The Power of Political Narrative: Part Two, The Dems


i. Ridic, Redux

LAST MONTH I WROTE about the Power of Political Narrative and the ways Republicans have kept it simple (stupid) and mostly stuck to an inflexible script for the last thirty years. No matter how flawed that script is, in reality, and no matter how many times reality makes a point of pointing out that virtually every talking point—taken as Gospel and enforced as Scripture—results in the opposite of what it claims (Clear Skies Act, etc.), a reckoning never occurs.

As such, we saw austerity when we desperately needed stimulus, coddling of Wall Street cretins when perp walks were well-warranted, craven acquiescence on the Guantanamo catastrophe, “Death Panels” instead of a public option, et cetera. Not that these are the results Obama (or the left) wanted or predicted, but because of—at least in part—the ability of the other side to sling the same excrement at every policy, proposal or achievement, defying a twice-elected leader to bring about change we can believe in. Or pocket change for the middle class. Or something.

Certainly, it sucks to see a party whose signal accomplishment the last two years (doubling down what they did the previous four years) was acting petulant and saying no like a paroxysm rendered Reductio ad absurdum, smug and certain they are about to retake the Senate. By refusing to govern they are likely to be rewarded, not because anyone (even Fox viewers) particularly likes the results, but because they have stuck so steadfastly to the scheme: lay blame on Obama, Democrats, and Government, respectively. At best tolerated (at worst abetted) by a degraded mainstream media they have done this repeatedly, and mostly with impunity.

And because we expect less than little from the intransigent GOP, how can we resent them for proving the cowardice of their convictions? Particularly when the profiles in courage not on display by their political opposition is so…typical. My concern is—and has been for some time—the ways in which Democrats are congenitally incapable of articulating their achievements, and crafting a message that is either compelling or consistent. The shame of it is, all they have to do is tell the truth and it would set them (and the rest of us) free.

I’m not suggesting it’s easy, or that it would be embraced—at least initially. As I argued last month, it’s a hell of a lot less demanding to pick a handful of platitudes and recite them like zealots at a Sunday service. But this is not a matter of formulating counterpoints or rebuttals; it’s about crafting a narrative that is consistent and, as no less a salesman than Henry Kissinger once said, has the added advantage of being true. Naturally, telling the truth does not come naturally to elected officials who are often paid for before they take the oath of office, and this circumstance is further complicated by the question of how many of them really believe in left-of-center principle in the first place. Still, any introductory class in marketing or communications (or English Literature for that matter) will emphasize the importance of narrative; the necessity of telling the story you want to tell.

It’s not that difficult to imagine, and this shit practically writes itself. One speech, early in ’09, wherein Obama declared: “not only am I going to fund these projects, no American who wants to work will go without on my watch. I’m going to spend this money, because it is an investment on people, and you will be able to measure the results immediately. This is a mission on behalf of our well-being, and if you want to judge me in four years, I will take those odds. And if I’m wrong, the worst case scenario will be an early retirement where I can drive across this great nation over new roads and rebuilt bridges, and take advantage of the radically improved infrastructure that these projects made possible. I’ll walk away from the Oval Office happy and proud, because I’ll know we made a difference, and that is what I was elected to do.”

Obama was either too clueless or (worse) haughty to believe he actually needed to make a case, and be ready to fight back against the full-scale war the GOP declared on him the second he was elected. (His refusal to bother himself getting involved in the health care brawls all summer of 2009 is the second largest blunder of his presidency: he not only allowed the malevolent Republicans to define the narrative (wrongly), he let the Tea Party lunatics get a foothold and, with the lack of any consistent, intelligible message, determine that opposing government was the correct, patriotic thing to do. By the time he saw the grammatically-challenged writing on the signs, it was arguably too late. Meanwhile, against all probability, the masses with their pitchforks and flames, had—for lack of a tangible target for the ire—latched on to the Fox-spewed propaganda filling the inexplicable vacuum of what passes, these days, for political discourse.


         ii . Coal Mines, Sean Connery and (of course) George Orwell

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s masterful investigation of the English working class, he makes the following observation: Watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit.

That succinct, typically clear-eyed assessment has stuck with me because, like so much of what Orwell wrote, it is not tied to any particular period of time. As I get older, I realize this quote can be applied to any number of professions. Put simply, money and means enable certain people to reside in entirely different realities. After one has read Orwell—hopefully at an early enough age that it makes one allergic to relativism and libertarianism—one can’t help but view the world through a sociological lens.

Quite by chance, I just watched an old classic that had been languishing in my Netflix queue: like St. Peter allowing a purgatoried soul into heaven, I finally brought it to metaphorical salvation via my DVD player. It’s one of those movies I’ve heard about many times and hear referenced often enough that I’ve had it on my to-do list for entirely too long. Plus, the notion Richard Harris sharing screen space with Sean Connery was, suffice it to say, enticing. The movie in question, The Molly Maguires, did not do well upon its release and has become something of a cult classic—with an emphasis on the cult.

The story, in a nutshell, involves the gruesome exploitation suffered by Irish immigrants (and workers in general including, of course, young children because this was before Teddy Roosevelt, horrified by the depictions in books like Sinclair’s The Jungle, got inspired to seize some manner of control from Big Business and introduce those quaint concepts of regulation and workers’ rights: in other words, this story takes place precisely in the era that today’s GOP is aggressively working behind the scenes to bring us back to) toiling for paltry pay in the coal mines.

If you are imagining an environment where safety was tenuous and the conditions were barbaric at best, you are not incorrect. It is also a workplace where the owners controlled everything, including the breaks not given and the payment not rendered. In one illuminating scene the new employee (Harris) stands in line to get his weekly wages: the boss adds up the coal collected and announces the amount; Harris smiles. Then the boss subtracts the damaged tools, the wear-and-tear (a 19th C. version of “administrative fees”) and the final amount is reduced from nine bucks and change to just change. As Harris stands in disbelief the boss, flanked on either side by police officers, glowers at him and says “Next!” If that sounds too much like a bad out-take from It’s A Wonderful Life, check yourself: these are the conditions that absolutely existed, as men like Sinclair (and later, George Orwell, of course) observed and reported.

The reason the movie was probably unsuccessful, and the reason the timing of my first viewing is serendipitous, is because of the subject matter: way before unions existed; circumstances were suitably dire that the use of drastic measures were required, and understandable. As a result, a group of protestors (or terrorists, depending on what century you live in and what newspapers you read) took to undermining the mine’s profitability by using incendiary tactics, literally. Harris, the “good guy” is a paid detective assigned to infiltrate this mob and help the honchos crush the uprising by killing the culprits. If this sounds a bit familiar, the story is based in large part on true events inspired by the reprehensible actions of the Pinkertons, who operated kind of like union busters before unions existed.

The movie is clever: by making Connery grim and uncharismatic (no mean feat considering this is Mr. Shaken, Not Stirred we are talking about) and playing up Harris’s roguish charm (yes, that is a cliché but if anyone could ever be said to possess roguish charm it’s the ever-ebullient but burly Harris), the viewer is almost conned into empathizing with, and rooting for the putative protagonist. Only after the film concludes does it finally—and fully—occur to the viewer: if the movie had been shot, or written differently we would be pulling for the “bad guys” all along. And that is the point. If the movie was told from the alternate point of view, it would have been preachy, unconvincing and free of emotional conflict. Which is exactly why it’s a good movie and most likely why it did not set the box office on fire. It also might make one recall the other chestnut (speaking of clichés) about history being written by the victors, the power of language to shape story and the mechanisms always at work to manufacture how reality is perceived.


iii. The Medium Remains the Message

As we stare down the ignoble specter of the GOP taking back the Senate next month, it is at once exasperating yet simple to see how we got here. Yes, the Democrats’ incompetence at crafting an actionable narrative has, at best, enabled the Republicans to proselytize their fealty to an ever-more-free market. But at least when they try (see: Clinton and Obama in campaign mode), they can compete, and occasionally win (!). The deeper and more disturbing issue is the way they’ve abandoned the very middle class their policies demonstrably support.

What has long befuddled me is that, even if you can cynically concede that even Democrats tread lightly before their corporate masters these days, it makes political sense to maintain a healthy relationship with unions. During the Tea Party shenanigans in ’09, I kept asking myself: when is our chronically aloof commander-in-chief going to start reminding everyone that this big bad government has historically been the bulwark between the people and an Industrial Revolution lifestyle? Does it need to actually get to the point where the Republican Party literally says “let them eat cake” before people start to realize wages are stagnating, prices are rising and the only people getting fat are the wealthiest one percent? Apparently it does.

Feel-good (or, feel-bad) lip service is paid to the undeniable, growing discrepancy of salaries paid and taxes not collected on the makers vs. the takers, but the song remains the same (see: a dose Romney, a dash of Ayn Rand and an unhealthy smattering of Religulous paranoia to expedite a state like Kansas acquiescing itself into fiefdom). And we’ve not come to terms with the fact that the wealthiest percentile don’t just look down on—or worse, ignore—their lesser brethren. They neither understand nor want to understand: they contemplate the impoverished the way many of us might ponder serial hoarders: we see it, are disgusted by it, and wouldn’t ever want to be like them, but we simply can’t fathom how they got to be that way; what happened to make them so unreasonable.

What Orwell articulated so well, in part because it was (is?) so stark and systemic across the pond, is the way class is at once an explanation and excuse for imbalance—not only in practical and political terms, but as ingrained disposition: things are this way because they’ve always been this way. After a while, injustice just seems to be the natural order of things. Okay, but it’s supposed to be different in America. We ostensibly have laws and systems in place to prevent unchecked stratification. That we can’t quite challenge—or even believe—what our lying eyes tell us is, again, what the Reagan Revolution has wrought. However much he has disappointed, it’s certainly not (only) Obama’s fault that his party has generally avoided the entire issue of class for practically half-a-century.

But even if the seemingly unsophisticated battle to prove the relative benevolence of government (or compassionate conservatism—ha!) seems a non-starter in 2014, it should not require too much PowerPoint proficiency to compile a quick commentary about what unions have wrought: minimum wage, forty-hour work weeks, health insurance, pensions, vacations, sick-leave, etc. All of the things people assume exist as an evolved conciliation, or were always just sort of there; or best of all, were the inevitable rewards of laissez-faire philosophy until big government came along and screwed everything up.

Regardless of her short-term political (e.g. presidential) aspirations, Elizabeth Warren—and the Yes-We-Can-type approbation she’s accruing—is, if nothing else, an indication that at least one notable liberal understands the power of going back to the future. The fact that someone like her (or Bernie Sanders, for that matter) exists is encouraging, but the fact that people are responding to this message should translate to a broader game plan, the sooner the better.

No matter what happens next month, it can hopefully provide sufficient momentum for the marble-mouthed Democrats to cobble together some cohesive messaging en route to 2016. One would think the mere act of pointing out the truth would not require heavy-lifting and soul-searching (but those without souls, admittedly, can have difficulty here). Again, I do not count on any of these center-left pols to suddenly find religion, so to speak, but presumably they can grasp that there is a purely political advantage to being on the right side of the middle class, not to mention history.

This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 10/22/2014.


How Caddyshack Explains Everything (Revisited)


Listening to the disingenuous whining of the G.O.P. regarding the outrageous and irresponsible debt Obama is creating provokes various reactions. Here are ten of them.

(But first, the image it conjures is that of Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) taking the controls of his yacht and wreaking havoc in the bay: his rampage ends as, unable to figure out a way to stop the boat, he slams into Judge Smails’ (Ted Knight) wonderfully named Flying Wasp. Czervik’s initial reaction seems to be one of embarrassed culpability; he runs over to inspect the damage and then, as only the most clueless and pampered multi-millionaire ever could, he looks down and exclaims to Smails, “Hey, you scratched my anchor!” And just in case there is any confusion, Czervik represents George W. Bush–an analogy that is apt on myriad levels.)

The first is: You assholes just spent eight years incinerating the American Dream; now you have the temerity to come out of your crawl space and complain that the guy with the big firehose (Obama) is getting everything wet? I guess it wasn’t so bad when it was a different guy with a different hose; in fact, it was oddly warm when the last guy was splashing all over your face…admit it, you kind of liked it, didn’t you? Different water sports for different folks, as the saying goes.

Second, as this piece by David Leonhardt reminds anyone with eyes, the debt did not exactly hit unsuspecting Americans like a tidal wave on January 20, 2009. Indeed, the bulk of this deficit took the entirety of the Bush administration to metastasize. And don’t kid yourself: it was a very calculated process, with malice aforethought. Nobody could have predicted how insane the real estate bubble truly was (though Paul Krugman was more like Paul Revere for many years while few people in positions of power listened; indeed he was regularly mocked and marginalized), but one need not have actually experienced the Great Depression to see what was coming. Indeed, one only needed to live through the late ’80s S&L crisis or the boom & bust to understand that monopoly money only works when one is playing the board game.

"Don't's good luck!"

"Don't's good luck!"

Third: Funny how nobody can quite bring themselves to consider the actual costs involved with that little foreign clusterfuck also known as Iraq. To put it in simple terms: it has not been an inexpensive adventure.

Fourth: How come the people who benefit least from tax cuts for the wealthy understand least how rotten a deal it is? (That is a rhetorical question, mostly.) The G.O.P. can always count on its base to take a bite out of the Baby Ruth bar.

"It's no big deal!"

"It's no big deal!"

Fifth: Seriously, how the fuck is it possible for people that work for a living (and pay taxes) to still be hoodwinked by this scam?

I assume Obama's doing a good job since the biggest douchebags in the country think he's doing a bad job


Sixth: Other than total ignorance or reflective racism, I can think of exactly zero reasons these same tax-paying American workers fail to see why universal health care is not a fantastic thing. You know, something that would actually help, not hurt them. Fox News and the people that watch it are, of course, beyond assistance. But for the rest of the folks? Obama is simply going to have to damn the torpedoes and do a much more effective job conveying what a no-brainer this actually is. Hopefully tonight is the first significant step in the right direction. Stay tuned.

Seventh: If you find yourself discussing these matters with a Republican friend who claims to be appalled with the way Obama the Socialist is saddling future generations with mountains of debt, feel free to refer to this (taken from the Leonhardt article, above):

The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.

You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.

The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.

About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.

Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.

About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

Eighth: If Bill Kristol and Newt Gingrich, those arbiters of equality, are stridently opposed to legislation, how could that legislation possibly be a bad thing? That is just shorthand logic at work: look at who is fighting universal healthcare: the most insufferable conservatives and the insurance industry. Those guys have your best interest in mind as much as this guy does:


Ninth: Anyone who thinks invoking Cheney is either a cliche or a cheap shot, just remember, this is the motherfucker who said Deficits don’t matter!

Tenth: Read this.


The Al Czervik analogy works on many levels, but it’s difficult to promote the notion of poor, unsuspecting America being represented by the bilious buffoon Elihu Smails; that old codger deserved his comeuppance, and Czervik, clown that he is, still is the one we root for because it’s not our money, it’s not our country club. It’s a country club cage match, and the only spoils the winners get is the privilege of being kings of a…country club.

Perhaps the better analogy, from the same movie, is the less metaphorically sticky moment when Carl (Bill Murray) watches lightning strike the priest and quickly, without a second thought, sneaks off into the night. All jokes aside, one would be hard pressed to come up with a better single image signifying the accountability of the ones who brazenly drove us off the cliff.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly: did I just actually utilize scenes from Caddyshack to discuss Republican intransigence on Obama’s initiatives? Well what do you want, nuanced, reasoned insight and exhaustive historical analysis over what boils down to the G.O.P. being scared shitless that successful health care policy will further entrench them in the wilderness? You’ll get nothing and like it!

They should have yelled "Two"

They should have yelled "Two"


Goodbye and Good Riddance, Joe Lieberman

Waaay back in November 2008 I put my feelings about Joe Lieberman on the permanent record. In a post entitled File Under: Teflon Joe (formerly filed under: Are You Fucking Kidding Me?), I pulled few punches and even allowed myself for a few fantasies. Of course he didn’t burn out, he faded away, and now he slithers off into semi-retirement (certainly he will turn up on the consulting circuit, turning expensive tricks for the powers-that-be). If there was a more shamelessly opportunistic, self-serving, solipsistic jackoff than Joe Lieberman inside the beltway this past decade, I can’t think of one (and that’s saying a lot, because there is no shortage of shamelessly opportunistic, self-serving, solipsistic jackoffs ’round these parts).

Anyway, for old time’s sake, here’s a blast from the past, in its unedited entirety.

The rumors of Joe Lieberman’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Damn. Personally, I wanted them to call this guy. Joe Lieberman didn’t need to be ignored, or voted out, or censured. He needed to be whacked. Politically speaking, of course. Mostly. I mean, let’s review the low-lights: motherfucker helps seal the deal as VP nominee–for the Republicans during the Florida fiasco in 2000. Promptly launches his ’04 campaign, which, rounding up, he had precisely 0% chance of winning.

(Side note: that he even made it as Gore’s VP choice was astonishing, considering he was the one Democrat who attempted to out-sleaze the GOP with his nose-holding piety once the wolves began to circle the wagons, post-Lewinsky. Of course, Clinton brought much of that mess entirely upon himself, but that’s neither here nor there: at worst, Holy Joe could have just shut the fuck up and stayed out of the way. Help, don’t hurt. That is your job. And, if there was some infinitesimal chance that any politician could ever be genuinely outraged by the sexual peccadilloes of another pol, much less the sitting-president, Joe’s opportunistic grandstanding was very obviously what it’s always been all about: himself. On the other hand, Gore was quite aware of this, and chose him anyway. That right there was almost sufficient reason for him to deserve the unthinkable (i.e., actually having victory snatched from him by the most inept and unqualified asshole who ever has–or ever will–run for the highest office in America. Indeed, Gore suffered so many self-inflicted wounds, he could (and should, and likely will) become a case study for how not to run a campaign). Granted, McCain gave him a run for his money with his ill-spirited, running of the bullshit debacle, but unlike McCain, Gore was actually qualified for the gig. It was his for the taking, and he consistently found ways to trip over himself, like a buffoon who couldn’t make the cut as one of the Three Stooges. And the primary reason Gore tapped Lieberman was to illustrate that he was down with the disdain; he not only approved Joe’s sanctimony, he encouraged it. Anything to distance himself from a very popular president whom he deemed unfit to campaign for him.

All of which is to say: let the record be very clear here: even back in the day–difficult as it is to imagine a day before 9/11, before Bush–Lieberman was the wrong person at the wrong time, chosen as a VP pick for completely cynical reasons in a spectacularly shortsighted act of calculated vetting. In other words, he was perfect. If he had just kept his huge, pale head out of the crossfire, he could have appropriately been relegated to the dust heap of political history, a Trivial Pursuit question that a handful of people, twenty years from now, might have answered correctly. But, of course, he seized the opportunity to be the most bellicose and hawkish Democrat in the pre-and-post rollout of the Iraq shitstorm. And that is truly saying something, when you consider how eagerly future candidates like Hillary Clinton and John Edwards sprinted to be the first ones in line to wave the flag and bomb the bad guys. Hillary, making her own very cynical and unforgivable accommodations to the neo-con nitwits, paid the ultimate price down the road, and could never run in the other direction fast enough to escape the shadow of what she had done. There, in a few sentences: the most succinct summation of why two sure-fire Democrat presidents never ascended to the throne; for Gore it was tragedy disguised as comedy; with Hillary there was never anything funny about it.)

So where did we leave off? Oh yeah. Iraq hurt everyone who climbed on the bandwagon, including Joe, who endured the humiliation of having to run as an Independent. But, as he always does, he hung on. And how did he reward the voters (and colleagues) who, when push came to shove, ultimately had his back? By bending over backwards, with that inimitable combination of bitterness and pomposity, to do everything in his power to ensure that John Mccain beat Barack Obama. Using the same unfortunate (and, in many instances, illogical) types of talking points that sold the Iraq War, and argued for America’s continued presence there, he hit the road and appealed to the worst aspects of America to make his case. Like an overly eager, brown-nosing student of Rove’s most insidious tactics, Joe questioned Obama’s patriotism, and whether or not he’d be able to keep good, loyal Americans safe. You know, kind of the way Bush has. Or McCain would. Just about any normal person would get a hernia trying to contort themselves into the twisted positions Lieberman took. Of course, it is not twisted, if one considers that the only person more consistently wrong about Iraq than Lieberman was McCain. History will show that he was, in fact, the right VP for the man who did not choose him. If anyone has been more shameless and brazen than Lieberman in his quest to maintain political power purely for the sake of having political power, it’s McCain. They deserved each other, and it made sense, when Obama won, that they both get escorted into the old folks home together, where they can beat their chests, yank out their hair, and bemoan the good old days when lying, self-aggrandizing used car salesmen could paint themselves as moral paragons.

And so…how is it possible, on any level, that Lieberman has survived, yet again? He makes The Terminator look like James Dean. There are too many clichés, all of them utterly appropriate, to go around here: does he actually have nine lives? How many pictures of prominent Democrats in bed with strippers does he carry in his wallet? How could the devil even want to trade down for his lily-white, sullied soul? How has he not been found, in a back alley, inside a new Cadillac, with an ice-pick shoved through the back of his neck? How has he not just spontaneously combusted from the sheer excess of toxic bile built up inside of him?

I have no answers to any of these questions. But, with the benefit of a few days hindsight, I can only nod my head and tip my hat to our president-elect. He is not of this earth. He is, in fact, the anti-Lieberman. Given a righteous opportunity to ensure that the closest thing we’ve seen to an actual Benedict Arnold in our time is escorted into the obscure infirmities of old age–as he so obviously deserves to be–Obama has shown his true colors. How can you realistically expect to be seen as (much less actually be) an agent of change if one of your first acts is to retaliate against such a pitiful insect as Joe Lieberman now is? (Granted, it’s exceedingly tough to swallow the notion that he not only lives to see another day, but that he retains his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Then again, let’s see how long that lasts.) In any event, I think Obama is seeing the bigger picture here, and understanding the long-term (or, simply beyond short-term) pros and cons of how he handles this situation. No one would shed any tears over Lieberman’s corpse (again, politically speaking), but why make a martyr out of the insufferable one? Why give the ankle-biting blowhards on the Right any opportunity to say “See!” or “I told you so!” regarding the new sheriff in town.

Perhaps more important (and there is no small amount of Machiavellian overtones here), what more effective way to neuter, or at least shame, Lieberman, than by throwing his cur-ass a bone? Of course, it’s fair to counter that if Lieberman has shown anything, it’s that he is beyond shame, and that he’ll continue to do anything and everything in the monomaniacal service of…himself. Still, he’ll get his comeuppance, whether it’s in 2012, or in a few months (stay tuned). Or perhaps Obama is even smarter than that, and recognizes that Lieberman is like Sgt. Barnes in Platoon: incapable of being killed; the only thing that can kill Joe Lieberman is Joe Lieberman. I’m happy to hand him a gun, just in case. Or, you know, we can see if “Jimmy the Gent” Conway has some spare time…


It’s (Still) Not Only About Obama…Still

Obama is, and always was, a work in progress.

Like any president.

Like any politician.

Like any person.

And he has earned the chance, with the assistance of an invigorated and woefully underestimated base, to continue that work for four more years.

Way back in early 2008, when I decided that Obama was the guy for me, I wrote a piece articulating my choice and why I felt he would make a better president than the then-consensus choice, Hillary Clinton. (You can go read it on the archives, from Feb 08, and realize how far Obama, Hillary and her husband have traveled, all for the better, since then.) The title of the piece was “It’s Not (Only) About Obama. My point was that Obama did not –and did not need to– transform into a human symbol of Hope and Change; it was more than enough that he inspired people to consider concepts like hope and change a possibility. It seems so long ago and far removed, but back then the only thing many people took solace in was the reality that, at worst, George W. Bush would no longer be president come 1/20/09. Much more on that appraisal, and that president, HERE.

Here was the thrust of the piece:

Obama, as all but his more intractable foot soldiers would concede, has some work to do. And frankly, even that is in many ways a relief. Playtime is over and we can’t afford another cocksure child who knows that he has no qualms with not knowing shit. Besides, as we learned from Gore and Kerry, (among other things) policy wonkishness is overrated in campaign season, particularly when the competition is John “100 More Years” McCain. Also, anyone who actually suspects that Obama is, thus far, a triumph of stylish rhetoric over substance is advised to pick up a copy of Dreams from My Father, or take a closer look at his achievements in Illinois or, tellingly, the unassailable success of the campaign he has overseen. The smart money says he is up for the challenge and, crucially, will most certainly surround himself, as intelligent and secure adults tend to do, with intelligent and secure associates.

We know how that turned out. Quite nicely, thank you. (And, lest any newcomers be confused: there has probably been more criticism leveled at the president on this blog the last four years than praise, in part because we expect so much from Obama: we do him and ourselves a disservice to pretend otherwise.) On the occasion of his Nobel Peace Prize the question was begged, by fans and foes: is this too much, too soon? My take is revisited below. For today, Obama has more than made good on the promise he, well, promised. There is still a great deal of work to be done. Fortunately, he seems not only to know this, but has counted on making his presidency a work in progress. One that can be continued four years from today.


The Nobel Peace Prize –and the general sense of optimism and expectation– is not only about Obama. This was true before the election and it’s true now.

In addition to an overdue but thorough repudiation of Republican incompetence, Obama’s landslide was more about the majority than the man. This belabors the obvious, today, but it’s instructive to recall the folks (and there were lots of them) who were convinced of two things back in ’08: one, that Hillary Clinton represented the best chance for Democratic victory; and two, Obama had no chance to win. That he did was not only historic on multiple fronts, but tempted many in the country to reach the optimistic, if premature conclusion that race relations had turned the corner. While it’s obvious that a fair chunk of the population would diametrically oppose Obama no matter what, it only takes a cursory examination of the tactics and tenor of their resistance to understand the bile simmering centimeters beneath the surface. Nevertheless, what some people ascertained early in the Obama/Clinton face-off was that Hillary had the unenviable prospects of having about half the country hate her, before she even took office. At least it’s taken Obama a few months of not miraculously resuscitating the economy he inherited (even Superman, for all his unparalleled powers, was not able to create jobs) to earn some skepticism. But his ability to appeal to the moderates and middle-of-the-roaders was the key ingredient of his electoral success. And that possibility, beyond the charisma and the eloquence, was what propelled the audacity to hope.

Naturally, news of Obama’s Nobel Prize is going to explode the empty heads of the haters, but it will also give the mouth-breathers a new outrage to rally around. Let’s stop and pause at the irony: for the better part of eight years Dems worked themselves into a lather with every new Bush embarrassment; for the past eight months each Obama accolade is treated like an act of treason. Actually, there is not much irony there at all –the same idiots who held their breath like infants during the Clinton years (years that look better and better in hindsight) and marched lockstep with every Bush decision that set the country back, now throwing tea-party tantrums while Obama tries to clean up the playpen he inherited.


To be fair, whoever was willing (much less able) to tackle the myriad obstacles Bush & Co. left in the way is worthy of an award. But let there be no mistake: Obama’s honor is very much a repudiation of Bush’s hideous legacy. And if this is seen by the howling twits on the Right as a big “F You” from the rest of the world, it’s small recompense for the eight year “F You” the previous administration offered the world, to everyone’s detriment. (Speaking of those twits, enough can’t be said about how eagerly they seek to place our foreign and domestic disasters at Obama’s feet even though they vocally endorsed the decisions that led to this state of affairs.)

And that is the most disgraceful development: I’ve yet to hear many condemnations of the demonstrably failed policies of the Bush years. That is because there have been very few of them. Most of the post-mortems have appraised the political failures. And therein lies the rub: Bush stopped being popular and more importantly, Bush stopped winning, therefore his legacy is tarnished in the fickle, always opportunistic eyes of those who once ardently endorsed him. The actual recklessness and depravity of the policies have not been reevaluated or disowned; indeed, their supporters have doubled down on them (see last year’s election).

To be certain, the hardcore right-wing offered tepid support for McCain not only because he was such a woefully inadequate candidate (that is the sane view; the insider GOP view was that he had no chance to win, therefore his embrace by the powers-that-be was never more than lukewarm) but also that he wasn’t a real Republican. He sought compromise and he was viewed as too often too willing to work with the other party to get things accomplished. This shows you the diminishing returns of bipartisanship, circa Y2K: McCain’s scarcely heroic public stance against torture or his reluctance to offer full-throated support to the cretinous scaremongering that passes for Republican discourse on immigration hardly made him a moderate. But in today’s GOP, it does. And that is why Obama was elected, and why –despite the predictable and appalling fecklessness of so many elected Democrats — the Republican brand is at a nadir of sorts (don’t mistake the millions of citizens disgusted by the Wall Street shenanigans or the unemployment numbers –directly brought about by Bush’s domestic policies — as any sort of endorsement of a return to Republican rule).


It is imperative to recognize, and point out as often as necessary, that the same sadists pulling the strings in the not-so-big GOP tent are mostly angry and embarrassed because they got beaten last November. There has been nothing approximating a concerned or sober investigation of what went so dreadfully wrong as a result of bellicose foreign policy, the reckless (and expensive) launch of an unnecessary war, or the thoroughly debunked and shameful worship of free-market, voodoo economics. In this regard what passes for the Republican intelligentsia is quite identical to the flat-earth imbeciles who insist, even as the evidence otherwise piles up all around them, that Jesus was white and dinosaurs ambled about the Garden of Eden and the world is only a few thousand years old.

Even now, as unemployment numbers rise alongside escalating health care costs, you have right-wing scribes advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest half-percent and an intolerance for reform that undercuts the very principle of free market economics (Is it not a self-defeating argument that the same party who clamors for the inviolable advantages of competition suddenly opposes it in this one instance? Is it not more than a little revealing that the same big government they ridicule suddenly poses such a menacing threat to the insurance industry?) This is the one argument that reveals the hollow core of the Republican machinery: if any of these folks actually believed in the economic principles they espouse, they would reluctantly have no choice but to acknowledge that the public option epitomizes the theory of market competition in practice. But, naturally, the ideology can be adjusted as necessary (just like the anti-deficit hawks made no noise when the Iraq debacle and the immoral tax cut policy put the entire country deep into the red), and this brazen hypocrisy makes it impossible to ever take these people seriously, if anyone ever did.

In regards to foreign policy –and it is in this capacity that Obama is inspiring the world community, and the impetus behind his Nobel Prize– it is tempting to simply propose that any developments that rankle the rogues gallery below is inherently worthwhile.

Cheney bolton krauthammer

Look at those faces again, and remember what they wrought. Just getting these sociopaths out of positions of power and influence is a substantial accomplishment.

On the other hand:

guantanamo us_war_deaths_coffins_DoD don't ask

Those images are a sobering reminder of where we’ve been, and where we still are.

The most patient (and/or gullible) Obama endorsers keep reminding us that the president has a lot on his plate, and this much-vaunted change will take time. Okay, so how much time does he need? This is the same man who vowed to shut down Guantanamo on Day One, and end the farce known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. The fierce urgency of now quickly became the urgent ferocity of political ass-covering. And it would be one thing if the people Obama was inclined to infuriate (and they will be infuriated) represented anything approximating a majority, or anything more than a small minority. As it is, he’s avoiding making easy, sane and moral decisions to…appease the same lunatics who are already calling him a traitor and a socialist? It makes about as much sense as Michelle Bachmann.

And it is because of his extreme caution, and his infuriating equivocations on such no-brainers as gay marriage that the concern about Obama’s Nobel Prize is warranted. Not the superficial and trumped up consternation from the Right; but rather, the creeping skepticism on those from the Left (those who just today were dismissed by a typically anonymous chickenshit inside the administration as the “fringe left”). Talk about biting the hands that pulled the lever for you! I understand –somewhat– Obama’s foot-dragging on Guantanamo (perhaps once the health care debate is mostly sorted out it will be time to fight that battle, albeit way too late), but his cowardice on equal rights for all citizens is unconscionable and indefensible. It would be lame enough if this was a demographically polarizing issue (as it was during Clinton’s first term) but the fact that a majority of the people are behind this long overdue action makes Obama’s sluggishness a disgrace.


And there are some of us who are mortified by the prospect that Obama is now standing on the shoulders of his most loyal supporters to fortify his bulwark of prudent calculation. That is not what he was elected for, and it will be an unacceptable turn of events if, not a year into his first term, he is already more worried about his second term than the promises he made to get him in office. It’s almost enough to make one wish for the tooth and nail trench warfare we might have expected from a Hillary Clinton one-and-done term in office (because don’t kid yourself, Hillary would never have a chance at re-election, in part because she would exhaust all of her political capital just staying afloat, yet that 24/7 offensive might provide the required ferocity to affect some meaningful change). Put another way, I’d much rather have a bruising and contentious four year term that actually yielded some change we can believe in than eight years of triangulated calculation, unfulfilled promise and sweet but ultimately empty rhetoric.

Perhaps a wake-up call is necessary: Obama, by all evidence, is a moderate, and he has said and done little to convince anyone otherwise. And if this is the best we can expect, it’s unfortunate but far from the end of the world (again, always keep in mind the alternatives the other party had on offer, and by all accounts is still offering). I’m still mostly content to hang back and reserve judgment and consider both the man and his presidency a work in progress. Concern is, to my mind, entirely warranted and a good measure of healthy skepticism is required. And yet. Considering, once again, the almost inconceivable cataclysm he walked into, and the fact that we are –by any mature measure– much better off than we could (or would) have been, there’s no need for the Dems to eat their own, as usual. Not yet. We have the luxury of keeping Obama accountable in part because he didn’t let us fall off the cliff this year. And that is quite worth keeping front and center in the year(s) ahead. Also, for all we know, events that are underway and far from fruition could turn out to be both historic and heroic, in hindsight. We’ll see. My bet is that the president will more than earn this premature encomium in the hard years ahead.

Nonetheless, if Obama is half the man History is setting him up to be, he is right to be humbled and he would do well to dedicate all of his energy and eloquence toward making good on the promises he already made. We can hope for more, but we should expect no less.


Why Bother?

Pivoting –and plagiarizing– from earlier sentiment expressed in greater detail HEREHERE and HERE, this is my succinct .02 on what’s at stake and a final shout-out for any of my undecided or indifferent friends.

As my girl Chrissie Hynde said: Everything touched is by political choice/The life you take is your political voice.

Believe that.

An ostensibly rhetorical question I read (and get asked) quite often these days is “Why bother?”

Why bother getting invested in politics?

Why bother reading all those papers and blogs and magazines?

Why bother wasting time since they are all the same?

Why bother voting?

Well, there are lots of good reasons, some of which are immediately evident to anyone who takes the time to be moderately informed and is aware of not-so-complicated concepts like cause and effect. That the policies of our former administration (and, more importantly, the power-to-the-powerful ideology that informs those policies) bankrupted our nation and –this is the toughest one to grasp– made us less safe is not a matter of opinion; it’s not debatable and there is no room for any possible nuance.

Also, there is only one type of Socialism being practiced in America today and it has been in effect for longer than four years. It’s Corporate Socialism. For evidence to support this claim, I submit every action taken by every Republican politician since 1980. Case closed, your honor.

To the haters, I certainly feel your pain, to a point. Yes, watching the Democrats try to govern is an often painful and occasionally pitiful spectacle (it’s amusing: Harry Reid is at once a man who should never, under any circumstances, have gotten involved in politics, yet he is, in the final analysis, the prototypical politician). Of course, in their defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. Particularly as our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish: we don’t want any government interference, we don’t want to pay taxes and we demand to see all of these pesky problems go away and take care of themselves. We have become a country of children who want to skip the main course and go directly to dessert, every meal, and then complain that we’ve gotten fat. And that in itself is a problem: that allows the Republicans to continue to frame the idea of shared accountability and responsibility as an inherently negative or intrusive notion. Let me be clear: that is, upon cursory inspection, a decidedly anti-American sentiment. The idea that paying taxes and supporting regulation of the food we eat and air we breathe is some type of burden implemented by a leering Big Brother is beyond moronic and borders on offensive. The idea that we can have no taxes, no regulation, no government involvement, unfunded wars and private interests in charge of everything  is exactly the intelligence-insulting ideology that landed us where we are now. And, for the last time, and as Thomas “What’s The Matter With Kansas” Frank elucidated, vigorously endorsing the notion that the wealthiest .01% of the population should not pay any taxes is going to put exactly zero cents in your pocket and create precisely zero jobs.

This is why you have to choose sides. This is why you can ill afford (literally and figuratively) to let these cackling, wealthy and well-insured weasels lull you into a state of impotent rage or, worse, apathy. Because aside from the ceaseless corporate welfare they will fight for, their ultimate ambition is to render the actually literate and sentient amongst us fed up and indifferent. Without awareness, and with no resistance, they can more easily continue their unchecked assault on our collective well-being.

Do what you have to do.


That Dog Will Hunt: Bill Clinton’s Big Gift

The Big Dawg was unleashed, and boy was Bubba barking last night.

Employing his best Arkansas drawl, he connected in ways that no president –of either party– has been able to do in several decades (if ever).

How many times did he say “Listen” or “Wait a minute”, “This is important” or simply “Now…”?

Can you imagine any other politician, on either side of the aisle, being able to pull that off? One who would even try?

I can’t.

What was the moment when he won the evening? (Well, the correct answer is: the second he opened his mouth.)

When he pointed out that Obama appointed Hillary, that was a classic Clintonian moment; it was the way he said it: Heck, he even appointed Hillary!

That is “triangulation” on an entirely different level: that of the elder statesmen, the wizened veteran, the wily rascal, still lavishing every second on the biggest of stages.

One of my (female) friends texted me halfway through the speech and wrote “He could get some from any woman in that room right now. Well, except Hillary.”

In truth, the entire speech was, to invoke a very tired but totally necessary cliché, a tour de force. There is only one person on the planet who could have pulled that off, and his initials are WJC.

For me, the seminal moment occurred when he paused –after succinctly laying out what the Republicans want (and have promised to do): even lower taxes for the wealthiest 1%, increased defense spending (in excess of what the Pentagon has asked for!), and significant cuts in the programs that help the middle class and poor kids– and smirked: “As another president said: There they go again.”

That is how you insert the shiv with a smile on your face.

On purely aesthetic levels, this was truly like an extend jazz improvisation: only someone with the requisite skills, knowledge and discipline can operate without a net, in real time, and make the magic happen as they go along.

You like apples? How about THESE apples.

An already beefy speech almost doubled in word count via off-the-cuff observations and friendly-sounding fire dropping out of the September sky like a rain of apocalyptic frogs. Too long? The only people wishing it would end were the people on the receiving end of those barbs and jibes (or aw shucks and jives). There were myriad reasons Clinton drove the Republicans bat-shit insane all through the ’90s and some of them were on ample display last night: the type of instant connection with a crowd that a spoon-fed charlatan like Mitt Romney could not buy with his considerable millions, the love of debate backed by stats and history (two things the contemporary GOP is increasingly allergic to, and for good reason) and an almost inimitable ability to praise his past foes all in the service of making a point about the contemporary villains. At the risk of redundancy, I’m compelled to pull another cliché out of the campfire: people who study speeches, politics and the social art of making friends and influencing people will be devouring and digesting this masterstroke for the foreseeable future.

If the Republican Convention was a tribute to the goose that laid the golden egg, by the time Clinton completed his night’s work –an instant classic by virtually any criteria– the Big Dawg had turned into the Cheshire Cat, standing above the carcass he carved up, picking his sparkling teeth with those dirty bones.

And speaking of that other convention, let’s pause for a moment and consider that the man who last led that party –the same man whose bellicose imcompetence turned Clinton’s surplus into the disaster of debt Obama inherited– was neither invited nor mentioned. What a devastating indictment; a testament to the reality that dare not speak it’s name, literally.

The only critique I’ve heard today is at once predictable and easily dismissed: Clinton stole the show, and possibly Obama’s thunder. Now, in fairness, Bubba raised the bar so high it does beg the almost inconceivable question: Can Obama –who has given a barnstormer or two in his time– possibly rise to the occasion this evening?

The good news for the Democrats, in terms of last night overshadowing tonight, is that in the worst case it’s still a win/win. Clinton was there to do precisely what he did (only more so, as it turned out, to Obama’s delight). There won’t be anyone who decides not to vote for Obama because Clinton outshined him. On the other hand, there very well may be more than a few folks willing to get on board (or, crucially, back on board) because Clinton achieved, in less than sixty minutes, what Obama and his team have largely been unable to accomplish, for the last 3-4 years. When the truth sets you free, it behooves a leader to have the courage of his convictions. Obama spent too much time worrying about, or else underestimating the case he could –and should– have been making, forcefully and without fear, going back to the Wall Street aftermath (THIS is what government is for; THIS is why we need regulations) and the rollout of health care reform (Folks, this idea originated from Republican think tanks; this plan is a very conservative alternative to debt and dependency). Hopefully his team was taking notes, and some invaluable if overdue lessons have been learned courtesy of the master.

After tonight, no matter how it plays out –and the smart money is on Obama bringing the noise; his legacy, after all, is at stake– the campaign will capitalize on this momentum, crafting Clinton’s treasure trove into some succinct, effective talking points. And they will flatter by imitation the example of the Big Dawg, using smiles and facts to rebuff the trash heap of half-truths, naked deceit and racist innuendo that the other side long since conceded is their only strategy.


Right Turn, Clyde: Unwinding Clint Eastwood’s Epic Fail

So…where were you during Clint’s convention meltdown?

Am I wrong in presuming this will become one of the great unfortunate, unintentional defining moments of an American icon’s life?

First and foremost: Respect! (And happy props to Adam Ant, who had serious game in his short prime):

Let’s not get carried away: on artistic and cultural levels, Clint has so much goodwill in the bank, so many classic movies and moments, it really does seem almost unkind to scoff at him. But scoff we must; after all, he obliges us to. He was not forced to put on that farce last night, and it was his choice to undercut his credibility with a rambling, incoherent (and occasionally offensive) diatribe. Imagine how both the GOP and the media at large would react if any Hollywood legend disrespected a sitting Republican president so brazenly? I’m neither offended nor outraged: even if his delivery had been intelligible it’s just one dude’s opinion. Mostly I’m grateful that, like so many of today’s Republicans (Hello Akin! I’m looking at you, Christie!) he did much of our heavy lifting for us. How can you effectively mock someone when they do it so forcefully, themselves?

This is what I wrote, in real time, as it was going down: What’s up with Katherine Hepburn…I mean Clint Eastwood. Boy is this embarrassing on multiple levels.

Clint’s best actor for a comedic role almost blew up the Internet. The best (of the myriad) tweets I saw came courtesy of Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie), who wrote: This is a perfect representation of the campaign: an old white man arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama.

And that’s the thing: all punchlines aside, Eastwood’s performance art was really the apotheosis of the boogeyman the GOP have tried to create not merely during this convention, but for the past four years. Little fact-checking is necessary to counter the reality that virtually every unhinged claim these clowns make is false. Obama can be –and has been– accused of many things, but being an American-hating Socialist is not among them.

In this regard it’s delightful to see a party so accustomed to bloviating about how only they can keep America safe have to essentially swallow a super-sized cup of shut the fuck up since Obama dealt with OBL and, knock wood, there have been 0.0 terrorist attacks on American soil. (Yes, it was amusing to see Condoleeza Rice –Condoleeza Rice!!!– who had that whole 9/11 thing and Iraq adventure go down on her watch, grasp at any opportunity to impugn Obama’s national security bona fides. It was futile, and it was more than a little appalling. But what else have they got?)

Did you hear the names Bush or Cheney a single time this week? I didn’t. And there’s a good reason why: aside from the cognitive dissonance it requires to be a Republican these days, even the most blissfully belligerent denial freaks understand that 2001-2008 is verboten. Just because all Romney/Ryan are offering is an aggressive, shameless return (retreat?) to the same policies that wrecked the country, doesn’t mean they are dumb enough to actually reveal the blueprint. (It speaks volumes that Ryan boasted about wanting to have this debate about his Rand-inspired roadmap, and yet he has hastily retreated from practically every position he has espoused the last decade, whether it’s abortion or Medicare or how deficits are created in the first place). Despite the typical tough talking, these little boys still don’t have the cowardice of their convictions to turn the spotlight, even for a second, on what actually happened and who was at the wheel when it did.

Still, these cretins have a ton of money to burn, and the attack ads aren’t going to get less negative or profusive. They will continue to pollute the airwaves, and I can scarcely imagine –at least without gagging– how ubiquitous and disgusting the commercials will be toward the end of October.

Let’s hope the Dems bring their A-game to Charlotte. There is a lot of spurious and potentially damaging spin to unspool, and a clear, compelling case to lay out before the undecided voters. (Let’s not linger on the fact that there are undecided voters; that there are people for whom 2001-2008 was not sufficient evidence of what to avoid, and let’s definitely not call out the vitriol and resistance to Obama –the best conservative president of the last quarter-century– for what it is: straight-up bigotry. Period, end of story. That the hastily debunked welfare ads even had a chance at being successful illustrates how brutally backwards huge chunks of our country remain, and the strides we still need to make. A lot more needs to happen if we aspire to live up to those blithely-invoked precepts Republicans are so programmed to repeat. This nation is exceptional in so many ways, but that American Dream should be applicable to more than those happy fools born on third base.)

Let’s laugh today, Clint Eastwood gave us a gift last night. But let’s also do our parts to counter the ill communication and mendacity that currently props up the GOP platform. I’m happy to laugh today, but I’m not trying to be crying in November.

And Clint, I guess it’s safe to say that the “right turns” were easier to pull off back in the day.


Obama’s Next Move

So, back in March 2010, the day after Biden –with his typical ill-advised, but beautiful candor– announced, within earshot of the mics “This is a big fucking deal”, I had a few thoughts about what had happened, what could happen, and what should happen. That long post can be found here.

This is how it begins:

Here’s how bad it’s gotten: David Frum, the dude who used to write speeches for the worst president we’ve ever endured, has written the most lacerating epitaph for The (Tea) Party of No, here. The entire thing is a must-read, and the closing paragraph demands to be quoted in full:

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

Here is the really ugly part: Frum is not Monday morning quarterbacking. He was practically pleading with anyone who would listen how (self) destructive this unified and unyielding obstruction would be in both the short and long term. In fairness, the G.O.P. had deluded itself into thinking that the fantasy they were spinning was gold, not shit. And there were plenty of cowards and co-opted folks in the media and inside the Democratic party who still hadn’t figured out how to stand up to bullies.

And then this:

Of course this problem was exacerbated in no small measure by Obama himself being way too cool and detached on the sidelines as the Fox News and RNC fear factories spewed out their garbage and took control of the narrative (and I’ll never forget, or forgive the cynical and craven Rahm Emanuel for folding like a shanty house in a hurricane the second Scott Brown pulled off his big upset in Massachussetts). Finally, at almost the last possible second, Obama joined the fray, inspired more by the need for survival than anything else.

Especially this:

As always, the so-called Liberal Media was about as useless as usual (and their general incompetence increases in direct proportion to the overall degeneracy of our political discourse). Obsessed with the trivial horse-race aspects of who won the most recent news cycle, and handicapping the odds and chances of whether some bill (any bill) might pass, they did less than a little to help dispel the truly hysterical talking points and outright falsehoods the right wing noise machine was expelling into the air.

And finally, this:

To the victor go the spoils, history is written by the winners, etc. But it’s more (and less) than that: just as the fairly hysterical media coverage post-Brown did not paint an accurate portrayal of what was really going on, or what was likely to happen, the surprise passage of HCR is not going to transform moderates into liberals. It doesn’t need to. Unless the bill begins rescinding peoples’ coverage because of pre-existing conditions or bankrupting families who can’t pay their bills (oh wait, that’s what is already happening), it stands to reason that HCR will never be more unpopular than it was last Saturday. After Sunday, the bill can only get more popular in direct proportion to the number of people who realize it’s not only not the end of the world, but actually a pretty swell thing. This transformation is already underway(not just the big shift in public opinion in recent polls); each day that goes by without any of the more outrageous Republican predictions coming true is another opportunity for T&R (Truth and Reality) to vanquish the hysteria.

All of this still applies. Only more so.

The Roberts ruling was unexpected, and frankly underscores how freakishly right-wing his compatriots have become. Alito, Thomas and Scalia are like the unholy trinity representing a genuine repulsion for anything resembling progress, equity or tolerance. They are appalling, repugnant human beings. It will be delectable to see the GOP turn on their golden boy, who has gone from icon to outcast in less than one news cycle. Welcome to the jungle, John.

Let’s break it down to brass tacks: Obama got a gift here; let’s hope he uses this to push harder instead of retreating to the “conciliatory” gestures that have served him so poorly thus far. First order of business: he needs to beat Romney with this 24/7 and begin laying out a new mantra: this policy is good for people, despite what you’ve heard, etc. And it was devised at the Heritage Foundation (yes ladies and gentleman, until very recently, this was a Republican idea and one that was enthusiastically endorsed until a Democrat had the audacity to hope he could sell it). And finally: Mitt did this in his own state. Make it impossible for him to continue his mealy-mouthed, intelligence-insulting retreat from both history and reality.

Next: messaging. Boy has this administration been lousy (and lazy) in terms of articulating some simple talking points, and defending its own achievements (despite the 24/7 noise from the Right Wing Machine, it’s ludicrous, to take one notable example, that so few people understand that Obama has consistently cut taxes, not raised them). The temerity and incompetence of his staff could be ameliorated quite easily. Hint: I’d do it for free. Here’s something off the top of my head:

I do not consider this a victory for Democrats; it is a victory for Democracy. This is not about defining my legacy; it’s about measuring our collective morality. I salute the Supreme Court for not yielding to the lesser angels of our nature, epitomized by partisan bickering, well-financed lobbyists and a media culture obsessed with horse-races and news cycles. Rather than celebrate my first obligation is to set the record straight. You all have heard a lot about death panels. No. This policy is to prevent the deaths of loved ones and people who don’t have access to simple care, or who are bankrupted by the out-of-control costs of basic treatment and prescriptions. Ultimately this is not about politics or even personal choice; this is about running the country in a fair and effective fashion and helping drive down debt and taxes due to a dangerously outdated system. And because we will at long last refuse to make profits off of our sick citizens. We are all God’s children and it’s the position of this administration that we can no longer afford –literally– to be the only major nation that has a for-profit health care system: that is outmoded and outrageous. No hard-working American should be bankrupt by the cost of his or her medical bills. No child or senior citizen should have life-saving medicine withheld because it’s too expensive. No insurance company should make obscene profits while our death rate escalates to third-world levels. To my partisan critics I offer this reminder: Social Security, Medicare and Civil Rights were all vehemently opposed and protested; now they are seen as natural and inevitable components of the American culture: our mission should be ensuring our society is more fair and the opportunity to prosper is a reality, not a dream, for more of our citizens.

This stuff writes itself. No, it won’t win over any useless idiots on the other side of the aisle (America has yet to identify an effective antidote for denial and willful ignorance) but it will slowly, steadily start to resonate. A different, better –and accurate!– narrative will emerge, and it will be increasingly difficult to argue against. It doesn’t mean that heavily-financed corporate interests and bought-politicians won’t try their damndest to tell it like it ain’t, but a funny thing has happened throughout our nation’s history: new ideas that frighten or threaten vested power structures are initially ridiculed, then slandered, then feared, then resisted, then pilloried and, finally, after too much time and money has been invested by the bad guys, enough citizens look around and see that their lives are improving, and the spin they were spoonfed was, in fact, erroneous. And getting someone to feel bad about something that demonstrably improves their life is something even corrupt judges and deep-pocketed slumlords have a difficult time doing.


Rodney King, R.I.P.

Some people, like Rosa Parks, seem determined (if not destined) to make history. Some, like Parks, are successful. Others are not (many of them are appearing right now on reality TV shows).

Then there are the people, guided by fate or fortune, have history drop on them like a script. Rodney King, who passed away this weekend (obit here.), was of this ilk. He was not a hero. In fact, he was a criminal, in the process of committing a crime, when another, more serious crime, got committed and captured on tape. The rest, of course, is History.

Whatever one thinks of King, the joke of a trial that saw all the officers go free, the resulting riots, and the uneasy aftermath, there is no denying that his so-called fifteen minutes were among the most meaningful of the last quarter-century.

I wrote about him –and us– a little over a year ago on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his unforeseeable encounter with immortality.


On March 3, 1991, in a case that sparked a national outcry, motorist Rodney King was severely beaten by Los Angeles police officers in a scene captured on amateur video.

Twenty, already?

As incredible as that is to process, it also underscores on so many wonderful levels how far we’ve come as a country. Don’t get me wrong, it also casts a bright dark light on how unevolved we insist on being, and how much work there is to do (yesterday: women, minorities and homosexuals, today…workers’ pensions?).

But just thinking about the racial dynamic, it is difficult to deny that we’ve come light (skinned) years compared to how we rolled, collectively, a couple of decades ago. Put it this way: it was a leap of something greater than faith to conceive of an African-American being president four years ago. Twenty years ago? The only person who had that type of hope & audacity was Jesse Jackson, and even he wasn’t kidding himself. (And don’t kid yourself: without this man and the indescribable lifting he did, the notion of President Obama would still be a fantasy.)

It happened: we made it happen. Yes we did; we have an African-American president (even if he’s a Republican…just kidding, mostly).

In any event, looking back at March 3, 1991, it’s difficult to determine what is more unlikely: that something this barbaric happened, or that it happened to get caught on tape. Because let’s face it: if it had not been caught on tape, we would never know about it, and a great many of us would never have believed it. History usually happens quickly (in hindsight anyway) and this was definitely one of those seminal occasions where everything changes, immediately. This was exactly the see-it-with-your-own-eyes evidence America needed to be slapped upside the head with, and it began a dialogue that put us, however tardy and reluctantly, on a path toward progress.

In so many ways, this appalling spectacle anticipated what was to come in the subsequent decades (culminating in Obama’s victory): the use of amateur handheld video going “viral” (back then you still had to get through the gatekeepers at the major news outlets but those buttoned-up buffoons know a story when they see one), leading us in a crooked and narcissistic path to YouTube and Reality TV. The sensationalistic nature of infotainment where instead of letting actions speak louder than babble, we bring in “experts” to explain to us what we are witnessing, or more importantly, what we should be making of it (I’m thinking here of our number one agent of contemporary intellectual debasement, Oprah Winfrey and her stable of charlatans, all of whom epitomize a sick aspect of the American Dream as they prove you can manage to extract inconceivable wealth from gullible fans no matter how little you have to offer). We also see an engagement with current events from artists that would give rap music an edge that saw it through its golden age (post Run DMC and pre-cartoon character knucklehead solipsism) where acts like Public Enemy, Ice Cube and KRS-One began to voice defiance to the prevailing storyline (this was both welcome and distressingly overdue as we limped toward the end of the Reagan/Bush debacle).

Make it rough. That is exactly what artists started to do, and it’s possible to imagine that the next generation was poised, if not exactly prepared, for the paradigm shifting possibilities of the Internet. Within a decade after the world got its own URL, people plugged in, dialed on and woke up (ironically, right around the same time Timothy Leary got set to “explode into space”). At first a novelty, the ability of people to download music, create digital files, record themselves and the world around them –and share these advancements with people they didn’t know, half-a-world away, in real time –quickly became the new normal. Initially downplayed or demonized, blogs and (increasingly) independent sources of information began breaking stories and busting down walls.

We’re not even close to where we need to be, and we never will get that far, but recent events prove that underground voices and unauthorized agents of dissemination can challenge, even counteract the sanctioned (and sterile) storyline. Look at Wisconsin: it was business as usual, and the game-rigging mainstream media was either promoting the anti-worker talking points or else not reporting at all. But a funny thing happened: people (finally) started paying attention and talking about it; like a healthy rash, awareness quickly spread and all of a sudden we had a minor movement on our hands. (Check out how social media has energized the various uprisings happening right now across the pond…)

It still takes entirely too many of us entirely too long to see (and smell) what’s happening right in front of us, but after the last 20 years (Rodney King, Iraq, Wall Street’s Big Adventure), it’s no longer easy –it may no longer be possible– for this younger generation to set the controls for the heart of the couch and fall asleep. Now we know that things we are unwilling to even imagine are happening, daily, around us and to us. We are unable to ignore what is staring back at us, on the screens and in our mirrors. Even more important, we are finally able to acknowledge what is going on when we are not watching. That, in its own irregular way, constitutes progress.


The Contraception Contretemps and the Siren Song of Sanity

Did you see Rick Santorum today? Did you hear him yesterday? A year ago? A decade ago?

Look: I’ve had little to say about this recent (very manufactured, very cynical) hysteria about womens’ right to not have their private parts and personal volition subject to what a bunch of old fruits in costumes and out-of-touch, self-loathing (likely closeted) politicians determine, based wholly on words that explicitly do not appear in the bible.

What can/should anyone say that public outrage and the fact that it’s 2012 won’t take care of?

Aside from how poorly it will continue to play, politically, these outrages represent a real opportunity (and this is important: it will play poorly politically not because of spin, or the media, or astute campaign messaging but because these opinions –and the bills they are attempting to produce– are equal parts antiquated, offensive and calculated to appeal to an ever-shrinking base of true believers). Speaking of shrinkage, wouldn’t it be nice to see some of these freaks put their money where their hard-ons aren’t and get equally fired up about banning erectile dysfunction meds? Lots of senior citizens popping those pills in the hopes of procreation, right? Of course, the hypocrisy of religious men (and women) is literally too long and disgusting to catalog, so let it suffice to say that this ship has sailed, and condolences to you all as you live out the rest of your bitter, backward lives listening to the anti-siren song of progress, evolution and tolerance. I hope it continues to hurt your ears in equal proportion to how happy it makes my eyes, and heart. Who’s with me?

(Incidentally, don’t give this cretin an ounce of credit for belatedly backing off the bill that should never have been brought forth in the first place. It is disgraceful –and what an embarrassment to my state this idiot is– that this clown shoes lunatic fringe has felt sufficiently emboldened in recent weeks to get their Medieval on. On the other hand, that noise you don’t hear is the satisfying silence of cowardly retreat and that noise you do hear is the unified uproar of women (and men) who are appalled that this could possibly be a conversation piece in 2012. That he turned tail so quickly shows how opportunistic and shameless everything about this “controversy” has been. That he –and his imbecilic compatriots– thought for one moment that they were on the right side of (take your pick) history, sanity, or respectability (in 2012!) shows not only how obtuse, but willfully out of touch these jackasses really are. Let’s hope the chorus of sanity grows louder still and what was obviously conceived as a winning diversion (HA!) turns out to be an overdue rallying cry for the types of people who were supine or asleep enough to let an immoral vandal like Bob McDonnell get elected in the first place. For anyone still not paying attention: consider this a painful but necessary wake-up call.)

Similarly, my take on the recent contraception contretemps can be boiled down to one sardonic observation, which I offer with maximum disdain: If adolescent boys could get pregnant, the Catholic Church would be passing out birth control with the communion wafers.

On a happier note, did you catch Obama last night? If not, some video below.

The election comes down to all sorts of factors, but in terms of who “gets” it, who is “real”, who is contemporary, who is in touch and who can inspire progress, would you rather have a president who hangs out with blues legends and community organizers, or a president who pals around with bishops and lobbyists?

The “choice” is yours. 

(See what I did there?)