Friday, October 31, 2008

Bill Kristol says something I agree with!

And for those of you who think I've been too petty:

Tonight, on The Daily Show, Bill Kristol said something I agree with. I didn't think he could do it. I was starting to think he couldn't form a true sentence, like, "The sky is often a blue-ish color," or "objects with a lesser mass sometimes, in the right circumstances, depending on the political year, fall towards objects of a greater mass," or "Sarah Palin is basically a bad historical punchline that could, through folksy charm and voter suppression, gain the ability to make teenage rape victims bare their unwanted children." His lips refuse to wrap around real words and spit them out in the correct order.

But I was wrong! I admit it. Bill Kristol proved me wrong. Sure, he had to qualify the statement, but the basic gist is true.

He said, "There are times when it would be wise to talk derisively about people like me."

Bill has a compulsion to avoid the truth, but he's trying here, so let's give him some credit, and our assistance. Let's take out Kristol's hedging, shall we?

Strike "There are times when..."

Strike "...people like..."

What is Kristol really saying? "It would be wise to talk derisively about me."

Sure, he spent the rest of the interview saying such ridiculous things that it was difficult to believe even he would drink his own Kool-aid. He claimed that when Alaskan corporations give citizens a check, that's not the kind of socialism Sarah Palin's been talking about, but "Conservative economics, you know, helping those hard working citizens." Jon Stewart was so blown away I thought he would pull all his hair off and sport that Ben Gorman look. Then Bill Kristol criticized Jon Stewart for reading the New York Times. Bill Kristol works for the New York Times!

But there I go again, focusing on the negative. Let's encourage positive behavior when we see it. For a brief, shining moment, Bill Kristol was (at times, someone who is like people who are) 100% correct.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fear Mongering Works... On Cowards

Folks concerned with the tenor of the political debate at the tail end of this election, as things get particularly desperate and ugly, should check out Wallis' post today, "Be Not Afraid". Good stuff.

Now, I have a question about the chiding I got for my tone: I think we can all agree it's right to warn people not to be afraid, or making judgments out of fear when it comes to electoral politics. That's scriptural (for folks concerned with that), it doesn't attack anyone, and it also seems very... safe.

But what's the difference between saying X or Y group is trying to motivate people through fear, and saying X and Y group depends on cowardice in order to succeed? And if we see fear mongering, and watch it succeed, then are we wrong or hurtful to say the group that used such a strategy is composed of cynical leaders and cowardly followers?

You see where I'm going with this. To say, "Don't be manipulated by X group, which is trying to scare you." Okay. Kosher. Socially acceptable.

But "X group is composed of cynical, manipulative leaders and cowardly followers."? Bad. Impolite. Uncivilized. Disrespectful.

I'm no fan of the term "Tough Love". I think it's become a euphemism for everything from child abuse to overly harsh punishments for criminals. But what about tougher rhetoric? Protecting the feelings of cowards and dishonest, cynical politicians doesn't really do anyone any favors. We shouldn't shut down debate with shouting or reckless name calling, but speaking truth to power is a good thing. As we watch our economy go into a tailspin, we're going to hear a lot about shared responsibility between Wall Street and Main Street. Doesn't the same go for our politics? In a democracy, the people have power. If leaders resort to fear mongering, the accountability also belongs to the fearful who allowed themselves to be manipulated.

I understand politicians can't call voters cowards, just as they can't call everyone with too much credit card debt irresponsible borrowers. But those of us who live with the consequences of cowardly voting might not be running for office, so we can, and should, call out our neighbors for being spineless.

Thank God for Helen

Well, after posting a link and a comment on Jim Wallis' God's Politics blog, I've received some (deserved) flak for my uncharitable tone. Now I have to send as many people as possible to this awesome blog by Helen, an 82 year old grandma' who has been doing her darnedest to make my angriest rant look tame by comparison. And I have to admit, I love it.

Check out "Margaret and Helen" here.

Long blog Helen Philpot!

Still No. 1, for what it's worth.

Robert Kagan has a piece in today's Washington Post op-ed page criticizing those who talk about American decline. As someone who's caught more than 1 episode of "Jerry Springer" I've ranted often about our cultural decline, but Kagan doesn't talk about that. Mostly he focuses on our GDP and our military prowess, which are still unrivaled in the world.

Do I sense some oversimplification? While our share of the world economy has remained relatively stable, within our country that money has shifted disproportionately to the wealthy, meaning more and more people are living in conditions which do not match what one would expect of the world's wealthiest nation. And as for military power, we may be unrivaled but we are also stretched so thin that there is significant concern that we couldn't fight another land war right now, and certainly couldn't handle a two-front war, which means we are paying the most in the world for our military but don't have the power to use it (or threaten to use it) as we once did when it had a smaller price tag.

I still don't see another country knocking us off our spot quite yet, but President Obama will have his work cut out for him if he wants to make sure we stay #1. And besides, #1 doesn't mean much to the infant who can't get the care they need in a country that ranks so poorly in infant mortality, or a child who goes to schools that are not the best in the world. At some point the unequal distribution of our blessings leaves many of us saying, essentially, "I dropped out of a more prestigious college than the one you graduated from."

We may be No. 1, but we have a responsibility to make sure that isn't a hollow claim.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In a world where...

Couldn't have basso profundo-ed it better myself.

Yea Jim Wallis!

Joel asked, "Who is the major voice in the Christian community that is rising up in opposition to what Dobson and his people say?"

The answer is Jim Wallis, of Sojourners Magazine, bloging at God's Politics (Thanks for the link, Jed!).

Check it out:

Yeah, Jim! Thank you and bless you!

Monday, October 27, 2008


Okay, I have to quickly backtrack here and make it clear that I do not find all Republicans to be stupid, just as I know that not all Republicans think of me as a cowardly, unpatriotic baby-killer. I formally apologize for using a blanket label to include a whole lot of people I do not mean to include in my descrition.

Good, smart people I respect, like Jamie (who commented below) reside in the big tent of the G.O.P. and are also in the tent of People Ben Cares About and Respects Completely. Some of these people are those single issue voters who have a single, strongly held, entirely defensible position whih I can respect but with which I disagree. Some are very embarassed Republicans who sided with the party based on its expressed ideology, who keep considering them in elections based on those principles, don't always vote party line, and feel betrayed by this administration. Those, again, are people I can respect. In fact, maybe the people I don't respect don't really exist, but they are not caricatures of my own creation alone. When someone like Sarah Palin talks about a Joe-Sixpack character who is a real-American, who suspends his judgment of his government's actions because he is always patriotic, who dismisses people because they are educated or elite (which does not mean snooty, but genuinely better than he is), then I think I can be forgiven for believing in this caricature. I guess I don't think Republicans are stupid. I think the kinds of voters the Republican politicians focus on, reach out to, pander to, and sack-tickle are stupid. In contrast, maybe all us Dems really are a bunch of morons, but the politicians more often reach out to us drooling, numb skull liberals (and, admittedly, flatter us and pander to us) as though we are educated, reasonable people who have nuanced worldviews. And this is a big and telling difference, both between the current Democratic and Republican parties, and between the current Republican party and its intellectual progenitors. One party is vilified for being dependent on its intellectuals, but it honors them. The other party (or at least its governing philosophy) was created by intellectuals, but now depends on those who are not only ignorant, but willfully so and proud of it.

I know that the Republicans can't really run on their educational records this time around. We've got a contest between a law professor and a guy who was fourth from the bottom of his class, and between a lawyer and a woman who took five schools (or was it six?) to get her B.A. and never sought any more formal education. Still, the Republican POLITICIAN's expressed antipathy to education or nuance pre-dates this election. I respect a lot of Republicans and I don't think they're stupid. But their party keeps telling them they should be.

Homegrown American Taliban Threatens Christian Evangelicals with Blame for Ruining America if Obama Wins

My friend Joel, in an effort to show the world just how well he knows me, sent me an article and asked for my thoughts on it. Now, one might think that only a total geek and a rabid politics junkie would enjoy receiving a writing assignment on a political topic from a friend. Well, Joel knows "total geek" and "politics junkie" pretty much sums me up.

Even more telling, Joel sent me something that he knew would make my blood boil faster and hotter than Ramen noodle broth in a microwave (which is what we lived on while we were college roommates). And boy, was he right. This piece is a doozy.

Posted on Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus On The Family” website, the piece is designed as an imaginary letter from a Christian, writing back to us from the nearly apocalyptic world of 2012, where, after the machinations of an Obama administration, the nation has gone to hell in a hand basket. Before I lay into the piece itself (which, it seems, no one who currently inhabits our particular location in the space-time continuum wants to take credit for by name), I have to ask: Joel, why in the hell are you reading this trash? Did some evil person send it on to you just to drive you crazy, too? Or do you regularly check up on the American Taliban for fun?

Okay, now to the piece, “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America”. It’s long (16 pages in a downloadable pdf), and though I’ll link to it in the name of fairness, I don’t recommend reading it unless you are a masochist who likes migraines, or a Dobson fan, which is itself a kind of socially acceptable sadism. I know I said I wished I could be more respectful to people I disagree with in a recent post, but I also said I can’t manage it, and if you were to subject yourself to this piece you would know why. The piece is particularly galling for me because I consider myself a Christian. For years I’ve admitted that with a great deal of embarrassment, not because I’m ashamed of Jesus Christ, but because I’m ashamed to be associated with many of his followers, especially those in power in my country. Lately I’ve begun to wonder about the term itself. The definitions of words are cultural constructions, and when I describe myself as a Christian I mean something so wholly different from what someone like Dobson would accept that I feel like a guy who says, "I'm a phrenologist, by which I mean that I live in Oregon”

“But that’s not what the term 'Phrenologist' means,” they say to me. “Phrenology refers to the people who study the bumps on people’s heads to learn about their personalities.”

“That’s not what it means to me,” I say. “I mean a person who lives in Oregon.”

“Well then you are ignorant of the term’s meaning, or crazy,” they say.

That's the same thing they would say when I describe myself as a Christian, if “they” were the kinds of people who treat James Dobson as an authority on theology, family dynamics, national politics, or anything more consequential than the location of his own backside, which he may or may not be able to find with both hands.

You see, when I say I’m a Christian, beyond meaning that I believe in and serve Jesus Christ, I extend that to mean:

I should reject violence and war;

I should love all of God’s children (and not just say I love them while advocating policies that do them great injustice);

that much of the Bible is allegorical and that allegory and metaphor can be just as meaningful, if not more so, than accounts of literal history;

that homosexuals are not sexual deviants who deserve to be disempowered, but an oppressed minority who deserve justice, protection from the majority, and yes, even admiration for their struggle;

that gender roles are products of the fall and thus sinful and to be done away with, rather than prescriptive definitions of who we should be as human beings;

that parents shouldn’t educate their children through violence…

I could go on and on. I have read enough of Dobson to know he would disagree with me on all these claims, but I suspect he (or at least many of his acolytes) would go further and say these beliefs make me something other than Christian. I’m tempted to say, “Fine. When somebody asks about my religious beliefs I’ll just launch into that tirade, because the label has been convenient but now requires so much explanation of what kind of person I’m not that I should just jettison the label altogether.” I used to say to myself, “Self, why should I let fundamentalists take the term away from me?” Now I wonder if, when asked, I should just say, “Well, I love Jesus and I love people, but I’m not sure what that makes me in America anymore.”

But I haven’t broken ties with the label enough to avoid feeling outraged when I read something like the garbage Joel sent me, so, baited, I’ll vent.

The piece starts out by saying it’s not real (thanks for that) but that it’s all based on the case law from liberal judges and quotes from Obama this writer has cherry picked to form his apocalyptic vision of the future. I thought about writing an equally petty piece about 2012 in a McCain administration as a form of satire, but I don’t think McCain is some diabolical agent of evil who would set out to reshape the social fabric of America in some terrible way. I disagree with him on many things, and I think that a McCain presidency would be a bad one, though probably not quite as bad as the office’s current occupant. But then, if McCain realized all my worst fears based on reports of his erratic temper, by 20012 we’d be living in a post-nuclear holocaust world which Cormac McCarthy has already described better than I ever could in his haunting book The Road, so any attempt to make light of the worst case scenario for a McCain presidency would involve making light of the end of humanity, and that’s just not my style. (Well, okay, maybe when I’m in the right mood, but not tonight.) So, rather than parody, let me just tell you about this fictional Christian’s argument, and by then end I think we’ll all agree it says a lot more about Dobson and his ilk than it does about Barack Obama.

First, the organization. The piece lays out the horrors of Obama’s America in big segments under bold headlines. These are, in order:

The Supreme Court
Same-sex marriage
Religious speech in the public square
Gun ownership
President Obama’s response to the Supreme Court
Military policy
Health care
Taxes, the economy, and the poor
Talk radio
Christian publishers
Prosecution of former Bush administration officials

Predictably, these things all go exactly the opposite of the way Dr. Dobson would want. But take a look at the order! Either these are in ascending order of importance or descending order of importance. If the order is ascending, one would have to believe Dobson (or the writer he publicize without attribution on his site, so let’s just say Dobson) thinks protecting W from a much deserved war crimes prosecution is more important than abortion, gun rights, and gay marriage (unlikely), or they’re in descending order, in which case Dobson thinks the danger of gay marriage is more serious than the terrorist attacks he threatens in the section on “Military Policy”. In fact, either way he kind of buried his lead. Terrorist attacks, a Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, and a complete economic meltdown caused by over-taxation are in the middle, apparently less important than the ability of high schoolers to pray by their school’s flag poles, or less important than the ability of evangelical publishers to sell their books in Barnes and Noble. Yeah, because what’s on the shelves at the local big-box bookstore, or what the kids are doing around the flagpole (and trust me, I work at a high school, and they ain’t prayin’ now) demands an urgent warning sent back from the future, but FOUR terrorist attacks inside the US get tossed into the middle of the letter, almost as an aside? This time traveler is a douchebag. But wait, you say, maybe the whole piece is just a random list of grievances. Do you mean to tell me that four years in the future they don’t have a simple word processor program with Cut and Paste commands so writers can organize their thoughts? Did Obama outlaw that, too? Then that should be added to the random list. Maybe at the beginning. Or the end.

Now to the actual content. As you can guess, two dudes want to enter marital bliss, and that wrecks the country. Kids are told they can’t peer-pressure other kids into standing around listening to readings of Dobson’s sexist, bigoted interpretation of scripture, and that wrecks the country. A woman is allowed to make her own decision about whether she wants to risk her life to bring a tubal pregnancy to term so she can raise her rapist’s baby, and that wrecks the country. Adults are allowed to make their own decisions about what kinds of art they consider indecent, and that wrecks the country. Localities are allowed to take measures to make sure cops are more well-armed than crooks, and that wrecks the country. Obama says he didn’t want any of this to happen, but then he said he wasn’t a Muslim, too, so we all know what that’s worth. The U.S. pulls out of Iraq and so, AS A CONSEQUENCE OF LEAVING, NOT SHOWING UP IN THE FIRST PLACE, terrorist come into the country and people BEGIN to kill one another. (Oh, and, by the way, terrorists attack the U.S. four times.) Doctors and nurses are told they have to put the interests of their patients above the religious beliefs of one Dr. James Dobson, and so they all quit practicing medicine and it wrecks the country. Rich people have to pay the same taxes they paid in the nineties, (remember, back when all the rich people were leaving the U.S. to live in Burkina Faso and Haiti?) so they all leave (again?) and everyone left is poor, and it wrecks the country. Workers can easily join unions so they can have healthcare and safe working conditions, and of course that wrecks the country. People aren’t allowed to spew bigotry on the radio, which causes Americans to not know who to hate anymore, and the ensuing confusion wrecks the country. Christian publishers can’t get their books sold at Barnes and Noble (yep, the time traveler specifically mentions Barnes and Noble and only Barnes and Noble) and that wrecks the country. Bush administration officials are bankrupted by the court costs necessitated to defend themselves from war crimes charges, and though this doesn’t wreck the country it’s just so unbelievably tragic that we all wish we were dead.

The article then goes on to say that the people most responsible for this are the evangelical Christians who supported Obama in this election. Just to be clear, according to this time traveler if you are an evangelical Christian who votes for Obama you are responsible for four terrorist attacks, countless abortions, sodomy on every street corner, the collapse of the economy, the suffering of book publishers and radio talk show hosts, and the legal fees of that lovable Dick Cheney. Oh, wait, but not in that order. Damn you, centrist evangelicals, for taking away my ability to cut and paste that back into the order Dr. Dobson posted on his website!

Joel asked, “Who is the major voice in the Christian community that is rising up in opposition to what Dobson and his people say? Where are they?” It’s a fair question, though it’s also fair to wonder if Dobson himself is still a major voice in the Christian community. This kind of desperation shows his power is waning, at the very least. Maybe “major voices” are just letting him rant himself into oblivion. I have another theory, though. I don’t think there are any “major voices” on the left in the Christian community, not because no one will stand up, but because they have been effectively silenced and marginalized over the last twenty years. I wrote a book (a lot of research, a lot of time, and a lot of passion wasted) and was told it was good enough to publish but too liberal for a Christian publishing house and too Christian for a secular house. If the Christian right has set up it’s own parallel media world, and everybody else has said, “What, you want crazy talk? There’s a separate store for that down the street,” then it’s no surprise that some household name hasn’t stepped forward to repudiate this letter from within the ranks of Christians. Liberal Christians, apparently, can’t sell enough books to become household names.

This article specifically warns against hoping for suffering as a means to strength, but I’ve read a handful of conservatives who’ve pined for some down-time in the political wilderness to get their house in order. As a liberal, I can’t speak for those folks, but I can say I want the same thing for Christianity in America. As a Quaker, I’m a big believer in shutting up and listening for guidance from God. Maybe American Christianity needs to be saddled with this kind of lunacy just long enough that no one takes us seriously anymore, so we can stop making pronouncements about what all Christians think or how all Christians should vote long enough to figure out if that term has any meaning as a single, monolithic label. I think that should take ten or twenty years, but if Dobson is allowed to continue spewing this stuff he hastens the date when no one, including Christians, listens to “Christian Leaders” about anything more consequential than where to find the coffee and donuts between services.

So, God bless Dr. James Dobson, who willingly sacrifices his own dignity in order to embarrass all Christians into the Quaker practice of silence. Thanks.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's the next hot gadget?

As the economy melts down, I find myself simultaneously wondering if there will be great deals the day after Thanksgiving, and realizing there aren't any hot items I'm jonesing for. This will only magnify the current financial crisis. I think of the jerk who sold me my TV and wonder what he'll be able to do when he loses his job at the electronics chain store. He was far too rude to successfully hold a job in food service, and since he was too dense to figure out that customers should be treated with respect, I doubt he has the savvy or adaptability to make in the competitive world of aluminum-can-collecting-and-recycling. He succeeded at the electronics store job because he had a product I wanted so badly I'd suffer his rudeness, but that won't work behind the counter at Goodwill, which I expect to be the next big growth industry.

So what technology will save Christmas? Can we even remember back to those halcyon days when we realized that a flat screen TV would free up almost three whole cubic feet in our living rooms? For only around a thousand dollars? What a steal! Plus, the product would have the added bonus of the ego boost that comes from learning our favorite actors have bad skin, just like the rest of us. Of course we needed this product. To think, back then, we couldn't imagine that Cloris Leachman would be dirty dancing on "Dancing with the Stars", and we'd be able to take those images to our graves in Hi Def. That's the kind of technological breakthrough that used to make America strong.

Technological gadgets don't just entertain, of course. They also solve problems. I used to have this terrible problem. In order to listen to MP3s, talk on the phone, and maintain my daily schedule digitally, I had to fill my pockets with three different gadgets. And if I wanted to watch YouTube videos of politicians' speeches clipped and edited to make them particularly embarrassing, and if I wanted to do that while riding public transit or, say, driving, well... Forget about it. Impossible. I'd have to find an actual computer. Now that seems almost as ridiculous as the giant car phones of the early eighties. Computers. Ha. Of course, thanks to the iPhone, for a price only slightly higher than all the devices I used to carry around plus a commitment to allow AT&T to sacrifice my first-born in some pagan ritual, I can now do all those things simultaneously.

(Full disclosure: I don't have an iPhone. I'm not that cool. I only have one child, and I'm kinda' partial to him, so I'm crossing my fingers, knocking on wood, and wishing on stars in the hope that my preferred cell phone provider will offer a similar phone in exchange for a contractually obligated second-born. Of course, my wife and I can't manage one of those by this Christmas, but if my provider announces such a product by Spring '09, I'll be ready for next year. Still, I think you all get my point.)

Tonight I saw an add for the new iPod Nano which comes in a bunch of colors. That's all we have to offer this gift-buying season? That's going to pull us out of the coming global depression? Colors? I know Alan Greenspan told Congress his flawed worldview didn't prepare him for this collapse, but I'm pretty sure the error in judgment wasn't caused by economic analysis that was too monochromatic. Seriously? Just new colors?

I'm not sure what device could save this Christmas season, but I already have my eye on something for next year: Word on the street is that Sony is working on a device that will be the must-have item for 2009. The amazing, human powered, rock-and-flint trash incinerator, the "iFlint-and-Stone", will allow us to burn all the abundant packaging that came with our expensive but now outdated doohickeys, and use that heat to keep ourselves alive next winter.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thoughts after Canvassing

Today I went canvassing for Obama/Biden. Noah came with me for the first few houses, then got tired of it.

Canvassing for Obama - Share on Ovi
You'll note that my Obama tee hasn't arrived, so I made my own.

I knocked on 64 doors in my neighborhood. These were voters identified by the party as independents, unreliable voters, or new voters. Of those, 29 were strong Obama supporters who said they would be voting, and only 7 told me they were voting for McCain. That's heartening in itself, but I also found that here in the purple-ish, blue-ish state of Oregon, in a small town (would Palin still consider that "real America"?) the Obama supporters seemed a lot more fired up. Sure, I was wearing an Obama/Biden bumper sticker on my chest, but the difference still exceeded what you'd expect. I'm feeling hopeful.

Another observation: I talked with a union guy who was particularly excited. He made a point to show off the Obama/Biden poster he'd received from his electrical workers union. I'm always glad to meet another union member, but as a member of the teacher's union I couldn't help but think his union is better than mine. First of all, if he's representative of his fellow electrical workers (and he may be an outlier, like me) then they are more excited and supportive than we are. Teachers I know tend to be inexplicably split. Also, the house this electrical worker owns is a lot nicer than the house this teacher rents. Yep, his union is better.

Lastly, when I went back to the Independence office of the Polk County Democrats, a guy came in to share that he not only had his Obama sign stolen out of his yard, as did many other people in the community, but he got the punks' license plate number and the police caught the thieves. So, way to go Mr. Ledesma!

Tonight I'm off to a pumpkin carving party where the parents are evenly split, Democrats and Republicans. I made sure to pick up enough Obama stickers to put one on each of the kids.

Democrats are wrong and Republicans are stupid?

In the New York Times Campaign Stops blog, Douglas MacKinnon has a piece where he lays out an argument for why McCain could still win. Ignoring the polling numbers, MacKinnon relies on a sad fact about Democrats, which even Obama is quoted as saying in the piece: “Don’t underestimate the capacity of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

MacKinnon thinks the Democrats could fail again by underestimating the Republicans. That's a fear I share. But he explains it as follows:

"Republicans think Democrats are wrong, but Democrats think Republicans are stupid, and that’s why Democrats lose."

I've wrestled with this, and felt my share of liberal guilt about dismissing a large swath of the American population as stupid. But this statement is reductive. Republicans don't just think Democrats are wrong. Despite the fact that I live in a small town, because of my political views people like Sarah Palin believe I live somewhere other than the "real America". Because I believe in those words John McCain put in air-quotes as he spat them out, "Women's Health", many Republicans find my beliefs tantamount to infanticide. Because my interpretation of my Christian faith demands that I take a strong position as a pacifist, many Republicans think I'm a coward, or, at the very least, that I don't support people like my brother-in-law, who is currently serving in Iraq. People can respectfully find one another to be wrong. It's hard to respectfully call someone an unpatriotic, cowardly baby-killer.

Meanwhile, I see Joe-Sixpack Republicans who have suffered through years of stagnant wages while the plutocrats have become wealthy beyond imagining holding fast to the illusion that their hard work will make them part of that top one percent of earners. These folks decry socialism not out of some ideological sense of fairness to Paris Hilton, but out of fear left over from the Red Scare, and out of a genuine ignorance about the state of economic inequality in our country. I hear the descendants of immigrants voice the same kind of xenophobic slurs that translate to the mantra of generations of bigoted Americans: "We're the last ones who should get in." I've watched anti-abortion or fiscally conservative single issue voters pull the lever for a party that has a proven track record of increasing the number of abortions during their watch and of increasing the size of government and the federal deficit every time they occupy the oval office. I've watched people who claim to believe in enlightened self-interest vote against their own self interests over and over again. I would love to find a gentler word than "stupid", but nothing comes to mind.

I am willing to acknowledge that the Republicans, until this election, have had a more formidable political machine. If that's the measure of respect, then I respect them more than I do the Democrats. But that's George W. Bush style respect; respect earned through fear. I hope that, after four years of an Obama administration, Americans can rediscover a different definition of respect, wherein people lay out arguments based on facts and well reasoned political philosophy rather than race-baiting, fear-mongering, and reductive labels. When we still disagree, which we will, we recognize each other as informed, thoughtful, patriotic citizens who believe in each other's goodness and shared hope for our country. I want to feel that kind of respect for Republicans, and receive it from them in turn, but I'm not there yet, and the Republicans I know aren't there either.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Eternal Youth

They call me
Can I cover for another teacher?
She's stuck in traffic.
I head down to the room
Corner of the school
Most doors and windows
Lots of friendly noise
No volume control
Kids take turns shaking my hand
One guy gently places his hand in mine
Then jumps into the air.
"I like this guy!"
He shouts
Feeling instantly mutual
I talk with another guy
About how we would spend
A quadrillion quadrillian dollars.
I'd feed everybody in the world
I say.
He'd buy everybody shoes,
Finish the book he's writing
Make a movie version
And make video games
For every video game system.
He's got big plans
And writes them down
In the form of a string
Of repeated number nines.
"How much would this be?"
Well, I say, that's a million
And that's a billion
And that's a trillion
What comes next?
"Quadrillion," he says.
So you have a....
Quadrillion quadrillion
He forgets the subject
Starts talking about his favorite ice cream
And last night's college football game
And his cat.
His dreams are so large
And he will never grow old
His toddler soul
Young for
A quadrillion quadrillion years.

Rotting on the Vine

They asked me where poems hide.

Standing out on my back porch
(generous name for a slab of concrete
surrounded by the summer's overgrown garden
rotten tomatoes wrapped in weeds)

listening to music
through earbuds that enjoy bungee-jumping out of my ears

smoking the pipe I bought
because it looks like the one Grandpa smoked

and sometimes a fragment of a lyric sticks awkwardly

or some small frustration of the day
an irritant like sand under a contact lens
is coated like a pearl with the bile of a dog-eared thesaurus

and poems come out of the fetid earth.

Marriage is great.

My wife, Paige, just told me I need to go to the store to pick something up for her. She can't go because

A) She's in her pajamas.

B) She's not wearing make-up.

For the record

A) I am in my pajamas.

B) I am not wearing make-up.

But I am going to change clothes and go to the store.

In the eternal contest of who-loves-whom-more, I just want it noted that I am winning tonight.

(Sure, she bore my child and all, but I am willing to defy my own sense of logical consistency for her benefit, so... um...)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Can Satire Swing an Election?

I hope to see that this video sets a record for the number of hits of a single sketch comedy segment over the next few days.

Ferrell's Bush endorsing McCain with Tina Fey's Palin between them might be the height of satire, and I say that as an ardent admirer of good satire, a die-hard Daily Show fan, a member of the Colbert Nation, and a frequent resident of South Park, Colorado. This is what satire can do: heighten reality to draw out the facts those in power do not want us to see. Satire should focus on the powerful; it should call out the Emperor for his bad taste in new clothes (or the Empress for her $150,000 Hypocrisy Collection from fifth avenue). Like it or not, GWB is still president. He should be the focal point of satire, and here he's used to best effect. I have been developing migraines watching McCain and Palin tell us we can best bring about change in Washington by keeping the same party in power, but they've managed to keep Bush off the radar by talking about how terrible it would be to spread the wealth while simultaneously explaining how they would continue to redistribute wealth to the wealthiest Americans. It's like they've been trying to hide one glaring inconsistency that threatens to cause my head to explode by loudly shouting another. I feel like it's some kind of conspiracy just to kill ME. Well, SNL has weighed in, and all I can say is, "Thank You!" and "God Bless You All!"

Oh, and those folks who take "Bush"'s advice, picture his face, and still pull the lever for McCain... well, I have some phrases I'd like to toss your way, too, but I don't think they're fit to print.

In the name of consistency and post-partisanship, I do expect all my favorite satire shows to really take it to President Obama over the next four years. It may make me cringe, but it's the right thing to do.

And I so hope you all get the chance.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is Bill Kristol ever right?

Jon Stewart once asked, "Oh Bill Kristol, are you ever right?" I'm reluctant to believe anyone can be consistently wrong; the whole even-a-broken-clock-is-right-twice-a-day theory. But William Kristol might be a clock that's just off by enough to be wrong all the time. Today, in his latest column for the NYTimes (a paper his own conservative friends consistently mock) he tries to take a populist tack, arguing that Americans are not stupid or uninformed. At first, he had me wondering if, for once, he was on to something. Considering Obama's poll numbers, for a moment I thought he might be vying for a position in the conservatives-attacking-conservatism movement we're going to hear a lot from over the next few years. Instead, he tried to make a case for Joe the (well, not really a) Plumber. Seriously, Bill, I think Jon Stewart may have you pegged.

I know the anger over Obama's clumsy "spread the wealth around" comment must have lit a fire under dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, but if Joe the Plumber really is one of the intelligent and informed electorate Kristol is talking about, then he could probably hear the fact that both candidates are talking plenty about spreading wealth around. At the last debate, Joe's debate, McCain, after deriding any spreading of wealth, and after proposing a spending freeze, talked at length about his $5000 tax credit for health coverage. That's spreading the wealth. If Americans are intelligent and informed, they know that. They also know that it won't cover the cost of most of their care now, let alone when they are old, so it amounts to spreading around the wealth, but doing so ineffectively. That's what Americans, the intelligent and educated ones, are sick of. We don't dislike the conservative's line on free market economics, even if we disagree and even when it proves intellectually bankrupt as it has these last few weeks, nearly as much as we dislike their penchant for consistent, ideologically driven mismanagement of government. Of course they think government is bad: they do their best to make it so every chance they get.

Kristol not only threw down with some Latin etymology, tracing the root of "Vulgar to "Vulgaris", but he even quoted Horace. I'm not sure if he was trying to show that conservatives are educated elites, or if he was trying to say the "common people" could appreciate this linguistics lesson, but either way it felt condescending and not particularly illuminating. Then, he put to rest any misconception that a nuanced study of history might inform his politics by writing: "Most of the recent mistakes of American public policy, and most of the contemporary delusions of American public life, haven’t come from an ignorant and excitable public. They’ve been produced by highly educated and sophisticated elites."

No, they've been produced by highly educated and sophisticated elites who were willing to work for George W. Bush, who is neither. But then, the term "Sophisticated" comes from the Greek sophos or sophia, meaning of "wise" or "wisdom", and I'll bet there are a lot of hacks who worked for Dubya who are now reconsidering the wisdom of that career move.

I'm not sure if Kristol was telling conservatives to stop looking down on the common people, or if he was telling us common folks that the elites aren't to be trusted as much as a plumber who isn't a plumber, but one thing is abundantly clear: We can trust the vulgar masses a lot more than we can trust Bill Kristol.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama stole my joke!

Barack Obama stole the joke from my last post! (Okay, to be fair, I can't possibly be the first person to make that Obama-fathered-two-African-American-children-in-wedlock joke. But I'm probably in the first million, and I'll bet there will be a couple million more in the next eight years, so I'm still ahead of the curve.) Enjoy this great video, and enjoy McCain's part, also. It's first, chronologically, so I'll put it first, and I have to give him credit, because he's really funny, too. Why can't we see more of this side of both candidates? Probably because we'd be forced to choose between President Dave Chapelle and President Larry the Cable Guy.

Enjoy this tiny taste of civil interaction between these candidates because, if you're like me, by the middle of next week you'll be curled up in front of your television chewing on aspirin and praying for a quick death.

And now, soon-to-be-President Obama stealing an already tired joke from some schmuck out in Oregon:

Maybe there's hope for this country yet.

But probably not.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Script for McCain's Next Ad Leaked!

Though this ad hasn't yet hit the airwaves, the script has been leaked by a senior member of McCain's campaign who, after begging for anonymity, admitted, "Our campaign is such an immoral, hateful, unprincipled mess that I'm voting for Obama because I'm terrified of a John McCain presidency."

Secret, leaked script:

Ominous narrator:
"How much do we really know about Barack Obama? Forget his policies, the twenty months of non-stop coverage, or one of the most impressive political campaigns in recorded history. Every Joe-Sixpack knows the only important factor in a voter's judgment is a politician's associations.

[Horror music rises in the background]

"You may have heard that Barack Obama lives in the same neighborhood as a former Chicago Citizen of the Year award winner who was a member of a radical group when Obama was in elementary school.

"Well, it gets worse!

"Obama has been carrying on a long and very public love affair with... a black woman!

[A picture of Michelle Obama flashes onto the screen, then stretches diagonally to the sound of a zither.]

"And wait, it gets worse! Barack Obama has even fathered two entirely legitamate black children. And he's not even ashamed of them. In fact, he is proud of them!

[A picture of the entire Obama family appears. Then badly drawn fangs grow in their mouths and their eyes glow bright red.]

"Unbelievable, but true!"

"Forget the fact that your retirement plan has just emptied out in the last week. So the federal government has made a succession of moronic, ideologically driven decisions for eight years straight. Who cares? In these uncertain times, shouldn't we make sure the power stays in the hands of the same people who got us into this mess? If you're sick of the way Washington has been operating, you need a 72 year old president who shares George Bush's worldview and whose best selling point is that he's supported a bankrupt governing philosophy slightly less consistently than most members of his party.

"John McCain. He's ten percent better than the nimrod you picked last time!"

[A picture of John McCain appears to the sound of trumpets. Giant, animated wings flap behind him, and one tenth of a halo hovers above his head.]

Voice of John McCain:
"I'm John McCain, and I don't approve this message because it says a couple things that are true, and we all know I gave up on truth some time ago. In fact, now I mostly curl up in a fetal ball in the small bathroom in the back of my bus, where I watch my tears drip into the toilet and swirl away along with the last of my honor and respectability..."

At this point the camera pulls back and McCain wanders away very slowly, talking to himself.

McCain has made ad buys in select markets, targeting the four o'clock daily airings of "Judge Judy", his favorite thing to watch while he eats his dinner. Please pass this on to others involved in the Obama campaign, so we can be prepared to respond to questions from people who are still, amazingly, undecided voters.