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Good morning, it’s Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Eighty-eight years ago today, in the then-sleepy California agricultural town of San Jose, Kunisaku Mineta and his wife, Kane Watanabe, welcomed a baby boy into the world.

They named him Norman Yoshio Mineta in homage to the culture they came from and the one they had embraced. Although his Japanese-born parents were prevented from obtaining official U.S. citizenship by the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, Norm himself was born here -- as American as could be. I mean that literally. My mother was born up the road in San Francisco three-and-a-half years after Norm Mineta. Her parents were immigrants, too. What I’m saying is that Norman Y. Mineta was exactly as American as my mother.

Yet, when military forces of the Empire of Japan crossed the Pacific Ocean to bomb Pearl Harbor, Virginia Oprian and her Romanian-born parents were not carted off to “relocation” camps. But that was the fate of the Minetas and tens of thousands of other families. Ten-year-old Norm found himself on a San Jose freight train platform dressed in his Cub Scout uniform clutching his most prized possessions: a baseball glove, ball, and bat. To a kid it seemed an adventure -- right up until a military policeman confiscated the bat on the grounds it might be used as a weapon. “It’s okay,” said his father, a successful San Jose insurance man. “We’ll get another one.”

Norman Mineta did eventually get another baseball bat, but it took more than 50 years, a story I’ll relate in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * *

Bloomberg Will Hit an Iceberg. Charles Lipson sees more pitfalls than possibility in the former NYC mayor’s flirtation with a White House run.

Impeachment Halts America's Agenda, Holds Due Process Hostage. Bryant “Corky” Messner argues that Democrats’ impeachment process has run right past the cornerstone of fairness in our system of government.

The Great Conservative Crack-Up Over China.  RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny asserts that Gordon Chang, the much hailed author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” has got it all wrong.

Let Export-Import Bank Die. Also in RCM, Michael Lambert calls the Ex-Im the poster child for crony corporate welfare.

No, U.S. Doesn’t Have the World’s Highest Child Poverty Rate. In RealClearPolicy, Angela Rachidi counters assertions made by Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker on the campaign trail.

What We’ve Learned From Ancient Egypt’s Oldest Brewery. Ross Pomeroy has the details in RealClearScience.

* * *

The Minetas, like many issei (first generation) and nisei (second generation) families living on the West Coast, had just returned from church on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when they heard that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. “It was the first time I ever saw my father cry,” Norm Mineta later recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t understand why the land of my birth attacked the land of my heart.’”

In the spring of 1942, that heart would be stretched to the breaking point at Santa Anita’s racetrack where the Japanese-American families were sorted and temporarily housed, and later at their Wyoming internment camp at a place with an ironic name: Heart Mountain.

You may know the outlines of the rest of the story: If not, I’ll briefly summarize Norm Mineta’s illustrious career in public service:

After the war, the Minetas returned to their home. Norm was elected student body president of San Jose High School, majored in business at the University of California, served in Korea as part of an intelligence unit in the U.S. Army, joined the family insurance business, was appointed the first non-white member of the San Jose City Council, became the first Asian-American mayor of a major U.S. city on the mainland, and was elected in 1974 to Congress where he earned a reputation as a hard worker and effective Democratic lawmaker who helped shape and shepherd important legislation into law.

It is a measure of his effectiveness that the two most important statutes he was instrumental in writing and getting passed were signed by Republican presidents.

One was the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 -- the most sweeping update to transportation policy since the Eisenhower administration. The other was HR 442 -- the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which the U.S. government finally apologized for internment and recompensed the Japanese Americans ripped from their homes amid the xenophobic wartime hysteria of 1942.

What is ripping this country apart today is a political hyper-partisanship that is leading to national incivility and intolerance. Here, too, Norm Mineta shows us the right path. After leaving Congress, he served as secretary of the Department of Commerce under President Clinton. He was in George W. Bush’s Cabinet, too, and was the cool-headed secretary of transportation on 9/11.

Ah, but you’re asking: “What about the baseball bat?”

Years ago, while I was covering the California congressional delegation for the San Jose Mercury News, Norm told me (and others) how it had been confiscated. This sad story was on my mind one day while I browsed in an out-of-print bookstore. There, among the stacks, was a book of Ansel Adams photographs from the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar. I didn’t know its true value, but as a first edition it was worth a hell of a lot more than the $25 the shop was charging for it. I tried to tell the clerk what she had, but she shrugged. “Do you want to buy it or not?”

So I bought it and assuaged my guilt by giving it to Norm, figuring he had more of a right to it than I did. Unless you count the bottle of whiskey I gave to Mike McCurry when he became White House press secretary (under the proviso that he and I drink it together), it may be the only gift I ever bought for someone I covered in politics. But I digress. My point here is that in the early 1990s, a man with an impressive baseball memorabilia collection read about Norm Mineta’s life and career -- and sent him a baseball bat to replace the one the government had confiscated. And this one was signed by Hank Aaron and Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh. Mineta was delighted, but when my old newspaper wrote an item about it, the reporter noted that the bat was probably worth $1,500. Reading this, our hero -- straight arrow that he is -- knew that he’d have to return the bat because it exceeded the $250 value limit on gifts to members of Congress. To the Mercury News reporter who’d penned the item, Mineta sent a wry note. “The government’s taken my damn bat again.”

But leaving Congress has its perks and somewhere between receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, serving in Democratic and Republican Cabinets, and settling into retirement on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with his wife, Deni, Mineta was in for a surprise: The man with the memorabilia collection sent the bat back to him. It now hangs on a wall in Mineta’s home, a testament to perseverance and tolerance -- and to the idea that we can all hit home runs in life if we keep our eye on the ball and swing for the fences. 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
[email protected]

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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