Friday, October 31, 2008
During his childhood in Chicago, his parents ran a rooming house and it was there that Mr. Terkel claimed he learned to listen. “Listening” he would later claim, was his most powerful tool as a writer. It had been rumored that Winston Groom, author of “Forrest Gump” based young Forrest’s childhood exposure to strange and influential figures in the fictional Gump boarding house in his novel on this legend of Terkel’s childhood. During the early days of Roosevelt’s New Deal, Terkel joined the WPA Federal Writers' Project, working in radio, beginning a lifelong association with the medium. Terkel hosted a daily radio show on 98.7 WFMT in Chicago from 1952 to 1997.
His books like: “Hard Times”; “Working”; “American Dreams: Lost and Found”; “The Good War”; “The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream”; and “Race” were a huge influence on writers like myself and offered a testimonial based look at critical points in history during and in the decades after the Great Depression. He won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters; the George Polk Career Award; the Presidential Humanities Medal; and the Pulitzer prize for “The Good War”.
I still have my well-worn copies of “Hard Times” and “Working” that my dear friend Patrick MacEneany gave me in college in the late 1980s. In a time when the subjective was being eschewed as a mark of “unsophistication” in writing and in art, these works emboldened me to write from my own experience as a function of testimony, of bearing witness to things ignored, unseen or in some cases even lied about. I was not going to write my comic books about my own South Bronx adolescence in third person just to appease some nonsensical (and in my experience arbitrary) aesthetics. I have a running argument with another old friend from college, Jay Park, about the subjective versus objective focus in my narratives. While I’m sure I’m inviting another round of good hard fighting between us someday, I say again that it’s important to say something happened, as you saw it, as you heard it, with all of the trouble and compromise that may include… because any stories I was writing, and still write today, are necessarily about poverty, race, class and power among the urban ruin. Presenting them from some accessible overview, from some objective posture is not an erasure of bias (which is practically impossible) but rather an erasure of myself from the picture, and deletion of myself from the factual truth...
-in order to get at the truth?
I didn’t buy it then, and I still don’t.
I was criticized by my classmates, friends and even the few professors who bothered to take a look at the comic book stories I was creating; material that would form the basis of “The Shit House Poet” episodes published by World War III Illustrated in the 1990s. I thought if they were trying to make me write my stories like a historian, I was going to write like the historian of my choice. As much as I loved Richard Hofstadter, I wanted to look to someone who was more “people oriented”. Patrick MacEneany saw me banging my head against the wall and snuck me those Terkel books like we were both incarcerated writers in adjacent cells or something. There was much jargon-laden philosophy, phenomenology and manifesto-driven aesthetics popular on college campuses in those times. Walking around with any Studs Terkel book invited condescension from those students who had just discovered Foucault or Derrida, or worse gotten xeroxes from a professor, and assumed they had to enlighten you with their analysis and put down whatever you had as “light reading”.
It really is a wonder that some people didn’t get the shit beat out of them in college.
Unlike Terkel, I had to learn to “listen without listening” during this period in my life, listening instead for the motive and intent of a person’s words as opposed to their surface pronouncements and declaration.
Terkel’s Pulitzer Prize winning "The Good War" directly challenged the idea that World War II was an uncomplicated time in America when everyone marched shoulder to shoulder and nobody disagreed or dissented. Terkel didn’t want the propaganda films of the time to be mistaken for history. For my part I didn’t want the NY Post and exploitation movies like “Fort Apache the Bronx” (sorry Paul Newman) to be mistaken for reality. I don’t think I’d have that stubbornness in me if I hadn’t read Terkel’s work in college. Now that he has passed on, I wish I had inherited more of his openness. While listening with skepticism and remaining alert to opinions presented disingenuously as facts are necessary weapons, there is an ineffable quality to listening unfettered by doubt and suspicion. The taking in of someone's words, their viewpoint, their story can be its own reward and a unique education. I'm working on it.
Studs Terkel was a lifelong fighter for the average citizen, for us, -even when we didn’t seem to know any better. In May 2006, Studs Terkel filed a lawsuit against AT&T in federal court to stop them from giving our phone records to the NSA without a court order. I’ve wondered aloud many times since 9/11, what can I do in the face of George W. Bush’s reckless assault on the Bill of Rights? A 94-year-old man had an answer in 2006, it was very humbling and I was in awe of Studs Terkel again. Judge Matthew Kennelly dismissed the lawsuit citing a "state secrets privilege", but the Bush administration had been put on notice:
“Having been blacklisted from working in television during the McCarthy era, I know the harm of government using private corporations to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans. When government uses the telephone companies to create massive databases of all our phone calls it has gone too far. ”
A lot of people don’t know that Studs Terkel even did a little acting. He played Hugh Fullerton in John Sayles’s “Eight Men Out”. Pretty damn cool, if you ask me.
A friend who called me with the news today asked: why should I be sad? He lived to 96. My simple answer is: if the right kind of history is made on Tuesday night, Mr. Terkel, who fought, listened, talked and wrote so honestly about our country and its people, should have lived to see it. He deserved to see it. It makes me sad to the point of tears. The last eight years must’ve seemed like the end of America to Mr. Terkel, who began to speak and write of his faith more and more often. Who could blame him?
He once said:
"I've always felt, in all my books, that there's a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence, providing they have the facts, providing they have the information."
Apparently, the old man still has enough fight in him to keep talking to America beyond his mortal death. Studs Terkel’s next book, “Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening” is scheduled for release in November.
Rest in peace Studs Terkel.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Our Declaration of Independence contains these words, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...". America has never really lived up to those words. From slavery to the genocide of the native Americans to Jim Crow to denying women the right to vote to the internment of the Japanese during WWII to de facto segregation to trickle down economics to the continued abuse of illegal immigrants to denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, America has used and abused the least among us for the enrichment and benefit of the wealthiest and most powerful among us. We have allowed fear and ignorance of the unknown to deprive us of the thing that makes us special. The diversity of this country is what had made America great, yet we have found many ways to try and protect our perceived homogony from every "attack" from every wave of immigrants who have found their ways to these shores either willingly or unwillingly. As we enter the final days of this most important election, the Democratic candidate has been subject to every type of label to inspire fear that can be mustered. He is a Socialist, Marxist, communist, Arab, Manchurian Candidate, terrorist, friend to terrorist, enemy of Israel, Anti Christ, foreigner, baby killer, anti-American, racist. These are labels that attempt to inspire fear and hatred. They are attempts to show that Obama is not one of us, he's one of the "them". One of "them", who doesn't deserve to be treated as an equal. One of "them" who doesn't deserve our respect. And one of "them" who certainly doesn't deserve to President of the United States.
If Barack Obama were actually to become the next President of the United States would the country be transformed overnight? Of course not. We face an economic crisis of untold proportion and there is nothing that will make that go away, least of all the election of a new President. The rich will still be rich, the poor will still be poor, the homeless will still be homeless, hundreds of thousands of our troops will still be deployed in the Middle East and our economy is still going to be in very poor shape. The new President is going to be left with multiple issues to deal with from the current administration. An Obama presidency would not mean that our problems would disappear, in fact, the next President is going to face some monumental challenges that no change in policy is going to be able to overcome in a few months. The country would head in a different direction under an Obama administration, but the issues are and would continue to be very challenging for the country.
However, an Obama presidency would mean more than just a change in the policies of the country. The election of an African-American would signal something much larger than that. Our immediate domestic situation may not change greatly, but our reputation and standing around the world would be enormously affected. America has always held itself up as an example of what is possible. America was able to exert its influence around the world not only because it is a military super power, but because it was a symbol of morality. We held an image (of ourselves at least), of having some moral high ground from which to preach to the rest of the world. That image has been tainted by the current administration. From torture to warrantless wiretapping, this administration has ceded that position. Our current administration has toiled under the motto of the ends justifying the means. We are no longer an example of the best of what is possible, we have become common in our wielding of power at home and abroad.
At the end of the day, this election is not for the pleasure or amusement of the rest of the world. In my opinion, there is not a nation on this planet with a majority White population that would elect a Black person as their leader. So while I appreciate that they look at this election with great interest, their condemnation or approval of the outcome is not a primary concern. The primary concern is what would an Obama victory mean here at home. The symbolism of an African-American President is unmistakable. Our nation, (which held itself up for so long as the bastion of freedom and equality, while denying basic rights to portions of its citizens), will have proven to the world (but mainly to itself) that it can take a giant step toward living up the true meaning of our creed that all men are created equal. The division and mistrust between races will of course remain, but nothing that fundamental is ever changed overnight. For our children it will have a much greater meaning. Our children will never know a world in which someone other than a White male has never been the leader of the country. Our children, of every color, will never know a world in which they cannot dream of one day holding the highest land in the office. Our children will look at Barack Obama, not as the Black president, but as THE President.
This really shouldn't be a black or white issue. Our country has strived earnestly for the past 50 years to try and overcome some of the sins of our past. It is an ongoing battle. It is very easy for us to point to some new group of immigrants who doesn't speak our language and demonize them and without vigilance we will give in to our fears. Electing Barack Obama will not solve our problems overnight, but I honestly believe that his administration would provide us with the best chance at a workable solution for our future. I do not support him as a symbolic gesture, I support him because I believe that he is the best person for the job, regardless of race. The symbolism will remain however. It would mean that the highest position in the land is open to all and that we as a nation have taken a small step forward in our development. It would mean that we have taken a giant leap along the road toward building a more perfect union. I will end with these words from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address:
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Pat Buchanan asked today on Harball if Colin Powell would be endorsing Barack Obama if he were a white liberal Democrat. He also said that people are going to raise questions about Powell's motives and that the reasons are valid. So since Pat Buchanan has seen fit to impugn the motivations of General Powell, I feel it only fitting that I return the favor. Joe Lieberman is a racist. I don't mean the "I wish all black people would die" kind of racist. He is after all a member of a religious minority, but based on his actions in endorsing the White Republican candidate for President, I can only conclude that he made the decision based on race.
And at the Republican convention:
"I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party. I'm here tonight because John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward. I'm here because John McCain's whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important. But it is not more important than being an American."
So how is it possible that in two years, Senator Joe Lieberman (a lifetime Democrat and one time VP nominee) went from being a strong supporter of Barack Obama to being dedicated to bringing about his defeat. There are some who have suggested that the fact that Lieberman was defeated in the Democratic primary and had to run as an Independent has caused him to exhibit some bitterness toward the Democratic party. That seems to make sense, however there was one Senator who made the trip to Connecticut to back Lieberman in his senate race and that was Barack Obama. Here is what Obama said during that Senate race:
Somebody’s going to have to raise taxes on somebody, unless we’re all totally cool with letting the whole damn country fall apart and get bought up by China and the EU. Anybody who’s saying any variant of helping the “big guys” (Corporations and individuals with net worth in the millions and billions) with either tax breaks or subsidies the so the rest of the country can be; someday, somehow, (when and if they feel like it), helped in turn, is just repeating the same trickle-down-free-market-deregulation nonsense that is currently washing all of us down the drain… except for the Rich of course.
How’s that for a run-on sentence?
The Rich, the banks, the investment houses all have a secure safety net in our tax dollars now. Those same tax dollars that the Conservatives and the Right said shouldn’t be ever be used for education, healthcare or crazily enough… for a financial safety net for taxpayers themselves. I want you to really think about that philosophy for a moment: the taxpayers’ own tax dollars can’t be used to bail them out, but the taxpayers’ own tax dollars can be used to bail out banks and corporations. Thank you President Bush for this new iniquitous wrinkle in the Conservative ethos.
Conservatives and the American Right are the folks who most often and most audibly rail and moan about welfare and affirmative action. They complain about social programs and any spending that help the working class and poor outright, citing a philosophical and ethical refusal to give “handouts” for lack of a better umbrella term. I don’t agree, but I accept the Conservative and American Right’s positions as valid opposing, (and frankly necessary), counterpoints that inform our civic life in the United States. I do really mean that; it’s not just some pluralist impulse leftover from my college days that makes me “acknowledge” the opposing side's right to be. I don’t have to agree with all the specific things I value about the Conservative viewpoint and Right wing posture on economics as a citizen to know they are necessary parts of a conversation about our present and our future. In fact I’m still waiting for the return of fiscal responsibility on the national level, something only a bipartisan, Progressive and Conservative coalition can bring about in Congress, regardless of who has the upper hand as a majority. This is not condescension on my part: there are many Republican Mayors, Governors and officials who have and are doing a fine job of steering their states and counties through troubled Economic times and putting the people first. None of them are currently running for President however… I’m talking about people like Christine Todd Whitman, Bob Barr, and (someone I made the butt of an unfair joke on this blog) Linda Lingle, who has unfortunately had to rescind her healthcare program for children in Hawaii in the last couple of days. Healthcare programs are not something we associate with Republicans, and that’s too bad for all of us.
Lack of coverage will kill you, or ruin you financially regardless of who you voted for.
When I was invited to write on this blog back in February, I neglected to eulogize one of the most important American voices in politics. When I see what passes for a Conservative today; intellectually inferior hacks like Glen Beck who I could shut down in seconds -not by making any points but by pointing out their hypocrisies and illogic- I’m embarrassed for the whole of the Right wing and by extension I’m sad for American politics, and deathly afraid for myself.
David Brooks (in the interest of full disclosure, is someone we have sometimes skewered viciously on this blog), made an excellent point about this strange anti-intellectual populism, posted and commented on at Huffington Post:
“When I first started in journalism, I worked at the ‘National Review’ for Bill Buckley. And Buckley famously said he'd rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. But he didn't think those were the only two options. He thought it was important to have people on the Conservative side who celebrated ideas, who celebrated learning. And his whole life was based on that, and that was also true for a lot of the other Conservatives in the Reagan era. Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I'm afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.”
Although I disagreed with him on just about everything, the death of William F. Buckley was a loss for everyone in America back in February. I feel his absence even more now in these recent months. I think his perennial adversary (and one of my personal heroes), Ira Glasser would agree, given the hyper-parsed articulation that their exchanges on 'Firing Line' brought about every Friday back in the late eighties and early nineties. Buckley often posed questions that were abominable to Liberals like myself, but his sheer eloquence and the rational power of his argument demanded their consideration and answering. He liked to talk, especially if he didn’t agree with someone and God damn it he was fun to watch. He didn’t pride himself on the insularity of his upbringing and education, nor did he ever put stock in simplicity or willful folksy ignorance. He never, ever pretended not to know something, the way Ronald Reagan did and now George W. Bush does: preferring to appear stupid or oblivious rather than answer a question truthfully or concede an inconvenient fact. He was a serious puzzle of a man in anyone’s estimation; few knew that Spanish was William F. Buckley’s first language. He spoke French before eventually learning English from his British tutors. God rest him. If he’d made his entrance on to the American political scene today, the Conservatives and Republicans would be suspicious of him... he probably wouldn’t come off as “American enough”.
Anti intellectualism is not healthy for this nation. I’m not suggesting everybody run out and read McLuhan, Spinoza, Jefferson, Althuser, Derrida, Marcuse and Hegel before November 4th but rather that the dialectic of American politic must be kept strong by visible populist articulators who can remind the public that not only is discourse and compromise vital to progress, but that ideas and convictions matter. They matter more than the slogans and catch phrases that attempt to invoke them. But we the people have to want more from candidates than familiarity, ease, or comfort. The appeal of the “average Joe” politician must die if we are to get the kind of representative government that actually works in our best interests. There is a big difference between someone resembling you, and someone being concerned about you.
Just ask the people who voted for George W. Bush. Those people who’ve watched their jobs go overseas and their local plants shut down throughout the Midwest and South in the last eight years.
Our two political corners, the Left and the Right, are principally defined by fundamental disagreements elaborated during and after the era of the French Revolution between 1789-1796. “Left and Right” was a literal reference to the seating arrangement in the legislative bodies of post revolution France. Aristocrats sat on the right side of the Speaker and the plebians and commoners sat on the left side: the terms "Right wing politics" and "Left wing politics" come from this arbitrary seating arrangement. This perpetual opposition chiefly concerns what and how much government is supposed to do. When I talk to a so-called Republican today who doesn’t know what the Federalist Papers are, I don’t feel some great sense of victory or smug superiority. I feel like I’m looking at a dummy who is bringing the country down around our ears. To be fair, there are plenty of dumb asses among Democrats… but they don’t vote against their own economic interests the way Republicans frequently do (Working class voters in unions who voted for George W. Bush for example, or Hispanic voters in Florida and in the Southwest). Democrats and Liberals don’t pretend that not knowing something, not being informed on world events, that not knowing the histories of other countries and cultures is a virtue. Dense folksiness, obtuse pride, intellectual weakness and lack of sophistication as represented by someone like Sarah Palin is appalling. Republicans should never be okay with any of their candidates not being smart, or acting in contradiction to the core values of their party and its ideology. The Right’s embrace of the “moral majority” at the end of the 20th Century is a big problem in this regard, as the socially conservative religious leaders in our country insist on advancing “faith based” initiatives and Christian social issues that have no place in a Republican agenda that is supposed to reduce government interference in our lives and protect central American doctrines like the separation of Church and State. Remember, the Republican/Conservative creed historically meant a concern with simplifying and reducing government, promoting small business and commerce thereby ensuring freedom for all to compete fairly and prosper by their own device and commensurate to the quality and ingenuity of their efforts. Where are any of those ideals in today’s Republican leaders?
These days too many Republican politicians appear to be less people than the creations of a marketing team and its focus groups. Look at our sitting president George W. Bush, a man who has all the affectations of a leader with none of the qualifications or capabilities. What George W. Bush has done is not to manage an administration but pretend to manage an administration. He left us vulnerable to sinister players like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who made their big entrance into national politics under President Richard Nixon.
On principal, Conservatives and Republicans should have opposed this recent bail out presented by George W. Bush and also rejected the renewed attempts to put forth any plans that give bigger tax breaks to corporations. I should be able to count on the American Right to oppose unfair trade agreements with foreign countries that impede the true reciprocity of goods, services and trade. I should be able to count on them to keep jobs from going overseas. But all we’re hearing these days is John McCain’s repeated insistence that lowering the already slashed tax burden on corporations and the Rich is somehow good for the country. Is this really the Right wing? Is this really what Republicans represent? I’m asking because as a person born in 1968, I feel like talking about Republicans is like talking about a deep-sea animal:
We’ve seen evidence of their existence, but have never seen one actually moving around doing its thing.
I’m not hearing outrage regarding this new wave of corporate welfare; with the exception of Rep. Hensarling of Texas and a few others he’s banded together in Congress. To date, neither Welfare nor affirmative action, have cost the United States taxpayers 700 Billion dollars… but bailing out the financial apocalypse probably will. I’m not coming down on Conservatives and Republicans because of their economic philosophy, I’m criticizing them because they won’t apply it to the wealthy and the… let’s call them the investment class for the purposes of this conversation.
So if I play along with today’s narrative of the moment, I’d have to ask this question: Who are the Republicans trying to help? Joe the investor with a 401K? or Joe the Plumber?
The real bind is, they’re actually aspects of the same person, screwed over by the same dynamic. Except Joe the Plumber has lost his house, his retirement savings and may eventually lose his job. President Bush, the Democrats and now the Republicans only want to help Joe the investor with a 401K, -not by addressing his investments and his loss directly, but by stabilizing the criminally unscrupulous financiers and banks who put him in jeopardy. I thought I could count on the Right to stop this nonsense and demand or formulate some alternative to giving a bunch of crooks a 700 billion dollar expense account.
If we had real Conservative and Republican leaders, who not only understood their philosophical heritage and history, but also didn’t spend like lunatics, didn't put working people last, and trade their ethics for the backing of Corporations and big business, there would be an actual alternative for the average citizen to think about. Right now there’s substantively none. Everybody’s gotta settle for an aristocrat masquerading as a Republican or cross the aisle and vote for a Democratic candidate, which to a lot of people must feel like not much of a choice at all.
Right now, everyone in Government, including members of the party I support like Senator Dodd and Congressman Frank, wants to misappropriate the American taxpayers future earnings to save the Rich. We sure as hell are going to go broke together, Republican and Democrat, Conservative and Liberal alike.
I guess what I’m trying to say after all of this is that: I can’t even count on the opposition, to behave like the opposition anymore, which is the last resort when my own party does something recklessly foolish. This was after all Bush’s bail out plan. I thought more Republicans would’ve called him on it, but who am I kidding? Seriously.
A friend of mine, an ardent Republican Party supporter who occasionally reads this blog, said I had no business judging Republican and Conservative politics because I’m “a Liberal, a Progressive and worse a Democrat”. He went on to say that I should concern myself with the quality of “my own candidates.” -Like I own them or something? I suppose the bottom line is, as much as we’d like to live in two Americas (We tried that back in the 19th century remember?) we live under one system of law. I can pick who I vote for, but not who I can follow and obey once they are in office, regardless of their party affiliation and philosophy.
Any President is my President in the end.
If by counterexample, I have to judge my own party’s candidate, the fact is, I couldn’t be happier with Barack Obama. Because that is what a Progressive Liberal looks like, it’s what a Democrat is supposed to act like (Too polite for my tastes at times, I’m more of a Howard Dean/James Carville man myself) so no, the Left and the Progressives are doing just fine as an alternative because the Democrats refuse to present the equivalent of a Billy Carter (who as it turns out was not a dumb guy anyway) as a candidate just because Southerners might like him more and dig the fact that he couldn’t stop drinking beer. We’re not supposed to like candidates. We’re supposed to like their qualifications and platforms.
“Sarah Palin represents a fatal cancer to the Republican party.”… a Conservative said that. Google it and find out who.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
So how do I feel at this point? The same as I always have. This race is John McCain's to lose. The euphoria from the Democratic side of the aisle is to be expected. The Democrats haven't won the White House in eight years and there are a lot of people voting this year who have never had the pleasure of voting for a winning presidential candidate. I would caution against too much celebrating however. After the second debate, the CNN panel was practically unanimous in their assessment that if the economic numbers held for Obama, the race was over. There was one voice who was not caught up in the numbers and that was David Gergen who reminded everyone that nothing in this race is predictable because of the simple fact that Obama is black.
Obama's race is alternately ignored and then over-analyzed. One minute the pundits act as if the issue doesn't exist and then the next moment, it is all that exists. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Race will be a factor in the election, the question remains as to how much of a factor it will be. That is the question that at this point has no answer. There is no precedent for this. The Bradley factor (named after the former mayor of Los Angeles who led by a substantial margin in the polls for Governor only to lose on election day) or the Wilder effect (named after the Governor of Virginia who went into the election with a 9 point lead and ending up winning by less than 1/2 a percent) can basically be thrown out of the window. This is not an election for the head of a town, city or state. This is an election for the biggest job in the world. No matter how far we have come in race relations in this country, race will still trump a lot of the personal interests of voters.
The unanswerable question at this point is how many of those undecided voters are truly undecided or just unwilling to state a preference because they don't want to be accused of bias. There are some who are unwilling to name Obama because they would be going against family and friends and there are some who are unwilling to name McCain because of the same reason. At this point we can assume that the majority of undecideds are White because of Obama's overwhelming support among Blacks. So how would a White woman in rural Kentucky tell her friends and family that she is bucking decades of family tradition and ideals and voting for a Barack Obama for President? I would guess very carefully. I can imagine the same being true of a closet McCain voter in a similar position. The easiest thing to be in this election is a registered Republican or Democrat, that way you can avoid being branded by simply stating that you are voting for your parties candidate. The "persuadable"/ Independent/ Undecided voter is in the toughest position because they cannot simply hide under a party banner.
The race will undoubtedly tighten before election day. Obama is counting on an unprecedented turn out from both minorities and younger voters to propel him to victory on November 4th. Previous candidates have gone down this road only to be disappointed come election day. Obama's national lead, while outside the margin of error, is still not safe from the undecideds breaking McCain's way and some of his promised support either switching sides or not showing up at all. Obama cautioned today against over confidence and complacency and he had good reason to do so. I wrote a piece back on September 29th in which I stated that the race was not over. Well, it wasn't over then and it ain't over now. There are more turns to come in this race, the least of which may just be the American people changing their minds one more time.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
John McCain’s repudiation on Friday of many of his supporters' mob behavior was inevitable. “Inevitable”, either because of his decency and sincere egalitarian fairness, or because of his need to make a calculated denial of these sinister ploys: a necessary calculated denial in order to continue a dirty campaign that appeals to the baser, stupider fears and desires in the American Midwest and South while maintaining an appearance of being “above it all”.
I want to believe it’s the former. I want to believe that the comments from Gayle Quinnell in the Lakeville Minnesota townhall rally were so embarrassing to Senator John McCain that he finally tired of a narrative that attempts to destroy, by any means necessary, a fellow Senator just because he happens to be the opposition. I want to believe in that moment, John McCain reclaimed his dignity and his soul by refusing to engage in the criminal falsehoods and evil methodologies that Karl Rove has forced in to the national conversation about a candidate’s character and worth. I want to believe he is rejecting the same kinds of tactics, lies, and organized slander used against him in 2000.
The Lakeville Minnesota rally was filled with much of the same demographic that Karl Rove targeted in the American southeast eight years ago. I speak of that most euphemized demographic in American history: working class and poor White voters. They have been called “The Rural vote”, "The Silent Majority", "The Heartland", "Middle America", “NASCAR Dads”, “Low Information Voters” and finally a name I consider so insulting I’ll only type here on this blog, just this once “Joe Six Pack”.
It was part of this White working class and poor demographic, who bought into the lies that George W. Bush and his campaign spread about John McCain fathering mixed race children out of wedlock in the 2000 primaries in the Southeast. The shameful sting of seeing such corrosive and unfair tactics at work in his own campaign must be sobering.
I want to believe that John McCain is rejecting this philosophy.
But what does it matter what I believe? There are realities in this country of ours that cannot be denied. Our regions exist in a perpetual tension and state of stagnant opposition created by the end of the internecine civil war in the 19th century and exacerbated by the perceived or imagined injustices against the Whites by the enforcement of civil rights legislation. These rifts still inform everything we do as a nation. It still creates a priori divisions between citizens within the same political parties. It still divides families. It still pits Whites and Blacks against each other even when their mutual survival and well-being are at stake.
I want to believe John McCain doesn’t want to play this game anymore. The integrity and fairness of our political process and the discussion that informs it, are issues that are more important to me than the actual election itself. If the candidates and the media that covers them focused solely on the issues, focused squarely on the perils that face the United States and fostered discussions about the practicality of their proposed solutions, our nation would be much the better for it, regardless of who eventually became president.
Monday, October 06, 2008
WE THE PEOPLE are unarmed for the combat that is being waged against us. We head into this battle armed with a water gun while we are staring down the barrel of a tank. At this point the people have very little say in what is done "in their name". The administration decides that they would like to break international law and torture prisoners so they just transform their definition of torture and come up with a palatable term like "enhanced interrogation techniques". The response from the people is negligible. Thanks to a helping hand from "24" on Fox and the methods of Jack Bauer, the American people have now been convinced that torture is not only acceptable but necessary.
The brilliant individuals on Wall St., who when left to their own devices, decided to invest heavily in a spin of a roulette table. Basically what they did was put a large portion of their money on one number and while the ball was spinning, everyone was having a good ol' time. CEO's were taking home pay packages in the tens of millions, and everyone was getting rich on a bet that had a very small chance of paying off. Of course the people making those bets weren't risking their own money; they were risking the pensions and retirement funds of the American people. The government knew this was going on, but chose to ignore it because, hey, it's only the American people who are going to get screwed if this doesn't pay off. So when it all comes crashing down, guess who gets stuck with the bill? You guessed it, the grazing sheep in the meadow. Where was the alarm when the investment banks were mortgaging the future of the financial system on a sucker bet? Where was the government when banks were giving out loans like they were free samples at the supermarket? They were being wined and dined by the very people whose greed has led to the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. What about the people you ask? The people who they are supposed to serve, the people who rely on their elected officials to protect their interests? Those people get stuck with the bill.
Here in New York, our two term mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has decided that only he has a steady enough hand to lead NY through this economic crisis and therefore he will ignore the law and run for a third term. New Yorkers have voted for term limits twice and even the then sainted Rudy Guliani was not allowed to continue on as mayor in the wake of the 9/11 tragedies. In fact when Rudy floated the idea of being allowed to stay on for an extra six months, Mr. Bloomberg was one of the loudest voices that rose in opposition to the idea. In fact, I think his exact words were, "everyone is replaceable". Apparently he was talking about everyone but himself. Now of course you would think that regardless of his wishes, he can't just break the law and run for Mayor, can he? You would be right, if not for the fact that he is planning on getting the City Council to approve making an exception to the law (just this one time). Of course the proposed law would also allow everyone on the City Council who is also facing term limits to stay on for an extra term as well. So in order to subvert the will of the voters of New York, he is asking the City Council to vote on whether they want to keep their own jobs. What is the response from the people? Silence. Perhaps there are voices of dissent in the press? Not quite. The New York Post and Daily News both seem to think that this is a splendid idea. We have become such meek followers that even when our wishes are blatantly ignored, we apparently no longer have the will to protest.
As we face this upcoming election, one candidate has once again shown the disdain that the ruling class has for the people. John McCain, by naming someone as woefully inadequate and intellectually mediocre as Sarah Palin, is basically thumbing his nose at the American people. Instead of picking someone who might help solve the very serious problems that face this nation, he picked someone for shock value alone. What would happen if she would have to replace him as the President? He doesn't care. He'd be dead or incapacitated anyway. What about the good of the people you ask, once again? Since when did that enter into the equation?
If you doubt what I've said here, I will leave you with this little tidbit, that our illustrious Vice President decided to share with us, from an interview earlier this year about the Iraq War:
Raddatz: "Two-thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting, and they’re looking at the value gain versus the cost in American lives, certainly, and Iraqi lives."
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Obama voted in favor of higher taxes on “families” making as little as $42,000 a year. -He did not.
McCain's health care plan would be "budget-neutral," costing the government nothing. -It does not.
And now a pretty dangerous lie is coming out of the mouth of this winking, folksy idiot: Obama pals around with terrorists.
At a recent rally, Sarah Palin said she sees America as a place of “Exceptionalism” and that Barack Obama sees it as an imperfect place. Sarah Palin still doesn’t know what the word “Exceptionalism” means. You’d think someone would have told her after the recent Charlie Gibson interview when she seemed to think the Bush Doctrine was some sort of term paper she hadn’t read.
The American people are getting comfortable with the fact that Sarah Palin is of no use to this country. No one should ever be comfortable with a politician’s ignorance and stupidity.
Since we live in a country that thinks so little of women, and expects so little of women who are attractive, no one wants to treat Sarah Palin like a politician. No one wants to step up, correct, expose and humiliate this little rube. John McCain defends Sarah Palin proudly for, among other laughable qualifications, her experience as a member of her local school’s PTA. Please. She is not the nation’s kid sister, so stop the nonsense.
Sarah Palin is spreading some fascinating under-the-radar misinformation and defamation that sticks with voters who want to believe that someone they can relate to (which is code for White) would never lie to them, or worse would lie to them to protect them. It’s why we have eight years of a presidency so destructive that correcting its mistakes will be on the nation’s agenda for generations. It’s a presidency so radioactive that the Republican Party is doing all it can to distance itself from it. Sarah Palin is the RNC’s dangerous “hail Mary” pass, their desperate panicked attempt at connecting with the “common working man” (also code for white) who might once again vote against his own “economic interests” (this is code for sense and reason) just because someone can informally tell them everything is okay in a way they don’t have to think about it or question it.
Where is Hillary Clinton?
Didn’t she say she would do everything to put a Democrat in the White House? She could take care of this lying sneak in short order. If the Obama camp hasn’t asked for her help, they’d better start ringing her phone off the hook and start begging. Only one other American could point out the obvious truth about Sarah Palin and make it stick. Only one woman could tell the truth and not be called a bully. That woman is my Senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Hillary Clinton could walk right up and tell the Emperor that he has no clothes, or in this case, that Sarah Palin is an unqualified, inexperienced hack who has no business talking about patriotism since she’s married to a man who was a member of an Alaskan secessionist group for 7 years…
…and America just might listen.
Friday, October 03, 2008
This bill, which the President signed into law today, gives Henry Paulson $700 billion to purchase bad debt and mortgage-related securities that imperiled the financial companies and banks that bought them from other banks. You no longer have any say in the matter. You just have to pay for it, and Democrats made it happen.
It ran down like this:
"We have acted boldly to help prevent the crisis on Wall Street from becoming a crisis in communities across our country; our economy continues to face serious challenges." said President George W. Bush this afternoon.
Well fuck you too, Mr. President.
You wouldn’t know a challenge if it kicked you in your rich teeth... Mr. President, sometimes I want to quote you by spelling words as you might spell and pronounce them, which would be in the most fucked up way conceivable. But on days like today, I am content to let your idiotic understatements and parroting of the obvious stand on their own.
Fuck you, George. Go cry to daddy about how you ruined the greatest nation on Earth in just eight years. Shit head.
I’ve always said that I’d support Conservatives when they actually acted like Conservatives, -in effect when they are: not wasting my time with moral majority tailored bullshit; reducing government size and actually driving spending down. I’m still waiting for them to start acting right.
Jeb Hensarling, the Republican congressman representing the 5th congressional district of Texas in the House asked "How can we have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down?!" in reference to the new law/bail out. It’s a good point. Now if Mr. Hensarling would stop his rabid opposition to legalized abortion, stem cell research, Gay marriage, and hate crimes legislation, he might have one more ardent supporter for his proposed “Spending Limit Amendment” to the Constitution which prohibits federal spending from growing faster than the economy in peace time. Too little, too late.
On September 26, 2008 David Brooks of The New York Times in paraphrasing Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post said:
“…you can either punish Wall Street or you can stabilize Wall Street. You can't do both. We all want to punish Wall Street, but we just can't do it.”
Bullshit. I don’t think we’re trying hard enough.
were all she needed to hear from Sarah Palin to change her mind.
“Nice to meet you. Hey, can I call you Peg?”
and Peggy Noonan would hand me the keys to her car, her house and her ATM pin number. Because that’s exactly what we are doing when we elect someone. We give them the keys to the house and everything else.
We got no answers from Sarah Palin last night, only responses.
Last’s night’s debate was also about a question for me: How much more mediocrity can the nation stand?
Noonan mused that Sarah Palin’s responses were like an informercial: “But it was an effective infomercial.” This is ridiculous. I don’t buy it. Maybe the Republican Party thinks Americans are too dumb to know a weak and tenuous series of rationalizations when we read them in the press, or maybe they’re just betting we are.
This goes beyond my own objections to the last eight years of nightmarish NeoCon rule.
There are standards for public office that have to be upheld: intelligence, wisdom, a practical awareness of legislative history, and a profound respect for our Constitution and rule of law. We just had the least qualified president in history serve for two terms. The most criminal and venal vice president in history was by his side the whole time. But the Republican Party insists on lowering the standard, burying it with each election cycle until it pops up in motherfuckin' China someday.
I’ll offer a frightening counterexample, J. Danforth Quayle, generally seen as the most embarrassing statesman of the last 25 years, is an infinitely superior politician and policy maker compared to Sarah Palin, -and no one would dare offer him up as a candidate after Lloyd Bentsen humiliated him with the mother-of-all cheap shots in the Vice Presidential debates in 1988. All Quayle did was spell badly and misspeak in public a lot. Shit, George W. Bush has been torpedoing the very concept and purpose of language 24/6 and twice on Sunday for eight years every single time he opens his fuckin' mouth.
“It’s not that bad” I heard over and over again on my subway ride into work this morning.
The RNC clearly hates this country and doesn’t give a shit about Americans as long as they get "their guys" into office. Spending our tax money like feudal lords and skipping taxes is worth sinking the country and tanking the world's future to the Republican Party.
Oh, and in closing?
You agree with Sarah Palin on opposing Gay Marriage?
You’re a coward and a sell-out. There's no way you can believe a word of what you said last night; your rehearsed liberal double-speak notwithstanding. It’s a ridiculous issue that I never want to hear about again because every time this asinine issue comes up, I feel like I'm being held hostage in my own country by bigots, fascists and hypocrits. The only answer to that question for any American who actually believes that is the land of the free is …All people deserve the same dignity and respect and the right to the pursuit of happiness (or in the case of marriage misery) in the eyes of the law, but maybe America’s just not ready for that, maybe America still won’t vote for a candidate that wants to protect and enforce the rights of every single American, which is just embarrassing.
Sarah Palin may have impressed her core supporters, but her outright refusal to answer some of the questions should have been called out more often by Gwen Ifill. It seemed clear to me that Ms. Ifill had been shaken by the criticism of her by the McCain campaign and the right leaning press about the fact that she was writing a book that contained a chapter about Barack Obama. Instead of challenging the candidates when they refused to answer a question, she almost meekly moved on to the next topic. It was quite disappointing to see such a respected and competent journalist and interviewer cowed into a less than representative performance.
Joe Biden's performance was solid. He demonstrated the depth and breadth of his knowledge and he was on his best behavior when it came to dealing with Sarah Palin. He always referred to her as Governor and for the most part refused to engage her when she gave him on opening. He defended Barack Obama and attacked John McCain, but almost acted as if Sarah Palin was a mere stand in for John McCain. He did not attack her record, or the inconsistencies in her speeches, he attacked John McCain and tied him George Bush as often as possible. I thought his worst moment came when he said that he did not support Gay marriages. I know that both he and Barack Obama do not agree with that point, and his delivery of the line was not very convincing. It was also his most "politician-y" moment of the night. Barack Obama has promised a new kind of politics, but this was just an example of more politics as usual.
Sarah Palin regurgitated her standard talking points throughout the night. She never at any point demonstrated deep knowledge of any topic that was discussed. And her winking, giggling and at times, dismissive attitude felt very wrong for the serious situation this country now finds itself in. She almost seemed to revel in the fact that she was not going to answer the questions that were asked. If a topic came up that she was unfamiliar with, she would quickly pivot to either a story about her time as a mayor in Alaska or to energy policy. Her worst moment came when she actually talked about expanding the powers of the Vice President. I'm not sure what her point was there and it seemed to come out of left field. She probably did a lot to assuage the fears of her supporters who were afraid that the debate would be a repeat of the Couric/Gibson interviews. At no point did she freeze up, although she did utter some absolutely non-sensical sentences and phrases.
The pundits now watch the debates, less for substance, but to try and pick out what moment "connected" with the viewers. In the first McCain - Obama debate there was more talk about McCain's body language than about his actual substantive answers. We have gotten to the point where style can triumph over substance. Just another example of how George W. Bush has contributed to the glorification of mediocrity. The line that some pundits have used about Sarah Palin being "one of us" should be absolutely frightening to almost everyone. Since when did we decide that the most important job in the country should be put in the hands of the "average citizen". I wonder if most American's pick their doctors or lawyers this way. I wonder if when they ask for a referral to a specialist, they ask for the one who is the most average. I can imagine the conversation, "I need brain surgery?Could you tell if you know of any really average surgeons? I don't like those elitist, smart ones. They don't really seem to understand my problems." Or "I'm on trial for my life? Could you get me the lawyer who finished fifth from the bottom of their graduating class of 450. And no he doesn't need to know much about the law, just as long as he's someone that speaks my language and I wouldn't mind having a drink with."
The bottom line is that people watching probably got exactly what they wanted out of the debate. Leaners were probably more inclined to lean in their chosen direction and those who have already made their decisions were certainly not motivated to change their minds based on anything that was done last night. It seems clear that debates (at least as these are structured) don't offer much upside. However, each candidate must be careful to avoid the gaffe heard 'round the world. This leads to less spirited debate and more repetition of rehearsed and familiar lines and themes. They may be boring, but the candidates still have to be on their toes, lest they suffer the fate of Gerald Ford, who still to this day is best known for falling down (thanks to SNL) and for claiming, during his debate with Jimmy Carter, that there was no soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
If Sarah Palin were a strong choice for Vice President, she wouldn’t have to be shielded from real questions and the McCain camp wouldn’t get the chance to pretend they're victims of the media every time a journalist asks her a serious question.
The Supreme Court
Couric: "What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?"
Palin: "Well, let's see. There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …"
Couric: "Can you think of any?"
Palin: "Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today."
On Foreign policy experience:
Palin: "And, Charlie, you're in Alaska. We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia. They are our next door neighbors.We need to have a good relationship with them. They're very, very important to us and they are our next door neighbor."
Gibson: "What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?"
Palin: "They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska."
Couric: "You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?"
Sarah Palin: "That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It's funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don't know, you know … reporters."
Palin: "Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah."
Couric: "Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials."
Palin: "Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…
Couric: "Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?"
Palin: "We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.
Couric: "Could the $700 billion economic bailout be filtered more through middle-class American families, rather than down through Wall Street financiers".
Palin: "That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in ... where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh -- it's got to be all about job creation too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So healthcare reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that."
On Bush Foreign Policy:
Gibson: “Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?”
Gibson: “The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?”
"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared.'"
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
This is the way I would want Joe Biden to open up the debate on Thursday. No pulled punches, no humor, just an assessment of his opponent unfettered by any calculated regard or politesse.
Thank you Gwen. I’m so glad those rightwing bigots at the RNC weren’t able to chase you out of moderating this debate. PBS is all that’s left of the news on TV. Thank you.
(Clears throat) Good evening America. My opponent is a joke.
But I’m not laughing, because Sarah Palin is the pure embodiment of the Republican Party’s abject hypocrisy and total disregard for the safety, welfare and future of the American people.
I doubt that she’s ever had to talk to more than ten people at the same time before her nomination. She has no grasp of public policy, federal laws and regulations on the national scale. She is confused by any direct question, and incapable of answering even soft-ball inquiries from hacks like Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric without resorting to a memorized statement out of sheer fear that she might actually say something.
Picking her says something loud and clear about the Republican candidate for president: Sarah Palin makes John McCain look like a doddering old idiot who is not fit to lead the nation out of a crowded parking lot, much less this financial meltdown his long voting record helped create. Nobody who respects this country and cares about its people and is concerned about its future would ever, EVER, offer up Sarah Palin as an option for any office outside the state of Alaska.
You could search the entire House of Representatives my friends, the whole of the Senate, comb the entire battery of governors at work today across this great land in EITHER party and not find a less experienced, more vapid ideologue-in-training than Sarah Palin. Well maybe Hawaii. That’s it. She might be better than the current Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle.*
In conclusion, if you’re in any way okay with this embarrassment to the republic that is running for the office of Vice President, then you HATE America.
If you’re okay with Sarah Palin for Vice President then you don’t believe in the future of the country, and you even hate our kids… because it is they who will live in the putrid smoking aftermath of the hell on earth Sarah Palin will bring about when she sits behind that desk in the Oval office.
“FUZZY MATH?” did you just say “fuzzy math” to me, you goldbricking idiot?!
Don’t stand there smiling at me. Maybe percentages blow your mind, maybe numbers confuse a simpleton like you, maybe people have let you get by with that kind of nonsense when you were daddy’s little boy at Yale, but you are addressing the nation right now, you dumbass. I guess math certainly is “fuzzy”, if you’re too stupid to grasp what a percentage is. Yeah, you keep smiling. Tell me, is that the same stupid smile you gave the professors at Yale when they looked at your papers and wondered -even with your father’s name- just how an empty headed moron like you slid under their doors? Get off this stage and go fetch somebody else for me to debate if you’re gonna get thrown by every figure I mention to you. Idiot.
Yes. That’s the stuff.
I long for an America where the stupid, the dense, and the dimwitted are not emboldened to present their opinions as facts or convictions. I long for an America where idiots are afraid to speak up, are running for their very lives and live in constant fear and embarrassment.
Sadly, I live in this America. I live in a nation where halfwits are encouraged to run for the highest office in the land, and sometimes win.