#5- Harry S Truman:

bigtrumanCategory: Flawed Great

Term in Office: 33rd president, 1945-1953

Political Party: Democratic

Home State: Missouri

When Harry Truman left office in 1953, he was grievously unpopular.  His party had lost control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, he had tanked to almost historic lows in the polls.  He was, in reputation and in pocketbook, “dead broke,” to use the phrase of a modern-day presidential aspirant.  Towards the end, his administration was beset by scandals and petty graft, and an atmosphere that projected neither control or competence.  Today, he is one of the consensus picks for a good-bordering-on-great president; conservative and liberal alike easily find a bevy of accomplishments that make them wild about Harry.  When presidents have dismal approval ratings, they now point to Harry Truman as evidence that history will vindicate them in the end.  When they are down in the polls, they never fail to point to 1948: Truman pulled a last-minute triumph over the all-but-certain victor, Thomas Dewey.  What happened?  Why has a president who seemed less than successful at the time routinely placed among the near-greats?

If any American benefitted from Watergate, it was surely Truman.  Truman died within weeks of the Watergate story becoming national news, and it soon became very easy to contrast Nixon’s double-dealing and subterfuge with the public memory of Truman’s plain-spokenness, and “buck stops here” philosophy.  Chicago even had a top twenty hit lamenting the lack of Trumanesque leadership in the mid-70s.  Between James Whitmore’s excellent portrayal of Truman in a one-man stage show, and David McCollough’s prize-winning biography, there is no shortage of praise for Truman in the entertainment and literary worlds.  Today, we generally see Harry Truman as a successful president, his virtues tied to sharp, incisive decision-making and good, sound judgment.  He validates so much of the American mythology: you don’t have to be rich, or charismatic, or well-educated to be a good president.  At its worst, a Truman mythos suggests that facts be damned, public opinion be damned, scholarly assessment be damned, decisiveness, fortitude, and rugged honesty will win in the end.  This understanding of history could not possibly be more wrong or more dangerous.

Either way, Truman’s near-greatness seems the closest historians come to consensus; all but the most callous libertarian places him somewhere in the top ten.  What’s my take on him?  It’s sort of like looking over your high school friend’s Geometry homework, agreeing with the answer they came up with, but being puzzled by the process that got them there.

I am most critical of Truman where others praise him most highly- foreign policy, and most impressed by him in an area where he is often considered less successful- domestic affairs.

Context matters.  When we assess Truman, it needs to be said that he probably assumed the presidency in the most difficult circumstances of any president.  When he was added to the presidential ticket in 1944, Truman was a one-and-a-half term senator from Missouri, with a reputation for rooting out waste in military operations.  The Roosevelt-Truman ticket won, but mere weeks into Harry’s vice-presidency, FDR was dead.  Worse, Truman had never really been made privy to the operations of government, so he came into office wholly unaware of major strategic elements of the war, including the Manhattan Project.  The result was a certain discontinuity between the two men, despite a number of administration holdovers and a common liberalism shared between them.  Truman hated in the Soviet Union in a visceral way his predecessor Roosevelt never did (he said, off the record, during WWII that the best possible outcome would be the Soviets and the Nazis shooting each other to death.)

When I look at presidents, I look at many factors, including social justice.  That’s not always the end-all, remember: Carter has a great social justice score, but was such a poor administrator and leader that he was still (slightly) below average in my ranking.  Truman deserves a great deal of credit for the broad aims of the Fair Deal.  He aggressively pursued many good ideas that could have transformed America: universal health insurance, legislation guaranteeing full employment, more public works, and assistance to small businesses to help the economy transition to peacetime.  Many of them didn’t happen or were watered down, blocked by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats.  But the point is, contrary to, say, Obama and Clinton initiatives, which started with “compromise” as an opening bid and went downhill from there, Truman’s administration aimed high and aimed ambitiously.   And for what its worth, I’m very glad we had him in the presidency during the “Do Nothing” 80th Congress, a reactionary House and Senate elected in the 1946 off-year election.  When you consider the awful bills they passed over Truman’s veto (especially Taft-Hartley), I shudder to think what they would have done with, say, Robert Taft at the helm.

Truman also attempted to enact these measures in the most racially egalitarian manner plausible.  Franklin Roosevelt danced an elegant quadrille with the Southern senators from his party who held the fate of his legislative program in their hands.  As a result, almost no New Deal program was without embarrassing provisions that blocked most black Americans from enjoying its benefits.  We’ll talk about this more when FDR’s turn comes up, but FDR was very often lukewarm on extending the blessings of the New Deal to everyone equally, viewing civil rights as more of Eleanor’s purview.  As for Truman, his civil rights record, certainly, is perhaps the third best of any president, coming after only Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson.  As David McCollough notes, this was in spite of his upbringing in the ‘border state’ of Missouri: “He did not favor social equality for blacks and he said so.  But he wanted fairness, equality before the law.”  And he pursued that ideal vigorously.  He addressed the NAACP in Washington and gave the strongest presidential speech in favor of civil rights since Ulysses Grant.  He used his power as commander-in-chief to desegregate the military, a huge substantive and symbolic victory.  And he established a commission that would ensure fair employment practices by the federal government.  It bears mentioning that he did so at great peril to his own career— actions such as these led American Voldemort (more conventionally called “Strom Thurmond”) to bolt from the Democrats to form an openly racist third party in 1948.

So far, so good.  Here’s the problem for me— I am more skeptical about Truman’s handling of the Cold War.  Many historians believe that, on the eve of Hiroshima, the Japanese government was trying to send subtle, face-saving signals that it was willing to surrender (a practice that is sometimes called “stomach art”), but Truman and his administration were unable to decipher their intentions.  In the same way, the Truman administration failed to understand the cultural reasoning behind Soviet activity in the months immediately following the war, premised on the repeated history of invasion and ruinous conflict through the West.  This isn’t to excuse the manifold human rights violations that took place under the Soviet Union— I just wonder whether the Cold War was the best way to engage with this problem.  Truman accepted, wholesale, the ideas of George Kennan in the world of diplomacy and Reinhold Niebuhr in the world of theology that the Soviet Union had always, and would always, see the USA as the enemy, and was an enemy that had to be contained. It is worth wondering, even if you ultimately disagree, whether the Cold War, which cost immeasurable lives and diverted billions of dollars that could have been spent more constructively elsewhere.  The logic of the Cold War would also compel us to take sides with truly vile and anti-democratic regimes (Battista, the Shah of Iran, Pinochet, Diem, the Contras) simply because they opposed the USSR.  Worse, on the domestic end, Cold War era bills like the McCarran Internal Security Act (passed over Truman’s veto) eroded civil liberties at home, emboldened McCarthyism (a far greater danger to the American project than the USSR would ever be), and led to an unwieldy and ultimately unjust ‘shadow government’ under the FBI.  Truman’s instincts were so anti-Soviet that it is a worthwhile thought experiment to ponder how international relations would have gone if FDR had been at the helm to serve out that fourth term.

Even so, it needs to be said that Truman’s approach was substantively better than Eisenhower’s.  If it was Truman’s policy to give arms to legitimate governments trying to stay in power (Greece, Turkey), Eisenhower often armed insurgents in such a way that they toppled democratically elected governments he did not like, as I discussed in his write-up.  Generally, Truman was a good neighbor to Latin America, and respected the sovereignty of other nations imperfectly, but certainly more than most twentieth-century presidents.

One element that I’ve always found strange is how we’ve given Harry a pass for some puzzlingly sub-standard Supreme Court nominations.  Most are rated “Below average” by law scholars (who love evaluating Supreme Court justices almost as much as historians love evaluating presidents.)  They were, for the most part dim bulbs who were mostly picked for their personal relationship to Truman over their fitness for the job.  My favorite story in all this is how, upon hearing that a vacancy on the court had opened up, ex-senator Sherman Minton took the first flight he could get to Washington, arranged a meeting with his old colleague and friend, and ultimately got Truman to nominate him.  FDR appointed several of the best justices of all time— Black, Frankfurter, Jackson, Douglas.  Eisenhower had William Brennan and Earl Warren, two bright stars in the jurisprudential firmament.  Truman’s picks weren’t terrible or anything; three of them contributed to the unanimous Brown vs. Board decision, if nothing else.  But they lacked the weightiness and gravitas of their contemporaries during one of the most important eras of the Supreme Court’s development.

So, I’ll defer to the consensus that Harry Truman was a successful, even in some ways visionary, president, even though I also feel as though I’ve backed myself into a corner and have to put him at #5, which feels a bit too high.  Nevertheless, he dealt with the messy implications left over from the war and the depression, and he spent his terms solving extent problems rather than making new ones.  By way of a sacrilegious metaphor: FDR was the liberal Jesus, a charismatic figurehead with the right lineage, full of pithy aphorisms, apparent miracles, and a first-rate set of disciples. Moreover, in the same way that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet whose vision was only supposed to apply to a world that he didn’t expect to last long, FDR’s liberalism was designed merely as a stop-gap measure for the Depression, not as a permanent modus operandi.  Truman was the liberal St. Paul- cranky, divisive, not a natural leader, but stubborn and persistent.  Paul had to establish a permanent, functional Church in a way Jesus didn’t have to.  He had to contend with internecine factions, heresies, arguments about what Christianity was and wasn’t.  In an analogous way, Truman had to establish what liberalism stood for on a more permanent and institutional level; he had to build something that would last and sustain itself in an unstable world, and despite a number of hiccups along the way, it did last.  He had to define the project as something viable, humane, and robust, protecting it from the loopiness of Henry Wallace and others like him, and the gentile cruelty of the Dixiecrats.  It makes me wonder whether people like myself ought to give Truman the same kind of plaudits conservatives are so eager to bestow upon Reagan.  He turned liberalism from “a way out of Depression and war” and into “a mechanism through which a better, more equal society might be achieved.”  To make a less blasphemous comparison, I am also reminded of Uncle Scrooge in Carl Barks’ Disney comics legendarium.  The rich cartoon duck would often tell his nephew Donald and his grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie that he succeeded in life by being “smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies.”

As a final thought, I worry sometimes that the modern Democratic Party is playing it too safe, that they believe the near-term history is on autopilot, that demographics (more single people, more openly gay people, many more racial minorities, more atheists) will translate into permanent success.  Inevitability is the fool’s bedfellow.  One should consider Truman, who achieved success by sharp planning, a strong moral compass, and a willingness to be decisive and stand for something, even if one makes enemies along the way.  Truman was a winner, and he won with black, southern, mountain western, and most striking of all, blue-collar, rural, and small-town votes.  The road to success runs, I think, not through FDR or Clinton or Obama, but Harry S Truman.

280.  Otis Redding- “Try a Little Tenderness” (1966):  James Brown sang for showmanship, but Redding sang with conviction in one of the great soul performances of the decade.  I’m seriously pissed off that Redding died in that plane crash- I would have loved to have seen what he could have done in the late 60s and beyond.

279.  Peter, Paul & Mary- “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1969):  In a way, this song did incalculable damage to the United States by introducing John Denver to a largely innocent and wholly unsuspecting public.  Yet, its a tender goodbye song masquerading as a subtle Vietnam protest.  My mom used to sing this one as a lullaby, and Mary Travers’ vocal style certainly gives it that quality.

278.  Jimi Hendrix Experience- “Hey Joe” (1966):  In a riotous, psychedelic blur, Hendrix gives us a character sketch of the violent, vengeful, homocidal Joe, out to shoot his old lady.  It’s a great example of the violent underside of the 1960s- its not all just hope and peace.

277.  The Beatles- “Hey Jude” (1968):  Up there with “A Day in the Life” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” as the most overrated Beatles songs, and to be sure, it was the band’s most successful single, topping the charts for eight weeks.  For something of a knock-off track that shows less care and concentration than most McCartney-penned songs from this ear, it became a transcendent song of hope in the years that followed– fitting, as Jude is also the patron saint of seemingly hopeless causes.

276.  Dave Clark Five- “Catch Us If You Can” (1965): As a British Invasion band, the Dave Clark Five were strictly second-tier.  But the infectious enthusiasm of this song is hard to miss– and it inspired The Monkees’ sound more than anything else from this decade that I can think of.

275.  Richie Barrett- “Some Other Guy” (1962):  Barrett’s keyboard player had been clearly listening to too many Ray Charles records, and yet this song works as a neat and unassuming Lieber-Stoller piece.  Not surprisingly, the song became a form of currency, almost a secret handshake, among Merseyside bands in the early 60s.  The Beatles covered it on their very first televised appearance.

274.  Chicago- “Beginnings” (1969):  One of the things I love about Chicago keyboardist Robert Lamm is his ability to write a great guitar song with only limited guitar skills himself.  On a twelve-string acoustic, a simple two-chord strumming pattern sets the backdrop for the greatest love song of Lamm’s almost 50-year career, complete with the band’s trademark punchy horn lines.

273.  The Five Americans- “Western Union” (1967):  The two part harmonies are clearly the work of singers who sat at the feet of Lennon and McCartney.  The song makes the list for having one of the cleverest devices in a radio-friendly 60s hit: using the dit-dah cadences of Morse code to set the rhythm for this song of a long-distance “dear John” letter.

272.  The Grass Roots- “Let’s Live for Today” (1967):  I love the Roots.  This was their first big hit, with a message that echoed the times perfectly in an era of transition and deep uncertainty.  When singer Rob Grill died a couple years ago, the song’s lyrics were his last words.

271.  Joan Baez- “Sweet Sir Galahad” (1969):  Drawing upon Arthurian legend, Baez sings an enchanting song of love made poignant and even painful by the fact that it was written with her sister’s recently-deceased husband in mind.

270.  The Band- “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (1969):  There’s no kind of song that pisses me off more than  lachrymose Southern ballads about their suffering after the Civil War.  (I think we should have treated the South as a conquered territory for decades afterward and made sure the Reconstruction ordinances were enforced, but that’s neither here nor there.)  But the song still kicks an immense amount of ass, it drives, it has a force, it has narrative power, and the hardscrabble times are perfectly suited to the voices of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko.  It set the stage for years of the Rolling Stones and Elton John ripping off this kind of sound and faux-Dixie mythos.

269.  The Association- “Along Comes Mary” (1966):  The Association was in a dire, dire place by the mid-60s, as a Four Freshman-style vocal group in an age of growing psychedelia and experimentation.  The Association wisely decided that if you can’t beat them, join them.  The result was this song: employing their mastery of vocal harmony to create a trippy, disorienting atmosphere in a song that is an almost painfully obvious ode to pot.

268.  Otis Redding- “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (1965):  With great Stax horn parts, Redding delivers a virtuoso soul performance begging his woman to stay with him.  This is the kind of song I wish I could sing well.

267.  Dusty Springfield- “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (1966):  Springfield’s plaintive delivery makes a song that could have been quite maudlin into something rather memorable.

266.  Herman’s Hermits- “I’m Henry the Eighth I Am” (1965):  It might be a novelty track in some ways, and hilariously repetitive, but some have argued that its the first punk song with unsophisticated instrumentation and half-shouted lyrics.  They might be right.

265.  Paul Butterfield Blues Band- “Born in Chicago” (1965):  I should hate Butterfield and his ilk, because it seems like every year, they take up one precious spot on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot of nominees that could have gone to someone the public actually remembers, like, say, the Steve Miller Band or Jethro Tull or The Spinners or something.  But Jann Werner loves them, so they get another hopeless shot at the rock hall.  Still, these are some talented musicians, and they were at the forefront to blues revival that paved the way for Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray, and second-wave Albert King, among others.

264.  James Brown- “I Got the Feelin'” (1968):  Brown made a career out of having his tracks sampled by funk records in the 1970s and forever afterwards.  Nowhere are the possibilities of proto-funk better demonstrated than in this track.

263.  The Drifters- “Up on the Roof” (1962):  The Drifters evoke a sense of moonlight, intimacy, and wonder on one of the finest songs that Carole King and the late, lamented Gerry Goffin ever wrote.

262.  Bob Dylan- “Ballad of the Thin Man” (1965): I originally had Barbara Lewis’s “Baby I’m Yours” in this spot before I realized I forgot “Thin Man” and struck it from my top 400 outright.  Anyway, this is a brilliant, accusatory Dylan song, following poor, daft Mr. Jones in a world he doesn’t quite understand and can’t get a hold of.

261.  Tommy James & the Shondells- Crimson & Clover (1968):  The most famous song by a band that never really got their due, its got some great studio effects, including an echo-reverb on the bridge that amazed the first time I heard it as a ten-year-old and still impresses me every time I’ve heard it since.  Great bass playing, and fine harmonies- all about losing one’s innocence in a field of grass.


I’m working on some new posts, folks, so don’t worry.  President #5 on my ranking should be up on the next few days.

Until then, I hope you’ll consider following me on twitter.  My handle is @alex_voltaire.

300.  “Omaha”- Moby Grape (1967):  Some groups have “it”; the alchemy of greatness.  Moby Grape had many of its components except for the decisive one, luck.  Mismanaged and acrimonious, they fell apart before they could become much more than a group admired by 60s music buffs.  But listen to this track- it’s psychedelic and summer of lovey, it owes a debt to surf music, yet points the way to Zeppelin and punk (even the Pretenders have listed them as an inspiration.)  For a group so inclined to acrimony, they had discipline that many of their peers lacked.  As NPR put it, “when other San Francisco bands were stretching out with long jams, Moby Grape was producing catchy three-minute songs that were composed, played, and sung by each member.”

299.  “Hey! Baby”- Bruce Channel (1961):  Forget Bruce Channel.  I am far more interested in his harmonica player (and future country music star) Delbert McClinton, who plays this song’s first-rate harmonica part (and even gave John Lennon a few harmonica pointers when Channel was on a jaunt through Europe.)

298.  “Amen”- The Impressions (1964):  There aren’t many times where rock has been more gospel than this simple, uplifting track by The Impressions (which included a young pre-Superfly Curtis Mayfield.)

297.  “Hole in the Ground”- Bernard Cribbins (1962):  Half-sung, and half-spoken, this song is in the best English music-hall tradition, with a strong working-class bite.  A couple points of trivia: Cribbins went on to become  a famous actor (I most love his turn as old Wilfred Mott in David Tennant-era Dr. Who), and it was the first hit song produced by George Martin.

296.  “Another Saturday Night”- Sam Cooke (1963):  So many of Sam Cooke’s songs are in such earnest that its great to hear his soulful voice on a fun lark like this, whose narrator’s greatest problem is not having a weekend date.  The track has legs, historically, having been covered by everyone from Cat Stevens to Jimmy Buffett.

295.  “Palisades Park”- Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon (1962): Cannon was little more than a one-note novelty artist promoted by record companies with little native talent.  Still, its hard to deny the charm of “Palisades Park” and Cannon’s unbridled enthusiasm for his fairground love affair, replete with carnival sound effects and electric organ.

294.  “When Will I Be Loved”- The Everly Brothers (1960):  When I hear this song in my head, it sounds pretty slow and pretty sad.  Listening to the song itself, I am surprised at what a beat there is behind it.  More than any of the first-generation rock and rollers besides Elvis, the Everlys were thought of as teen idols, and it is incredibly hard to produce work of artistic merit when you have the teen idol stigma.  Even though Linda Ronstadt’s cover was better (a clause that shows up about three or four times on this list), there’s still plenty of merit in the original.

293.  “Hooked on a Feeling”- B.J. Thomas (1968):  Thomas was a blue-eyed soul singer who became famous at the wrong time (the early days of proto-funk), and his material (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head”, etc.) would later become known (and ridiculed) as adult contemporary.  This song, however, is beautiful late 1960s soul-infused pop, with a dramatic and uber-cool appearance by an electric sitar.

292.  “Save the Last Dance for Me”- The Drifters (1960): This song was one of the finest hours by one of the finest vocal groups in rock and soul history.  It’s author, Doc Pomus, actually wrote it about his own wedding reception, according to Lou Reed; struck by polio, Pomus watched as his bride, a Broadway actress, danced with guests while he could not, imploring her to save one finale round on the dance floor for him when he had gathered his strength.

291.  “Victoria”- The Kinks (1969):  Inventive as ever, the Kinks hearken back to the 1800s and the glory days of the British Empire.  As with everything the Kinks did, there’s a strong application of tongue in cheek.

290.  “Daydream”- The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966):  Geez…it’s difficult to evoke a lazy Sunday afternoon in the countryside better than this track.  It’s a testament to John Sebastian’s underrated range as a songwriter and arranger, and one of the only times that whistling has ever been justified on record.

289.  “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”- Herman’s Hermits (1965):  It’s composer, Trevor Peacock, was a regular on one of my favorite BBC series, The Vicar or Dibley.  For a 1965 British Invasion song, its strikingly inventive from a storytelling standpoint, as a jilted boyfriend conveys a message through his beloved’s mum.

288.  “Hot Fun in the Summertime”- Sly and the Family Stone (1969):  The 1960s were actually filled with warmer than average summers– possibly one factor among many that helps explain the inner-city riots that exploded throughout the decade.  But a hot summer can also be a time of relaxing and evenings with friends, which the Family Stone evokes nicely.  Sly’s songwriting is underrated–most listeners go for the funky beats rather than the lyrics–but it’s in fine form here.

287.  “Only a Pawn in their Game”- Bob Dylan (1964):  Woah- Dylan sang a song about how Byron De La Beckwith wasn’t directly responsible for the death of Medgar Evers?  It took some serious cojones to sing that at the March on Washington, but in doing so, Dylan voiced a sophisticated argument, how a toxic environment permits social and economic elites to have patsies like Beckwith (or James Earl Ray or Lee Harvey Oswald or Mark David Chapman or Scott Roeder) to do their dirty work for them.

286.  “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice”- The Lovin’ Spoonful (1965):  It’s amazing how quickly the Lovin’ Spoonful had transitioned from being starving folkies in the Greenwich scene to creating consistent radio hits.  It’s soaring melody, pitch-perfect harmonies, and strong production paid off; Brian Wilson later said that the song helped inspire “God Only Knows.”

285.  “The Mighty Quinn”- Manfred Mann (1968):  Dylan’s story about “Quinn the Eskimo” probably lends itself to over interpretation and seeking allegory when none might be intended.  Manfred Mann delivers Dylan’s circumlocution with aplomb and some of the best sense of timing I’ve heard on a 1960s record.

284.  “I’m a Man”- Spencer Davis Group (1966):  Psychedelic before its time, with plenty of fascinating observations about gender and generational relationships in an era where masculinity was being re-defined by the counterculture.  Chicago loved this song so much that it was the only cover song they formally recorded for the first fifteen years of their career.

283.  “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”- Jackie DeShannon (1969):  There weren’t too many female artists in this collection of twenty, but DeShannon was one of the first female singer-songwriters in the rock and roll milieu, before Joni got started, before Carole King started performing on records.  Fun fact: DeShannon opened for The Beatles during their 1964 U.S. tour.

282.  “In Dreams”- Roy Orbison (1963):  Orbison’s soaring tenor voice was never in finer form.  It is a crime that this song is so rarely played on classic rock and oldies radio.  It’s an even greater crime that he wasn’t Elvis; he may not have been as pretty, he may not have conjured the same swagger, but he was a better singer, songwriter, guitarist, and human being than the King.

281.  “Old Friends/Bookends”- Simon & Garfunkel (1968):  Simon paints a charming and evocative picture with these lyrics about two aged companions enjoying their dotage together, and their effect is amplified by his peerless harmonies with Garfunkel.

Whither the DNC?

What a week this has been for Cleveland!  Lebron James is coming back, and Republicans have announced that they will hold their national convention in the city of Cleveland in 2016.  The decision is not especially surprising. Ohio is the greatest of all swing-states, and whoever wins Ohio has won the presidency in every election in the last 50 years, a distinction that no other state can claim.  In fact, Republicans have never won the White House without winning Ohio.

In recent years, there has been more calculus in choosing the convention city.  In 2004, Republicans made a beeline to New York City to capitalize on post-9/11 leadership.  In 2008, Democrats made a play for a state that voted Republican in the last two elections in Denver, Colorado; Republicans went for a historically Democratic state by choosing St. Paul, Minnesota.  Ironically, in 2012, both parties held their convention in states they narrowly failed to carry, the Democrats in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Republicans in Tampa, Florida.

The logical question is: what city will the Democrats choose?  A couple of ideas were non-starters.  Chicago is a terrible idea; voters are getting Obama fatigue and getting a fresh start is vital to success in 2016.  Also, I would advise against holding the convention in any city liable to get smacked by a hurricane in July or August, so the Carolinas and the Floridas are out.  Visiting Las Vegas, whether or not ones does so in the context of a convention, is highly inadvisable.  Of the cities that remain, here are my six favorite choices.

1.  San Antonio, Texas:  The key here is to think not in terms of November, 2016, but November, 2032.  Texas is seen as the a state that is trending blue, demographically, although it will be some years until we see this play out in statewide elections.  It already has more non-white minors than white minors, and in a few years, this will change the gravitational forces of politics in this deep-red state.  It could also serve as a great platform if Hillary picks Julian Castro, who was mayor up until recently, as her running mate.

2.  Phoenix, Arizona:  We’ll never know for sure, but if anybody but John McCain was the nominee in 2008, Arizona could very well have been competitive for Obama.  It is a highly polarized state with a highly polarizing governor, Jan Brewer, and subject to the same trends as Texas.  If Democrats wanted to make a statement about where their party was heading and where their future success will be found, Phoenix is on the rise.

3.  Cleveland, Ohio:  Why not give Ohio voters a choice by having both conventions in the same city?  Picking Cleveland suggests not unoriginality, but confidence that, if your ideas are juxtaposed next to Republicans, yours will prevail.

4.  Columbus, Ohio:  Another key city in the ultimate swing state.  Columbus offers one tactical advantage that Cleveland does not: Ohio State University.  If done correctly, the convention might consider offering tickets to young undergrad volunteers who are willing to knock on doors and hit the phones on the nominee’s behalf.

5.  Brooklyn, NY: Assuming Hillary is the nominee, why not just put the convention in her home state?  Brooklyn offers similar advantages to Columbus: it is loaded, not with college students, but hipsters in this rapidly gentrifying area, who could offer a broad base of netroots and grassroots support.  The Barclays Center would be plenty big enough for the convention.

6.  Madison, Wisconsin: Picking Wisconsin will allow them to throw brickbats at Governor Scott Walker or Congressman Paul Ryan, either of whom could conceivably run for president or wind up as running mate.  Despite running as a free-market conservative, Walker has presided over some of the worst job creation records in the country and barely survived a recall vote.  Ryan attracted attention as Romney’s running mate in 2012, but pollsters have made it clear: the more voters know about his hacking, slashing, supply-siding budgets, the less they like ‘em.  Picking Madison sends a message, and helps secure a state that trends blue, but is still very much a swing state.

320.  “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”- The Chiffons (1966):  This was one of the more complex girl-group numbers, with some excellent counterpoint.  It’s a shame the Chiffons aren’t in the same conversation as the Shirelles or the Vandellas, because they were just as good.

319.  “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”- Steam (1969):  Originally, Steam recorded this as a throwaway b-side.  Instead, disc jockeys decided to play it over the intended single, and its been played to taunt losers at sporting events and election parties ever since.

318. “Rain”- The Beatles (1966):  Forget “Lucy”.  This is the Beatles’ best psychedelic track, using the mundane phenomena of rain to explore the otherworldly and transcendental.  It’s also my favorite Lennon vocal of all time; John sounds the perfect mix of stoned and earnest.

317.  “I Want Candy”- The Strangeloves (1965):  Bizarre and repetitive, this girl-group song demanded sweet treats to the Bo Diddley beat.

316.  “Care of Cell 44″- The Zombies (1968):  This track led off their epic “Odessey and Oracle” album.  It’s only about midway through the song that you realize that the singer’s girl is, in fact, getting released from prison, which makes the track’s Beach Boys-esque vocal bridges hilariously incongruous.

315.  “I’m Yours and I’m Hers”- Johnny Winter (1969):  The late 60s were a great time for blues revival.  Zeppelin was beginning, Albert, Fred, and B. B. King were all returning to the spotlight, Clapton was king, and this amazing albino guitarist with a rough as gravel voice comes out.

314.  “All Day and All of the Night”- The Kinks (1965):  The Kinks nailed this rock track as the perfect mix of true love and teenage lust.

313. “Salt of the Earth” – The Rolling Stones (1968):  The closing track to the Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet” album.  I hadn’t heard it until the Stones broke it out for the Concert for New York City in 2001, held in the aftermath of September 11th.  At a time when the Kinks and the Beatles were satirizing high-class Edwardian society, the Stones wrote this peon to the everyman.

312.  “Woodstock”- Joni Mitchell (1969):  Mitchell desperately wanted to play at the legendary rock festival, but her manager had already booked her on Merv Griffin and wouldn’t let her reschedule.  Joni was heartbroken, but wrote the best song about the festival (and perhaps one of the best songs ~about~ the late 60s), and fired her manager.

311.  “21st Century Schizoid Man”- King Crimson (1969): Maybe “Nights in White Satin” was the first progressive rock track, but this codified the blueprints and sent them to the patent office.  Bombastic, experimental, and filled with proficient solos.

310. “I Feel Free”- Cream (1967):  It’s strange to hear a song this lightweight and almost poppy coming from Cream’s psychedelic blues pedigree.  With a vocal intro that owed a debt to doo-wop and virtuoso performances by Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, its no wonder Cream became rock’s first super-group.

309.  “There’s a Kind of Hush”- Herman’s Hermits (1966):  When I first started listening to Oldies when my mom drove my brother and I to school, this one was in frequent rotation on 98.3.  I always loved its atmospheric qualities, and its ability to create a sense of lovers’ intimacy with primitive mid-60s recording material.  The Hermits were kind of a joke band, like a Monkees that hadn’t decided to fully sell out, but this was one of their better efforts.

308.  “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free”- Nina Simone (1967):  Another classic freedom song from Nina Simone, the best, and most angry cabaret singer in the 60s.

307.   “Quarter to Three”- Gary “U.S.” Bonds (1961):  Bonds fell through the cracks of rock history, peaking at its dire years between the first wave of rock and the British invasion.  Thank God Springsteen and the E-Street band revived this track in the 70s, and rehabilitated the Bondsman’s career.

306.  “Heroes and Villains”- The Beach Boys (1967):  Writing the “Smiley Smile” album cost Brian Wilson his already-tenuous sanity, but one great piece that did surface is this meandering, chaotic multi-movement song.  It’s lesser-known middle-8 gives it a Mexican/Wild West motif that makes the whole piece make more sense (Heroes and Villains = sheriffs and desperadoes?).  When I saw the reunited Beach Boys two summers ago, this song was the one where Brian Wilson snapped out of his fog and gave a committed, even inspired, performance.

305.  “Who’s Making Love”- Johnnie Taylor (1968):  Taylor thrived in both late 60s soul and mid-70s disco, and this taunting track picks on the cuckold whose lady he’s just taken.  Taylor delivers this with such conviction that he sounds like a bizzaro jackass version of Wilson Pickett.

304.  “River Deep, Mountain High”- Ike and Tina Turner (1967):  You have to feel sorry for Tina, singing with and being married to one violent psychopath (Ike) and having her record produced by another violent psychopath (Phil Spector).  It never became the pop masterpiece that Spector imagined (and the arduous process of recording it might have made him 50% less stable), but its still one of the best vocal performances of the decade.

303.  “High Flyin’ Bird”- Richie Havens (1967): Havens gets into a pretty awesome groove here with some enchanting rhythm guitar and great ensemble playing from the rest of the band.

302.  “Angel of the Morning”- Merilee Rush (1968):  A historically important track, if only because it reflects women’s changing views on sexuality in the late 60s.  Rush asserts her sexual independence throughout the song in lines like “I’m old enough to face the dawn”, and “there’s no need to take a stand when it was I who chose to start.”  She clearly takes her man home, leaving him to take the “walk of shame” in the morning.  An amazing lyric for 1968.  Strangely, it was written by Chip Taylor, whose only other major hit was “Wild Thing.”

301.  “I Go to Pieces”- Peter and Gordon (1964):  This British Invasion folk duo crafted one of the sweetest and saddest songs from that era.  Never did the Brits more successfully emulate the Everly Brothers.


Although the team has spent most of the last twenty years in the basement of the Pacific division, the Warriors are one of the oldest teams in the NBA.  As we get ready for the 2014-15 NBA season, I thought it might be fun to make an all-time Golden State Warriors team.  Dangerous maniacs (Latrell Sprewell), talented people who didn’t give a damn when they were with Golden State (Bernard King, Robert Parish, Chris Webber), and lazy unmotivated asses (Joe Barry Carroll, Sleepy Floyd.)  Accomplishments cited include only the time spent as Warriors.


1.  Stephen Curry (PG, 2009-present): 1x All-Star, All-NBA 2nd team.  A better leader and floor general than Tim Hardaway, Curry had a breakout season this year, with a 50 win team, their third playoff appearance of the new millennium, and the first of many all-star appearances.

2.  Chris Mullin (SG, 1985-1997; 2000-2001): 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA 1st team, 2x 2nd team, 1x 3rd team.  Mullin was the face of the organization during its renaissance in the late 80s and early 90s, a deadly outside shooter, and the hardest worker in the league.

3.  Rick Barry (SF, 1965-1967; 1972-1978):  1 ring, 1 Finals MVP, 8x All-Star, 1x All-Star MVP, 5x All-NBA 1st team, 1x 2nd team, 1 scoring title.  Rick Barry’s career had plenty of high points, as a young player in the 60s and a seasoned player in the 70s, one of the most consistent scoring threats and one of the best passing forwards ever.  Unfortunately, his loud mouth and penchant for alienating teammates also hurt the team in the long run.

4.  Nate Thurmond (PF, 1963-1974): 7x All-Star, 5x All-Defense team.  Although a center (and Wilt’s backup in the earlier parts of his career), Thurmond was just too good a player to keep out of the starting lineup.  The man was an unstoppable defensive monster, and a key component of Warriors teams that made the Finals in the 60s.  Unfortunately, his prime coincided with Wilt, Russell, Kareem, and Willis, which means he never made an All-NBA team or achieved much renown.

5.  Wilt Chamberlain (C, 1959-1965): 6x All-Star, six time scoring champ, 1x MVP, Rookie of the Year, 4x All-NBA 1st team, 2x 2nd team.  Wilt never won a championship with the Warriors, but his early career, he was a statistical force unequaled in league history.  His 100-point game happened in a Warriors jersey.


6.  Paul Arizin (SF, 1950-1962): 1 ring, 10x All-Star, 1x All-Star MVP, 3x All-NBA 1st team, 1x All-NBA 2nd team, 2x scoring titles.  He’s the man who invented the jump shot, and one of only three pre-shot clock players on Bill Simmon’s basketball pyramid.

7.  Tim Hardaway (PG, 1989-1996): 3x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team.  The facilitator of the Run-TMC era.

8.  David Lee (PF, 2010-present): 1x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Third Team.  The Warriors have had very few good power forwards in their history, but Lee is certainly among them.

9.  Neil Johnston (C, 1951-1959): 1 ring, 6x All-Star, 3 scoring titles, 4x All-NBA 1st team, 1x All-NBA 2nd team.  Maybe 6’8″ isn’t tall enough for the center position these days, but Johnston’s career is so important to early basketball that it would have been a sin not to include him.

10.  Phil Smith (SG, 1974-1980): 2x All-Star, 1 ring, 1 All-NBA Second Team, 1 All-Defense Team.  A forgotten piece of the puzzle to the 1975 championship.

Deep Bench:

11.  Tom Gola (SG/SF, 1955-1962): 1 ring, 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Second Team.  The first of the bigger, more aggressive guards.

12.  Joe Fulks (PF/C; 1946-1954): 1 ring, 3x BAA First Team, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-Star, 1 scoring title.  The first great Warrior.  Fulks led the Warriors to the first championship in the NBA’s immediate predecessor, the BAA.

Biggest Strengths:  It’s going to be difficult to outscore these guys.  You have three score-at-will players (Mullin, Chamberlain, Barry) in the starting lineup, and a very strong bench.  Also, with three reliable outside shooters in the starting lineup, who need to be guarded at all times, you’re eventually going to run out of guys to foul Wilt.

Biggest Worries:  There’s plenty of that.  1) Defense.  Nate Thurmond, a perennial All-Defense Team player throughout his career, can’t make up for the defensive liabilities of Barry, Mullin, and Curry.  All three are crafty and great at steals, but their defensive liabilities add up after that.  2) Ego.  Warriors-era Chamberlain pathologically needed the ball in his hands to perform.  Having to share with others will not be easy.  I’m also very worried about Rick Barry, his toxic interpersonal skills, and his inability to get along with  teammates.  3) This might be the whitest all-time team in the league not named the Boston Celtics. We’ve got Wilt, but this is not a team that will be playing above the rim.

How They’d Fare:  Well, they have between five and seven of the greatest 100 players in NBA history (Chamberlain, Barry, Mullin, Arizin, and Thurmond are undisputed, with Hardaway and Johnston in consideration as well.)  The Warriors’ history and longevity gives it some great players, but if faced with less decorated players from the modern era (like, say, an all-time Heat or Magic team), I can’t see them keeping up.


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