Missing Friendly Fire

Friendly Fire

I sat watching Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Navy Ship Yard in New York on Tuesday night with tears streaming. As a 37 year-old woman who’s followed the career of the former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State since junior high, #ImWithHer completely. I may have voted for Sanders in the primary (that makes two election cycles in a row with a plurality of quality Democratic options), but come on. To quote another of my political heroes, Vice President Joseph R. Biden III, Clinton’s status as the 2016 presumptive nominee is a “big fucking deal.” This is the first woman EVER to go atop a national ticket. I’m nowhere near as high-profile as Mrs. Clinton but as a career woman and ardent feminist, I know her journey has been filled with roadblocks. She’s not in the Oval Office yet (bring it Trump) but she’s done something historically important. It warranted an emotional release.

Toward the end of Clinton’s soaring address to supporters, I began crying a lot harder. Because I knew someone who would have hated everything about Hillary’s victory, a friend with whom I would have had a spirited debate about moving on from #FeelTheBern to unite the party. Because Trump is the alternative for crying out loud, and though Clinton is an imperfect candidate (as they all are), she’s a proven, pragmatic worker who genuinely cares about the country. He would counter with “Clinton is an evil crook” rhetoric and declare his support for Jill Stein. I would spit the names of Nixon and Dubya. “Misogyny” would be interlaced throughout as both accusation and social commentary. He’d insist anarchy is preferable to another machine leader. We’d probably go a few days without speaking before sheepishly picking up the phone or sending a text.

That’s what should have happened after Clinton’s landmark speech. But Todd died on Memorial Day, six days before I sat on my couch cheering Hillary, paradoxically wishing for the wet blanket he would have enthusiastically offered.

We met on the Union Pacific North Line Metra route in 2010, commuting to the same downtown Chicago office (although not explicit colleagues). I was barreling toward the end of a troubled marriage and near-permanently distracted. As I’ve explained to Bob in recent days, Todd did the initial work and though I’m eternally grateful, I’ll never understand why. Yes we both loved theater, considered ourselves ardent liberals (though he was bitterly disappointed in President Obama – another source of contention) and resided in the same neighborhood. But Todd had roughly a zillion friends as one of the most energetic and likable people in the free world. And me, at least at least then? Pretty much this.

As Todd and I became better acquainted, I learned he’d survived illness, relationship loss and death. Over the course of our six-year friendship, he also recovered from a very serious car accident. Todd didn’t even drive, mind you. He was struck on the sidewalk. Anyone else might have sunk into bitterness at the cruelty of fate. This man had tenacity, spirit and yet counterintuitively, was rather blasé about it. Todd casually and unaggressively knew he was awesome – beaming that certainty at everyone he loved. This made him the best kind of friend – one always there in crisis, with the authenticity to tell when it was time to stop singing the “Big Railroad Blues.”

Todd was a huge Grateful Dead fan and a socially conscious, fun-loving hippie aesthetic infused everything he did. I’ll never know for certain but I think he found my own existential struggles toward inner peace amusing. I’ve made progress but you can’t wash the Type A out of a girl entirely. When my friend felt in need of a red-faced, arm-waving, outside voice volume rant (say, when Mitt Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks), he knew where to turn. And though we were temperamentally different, we loved each other symmetrically.

My pal died just a few hours after we enjoyed soft pretzels and cider at a neighborhood German pub. He was feeling great: excited for a boatload of summer plans he’d made, philosophical about a recent breakup and ready for whatever came next (as always). We exchanged affectionate hugs and as we parted, I thought about how glad I was that I was in a place to do more of the emotional work in our friendship. Although Todd carried me over the starting line, over time we walked hand in hand. Once in a while he even did the leaning.

Todd was buried in his home state of New Jersey last weekend. On Saturday June 18, Chicago friends and family will have their chance to gather and celebrate his life. Todd was a super connector, fond of introducing people he loved to one another. As a result, perhaps one of his final gifts, I’m not alone in grief.

But we won’t argue about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Ever. And I hate it.

Cubs NLDS Game 4: A Fan’s Four-Mile Fugue

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Very early this week, Major League Baseball made the supremely frustrating decision to schedule Game 4 of the Cubs/Cardinals Division Series at 3:37 PM Central on Tuesday afternoon. Working stiff citizens of Cubs Nation, such as myself, groaned inwardly (ok, outwardly too). I’d be stuck behind the desk when the first pitch was thrown.

Making matters “worse” (tragedy is all relative during this most excellent post-season run), I’d exhausted my digital data plan the previous Saturday evening. Enjoying the unseasonably warm Chicago weather, Bob and I invited some friends over for a BBQ. Our iPad was docked on the picnic table, transformed into the world’s most exciting centerpiece. As we noshed and gabbed, the whole group (which included some supportive South Siders) watched the Cubbies come back from Game 1 disappointment, beating the Cards 6-3 to claim Game 2. When my provider sent a system-generated email informing me I’d reached my data limit for the month, I shrugged. Totally worth it.

One of the pitfalls of being so fully enmeshed in the Cubs’ fortunes is a stubborn inability to think ahead. All that usually matters is NOW, that moment. But on Tuesday morning, the dawn of Game 4, I realized my folly. My thought process went like something like this: “Sure, I’ll be at the office, but I can’t be the only person sneaking peeks of the game on my iPhone….OH BLOODY HELL I’M OUT OF DATA!”

As I left the house, additionally hampered with an after-work commitment I could not escape, the dejection was all over my face (Botox shots shall never be strong enough to counter the emotions of a long-suffering Cubs fan). Bob promised to text me with scoring updates, and the venue for the post-shift event would certainly have a television. But, but…bah. Is there any substitute for watching every exhilarating, excruciating second for yourself?

Diligently I worked through the morning. I could do this. I am a full grown adult with responsibilities. It’s not as if the Cubs couldn’t finish off the Cardinals without my eyes on the action. However as the afternoon approached, the façade crumbled, much as it did on November 6, 2012.

On that evening, I was riding my bike home from a kickboxing class in Lincoln Park. President Obama faced a tight re-election campaign against Mitt Romney. I’d been cool like Fonzie all day but as class ended (and my adrenaline pumped), I pedaled furiously to reach home and watch the returns. Obama needed me. Yes we can…run a yellow light at the corner of Lincoln, Ashland and Belmont. I shattered my tailbone and sacrum when I met the business end of an SUV, and it took nine months to heal. Obama won of course, but my frenzied superstition lost big time. I vowed to learn a lesson.

Back to Tuesday evening. My work day ends at 5:00 and the Cubs were down. The event started at 6:30. Google Maps informed me that it would take 40 minutes to reach the venue by train, 80 minutes to walk. In my squirrely state, without a data plan, I could not handle the CTA. Not then. So walking it was. How responsible right? I’d channel my nervous energy into positive exercise, staying out of the road and avoiding an “Election Night” (the new metaphor for self-inflicted disaster) in the process.

The walk was four miles, the weather continuing unpredictably pleasant. I had no control over my Cubs-less situation, but I could control my feet. And I had Bob’s reliable text updates to fortify me until I reached the event (sample: “Schwarber smash! Babe effing Ruth baby!”).

Four miles is a lengthy stroll at any time. But when it comes with the challenge of trying not to think about something consuming every conscious reflection, it might as well be the Appalachian Trail. Total agony. However I ended up with an unforeseen and satisfying byproduct.

I am a Windy City native. I attended a small Lutheran school in North Center as a child before graduating proudly from the CPS system as a high school senior. There is no corner of the north lakefront area and due west disassociated from a memory. As I continued my feverish pace to the event, I paused periodically to stare at a place infused with the ghosts of Cubs past. Thoughts of my paternal great-grandmother, who died before I was born, endlessly thirsty for the Cubbies to go all the way. But she never stepped inside the park. My father’s mother, who worked for decades as a waitress at several Chicago establishments, often serving members of the Cubs roster. But as a single mother with six kids to raise on no budget, a day at the game was a rare luxury. The undying passion of my father for the men in blue through so many disappointments.

Before I finally arrived at my destination, in time to witness the Chicago Cubs send the St. Louis Cardinals packing (I will NEVER tire of writing that sentence), I realized I was carrying a lot through my four-mile fugue state. The hopes and dreams of others whose blue Cubby blood courses through my veins. I wanted it for them as much as myself. Maybe more. And perhaps that’s not so crazy after all.

 

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!”

Bill Clinton Restores Democrats’ Lovin’ Feeling (September 6, 2012)


No matter on which side of the ideological spectrum you sit, it’s difficult to avoid political engagement this week. The Republican National Convention, which resulted in the official nomination of the Romney/Ryan ticket, has been followed thus far by the blinding spectacle of the Democratic counterpart. A thought occurred to me last night after the conclusion of Bill Clinton’s return to convention glory, a nomination speech punctuated by a virtuoso display of GOP myth debunking that must have left leaders from the right reaching for the Neosporin.

The thought was this: not only do the 2012 Presidential election and the respective nomination fetes offer a”clear choice” that candidates and pundits love to discuss, but moreover there is a clear dichotomy in the motivations of the two conventions themselves. Simply put, Mitt Romney and his team sought to recast their robotic candidate as a human being with middle class appeal(a goal that arguably fell totally flat). The idea, after a brutal primary season in which the former moderate sold his record as a compromising Governor, for the opportunity to appeal to the dogmatic Tea Party zealots which now represent GOP leadership, was that Mittens hadn’t moved so far to the right that he’d lost touch with regular middle-of-the-road America.

Contrast this with the mission of the DNC. A report from my hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, shared the results of a Reuters/Ipsos poll yesterday which indicated that the POTUS doesn’t have any trouble with popular appeal. To quote the article, “The online poll showed that voters found Obama more likable than Romney by 50 percent to 30 percent. Forty-one percent said they believed Obama ‘understands people like me,’ while 28 percent said that about Romney.” It’s only natural that voters would tend to gravitate toward a man of modest beginnings, with the power to elicit action and emotion with relatable personal anecdotes and a wondrous oratory gift. It’s almost unfair to place Barack Obama’s considerable magnetism and think-on-his-feet intelligence next to a wooden, scripted man who looks like the enemy from Wall Street and admits to loaded offshore bank accounts. No matter how hard he and his team try to prove otherwise, Mittens is not one of us.

Nevertheless, Barack Obama faced a considerable challenge heading into this week’s events in Charlotte, NC, one faced to a lesser degree by Romney. The President and other scheduled speakers had to re-energize the Democratic base, the disillusioned who voted for “Yes, We Can” in 2008 only to see the slogan perverted into “Yes, We Can…But Only if House Republicans Cooperate.” Over the last four years, hope and optimism have taken many hits in the face of unprecedented Congressional gridlock that seems to worsen with each important issue requiring decisive action.

Though one may disagree with the right on many, many issues, no one doubts the party’s commitment to unseating the President by any means necessary. For reasons ranging from respectful academic disagreement to the worst kind of racial intolerance, there is little doubt that the GOP can anticipate record turnout at the polls this November. However, there is ample reason to suspect that some of the interest groups which carried Obama to victory in 2008 – voters under 25, women, the gay community and the impoverished – may not be motivated to complete their registration applications this round. In addition to disappointment in the Obama agenda’s success already mentioned, nefarious attempts by Republicans to disenfranchise minority groups and the poor have already met with a great deal of prosperity.

Against this backdrop, the primary goal of the DNC must have been abundantly clear to Team Obama: get those 2008 voters, many of whom cast a ballot for the first time, back to their polling centers. See San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro deliver a rousing speech about his immigrant family and the hard work and sacrifice required to make it in America. See Michelle Obama, the most capable First Lady since Hillary Clinton, humanize her cerebral husband with tales of date nights in a rusted out automobile. See Elizabeth Warren’s massive appeal to the 99 percent with a stirring repudiation of the GOP’s obsession with treating corporations better than people.

And last but not least before the current POTUS has the opportunity to address his constituents directly, see former President William Jefferson Clinton bring a convention center and millions of voters to their feet with the answer to all our disillusioned liberal prayers. Bill Clinton is considered a political genius for many reasons but his ability to meld lofty policy discussion with a relatable, folksy charm that doesn’t talk down to Americans…well last night’s speech was simply a master class in connection. All that was wanting was a microphone drop to complete the President Emeritus’ triumph.

I am one of those voters who has occasionally felt letdown by the conflict between the theoretical Obama of 2008 and the practical limits of governing. However if the endgame of this week’s convention is a restoration of enthusiasm, and a renewed commitment to ensuring a second term for the President, then mission accomplished. Whatever the roadblocks of the past four years, the current Commander-in-Chief is the only candidate who cares about the recent decline of the middle class and possesses the policy tools to put it back on the road to success. I’d like to thank Bill Clinton for the impassioned reminder.

Romney’s Latest Scandal: Twittergate? (July 24, 2012)

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During the 2008 Presidential race, then-candidate Obama showed his competitors how to leverage the Internet and a variety of social media platforms to reinvigorate the notion of a grassroots campaign for the 21st Century. It was largely upon the shoulders of individuals who reposted and retweeted his messages that the POTUS was carried to victory – by small donors who contributed their last $100, those who believed that the nation could ill-afford another four years of Republican top-down cynicism disguised as patriotism, morally and fiscally bankrupting the nation. Don’t like continued tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy during a time of war? Then the terrorists win!

It is a savvy marketing template that ensuing candidates from both parties have sought to emulate, with varying levels of success. Former Maverick John McCain captured the public imagination however momentarily with his selection of social media darling Sarah Palin as his running mate, unfortunately learning the hard way that stupidity is no more appealing in the digital age, but we can never take that moment of cultural zeitgeist away from the Republican ticket. All credit goes to the Obama team for forcing all walks of political dinosaur into accepting new media as part of the deal. It does not matter if one appreciates the value of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like. They are modern campaign tools that one must utilize in order to compete. We can never turn back the clock.

And as social media strategy becomes synonymous with campaign activity, reports of potential misuse become a common feature of the news cycle. For example, this morning Yahoo News ran a story via Mashable: “Mitt Romney Sees Sudden Unexplained Spike in Twitter Followers.” At first glance this appears to be an unlikely tale of crashing bore Romney enjoying unexpected appeal in the Twitterverse. Could it be that dull messaging is somehow inverted when permitted only 140 characters?

Ah but no. To delve deeper into writer Alex Fitzpatrick’s story is to uncover a common feature of new Republicanism: if you can’t engender love the old-fashioned way through sound policy and dynamic personality, just go out and buy it. After Romney’s Twitter feed gained a plethora of new followers over the weekend – 23,926 on Friday, 93,054 on Saturday and 25,432 on Sunday – Zach Green of 140elect.com, a blog which monitors Twitter trends relative to the presidential election, couldn’t help but notice per the Mashable piece that, “analysis indicates that Romney hasn’t seen a noticeable uptick in other metrics, such as mentions, which would suggest Romney was getting these followers organically.”

In other words, there are no more people interacting with he of the slick hair on Twitter than before. Well then, what’s the dilly yo? Do we really believe that nearly 150,000 individuals suddenly couldn’t resist the bon mots of the Romneybot on a weekend when campaign activity was suspended? Sometimes the easiest answer is the right one. For whatever reason, the campaign bought the followers, in a wrongheaded, simplistic attempt to make Mittens appear beloved. As the Mashable piece highlights:

“Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director, has denied buying Twitter followers. Moffatt has in the past stressed that his strategy revolves around targeted engagement and not simply accumulating massive numbers of new followers. Buying fake followers doesn’t mesh well with that approach (plus, follower totals mean very little for politicians if real voters aren’t interacting with the message being sent).”

So the Romney campaign has flip-flopped on a previously stated position? The hell you say! Now granted this is not the type of scandal for which a Congressional investigation must be called. It is merely another example of how very out of touch Team Romney is with reality. Did they think no one would notice this latest shell game? Hide your tax returns! Change your tune on health care reform! Buy some Twitter followers! But all the money in the world can’t make you a real, relatable homo sapiens Mittens. The human touch can’t be purchased.

(May 8, 2012)

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President Barack Obama, who frequently appears battered and weary at the tail end of a bruising first term, came to Virginia this past Saturday in a vigorous mood. The POTUS 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.”

Compare this rousing event, where Obama declared himself “still fired up,” in front of a crowd of 8,000 at VCU’s Siegel Center, many of whom braved a downpour to get into see the president and first lady, to Mitt Romney’s own opening salvo a little over two weeks ago. Romney officially launched his general election campaign in the State of New Hampshire at an afternoon barbecue held at the Bittersweet Farm, operated by Republicans Doug and Stella Scamman. Zzzzz…..

It’s true that Ron Paul and Newt Gingrinch had not formally decamped at that time, which may account for some of the event’s timidity. But Ron Paul never believed he had a shot anyway and as for Gingrich, this might be the last political office for which he was momentarily considered a serious contender. He was going to roll around in the spotlight and savor every ray before he and third wife Callista retreated to their cynical Catholic piety.

But back to Romney. CBS News noted the symmetry of the campaign’s pivot toward the general election in New Hampshire, with reporter Sarah B. Boxer writing, “Romney’s current bid for the White House began on June 2, 2011 on Scamman Farm in Stafford, N.H., and the campaign considers his return Tuesday as a full circle moment for the candidate.”

Have we REALLY been enduring Romney’s second Presidential campaign for nearly a full year? It’s like the network television procedural that goes on for seasons while an entertaining, witty gem struggles to find an audience. He is the CSI: Miami of the political playing field. And perhaps for the second time that week, Team Romney selected an ill-advised locale for a photo op. Remember that shuttered dry-wall factory in Lorain, Ohio in mid-April? The one held up as an Obama policy failure that actually closed under the Bush regime? Yeah. Oops.

And it appears that the Romney people, sensing an obvious dearth of triumphant environments in their man’s history, were poised to occupy their rightful place once more as fish in a barrel. As CBS News went on to note, “On Monday evening, the University of New Hampshire released a new poll showing President Obama ahead of Romney 51 percent to 42 percent in New Hampshire. Mr. Obama’s re-election team is quick to point out that Romney’s campaign cleared out of the state immediately following the primary – often noting that his bustling headquarters in Manchester went dark the next day.”

By now we’re used to this from Romney, right? Wherever he needs to go is where he wants to be! The trees in New Hampshire are so green! The people are so real! And what’s that noise? Why it’s the shaking of the Etch-a-Sketch, the sound that may preclude residents of New Hampshire from remembering that Team Romney skipped town the moment the State stopped suiting his immediate purposes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Romney folks are strenuously refuting any suggestion that their candidate is out of touch with local voters. Mitt’s senior adviser in New Hampshire, Jim Merrill was quoted as saying, “I would characterize what the Obama campaign says as nonsense, complete nonsense.”

Ah yes, the “I’m rubber you’re glue” deflection, a time-honored tool in the GOP debate arsenal. Game on. Good luck Mittens!

Romney: GOP Indifference Toward the Middle Class Personified (March 13, 2012)

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Last week Republican primary co-front runner Mitt Romney demonstrated once again that neither he, nor his increasingly radical political party give a fig about the quality of life of America’s middle class. Multiple media outlets reported Romney’s compassionately conservative response to a struggling college student who queried him at a town hall meeting about the profoundly unaffordable costs of a college degree in the 21st Century

My favorite headline came courtesy of New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait: “Mitt: Pay for Your Own Damn College!” Chait distilled Romney’s heartless rejoinder rather well. What Mittens actually said was:

“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that. Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

Charles Dickens first published his classic novel David Copperfield in 1850, featuring the villainous Uriah Heep, described in a Wikipedia entry as a character “notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own ‘humbleness.’ His name has become synonymous with being a yes man.”

It’s tempting to believe Dickens may have been clairvoyant in his creation of Heep, conjuring a future in which a quarter of a billionaire automaton can make like a living, breathing regular guy. I thought that the gold standard for radical right wing pandering had been provided by “Maverick” John McCain during the 2008 campaign, but McCain’s about faces on issues like immigration in order to secure his party’s trust simply don’t do Romney’s kowtowing justice. Is there anything this former moderate, somewhat socially liberal fraud won’t say to get the nomination?

In this case however, we have reason to suspect that Mittens said exactly what he means. After all, why should he care? He and every friend he has possess the cash and the Ivy League legacies to ensure that their offspring will go to the higher learning institutions of their choosing. It’s not they who will be saddled with debt after graduation. And if that “little lower price” degree from a state school that Romney so generously recommends for you should still run an average of $40,000 before factoring in room and board, well you’ve got two choices don’t you? A lifetime of debt or minimum wage. It’s your problem for not being born rich.

What’s perhaps more telling is Chait’s observation that Romney’s comments at the town hall were met with “sustained applause from the crowd at a high-tech metals assembly factory.” Now I am going to go out on a limb and hazard that attendees at a Romney gathering are going to lean mostly right, so ok, these folks were predisposed to drink in the bland Kool-Aid that is the Mitt brew. But factory workers cheering a candidate who unapologetically snubs his nose at the idea of affordable, universal education? How much longer can Republicans expect they are going to find willing accomplices within the hard working, low paid ranks of their base? Sooner or later the spell will be broken. It has to be.

Bold attacks on middle class infrastructure is nothing new to the GOP. You won’t hear them complaining about the stagnant wages of workers while CEO pay has skyrocketed. They have no qualms touting party planks that champion the withholding of rights from everyone from members of the gay community to females who wish to make decisions regarding their own bodies. But the blatant, sound-bite ready pride with which these candidates can look a student dead in the eye and tell them to toughen up, while boasting about the two Cadillacs in the driveway, is just sickening.