The worst sports transaction in world history

The headline may be hyperbole (Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees? The Saints’ trading their entire draft pick collection to get Ricky Williams? The Vikings sending their future to Dallas for Herschel Walker?)

But if you’re making a list of bad pro sports player transactions, you must include the Packers’ infamous “Lawrence Welk” trade, made today in 1974, for quarterback John Hadl. The trade is known as the “Lawrence Welk” trade because, the joke goes, it took “a-one and-a-two and-a-three” in draft picks. The truth, however, is far worse — two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks and a third-round pick to the Rams.

Hadl was a good quarterback in the American Football League for the high-flying San Diego Chargers …

… before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams:

Packer fans who don’t remember this hideous decision (because the unconscious mind often blots out trauma) might well wonder what would possess someone to make that kind of trade. The answer is explained by Pete Jackel:

There was little time left on the morning of Oct. 22, 1974. The heat in Dan Devine’s Lambeau Field office had reached tropical levels and this had nothing to do with where his thermostat was set.

He had to do something before it was too late.

In his mind, he had no choice but to place that long-distance call to Los Angeles.

For more than three years as the Green Bay Packers’ coach, Devine had struggled to find a quarterback of the future. And on that Tuesday morning nearly 30 years ago, Devine’s own future in Green Bay was never more imperiled as this quarterback subplot intensified to new heights.

Devine’s Packers, who had followed up a miraculous 10-4 record in 1972 with a 5-7-2 disappointment in ’73, were in serious trouble. The night before, a Watergate-weary nation had witnessed the listless Packers slump to 3-3 following a 10-9 loss to the Chicago Bears in a Monday night game at Soldier Field.

More distressingly, it had become obvious that Jerry Tagge, Devine’s hand-picked quarterback of the future for the Packers – Tagge was drafted in the first round in 1972 -Ê was never going to succeed. The kid who had led Nebraska to back-to-back national championships in 1970 and ’71 simply could not translate his limited passing skills to the NFL level.

And Devine, who doubled as general manager, no longer could afford to stay with a quarterback who had led the Packers to just three touchdowns in the previous 17 quarters. Not with a 19-22-4 record in Devine’s three-plus seasons in Green Bay.

The heat was on.

“I can’t say I saw him being panicky, but I feel he probably was about that time,” said Packers historian Lee Remmel, who was in his first year as public relations director for the team in 1974. “Things were going badly and they got worse.”

Had circumstances played out differently, the immensely talented Archie Manning, the No. 2 overall selection in the 1971 draft who had fallen out of favor with the pathetic New Orleans Saints, might have been Devine’s savior. Devine had apparently agreed to a tentative trade the previous week to bring the then 25-year-old Manning to Green Bay, but fate intervened.

On the afternoon of Oct. 20, Bobby Scott -Manning’s projected successor with the Saints – had gone down with a knee injury in a game against the Falcons at Atlanta and was lost indefinitely. The Saints had no choice but to go back to Manning, killing the deal with Green Bay and drastically altering history.

“We were playing in Atlanta and Scotty got hurt and that kind of nixed it,” Manning said. “I was in the middle of all that trade stuff. I had heard it was Green Bay. I was being shopped and I remember there were several things going on with the Giants, 49ers, Packers, Saints and Rams.”

Devine also had held discussions with Gil Brandt, then the player personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys, about 31-year-old Craig Morton. But Morton had mostly been a backup to first Don Meredith and then Roger Staubach since entering the league in 1965 and Devine desperately wanted an established starter.

This lingering issue just had to be resolved once and for all.

Scott Hunter hadn’t worked out as the Packers’ quarterback. Neither had Jim Del Gaizo, for whom Devine had been panicked into squandering two No. 2 draft picks to the Miami Dolphins in 1973. And Tagge, who finished 1974 with one touchdown pass and 10 interceptions, was a bust, too.

Enough was enough.

So on the morning of Oct. 22, 1974, a desperate Devine placed that call to Los Angeles.

And then he mortgaged a franchise’s future, paying the staggering price of two No. 1 draft choices, two No. 2 picks and a No. 3 to the Rams for John Hadl.

As great as Hadl had been, he was 34 years old. And regardless of Hadl’s credentials, there’s no way anyone other than Devine could justify paying that price for a quarterback who was clearly in the twilight of his career.

It was a panic-inspired trade that stirred a buzz through the National Football League that persisted for weeks.

“It was one of those things where you couldn’t believe anybody would do that,” said Ron Wolf, then general manager of the Oakland Raiders.

“It was a hard trade for me to understand,” Brandt said. “It was not a good trade for them (the Packers).

“What happens is, people make a trade because they feel that trade can maybe get them into the playoffs or win a championship for them. But I remember there were a lot of people who said, `I can’t believe that Green Bay gave up that much for a 35-year-old quarterback.’ ”

And to this day, the lop-sided nature of that trade lingers in Green Bay.

“It was the worst trade in Packers history, without a doubt, and one of the worst in pro football history,” Remmel said. “That trade deprived us of two No. 1 picks, two No. 2s and a No. 3. It was pretty hard for his successor, Bart Starr, to rebuild the football team without those premium draft choices.”

The trade was made with the Rams, and Jackel provides an interesting detail:

Playing mostly during an era when rules made life so much more difficult for quarterbacks, Hadl passed for 33,503 yards and 244 touchdowns in a career that lasted from 1962-77. His primary receiver during his years with the San Diego Chargers was Lance Alworth, who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1978.

While with the Chargers from 1962-72, Hadl developed into one of the great quarterbacks of the old American Football League. Five times he played in the Pro Bowl as a member of the Chargers. And a man who was one of the last NFL quarterbacks to wear a number higher than 19 (Hadl wore No. 21) passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season three times and threw for 20 or more touchdowns in a season six times while with San Diego.

Furthermore, the guy was indestructible, never missing a game during his 16-year career because of an injury. …

By 1973, though, Hadl was in need of a change of scenery. At least in part because of his difficult relationship with Chargers offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker – who went on to hold the same position with the Packers under Starr -ÊHadl was traded to the Rams for defensive end Coy Bacon and journeyman running back Bob Thomas prior to the 1973 season.

Bacon and Hadl were both coming off Pro Bowl seasons at the time. It would be the last time a trade involving players who had appeared in the Pro Bowl the previous season was consummated in the NFL until this year, when the Washington Redskins traded cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis.

In what proved to be his only full season with the Rams, Hadl was clearly revitalized. Surrounded by talent that included wide receiver Harold Jackson and running backs Lawrence McCutcheon and Jim Bertelsen, Hadl earned NFC Most Valuable Player honors after passing for 2,008 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Behind Hadl, the Rams improved from 6-7-1 in 1972 to 12-2 in ’73. It appeared the Rams, under first-year coach Chuck Knox, were entering a prosperous new era with Hadl at the controls.

“He meant everything to us that year,” Knox said. “He was the Most Valuable Player offensively in the National Football League that year. The Rams had won very few games the year before and then we went 12-2. We lost two games that year with John Hadl at quarterback. We got beat by Minnesota 10-9 and we lost a tough game in Atlanta 15-13 when (Nick) Mike-Mayer kicked five field goals on us and we had a touchdown for an interception called back.

“John Hadl was an inspiration. He was a great player and he was just everything you could want in a quarterback and a person.”

But the magic didn’t last. Hadl seemed to be missing something in 1974, when the Rams lost two of their first five games. When he completed just six of 16 passes for 59 yards during a 17-6 loss to the Packers on a rain-swept day at Milwaukee County Stadium Oct. 13, Hadl was benched in favor of James Harris.

Nine days later, Hadl would become a Packer.

I remember the trade, though I do not remember Hadl’s playing against the Packers just before he played for the Packers.

The trade gave the Rams three first-round draft picks, which they used to draft three players who were Rams for a long time — defensive tackle Mike Fanning, offensive guard Dennis Harrah and offensive tackle Doug France.

Meanwhile, the late Don Klosterman, the Rams’ general manager, was giddy over his windfall from a desperate coach.

“Green Bay came to us with an offer you can’t refuse,” Klosterman said. “As Carroll Rosenbloom (the Rams owner at the time) has always said, we strive for continuity. The draft choices leave us in excellent shape.”

While Klosterman and Rosenbloom are no longer around to speak of the trade from a historical context, Knox remembers it as one that the Rams simply couldn’t pass up.

“They had a football coach there (Devine) who also had control of personnel,” Knox said. “He could make trades or whatever and he didn’t have to go through a lot of people. So he wanted a quarterback very badly and Carroll Rosenbloom and Don Klosterman decided that we would be able to get along – we had a very good football team. We had James Harris and (Ron) Jaworski and quarterbacks like that.

“So we decided that two ones, two twos and a three, that’s probably one of the greatest trades made in the history of the National Football League. We got some good football players out of that mix and, in five years there, we won 54, lost 15, tied one and won a divisional title five straight years.”

As for the 1974 Packers, well …

With Jack Concannon serving as stopgap quarterback as Hadl learned a new offense with the greatest of urgency, the Packers lost two more games to drop to 3-5, three games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Central Division. When Hadl finally made his first start for the Packers Nov. 10 against the Bears at Milwaukee County Stadium, the division race was all but over.

Under Hadl’s guidance, the Packers surged to three straight victories, but then lost their last three to finish 6-8. There was only so much Hadl could do with pedestrian receivers the likes of Barry Smith and Jon Staggers, with a rapidly fading John Brockington (who averaged just 3.3 yards per carry that season) lining up behind him.

During his abbreviated season with the Packers, Hadl completed 89 of 184 passes for 1,072 yards, with just three touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Devine’s mistake was this: He greatly overestimated the talent that would surround Hadl when he pulled the trigger on the trade. That reality was underscored by the fact the Packers would have just two winning seasons (1978 and ’82) between the time Devine left Green Bay in 1974 and Mike Holmgren arrived in 1992.

As for Hadl and Devine, well …

Devine’s desperation move had failed. This partnership between Devine and Hadl had lasted just 54 days. …

“Let me tell you this one,” Hadl said. “He was getting blown out in Green Bay and we were down in Atlanta for the last game and it was raining about a foot a second. Anyway, the game is over, we go in and I say, `Coach, I’m sorry this thing didn’t work out.’

“He said, `John, don’t worry about me. They’re going to announce me as the head Notre Dame coach tomorrow.’ I couldn’t believe that. He knew that before that game was over!’ “

Then came Bart Starr to replace Devine as coach and general manager:

Going into the 1975 season, there was reason to believe the old Hadl might re-emerge. Starr had been hired to replace Devine and it was a reasonable assumption that two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history would combine to comprise an ultimate braintrust. …

Nothing, though, not the arrival of Starr and not the return of No. 21, could salvage this season. The reality was, the 1975 Packers almost had expansion-team talent with players on offense the likes Pat Matson, Keith Wortman and the over-the-hill Ernie McMillan, Bruce Van Dyke and Brockington.

Gale Gillingham, one of the greatest guards in NFL history, was so disgusted with the team’s offensive direction that he sat out the 1975 season after Starr refused to trade demand. And Hadl, playing behind a makeshift line, was left to run for his life most of the season as he tried to pass to his new receivers, Ken Payne and Steve Odom.

“They were nice guys, but they just weren’t NFL caliber, most of them,” Hadl said. “We had Kenny Payne, who was a real tough kid. He was pretty good. Odom was fast. But there was the time factor throwing the ball. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we had to adjust our routes a little bit and get rid of it a little bit quicker.”

It was an unmitigated disaster. The Packers, losing eight of their first nine games, finished 4-10. And Hadl, playing his only full season in Green Bay, completed 191 of 353 passes for 2,095 yards, but with just six touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

Meanwhile, there was no help on the way. They had not drafted until the 47th pick in 1975. And if Starr had not traded future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks to the Oakland Raiders for a first-round choice, the Packers wouldn’t have made their first selection in 1976 until the 72nd pick.

Had Devine not panicked into overpaying for Hadl, the Packers would have been in position to draft such quality players as Dennis Harrah, Russ Francis, Louie Wright, Tom “Hollywood” Henderson, Fred Dean and Doug English.

Instead, what Devine left behind was utter chaos.

Ironically, during a time when Starr was trying to build something out of so little, Devine, who never could find a quarterback in Green Bay, found one at Notre Dame.

Maybe you heard of him. His name was Joe Montana.

Starr had to clean up Devine’s mess by trading Hadl, former All-Pro cornerback Ken Ellis and two draft picks to Houston to get quarterback Lynn Dickey, which meant that Hadl cost five draft picks to acquire and a player and two more draft picks to get rid of him. One wonders how often Starr must have asked himself why he agreed to take the job without an available first-round draft pick for his first two seasons, though as with Devine and other Packer GM/coaches, Starr’s draft record wasn’t the greatest.

Dickey joined the Packers in 1976, then missed part of the 1977, all of the 1978, and part of the 1979 seasons after suffering a broken leg. Dickey didn’t play a complete season until 1980, though he was one o the NFL’s better quarterbacks of the early 1980s, once he had some actual talent around him.

If new quarterback Brett Hundley doesn’t play well today, there will be great clamor to pick up a quarterback this week, since the Packers have a bye week. Be careful what you wish for.



After Rodgers

One week ago, Packer fans were flying high after the dramatic 35–31 win over Dallas that showed how great a quarterback Aaron Rodgers is.

That point was proven again, inadvertently, by the Packers 23–10 loss to Minnesota Sunday. The far bigger loss was Rodgers’ season-ending injury, the second broken collarbone in his career. This one is far worse, though, because while Rodgers was able to come back before the end of the 2013 season after his left collarbone injury …

… this injury will undoubtedly end Rodgers’ season, and, given that Tony Romo’s collarbone break moved him to the broadcast booth, could end Rodgers’ career.

Readers will be happy to know I stoked the speculation about who would replace Rodgers, such as …

  1. Romo. (He grew up a Packer fan in East Troy.)
  2. Colin Kaepernick. (He also is from Wisconsin, though suing your employer for collusion when no team wants to sign a subpar quarterback who also is more trouble than he’s worth off the field makes him unlikely to wear the green and gold. Besides that, the Dolphins lost their starting quarterback for the season, Ryan Tannehill, and signed Jay Cutler instead of Kaepernick.
  3. Brett Favre. (He’s 48, and while George Blanda played until he was 48, Blanda was a kicker the last few seasons of his career.)
  4. Other former Packer quarterbacks, who are either far too old (Lynn Dickey) or were Quarterbacks in Name Only (Green Bay native Jerry Tagge, Scott Hunter, Jim Del Gaizo, and others from the Gory Years), plus former UW quarterback Joel Stave, who is not currently employed by the NFL.

The only suggestion that had any chance of occurring, at least as of now, was, or is, possibly acquiring Tayvon Hill from the Saints. Hill looked good in training camp, but the Packers weren’t able to cut Hill and then sign him to the practice squad because the Saints (perhaps ironically, Sunday’s opponent) signed him away.

One of this blog’s political maxims is that doing nothing, policy-wise, is better than doing the wrong thing. That is true more often than not with acquiring quarterbacks. The number of pickups that work out (Y.A Tittle to the Giants, Ron Jaworski to Philadelphia, Jim Plunkett to the Raiders, Doug Williams to Washington, Trent Dilfer to the Ravens, Brad Johnson to Tampa Bay, Carson Palmer to Arizona, Peyton Manning to Denver) are dwarfed by those that do not (Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh, Fran Tarkenton to the Giants, Joe Namath to the Rams, Bert Jones to the Rams, Jim McMahon to the Eagles and Vikings, Jay Cutler to Da Bears, Carson Palmer to Oakland, Jeff George to anywhere, and one particularly bad acquisition whose anniversary is Sunday). And every single listed acquisition that worked took place in the offseason, not in the middle of the season.

Backup Brett Hundley, who didn’t look good at all after Rodgers’ injury, will start against New Orleans Sunday. The Saints rank 20th in pass yards given up, but eighth in run yards given up, which is bad news for a team that probably would like to run the ball and take some pressure off their new starter. The Saints are 21st in scoring defense, but given that they appear to be better on run defense than pass defense, the Packers are probably going to have to beat them through the air with their new quarterback.

The upside is that it’s much, much harder for quarterbacks to come into a game and play well. Well, everyone except for …

I could watch this 100 times and still be entertained by (1) Favre’s pass to Sterling Sharpe, which occurred despite Sharpe’s rib injury; (2) Favre’s perfect touchdown pass to Kittrick Taylor, Sharpe’s replacement who the announcers didn’t know; and (3) Chris Jacke’s extra point that occurred despite his holder, Favre, not holding on to the football.

That clip doesn’t show how Favre’s day began, with five quarterback sacks and three lost fumbles. The Packers had more fumbles (seven) than points (three) in the first three quarters, and a comeback seemed so unlikely that radio announcer Jim Irwin was laughing when he pointed out before the Packers’ final drive that the Packers could win with a touchdown and an extra point.

Though this doesn’t help …

… it’s easier to prepare for a game when you have all week to prepare for a game, instead of a minute or so.

So what will the Packers do Sunday? Former Packers defensive back Matt Bowen:

Gone is the security blanket of the league’s best player. I’m talking about that comfort level for not only the Green Bay offense, but also those guys who play defense and cover kicks for a living. And they will also question how, or if, their roles will be impacted moving forward.

Remember, Rodgers could create instant magic. That’s something you can’t replace. And in those first 24 hours after the injury, the emotions of the team ride all over the place. Up, down, sideways. Once the squad gets through that period, however, the coaching staff can start to revive hope. …

The job of McCarthy now is to develop a custom call sheet that fits Hundley, one that will maximize his ability within the core offense and also hide his weaknesses. The staff can’t ask him to play like Rodgers. And it starts by sitting down with the quarterback to identify the concepts that make him comfortable.

What does Hundley like, and what does he want thrown in the trash? And break it down by field position and game situation. Ask him for his favorite red zone routes, the deep ball shots he loves or play-action concepts he can execute. And don’t forget about the quick game. Throw slant-flat, curl-flat. And get the ball out.

From there, it’s about packaging those concepts with the complete game plan. McCarthy doesn’t want his young quarterback to throw the ball 40 times a game, so we should expect a more balanced call sheet. Run the rock with Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones. And commit to it.

But also show more spread looks, sprinkle in the run-pass options to create open windows and call for some QB-designed runs. He brings another dimension to the offense with his athleticism that can generate some stress for opposing defenses. And that includes movement passes.

The Packers can widen the field and get away from those static formations by using shift/motions. Force the defense to declare coverage (zone or man) and give Hundley the exact matchup he wants. With the arm strength to push the ball outside of the numbers and attack the deep middle of the field, Green Bay can mix alignments to create some big-play opportunities.

In a way, the Packers can expand a bit from a play-calling perspective. And they can do that without limiting Hundley. Forget about reducing the call sheet or being conservative with the No. 2 under center. This is an opportunity for McCarthy to be aggressive while massaging that game plan to fit Hundley.

Hundley is the guy for at least the next 10 games and into January, if the Packers extend the season into the playoffs. Yes, McCarthy promoted Joe Callahan from the practice squad, but he is adamant that he’s rolling with Hundley. The former UCLA star is his new No. 1.

Now, the Packers have to help Hundley succeed. Again, he’s not going to be Rodgers. No one is. But with a loaded group of Jordy NelsonDavante Adamsand Randall Cobb at wide receiver, the big body of Martellus Bennett in the middle of the field and a run game that can provide real balance, Hundley is in a pretty good spot. And even with the slight transition period, Hundley can give the Packers a chance to compete in a wide-open division.

Remember: Matthew Stafford is banged up in Detroit. Sam Bradford has taken only 89 total snaps for the Vikings. And the Bears are playing rookie Mitchell Trubisky. Hundley and the Packers are a threat in the NFC North.

I am pretty sure Sunday is going to be Hundley’s audition. If he doesn’t play well, with the bye week coming up next week, there will be intense pressure on the Packers to get another quarterback, or fans will rightly conclude that the Packers are throwing in the towel on the season, despite their already having won more games than I had figured to this point. (I had them losing to Seattle and Dallas on the way to a 11–5 season.)


“Full-spectrum conservatives” vs. Trump and his supporters

Rachel Lu reviews Charlie Sykes’ How the Right Lost Its Mind:

A long time ago (two years, actually), there was a sort of person we referred to as a “full-spectrum conservative.” Full-spectrum conservatives supported traditional morals, free enterprise, and a strong public investment in national security. For this group, 2016 was not a good year.

Trumpian populists effectively set fire to the proverbial three-legged stool. The full-spectrum conservatives of yesteryear were faced with a choice: move quickly or else find yourself on the ground. Many moved. Some took the fall. And few took the latter course quite so spectacularly as Charles Sykes, the radio host whose March 2016 interview with Donald Trump helped send the real estate tycoon spiraling into a dramatic primary loss in his home state of Wisconsin. Sykes won that battle, but he and his associates went on to lose the war. Now he’s compiled his thoughts on conservatism’s decline into a new book, How the Right Lost Its Mind.

If nothing else, the book is a triumph for this reason alone: though he clearly views Donald Trump’s election as a catastrophe (both for conservatism and for America), Sykes manages to discourse on the problem for 274 pages withoutallowing the Mogul to hog the spotlight. It’s refreshing to find a discussion of right-wing politics that doesn’t veer into yet another attempt to chart the murky waters of Trump’s fevered brain. Instead, Sykes wants to understand how the party of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley could have degenerated to the point where a frivolous attention-seeker ducked out of a Democratic Party fundraiser just in time to take the GOP on a cosmic joyride.

Here’s the core of Sykes’ answer: Right-wing media created a fever swamp of misinformation, fanaticism, and resentment, which ultimately derailed the party and American politics.

That’s not the whole story, of course. Sykes spreads responsibility for the disaster across multiple parties. He explains how cranks and crazies spent decades clamoring for satisfaction, until the din finally drowned out serious discussion. He chastises the illiberal left, whose relentless, hysterical bullying put millions of Americans on the defensive. He throws a spotlight on exploitative PACs (especially in the late Tea Party era) that repeatedly amped up the rage, mainly for the sake of lining their own pockets. Polarizing figures like Jim DeMint come under fire for removing some of the “safety features” that might have averted the catastrophe and for politicizing organizations that had long been respected for their serious and measured perspectives. Finally, Sykes criticizes the Republican Party for failing to adapt to the changing needs of the electorate. An approving glance is thrown to Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, and their fellow reformocons, who spent years begging the GOP to rein in cronyism and attend to the concerns of the middle class.

In this litany of blame, Sykes also examines himself. Personal regret is not the book’s most prominent theme, but it’s there and seems sincere. Sykes explains how an increasingly polarized political landscape desensitized sincere conservatives (himself included) to rhetoric that should have raised red flags. When the left sees racists and fascists behind every tree, conservatives become practiced at countering such allegations, dismissing them as paranoid or just politically opportunistic. Looking back at the lunatic accusations that were slung at John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan, it’s easy enough to understand how conservatives got to that point. Unfortunately, wolf-crying children don’t keep the monsters at bay.

Now the monsters are out in full force (as evidenced by the massive popularity of sites like and Infowars). That brings us back to the issue of media. With so much blame to go around, it’s interesting that Sykes’ scathing indictment devotes so much space to the right-wing media figures who, in his assessment, sacrificed principle in pursuit of their private venal interests. Trump was the least conservative Republican candidate in living memory, but the right’s media outlets still unrolled the red carpet for him, mostly in a bid for relevance. Fox News (though initially a bit resistant to Trump) was desperate to be kingmaker. Rush Limbaugh was anxious to recover some of the status he lost in his unseemly flame war with Sandra Fluke. Matt Drudge and Steve Bannon wanted to be titans of internet traffic, and to that end were happy to give a platform to fanatics, crazies, and fire-breathing demagogues. Stoking and stroking is a lucrative business.

Is it unfair to pile so much blame on media personalities? Media is Sykes’ own business, so it’s natural for him to focus on the thing he knows best. Even if you think that Sykes is excessively influenced by personal bitterness, there’s still a point worth pondering here, especially for readers (and writers) of the right-wing media: Isn’t it basically true that this is one of the newer elements in the American landscape? If we think our republic is in sorry shape nowadays, how should we think about developments in media that seem overall to be correlated with a nationwide increase in anxiety, polarization, and despair?

Of course it’s never enjoyable to turn a critical eye back on ourselves. The left has plenty of failings worth discussion, as Sykes knows well, having personally written whole books about the defects of the Academy and the entitlement state. Conservatives are likely to agree that the left’s cultural bastions are well stocked with hypocrites, bullies, and rent-seekers, and they surely have much to answer for today.

This, however, is nothing new: The universities, mainstream media, and Hollywood have leaned left for decades already. That didn’t stop conservatives from winning some major political victories in the 80’s and 90’s, before Fox News, and in the earliest days of right-leaning talk radio. Today the political right has constructed its own complete alternative media, but Americans seem anything but hopeful. Are there connections worth probing here?

The bracing experiences of 2016 obviously led Sykes to re-evaluate his own place in the media landscape. Honest conservatives of all stripes could benefit from considering that tumultuous year through his eyes. Even if you like Trump and are happy with some of the things he’s done, you should still be willing to ask: Why was it possible for so many people to shift positions so dramatically, in such a short space of time? What does that tell us about our commentariat?

Jonah Goldberg captured this problem rather well in his famous “body-snatcher” column. Here’s my own analogy for how anti-Trump conservatives experienced 2016. You show up for a sporting match, decked out in your team’s colors, riding a wave of fan enthusiasm. As the game goes on though, people around you start casually flipping their shirts inside-out to reveal the colors of a completely different team. Quite soon, you find that you’ve become one of the outliers in a “hostile” section, though you’re pretty sure you haven’t moved at all. Who knew you were one of very few fans who came unprepared with a non-reversible jersey? Bewildered, you turn to a friend who just switched her shirt.

“Can you explain why you just did that?” you ask.

“Did what?” she says.

This large-scale transformation was naturally most disillusioning for “true fans” like Sykes, who was quite happy to regard free enterprise and ordered liberty as foundational principles for American conservatism. One needn’t share all of his political views, however, to agree with his concerns about a media that seems to be bobbing recklessly on a surging torrent of populist emotion. Do our opinion-makers actually believe things, or do they just say whatever is necessary to keep traffic high?

Populist sympathizers tend to address these questions by returning to their rhetorical safe spaces: Trump’s virtues, the GOP’s vices, and the egregious failings of the left. That’s kind of missing the point, though. The reversible-jersey episode couldn’t be adequately explained through statistical analyses of the relative strengths of the competing teams. A fan who changes his jersey mid-game is really missing the point of fandom, which should be a kind of participation in the struggle for victory. In a similar way, a commentator who tethers his views to popular opinion is missing the whole point of commentary. It’s not supposed to be mere entertainment; it’s supposed to be part of a communal struggle towards a greater understanding of the truth. If principles are just rhetorical furniture in an ongoing conversation game, what is to keep us from spiraling off into ever-further levels of illiberalism, repression, and lunacy?

Individual cases can be hard to judge, but the broader trends Sykes describes are depressingly easy to understand. You don’t keep your site traffic high by telling readers things they don’t want to hear. From the perspective of an individual writer, saying “the said thing” is a whole lot easier than struggling to discern the truth (and then persuade a possibly unsympathetic audience). Populism is bad for the nation, but it’s very good for business (if your business is to capture clicks and eyeballs). And once the ship starts to move, most media figures would rather move with it than be left treading water with George Will and Charlie Sykes.

Sykes argues that as of today, the political left needs an autopsy, while the right needs an exorcism. Some commentators have remarked, dubiously, that there doesn’t seem to be anyone available to perform such a ritual. Who today has the media control of a Buckley, or the electrifying personality of a Reagan?

One never knows when a great thinker or statesman might appear on the horizon. In the meanwhile, we need to draw strength from the realization that ideas have power. True ideas have particular power. The inane yammering of shills and demagogues can only hold sway for so long. We must continue to pursue greater understanding, so that when the fey mood passes, someone will have a message worth hearing.

Presty the DJ for Oct. 20

Today in 1960, Roy Orbison had his first number one single:

Today in 1962, the number one single in the U.S. was a song banned by the BBC:

The number one single today in 1973:

Today in 1977, four members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and two others were killed when their plane crashed near McComb, Miss.:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Oct. 20”

Re-losing Vietnam

Someone on Facebook said everyone has to watch Ken Burns’ latest documentary on the Vietnam War.

That would be reason number one to not watch, of course. Reason number two is that I remember enough of it from watching TV and from living in the People’s Republic of Madison, where Vietnam protests (including one fatal protest, the 1970 UW–Madison Sterling Hall bombing), without actually being there.

(For what it’s worth, I was told by a Vietnam veteran that the movie “Full Metal Jacket” was in his opinion the most accurate portrayal of Vietnam up to 1988, better than “Platoon,” “Casualties of War” and “The Boys in Company C.” He didn’t mention “Apocalypse Now,” which weirdly has gone from being an antiwar film to being, in some eyes, a pro-war film, perhaps because “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”)

Indeed, it was literally impossible to avoid the Vietnam War in Madison even 20 years after the war ended. Every potential and actual conflict (Grenada, Panama, Iraq) was always labeled as the next Vietnam. Protesting a war that was already finished by 1975 included libels of American soldiers who had nothing to do with policy formulated in Washington, and who, as we should have been able to figure out, mostly came back from Vietnam no worse off than soldiers of previous American wars.

Vietnam War veteran Phillip Jenkins writes things that will make liberal Madison (but I repeat myself) readers scream, which is why I am posting this:

The arguments Mr. Burns presents are weak, biased, and insulting. The documentary is scripted to evoke sorrow and moral indignation over what was presented as American error, ineptness, and lack of moral purpose.

The narrative counterposes happy and earnest winners (the communists) with sad and angst-ridden losers (America and the South Vietnamese). It deemed only such perspectives worthy of inclusion. Mr. Burns fails to find even one American or South Vietnamese veteran who wholly supported the war, was proud to have appeared in arms, and sickened by the United States’ abandonment its freedom-seeking ally.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of us.

No doubt, too, there were North Vietnamese who are critical of the brutality of the communist conduct of the war, but Mr. Burns can’t find them either. We have no way of knowing whether the happy and earnest communist veterans who did appear in the documentary participated in the war crimes — the execution of thousands of civilians — in Hue or any of the countless acts of North Vietnamese-sponsored terrorism.

The Burns documentary accepts without question five pillars of the liberal view of the war:

  1. There was moral equivalency between the U.S. and Communist forces, and the goals and objectives of the respective governments.

No there wasn’t. Communist North Vietnam invaded a South Vietnam striving for democracy. The South Vietnamese posed no threat to the North other than by their example. The North had no inherent right to conquer South Vietnam, and the South Vietnamese had no obligation to “vote themselves communist” in 1955. The aberration of My Lai was not “morally equivalent” to the slaughter of civilians carried out by the communists, as a matter of policy, throughout the war. That Americans are better than communists is a point that the left just cannot accept.

  1. President Johnson and General Westmoreland accomplished nothing.

American strategy in the first half of the war might not have been perfect. Our strategy of limited war was ill-advised. In the context of the Cold War fears of nuclear war and Communist Chinese intervention a la Korea in 1950, though, it was not without a rationale. By 1968, moreover, the communists were so weakened and desperate they initiated a suicidal attack against the South — the Tet Offensive — and were obliterated. After Tet, the military outcome of the war was no longer in doubt. President Nixon was able to use the favorable facts on the ground that Westmoreland achieved to withdraw all U.S. combat units from the theater and, by unleashing our air power, to bring the communists to their knees.

  1. The wars waged in Laos and Cambodia are irrelevant and were just part of the “civil war” in South Vietnam.

When liberals scoff at the “domino theory” it is another reminder of how America-bashing bias obviates reality. North Vietnamese forces — and by extension the Soviets and Chinese communists — were involved in all the region. Both Laos and Cambodia fell to communist domination after America abandoned its ally, with dreadful results.

  1. South Vietnam was so corrupt that the North was a viable alternative.

Is there anyone who witnessed communism in the 20th century who believes that? Countless millions have died for the sin of being ruled by reds. Ho Chi Minh slaughtered at least 50,000 of his citizens within weeks of his self-appointment to be ruler of North Vietnam. Their sin? They were educated. They were doctors, lawyers, professionals. They had expressed doubt in the communist government. Every communist leader begins his reign much the same way.

It is typical liberal paternalism — bordering on racism — to attribute to the South Vietnamese people so little intelligence and so much indifference that they are deemed not worthy of wanting and deserving freedom. This viewpoint takes it for granted that the democratically elected Diem administration in Saigon was so evil that rule by Ho Chi Minh would have to be an improvement. The communists called Diem an American puppet, and the Washington establishment was annoyed that he wouldn’t do what he was told. In fact Diem was the elected leader of a free republic. Once America was complicit in his murder in 1963, we assumed a moral duty to see to it that South Vietnam remained free.

  1. America was not and has never been exceptional.

Ultimately this is what Mr. Burns would have one believe. That America never does anything based on Judeo-Christian principles. That Americans are never willing to sacrifice anything to give someone else something. That it would be silly to believe that thousands of young Americans sacrificed their lives simply doing the right, the moral thing, by going to the defense of a people trying to govern themselves. That since our founding the American people have never been animated by our founding documents. And that President Kennedy didn’t believe in the imperative to defend freedom and stop communism.

Mr. Burns is wrong in every instance.

Nor is the war hard to understand. The French asked for our help to save their Indochina colony after their 1954 defeat at Dien Bien Phu. We refused. Ho Chi Minh erected a typical communist dictatorship. He was the kind of a nationalist who slaughters his own people and governs with force. So about a million North Vietnamese fled south to Free Vietnam before America became involved in the war. Yet never during the next bloody 20 years did anyone from South Vietnam flee to the north. Never. None.

The U.S. sent advisors. The communists received arms from China and Russia. The war escalated. We sent tens of thousands of combat troops, beginning with the Marines in 1965. The war dragged on, but the communists could not win a significant battle. The Chinese and Russian “uncles” began to tire of the cost and loss of face and pressured the North to open peace talks. Hanoi begged for and received a last ditch supply (enough to outfit multiple battalions of communist troops).

Convincing themselves that the southerners would rally to their side when they overwhelmed the cities and villages in South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese launched a suicidal attack on 100 towns. They were soundly defeated in every one of them in under a week, save Hue (the royal capital) where they held off the South Vietnamese and U.S. Marines long enough to slaughter thousands of the Hue citizens before being beaten back into the jungle. The Viet Cong, more or less the local boys and comprising most of the 50,000 communist troops lost in Tet, were decimated.

Management of the war changed after Tet. Although the American press decided we were losing and began lobbying the public to get out of the war, the military began a four-year pummeling of communist troops. Nixon, elected to stop the war, pulled American combat units out of South Vietnam and simultaneously unleashed U.S. air power, including bombing sanctuaries in Cambodia and the Hai Phong harbor in North Vietnam.

By the fall of 1972, the communists were depleted of morale and arms. Agreeing to a peace conference, they nevertheless tested Nixon by attacking South Vietnamese villages in contradiction of the peace process. Nixon responded with the Christmas Bombing of North Vietnam. Ridiculously referred to as a criminal act akin to the Holocaust and Hiroshima (it killed less than half the number of people killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11), the bombing of the north convinced the communists that they were helpless against the full strength of the American military.

A month later, in January 1973, the North Vietnamese signed the Paris Peace Treaty. At that time, South Vietnam enjoyed a democratically elected government. American combat forces were gone. American POWs were set free. America promised South Vietnam that we would come to its aid if North Vietnam violated the agreement. It looked a lot like victory.

However, the North Vietnamese had not one particle, not one gluon of an intention of adhering to the treaty. They staged increasingly strong attacks in South Vietnam and, while the United States did nothing, were re-armed by Moscow and attacked and overran South Vietnam. The American Congress, controlled by Nixon’s opponents in the Democratic Party, which had driven him from the White House, voted to renege on our treaty obligations and cut aid to our South Vietnamese allies.

They forfeited outright the peace for which almost 60,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fought and died. They accepted no responsibility for the atrocities that followed.

It is the raison d’être of Mr. Burns’ film to justify the cowardly and morally bankrupt left that supported the communist invasion of South Vietnam and turned its back on the murder, imprisonment, and misery of our former allies in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. One cannot be against the South Vietnamese without being for the communists who conquered and enslaved 17 million people. Only by painting the war as immoral, illegal, and un-winnable, and the South Vietnamese government as evil and inept, can the American left hope to rest in peace. It shouldn’t bet the farm on that.

Jenkins’ fourth and fifth points are kind of the core of the anti-Vietnam War protesters’ arguments.


Good news and bad news begins with the good news:

Nine months after President Trump promised to defeat ISIS “quickly and effectively,” U.S.-backed forces captured Raqqa, which until Tuesday had served as the ISIS capital. The battle now is over who deserves credit: Trump or President Obama.

Trump, not surprisingly, claims it for himself: “It had to do with the people I put in and it had to do with rules of engagement,” Trump said in a radio interview.

Before dismissing this as typical Trump self-aggrandizement, consider that for several years Obama insisted that a quick and decisive victory against ISIS was all but impossible.

After belittling ISIS as a “JV” team and then being surprised by its advances, Obama finally got around to announcing a strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militant Islamic group.

As his strategy dragged on and seemed to go nowhere, Obama kept telling the country that this was just the nature of the beast.

“It will take time to eradicate a cancer like (ISIS). It will take time to root them out.”

“This is a long-term and extremely complex challenge.”

“This will not be quick.”

“There will be setbacks and there will be successes.”

“We must be patient and flexible in our efforts; this is a multiyear fight and there will be challenges along the way.”

And he kept insisting that winning the war against ISIS has as much to do with public relations as it did weapons. “This broader challenge of countering extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas.”

What Obama didn’t say is that reason defeating ISIS was taking so long was of how he was fighting it.

A former senior military commander in the region told the Washington Examiner that the Obama White House was micromanaging the war “to the degree that it was just as bad, if not worse, than during the Johnson administration.” Johnson, you will recall, once bragged that “they can’t bomb an outhouse in Vietnam without my permission.”

Contrast this with Trump. Rather than talk endlessly about how long and hard the fight would be, Trump said during his campaign that, if elected, he would convene his “top generals and give them a simple instruction. They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS.”

Once in office, Trump made several changes in the way the war was fought, the most important of which were to loosen the rules of engagement and give more decision-making authority to battlefield commanders.

Joshua Keating, writing in the liberal commentary site Slate, noted that Trump had “instructed the Pentagon to loosen the rules of engagement for airstrikes to the minimum required by international law, eliminated White House oversight procedures meant to protect civilians, and ordered the CIA to resume covert targeted killing missions.” (He meant it as a criticism.)

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who can hardly be called a Trump lap dog, praised what he said was “a dramatic shift in a very positive way — away from the political micromanaging of the Obama years to freeing up generals and troops to destroy ISIS.”

The result of this shift seems pretty obvious. In July, ISIS was booted from Mosul, and this week Raqqa was liberated. For all intents and purposes, ISIS has been defeated. Trump did in nine months what Obama couldn’t in the previous three years.

Trump’s critics will insist that victory was inevitable, given that Obama had severely degraded ISIS over the previous years, and that all Trump did was continue Obama’s strategy.

But the bottom line is that while Obama preached patience, Trump promised a swift end to ISIS, and then delivered on it.

The “yeah, but” comes from the Associated Press:

Over several nights in September, some 10,000 men, women and children fled areas under Islamic State control, hurrying through fields in northern Syria and risking fire from government troops to reach a province held by an al Qaeda-linked group.

For an untold number of battle-hardened jihadis fleeing with the civilians, the escape to Idlib province marked a homecoming of sorts, an opportunity to continue waging war alongside an extremist group that shares much of the Islamic State’s ideology — and has benefited from its prolonged downfall.

While the US-led coalition and Russian-backed Syrian troops have been focused on driving IS from the country’s east, an al Qaeda-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee has consolidated its control over Idlib, and may be looking to return to Osama bin Laden’s strategy of attacking the West.

Syrian activists with contacts in the area say members of the Levant Liberation Committee vouched for fleeing IS fighters they had known before the two groups split four years ago and allowed them to join, while others were sent to jail. The activists spoke on condition of anonymity because they still visit the area and fear reprisals from the jihadis.

IS has lost nearly all the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, including the northern Iraqi city of Mosul — the largest it ever held — and the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, which once served as its de facto capital. Tens of thousands of its fighters have been killed on the battlefield, but an untold number have escaped. As it gradually disintegrates, theological splits have also emerged within the organization, including the rise of a faction that blames its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for the setbacks. …

“Al Qaeda will welcome ISIS members with open arms, those are battled-hardened with potent field experience,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of “ISIS: A History.” …Two Iraqi intelligence officials told The Associated Press in Baghdad that bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, sent an envoy to Syria to convince IS fighters to defect and join his group. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said this might have been the reason behind an audiotape released by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Sept. 28, in which he ordered his fighters not to “retreat, run away, negotiate or surrender.”

Benny Avni has more bad news:

On Monday, Iraqi forces trounced Kurdish fighters and emerged victorious in a short fight for control of the oil-rich northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk.

And they couldn’t have done it without us. …

Problem is, the Iraqi army wasn’t alone in defeating the Kurds. Much of the fighting was done by Iraqi Shiite militias — many of which swear allegiance to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran’s vanguard, even as they, too, get American arms. …

And now Kirkuk, a key regional asset, is about to be dominated by militias that answer to [Qassem] Suleimani, the IRGC general charged with exporting Iran’s Shiite Islamist revolution to the world.

The easy victory over Kirkuk and America’s indifference could encourage a further Iranian-led push into Kurdish areas. If so, expect fighting to become increasingly bloody. And the longer the crisis remains unresolved, the more Iran gets involved — and the deeper its influence over the Abadi government becomes.

[Prime Minister Haider al] Abadi has long juggled alliances, hoping to keep ties with both Washington and Tehran. But only Americans can force him to face reality and acknowledge Kurdish aspirations. Only America can facilitate a negotiated agreement to prevent a long, bloody war between Baghdad and Erbil — which will force Abadi into Tehran’s arms.

America has spent too much blood and fortune in Iraq to allow Iran to take over now that ISIS is on the verge of extinction.

From National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on down, Trump is surrounded by advisers well-versed in the nuanced realities of Iraq. They need to take charge ASAP and get Erbil and Baghdad talking.

Otherwise, Soleimani will do it his way.

Presty the DJ for Oct. 19

We begin with one of the stranger episodes of live radio, Arthur Godfrey’s on-air firing of one of his singers today in 1953:

The number one song today in 1959 was customized for sales in 28 markets, including BuffaloChicagoClevelandDenverDetroitNew OrleansNew YorkPittsburgh and San Francisco:

The number one British album today in 1967 was not the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; it was the soundtrack to “The Sound of Music,” two years after the movie was released, on the soundtracks’ 137th week on the charts:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Oct. 19”

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