Sunday, November 30, 2008
A Team of Equals: The MSM theory goes that Obama is following the lead of Abraham Lincoln by neutralizing his rivals by bringing them into the administration. This assumes he has any rivals in the Democratic party right now – he doesn’t. The party is all-in on making him and the Democratic Congress a success, a process that could keep the Dems in power of the executive and the legislative branches for a generation or more, if they do it right. What Obama is doing is putting very smart, talented people at the head of the major departments and giving them all the power they need to drive his policies. It shows well-deserved confidence in himself that he is able to do so without worrying about being undercut or someone trying to foolishly take advantage of his inexperience. This will take some getting used to after eight years of the top-down politicization of all agencies by the Bushies, where nothing happened without Karl Rove’s dark approval. Obama not only needs talented, independent leaders in his governemnt -- he wants them.
Good Riddance: The biggest waste of space on cable television, Alan Colmes, is getting off his knees and hanging up his clown suit at Fox Noise, where he has played the role of pretend-liberal sub to Sean Hannity’s ubber-right dom for the past eleven years. A pathetic excuse for a liberal voice, he was the perfect stooge for the Fox parade of nut-right regulars like Ann Coulter and Dick Morris, mildly countering their outrageous lies and exaggerations with wimpy retorts and other milquetoast comments that were forgotten the minute they left his mouth. When Hannity recruited the former comedian to play his straight man, he guaranteed that the Fox faithful could always leave every H&C show knowing they won. Colmes and I actually mixed it up a couple of years ago, when I accused him of being a little too gleeful at Saddam Hussein’s execution – he said he wasn’t and I apologized. Now it’s his turn to apologize for acting as an enabler and helping to legitimize the Fox Noise propaganda experiment for all those years.
Nod to Bob Rocks the House: The Nod to Bob benefit for the Hunger Task Force at Linneman’s Wednesday night was a great success, musically and philanthropically, with a capacity crowd enjoying a night of Dylan interpretations by some of Milwaukee’s best musicians. Thanks to Jim and Marty again for letting me MC the event – always the highlight of my holiday season. Special thanks to my band members: Ken Hanson and Michael De Boer of Longacre, Ron White on drums and, on piano, the Illusory One, Tom Foley.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
The election of Barack Obama has reportedly set off a gun-buying frenzy among the vulnerable portion of the population made jittery by the apocalyptic screechings of their pretend friends on mainstream radio. Wing-nut Chicken Littles have been predicting for months all manner of things falling from the sky if Obama succeeded at his devious campaign to paint the White House black, install socialism, suspend the Constitution and rule by dictatorship...I mean, you can see why people might be a little confused, wandering the streets until they find themselves draining what’s left of their 401(k) and heading for the gun shop.
Somehow, I missed the "Obama will come for your guns" part of the hysterical right-wing message during the campaign. That would have been a tough one to maintain, not that they cared much about what could or could not get knocked down by reasonable people. In June, when the Supreme Court held (wrongly, I think) that the 2nd Amendment creates an individual right to bear arms, Obama spoke out in favor of the ruling. He has expressed support for reinstituting restrictions on people-killer assault weapons, but that’s hardly the sort of thing that should cause a run on regular old handguns.
"I bought them because I was afraid they were going to be outlawed," said one confused soul in the Journal Sentinel story as he bought a couple of relatively pea-shooting handguns. This brings up a couple of questions. First, where the hell did he get that idea? All over the country there are these poor people who the McCain campaign tried to poison into doing anything – anything! – but accepting Obama’s legitimacy as president and, now that it’s happened, they are just cut loose in space, free-associating on what they are going to do now. Some are buying guns. Others are planning for their personal rapture journey, because the End of Days is surely coming. Some goofy priest is inspired to smoke out Obama voters so he can deny them Communion. Most bizarre – some of those who joined Sarah Palin fan clubs back in September are actually staying in the clubs! Talk about creepy.
Another thing about the guy with the handful of handguns – why is he spending hundreds of dollars on guns he thinks the dreaded Obama Community Organizers are going to take from him? Isn’t that like throwing money away? That’s not going to be a problem for the people with the big people-killing assault weapons. You assume they are just going to barricade themselves and go all David Koresh on the evil government goons you just know Obama will cast under his Messiah-like spell.
Maybe that was the NRA’s plan all along. They weren’t really interested in who won the election and didn’t believe all the nonsense they were throwing around about Obama. But they did see an opportunity. The NRA, you see, which pretends to represent gun owners is really run by and for gun manufacturers. It wouldn’t be beyond them to play up the Fear of an Obama presidency to accomplish a little sales boomlet after the fact. Now, there are thousands more handguns out there, ready to be used in the heat of passion or by accident on family members, lovers and friends. For the NRA and its many apologists, the potential for more death and violence means a good day. Mission accomplished.
Friday, November 14, 2008
The issue came to a head after Obama’s landslide victory last week, when some guy named Peter DiGuadio went off his rocker in Owen Robinson’s comment thread, saying: "If I had the money, I’d put a bounty on his melon. Seriously." DiGuadio then pulled a double-McBride, taking down his long-running Texas Hold ‘Em Blogger site in the middle of his hissy fit (McBride only hides hers); then, just that quickly, putting up a new one and offering this non-explanation for his hysterics: "Do I hope someone shoots The Messiah [on his old and new blog, DiGuadio just loves to mock the lofty status Obama has never claimed]? No. [yeah, but you said...] It would deprive their children of a father, and no child deserves to have his or her father taken away." Well, OK, so now a childless President Obama would be a worthy assassination target, but, you know, he cares so much about the children. Whatever.
I don’t know what there is to discuss after all this. Nobody on the left ever put a hypothetical bounty on Bush’s melon. The most we’ve ever done is call for his well-deserved impeachment, back when it would have mattered. Despite the right’s repeated lie about a Bush Derangement Syndrome and how we all hated Bush so much, our contempt for the most radical-right and worst administration in U.S. history (not a coincidence that these two go together, by the way) was never personalized to Bush, who was an empty-suited puppet willing to execute orders that came from Dick Cheney and others. Our problem with Bush wasn’t personal; it was the disastrous policies that were done in his name, by his administration.
For personal invective, just look at how the right-wing message machine treated Bill Clinton, who was accused of everything, including murder. Unable to beat him on the substance of the issues, they went after him personally with a ferocity that showed contempt for civil discourse and, yes, the office of the presidency itself. If we wanted to play those games, we would have had lots of ammunition with Mr. Drunk-till-40 (imagine if Clinton had the same history), but, a) we didn’t need it, we fought him straight-up on the issues, and b) we don’t play that. No, only one side has cornered the market on the politics-of-personal-destruction, and the other side is not interested.
But, I think the focus on tone is a little off the point of who does what out here, what is fair and unfair argument, who masks the weakness of their arguments behind rhetorical devices, etc. The focus on which side throws off the most heat misses a more interesting point: which side argues more fairly and honestly? On that point, I offer the following stark contrasts of who does what between left and right:
Recitation of talking-points: In a very entertaining and informative must-read grenade tossed into the secretive mainstream talk-radio foxhole that is 620-WTMJ, former staffer Dan Shelley lets us in on what actually happens at the radio station when Charlie Sykes prepares for his daily poisoning of the public discourse. "Conservative talk show hosts would receive daily talking points e-mails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too. During my time at WTMJ, Charlie would generally mine the e-mails, then couch the daily message in his own words." He also writes about Sykes checking on what Limbaugh and other nut-right radio hosts are saying, the better to harmonize with the GOP choir.
In his snarky, revealingly-defensive and uncharacteristically-long response (Shelley obviously struck a nerve at Radio City), Sykes claims to send the GOP e-mails right to his junk mail folder. Right. An opportunistic message-Republican makes sure has doesn’t get his e-mails from Karl Rove in the White House, lest his pure message be sullied by undue co-mingling. That’s why his daily messages just happen to synch up so nicely with every other national and local wing-nut in the country. Sykes really insults his readers’ intelligence here. He should save his lies for his radio show. Speaking of which...
Lies: One thing I have always given Sykes and Mark Belling credit for is that they are smart enough to know that what they often say, repeatedly, are lies. They are both smart enough to know that man-made global-warming is real. They both know that the selection of Sarah Palin was an embarrassing joke. They both know what Joe Biden meant when he said Obama would be "tested". They know better than to think Obama is a socialist; that Bill Ayers is relevant to anyone about anything; that the Joe the Plumber thing was a transparent and desperate campaign ploy; blah blah blah.
But they pretend they don’t know – in fact, they pretend that they believe the exact opposite – just to drive the talking-points created by whatever campaign for which they are providing free advertising. This sort of intellectual dishonesty is part-and-parcel of their shtick.
For the most part, the left doesn’t do either of these things. If I see an interesting take on a political issue on, say, the excellent Huffington Post, the last thing I am going to do is parrot it here. As for lies, well, the truth has been far more entertaining and unbelieveable than anything you could make up when it comes to the Bushies, whose days in the White House are now thankfully and mercifully numbered.
Every indication is that the right-wing echo chamber on talk-radio and the blogs will continue to take their marching orders from above and continue to spin lies-as-truth. Once in a while, one or another will fly off the handle and show their true colors, like DiGuadio or Belling going off on another racist rant. [UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long. This afternoon, Belling was using the sad story of the child who died in abusive foster care to blame the death on "fat" social workers and the preference to put black kids in black homes. There is no tragedy that Belling will not exploit for his ugly racist message.] It is going to be even more frustrating for them, after President Obama puts the lie to their dire predictions and puts together an effective coalition with people of all political persuasions in his effort to recover from the Bush Disaster.
More and more, the hot-headed right will be barking in the wilderness, with no one listening but themselves and their dwindling number of the target wing-nut demographic that Dan Shelley identifies as "a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media". In terms of its own eventual extinction, the right-wing media doesn’t have to fear a renewal of the Fairness Doctrine as much as they should fear themselves.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The primary problem facing the wing-nut community is that the entire reason for their own existence has disappeared. Without reprehensible, incompetent Republicans in high office to prop up and allegedly vulnerable Democrats to attack, there isn’t much left to talk about for the most uncreative bunch in electronic "entertainment". Ever since they got their long teeth into Bill Clinton’s ass in 1992, right-wing-nut radio has provided the 24/7 free advertising that played a great part in laying the fear-mongering groundwork for GOP successes in the congressional elections of 1994 and, the ultimate goal and prize, the "election" in 2000 and the "re"-election in 2004 of the radical-right Junior Bush regime.
It was a great run for the willing sycophants of the highly-disciplined message management of Karl Rove, who spun out daily talking-point e-mails and, I’m sure even to his own amazement, saw them parroted word-for-word by national and local mainstream radio talk-show hosts who were (and are) desperate for something to talk about and too dim or unimaginative to make it up on their own. Rove’s electronic nationwide network of butt-boys told enough lies and told them often enough that fine public servants like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Howard Dean were made into national laughing stocks – at least for the all-too-manipulable demographic of angry white men who (Rove imagined) sat in their Lazy Boy rockers in tanks tops, swilling Miller High Life and cheering on the poisoning of the national political discourse. At the same time, the wing-nuts tried to construct heroic icons from the flimsy material of Gingrich, Bush and Cheney; men, the story went, who did everything right even (especially) when they were disastrously wrong.
Now – with the Republican party in retreat and its demise just a matter of time – the wing-nuts have lost their cause, not to mention their reliable talking-points. Their attempted destruction of Barack Obama a spectacular failure, the national radio squawkers are left muttering leftover McCain campaign blather about "socialism" and trying to create something out of nothing (i.e.: Sarah Palin). Since the election, they don’t know whether to declare a war on Obama that they have already lost or transition to something safe like sports or financial advice ("and now, Your Money with Sean Hannity").
Locally, they seem happy for now to continue to read e-mails from Scott Walker and incompetent cop David Clarke and talk up the Great White Hope of the moment, Paul Ryan -- whose staff churned out some innocuous crap about "loose money" and fed it to the Wall Street Journal, the house organ of the GOP -- as some sort of savior of a party that is going the way of the Whigs.
National and local wing-nuts are also failing to follow the advice of wise people everywhere: when you are in a deep hole, stop digging. They continue to predict all manner of socialist, Marxist and even attempts at dictatorship from Obama, the product of desperate last-minute nonsense from the dying days of the McCain campaign, absolutely none of which will come to pass. The Fear card is always the last resort of the failing right, and it is hilarious to hear the trained callers on the pretend-call-in radio shows talk about how afraid they are of the incoming administration.
You can’t blame the wing-nuts, I suppose, for trying to do to Obama what they did to Clinton – employing the politics-of-personal-destruction relentlessly until his impact is at least marginalized. But Obama has been immune to this sort of childishness so far because a) people are totally sick of it and want him to succeed, and b) he doesn’t have the same sort of jealous backwater cretins feeding them material, like Clinton had in Arkansas.
Having their ideas and their candidates so soundly thumped in the election and without anyone in power to prop up, the irrelevant voices in the national network so treasured and nurtured by Karl Rove are yesterday’s news. They might as well be standing on a soapbox on a street corner warning about socialism or howling at the moon. Having helped bring us the Bush Disaster and now exposed as wrong about absolutely everything for at least the past 16 years, why would anyone listen to them?
I’m guessing – hoping, maybe – that the appetite for the gaseous noise of right-wing mainstream radio has ended. Perhaps a return of the Fairness Doctrine won’t be necessary to return balance and sanity to the public airwaves. If they maintain their overheated ways, it might be a public hungry for change and, ultimately, the right’s vaunted market that sends them to their overdue showers.
In the meantime, I'll enjoy the spectacle of the wing-nuts blaming the GOP's deep failure at the polls on not being nut-right enough. Here's hoping the party takes up that challenge, running right in 2010 and please, please let them nominate Sarah Palin in 2012. The result, combined with Obama's anticipated success in putting the pieces of the broken government back together, will keep Democrats in control for a generation.
- I don't know if you noticed, but one of the rightosphere's hottest hotheads has taken his ball and gone home. On Election Night, the Texas Hold 'Em Blogger guy put up an upside-down flag on his site and muttered something stupid about being ashamed of his country. I sent him a comment -- "Oh, fer cryin' out loud. Grow up." -- and the next day, he had taken his entire site down and went into an unhinged rant as "Peter" on a Boots and Sabers comment thread, including hoping for terrorist attacks and some such. It's a terrible thing when people believe their own rhetoric. I hope the guy's alright.
- In one of his worst moments of the campaign, McCain pointed to Obama with his thumb and called him "that one". Now Rick Esenberg, while continuing to make excuses for his fellow travelers, calls me "this guy". I am honored.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
With a look of concern deep and serious, the near-elderly woman looked at me and told me the story: "I just filled out the ballot and voted for all the candidates I wanted," she began. "But I just noticed on the way out that there were these other questions on the ballot. I forgot to vote on them." She was talking about the sick-leave and sales-tax referendums. Then came her question: "Will my vote count?"
Usually, I try to shade my legal advice in "probably" and "in all likelihood", but I was pretty sure about this one and she needed reassurance. "Yes, your vote will count. You don’t have to vote in every issue on the ballot. You could have just voted for one candidate and left the rest blank, and that one vote would still count." Her furrowed brow relaxed and the frown left her face. She left feeling better than when she came in. Her vote would be counted. That was all that mattered to her that day.
And so it went on Election Day in Milwaukee’s Ward 64 polling place, inside Mitchell Court, a high-rise apartment building for the disabled on 26th and National. From 6:30 that morning to 8 that night, I watched the miracle of democracy unfold before me. All day long, the usually powerless streamed through the crowded room and flexed the muscles of their franchise; seriously, proudly and often joyfully voting in an election that meant something to them, to their children, to their community. Kings and Queens for a day, they stood in short lines, patiently filled out forms, firmly cast their ballots and then returned to their lives of hard work and daily struggles.
The complex tapestry of Milwaukee diversity was on full display. Young and old; disabled and fully-functional; black, white, Latino, Asian; families and the lonely – all came in to cast one vote out of a hundred-thousand in Milwaukee; of 3 million in Wisconsin; of 122 million in the nation. Very few of those voting in Ward 64 spend one-tenth of the time I or any of my readers do on considering the deep issues of the day. But there they were, determined to have their say on the one day of the year that anyone has to listen to them.
I was there as part of the Obama Voter Protection team, designed to make sure everyone eligible got a chance to vote. There was little to worry about in this polling place. The election workers were helpful and friendly to each other, to us observers, and to everyone who came in. One of the workers worked in the building and cheerfully greeted and assisted the residents in getting their vote counted. If the machine didn’t take the ballot (usually because of overvotes – voting for more than one candidate in a race), the voter was quickly given another ballot and got it right the second time.
The ward did a brisk walk-up business all day long. It seemed almost half of the voters ended up at the same-day registration table, either because they had recently moved or were voting for the first time. They came in prepared, clutching their utility bills with their new address in one hand and their small children in the other. The election workers were knowledgeable about the law and carefully made sure the eligible were able to receive their precious ballots. Only a couple of disappointed people were turned away because they had no documentation of their new address and no one to vouch for them, but not before every legal possibility was explored to get them a ballot.
I tried to imagine what it would be like without same-day registration – hundreds of eligible voters turned away because of recent moves or because the election commission screwed up their registration somehow. Many people came to the tables with photo ID in hand, but what would happen if photo ID was required and the election workers would have to turn away so many of those who were otherwise perfectly qualified? Photo ID would turn the exercise of democracy into a grim game of gotcha – a presumption of disqualification unless proved otherwise, instead of the other way around. There wasn’t anyone who voted that day who was not eligible, but hundreds who would have been turned away with Photo ID or without same-day registration. The roadblocks that some would put in the way of so many of those who earnestly and honestly showed up to vote in Ward 64 are a violation of the spirit of democracy in Wisconsin.
After a steady flow of voters all day, we braced for an evening rush that never materialized. Perhaps because of early voting, there was a mere trickle in the last hours. On the TV out in the lobby at 7 p.m., NBC was already projecting Pennsylvania for Obama when one excited voter left the polling place chanting "O-bam-a". It was the only outburst of a day when the celebration was more subdued, but deeply felt.
At the end of the night, I called in the final numbers to the campaign: 573 to 106 for Obama in Ward 64. In this small slice of Milwaukee and throughout the country, the people had their say, one vote at a time.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Last night, I was driving home from my voter protection assignment (more on that experience in my next post) and called my boy to let him know I was on the way. We were discussing logistics for the rest of our night when I got the Word again -- "Dad, they just called Ohio for Obama!"
Well, that was that. What was red was now blue. What was bad was now good. Ready or not, Change was here.
We went to a friend's house in time to revel in the moments to come with friends and my brother. We playfully argued about channel selection and volume. Where do we want to watch them call it when California polls closed at 10? Fox always tried to be first, said someone. No way, I said -- I'll take my memorable moments without Brit Hume, if you don't mind. I suggested we check CBS to see if they might bring back Cronkite for this. ABC? Get George Will and Cokie Roberts out of here. PBS? I'd rather not sleep through it, thanks very much.
As if by magic, whoever had the remote hit CNN at just the right moment. And there it was, blazing across the screen in High Definition: Barack Obama Elected President of the United States.
Although anyone paying attention could see this coming since they called Pennsylvania at 7, if not for the past month, it was still hard to believe. For once, the candidate matched the moment and the people recognized it. The ugliness that has characterized Republican campaigns since 1988 didn't work this time. The 24/7 free advertising for the Republicans on right-wing mainstream radio met its match in Obama's enormous grass roots support in the form of millions of small contributors, resulting in saturation advertising. As the storms behind the wake of the Bush Disasters battered the nation's economy and psyche, Obama characteristically kept his cool and McCain characteristically lost his. And, if you needed one more excuse to step into the future, there was the ridiculous Sarah Palin, whose cynical selection sealed the Obama deal for many serious people and exposed the unserious as the shills they are.
We watched the giant crowd in Grant Park, a mere 90 miles away, and wished we were there. Then a local station showed the celebration at the downtown Hyatt. Off we went, just Ken and I, to grab our piece of shared history.
The ballroom was packed and Obama was already speaking as we wound our way in, ending up next to the riser with the bank of cameras at the back of the room. The crowd responded as if Obama could hear us, with shouts and applause and cheers. His speech seemed to flow with our rhythms, feeding off our energy. Among other things, Obama is a great writer, but he really got me towards the end:
This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we cant, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.
At that moment, the emotion of the long day at the polls and the joyful night got to me, and tears streamed down my cheeks. Ken knew this was coming and hugged me. We joined in spontaneous multi-cultural line-dancing with hundreds of others, hugged strangers and each other.
Walking back to the car, a crowd of Marquette students greeted us with high-fives on Wisconsin Avenue. We honked at everyone we saw on the way home, shouting and hearing shouts. We celebrated the end of a damaged past and the beginning of a promising future.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Maybe I was just projecting my own sense of joy and relief, but it seemed that diverse group, brought together by the accident of their own shopping, was unusually upbeat and positive, as if they were all gathering provisions to watch and celebrate the elections returns tomorrow night. From the young men and women up from UWM; to the men and women in business suits, picking up something on the way home; to the Russian immigrants; to the kids sitting in the shopping carts – there was a palpable feeling in the air. And it was a good one.
It was the kind of feeling you get at the end of something bad and the beginning of something new – maybe even we didn’t know how hungry we were for Change. After eight years of the Bush Disaster – of war and profiteering, of greed and scandal, of incompetence and arrogance, of secrecy for them and no privacy for you – the passage of time and the 22nd Amendment put an end to all that. The McCain campaign was a weak imitation of the win-at-all-costs Bush steamroller that bullied its way into the White House in 2000 and managed to hang on by smearing a war hero in 2004. The thumping of McCain is a rejection of the cynical politics of personal destruction that worked too well for the Republicans and did the country so much harm in the first half of the ‘00s. The only better result would have been to let Bush run again and take this deserved beating himself.
We all seemed to be quietly celebrating today. Tomorrow, I’m guessing by about 10 p.m., the official pronouncements will be made. Then, we will celebrate loudly and party late.