Old-School Joe

Joe Biden is an “old school” politician.  First elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware in 1972 — that’s almost 50 years ago, folks — he traces his roots to a different political era.  Joe Biden has been involved in politics at the national level for longer than just about anyone you can think of, and certainly longer than anyone else who might be a serious candidate for President in 2020.

screen_shot_2019-04-02_at_10.23.19_pm_0It’s pretty clear that Joe Biden is what you might call a “hands-on” politician, the kind who likes the handshakes and arm around the shoulder photos and ropeline grappling with admirers.  That’s why you can find countless photos of Joe Biden in physical contact with somebody — some of whom look happy about it, and some of whom look very uncomfortable — and why some of the people who are attempting to explain his current predicament say things like “he hugs everybody.”  It’s a political style that was commonplace in decades past, when some politicians believed that the personal touch and laying of hands was a way to establish a memorable connection with voters and establish power relationships with other politicians.  The backslaps and shoulder grabs were also a way to allow the politician to remain the center of attention, even when someone else was getting an award or making a speech.  Such politicians embodied the old comment about the politician who so craved attention that he wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.

When you’ve been playing the political games for as long as Joe Biden has, perhaps you lose touch with prevailing views, and perhaps you lose a good sense of the line between an appropriate contact and creepy, personal-space-invading behavior.  No one, male or female, is going to object to handshakes, or a backslap or tap on the shoulder.  But grabbing the upper arms or shoulders of a woman to pull her close, smelling and kissing the hair of a woman, and leaning in so that your face is inches away clearly cross the line into more intimate contact and should be reserved for close friends and colleagues.  The fact that Joe Biden was routinely engaging in such conduct with complete strangers, from biker women in diners to political candidates at rallies to the wives of people appointed to federal jobs, shows that he simply didn’t — and perhaps still doesn’t — understand what are long-standing, and commonly accepted, social boundaries.

Joe Biden’s old-school roots may help to explain his behavior toward women, but they don’t excuse them.  Part of being an effective politician is having sensitivity to what is going on, and how society — and standards and boundaries — are changing.  Joe Biden apparently lacks that quality.  His clutching and space-invading behavior with women is creepy and a real problem, but in my view the fact that he apparently didn’t understand that until now raises deeper concerns about him.

Thin-Skinned

One of the most curious aspects of the first few days of the Trump Administration is the little dust-up about the size of the crowd at the new President’s inauguration.  Trump thinks the news media has intentionally underestimated the crowd to try to make him look less popular than he really is; the news media points to photos of the National Mall that indicate that the inaugural crowd was not as big as the crowd for the Women’s March the next day or the crowd for the Obama inauguration in 2009.

It’s a weird story, because no one really should care about the size of the crowd.  It’s an insignificant fact that has no lasting impact on the new President or the country.  No historian includes size of inaugural crowd as one of the factors used in ranking our Presidents from best to worst.

So why does Trump care about something that would otherwise be quickly and forever flushed down the memory hole?  I think it’s because he’s someone who’s convinced of his popularity — he just won the election, after all — and he’s a bit thin-skinned about suggestions that he’s not as popular as he thinks he is.  That’s why he’s struggling to let it go, and also keeps bringing up the claim that he would have won the overall popular vote if millions of purportedly illegal voters hadn’t cast their ballots.  Trump denies that he’s thin-skinned, of course, but the reaction to the inaugural crowd reports make it difficult to agree with his self-assessment.

I think this is one of the areas where Trump’s lack of a political career has had a real effect.  Most career politicians have gotten used to absorbing the slings and arrows of outrageous statements after a few years in the political arena.  By the time they get to the point of running for president, they’ve developed an outer coating tougher than a rhinoceros hide that allows them to slough off criticism.  But Trump hasn’t had that experience, and hasn’t developed that protective layer that allows him to ignore the slights and the barbs.

Trump presumably will develop a thick skin soon; it’s hard to imagine you could be President for long without it.  The concern for me is whether political opponents or foreign leaders will see Trump’s apparent hypersensitivity as an opportunity to be exploited:  can they goad our touchy President into taking a reckless step by playing to his pride and ego?  That’s why I’m hoping Mr. Trump stops worrying about crowd size — at least publicly — and starts to show that he’s not troubled by the little things.

Graham Scram

Lindsay Graham has announced that he is suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016.

It’s kind of a sad thing, when you think about it.  Graham has been a Senator for years, and he was somebody who seemed to have a nose for getting his face in the press.  He was featured regularly on the morning news shows and Sunday morning shows, and he tried to stake out a niche in the crowded Republican field as the guy who was tough on terrorism and hawkish on foreign policy but also willing to be bipartisan at times.

lindsey-graham2Unfortunately for Graham, his pitch just didn’t work.  He never made it to the stage with the big boy frontrunners in the Republican debates — although some observers said he won some of those undercard debates that almost nobody watched — and he never really registered as more than a blip in the polls.  Now his campaign is on the scrap heap, along with those of Rick Perry and Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal.

You could poke fun at Lindsay Graham, I suppose, and question his ego, and wonder why he ever thought he could possibly be elected President in the first place.  But sometimes politicians have an itch that they just need to scratch.  Graham obviously thought that his particular combination of message and personality and positions might strike a chord with the country as a whole.  He was wrong.

So let’s not make too much fun of Senator Graham.  Somebody’s got to want to be President, or our system wouldn’t work.  He took a stab at it, at least, and he fell short.  Now somebody else will be the nominee.

A few more departures of candidates, and we’ll be able to fit all of the Republican candidates on one stage, just in time for the first caucuses and primaries that are scheduled for the first months of 2016.

Batten down the hatches, folks — the campaign is about to start in earnest.

Bloggers And The First Amendment

Senator Lindsey Graham — who seems to be quoted about every topic under the sun — misspoke earlier this week.  In discussing a “shield law ” that Congress is considering in the wake of the Department of Justice’s aggressive pursuit of journalist email and other news-gathering information, Graham asked whether “any blogger out there saying anything” deserves First Amendment protection.  He later corrected himself and said that every blogger enjoys freedom of speech.

Of course, that’s right.  Every American enjoys freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, and there isn’t any exclusion for bloggers.  Graham’s misstep, though, is one of those instances where a politician’s statement reveals a deeper truth about their actual beliefs.  Graham is an old-line politician who is struggling with the modern world, where the traditional daily newspapers and nightly network broadcasts that he grew up with are fighting a losing battle to hold on to an audience, and any person with a computer and a camera can contribute to the national dialogue about issues and events.  At the root of his comments are these core questions:  how do we deal with these new guys, and who are they, really?

Bloggers must be a pain for politicians.  The traditional methods of controlling the media — having a press secretary who interacts with those pesky reporters and answers their questions, wining and dining the big-time reporters and throwing them a scoop now and then to stay on their good side — just don’t work with bloggers.  There are too many of them, and they don’t go to press conferences or call press secretaries for comments.  They tend to be out in the real world, reacting to what politicians are actually saying, observing the politician actually interacting with the citizenry, and (often) reading the bills and committee reports to try to understand what the politicians are actually doing.  The teeming mass of bloggers makes political manipulation of the press a lot harder.

That doesn’t mean that bloggers are any better or purer than traditional reporters — just different.  Most bloggers come at the issues from a clear ideological bent, and their stuff should be read and weighed with that reality in mind.  Their postings aren’t edited by professionals or subjected to the fact-checking and publication standards that exist at good daily newspapers.  But there is no denying that bloggers — awkward stepchildren of the modern world that they are — have made, and increasingly are making, significant contributions to the national dialogue about the issues of the day.

I’m glad Senator Graham corrected his misstatement and recognized what should be undeniable:  bloggers, like all citizens, are protected by the First Amendment.  It’s just a bit troubling when one of our elected leaders makes such a fundamental blunder in the first place.

Voting For A Liar

Anthony Weiner has declared that he is running for Mayor of New York.  You’ll no doubt remember him.  He’s the former Congressman who sent compromising photos of himself via text message, then lied about what he had done and kept stringing out the lie, to an increasingly skepticism, until finally he was forced to admit the truth and resign.

He says he’s learned his lesson, and he wants to get back into the fray and fight for the people of New York.  But why would any voter want to pull the lever for a politician who showed such contempt for voters that he stuck to obvious falsehoods until it no longer become possible?  Who would believe him?

The New York Daily News story linked above says that Weiner may be a formidable candidate, because he has lots of money left over from his campaign war chest when he resigned from Congress.  I refuse to believe that money is going to cause voters to forget that this is the same guy who was serving in an important office only two years ago when he decided that lying to the electorate was in his best interest.  I hope I’m not wrong.

As far as Weiner himself goes, I think his decision to run for Mayor is pathetic.  If he had any class, he would retreat to a private life — but the pathetic thing is that he can’t.  Whether it is because he has nothing else that he really can do, or because he craves the limelight, or because he has a war chest and figures he may as well spend it, Weiner can’t resist opening himself and his wife up to intense ridicule.  He deserves it, but his wife doesn’t.  If he had any class and decency, he would recognize that.  That he apparently doesn’t recognize it also says something important about why this guy should never be the Mayor of a major American city.

A Peek Inside The Brittle, Thin-Skinned D.C. Bubble

Every once in a while we hear about a story that gives us a good sense of the warped world of politicians and journalists in Washington, D.C.  The recent snit between Bob Woodward and the White House is one of those stories.

In case you missed this earth-shattering tale, Bob Woodward — the Watergate reporter who has since made a career out of writing turgid, insider-based accounts of Washington events — was getting ready to write about “sequestration,” the Rube Goldberg process by which $85 billion in “automatic” spending cuts will be made today because our current President can’t lead and our current Congress can’t legislate.  When Woodward told a White House aide his view on the genesis of the “sequestration” concept and the President’s approach to it, he says the aide yelled at him for a half hour, then sent Woodward an email that stated, among other things, that Woodward would “regret” staking out his position on the issue.  Woodward, miffed, disclosed the exchange, which he saw as a veiled threat.

What does this tell us about Washington, D.C.?  It tells us that the White House is focused more on spin than solving problems and is amazingly thin-skinned about criticism.  “Sequestration” — the implementation of “automatic” spending cuts that were consciously designed to be so draconian and blunderbuss that they would force the parties to sit down and reach an agreement — is an idiotic way for our government to operate.  I don’t blame the White House for trying to blur its role in putting such lunacy into place.  The Democrat-controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House, are engaging in similar juvenile finger-pointing.  The notion of accepting responsibility and reaching agreement on a rational approach evidently is too adult a concept to hold sway in the weird world of Washington.

But what of Bob Woodward? He received a dressing down from some presidential flunky and then got an email he thought was ill-considered.  Big deal!  I guess the politicians and reporters in D.C. are so chummy that a few strong words are deeply wounding and cause for scandal.  Maybe that’s our problem.  The reporters and the politicians in the D.C. fishbowl are so used to stroking each other that real reporting never gets done and real accountability never gets assigned.  I’d be perfectly happy if more politicians and aides with bloated egos did some yelling at reporters tracking down the news, and more reporters shrugged off the tirades and printed what they and their editors decided was the real story.

Michelle Obama And The Oscars

On Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, First Lady Michelle Obama was the surprise presenter of the award for Best Picture.  What isn’t a surprise is that, in the wake of the Academy Awards show, some people have criticized her appearance as frivolous and not befitting her role as First Lady.

I’m heartily sick and tired of this kind of sanctimonious stuff.  I don’t see anything wrong with a First Lady participating in the Academy Awards broadcast if she wants to do so (although I’m not sure that, if I were the First Gentleman, I’d want to be part of the phony, kissy-face Hollywood scene).  It’s not as if Michelle Obama — or any other First Lady — is expected to be pondering weighty affairs of state at all hours of the day and night.  Even her husband, who unlike Michelle Obama was elected to his current leadership position, is not begrudged an occasional vacation, golf outing, or basketball game.  Why should anyone care if the First Lady wants to spend an hour of her time appearing on an awards show?

People who think First Ladies should act like Mamie Eisenhower are kidding themselves.  The line between politicians and celebrities has long since been blurred to non-existence.  Presidents and presidential candidates and First Ladies have been appearing on talk shows for years now; how is the Oscars broadcast materially different?  Hollywood is one of America’s most successful industries, one that employs a lot of people and generates a lot of income.  Would people object if the First Lady presented an award to, say, the Teacher of the Year or recognized the owner of a successful business that opened a new plant?  If not, why object to the First Lady’s acknowledgement of the film industry?

In our struggling country, Michelle Obama’s decision to present the Best Picture Oscar is the least of our concerns.  If the First Lady wants to share a bit in the glitz and glamor of Oscar Night, I’m not troubled by her decision.  Now, can we start talking about the real, important issues of the day?

Because It’s All About Him

Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s bizarre comments about rape a few days ago showed him to be ignorant.  His refusal to withdraw from the race despite being urged to do so by virtually every fellow Republican, from presidential candidate Mitt Romney on down, shows him to be an egotistical fool — in short, a hack politician.

Akin not only isn’t withdrawing, his campaign website seeks to raise $24,000 in 24 hours to “help Todd fight back against the party bosses.”   Huh?  This guy thinks he’s being unfairly railroaded by GOP leaders, as opposed to being asked to do the honorable thing and quit, so that the Missouri Senate campaign, or even the national campaign, won’t be sidetracked by continuing discussion of his idiotic comments?  (And who would possibly make a contribution in response to such an absurd appeal?)

Akin’s antics just reaffirm why so many of us instinctively despise and distrust career politicians.  We know that they will say and do just about anything to get elected, and the normal human reactions that spur many of our actions — reactions like shame, and embarrassment, for making absurd statements — don’t seem to affect them.  Like so many other politicians of both parties, Akin professes to stand for certain positions on the issues and depicts himself as a selfless public servant who just wanted to represent the people — but when those politicians say (or do) something so stupid that the only decent response is to withdraw or resign, the facade of public service is ripped away and the ugly, overwhelming narcissism and selfishness is exposed for all to see.

Todd Akin obviously could care less about his party, his positions on the issues, or his ability to be an effective legislator.  Instead, he cares only about himself.  If he doesn’t recognize reality and quit, I hope Missouri voters give him an historic drubbing come November.

Inexplicable Vanity, And Santorum’s Folly

Last night Mitt Romney won three more primaries, in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.  He is now even farther ahead in the race for delegates — so far ahead, in fact, that his nearest challenger, Rick Santorum, would need to win 80 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination.  Does anyone — outside of the Santorum family, perhaps — seriously think we are on the brink of the tidal wave of previously undetected support for Rick Santorum needed for that to happen?  Nevertheless, Santorum has vowed to continue the race.

That kind of stubborn and inexplicable vanity, I think, is one thing that distinguishes politicians from normal human beings.  Why does Santorum think that he is so special that he must continue a race that is, for all practical purposes, already ended?  He was crushed in his last general election, when he sought reelection to his Senate seat in Pennsylvania.  He’s now been beaten in the majority of the primaries and caucuses in this 2012 primary season.  Why doesn’t he go gently into that good night?

The problem, I suspect, is that politicians spend most of their time in a cocoon of staffers, supporters, and sycophants.  They go to rallies where people cheer their every word.  Everyone they encounter tells them they are great, and they come to believe it.  And when election results are inconsistent with that belief, the results are rationalized away as the result of unlucky national trends, or being outspent, or ineffective advertising, or other factors that don’t reflect on the politicians themselves.  They cling to the belief that if only voters really knew them and truly understood their positions, they would be elected by acclamation.

I can’t psychoanalyze Rick Santorum.  The same goes for Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who also are continuing their quixotic campaigns.  They all need to realize, however, that they aren’t essential to the future of our republic.  Voters do understand them and their positions and have decided to vote for someone else.

They also need to consider one other point:  voters make judgments not only on the basis of TV commercials and debate blunders, but also because they weigh whether the candidate’s conduct seems to reflect the qualities we think a President should possess.  Being unable to recognize reality isn’t one of them.

The President And The Governor

When I read the political news, I often feel like I’m in high school again.  That was my reaction when I read the story this week about an apparently testy exchange between President Obama and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on an airport tarmac.

President Obama, fresh from his State of the Union speech, flew to Arizona to talk about his policy proposals.  Brewer met him at the airport tarmac, and the two had a terse discussion.  The President’s press secretary says the President told Brewer her version of a 2010 Oval Office meeting they had, described in a book Brewer recently wrote, was inaccurate.  Brewer says she went to meet the President to talk about “Arizona’s comeback” and instead he focused on the book and seemed “thin-skinned” and “a little tense.”  The President says the little snit was “no big deal.”  No kidding!

I find this kind of story embarrassing, because it exposes the unflattering qualities of our political leaders.  With all of the problems besetting America and Arizona, why would the President need to bring up the characterization of a meeting that happened two years ago in a book that almost no one has even heard of, much less read?  Isn’t he big enough to shrug off such things?  If not, how much time is he spending fretting about other minor stuff?  As for Governor Brewer, can’t she give the President a break and simply report that they had an animated discussion without calling him “thin-skinned”?  Couldn’t she be a big enough person to resist the temptation to score cheap political points from this silly, meaningless incident?

Next thing you know, we’ll learn that the President and the Governor were passing notes in study hall.

High Expectations And Electric Football

Life can be difficult if you approach it with high expectations.  You vote for a new President expecting him to live up to his promises, for example, and inevitably you are disappointed.  That’s not a problem for me, because I grew up with Electric Football.

Electric Football was a toy, but its ads portrayed it as more than that.  You would be a 12-year-old coach of a team of hardened football players.  You would put them on a beautiful green field of gridiron glory.  They would run plays that you designed, that pitted your football prowess against that of your opponent — tough up-the-gut fullback plunges, all-out blitzes, and the occasional, beautiful breakaway sprint down the sideline to the end zone.  This was a toy that UJ and I had to have.

We finally got it one Christmas.  We opened it, found the beautiful green field of Electric Football Stadium — and then found a bunch of cheap, flimsy plastic football players.  The football itself was made out of lighter-than-air pink foam.  We tried running a few plays, which meant placing your players on the field and then turning a switch to start the Electric Football Excitement.  The field would throb with an annoying hum, the surface would vibrate, and the players would rattle around.  No matter what the call, be it Cleveland Browns sweep, tight buttonhook, or long bomb, every play ended the same way — with every player moving randomly on the surface, some toppling over, and most eventually clustered on the sidelines, facing outward.

What a rip-off!  We quickly realized that there was no true gridiron glory to be had with Electric Football, so we decided to make the best of it.  We designed grossly illegal formations like the flying wedge or the ultimate volcano, in hopes a getting a player to the end zone.  When even that got boring, we gave up, put the Electric Football in the closet, and promptly forgot about it.

So, when it comes to our politicians, my expectations are low.  I anticipate random activity, I’m happy if they aren’t too lightweight and their humming isn’t too annoying — and I’ll gladly forget they exist after too many disappointments.

The Science Of Fake Smiles

What really distinguishes a fake smile from the genuine article?  And why do people give fake smiles, anyway?  Science offers some answers.

We’ve all seen fake smiles — in school pictures, on the faces of clerks taking orders at Starbucks, from politicians, and in countless other scenarios.  It turns out that people are better at detecting fake smiles in photos than in real life, because we tend to study photos more closely.  And the key indicator of fakiness is not the position of the grinning mouth and bared teeth, but the eyes.  A muscle around the eye called obicularis occuli contracts when a real smile flashes across the face, giving the eyes that crinkle that separates the real deal smile from the pretenders.  Most people who aren’t actors, con men, or psychopaths just can’t control that muscle.

Studies also indicate that women smile more than men.  The theory is that girls are encouraged from an early age to be more expressive emotionally than boys.  Girls also learn faster than boys that a good fake smile can be an appropriate, polite, social response under certain circumstances — like when Gramma gives you a lame gift for your birthday.  In view of that, it also should not be surprising that women tend to be more adept than clueless male brutes at detecting fake smiles in others and accurately determining what a person’s smile really means.

It follows that if people learn to give fake smiles, and then realize that people often can’t tell the difference, they may decide to wear a fake smile as a matter of course.  When you walk down a Midwestern street and see people with smiles on their faces, how many of them are fake?  No way to tell for sure, of course — but studies also show that people smile much more infrequently when they are alone.

Debt Ceiling Phrases That Really Irritate Me And Should Now Be Tossed Into The Dustbin Of History

I’m glad the debt ceiling “debate” is over, and not just because it was an embarrassment for all concerned.  Equally important, it was becoming intolerable to listen to the news because the repetitive sound bites just set my teeth on edge.

It’s bad enough that our elected representatives are so hapless, but what is really unbearable is their leaden insistence on repeating the same tired talking points with the same limp and irksome phrases.  Aren’t there any politicians who are deft in the use of metaphor and analogy?  I know we don’t have any Lincolns and Churchills, but is it too much to ask for some linguistic creativity and variety from our uninspiring political leaders?

Here are some phrases that have really gotten under my skin:

*  “Kick the can down the road”

*  “Double down”

*  “Balanced approach”

* “Turning around an aircraft carrier”

*  “Banana Republic”

I’m open to suggestions of additional phrases, of course.  From here on, anyone caught using any of these offending phrases will be sentenced to a week of non-stop viewing of C-SPAN coverage of the House of Representatives.

Weiner’s World, Finally Resigned To The Inevitable

Anthony Weiner finally recognized the unavoidable result of his ill-advised behavior and resigned today.  His announcement of his resignation turned into something of a circus, complete with hecklers, catcalls, booing, and cheering.  It brought to an embarrassing end the latest mystifying political scandal.

What lessons can be learned from this sordid story?  Two points seem obvious.  First, the lie and the cover-up are almost always more damning than the original misdeed.  Weiner’s behavior in sending intimate photos and messages to unknown internet acquaintances was extremely weird, but he probably could have survived it if he had not aggressively lied about his Twitter account being hacked in an attempt to avoid disclosure of his conduct.  For most people, his knowing, repeated, straight-faced lies were far more disturbing that his strange activities on the web.

Second, recognize when you are going down, then pick the time and structure the message.  Weiner’s admission that he had engaged in the unseemly conduct and lied to the public made it inevitable that he would have to leave office — particularly when Weiner must have known that other pathetic photos and internet dalliances would come to light.  By vowing to fight, Weiner only exposed himself, his family, and his party to ongoing ridicule, shame, and distraction.  If he had resigned at the outset, he would have spared everyone a humiliating spectacle.  And why publicly read a statement in a forum where you could be jeered and spoofed by shock jocks and other bottom-feeders at the media trough?  Weiner would have been well-advised to follow Jim Tressel’s lead, issue a high-minded written statement, and leave his position out of the media spotlight.

So, Anthony Weiner exits stage left.  When will the next Washington, D.C. media frenzy begin?

The Normal Rules Do Not Apply — Until They Do

We hear about the Anthony Weiners and Dominique Strauss-Kahns, the John Edwardes  and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, the Bernie Madoffs and stud athletes and CEOs who break the rules or break the laws, and we shake our heads and wonder:  How could they be so reckless and brazen?

I suspect that part of the reason is that such people simply have not lived in the real world for a very long time.  Even if they began somewhere close to normal, for years their lives have been spent in a kind of protective cocoon, surrounded by aides and boosters and supporters and staffers and contributors.  People arrange their meals and social functions for them.  They really don’t need to carry cash anymore.  They get chauffered to events in limousines.  When they arrive at a restaurant, a guy whispers in their ear to let him know if there is any problem — any problem whatsoever! — and it will be taken care of immediately.  They fly first class, get to board when they want, and sip their complimentary champagne and try to ignore the stream of disheveled coach passengers who walk by.  Why shouldn’t these folks feel that they are different from normal people?  They live lives that are different from normal people.  And when they make little missteps, those missteps always — always! — get taken care of by members of their retinue.  The missed tests get retaken.  The tickets are torn up.  The meetings get delayed to accommodate their late arrival.  Their peccadilloes are forgiven through cash payments or side deals or secret agreements.

But then, at some point, a line gets crossed.  The police get called.  A send button is inadvertently hit and reckless private communications become public.  A person who is facing jail time and knows about the misdeeds decides to roll over and cooperate with the crusading prosecutor in hopes of getting a reduced sentence.  And then the mystified member of the elite finds that the cadre of fixers and sycophants aren’t there anymore, that their confident assurances, angry threats, wheedling, bullying, and lies, don’t work anymore.  Suddenly, they are being treated like the common people who, for years, they have seen only in passing or at carefully arranged events — and they realize, to their amazement, that those common people seem to be enjoying their travails.

I imagine that the one common emotion felt by every member of the mighty who has been brought low is . . . astonishment.