The Year in Tears, Fears and Cheers

I’ve done a lot of the right kind of crying this week – big, fat tears of hope, awe and relief. More fantastic than the cathartic sobs themselves, however, is the direct connection between them and national politics. For most of the year, emotional inspiration from the country’s elected leaders has been in short supply.

The lion’s share of 2017 blubbering has been of the traditional disappointment/rage strain. It’s been a tough year with many challenges to moral authority, character and justice. It may seem incongruous to sexist hate mongers like defeated Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, but a liberal, atheist, feminist can also believe that standard codes of conduct should straddle all walks of human life. Righteousness is not the spiritual property of Bible-banging, racist, homophobic straight white men who condemn everyone outside their circle of privileged ignorance.

Regardless of gender, faith, geography or race, there should be a few universal agreements. We should reject white supremacy, violence, sexual assault, pedophilia, corrupt looting of the public treasury, heartlessness toward the poor and the war-torn.  When an American territory is ravaged by natural disaster, we should offer all forms of recovery assistance and skip the Ayn Randian self-reliance lectures. We should support science and research and take care of the only Earth we have. When hundreds are publicly gunned down at a concert and children are not safe in school, its way past time to ask ourselves if the Second Amendment should supersede all other rights.

Moderates, cynics and self-styled realists will be quick to say that we must make our way through the world as it is. Indulging idealistic daydreams is a waste of time. To which I reply in the words of my favorite former Vice President, Joseph R. Biden III: “That’s a bunch of malarkey.” Despite the unaccountable example elevated by President Trump, we can admit when we’re wrong. We don’t have to live with the choices we’ve made when empirical and experiential data illuminate error. If we’re not here to try our best to build a greater and more just world for ourselves and our children, what’s the point? If all we’re meant to do is take what we can and run, what sets humans apart from scavenger species like rats and vultures?

2017 has made it painfully clear that at the highest levels of American government and industry, a shared vision of social justice and opportunity has fallen out of favor. The Trump administration has appointed numerous leaders to public agencies with the express purpose of making it harder for us to breathe, receive a quality education or equitable treatment within the justice system, among other taxpayer scams. See, as just one absurd example, the decision to install Scott Pruitt, tool of the fossil fuel industry, as leader of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Never in modern history has it been so obvious that the public trust and tax dollar are being misused. The heavy-handedness of it all has elicited buckets of my impotent, despairing tears throughout the year. It’s been overwhelmingly tempting at times (Charlottesville, Republican tax “reform,” a sexual assaulter as POTUS) to view the country’s oligarchic, cynical tailspin without hope.

I recently took a personality test shared via link by a Facebook friend. I scored high on the quiz’s concept of reverence. Although the word has taken on a religious connotation, as applied in the personality assessment, it denotes a humbling of the self in respectful recognition of something perceived to be greater. I recognize this existential need. I’m a devoted planner and tactician, but always in service of a motivating larger concept. Shake my faith in the efficacy of action and I’ll quickly devolve. More Law & Order marathons, less self-confidence and movement. Reverence and I have been estranged for months at a time this year, replaced by tears of bitter shame as 45 debases this great nation with Twitter feuds, misogyny, bigotry, feckless and dangerous domestic and foreign policies.

But as we approach the end of the calendar year and the conclusion of the first twelve months of the Trump presidency, I’m starting to get my reverent groove back. On Monday night, Bob and I went to the Chicago Theatre to see the aforementioned Joe Biden on the Windy City leg of his book tour. Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, according to The New York Times Book Review, “splices a heartbreaking story with an election story and a foreign affairs story. And in so doing, he offers something for everyone, no matter which strand draws you in.”

Reading the words of Joe Biden is a privilege. Hearing his earnest, human good sense and compassion live is better still. The 75 year-old public servant is an American hero. A man who has weathered enormous personal tragedy with grace, intelligence and a steadfast commitment to bending the arc of humanity towards justice. I was, am and will always be inspired by Papa Joe. The choked sobs I released on Monday were full of gratitude – for Americans like the longtime Delaware senator, and for a husband who knew that walking down Obama/Biden memory lane would sooth my battered soul.

Then last night, voters in the deep red state of Alabama rejected a twice-sacked, child molesting, bigoted judge in favor of a pro-choice Democrat with a demonstrated commitment to civil rights. Much has been made in the media about urban and suburban white distaste for Moore. But the real story is the 93 percent of black men and 98 percent of African-American women who overcame all disenfranchisement odds and pundit expectations to put their state on the right side of history. As Esquire columnist Charles Pierce noted:

“Voter suppression is a scandal and a crime and an offense against the Constitution. John Roberts’s declaration of the Day of Jubilee in Shelby County v. Holder was an act of historical butchery. The laws enacted since that day should be torn out, root and branch, and burned to cinders. However, what the results from Alabama demonstrated is that, with good candidates and a solid message and tireless work, you can swamp the bastards and all their works just by showing up.”

2016 went out for me with a disillusioned, distressed whimper. Hillary Clinton’s loss was my despair for the country, for womanhood, for immigrants and any chance of addressing the nation’s increasingly stratified economic and social opportunities.

At the end of 2017, I’m rediscovering reverence for the American proletariat. The wise and compassionate words of a retired public servant and the empowered, forward-looking agency of Alabama voters make great holiday gifts.

Advertisements

T’was the Night Before the Election (November 5, 2012)

T’was the night before the election, and all through Ohio
Margaritas were flowing like Cinco De Mayo.
Because Buckeye State residents were confident no matter who won,
Their days in the swing state spotlight were temporarily done.

Camp Romney retired its campaign of fluff,
Hopeful that the Etch-a-Sketch shaking had been enough.
To overcome the ire of chicks,
Who believed in their reproductive freedom, even without dicks.

Team Obama was bolstered by last minute polling,
That saw the incumbent ahead, and his opponent’s effort stalling.
Healthier job creation, increases in home sales, residential,
Images of a post-Hurricane Barry looking Presidential

Gave Obama a boost in the waning days
That claims about Jeep production in China just couldn’t sway.
Jon Stewart and Colbert toasted a winning season of lampoon,
Almost (but not quite) wishing Romney a boon.

Because jokes and puns write with ease
When your campaign platform has more holes than Swiss cheese.
From “extreme conservative” to moderate and back
While crying foul over ads that attack

One’s revolving positions, so hard to cement
Except for that business about the 47 percent.
“Borrow money from your parents” just doesn’t seem to be
A responsible education policy.

The Tea Party zealots, clutching copies of Ayn Rand,
Hoped that they’d filibustered enough to render Obama an also-ran,
When out of the blue from the sound bite penalty box
Came Joe Biden with Paul Ryan’s socks.

That was the only thing left of the GOP candidate, you see,
After Biden leveled him in debate, cheerful as could be.
“Medicare won’t change” promised Ryan, as long as you’re a Boomer,
But the rest of you will be screwed much sooner.

Romney/Ryan failed to learn the lessons of Bush
That entitlements turned vouchers have the appeal of stale tush.
Romney ran away fast from his running mate’s “serious” clunker
And all but banished him to the Cheney bunker.

But hide and seek is no game to play
With middle class voters still clawing their way
Back from the failed policies of Bush Number 2
That left the economy of ’08 a rancid stew.

“He’s had four years and his policies haven’t worked,”
Claimed Cantor and Gingrich and Boehner the Jerk.
Hoping upon hope if they said it was so
The voting public would forget the party of “no”

So off to the polls went John and Jane Public
In between looking for jobs and food for the stomach.
Because things are not fine but they’re definitely improving,
With much more to do to get the economy moving.

Believing in change, if slower than desired
Is a certainly preferable to being stuck in the mire
Of endless wars and tax cuts for the rich,
Watching the American Dream stuck in a ditch.

So “yes we can” re-elect Obama and forge ahead
With hope for the country that’s far from dead.
So to all you suffragists on the left and right,
“Happy Election Eve to all, and to all a goodnight!”

Biden Versus Ryan: Defense is the Best Offense (October 9, 2012)

Following a somewhat unusual Presidential candidate debate last week, featuring possibly the most futile moderation in history from PBS’ Jim Lehrer (I’m still puzzled by Lehrer’s good-natured laugh in response to Romney’s vow to cut funding from the public broadcasting network as a method of balancing the Federal budget), liberal voters are left to anticipate this week’s Vice-Presidential throw down between current office holder Joe Biden and GOP hopeful Paul Ryan. The event is being positioned by both parties as a clash between the old and new guards of American politics.

Team Biden is promoting the debate as the definitive choice between experience and wisdom versus youthful, brash ignorance. On last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, NBC’s Political Director Chuck Todd cautioned those who might expect a fumble from the foot-in-mouth-prone VP, “Everybody talks about the gaffes on the trail, but he won most of the Democratic primary debates in 2008.”

Joe Biden, a man with a lifelong penchant towards shooting from the hip, is not the bumbling caricature of Gerald Ford comically delivered by Chevy Chase in the Saturday Night Live parodies of yesteryear. It would serve naysayers well to remember that Biden was a Senate veteran with 26 years of experience before he was promoted to the White House. The 15th longest serving Senator in history built a career out of bipartisan cooperation, and is widely considered one of the most likeable lawmakers in the nation. It may also serve the opposition to recall that when Biden was added to the 2008 ticket, it was in part an effort to strengthen then-candidate Obama’s foreign policy credentials. Joe Biden is no lightweight.

On the other side of the spectrum, Paul Ryan supporters are positioning the week’s rhetorical skirmish as a battle between fresh, wonky ideas versus the old and tired status quo. In the same Meet the Press broadcast, panelist and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich characterized the 42 year-old elected official as “one of the brightest people in Congress. I think he knows an immense amount of facts.” It is tempting to point out that personality traits that might render one well-prepared for an evening of bar trivia are hardly a recommendation for America’s second-highest office.

Debate watchers may also be curious as to what set of “facts” Ryan will be armed with on the evening in question. Will he bespeak the much-maligned, if personably delivered, “truth” about the Romney budget plan that Mittens tried to sell to registered voters last week, a plan infused with magical fairy dust that permits the elimination of the deficit without destroying the social safety net or cutting taxes further for the wealthy? Or will Ryan adopt the Dr. Phil-esque “get real” approach so yearned for by the likes of New York Times columnist David Brooks? Does Ryan have the courage to talk to likely voters like adults, detailing the real impact of a Romney administration?

Scheduled several weeks after the strangest, most deceptive Republican National Convention in recent memory, gamblers may want to place their bets on the fairy dust edition of Paul Ryan.

With the benefit of a higher “Q” rating and an established presence as a genial and intelligent public servant, a report this week from Yahoo! News distills Joe Biden’s mission for the evening to one simple goal: “Biden needs to enter the ring with his boxing gloves on. Ever since Romney picked Ryan as his running mate, the Obama campaign has been attacking the Ryan plan left and right, and Biden has to be ready to throw punches against Ryan’s economic philosophy.”

That’s right. Vice-President must accomplish what President Obama failed to do in his opening battle with Romney: put Ryan on defense and keep him there. It’s a winning strategy because Ryan’s budget plan is heartless, bad for America and when properly scrutinized, indefensible. Just keep smiling Joe and watch the young kid strangle himself.

Obama Opens Up a General Election Can of Whoop Ass on Romney (May 16, 2012)

A little over ten days ago, President Barack Obama, who has been frequently criticized by members of his base (myself included) for anemic fence straddling throughout his first term, came to Virginia in a vigorous mood. Our sitting Commander-in-Chief chose the swing state he won in 2008 to formally launch his drive for re-election, casting the 2012 race as “a make or break moment for the middle class.”

Declaring himself “still fired up,” those of us who have enthusiastically followed his trajectory from Illinois State government to U.S. Senate to the White House can vouch for Obama’s ability to excite a crowd. His ample charisma and message of hope is one of many reasons BHO drubbed John McCain on election night four years ago.

The irresistible orator has turned out to be a far more pragmatic leader than the revolutionary-minded among us may have wished, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We have some epically serious problems with which to contend and although there have been times when I would loved to see Obama challenge a political rival to an old-fashioned duel (see John Boehner and last summer’s debt ceiling tango), my better self understands that this is no way to move the country forward. And however quiet his methods, the POTUS has certainly done that. As Joe Biden said correctly, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

So after a rousing start to what is sure to be a long general election campaign, the nation settled into several presumed months of contemplating the Veepstakes. Which GOP crazy would Romney tap to be his second-in-command? Boring conversation for certain. Then two very awesome things occurred…

BOOM! Obama tells ABC’s Robin Roberts that “at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.” It may have taken a lot of words to state a simple fact: everyone has the right to decide who to love and wed. And the admission may have been forced by a clumsy, off-message but must-love-his-honesty Joe Biden, who unequivocally declared his support for gay marriage on Meet the Press, but the important thing was that the words were finally said.

And BOOM! JP Morgan Chase, one of the pillars of Wall Street, an institution long heralded for its ability to manage risk, announced it had lost two billion dollars through hazardous betting, adding new chum to the waters surrounding the debate on financial regulation and oversight.

Folks we have a live one!

In no time at all, Mitt Romney raced for the podium to declare “My view is that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Romney said. “That’s the position I’ve had for some time, and I don’t intend to make any adjustments at this point. … Or ever, by the way.” Well good, glad we cleared up your permanent inflexibility Mittens.

Except that was a lot easier to get away with in 2004. Fortunately, society’s pendulum is swinging quickly on this issue, with a March 2012 Gallup ABC News poll showing that 52 percent of Americans support the legalization of same-sex marriage. I know the Republicans have long stopped caring about majorities or embracing the mainstream, but they continue to isolate themselves at their own electoral peril.

Likewise, the Romney camp wasted no time stepping in it over the JP Morgan Chase debacle. Romney spokesman Rick Gorka issued a statement that read in part, “JP Morgan’s investors, not taxpayers, will incur any losses from this hedging trade gone bad. As president, Gov. Romney will push for common-sense regulation that gives regulators tools to do their jobs, and that gives investors more clarity.”

Um, didn’t JP Morgan use taxpayer money, in the form of savings, holdings and other securities in the bank, purchased and stored with the honest dollars of hard working people, to execute this financial belly flop? Are we expected to believe that the bank will sell off buildings, reduce executive salaries or liquidate other assets to compensate for the loss?

Out of touch, and come November, out of time, the Republicans will finally be forced to take themselves out to the shed and contemplate a platform overhaul that includes elements of reality, modernity and tolerance. But until then, it will be wildly amusing to watch Mittens try to grapple with unscripted events as they happen, generally coming out looking like an ass, as has occurred in this first week of the general election campaign.

Obama Has Lost Me (December 21, 2010)

ObamaHasLostMeSmallHeader

As we approach the imminent conclusion of 2010, an increasing number of liberals that comprise the leftmost wing of the Democratic party are being drowned by waves of nostalgia for November 2008. This was the time, immediately following the historic election of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American Commander-in-Chief, courier for the messages of “hope” and “change” that were to be the hallmarks of the country’s future, when lawmakers from both parties alternately believed in or feared a permanent Democratic majority. In that moment Obama, flush with bold new initiatives in the aftermath of eight years of Bush administration mismanagement, seemed infallible.

On the other hand, the Republican party, which struggled mightily to formulate a message or strategy under the McCain/Palin ticket, appeared to be destined for banishment. Leaders of the GOP publicly and privately indicated that the party faced the Herculean task of finding a platform and voice that could appeal to the mainstream middle. Obviously endless war, permanent tax cuts and corporate favoritism had fallen out of favor.

What a difference 24 months can make. This past week witnessed the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, up to and including those for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. While Obama has stated that this “compromise” was only reached in the face of an unprecedented Great Recession, a need to eliminate tax code uncertainty so that businesses could once again begin to hire, and the private sector to spend, I don’t think there’s a policy wonk living of any political stripe who genuinely believes the addition of another $880 billion to our national debt will have that effect. For example, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who often seemed to act throughout the W years as the little more than Bush’s financial yes man, was characterized by NPR in July as believing “the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to lapse. Greenspan, who as the nation’s top central banker in 2001 and 2003, pushed for the Bush tax cuts, now says that was a mistake.”

Tax cuts for cash hoarders at the top have little to no simulative effect on the economy. We’ve listened to the experts say the same thing over again, yet the Obama team would still have us believe that this recent demonstration of Republican blackmail, and Democratic capitulation, “brings hope for hiring and growth.” When I entered the booth in 2008 and cast a deliberate vote for “hope,” this sort of cynical gift giving to the rich, while keeping fingers crossed for a positive outcome, was not what I had in mind.

Meanwhile Vice-President Joe Biden insists that the administration will do the right thing and end this decade-long Treasury robbing in 2012, a Presidential election year, because somehow, you know, the economy will get better. “We will be able to make the case much more clearly that spending $700 billion over 10 years to extend tax cuts for people whose income averages well over a million dollars does not make sense,” Biden said, according to an AP report. Can I see a show of hands of those who believe the rich will willingly give up their booty as an altruistic measure, when and if the unemployment rate creeps back toward 5%? The President will face the same situation in two years – give into Right wing demands or suffer the electoral consequences. The President may be a good man at his core, but he is still a politician.

Mirroring the pragmatism of our indecisive leader, I can believe Obama to be a decent, learned human who truly wants to do right by his country, yet not like his chosen methods, or the results produced by his extreme rationalism one little bit. Somehow the energized 2008 Democratic base has seen it’s party’s messaging morph from an affirmative and spirited “Yes, we can!” to Joe Biden’s claim on this past Sunday’s Meet the Press that “politics is all in the art of the possible.” The problem is, this shift in mission statement was decided upon without the input of the most impassioned liberals who carried Obama to office on their shoulders in the first place.

The President’s positions on so many issues that once seemed black and white to his team, including energy and climate change, immigration policy and defense spending, have become so nuanced, so rife with Washington-speak about “concern” and “commitment,” that it is presently very difficult to distinguish between the regimes of Bush 43 and Obama 44. Iraq and Afghanistan? We are still there, with no reason to believe we’ll be out anytime soon. More brave soldiers lost, and more trillions we don’t have to spend will be thrown at our twin Waterloos. BP and Big Oil? I don’t want to revisit the Gulf spill of this past summer because the administration’s ineptitude is still too painful, but it’s clear the barons remain in charge. Infrastructure? I live in Chicago and the last time I checked, the bridges around me will still crumbling and I have no access to high speed rail.

I and my fellow disenchanted liberals will not be bought off with the passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act of 2009, mainly because, beyond allowing young adults to remain on their parent’s plans until the age of 26, it’s hard to see how the situation has improved. Insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, with deductibles that nearly guarantee a childless married couple (in my case) will never receive benefits. We wanted the Public Option because nothing less will force real change in the insurance industry.

Ditto for the long overdue repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy as pertains to gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces. While this piece of human rights legislation finally passed both houses of Congress over the weekend, the process took way too long. When you have the support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the backing of two-thirds of the American people, and a bipartisan legislative coalition behind the overturn of the ban, and it still takes two years to get it done, something is wrong. I have a sneaking suspicion, and I am not alone in this feeling, that our leader isn’t terribly concerned with advancing the fight for equality amongst GLBT citizens. Yet within days of the rabid liberal disappointment following the tax cut deal, DADT is old news. Isn’t that a coincidence?

Can the President win his Left base back between now and November 2012? That remains to be seen. However, if history teaches us anything, there is reason for pessimism about Obama’s return to beatific, Everyman fighting form. There are so many dire issues which require the President’s action, many of which I have mentioned earlier in this essay, yet election cycles tend to bring out the very worst in “safety first” legislative development.

I know it’s pathetically idealistic, but dammit, I feel betrayed. A vote always matters, but I truly believed, way back in 2008, that I was casting my ballot FOR something, not just in opposition to the other guy, which was the takeway of my 2000 and 2004 experiences. I drank the Obama Kool-Aid in heavy doses, and now, as is the case with any hangover, I am left with nausea and regret.