Judge him on his complete record

A man for whom I harbor great respect and affection said this Thursday when we met: “I purposely avoided reading today’s editorial.”

I asked why. He said he couldn’t stomach reading about the subject of the editorial, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. “I have no use for that man,” he said, adding that he detested Kennedy as much for his private misdeeds as he does for his public policies.

My friend clearly was speaking for many thousands of Panhandle residents who share his view of Sen. Kennedy.

I know what he’s talking about. Chappaquiddick.

The tragedy of that terrible day on July 18, 1969 has been chronicled to the max. A young woman died after the car driven by Kennedy plunged into the drink late one night. The two of them had come from a party. Kennedy escaped the car; the young woman drowned. Kennedy didn’t notify the authorities until much later, and then had difficulty explaining his actions for the rest of his life.

The editorial my dear friend refused to read didn’t go into detail on that event. It was meant to pay tribute to a man who had built an unparalleled Senate career of achievement. The editorial noted that Kennedy didn’t have many friends in this part of the world, and acknowledged that Kennedy had been plagued by demons. He misbehaved badly at times, but fought his way out of that lengthy period of his life. He remarried. He sobered up. He became arguably the most effective U.S. senator in the past 100 years.

But the comments made me wonder: Is it fair to judge someone in public life on the basis of a single mistake? I don’t think so. Who among us would want to be remembered solely for one colossal misstep? Isn’t the body of a man’s earthly existence worth considering? Of course it is. Kennedy’s life includes many positive components: His caring for a huge extended family deprived of their own father figures (brothers Bobby and Jack) comes to mind.

Yes, Kennedy was a deeply flawed man. No one doubts that.

He merely was just as human as the rest of us.

Bridge-building about to begin

Relief is in sight for beleaguered motorists who get stuck in traffic waiting for slow-moving trains to pass.

State transportation officials and Amarillo officials have agreed on a deal that will result in construction of a new bridge near the infamous Third and Grand intersection in east Amarillo. That’s where the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad has tracks carrying trains that creep through town at a snail’s pace. The result has been seemingly interminable waits for motorists.

The bridge will cost about $9.1 million. Federal economic stimulus money has allowed the city and the state to expedite the project. The rest of the money will come from a variety of state and local sources. City Manager Alan Taylor has described the economic stimulus cash coming to Amarillo from the Obama administration as “amazing.” Given this region’s political leanings — which do not favor President Obama’s vision of how to restore economic prosperity — that term might be most apt.

It’s time to get this job done.

East Amarillo residents have long complained that the city has allowed this problem to languish for too long. It’s a big job, to be sure.

But as the city and the state iron out the details of this project, it gives residents hope that help is on the way.

Kennedy, critics find common ground

The thought occurred to me this morning as I was pondering the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The old Senate “liberal lion” shared a common trait with some of his harshest critics of the Texas Panhandle. He chose to use his privilege for the public good.

Kennedy was born into immense power and prestige in Massachusetts. He could have gone to work for some high-powered law firm and made even more millions on top of what he inherited. He chose instead to run for the Senate in 1962, where he stayed until his death late Tuesday.

I can count all day the number of privileged Panhandle residents who do much the same thing. I know many of them well. They, too, are born into privilege. They, too, choose to serve the public. No, they don’t earn six-figure salaries in the halls of power on Capitol Hill. They choose instead to serve on volunteer boards and commissions. But they need not do that. They could sit at home, watch their investments grow — or decline — and worry only about their own well-being. And many of them have articulated to me personally their intense disapproval of the things that Kennedy stood for while he served in the Senate.

But still, therein lies the common thread that connects a hard-core liberal such as Kennedy with his equally hard-core conservative critics who populate the Panhandle. Privilege brings an obligation to give back. And that obligation knows no ideological boundary.

Step right up, challengers

I pretty much detest uncontested campaigns involving incumbents.

It’s not that I want to see incumbents defeated en masse. It’s that they should have to defend themselves, stand up and be accountable for the decisions they make.

At least one Panhandle legislator, Rep. David Swinford of Dumas, is going to have an opponent in 2010. That’s the word as of this moment. The Republican lawmaker might face Potter County Democratic Party Chairman Abel Bosquez, assuming Bosquez wins the Dems’ primary next spring.

Bully for the challenger!

Swinford is part of a three-wheeled juggernaut. The other two are Reps. John Smithee of Amarillo and Warren Chisum of Pampa. They usually run as a trio. I call them the Three Amigos. And they quite often all run unopposed. If any of them draws an opponent, it’s been Swinford in recent years. Smithee has been skating back to re-election every other year since I’ve been here; that’s since January 1995. He came close to drawing an opponent in 2008, but Democrat Jim Wood backed out, citing health reasons. Chisum is unbeatable and every wannabe politician in House District 88 knows it.

Bosquez should be able to hold Swinford’s feet to the fire.

But that assumes, of course, that Swinford will run again. He hasn’t yet declared his candidacy. Indeed, Bosquez only has said he intends to run.

And you know what they say about good intentions.

Presidents deserve a vacation, too

President Obama can’t buy a break these days.

It seems his vacation, if you want to call it that, is drawing criticism from those who suggest he shouldn’t take some time away with his wife and daughters. Why, there’s just too much to do. He’s got health care staring him in the face; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t going well; those nutty Libyans welcomed back a terrorist as a hero after the terrorist was set free by Scottish officials who had convicted him of blowing Pan Am 103 out of the sky in 1988.

Well, give me a break.

President Bush got much the same treatment for spending too much time at his ranch near Crawford. That criticism was as unfair then as the criticism of Obama is now. Frankly, reporters covering Bush’s vacation were more distressed at having to go to Crawford in the middle of the summer; they apparently weren’t used to the Central Texas heat. Poor babies!

But the point is this: The president is never not the president. He is on the job 24/7. He never is more than a phone call away from his national security or economic recovery teams. He is dialed in constantly to events as they transpire around the world.

Let the guy enjoy some down time with his wife and daughters. Only seven months on the job, he’s earned it.

What goes up comes down — eventually

If the price of oil shoots up, so does the price of gasoline in Amarillo.

Oil spiked upward the other day by about 4 percent, to something more than $70 a barrel. Look for the price of gas to shoot up any day now at the pump.

But it begs the question: Why does the price go up so quickly, only to creep its way down ever so slowly, even while the price of oil collapses? It happened during the spring after the price of oil fell from $145 a barrel to around $50. Remember when the oil prices were blasting their way through the roof? You couldn’t keep up with the price spikes at the pump, as gas zoomed from a dollar-and-something per gallon to nearly four bucks.

Gasoline dealers blame their suppliers, who they say control the retail price of gas. The dealers have to turn a profit, they say, so they base their pump price on what they pay their wholesalers.

I’m not smart enough to understand the intricacies of all this. Moreover, the mail that comes across my desk during these up-and-down gasoline pricing cycles suggest a lack of understanding among most folks about this stuff. The market moves quickly in one direction, but creeps along like molasses the other way.

I don’t get it.

Walking the walk has its own perils

Sen. John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, said this week that former President Clinton’s affair a decade ago with a White House intern was different from his own transgression in this regard: The president broke the law, Ensign did not.

I get that, senator.

The GOP-led House impeached Clinton, the Democratic president, ostensibly because he lied under oath to a federal grand jury on whether he had “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky. That, according to the House, was an impeachable offense. So, the House acted.

Ensign, however, merely had sex with someone other than his wife. He admitted to it, and has thrown himself at the mercy of his wife and the people of Nevada.

I get that, too.

But here’s a flash: Sen. Ensign has advertised himself as a devout Christian, a Boy Scout, a man of impeccable moral rectitude. Moreover, he was brutally critical of Clinton during his impeachment by the House and his trial in the Senate.

When one portrays himself as a paragon of virtue, then he’d better live up to his own pious words.

Ensign hasn’t done that. He’s talked the talk, but surely has stubbed his toe while walking down a perilous path.

Now we’re talking lightning

My wife, sons and I lived for nearly 11 years on the Gulf Coast — where we were introduced to the most violent thunderstorms we’ve ever seen.

And my wife and I have said in our nearly 15 years in the Panhandle that our storms here just don’t quite measure up to what we saw and heard in Beaumont.

Until last night … maybe.

The storm Monday night was a beaut.

I awoke at 1:11 a.m. to intense flashes of light and sounds the likes of which I hadn’t heard since we headed north from the coast in early 1995. What was most intriguing was that the lightning was exploding directly over our house — with the lightning bursts and the thunderclaps occurring at the same instant.

That’s close, man.

I’m not yet ready to declare that we’ve seen a storm here that’s equal to what we experienced on the Gulf Coast. But last night’s event produced a photo finish.

Let the race begin

I love politics, which I consider to be a mostly honorable profession.

But I hope I can maintain that view as the Texas governor’s race unfolds.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is coming to Amarillo on Wednesday to continue her barnstorming tour of the state as she campaigns for the Republican nomination for governor. Her opponent will be Gov. Rick Perry, the pride of Paint Creek and a man known for his ability to fire up his political “base.”

The irony of this upcoming election is this: Sen. Hutchison might be the stronger candidate in the fall against the Democratic nominee, whoever he is; but she has to win the primary, which is dominated by the ultra right-wingers who comprise the party’s base of support. That base is in Perry’s back pocket, for the time being at least. Texas Republicans have a choice to make: Do they nominate an ideological purist or do they select someone who can reach across the aisle to those who otherwise might be inclined to vote for the Democratic candidate?

Hutchison has been a fairly inclusive Republican. She works well with Democrats in the Senate. One of her closest allies has been liberal Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. It’s hard to fathom Perry working so closely with Democrats.

But that suits the governor’s Republican base just fine.

This campaign could become an ugly affair. I just hope it doesn’t become so ugly that idealists become turned off.

Bias tilts in two directions? Good for us

People accuse me of being biased. Of course, the label usually sticks to those with whom I might disagree on a subject. People never level the “bias” charge when they agree with you, right?

But then I get notes like the one that came in today. The writer — who has written to us several times over the years — took columnist Leonard Pitts to task. But along with his letter to the editor, he sent along a cover note that accuses the paper of being too liberal in its political slant. Hmmm. Interesting, given that our editorial policy remains conservative. I reminded this person that most of our columnists tilt to the right. We do have a few liberals who comment on our page. Well, he isn’t entirely satisfied with that answer.

His rant is amazing. Why? I have contributors on the other end of the spectrum who accuse this page of tilting too far the right, that we’re too conservative. One of our regular left-leaning contributors came to mind. He accuses us constantly of being toadies for the Republicans. In fact, he cannot submit a letter to the editor without tossing a barb at us for being so biased in favor of conservatives.

What’s up with that?

I talked this morning with one of my colleagues about this and reminded him of the time I interviewed evangelist Franklin Graham, in 2000 when Graham came to Amarillo to preach to the throngs at Dick Bivins Stadium. I asked Graham, “How can the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Jesse Jackson read the same Bible and come to such vastly different conclusions about what it says?” Graham’s answer was that Jackson is more of a politican than Falwell.

I don’t intend to compare the Globe-News with the Bible, but it does amaze that two readers of this paper can draw such vastly different conclusions about the Globe-News political slant.

Both men say we’re biased. One says we tilt too far one way; the other guy says we tilt too far the other way.

The way I see it, bias — like beauty — is in the eyes of the beholder.

One of these days I’m going to bring Mr. Lefty and Mr. Righty together to persuade each other why the paper is biased against their point of view.