Recalling, alas, the good old days

Now I'm not one of those old farts who like to act like everything was better when I was a kid, even if I am totally convinced that Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime would have literally killed Oscar de la Hoya, and that Ken Griffey Jr. would never have started in center field during Willie Mays' tenure.

And even if I believe that Henry Rollins, the rock-star "writer," with John Grisham helping out, couldn't have sharpened one of Hemingway's pencils, and that Marvin Gaye gargled better than Eminem sings, I'm willing to try and meet the current day on its own terms.

But it is hard not to think about certain things that in the really old days seemed better.

I don't think the world was a better place when countries had kings. But at least way back in the day, when a country started a war that would eventually profit the rich and powerful, the rich and powerful weren't getting student deferments or not showing up to fly airplanes. They were up front at the battle.

Who can forget Henry V's speech in Shakespeare's play of the same name?

You know, the one where Henry V, England's king at the time, actually led his men into battle. Before which he said: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother..."

King George II was the last British king to lead his troops into battle, at Dettingen, in 1743.

George Washington, our first president, was elected after he fought the British throughout the late 1770s and early 1780s. Washington didn't watch Valley Forge from his palace on the Potomac.

Nowadays, we have war-mongering leaders who, almost to a man, "had other priorities" during their generation's war, the Vietnam conflict.

I think anyone who wants war should fight in it. It's easy to be for a conflict you and yours don't risk dying in.

Things might not have been better back there with Henry V. But they were simpler.

Speaking of simpler: Once, not all that long ago, before television, American politicians had one, maybe two speechwriters. At least half the time, what they said was what they were thinking. They didn't wait for polls to decide what they thought about the issues of their day. Now they carry entire "teams" of advisors, whose main function seems to be spinning facts into favorable fantasies.

Take Christine Gregoire, the state's attorney general, who wishes to ascend to governor.

Turns out Gregoire joined a whites-only sorority at the University of Washington back in the '60s, during the civil-rights struggle. Not only joined, but assumed the position of heading up the whites-only party on campus. She even told new recruits about the whites-only stipulation. The sorority didn't change its whites-only position until years after Gregoire had graduated.

When the news came out, Gregoire, instead of simply admitting what she'd done and pleading her youth as an excuse - saying, for example, "I was young and callow; I made a mistake" - said, via her spinmakers, that she joined to fight the sorority's racist policies "from within."

In other words, her people are taking a position that on the face is either bigotry, cowardice or apathy, as in "I'll get mine" and trying to turn it into some unspecified heroism.

For this kind of advice she pays good money?

Her response would be like Bill Clinton saying he smoked marijuana, with or without inhaling, so that he could bust other pot smokers for the FBI.

Or like hapless Mariners manager Bob Melvin - who in only a few years has, along with ownership, destroyed the best baseball team Seattle ever had - saying he piloted the team deep into last place (despite incredible hitting heroics from Ichiro) to test Mariners fans' resolve. "I wanted to see if the fans would support a bad team," my mythical Melvin might say, were he to employ Gregoire's advisory team.

And now, after this sophistry, folks in the local black and political communities argue about whether Gregoire is a racist.

That's not the issue.

The issue is she can't admit she made a mistake - and worse, tried to spin her youthful foolishness into something resembling social bravery.

Finally, the U.S. Census Bureau has released some new figures that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who reads this column regularly.

It seems that an additional 1.3 million Americans slipped under the poverty line last year, and another 1.4 million joined the legions with no health insurance.

Locally, the Census Bureau said that 14.3 percent of Washingtonians lack any kind of health insurance, and that 11.4 percent live in grinding poverty.

And despite facile optimism from rich talking heads in Washington, D.C., experts say that as long as the trend is toward most new jobs being in the service industry, these patterns will only get worse.

Some recovery! But you can't hold it in the emergency room.

You can write Dennis Wilken at[[In-content Ad]]