a man who once made an ambulance that was rushing him to the emergency room pull into the parking lot of an abandoned Taco Bell because he was convinced the driver was headed to the wrong hospital (which he was). It was as if at some point my father’s pacemaker had been replaced with a tiny GPS device, one that alerted you only when you went the wrong way.

My mother, in the backseat, was also worried about arriving late, but for her own reasons. We were on our way to the grand opening of a new H-E-B in McAllen, not far from the little town where she had grown up. This new H-E-B was several times larger than the one she’d worked at in Brownsville, beginning in 1955. In those days, the company was still regional and much smaller than it is today, with its more than three hundred stores across the state and in Mexico and new ones opening all the time. My mother had spent the past few days calling my cousins who lived in the area, some of whom I hadn’t seen in the twenty years since I had moved away, to tell them we would be attending the grand opening because the owner of H-E-B, Charles Butt, or as she referred to him, el señor Butt, had asked me to be there to sign copies of the new book I had written.

A year earlier I had explained to my publisher that it was one thing to write a collection of stories called Brownsville, and it was another thing to find a place to sell the book in the actual border town of Brownsville, where there was only one small bookstore and the closest Barnes and Noble was fifty miles away. What was the point of writing about the place where I had grown up if the people still living there had trouble finding the book? If I was giving a voice to their stories, it seemed like there should be a better way to offer the book to them. As luck would have it, I happened to meet Charles Butt at a Christmas party in San Antonio, which led to my sending him an advance copy of my book and the book being ordered and stocked at several of his stores, sharing prime space next to the tabloids, recipe books, and Harlequin novels at the checkout aisle.

Before we were lost and running late, my mother had been telling us how she learned to speak English while working at H-E-B. It was there, speaking to the few Anglos who lived in Brownsville and bought groceries at the store every week, that she gained the confidence to express herself. She had already learned English in school, but in the fifties, Spanish was more commonly used along the border, as it still is in many of the areas along the border today. It was all she and my father and older sister and brothers spoke at home. But my father worked outside the home and my sister and brothers had school, where they could talk to people in both languages. So it was working in the drug department at the first H-E-B in Brownsville, just four blocks from the international bridge to Mexico, where, selling shampoo and perfume and cough syrup and Band-Aids, my mother first learned to use her English.

Quick to make friends, she had her regular customers who came by looking for her. These were the ones who were patient when she would run out of English words—“Se me acababa el inglés,” as she says—to describe a product, a salve or laxative, that might need a bit more explaining. It took a couple of years before she was comfortable asking if she could help a customer without fearing she might not have the English to answer.

On coffee breaks, she would sometimes cross our main street to mail a letter at the post office, which also served as the federal courthouse. Walking back, she might window-shop at Sears or the Three Sisters that faced the H-E-B.

Then there was Christmas 1956. All the decorations and pretty lights were strung up across the aisles when, late one night, the store and everything in it, including the perfume boxes and pen sets her customers had put on layaway, burned away in a fire so fierce that the Matamoros firemen rushed across the bridge to help the Brownsville firemen contain the blaze. It was one of those events people of my parents’ generation still talk about as if it was Pearl Harbor. While some people wondered if the holiday lights had been the source of the disaster, the fire chief blamed it on a faulty air-conditioning unit. But whatever it was, one thing was certain: the center of Brownsville burned that night. In time, the store was rebuilt and was followed by others as the company grew. (The old-timers, those whose loyalty to the stores has weathered a border economy subject to recessions on one side of the river and peso devaluations on the other, like to say that H-E-B really stands for “Hecho En Brownsville.”) My mother worked for another six years in the rebuilt store and then a newer one, until she learned she was pregnant with me and needed to stay home again.

When we finally arrived at the grand opening, the parking lot was full, even the handicapped spots. The last time I’d seen this many people in a grocery store was during hurricane season. It was a big event—these people were getting their own H-E-B. They wouldn’t have to drive halfway across town to buy a gallon of milk or some diapers. Now they had a store in their neighborhood, one they could call my H-E-B and mean it, in the same way they referred to their team as my Cowboys or my Astros. Most of them had at least one kid in tow, either riding in the shopping cart or running circles around the cart as it moved forward. Others brought a grandfather or grandmother who tagged along at his or her own pace. And although a few of these shoppers looked as though they could’ve stepped out of the pages of my short stories, something told me they weren’t there to shop for my book. I was supposed to read part of a story, but with it being so loud I didn’t know how that would happen. Who would listen to me? How was I supposed to compete with the free balloons and lemonade?

The store’s book and magazine section stood behind the long row of cash registers. Twenty or so copies of Brownsville were displayed on a small stand next to the table where I was supposed to sign them. My photo was framed in a chrome floor sign, the kind used to advertise a special on cantaloupes or bran muffins. The only thing missing was the microphone they had promised to set up. I realized this meant I wouldn’t have to read. But I also knew my reading was the reason my parents had come with me and why my mother had spent so much time calling people. And the truth was, at their ages, this was one of the few chances she and my father had to hear me share my work.

One of the managers walked up to say hello and check on things. With all the people and excitement in the store, he smiled as if it was the best day of his life and it might never end. Even so, I apologized for getting there thirty minutes late and blamed it on the confusing directions I’d found online.

“No, no, we’re just glad you made it,” he said, still beaming. “The only thing is, Mr. Butt had to leave.”

I was about to say I was sorry we had missed him, but he told me to hold on, that he had something for me. Then he reached behind the book stand and brought out a four-by-six-inch framed photo of Charles Butt smiling next to the same stand filled with my books.

“One of our other managers took the picture,” he said. “We thought maybe your family would like to have it.”

My mother thanked him and slipped the frame into her purse. For the next year or so she kept her photo of el señor Butt on the end table with some wedding and baptism pictures, and eventually placed it on the nightstand in the guest bedroom, where it was the last thing guests saw before they fell asleep and the first thing that greeted them when they woke up.

The manager was paged, and after he rushed off, my father announced that he needed a cup of coffee and, with my mother, headed to the food court in the distance, near what I could barely make out as the deli or frozen foods section. Earlier, one of the bag boys had offered him a mobility scooter, a red one with a wire basket in front, but my father ignored the kid and kept shuffling forward, gripping my mother’s hand as if she were the one who needed to be steadied.

I sat at my table and signed the small stack of books the manager had requested for his employees. As I sat there, people walked by with their shopping carts full of groceries, not sure what to make of me, a guy scribbling in books at the H-E-B. Other customers smiled but kept walking without making much eye contact, the way they might have done if I were sitting in an airport handing out religious literature.

One woman finally did stop her loaded shopping cart in front of my table. She wore a baggy tank top and gray sweatpants, the sort of clothes she might have been sleeping in recently or would be as soon as she finished her shopping.

She picked up a copy of my book and fanned through the pages as if she were looking for a lost bookmark.

“Is it any good?” she asked.

“I guess so,” I said. “If you like to read stories.”

“You guess so?”

“Can we get it, Momma?” her young son asked. “You promised I could get something.”

I hadn’t seen the six- or seven-year-old boy at first because he was riding in the bottom rack of the shopping cart, a space generally reserved for packages of jumbo paper towels and hefty bags of dog food.

“Is it for children?” she said. “Any nasty words in there?” She flipped through the pages again, as if she might spot some foul language.

“It’s actually not a kids’ book.”

“Momma, please,” the boy said, sticking his head out the back end of the cart so he could look up at her.

“All right, already,” she said, and flung the book into her cart where it landed next to a pack of lady razors.

I was sitting alone again when my parents came back. We had been there close to an hour and only a couple of people had bought books. The manager seemed surprised that more customers weren’t snapping up my stories, considering they’d placed a large discount sticker on the front cover.

“Maybe if they heard you read from the book,” he said. “Didn’t someone say you were going to read?”

“That was the idea,” I said. “But there’s no microphone.”

“Is that all you need, a microphone?”

“It’s kind of loud in here.”

“Then here, take mine.” He unfastened from his belt what looked like a nineties-style cell phone but was really a walkie-talkie, the kind used to page “Price check!” or “Cleanup on aisle four!”

My parents were looking at me now, waiting. For just a second, I thought of my mother paging someone in the store for the first time, how uneasy she must have felt, the quake in her voice as she tried to enunciate her limited and imperfect words, then heard them crackling over the intercom. It seemed like the least I could do was read a page or two, especially after showing up late. So what if the microphone was still warm from riding all day on the manager’s hip?

I found the passage I had thought I might read. It came from the only story in the collection that happens to mention H-E-B: “My mother got along with Yolanda okay and even helped her get a job at the H-E-B store where she had worked since before I was born.” Yolanda was made-up, but the part about my mother’s having worked at H-E-B wasn’t. Although she had quit working after she realized she was pregnant, some part of me wanted to believe I had spent the first few months of my fetal life listening to the amniotic hum of her voice, now more confident with her new language. I liked the idea of coming full circle, of my having listened to her when she worked and of her listening to me today over a similar speaker system, even if this was a brand-new store and my work involved reading fiction under the fluorescent lights.

I read for only a couple of minutes. But slowly people came around and parked their shopping carts as if they were at a drive-in theater. The woman who had taken a book earlier for her son was already in the checkout line but stopped to listen before making her purchase. Even the cashiers seemed a little curious to know what was going on near the magazines. Carts continued to circle around, their owners staring up toward the ceiling, trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. I can’t say if they enjoyed it or just found it strange that someone was reading to them inside a supermarket. I had wanted to offer the stories to the people I had written about, but maybe I had gotten a little too close.

I was somewhat surprised when a few of the customers stuck around and asked me to sign books for them. They might have thought this was just another giveaway for the grand opening. I was signing a copy for one of the cashiers when my friend Melinda showed up with some other people. She had recently moved back to the area and had been all over town trying to find us. When they pulled into the parking lot, they still weren’t sure this was the store, so they rolled down the window to ask someone.

“That’s when we heard your voice on the loudspeaker,” she said. “And then we knew we were in the right place.” Ω

[Oscar Casares is an associate professor of creative writing and the Director of the Creative Writing Program at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Brownsville: Stories (2003) and Amigoland: A Novel (2009). Casares received the Dobie Paisano Fellowship at The University of Texas-Austin in 2002, the James A. Michener Award from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2002, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2006. He received a B.S. in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa.]

Copyright © 2012 Emmis Publishing LP dba Texas Monthly

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Quick, Netflix! Ship "The Sandlot" Stat!

Today, as MLB heads toward the playoffs and — ultimately — the 2012 World Series, this blog features a salute to the best 9 baseball movies up to now. Full disclosure, this blogger has seen them all — with the exception of "The Sandlot" (1993). A red envelope in next week's mail should remedy this gap in a poor blogger's cineography. If this is (fair & balanced) analysis and evaluation of films, so be it.

[x Tampa Fishwrap]
Nine Major-League Movie Hits (July 8, 2012)
By Tom Jones

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at TagCrowd.com
(Click to embiggen)

There are no major-league baseball games to watch on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday because of the All-Star Game. So in honor of the midsummer classic, and to give you some ideas for what you could do during those three offdays, here's a look at our picks for the nine best baseball movies ever made. Why nine? Well, you have nine innings and nine players to a side, so we give you nine movies.

1. "Bull Durham" (1988)

Writer-director Ron Shelton took his experiences as a minor-league ballplayer and turned them into the best baseball movie ever made. It's the classic minor-league story with all the little baseball touches, right down to casting Max "The Clown Prince of Baseball" Patkin to play himself. We won't bore you with the plot details because most of you have seen this flick, but we do want to take a moment to point out our two favorite things about this movie. One is the baseball prowess of Kevin Costner. He looks like a real ballplayer, including being able to swing the bat from both sides of the plate. (By the way, on the other end of the spectrum, Tim Robbins is especially funny as Nuke, but he hardly looks like a real pitcher.) The other thing we love about this movie is Susan Sarandon. She's a great actor who won an Oscar for "Dead Man Walking" and was nominated for "Atlantic City," "Thelma & Louise," "Lorenzo's Oil" and "The Client". But we think her best performance has been as Annie Savoy in "Bull Durham."

2. "Field of Dreams" (1989)

I watched this movie for the umpteenth time the other day, and it still pulls the heart strings as hard as ever. Even a guy's guy can't help but start blubbering when Kevin Costner asks his dad to play catch in the final scene. Although the film varies significantly from W.P. Kinsella's outstanding novel on which the movie is based, Shoeless Joe, "Field of Dreams" is loaded with great scenes. Every time you watch this movie, you discover a new part to love. For me, most recently it was the scenes with the legendary Burt Lancaster, who gave one of his final movie performances. (He died in 1994.) Two nits: Ray Liotta played Shoeless Joe Jackson as a lefty thrower and righty batter though he was the opposite in real life. And Costner's character's dad didn't catch like a real ballplayer. If you play or played ball, watch that last scene and you'll see what I mean.

3. "A League of Their Own" (1992)

Nothing derails a sports movie like actors who look like they've never played that sport in their lives. But Geena Davis, the star of this movie, throws, runs, hits and catches like the real deal, so much so that it gives the movie credibility. That can't be said for most of her castmates, but you're willing to overlook that because the story is so good. Most great comedies have memorable lines, and this movie is full of them:

"Marla Hooch, what a hitter." "See, how it works is, the train moves, not the station." And, of course, "There's no crying in baseball!"

Tom Hanks is sensational, Penny Marshall's spot-on direction takes you back to the 1940s, and best of all, you care about everyone in the movie. Then, after nearly two hours of laughs, the final 10 minutes turn into a poignant homage to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. A perfect ending to a nearly perfect movie.

4. "Eight Men Out" (1988)

John Sayles' movie from Eliot Asinof's excruciatingly detailed 1963 book about the 1919 Black Sox is so authentic looking that it's easy to get lost in the early 20th century. The look, the language, the clothes, everything is straight from 1919. Former major-leaguers Ron Santo and Ken Berry were brought in to coach the actors, who included, from top, John Cusack, Charlie Sheen and D.B Sweeney. For the most part, the baseball looks real, though the actors had to wear 1919-style gloves. Overall, the movie is a tad depressing because it's about one of baseball's darkest chapters. But it's fascinating simply for the look of the film. And it not only has style, it has substance.

5. "The Natural" (1984)

Has anyone, even Kevin Coster, looked more, pardon the pun, natural throwing a baseball and swinging a bat than Robert Redford? You have to suspend a bit of disbelief to buy the then-47-year-old Redford, top, playing a young 20-something, but other than that, Redford's baseball scenes are a pure joy. Throw in a little of that majestic Randy Newman music and some fireworks, and you have yourself a goose bump party up and down your arms. The ending differs a great deal from its source, Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel, which is a complete downer. The movie ending put the cap on 137 sensational minutes, which are highlighted, in my mind, by crusty manager Wilfred Brimley, who tells us all that he "should've been a farmer."

6. "Moneyball" (2011)

If someone told you that a movie about baseball's sabermetrics and a film based on the exploits of players such as Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford would have enough interest, drama, pizzazz and oomph to be nominated for six Academy Awards, you would think that fungoes have taken over the planet. True, the movie, based on the book of the same name about the Oakland A's, conveniently glossed over a few details, such as the 2002 A's being loaded with pitching and having a well-paid league MVP in Miguel Tejada. But Brad Pitt is so charming as GM Billy Beane that you can ignore those things and enjoy one of the most critically acclaimed baseball movies ever.

7. "The Sandlot" (1993)

This is one of those films that you think is a kid movie. So you sit down and watch with your rug rats, and you quickly realize you are enjoying it as much or more than your children. It's a familiar story of a shy kid (Scotty Smalls, played by Tom Guiry, left) who is new in town and trying to fit in. (Doesn't every kid try to do that at some point?) Through baseball and the neighborhood kids, he does just that. Famous film critic Roger Ebert called it summertime's version of "A Christmas Story." To me, that's high praise — well-deserved and accurate. Plus, rarely a week goes by when I don't say to someone, "You're killing me, Smalls!"

8. "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973)

Michael Moriarty plays a pitcher. His catcher is Robert DeNiro (below), who wasn't really known before this movie. DeNiro's character, Bruce Pearson, is terminally ill with Hodgkin's disease. It's sort of the baseball version of "Brian's Song" or, even, "Love Story." Except this is better than both. This movie goes much deeper than two best friends dealing with one's impending death. Make sure you have a box of tissues with you when you watch. Make that two boxes.

9. "Major League" (1989)

It's a poor man's "Bull Durham." That is, this is a film full of cliches. There's the broken-down catcher trying to win back his ex-wife. There's the ex-con relief pitcher. There's the rich, lazy pretty boy, the aging pitcher and the voodoo-practicing Cuban refugee who can't hit a curveball. Oh, and don't forget the no-good evil owner, played deliciously by Margaret Whitton. But despite all the team-of-misfits cliches, the movie works for three reasons. The acting (Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo) is solid, there are several memorable lines ("Too high" and "Juuuust a bit outside") and Bob Uecker's announcer character, Harry Doyle, is hysterical.

Honorable mentions

"Angels in the Outfield" (1951), "The Bad New Bears" (1976), "Damn Yankees" (1958), "It Happens Every Spring" (1949), "Little Big League" (1994), "Pride of the Yankees" (1942), "The Rookie" (2002), "Rookie of the Year" (1993) Ω

[Tom Jones is the writer/editor for Page Two of the Times Sports section. He has covered everything from high schools to colleges to professional sports since starting with the St. Petersburg Evening Independent in 1986. After the Independent, Jones worked at the St. Petersburg Times (1987-91), the Tampa Tribune (1991-96), the St. Petersburg Times again (1996-2000), the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (2000-03) and returned for his third stint at the Times in 2003. While he has covered all sports, Tom is a hockey writer at heart, having covered the Tampa Bay Lighting from its first game in 1992 until moving to Minnesota to cover the Wild for three years. He returned to the Times again to cover the Lightning until taking over Page Two in 2006. He lists Herb Brooks, Lou Piniella and Wayne Gretzky as the most interesting personalities he has covered and the 2002 Winter Olympics as the best event he has covered. The St. Petersburg Times changed its name to the Tampa Bay Times on January 1, 2012.]

Copyright © 2012 Tampa Bay Times

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves