U. S. Politics

Take Off With Lakoff: A Linguist’s Aerial Tour Of American Politics

It took 12 years, but the “family values” Christians won.

January 17, 2005 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)


When the Santa Fe Institute sponsored a public lecture by George Lakoff in April 1996, he was just a Berkeley professor promoting a book. But the Institute does not support hacks, and this scholarly work in cognitive linquistics, a field he had practically invented, was brilliant. Now, probably through no fault of his own, Lakoff is a yogi for desperate liberals seeking to get back in touch with political bodies. (more…)

Remedy Revealed For PSAD (Political Season Affective Disorder)

You don’t have to leave the country (although they do have a good medical plan in Canada)

November 6, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Several stories in Canadian newspapers mentioned a run of immigration queries by Americans so distraught by the reelection of George W. Bush they were planning to claim asylum in the Great White North. A satirical (I think) Web site called “marryanamerican” sought volunteers willing to sacrifice their “singlehood” to make honest Canadians out of the new political exiles. The slogan was, “No good American left behind.” (more…)

The Hooded Figure Factor: Surviving Born-again Government

Plus, a few unpolled factors giving New Mexico to Kerry

October 28, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Tags: , ,

The Eminem video of “Mosh,” which made it’s unscheduled early appearance on the internet just before the election, is a call for born-once Americans of all colors to unify, to fight, to march, and also, incongruously, to vote against George W. Bush. It took me way back to the early days of Vietnam and the impact of music like Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side.” It is portentous. (more…)

He Voted Against Canadian Drugs Before He Voted For Them

Cheap shots in the presidential campaign

October 17, 2004 in THE KITCHEN SINK,U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Tags: ,

I knew it might draw some ridicule from my Republican friends. I mean, George Bush is toughing it out, making hard decisions, facing up to the global threat of flu-like symptoms, saying, “Bring ’em on!” He ain’t afraid of no virus. (more…)

The Mansur Bombing And The Second Debate

October 9, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Tags: ,

I don’t know how evangelical Christians, among them President Bush, can forget the suffering of civilians in the Iraq war while professing, as he did, religious compassion for five-day-old laboratory embryos. (more…)

Wonkie Impressions From The First Debate

Wherein I sonorously supplant the colossal bloggers

October 1, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Tags: ,

I don’t blog. I write for publication. But the bloggers were so lame in the hours after the presidential debate that I thought, to use one of John Kerry’s weathered but tiresome Kennedy clichés, “We (meaning I) can do better.” (more…)

A Simple Solution To The Outsourcing Problem

Move to the Phillipines

September 3, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Tags: , , ,

President Bush’s acceptance speech contained a fascinating piece of rhetoric that equates the outsourcing of American jobs with the liberation of American workers:

“The story of America is the story of expanding liberty: an ever-widening circle, constantly growing to reach further and include more. Our nation’s founding commitment is still our deepest commitment: In our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom.

“The times in which we work and live are changing dramatically. The workers of our parents’ generation typically had one job, one skill, one career, often with one company that provided health care and a pension. And most of those workers were men.

“Today, workers change jobs, even careers, many times during their lives, and, in one of the most dramatic shifts our society has seen, two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home,” he said.

The usual reading of these established facts is that American workers acquire newly marketable skills and American moms acquire meaningless low-paying jobs because they have to, not because they want to. Workers change careers because employers can obtain their skills cheaper off shore. The president acknowledged this factor, saying, “We now compete in a global market that provides new buyers for our goods, but new competition for our workers.”

As to working moms, liberal economists have long pointed out that the combined income of two wage earners in a home now is not much greater in relative dollars that the single income of one wager earner in the old days. In other words, it now takes two to support a family.

“Many of our most fundamental systems – the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training – were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared and thus truly free to make your (sic) own choices and pursue your own dreams,” the president said.

In other words, he wants to make the fundamentals more portable. This in turn shifts the burden from the employer to the individual (not, since he is a Republican, the government). And so Bush went on to promote the ideas of individual health savings accounts as alternatives to comprehensive health insurance and individual investment plans as alternatives to mandatory Social Security taxes.

The “worker training” part of his package was: “In this time of change, many workers want to go back to school to learn different or higher-level skills. So we will double the number of people served by our principal job training program and increase funding for our community colleges. I know that with the right skills American workers can compete with anyone, anywhere in the world.”

Further, “In this time of change, opportunity in some communities is more distant than in others. To stand with workers in poor communities and those that have lost manufacturing, textile and other jobs, we will create American opportunity zones.” He sounded here like a Democrat, complete with total disregard for the cost of the Op Zone program (Remember the old LBJ Office of Economic Opportunity?) to the taxpayers.

The Democrats did not immediately respond, and John Kerry might remain silent on the proposals, as he does on so many other issues in his disastrous campaign to shadow Bush. But there is hope with John Edwards, who made outsourcing his primary issue.

The Democratic team could, if they would, turn the rhetorical tables on the Republicans here. They could say the Bush proposals to ameliorate outsourcing are too “complicated,” too tax-and-spend expensive. They could say there is a simpler solution: Keep the damned jobs home!

But they won’t. And mid-Americans will continue to regard outsourcing as an issue that does not affect them directly — a complex mechanism that, for reasons known to conservative economists, actually is good for the American economy. They will continue to care more about the price of their new running shoes than where they were glued together. They will continue to presume that outsourcing involves really dumbass jobs that smart Americans don’t want anyway.

But mid-Americans are in for a rude awakening. I got that wakeup call just recently.

In late June after some intensive study of print-on-demand companies and several telephone conversations with a nice literary salesperson in Philadelphia, I signed with Xlibris to publish my novel about growing up in Colorado. I told a few friends to expect the book in September and turned to my next writing project, on New Mexico politics.

At the end of July, I received a surprise e-mail from Xlibris c.e.o. John Feldcamp announcing, in his words, the “exciting news” that the company was moving some of its operations to the Philippines. What? How can you do English-language publishing in a country where English is a second language? I e-mailed Feldcamp asking for more details and expressing my reluctance to be part of an enterprise that moves American jobs off shore. There was no response.

Two weeks later I called the number of my project contact at Xlibris. An operator said she no longer worked there. I called the number of the nice literary salesperson and left a voice message. I sent another email to Feldcamp. The call and the e-mail were never answered.

Eventually I found someone familiar with my project, by its serial number — a sincere and apparently college-educated young Filipina. We had several painfully halting conversations about the quality of the digital photograph on the back of the proposed book. At times I got the feeling she was reading from a script.

Eventually I sent another photo and, receiving no response, called her. She said that my project had moved to the next level and that someone else now had my case. I will call the new representative – she has a strange name – when I’m feeling rested and have a long afternoon free.

I went through this last spring with Dell computers. I had called Dell technical assistance with a problem installing a new Dell hard drive, and after about eight cumulative hours, a lost weekend of attempting to communicate with India, I gave up and bought 90 days of upgraded Dell tech assistance. It cost me $50, but I got a guy in Austin who solved the problem in five minutes.

Subsequently I bought a new computer – from Gateway. I doubt that I’ll ever go back to Dell. And that’s what I’ll do with my next book – switch to a company that does not outsource. But that might be hard to do. See, I’m a slow writer, and by then Bush will be well into his second term.

The Madness of Prez. George?

Science versus Religiosity again

August 18, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)


Justin A. Frank, MD, a Washington, DC, psychoanalyst, came through Santa Fe selling his disturbing pscyhological profile of President George W. Bush. Several hundred attended the book-signing in the lovely and historic Acequia Madre area. Garcia Street Books arranged folding chairs in the parking lot. (more…)

Let Us Now Salute Max Cleland

There is a larger band of brothers

July 30, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)


You didn’t see this if you are a captive of network TV and its local affiliates: the introduction of John Kerry at the Democratic National Convention by a man named Max Cleland.

The opening shot on C-Span was a big happy Nordic face and an arm raised high. Kerry’s “band of brothers” was already in rough formation on stage, so you knew this new and weirdly joyful man was going to be another Vietnam veteran.

The screen line said, “Former U.S. Senator, D-Ga.” I don’t follow Georgia politics (Who can? Like, U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., supports President Bush.). So I did not know about Cleland.

But a little research showed that he was defeated in his bid for reelection in 2002 after one U.S. Senate term. The Republican upset was generally attributed to relentless and well-funded Republican attacks on his liberal voting record, along with implicit questions about his patriotism.

The background is worth studying, since one line of attack against Kerry seems to come from the same Republican shop. TV in “targeted” New Mexico, for instance, has been saturated all summer by an ad, carrying the personal approval of President George W. Bush, portraying Kerry as a voter against weapons in “the war on terror.”

The ad is illustrated by images of vanishing Bradley Fighting Vehicles—Poof!—Apache helicopters—Zap!—and unprotected combat soldiers—Fade out—as the narrator tells of vicious votes by Kerry. The Annenberg “political fact check” Web site says of this misleading ad: “In fact, Kerry voted against a few large Pentagon money bills, of which Bradleys, Apaches and body armor were small parts, but not against those items specifically.”

Similarly, according to a Washington Post profile, a TV ad run against Cleland by the successful Republican challenger, Saxby Chambliss, opened with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, then segued to Cleland and berated him for voting against President Bush’s Homeland Security bill. “It didn’t mention that Cleland supported a Democratic bill that wasn’t radically different,” said the Post.

And there were masters of fine distinction who pointed out that Cleland– although he won silver and bronze stars– was not actually, technically, wounded in combat, since the grenade had been dropped by another American soldier. Similarly, the Kerry detractors are saying that he only served 4-1/2 months in Vietnam and that his three Purple Heart wounds were not debilitating. And they call Kerry a complex thinker– these sophists who otherwise praise black-and-white moral certainty in politics.

Anyway, there was Cleland—while the networks were still indulging in their fare of “survivor” shows. There was a true survivor, waving and being cheered. But something was wrong with the picture. Something was odd about the opening shot. Then I caught on: the man was moving unnaturally. Although it never really appeared in any of the shots, Cleland was in a wheelchair of some sort. And it became obvious that he had his left arm raised high, rather than his right, because. . . .

Well, Cleland is a triple amputee. He lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam. He told the convention about returning home in a wheelchair, about getting dumped accidentally on the street in front of the White House during a protest and resolving as he lay in the gutter helpless among cigarette butts “to make something of my life.” The next year he won a seat in the Georgia State Senate, beginning a political career that was halted by the Republican upset in 2002 – “the second grenade in my life,” as he once described it.
Cleland—who has an endearing FDR way of gesturing with his neck and head—told the convention that Kerry is “my brother.” And it was hard to doubt the sincerity of the remark, despite the political setting with the placards waving and 100,000 red-white-blue balloons suspended overhead in nets. It’s not that Cleland and Kerry served together in Vietnam, as did the band of other brothers who were on his Swift boat.

There is a larger brotherhood—and I’ve known some Vietnam veterans—that goes beyond combat. It continues with the common experience of the returning veterans. It was in the midst of this experience that Cleland first saw Kerry on TV in 1971. Kerry was a founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He was testifying before Congress. “He gave me hope,” Cleland told the convention.

The Vietnam veterans, you might recall, were in a tough situation. Far from being honored as heroes on their return home, they were generally ignored and sometimes vilified as “baby killers” by the typical war protesters, who didn’t have a clue. Of course, their opposites, well groomed young politicians talking patriotism, didn’t have a clue either.

And now some of them have brought us the war in Iraq. It’s important that no one setting war policy in this administration has seen actual combat, except Colin Powell, and he has been sidetracked. (This comes from Bob Woodward, “Plan of Attack.”)

Bill Clinton also was a president without combat experience. His foreign policy, I would argue, was based mostly on domestic issues—such as the protest against the Taliban by the American “Feminine Majority” for reasons that had nothing to do with national security. Such was Clinton’s provincial narcissism.

Now, the patriots, I recall, made a lot out of the symbolic issue of Clinton using the military salute as commander in chief. He got into the habit of saluting his Marine guards when he stepped out of the presidential helicopter, and so forth. The patriots said a draft dodger had no right to use that gesture of respect and honor.

OK. So when Kerry finally appeared, after Cleland’s introduction and Spielberg’s inadequate video (Spielberg doesn’t have a clue either), and the networks had finally cut in, Kerry began, as Jimmy Carter used to: “My name is John Kerry. . . .” But instead of continuing, like Carter, “. . . and I’m running for president,” Kerry said, “. . . and I’m reporting for duty.”

Then, he gave a crisp military salute. I cringed. But on seeing the reruns, I thought, “No, that took some balls.” If Bush can dress up like a pilot, Kerry can salute. Kerry earned that privilege. He was a soldier.

Appreciating The Democratic National Convention As Art

How to survive the tyranny of cliches

July 28, 2004 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

Tags: , ,

A CNN political explainer at the Democratic National Convention, Jeff Greenfield, told anchor Aaron Brown that he watched the speeches on TV so he could see what the millions of us out here see, and Brown said it sure was different being on the floor of a convention as compared with being in front of a TV out here. Which is definitely true because out here the convention speeches are constantly preempted by political analysts watching themselves on TV. It becomes a sort of feedback loop. They comment on their own comments.

Me, I watch pundit-free, commercial-free C-span to help imagine what it’s like on the convention floor. Having covered several of these things in my former career as a journalist, I have developed a fondness for the subtleties of performance. I enjoy good political speeches, like Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s. I love surprises like Teresa Heinz Kerry. You could see these mainliners on CNN or public television, but you see all the warmup acts on C-span.

I especially appreciate the work that went into the big screen interludes – video productions and short remote feeds from gatherings of Democrats in key states. The networks prefer to cut away to panels of experts analyzing the political effectiveness of what they have just allowed us to see. But I say watch C-span and give slick shameless propagandistic packaging a chance. It’s only fair, considering the hours and hours devoted to turning the Ronald Reagan funeral into a state party holiday.

The “non-political” appearance of Ron Reagan, his son, at the Democratic convention did not begin to compensate. Stem-cell research is an unlikely presidential issue in itself. But as the pundits on CNN failed to recognize, it is of the same political family as abortion, and right-to-life is the current Republican base. The core Bush voters are being energized in church.

It’s all about Christian superstition versus scientific thinking. And it is crucial, so to speak. A field of medical research with the potential for curing some of the world’s most tragic diseases has been suppressed by the government. To me it is as disgraceful in its way as the Soviet mishandling of Chernobyl, the political override of physical science. Well, then, said one CNN Republican, why didn’t Ron Reagan just go make his case to conventions of Christian fundamentalists rather than a convention of Democrats?

The point was left there, but the rebuttal was already built into Ron Reagan’s speech. The decision to suppress stem-cell research was made by politicians, not theologians. And, he argued, it was made for the most cynical of reasons: political fear.

It was obvious that the same fear, not journalistic objectivity, motivated Wolf Blitzer’s immediate comment on the speech: “It’s important to note that President Bush does not oppose stem-cell research.” That false statement went unchallenged by his panel.

Blitzer is bearded and authoritative, but he’s not what you would call bright. Earlier that night in an appearance with Bill Richardson, the convention chairman, Blitzer segued to a correspondent in Nevada, saying that Nevada is “dear to the heart of Gov. Richardson.” Realizing his error a few minutes later, Blitzer segued to a correspondent in New Mexico, saying, “New Mexico is not far from Nevada.”

Celebrity broadcasters if nothing else excel in maintaining their authority – and in looking good and staying popular. These are high school kinds of things. But that is the level of politics. A kid who is popular and good looking in high school can have a fine political career if he or she doesn’t really grow up.

The network celebrities and their colleagues in the other media are the enforcers of this high school thing — the tyranny of the majority — which they represent in vacuous cliches. The media celebrities have a very narrow toleration for new or complex ideas (such as stem-cell research) until courageous politicians – and there are some – begin winning over the perceived American public.
Consider the media indictment of Teresa Heinz Kerry prior to her convention speech. New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg in Boston described her in print as a “billionaire philanthropist who has shown a flair for saying whatever she thinks, whenever she thinks it, in a way that is wholly foreign to the political operatives overrunning this city this week.” That was representative.

His evidence? Well, she told an aggressive reporter for a conservative paper to shove it. (She said he was persisting with the question what she meant by “un-American activities” when she actually had said “un-American traits.”) And, on NPR she said that the pumpkin spice cookie recipe attributed to her by Family Circle magazine actually was something cooked up by a Kerry campaign staffer. In other words, Teresa Heinz Kerry was indicted for expressing her feelings and telling the truth – in the place of the usual clichés.

One of her few constant media defenders was Ariana Huffington (also rich and foreign) who wrote, before the speech: “Unlike most politicians, she has a natural gift for intimacy and interacts with campaign crowds of 5,000 as if she were sitting around chatting with a small group of friends.” That description aptly fit Teresa Heinz Kerry’s convention performance, which with painful honesty transcended the usual cliché’s — verbally and non-verbally. I have never seen a convention speaker draw so close to her audience.

(Somebody after the speech said she was “like a European movie star.” Hey, maybe if the Republicans get their constitutional amendment through, she could run for president against Arnold Schwarzenneger.)

Barack Obama too was intimate and orginal in his speech, which was a runaway hit. But he did not have to overcome the tyranny of media clichés. His biography – and he is all biography at this point – is vaccinated against them. Who could be cynical about the success of “a skinny kid with a funny name?” CNN cut a few times during Obama’s speech to Jesse Jackson, a masterful speaker who through over exposure and time has become a cliché personified. Jackson looked grave. He was, I suppose, recognizing the future (as we all must), and it apparently works well without veneration of the civil rights movement of 40 years ago.

Bill Clinton is probably the biggest walking cliché in the Democratic Party. His 900-page book discloses him as, in David Brinkley’s accidental words, “a bore.” But his convention speech, in structure, was a masterpiece. His reprises such as “a more perfect union” and “Kerry said, Send me!” were almost musical. (“During the Vietnam War, many young men, including the current president, the vice president and me, could have gone to Vietnam and didn’t. John Kerry came from a privileged background. He could have avoided going too, but instead, he said: ‘Send me.”’)

Clinton also masterfully described himself as a beneficiary, now that he is earning like a millionaire, of Republican tax policy. “I almost sent them a thank you note for my tax cuts until I realized that the rest of you were paying the bill for it,” Clinton told the delegates. His identity in these two respects with Bush and Cheney would have been a brilliant move if Clinton were a candidate. How could they respond to this Satan of the liberal conspiracy? It was like the Devil showing up in one of our Christian-Republican churches in a red (as opposed to blue) choir robe.

Anyway, it was a virtuoso performance. Which is what I look for while watching pundit-free, commercial-free C-span. It’s art appreciation.