Sunday, February 24, 2008


Images from the campaign trail:

--Former President Bill Clinton in angry exchanges with hecklers,

--A red-faced and finger-pointing Clinton angrily lecturing a reporter in South Carolina,

--Senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain exposing his dark side in a debate with Mitt Romney showing a dark smile of satisfaction when he thinks he hurts his opponent.

McCain has a long history of temper tantrums and has been referred to as “Senator Hothead” by several publications. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

--“F---you,” he shouted at Texas Senator John Cornyn last year,

--“Only an a----would put together a budget like this,” he told the former Budget Committee chairman, Senator Pete Domenici, in 1999,

--“I’m calling you a f----jerk!” he once retorted to Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.

These guys remind me of the loveable curmudgeon Max Goldman (played by Walter Matthau) in the 1993 movie "Grumpy Old Men." But when out of control, Clinton and McCain are not loveable. How would behavior like theirs be treated in your workplace?

Chris Crowley wrote in "Younger Next Year" that men get noticeably grumpier when they reach the last one-third of their lives. We snap at our spouses, blow our horns, and stick our middle fingers up in traffic. Even the most even-tempered of us may suffer a general impatience just below the surface of our outwardly sunny dispositions.

I am about the age of Bill Clinton. Generally optimistic and idealistic, I too have a general impatience just below the surface of my normally calm exterior. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of selfishness, incompetence, political correctness, and the games people play.

Anger is an unpopular emotion because it scares people and can cause tremendous harm. But anger is part of who we are--it cannot be wished away. If we try to banish anger from our psychic system, we drive our aggression underground into the unconscious where anger will find expression in destructive ways. Anger is not the problem. The problem is our incompetence in facing anger within ourselves and others.

A peaceable young man asks a rabbi:

"Are we not to forswear anger and live peacefully with all men?
The rabbi answers, my son, God made anger for a purpose. If he
had not intended for us to use it He would not have put it in our souls.
Only be careful how you spend your anger. There are many things we
should not be angry about. We should save our anger for those things
which demand it."

We have plenty to feel angry about in today’s world: lies told, trust betrayed, innocence violated, reality denied, power abused, and incompetence rewarded. Our anger provides the energy and motivation necessary to bring about change. We desperately need leaders who will stand up, speak up, and take actions that remind us of our own best possibilities.

The grumpy old men on the campaign trail need to develop some self-awareness and fight their crankiness. They are making fools of themselves. They along with the rest of us need to learn to express anger fully, maturely, and courageously. They also need to be role-models and mentors to others, young and old.

Friday, February 01, 2008


This commentary appeared in the Grand Forks Herald on Friday February 1, 2008 and The Fargo Forum on February 10, 2008.


When I listen to Barack Obama speak, I feel hopeful. Maybe we can renew our nation. Perhaps we can recommit ourselves to the noble values and grand purpose of America. Obama takes me back to the 60’s, and I remember the dangers visionaries like he face willingly.

I was a senior in high school when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. I was finishing college at the University of Minnesota when Martin Luther King was murdered on April 4, 1968 and then Robert Kennedy two months later.

These men transcended politics: they had greatness in their visions, fire in their words, and magic in their personas. So many hopes and dreams flickered when those men died—aspirations never extinguished but their energy dampened.

These tragedies inspired me to become an agent in the United States Secret Service. The image of agent Clint Hill as he bravely and desperately tried to save President Kennedy that dark day in Dallas moved me. Nobility resides in those willing to die to safeguard democracy.

I was trained to protect our leaders.

For half of my first year in the Secret Service, I protected former Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey. I also worked at the White House and traveled around the world in July of 1969 as part of President Richard Nixon’s security detail.

I know two things from these and other experiences in the Secret Service. First, determined women and men protect our leaders. Second, no one can be protected completely. If someone wants to get a shot at a leader, they probably can.

I fear most for our visionary leaders. Those rare people, who rise above politics and have a spiritual nature, offer a vision that calls for a future never seen before. A reality not foreshadowed or predicted by the past.

Such leaders stir strong emotions in their followers: hope, excitement, enthusiasm, and renewed faith in the possibilities of our better selves. These emotions energize and give people courage and everything feels possible.

Such leaders also bring forth powerful feelings in those committed to an earlier and now exhausted vision: fear, envy, anger, jealousy, and resistance to the losses they anticipate. Change does not happen easily. Those invested in the status quo fight hard to hang onto what benefits them. A few kill people.

Many leaders do not survive the movements they begin: Jesus, Gandhi, Lincoln, King, Kennedy, and recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan. Transformational leaders know the perils. They go forward inspired and given courage by a noble vision, a powerful sense of purpose, and values made strong by tests and temptations.

I feel the best energy of the 60’s when I listen to Barack Obama. He knows our deepest yearnings. His special gifts match our dreams. He gives this weary idealist renewed hope for a better future for our nation and our world. I believe he can lead our country from the precipice of decline.

Mr. Obama faces danger. He and the Secret Service know it. I am sure hundreds of threats have been made against his life and many twisted and dangerous people are being watched and accounted for as he travels.

The agents of the Secret Service will do all they can to protect him and all our leaders. People who attend political events can keep their eyes open too.

So say a prayer for his safety and the well-being of all who inspire us to be better people so our hearts will not be broken and our spirits disillusioned yet again.