Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In the chips

If you are a presidential candidate and you have enough money to run a half-hour infomercial on a dozen different channels at this late date, you have raised far too much money. I mean it. You should think about returning some of it. It might amount to no more than the meaningless Bush tax "rebates," but it would be a nice gesture, even if the Republicans were not spending their donors' money like sailors on shore leave. Twenty-two thousand a week for makeup -- did I read that? That's for the whole cast, right? McCain, Mrs. McCain, Joe Lieberman, Joe the Plumber, Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin's wardrobe people, and the crazy woman who thinks Obama is an Arab? Factor in the cost of the makeup, and you can see why they can't afford to fix the toilet on the Maverickmobile.

Anyway, no more one-minute spots, OK? People reflexively reach for the mute button anyway.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Look out, here comes the Master Race

It's easy to yell "Kill him!" at a McPalin rally, or paint "KKK" across an Obama poster, but two Mid-Southerners decided to take the logical next step, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They met in one of those romantic white supremacist chatrooms and decided to get together and arm themselves with a shotgun, some handguns and a .308 caliber rifle. Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tennessee, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Arkansas, were going to -- well, let ATF Special Agent Brian Weaks tell it in his affidavit:

"The individuals began discussing going on a 'killing spree' that included killing 88 people and beheading 14 African-Americans. The numbers 14 and 88 have special significance within the 'White Power' movement...Schlesselman states that they planned to drive their vehicle as fast as they could toward [Senator] Obama, shooting at him from the windows. Both individuals stated they would dress in all-white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt. Both individuals further stated they knew they would and were willing to die during this attempt."

It's the costumes that make me believe it. Did you get that? They were going to rev up the General Lee and aim it at that terrorist Muslim redistributor of income, guns blazing, dressed like Eleanor Powell in Born To Dance. After the massacre at the predominantly black school and the fourteen beheadings. Between now and next Tuesday, give or take, unless Daniel has to drive his mama to bingo.

If you don't use crystal meth, don't start. I'm begging you.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You die Joe!

It's been an exciting autumn for the Joes, hasn't it? First Sarah Palin introduced us to Joe Sixpack, formerly Joe Lunchbox, who was grown in a small town by real Americans and was once played by Peter Boyle. Then we met Joe the Plumber, who turned out to be not exactly what he seemed, and Joe the Brother, who turned out to be exactly as short-tempered, foul-mouthed and borderline psychotic as John the Senator. That just leaves Joe Btfsplk, the Al Capp character who always had a thundercloud raining on his head. He's scheduled for the first week of November.

Looking back, I think it's clear that the wheels came off the Straight Talking Maverick Country First Goddam War Hero Express the day John McCain waved away a list of about a hundred better qualified men and women and chose Mother Pucker as his running mate. At first people were enthralled, as they tend to be when America's Got Fifth Graders, or some such "reality" show, showcases a particularly unusual contestant. She was fun, she was cute, she was sexier than Joe Biden. If memory serves, not even Charlton Heston had appeared at a national political convention with a high-powered rifle in his hand. Then they wondered why Jeffrey Dahmer lookalike Rick Davis wouldn't let even the Fox "journalists" near her. They read Karl Rove's comment that she's better when people don't try to fill her up with information. They saw her falter under the questioning of relentless investigative reporters Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. They heard about Troopergate and the sports arena screwup, and they realized she hadn't taken five minutes to learn all the Constitution has to say about the office of vice president. They got an education in the Alaska separatist movement and the people it attracts -- one could even call them "terrorists." Gradually it dawned on them that the party which disparaged Barack Obama by comparing him to Paris Hilton was asking them to vote for Paris Palin. In Ohio, in Pennsylvania, even in Florida, Joe Outsourced seems to be abandoning the GOP as if it were the Andrea Doria. Sexy Sadie became Lady Albatross, and that was before the disputed shopping spree. A bus going downhill without wheels is not a pretty sight.

Neither is a party appealing to the worst angels of our natures. It was inevitable that a black candidate for national office would attract dangerous rednecks; Secret Service agents were assigned to Obama back in May 2007. It was not inevitable that the candidates themselves would egg on the lynch mobs; that was a conscious choice presumably made by a sick old man who knows this is his last chance. McCain could have left the low road to the Axis of Murdoch and lost with honor, but he and honor have been strangers for a long time. And in the absence of any real plan to deal with the economic and diplomatic disasters of the Cheney-Bush years except four more years of war, tax cuts and incompetence, perhaps it was inevitable that the Republicans would fall back on the golden oldies. The party that deployed a scary black man, Willie Horton, against a white candidate, Michael Dukakis, tried to make Bill Ayers into a scary white man to defeat Barack Obama. It assumed its anti-choice message would sound better in the mouth of a woman, forgetting that a gift-wrapped turd is still a turd. And it flopped, because, as Frank Rich observes today, white Americans are not as bad as the Right thinks we are.

After a while, all the ugly mephitic strident crazy gets so extreme that you have to stop holding your nose because you're laughing too hard and your head would explode. For me, the tipping point was good ol' Rush Limbaugh bellowing through cupped hands, so even his pinhead audience could understand, "IT'S ALL ABOUT RACE!" What is? Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama, of course. Colin Powell, general, U.S. Army (retired). The far Right had no problem with Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or as Bush's secretary of state. All it took was one appearance on Meet the Press to transform him into H. Rap Powell, race man. It's the distinction -- forgive me, there's no other way to express this -- between the good nigger and the bad nigger that is as old as slavery. The good nigger is docile and loyal and is often rewarded with a job in the big white house (see Gone With the Wind), while the bad nigger is brutally disciplined or sold down the river. Which has been the general's fate, metaphorically speaking, all week. Thank you, Rush, for refusing to gift-wrap the turd. I knew that if we waited long enough, you would do something for your country.

"Let all the poisons that are in the mud hatch out," says Claudius in Robert Graves's Claudius the God. He refuses to curb the evils and excesses of the empire in the hope that the Romans will be so revolted that they will demand the restoration of the republic. It is a vain hope, of course. The Roman people are too far gone in indifference and hopelessness. Apparently we are not, if the polls are accurate. And assuming the polls are accurate, I intend to enjoy the spectacle of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln (Savings & Loan) and the Southern Strategy, the party of Morning in America and the Real Americans, devouring itself. As an unreal American, I've waited a long time. They owe me.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Zero at the bone

Anybody who is still buying the hockey-mom family-values line about Sarah Palin needs to dig out the September 22 issue of The New Yorker and read, as I just did, Philip Gourevitch's piece, "The State of Sarah Palin." Gourevitch is wonderfully even-handed in his overview of Alaska politics, particularly with regard to Senator Ted Stevens. Currently under indictment for taking money and gifts from Veco Oil, like most of the state legislature it seems, Stevens has become a joke in much of the media but remains popular in his state. Long before the "bridge to nowhere," he secured millions of federal dollars to build bridges, highways and airports that Alaskans really needed. He also got them the Alaska Volcano Observatory, which sounds like a pork-barrel punchline until you reflect on what volcanic ash can do to a plane's engines.

Gourevitch is less impressed by Palin, whose meteoric rise from the Wasilla City Council to national prominence seems to combine opportunism and incompetence. He details the Trooper Wooten affair and the sports arena fiasco, while acknowledging that she made no attempt to "impose her religious or social views." He quotes Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, to the effect that "This election is not about issues," implying that it is and should be about "character." And then comes this chilling passage:

"The campaign said that it was going public [about Bristol Palin's pregnancy] in order to quash offensive rumors that were circulating on the Internet: that Sarah Palin's five-month-old baby, Trig, who has Down syndrome, was not really hers but Bristol's, and that the Governor had faked her pregnancy in order to cover for her unwed daughter. This Faulknerian story had been making the rounds in Alaska for months...and it derived from the peculiar circumstances surrounding Trig's birth. Sarah Palin had not announced her pregnancy until she was seven months along. A month later, she was in Texas to address a conference, when her water broke. She decided to give the speech and then return to Wasilla to deliver the child. By way of explaining this all-day odyssey (most obstetricians advise against air travel in the eighth month, never mind during labor, and most airlines forbid it), Todd Palin later remarked, 'You can't have a fish picker' -- a commercial fisherman -- 'from Texas.'"

The Palins have a history as Alaska separatists, so it makes sense that they wouldn't want their son born in a "foreign country." I'd like to suggest, however, that there is more than one way to interpret this. You are an anti-choice politician who finds herself pregnant for the fifth time at age 43. You learn that the baby will have Down syndrome. Abortion is not an option. You book a trip to Texas in your eighth month, go into labor, decide to make your speech anyway and then board a plane for the long flight home. Does this sound like the action of a "mom" who doesn't really care if a baby with a profound birth defect survives? If he lives, she's a gutsy woman who won't be stopped by a little thing like childbirth. If he doesn't, she can count on a tsunami of public sympathy. "God called our little baby home."

This woman is colder than Barrow in December. I hope she never gets within five time zones of Washington, but if the worst come to the worst, she would be a fitting successor to Darth Cheney, apart from one detail. When Cheney shot a man in the face, it was probably an accident. With Palin, you could never be sure.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

October! Surprise!

Hunters know there's nothing as dangerous as a cornered, wounded animal. A full-grown Republican has been known to spit like a camel, fling crap like a chimpanzee, and get all up in your face like a chicken hawk. A few other things we should be ready for:

Palling around with terrorists 2.0

If the Bill Ayers "bombshell" continues to meet with weary shrugs, the RNC is fully prepared to release a grainy photo of Barack and Michelle Obama emerging from a Jane Fonda movie, smiling as if they enjoyed it. (I know, I know. It's a revival house and it's showing The China Syndrome, OK?) Voice-over: "The Obamas contributed money to Hanoi Jane herself!" Seven-fifty apiece.

Spectral evidence

At an Obama rally, an adolescent girl (maybe more than one) suddenly points to the space beside the senator and screams, "The Evil One is whispering in his ear!" She then falls to the ground and thrashes about, crying, "No! Stop pinching me! Make him stop!" This should play especially well in areas where libraries have been forced to remove books by the terrorist Arthur Miller from their shelves.

Dead or alive

On the soundstage where the moon landing was faked, "Osama bin Laden" (played by veteran character actor Richard Libertini) is dragged from a cave by two Marines (Casey Affleck, Patrick Swayze) and their commander, Col. Buck Mulligan (Chuck Norris). He is wearing an extra-large Obama-Biden button. No, maybe a T-shirt. Game over. Only question: Who gets this exclusive breaking story, Hannity or Hume?

(For entertainment purposes only. This blog takes no responsibility if the McCain campaign actually tries any of this stuff. No responsibility.)

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fear itself

In a little more than three weeks this long, miserable presidential campaign must end, for better or worse. Measured only in jet fuel pumped and burned, it has been a terrible burden on the planet -- surely there is a better way to do this in 2008 -- and I would not want to meet anyone who is actually enjoying it. Are we better for knowing the extent of the racism that still pollutes this country? Are we really surprised at how easily a lynch mob can be gathered? ("Off with his head"? Where are we, Wonderland?) But there is one bright spot: the Culture Wars appear to be over.

The Republicans have not noticed, of course, and still cling to the "values" agenda of God, guns and gays that worked for so long. The trouble is, voters have had their attention turned to food, fuel and foreclosure, now joined by the fourth "F" of the Apocalypse, financial ruin. It's not just Wall Street -- it's never just Wall Street. Millions are watching their IRAs, their 401(k)s, their portfolios and savings shrivel, their unemployment benefits run out, their homes lose value, their health insurance evaporate, and their retirement dreams recede in the distance. The middle class now faces the same impossible choices the poor have always known. For eight long years they waited for the rich folks' tax cuts to trickle down, but the ground is hard and dry. Fear, real fear, has trumped hate.

God? God has never been under serious threat. His name adorns every courthouse wall and Jefferson nickel (Jefferson would vomit); you can't open a new Bass Pro without an invocation. Guns are pretty safe, too; nobody is trying to repeal the Second Amendment. (One of the many Supreme Court decisions Sarah Palin never heard of is the recent District of Columbia v. Heller, upholding the right of individuals to own handguns without belonging to militias or police. Doesn't she even read her NRA magazine?) In fact, over the past 35 years every attempt to amend the Constitution has come from the far right, who want it to outlaw abortion, sacralize the flag and "defend" the institution of marriage. Speaking of which, last week the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the state's same-sex marriage law, and nobody noticed. Where were Fred Phelps and his clown posse? Dodging the sheriff in Topeka, I wouldn't be surprised. When the basket is passed at the Westboro Baptist Church, I'll bet it comes back light.

The old phantom fears no longer seem to "energize" even the most base. "Our message...isn't connecting," laments Saul Anuzis, the Republican chairman abandoned by the McCain campaign in Michigan. What message? There's a different one every day. "I have character, I was a POW, I love America" is not a lifeline for the desperate but a statement of entitlement. Even the conservatives are drifting away. National Review columnist Christopher Buckley has endorsed Barack Obama. George F. Will, who wants us to know he reads, has compared the GOP ticket to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a mad old man and a cunning but ignorant peasant. David Brooks feels personally let down, though he hasn't crossed the page yet. Of course, Brooks still has a job.

Beyond "the base," nobody seems to care what Bill Ayers was doing when Barack Obama was in elementary school; the Weather Underground now seems as quaint as the Anti-Saloon League. Beyond "the base," Jeremiah Wright and John Hagee are now equally irrelevant. Retailers hoping to survive until Christmas don't want to know if The Audacity of Hope was ghostwritten, or for that matter, how many houses the McCains have accumulated. Most people couldn't tell you what ACORN stands for. There are bigger monsters under the bed than Osama bin Laden or the Iranian nuclear program. People who never imagined they could vote for a black man are concluding that they have no choice. I think they will. I believe we will be surprised.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Unstuck in time

O.J. Simpson jurors being interviewed? The Dow under 10,000? Where am I?

Congress voted to cover Wall Street's tab, Bush signed it faster than the Save Terri Schiavo bill, and still the magic number plummeted. What more do they want? Of course, no matter how deep the plunge, those overdressed monkeys on the mezzanine were grinning and clapping at the closing bell. Who are these people and what drugs are they on?

In America, justice is a commodity, just like food, shelter, health care and education. If you can't afford it, nobody will force it on you, 'cause we love freedom. Evidently O.J. Simpson can no longer afford a battalion of attorneys and their support staffs. He had a good run, as befits a Heisman Trophy winner, but I guess it's over.

Moral absolutists who decry "situational ethics" often seem to have no such problem with situational government. After 9/11 Bush had to tear up the Constitution because it was an impediment to fighting our unprecedented new enemies; disgracefully, Congress largely let him get away with it. Rudolph Giuliani only wanted to tear up the New York City charter so he could have a third term, because there was no way the wounded city would survive without him. Well, it did. Even so, his chosen successor Michael Bloomberg now wants to do the same, because the city is desperate for his financial acumen right now, according to him. By that logic, shouldn't Warren Buffett be running for mayor? Every ego-crazed politician wants to be the guy on the white horse, but we've done all right without Cromwells and Napoleons so far. "But Lincoln suspended habeas corpus!" Yeah, some naked power grab. I'm proud that in 1864 and again in 1944, this country stopped fighting for its life long enough to hold free elections, something not even Britain can say.

As long as we're doing shout-outs, I'd like to take this opportunity to ask, "What ever became of Ann Coulter?" It's not like her to miss an election season, unless she's finishing up a new book, "How To Gut and Eat a Liberal Once You've Killed Him (If You Can Even Stand To Get That Close To His Putrescent Treasonous Corpse"). When we last heard from Annie she was demanding the repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment because so many women insist upon voting wrong, i.e., Democratic. It was an inspired bit of idiocy, almost on a par with Evelyn Waugh's remark that he never voted because it wasn't his place to tell the Queen how to choose her ministers. I wonder if she would like to change her position in the face of the Palin Juggernaut. Call me, girlfriend.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Clearing my desk

Rich Lowry's Valentine to Governor Sadie won him a W.P.I.T.W. salute from Keith Olbermann. I don't know. As Republican porn goes, it was a lot less disturbing than the bear-on-girl action described in Lewis Libby's novel. (I refuse to call him Scooter. If you are over 24 and are still known as Scooter, or Choo Choo, or Mookie, or Boog, you'd better be a major league ballplayer.) It makes me wonder what he might have written had he gone to prison as the jury and the judge intended. Remember the Libby Commutation? You'll find it on page 124 of the almost-complete Reasons to Impeach George W. Bush, right after Bad Touching of German Chancellor. It's off the table? Make that Reasons to Loathe George W. Bush.

Speaking of other forgotten things, remember the war(s)? It was in all the papers last summer, just before the financial system imploded. I'm almost certain it's still going on. I've been racking the still-unracked portions of my brain trying to figure out how this ignorant bit of stuff rose to national prominence, and I think I have it. Joe Biden has a son who is an Army (?) reservist and has just been ordered to Iraq. In response, the Republicans decided they had to find an office-holder with a child in the military. Not so easy in the chicken-hawk party. ("Volunteering" is for the working class.) Ultimately their search took them all the way to the International Dateline. OK, you have a better explanation? McCain insisted on someone who could play the flute a little? Had a degree in journalism from Home Depot Community College? Knew a good recipe for moose meatloaf?

I know politics has long been a matter for the marketers; I read The Selling of the President long ago. But people might be more motivated to pay attention if the slogans were a bit more specific. I'm not saying spell out your policies, but at least mention your guy by name, like the snappy but amiable "I Like Ike" and the near-orgasmic "All the Way With JFK." These bland, generic phrases could apply to any product. The Obama campaign's "Change We Can Believe In" was vague enough, but after the convention it morphed into the Yoda-like "Change We Need" (so vote we should, I suppose). New Yorkers of a certain age are inevitably reminded of Con Edison's once-ubiquitous "Dig We Must." McCain is going with "Country First," which sounds like an ec0-friendly margarine. "Try new Country First, made from recycled motor oil. Mmm, I can't believe it's not diesel!" I was an English major, so it aways reminds me of the dirty pun in Hamlet:

Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Ophelia: No, my lord!
Hamlet: I mean, my head in your lap.
Ophelia: Yes, my lord.
Hamlet: Did you think I meant country matters?

The Elizabethans loved wordplay, the bawdier the better; we rely on footnotes. Of course, it's one of John's pet names for Cindy (the other being "trollop"). It's also a subliminal reminder of exactly what Sarah Palin adds to the ticket: a vagina.

Speaking of the McCains, is anybody buying that story about injuring her back (or shoulder) by shaking hands? Much has been written about Mrs. McCain's involvement with prescription painkillers (a prescription means you're morally superior to pill-heads who score on the street), but it isn't clear how she first became, what's the word, dependent. How many times has she been to the emergency room? Why the makeup applied with a trowel? People in her tax bracket get Botox injections, they don't pile it on like mimes. Unless they're covering bruises, of course. I'm not saying John McCain beats his wife -- that would be Swift Boating -- but his uncontrollable temper from early childhood on is a matter of record. Maybe that's why they need so many houses. There isn't time for the entire faculty of the Harvard Medical School to evaluate his records thoroughly between now and November; what about hers?

As you can probably tell, I'm impatient for the end of this campaign, which feels like it started during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I'm resigned to voting for a man whose favorite movie is Chariots of Fire. Say it ain't so, Joe. At least Obama and I agree that Blood On the Tracks is Dylan's best album; it's probably the closest I've ever come to total agreement with a politician. Look, the American voter is like a diabetic in a pancake restaurant. You look over the menu and try to pick the dish least likely to kill you. Real change is a possibility only when the restaurant burns down, as it did in 1860 and again in 1932. I'm sorry to say that we have now only a small kitchen fire. So -- pancakes versus waffles, fruit topping versus syrup, hope for the best, expect the worst. I guess you can go look for an organic salad bar, but you might as well lie down in the parking lot and wait for a semi to back over you. I don't mean to suggest that Obama-Biden isn't five trillion times tastier than McCain-Palin, and more nutritious too, but it's all sweet batter in the end. A year from now (barring a catastrophe) we'll be complaining about Obama's energy policy, Obama's failure to fix the health insurance mess, Obama's appointment of some idiot to run the White House travel office. See you there.

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