Jun 29, 2008

June 7, 2008: The Taming of the Shrew, Referendum on the Swine, Winning on Points

With the results of last week’s primaries, the long contest has now come to an end with Obama emerging with a clear majority of duly elected delegates. With the votes having been counted in South Dakota and Montana, a rush of Super Delegates pressured by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid began to climb onto the Obama train as it was leaving the station. By mid-week, Obama had clinched the nomination. Today Hillary scheduled a speech before her staff and supporters in which she announced the suspension of her campaign and, albeit belatedly, congratulated Barack on his historical victory.

“She came this close,” wrote Katha Pollit in Nation. “Love her or loathe her, the big story here is Americans saw a woman who was a serious, popular, major-party candidate. Clinton showed herself to be tough, tireless, supersmart and definitely ready to lead on that famous Day One. She raised a ton of money and won 17.5 million votes from men and women. She was exciting, too: she and Obama galvanized voters for six long months—in some early contests, each of them racked up more votes than all the Republican candidates combined. Once the bitterness of the present moment has faded, that’s what people will remember. Because she normalized the concept of a woman running for President, she made it easier for women to run for every office, including the White House. That is one reason women and men of every party and candidate preference, and every ethnicity too, owe Hillary Clinton a standing ovation, even if they can’t stand her.” (1)

Amen. Let us take a moment here and tip our hat to Hillary, and to Barack, for accomplishing what no one thought was possible only a short time ago, making this election cycle, whatever its outcome, truly a transformative political experience.

A year ago, Hillary Clinton stood before America as the once and future Queen; the heir apparent representing a government in waiting. The nomination, if not the Presidency, was hers for the taking. With the backing of Big Bubba and his much feared political machine, with the support of thousands and the ability to raise over 100 million dollars before the first votes were cast in Iowa, with her name recognition, and facing a field of perceived political lightweights, Clinton appeared a lead pipe cinch to capture the nomination. No one expected the contest to go past Super Tuesday. By early February, the common wisdom had it, this race would be over.

No one, it appears, except the young upstart, Barack Obama of Illinois. Blinded perhaps by hubris and, in the end, believing their own press releases, the Clintons quite simply didn’t see Obama coming. It is a cardinal sin in politics to underestimate one’s opponent. As in baseball, where anyone with a bat in their hands is dangerous, events can change suddenly. Many a would-be, odds-on favorite to be President of the United States can attest to that. The history of this republic is littered with the shattered remains of such ambition. Ask President Aaron Burr, Stephen Douglas, George McClellan, Samuel Tilden, William Jennings Bryan, Al Smith, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Bob Dole, or Al Gore, not to mention many lesser lights. Barack Obama proved to be a formidable opponent with prodigious powers to inspire crowds, build a first-class political organization, and unparalleled ability to raise money. By the end of last year, the Obama camp began to match the Clintons dollar for dollar, and by early in the primary season began to outstrip the Clinton fund raising ability, outspending her in some states by multiples of 3 and 4 to one. It was a serious mistake compounded by many, many, others.

First was her inability to apologize for voting to give Bush war powers. Instead, we were presented with a long series of rationalizations, in which Hillary justified her vote saying that she wanted to give the President authority in order to make it possible for weapons inspectors to go into Iraq and in order to build a coalition in the United Nations in the event war broke out. While critical of Bush for both his leading the nation into war and his subsequent conduct of the conflict, she always stopped short of admitting mistake. This was, in the wake of a president who famously remarked in 2004 that he couldn’t think of anything — despite the failure to create a single net job in four years, or leading us into the greatest quagmire since Vietnam — that he would do differently. America had seen enough of leadership that cannot bend, cannot change, and cannot admit mistakes. Robert Kennedy, in his time, admitted such mistakes over Vietnam and apologized to the country for his part in leading us into the morass, Hillary couldn’t quite find the words. This gave Barack, as Chris Matthews pointed out on “Hardball,” a huge opening to become the ‘change agent’; to become the vehicle through which disgust with the current state of affairs would best find voice. Openly questioning the value of experience if such experience is leading us unto quagmires, Barack made the most of the Clinton misstep and positioned himself as the more ‘transformative’ candidate in the race.

Secondly, the Clinton campaign, after having lost the mantle of change, failed to develop an adequate campaign theme. The second rule in politics, after never underestimating one’s opponent, is to identify what makes the voting public most anxious and address those concerns. The election is, or rather should be after all, about the ‘people’. So while the country fretted about the emerging debacle in the Middle East, as we watched our standing in the international community dwindle to near nothing, as we witnessed the skyrocketing rise in energy and food prices and the near collapse of the housing market, the fears of the republic were addressed by the Clinton campaign with the slogan “Ready on Day One”. This merely served to beg the question: “Ready to do what?”

Hillary came off the blocks, stressing what her campaign thought to be two salient points: that her gender would automatically make her a ‘transformative’ political figure, breaking through heretofore impenetrable political barriers by definition as she progressed through the primaries. The problem with this strategy was two-fold. First, against a normal field of white males this might have worked, except when confronted with the person of Barack Obama, a man of mixed race. He, too, brought with him such transformative potential by so participating. Secondly, this strategy betrayed a campaign that, thematically at least, told the nation that it wasn’t about America but instead was all about Hillary. It was the perfect ‘Boomer’ gaffe, a genuine reflection of the ‘me’ generation — the Generation of Swine — that had by this election cycle all but worn out its relevance and its welcome. Obama, demonstrating superb political instincts quickly made the election a referendum on the swine, openly calling for an end to the endless food fights which are the products of, “conflicts hatched on college campuses forty years ago.” The result was that by the end of January, Hillary’s campaign had lost its majority black support, and was increasingly forced to rely on older white women — boomers — for both the money and the votes to keep her in the race. Obama had stolen the change issue and become the ‘transformative’ candidate in the race, eclipsing Clinton to such a degree that both Hillary and Bill were out on the hustling, mocking the young Jedi and openly campaigning against the very idea of change itself.

Third, Hillary had failed to surround herself with competent and professional campaign staff and advisers. Millions were paid to consultants who clearly had no idea how to fashion a viable message. In addition, she hired people like Mark Penn who erroneously thought that California was a winner-take-all primary and that winning it would sew up the nomination. Penn is a seedy aging boomer who, when not delving in Democratic Party politics, works as a lobbyist representing foreign governments. He is old enough to know better. One simply has to recall the Democratic Convention of 1972 in which the McGovern forces — which had won California — needed all the votes in order to win the nomination. McGovern had spent the best part of the previous four years reworking party rules eliminating the winner-take-all formula in favor of proportional representation. But California, in 1972, was one of the last states to still have the old rule in effect. The McGovern campaign was compelled to violate the candidate’s own stated position in order to garner all the delegates from the state, but it was made clear that California would have to abandon the way it awarded its delegates and bring their process in line with the national party rules by 1976. California has, therefore, apportioned delegates accordingly for over 30 years now. Mark Penn should have known that and, in the absence of the knowledge of such details, someone on the staff should have questioned him.

This debacle, born by an incomplete understanding of the process, proved to be the ‘Merkle Boner’ of this campaign, for it ended up costing Clinton the nomination. By not understanding the rules and acting accordingly, the campaign was forced to extend itself beyond Super Tuesday, an event — incredibly — for which there were no plans. The Obama camp, acting on the rules and planning for a long war of attrition, out organized the Clintons in caucus states and smaller states with open primaries. By winning enough of the vote in the larger states to stay competitive, Obama, even on Super Tuesday, was able to win more delegates despite losing the big states of New York and California. As the campaign then went through the Midwest and into the heartland, the Clintons discovered, to their dismay, that with each upcoming contest they would be confronted with a massively funded, well-organized opponent who stood waiting for them.

The Clintons were then forced into retreat in what became a long ‘scorched earth’ campaign to increase Obama’s negatives by relentless attack thereby attempting to salvage what diminishing hope remained by demonstrating that he could not win. In the process Hillary discovered her voice and became a formidable campaigner in her own right. But the tone of the campaign only served to further raise her already historically high personal negatives as well. In the end, both candidates staggered to the finish line with Obama outlasting her and winning on points.

In the end, the campaign went, more or less, precisely the way the Obama strategists had hoped and predicted. They knew that they could not take out the Empire with one blow, but that to successfully challenge they would have to win a long, drawn-out war of attrition. Obama demonstrated in the process to not only be an effective speaker, but a man capable of building a first-class professional organization that proved sensitive to addressing the concerns of his audience, as well as utilizing the latest technologies and medium of communications. The Clintons, on the contrary, presented the country with a much more amateurish, tone-deaf, and sluggish enterprise, at times wholly out of step with the nation. She was, perhaps, not the best vessel in which to launch this quest to sail on new political water, but she proved herself more than adequate. Despite entering this contest with the highest personal negatives on record, Hillary nevertheless inspired the nation with her grit and determination, her passion for health care, and her ability to inspire; winning by her count more votes in the primaries than anyone in American history. Obama, recognizing her contribution, said that through her efforts, the lives of his two little daughters have been given greater promise and hope. The life of our daughter as well.


1. Pollit, Katha. “Iron My Skirt’ The Nation June 23, 2008 pg 10

June 6, 2008: Time it Was, Long Ago, Preserve Your Memories

“Time it was
And what a time it was
It was…
A time of innocence
A time of confidences.
Long ago…it must be…
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories;
They’re all that’s left you. –Paul Simon, from the album “Bookends” (1)

On this date forty years ago, Robert F. Kennedy died in Los Angeles. He was 42.

1. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/9754/lyrics_bookends.htm
2. http://www.paulsimon/node/37

June 5: A Bright Sunny Morning, The Fatality of A Greek Tragedy, Ultimate Irony

It was a bright sunny morning on this date 40 years ago. It was early, a bit after 7 as I remember it. My mother came up into my room and awakened me. I had been up watching the election returns the previous night, somehow finding time between school and two jobs to check in on the progress of the campaign. As RFK spoke his final words, I turned off the television and, reinvigorated after the disappointing loss a week before in Oregon, went off to bed much encouraged. I remember her shaking me and saying, “Joe, Bobby’s been shot.” I tried to wake up but it was difficult; long weeks of living on three to four hours sleep a day were taking their toll. She repeated herself, “Bobby’s been shot.” Having seen her son go off and join the campaign she said, “It’s on the news now, I hate to wake you, but I know you’d want to know.” She then left my room and I got up, put on a few things, and came down the stairs. On television was Frank Blair of NBC’s morning, “Today Show” covering the story as it came from Los Angeles. It didn’t look good. A head wound, rushed to the hospital, critical condition. I watched, like the nation, the drama of the day, like the fatality of a Greek tragedy, play itself out.

Shortly after 8 that morning, I walked out into the bright morning sun. The temperature was already rising and warm for this climate at this time of the year. Everything seemed so bright on this dark morning; perhaps the ultimate irony as the fates played with our soul.

“Those were the days my friend,
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live a live we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young
And sure to have our way” --Mary Hopkin, “Those Were the Days”

Later that morning, my aunt called to express her condolences. She told me that if he survived, he would win, but we both knew otherwise. The campaign lasted a mere 82 days; days of hope and inspiration, days of challenge and days that transformed both the Democratic Party and the nation. Today, when people speak of the “Kennedy wing” of the Democratic Party, they are not referring to Teddy, who now 40 years later finds himself battling brain cancer and fighting for his own life, nor are they referring to Jack, but Bobby. His is the voice that speaks from the soul of the Democracy to the nation. After all these years, we can still hear that voice in our ears.

June 4, 2008: Enter the Wrangler, Nearing the End, Into That Long Night

Enter the Wrangler. Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), one of those who early-on urged Hillary to run for the Senate in New York and a mentor of sorts, had seen enough. Staring down the barrel of an open floor-fight, first to challenge the delegate apportionment of the Michigan and Florida delegations as decided over the Memorial Day weekend by the party, and then a full-fledged contest for the nomination itself, Rangel would have no more of it. With two months of pressuring Super Delegates to overturn the results of the long nominating process, and all the political intrigue and ‘horse-trading’ that would entail, the Congressman called together several of his colleagues for a conference call which, in effect, was the Democratic equivalent of that meeting Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott had with Nixon advising him to step down. Rangel, despite pressure from the black community to support Obama, had been a steadfast Clinton supporter, remaining loyal throughout what had become a bitter, hostile, and sometimes openly racist campaign. Today, he was on the phone with is protégé informing her that the end had come. Accordingly rumors began to circulate that the Clinton camp was beginning to negotiate the terms of capitulation.

On this date 40 years ago, Robert Kennedy won the California primary, besting Gene McCarthy. The New York Primary had yet to be held, but it was becoming clear that Kennedy was emerging from the primaries with a great deal of momentum. Chicago’s Richard Daley was about to jump ship and switch from support of the administration, now represented by Hubert Humphrey, to Robert Kennedy. Kennedy, speaking at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, made references to healing the divisions between black and white, rich and poor, young and old; of the need to end the war. Finally with the words, “And it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there,” he walked off into the long night.

June 3, 2008: End of the Slugfest, Unheralded Achievements, Opportunities Lost

The long slugfest between Barack and Hillary ended last night with the country being presented with yet another set of ‘bookends’, this time Hillary winning in South Dakota and Barack prevailing by similar margins in Montana. South Dakota went for Hillary 55-45%, 54,000-43,000 votes respectively; Montana reversed the tables voting for Obama 56-41%, 102-74,000 votes respectively. The long slog through the primaries presented the nation with Barack Obama winning the majority of pledged delegates chosen by primary election or caucus becoming in the process the putative Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

On this night, Hillary and John McCain would have none of it. Hillary, in her ‘victory’ speech in South Dakota, did not even pause to acknowledge her opponent’s triumph in Montana, much less his historic achievement. Instead, focusing on her victory here and in Puerto Rico last weekend and falsely claiming victory in the contest for most votes cast, which includes the muddled contests in Florida and Michigan, she touted herself as the real winner. Ignoring the only votes that matter — the delegate count —s he pledged to carry her fight all the way to the convention. McCain, for his part, said nothing concerning the historical achievement of his fellow Senators, but instead focused on the mundane.

This campaign has been beset by a series of lost opportunities. As noted earlier in this narrative, the victory by Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, marking the first victory by a woman in a contest for President in an open primary, went unheralded, not only by Obama, but the mainstream press. Many more victories were to follow, but since the opening bell at Iowa, Hillary has never led in the delegate count. For all intents and purposes, this race has been over since Super Tuesday when the Empire proved unable to dispatch the young Jedi — a verdict confirmed by a string of victories throughout March. As the campaign progressed, or rather regressed, each Clinton victory served only to buoy the hopes of those who sought to reach a different political milestone by breaking through a different set of barriers. The truth is that both candidates succeeded, and in their success, were blinded to the achievement of the other. As a result, the emergence last night of Barack Obama as the nominal nominee of his party, a milestone in the history of this republic, went uncelebrated by at least half of his own party. Such are the politics of this Generation of Swine.

May 21, 2008: Bookends, We Rarely Speak with One Voice, The Class Ceiling

The primary election returns last night from Kentucky and Oregon were almost like looking at the returns from two different countries. Hillary crushed Obama in Kentucky, winning 65% of the vote to Obama’s mere 30%. With 459,000 votes to Obama’s 209,000, Clinton took every major demographic except the black vote. But the news out of Oregon was exactly opposite, with Obama besting Clinton 59-41% 361,000 to Hillary’s 252,000. On the night, Clinton outpolled Obama, but the Jedi inched ever closer to the finish line. Time is running out for the Clinton campaign.

Much has been made of the regional or sectional divides that make up the matrix of the American landscape. One of the interesting things about studying American politics and history is the rich panorama one confronts as the country slowly reveals itself. As a child, I remember those long journeys down highway 66 through Illinois on our way to Missouri then Arkansas. What struck me then, and still occasionally catches one off-guard, is how short a distance one needs to travel to hear the changes in local accent and dialect. But not far beneath the surface, other variations and divisions present themselves, differences over industry and trade, religion, politics. Occasionally these divisions have manifested themselves in deep sectional divides, producing, in time, conflict and even civil war. One is immediately impressed by the country’s many voices and a close study of our history reveals that however persuasive our leaders we rarely speak with one voice.

Last night, the two primary elections presented us with a set of bookends. Kentucky, a slave state that remained nominally in the Union during the Civil War, had, and still has, deep economic and cultural connections to the South. Oregon is part of the cluster of North Western states, like Washington with a very different historical experience, today trending much more toward high-tech industry and at the vanguard of environmental concerns. Reflecting the growing divide between the Clinton and Obama camps, as the Democratic Party threatens to split into its constituent parts, Kentucky — responding overwhelmingly to the ‘gas tax holiday’ scheme stolen by Hillary from John McCain and reflecting her strength among the less educated “white” voters - rallied overwhelmingly to Hillary’s cause. Oregon, like Obama, seeing the ‘gas tax holiday’ as a shell game and a sham, and more concerned with long-term environmental issues and the reduction of the use of fossil fuels rallied to the Jedi. The Obama-Clinton breakdown in Oregon also reflected a significant contrast from Kentucky.

Forty years ago Bobby Kennedy lost his only election to Gene McCarthy in Oregon, demonstrating that Oregon is not fertile ground for a tribune of the underclass. Oregonians are better educated and more upper-middle class. Here, along the shores of the Pacific, Hillary encountered the upper limits of her campaign; not a ‘glass’, but a ‘class’ ceiling.

Jun 22, 2008

May 17, 2008: Generation of Swine: Tale of Two Narratives, Tombstone Meets Rock Ridge.

As befitting a man who does not know, in his heart, who he really is, ‘Ol Two-Cows is always playing the part. He is constantly in costume, constantly assuming an identity. He has been seen variously as a firefighter in New York, a fighter pilot landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, the Rancher of Crawford, and the race-car driver at Daytona. He is a frustrated thespian playing, it seems, nearly every role, occasionally even President of the United States.

Ever since the Gipper crossed that line between acting and politics to becoming, in Bob Schieffer’s (1) words, “The Acting President,”(2) it has become increasingly possible to ‘suspend disbelief’ and by so doing, confuse fact from fiction; real from surreal. It isn’t simply that we have witnessed, in our lifetime, the likes of George Murphy, Ronald Reagan and Sonny Bono move from the stage to the political arena but, more recently, in the personages of Fred Thompson and, most notably, ‘Ol Two-Cows, the easy movement back and forth between acting and politics; between the stage and the political arena. In Thompson’s case moving from politics (minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee) to acting, back into politics (Senator from Kentucky), then back again to acting, then again into politics (2008 Presidential campaign), then back again to acting. In the case of ‘Ol Two-Cows, we have a complete blurring of the line in which the present incumbent has become the penultimate “acting president”; the political arena has become a stage with the president ‘stage managed’. He appears only at carefully planned events before friendly audiences gathered by invitation only, a veritable house of mirrors and a perfect echo-chamber. Everything is reduced to a ‘photo-op’, and political life has become a serial presentation in which random events are eliminated, and issues are reduced to a set of ‘canned’ images orchestrated around the talking points of the day. Reality, political reality at least, is thereby reduced to a series of stage-props reflecting no greater depth than the movie sets on the back lots of Paramount, MGM or Warner Brothers. All of this befits the first generation of Americans raised on television, those self-same, “Boomers,” whose tender young minds were molded by the old ‘morality plays’ that were the “Westerns” of 1950s network television.

The circle has now been closed, wherein the republic stands transfixed as its own narcissistic images reflect back on themselves as in a house of mirrors; two dimensional forms endlessly replicating themselves, creating an illusion of infinity when, in fact, there is no depth at all. The real becomes surreal; so unreal as to be real. Fact and fiction become hopelessly confused, the political landscape becoming a kaleidoscope in which each twist produces wholly novel but seemingly symmetrical configurations.

Enter the Swine. In its endless quest to, “lead us now into the nineteenth century and deliver us from liberalism,” the swine have reduced our political discourse to a mere ‘morality play’ in which everything is reduced to black and white -- two-dimensional characters -- wherein eternal good battles eternal evil for the soul of the nation. To this end, every issue is subject to a reducio ad absurdum in which figures are drawn in high contrast; everything reduced to mere black and white with no chromatic spectrum, no whiter shades of pale. Only in a reality so transmogrified can it now be possible to hopelessly confuse Saddam Hussein with Hitler, or more incredibly, ‘Ol Two-Cows with Winston Churchill. In this context, our political discourse is to the real issues of the day what the modern cowboy movie is to the real history of the ‘wild’ west; mere form and no substance; all hat and no cows. The ‘Generation of Swine’ has been presented — at least, since that grand ‘ol cowboy John Wayne went to war in the movies — with the complete confusion of modern foreign and military policy with the western morality play.

To this end we now have, in its most recent manifestations, the tale of two narratives: The first is the Republican or Conservative narrative of Dodge City or, more appropriately for our present purposes, Tombstone. The latest Marshall of Tombstone, John McCain, is about to take over from ‘Ol Two-Cows after the townsmen have grown suspicious of rumors of collusion with the forces of evil and occasional cowardice in the face of danger. To combat the threat to ‘law and order’ posed by the liberals, and the ‘open-banditry’ of the Clantons (make that the Clintons), the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce has pressured the city council to replace the ‘acting’ sheriff with the genuine article. Here is a narrative cast in stark black and white. The forces of good (Republican, here represented by the good Marshall McCain) confront the devious forces of lawlessness and banditry who, if they take over, will Quayle before our enemies and, by ‘appeasing’ them, invite future acts of terrorism against the good people of the city.

The second is the Democratic or Liberal narrative in which the play parodies the Republican proposition. Here, Tombstone becomes Rock Ridge and the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (3) becomes an updated version of “Blazing Saddles” (4). In this narrative, Barack Obama emerges as a modern sheriff Bart who, through cool aloofness and a demonstrable wit and courage, wins the hearts and minds of a town heretofore awash in bigotry. It is difficult not to see some amusing parallels, as in William J. Clinton parroting the fictional Governor William J. Lepetomane (played by Mel Brooks). Confronted with the man he is about to make sheriff of Rock Ridge, the governor in that famous scene takes his Attorney General Hedy Lamarr (played by Harvey Korman) aside and says to him — as Clinton figuratively spoke to the Super Delegates — “Are you crazy? Can’t you see this man’s a n….”? But in the end, as in all morality plays Good triumphs over evil, and all is well with the world.

The differences in the narratives and how they reflect the mindset of each political party are telling. The Republican narrative, parroting the stark contrasts of western lore, presents us with a simple, albeit oversimplified, morality play. What is interesting here is that be it the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” or “High Noon” (5), one is confronted with tales that reflect conflicts that could, and should, have readily been avoided. What has been lost to our collective understanding by these oversimplifications is that the Earps, while wearing the badge, were always dancing on both sides of the law, often seeing law enforcement as a means of waging personal vendettas. The Clantons, too, emerge as two dimensional villains but were actually seen by their contemporaries much more favorably. Likewise in “High Noon” Gary Cooper, here playing Marshal Will Kane had retired and was leaving town when he learns that Frank Miller (played by Ian MacDonald) is returning to town. Miller had been sent up to the big house by the Marshal and was on his way back to Hadleyville seeking revenge. This too was a fight, like modern Iraq, that could and should have been avoided. Kane could have simply kept going, got a court order restraining the criminal from contacting him but instead, significantly, decided to put his badge back on and fight, without the support of the townsmen, in the open streets.

The Democratic narrative is much more nuanced. Being a parody, the Democratic morality play gives us a chance to see conflict — especially conflict as it has come to be understood by a generation raised on ‘western’ morality plays — for what it is: mere two-dimensional cardboard cut-out figures battling over exaggerated claims. When I was a young man managing drive-in theatres, I asked the booking agent to send me “Blazing Saddles,” the subtitle of which was, “Or Never Give a Saga and Even Break.” Since that time, back in 1974, I have watched the film many times, and through the years many of my peers have asked the simple question: “What was the point of that movie”?

The point that Mel Brooks made in his classic comedy is the point that I am making here. That is our understanding of our collective history — in this case, the settlement of the Western frontier — is no deeper than the card-board cut-out figures that the townspeople made of themselves to create their fake “Rock Ridge”, in order to bamboozle the villains. Our understanding of the settlement of the west is no deeper than a back-lot set on the Warner Brothers studio lot. And, as in the old “Roy Rogers” television western, wherein Pat Brady would appear at the end of each episode with his Jeep, thereby transporting us back into the twentieth century, the fight that erupts in the fake “Rock Ridge” quickly pours out into other sets and through the Warner Brothers studios, out into the open streets, ending up at a theatre showing “Blazing Saddles” a perfect parody in which a parody becomes a parody of itself, as in those famous house of mirrors which have so much mesmerized the Generation of Swine.

The contrast in these two narratives is instructive in that it explains a great deal concerning the disconnect between the two political parties and why the respective political discourse passes by, like the ‘Flying Dutchman,’ unnoticed in the night. As Bill Maher once said, the Republicans accuse the Democrats of not loving their country. It’s not true. The difference is that the Republicans love their country like a four year old loves its mother. The Democrats love their country like an adult loves another adult, understanding and sometimes overlooking its faults, correcting it when it is wrong, but nevertheless loving its beauty and its character. Democratic love, Liberal love if you will, is much more nuance and much more mature, trying its best to become multi-dimensional in a two-dimensional world.

In the meantime, Barack Obama, by playing his best sheriff Bart, is slowly winning over the hearts and minds of main street America leading us, perhaps in time, to a more mature understanding of ourselves.


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Schieffer
2. Schieffer, Bob and Gates, Gary Paul The Acting President, 1989 E.P. Dutton, New York. 397 pages
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunfight_at_the_O.K._Corral
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blazing_Saddles
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Noon

May 16, 2008: Raw Politics, The Political Mendoza Line, Bullshit in Cowboy Boots

‘Ol Two-Cows, perhaps the most divisive and certainly the most arrogant political figure in at least a generation did, however, make great strides in uniting the Democratic Party. Rushing to Obama's defense, Senators Joe Biden (D-Del), Jim Webb (D-Va), and Chris Dodd (D-Conn) worked the talk-show circuit, savaging Bush and his Rescumlican surrogates for their remarks. Even Hillary was driven back into the Democratic camp as the president’s remarks, by forcing her to defend her position as well as Obama’s, drove a wedge between the McCain and Clinton camps who were heretofore making common cause against Obama. “Biden, who made waves this week by telling a Politico reporter that Bush’s comments were ‘bull___” [shit],” appeared on ABC’s “This Week” to discuss Bush’s comments before the Israeli Knesset and defend the likely Democratic nominee. ‘“It was so outrageous,” said [the] Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman…”This is raw, raw politics demeaning to the president of the United States of America.” Then Biden proceeded to point out that the Bush Administration has had direct talks with Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, ‘”a ‘known terrorist’ as Biden put it.”’ (1)

Two other Democratic Senators, Jim Webb and Chris Dodd, “pointed out that previous Republican presidents have met with rogue leaders without giving up the option of military force.” (1) ‘ “If…Bush were to use the right historical example, he should be looking at China in the 1970s,” Webb said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”’ (1) But Joe Biden was the most vociferous in his defense, correctly pointing out that both current Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have advocated direct talks with Iran moving the Foreign Relations Chairman to coyly suggest that perhaps they should be fired.

“If Bush were to use the right historical example…” Oh my. If Bush had only the slightest idea, the most cursory understanding, perhaps a proper example would have leaped to mind. But one cannot operate on such assumptions in this White House. Remember, this is the very president who, incredulously, asked the Brazilian ambassador, “You have Black people in Brazil?” The problem with ‘Ol Two-Cows is that as his presidency wanes, his polling numbers now dropping below Nixonian levels — the political equivalent of baseball’s ‘Mendoza Line’(2) — his maladroit accusations, explanations and justifications serve only to further solidify his standing as perhaps, short of Zachary Taylor, the most ignorant man ever to occupy the presidential office. Early in this bastard administration, when America was stunned and reeling from the political larceny that brought this man to power, the country exhibited an unwarranted propensity to forgive his malapropisms, and excuse his ignorance as one befitting a Governor of Texas. But with each emerging crisis, and the Chief Executive’s — make that the Great Decider’s — wretched response, it became increasingly obvious that the country was not being led by a man whose native intelligence was betrayed by an inability to master the common language. What became increasingly clear was that his use of language reflected precisely what lay beneath: an empty suit, an intellectually challenged man who presented the Neo-Cons with a blank slate — an empty vessel — into which they could pour or write whatever they wanted. The awful truth is not simply that George W. Bush has no intellectual curiosity. It is that he is not smart enough to be curious, and into his empty head the Neo-Cons could deposit, as Senator Biden calls it, all the ‘bullshit’ that one man can hold. And so the critics of the administration re-emerge as modern Neville Chamberlains playing the wimps to ‘Ol Two-Cows’ John Wayne as Winston Churchill.

Napoleon Bonaparte once described French Foreign Minister Charles de Talleyrand, a man of great political acumen who survived the Ancient Regime, the Revolution, Robespierre, Bonaparte, and the Restoration, as “shit in silk stockings”. ‘Ol Two-Cows, a man of much lesser talents and no political acumen who nevertheless survived two military quagmires, the loss of a major city to a hurricane, two dubious elections, and an imperial vice presidency, can best be described as “bullshit in cowboy boots”.


1. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0508/10432.html.
2. The Mendoza Line is a baseball term referring to “an offensive threshold below which (a) players’ presence in the Major Leagues cannot be justified despite their defensive abilities” The term is said to have been coined by Kansas City Royals’ great George Brett for shortstop Manny Mendoza who hit .198 during the baseball season of 1979. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wikki/Mendoza_Line. Keith Olbermann on his “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” is credited with creating the “Mendoza Line of Presidential politics” while referring to Rudy Giuliani’s withdrawal from the 2008 contest for the Republican Presidential nomination. I suggest that the true “Mendoza Line” was the Nixon approval rating during the waning days of his administration soon to be superseded by the current occupant in the White House.

Jun 8, 2008

May 15, 2008: Return to Munich, A Question of 'Appeasement', Television is no Medium for an Ignorant Man

“Television is no medium for an ignorant man”
--from The Quotations of Chairman Joe”

Wrapping up another unsuccessful journey to the Middle East, in which ‘Ol Two-Cows had sought to get the Saudis to turn on a few more oil spigots, the empty-handed President appeared in the Israeli Knesset to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the modern state of Israel. Instead of focusing on American and regional foreign relations, the President chose, instead, to transform this festive occasion to launch a dark assault on the critics of his actions, likening “those who call for talks ‘with terrorists and radicals’ to those who appeased the Nazis.” (1)

“‘We have an obligation to call this what it is,” he declared, “the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.’ There are few words more fraught than “appeasement” and no place where they carry more emotional weight than in Israel.” (1)

The White House tried to put some distance between itself and the politics of the campaign, with “White House Press secretary Dana Perino, insist[ing] the president’s remarks had nothing to do with Obama and slyly suggest[ing] that the Democratic senator was being narcissistic.” (1)

But the good Marshall of Tombstone was quick to pounce on the remark, endorsing the president’s ‘slash and burn’ politics and suggesting, “It was Obama’s responsibility to explain why he was willing to talk with Iran.”(1)

The spin-machine went into overdrive, drawing a line of sorts in the desert sands. The choice is clear they cried: choose a stalwart defender of freedom who will search out and destroy our enemies, or elect someone who will misjudge our adversaries and, by degrees, imperil Western Civilization itself. Once again, the political ‘wrong’ is relying on fear in order to terrorize America into keeping the Rescumlicans in power. To this end, they trotted out right-wing radio talk show host Kevin James to carry the banner into battle. James is, like ‘Ol Two-Cows, an intellectually lazy troglodyte who regularly trolls the cesspool of right-wing politics for nuggets of ‘wisdom’ with which to regale his audience. Being work-shy, he usually relies — like Fox Noise and other conservative mouthpieces — entirely on the daily talking points of the Republican National Committee. There he looks and looks no further, for he has, from the oracle itself, the very words with which he will fearlessly wage relentless battle against all enemies foreign and domestic; real or imagined. The results of such conflict can be, depending on the venue, variously frightening, comical, or painful to witness. They are, however, never enlightening.

Tonight on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” the nation watched, with frighteningly comical bewilderment, what happens when one of the sirens of talk radio attempts to lure the brave Ulysses of television. Chris Matthews is a hard-nosed reporter who delights, as he puts it, in playing ‘hardball.’ He asks the tough questions and expects forthright answers. What happened tonight was a clear demonstration of what will transpire when one walks between the striped lines on the playing field prepared to do battle protected only with the paper thin armor of the RNC’s ‘talking points’, and no discernible historical understanding whatsoever.

“Tell me, Kevin, what do you mean by appeasement?”

“The President is right, we’re talking appeasement here,” replied James.

“What do you mean by appeasement?”

“What Chamberlain did with Hitler”, replied “Hardball’s” guest.

“What did Chamberlain do that constituted appeasement?” asked Matthews.

Nearly two dozen times Matthews asked the question, suggesting after several attempts that perhaps his guest did not know. James responded indignantly that he did know, but couldn’t answer the question which was precisely what did Chamberlain do at Munich in 1937 that constituted appeasing Hitler. Finally, while protesting that he knew, James said that he couldn’t give a definitive answer, but the critics of the President were appeasing our foes and repeating the mistakes at Munich all over again.

Finally, after shuttling his guest off the program and getting a chance to explain himself, Chris Matthews clarified, one last time, the point he was trying but not allowed to make by the constant protestations and interruptions of the night’s conservative spokesman. “Meeting with Hitler did not constitute appeasement”, said Matthews, “giving away most of Czechoslovakia did. The error was not in meeting and negotiating, but in conceding.” Precisely. Kevin James had no idea what had transpired on that fateful day in Munich in 1937, as Europe lunged toward another total war. He had no idea what bargain was struck nor the reasons why.

Tonight’s debate, reminiscent of the Kerry-Bush debates wherein Kerry mopped the floor with ‘Ol Two-Cows, was a complete mismatch. Chris Matthews is an old pro, a protégé of Representative Thomas “Tip” O”Neil, the former Speaker of the House. Matthews is also a graduate of the University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill has one of the best History programs in the United States, and on this night, it was telling. Matthews could have added more. He could have related the weakness of Chamberlain’s bargaining position; neither the French nor the British had the armored divisions necessary to intervene in Eastern Europe, and both — especially the French — were deeply divided politically. He could have informed his guest that one of the first things Chamberlain did upon returning to London was reinstate conscription and begin the rearming of Britain in preparation for what was to come. Churchill would be invited back into the government from political exile and placed over the Admiralty. None of these steps are much referred to when mentioning Munich and it’s aftermath. Instead the ordeal at Munich has become a card-board, two-dimensional cut-out banner that is waved whenever those who have no legitimate reasons for doing what they are about to do need an excuse to do it.

What Kevin James demonstrated this night on “Hardball” was not that Barack Obama is a political neophyte, but that unlike talk radio, and Beck, O’Reilly and Hannity notwithstanding, television is no medium for an ignorant man.


1. “Bush’s Unseemly Attack on Obama”, International Herald Tribune.