Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Value of Political Theater

Today there were three performances of interesting and important political theater. First, this morning John Edwards withdrew from the Democratic race. He did this in New Orleans. John Edwards has a wonderful consistency in sticking to his message and giving that short, sweet speech in that still devastated city. He made his point about the two Americas. He made it in a place where that divide is apparent to all of us. And now he has the chips to change the outcome of the primary. That’s how close the race is on the Democratic side.

The second bit of theater was the endorsement of John McCain by Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Rudy Gullianni standing by as the sweating court jester. This act took place in a factory in California. If I recall correctly, this company makes solar collectors of some kind. But the locale was distinctly industrial. Very clean industry, and I’m happy to know that all our manufacturing hasn’t been outsourced to countries with cheaper labor and no regulation or restriction. But those three men seemed completely out of place. Dressed in their suits. They all spoke but said nothing memorable. What was memorable to me was the complete absence of eloquence or clarity of thought. It was all so mundane, so pedestrian, so uninspired.

But the third act was brilliant. It was the first Democratic debate with just Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. To me, a life-long Democrat, it was enormously satisfying to know that whichever of the two wins the nomination, we have profoundly attractive and intelligent candidates to choose between. And, clearly, either one of the two would be infinitely better for us as a nation, for us as actors on the world stage, than anyone the Republicans have to offer—which now looks like McCain or Romney. So, now is the time to really pay attention to what the players on this grand stage are saying.

Who gave the best performance? In my opinion Barack goes home with the award. And in my case that’s my vote Tuesday. What did he say that reenforced my inclination to support him? Nothing new really. It was what Hillary said that sent me further into the Obama camp. It was her attempt to justify and explain her initial vote on the Iraq War. She was wrong to vote for that folly, and there is no way to justify it, no way to explain it. I remember the day she voted to give George W. Bush the authorization to embark on a war of aggression against another country for no good reason—all rationale manufactured, all evidence trumped up and amplified and repeated. If she had taken the time to read the classified intelligence reports that were available and were read by colleagues of hers who voted against the resolution based on that information, she might have voted differently. But I remember the moment I knew we would be invading Iraq and what it would mean to us as a country, and it made me cry. It was the moment Hillary Clinton voted to allow George W. Bush to go to war. She has to apologize for that failure. It is her Achilles heel. She cannot get away with claiming not to know the consequences of her vote. I knew it the moment she voted.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The War On Meaning: Words Matter

Chris Matthews has always annoyed me, partly because he calls his show Hardball. Jeez, why all the pretense "power?" The Power Points? The Big Number? It just screams insecurity. It's so puffed-up and strutting. It all makes me think "someone's over-compensating for some real insecurity." I have found myself, lately, screaming at the TV, “Who gives a damn what you think—just give me the story. Stop trying to manufacture fear and confusion in the electorate. Tone back the bells and whistles, drop the volume on the graphics. But most of all stop talking over your guests.”

And now he’s making up words because actual words, real words that already exist, don’t quite do justice to his biases, his prejudices, his point of view. Last week, in reference to the dust-up between the Clintons and Barack Obama, Mr Matthews referred to the Clinton’s "strategery." I lost it for a minute. (I’m not a fan of the politics of divisiveness, so I’m tired of the Clinton’s now. I do have Clinton fatigue, finally, but it's primarily due to the press nastiness, the mean spirited tone of the coverage she gets). Don’t get me wrong, I want both Clintons engaged and working for unity, but Obama has ignited young voters and inspired them. So yes, it is time for a change. And words matter.

But "strategery" was a new wrinkle in the war of words, or should I say the war on words. What’s wrong with “strategy?” Why isn’t the correct word enough? I give a pass to new immigrants—English is a difficult language to master. And I love the creativity of anyone unfamiliar with a language and its limitations who makes up new words to fill in for the words in their native language that don’t exist in English. But a native speaker, especially one with a cable news show, ought to raise the level of discourse, not lower it.
It made me think we’ve all become infected with G.W Bush-mouth. Despite good educations, grown men act like total morons because every time they hear our current President speak he so mangles our common language that it’s now cool to talk like an idiot. Is that the Bush Legacy? The total dumbing-down of everyone? I’m longing for Chris Matthews to retire and Rachel Maddow or Eugene Robinson to replace him. It’s time for real change.

And all of this gets me to Barack Obama. I have never heard any politician (and that includes President Kennedy, the last great orator in the White House) use language more eloquently, more elegantly than Senator Obama. I long to hear him deliver his first State Of The Union address. He will lift us up with the eloquence of his words, he will inspire us to be better, smarter, nicer, more inventive and creative than we have become under the ugly brutality of the Bush administration and its total dumbness, its fear mongering, its give your millionaire friends a tax break kind of governance. Words matter. If you don’t think so, read The Constitution, read The Bill of Rights. It might remind you what we are losing every day we have republicans at the helm. Do you doubt it? Listen to the republicans closely. Do these old white men inspire you?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bush's Greatest Hits

The State of the Union? Phone it in, why don’t you, Mr. President. It could have been any year since 2003. Yawn. Is he really that lazy and cynical? It is mind-boggling, the cognitive dissonance. The wise-cracking jokester smile. The folksy, country huckster, still trying to scare us with his warnings of Ballistic Missiles and Nukular Weapons and Enriching Uranium. He’s got the gestures down, by now he’s probably got the text memorized. Ignoring his own government’s intelligence report? It’s stunning! I’ve never seen such a robotic performance of George W. Bush playing George W. Bush playing President. Get a day job Mr. President. Or better yet, stay home. Take naps. Take this last year off, and go down to Crawford and clear some brush. Please? Now that you’ve got it going, the prairie schooner of state will roll down hill withoucha. Take Vice President Chenney with ya. You two ole boys can go on an extended huntin’ trip ‘round the state, shootin’ dove together. He He He.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Barack Obama

Tonight I watched the South Carolina Democratic Primary results. I was pretty sure Barack Obama would win in South Carolina. And why not. He is the first African American candidate who even has half a chance of going all the way to the White House. But in this particular election year, that’s all he needs. Half a chance. I think he’ll make it. I sure hope he will. And hope for change is the operative word here. He gives me hope. It’s been in short supply around here for a long time.

I have listened to all the political debates, both republican and democrat. I was raised by a feminist and life-long democrat who immigrated out of Texas in the late 1940’s to Salt Lake City, Utah. Strange place to find herself. She was always at odds with the culture here, but stayed, despite her alienation from the Mormons surrounding her. She was married to a man who probably suffered post-traumatic stress from his service in France at the end of World War II. When she married him, he had three sons ranging in age from five to fifteen. And when shortly after their marriage, he left her to go fight overseas, she was pregnant with me. And now she isn’t here to see, not just a woman running for President, but an African American man as well. She would have been overjoyed.

And so I feel all the emotion my mother would have felt in this season of hope. I listened to Senator Obama deliver one of the most eloquent and inspirational speeches I’ve heard any politician ever give. I sat and listened to Barack Obama speak tonight with tears streaming down my face. I found myself saying aloud, with the crowd gathered in the room with him, as I watched at home in front of a television set, “Yes We Can!” And I thought, Yes, we can restore our Bill of Rights! Yes, we can take care of all our citizens in times of trouble. Yes, we can end an ill-conceived, poorly planned, badly executed and economically ruinous war. Yes, we can take care of our veterans from this horrible war. Yes, we can unite a country that has been divided on issues of choice and faith, gender and sexual preference, care for the planet pitted against corporate greed. Yes we can.

What strikes me every time I listen to Senator Obama is his elegant and thoughtful use of language. What was conspicuously absent from his victory speech tonight was the personal pronoun “I.” He didn’t say, “I can do this.” He said, “We can do this.” Yes we can.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Young Lawyers

In late middle-age, tough, smart, competent, attractive, experienced in every way that counts, Hillary Clinton is poised to be the democratic nominee for President of the United States. She would be the first female President, if elected. That’s a big deal. She has been vetted by the most viciously partisan constant investigation of every aspect of her life, both public and private. She has been embarrassed on the biggest public stage in the world by her husband’s betrayal of her. And despite the fact that she did just what Christian women are urged to do from every corner of the land, and she stood by her man, the right-wing is still going after her in the same old way. She’s a woman who knows how to do what’s hard to do when it’s the right thing. And to tell you the truth, most people didn’t give a damn that Bill was a normal man whose dick seems to have a mind of it’s own. She forgave Bill, and so have most of us. Why can’t you right-wing white guys get over it? I’d posit, that as long as we elect men to be our Presidents, we’ll have plenty more extra-marital fornication to deal with in the future. We always did—but prior to Bill nobody had the bad-taste or hypocrisy to make anything of it.

No other First Lady in recent history has been so hostilely scrutinized. No other First Lady had her nerve, wit, and quick intelligence, all backed up by a first class education, and the right sort of experience as a hard working lawyer. And she pissed-off a lot of republicans with her self-confidence and her feminism and her smart mouth. Remember Newt, Ken Starr? She had the nerve to try to tackle the embarrassing problem of health care in America. And the republicans, along with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, became apoplectic. Now, after having served quite successfully (and to my way of thinking, way too conservatively) she’s got the chops to run and win. Unfortunately, she’s running against another great democratic candidate, a smart, elegant, eloquent, handsome African-American man with good credentials. Who has stayed above the fray and seems unsullied by his career so far in the national political arena. And he offers us such beautiful words, so dashingly delivered we shiver and long to embrace his idealism, and, yes, the beauty of his delivery takes your breath away. It’s a little like falling in love. And that’s become the conventional wisdom if the pundits are to be believed. They say, “Democrats fall in love; republicans fall in line.” It’s a telling saying about the nature of the souls of each party, and the people therein. Or if you don’t believe in the soul of a party, how about the heart? And this year we democrats have an embarrassment of riches. I’d be happy with any of the three. Toss a coin. Really. Just don’t give the presidency back to the republicans, or we just might be in Iraq for a hundred years.

I heard Tucker Carlson say this week that Rudy would make a great President of Pakistan. Chris Matthews said John McCain claims not to understand economics, and we are in a steep downturn, and have been for quite awhile. Do we want him at the helm right now? At least he’d stop the torturing that makes us look so bad in the eyes of the rest of the civilized world. In fact, isn’t that one of the very things that makes a nation “civilized”— that it doesn’t engage in torturing? Rudy’s all for torturing. I’m not sure how Huckabee stands on torture, but he want’s to amend the constitution to reflect Christian biblical beliefs. I’m not Christian. My religious background is not grounded in the bible, old or new testament. So I’m not particularly excited about making this country a Christian theocracy. And when I watched one of the early republican debates, most of the candidates raised their hands when asked if they didn’t believe in evolution. If this is true, that these grown men don’t believe in evolution, the educational situation has been appalling for a long damn time. No wonder we’ve lost our edge when it comes to science and technology.

The thing that scares me most in watching the democrats right now is the sniping that Obama and Clinton are engaging in . And at the moment this sniping is a result of some unfortunate and slightly inflammatory words delivered by Senator Obama in praise of Ronald Reagan. It’s parsing and nit-picking and will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb, but it sounded to me like Senator Obama was giving Reagan credit for something I don’t think he deserved credit for. Great ideas, vision, some damn thing. Let’s leave it to the republicans to deify Reagan. It also sounded pretty disrespectful to Bill Clinton. It was, at the very least, dismissive. Then when Bill and Hillary objected to Obama’s comments, the tone got pretty snippy. And so, in the last democratic debate, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama started a pissing contest about who did worse things when they were each young lawyers. She represented Walmart. He represented a slumlord. I don’t know which is worse. They’re both pretty awful to me. But I’ll bet when you’re starting out as a young lawyer you have to hold your nose and take the work that comes your way. All in all, John Edwards is probably the candidate who has it all. He has a powerful message of Populist change, a health care plan, a plan to get us out of Iraq as fast as possible. I like him most for his concern for the poor and disadvantaged. But he’s just one more smart, good-looking white man, and running against two spectacularly good candidates who represent change just by virtue that they are not white men. This puts him at a big disadvantage.

This I do know. Hillary has already been gang-raped by the republican’s slime machine again and again and she’s still going strong. She might even have learned how to sling a little of it right back at ya. But Barack has not yet had that experience. He seems to be shaken by the meanness of the campaign so far. You ain’t seen nothin yet. He seems to think he can dance the light fantastic, high above the fray. And that won’t happen in the general election. They will drag him down and use every childish indiscretion, and despite the fact that he wrote a book and disclosed his youthful drug use, believe me, the republicans will make much of Obama’s past drug use once the real race to the White House has begun. It shouldn’t hurt him too much, since we all know W was a drunk and a cocaine user, but W had a daddy who’d been President and access to his momma’s money, and all those Skull and Bones connections, and he had Karl Rove (one of the nastiest men ever to run the country, never having served in any elected office.) I know, I know, Barak has his own brain. But those lying, cheating, criminal, well-connected S O B’s with their popular big-mouths Bill O’ and Rush would stop at nothing to find some imagined scandal that just might knee-cap the handsome young thing. And I have hoped too often, believed that young people would give a shit, and work to get out the vote amongst their peers—it hasn’t happened since the early sixties. I’m pretty sure Hillary is tough enough to take it. And like I said before, she’s ready. She has been there, she has done that. And I’m starting to get a kick out of watching the news on MSNBC so I can hear Chris Matthews worry about the "castration" factor. He just makes female viewers wince every time he says the word "shrill" in reference to Hillary’s voice, "cackle" when she’s seen laughing. He’s got a lot of nerve talking about anybody’s voice and laugh. She applauds her audience back. This drives him crazy. Chris advises her to appear softer, to seem more human, more feminine. But the second she shows her sweeter, softer side, he’s all over her for looking weak. All this does is make Mr. Matthews look insecure of his masculinity, all this does is make him look misogynistic. All this does is make us wish he’d move to Fox and let us have someone smart and half-way neutral take his place. Let’s have Rachel Maddow in his place. Rachel Maddow followed by Keith Olbermann on the air and a democrat in the White House. Now that’s a future I can look forward to.