Ted Cruz’s Elusive “Moment”

The old pathways of the Joe Bidens and Robert Byrds are outdated, cast-away like the crooners of yesteryear in favor of digitally remastered voice recordings.

My son is at that age where popularity and coolness have entered his consciousness. As much as I try to instill what’s important, it’s almost impossible to insulate yourself from the desire to be liked by as many of your peers as possible in the third grade. And so I see him trying: his hair is gelled into a perfectly coiffed faux-hawk. He can’t resist jumping on every opportunity to be the funny kid in class. And when a joke lands, he can’t keep from repeating it, until that dead horse is laying on his Air Jordan high-tops. He doesn’t have the life experience or maturity to know that cool happens when you stop trying (so they tell me) and that the more you try to contrive a funny moment, the less it is. To quote the movie Mean Girls, “Stop trying to make [it] happen.”

Our political superstars have risen up through the ranks in reality show-type peaks of popularity, in moments that have caught the public’s attention in just the right way, at the exact moment we were ready for it. Barack Obama’s poignant speech at the DNC in 2004 was a welcome break from the blandness of the candidates who had been presented in front of us, making them look old, boring and unintelligent by comparison. It was the platform from which he would later rise to the highest office in the country. Sarah Palin had her moment at the RNC four years later when she was thrust onto the world’s stage as John McCain’s running mate. Despite the fact that it would later be proven that she had a casual relationship with honesty and intelligence, she was a welcome diversion from the uptight white men who dominated the right. It was so powerful that she still commands huge audiences on speaking tours and on Fox News.

You’ve likely only heard of Wendy Davis of Texas since she famously filibustered the Senate in order to stave off crippling anti-choice laws in Texas. She drew ire from Governor Rick Perry and failed in her effort to stem the tide of anti-abortion legislation in her state, but that doesn’t matter. Because her stand against the vaginal-probe wielding Texas legislature captured the voice of the zeitgeist at the moment women’s rights abuses all over the country, but especially in Texas, were coming to a head. Davis’s filibuster, in her Mizuno Wave rider pink sneakers, was the moment a political star was born. She will likely use this momentum to run for higher office, and will be afforded newspaper column inches and prime time news show minutes for the foreseeable future. The political world is hers to lose.

So it makes sense why ambitious young politicians would attempt to skip the whole put-your-time-in-and-see-how-this-government-thing-works in favor of creating their own political superstar moments and rising to fame. This is a political culture brought to you by American Idol and other reality-show based fame contests. The old pathways of the Joe Bidens and  Robert Byrds are outdated, cast-away like the crooners of yesteryear in favor of digitally remastered voice recordings.

Ted CruzThese freshman politicians keep trying to find shortcuts by having their “moments.” You could see how badly Marco Rubio wants it. You could smell it on Rand Paul.

Case in point: Ted Cruz. Yesterday, Texas Senator Cruz threw his hat into the ring for super-stardom by staging a filibuster to defund the Affordable Care Act. Hey! If it worked for Wendy Davis, why wouldn’t it work for Cruz? Unfortunately for him, he sought to answer this question on the Senate floor, and not in his own head. And not by staying on topic and waging a legitimate filibuster, but by reading Dr. Seuss and his twitter feed in what wasn’t even a real filibuster. He was actually talking to hear himself speak, and to see himself on television screens and in column inches. But he’s become not the newly discovered darling of the Republican party that he’d hoped, but largely a joke who proved that he doesn’t understand how the government works or what a filibuster actually is. Even though he spoke for twenty-one hours, there was no way his “filibuster” could impact the Senate vote on the government funding bill. And so it was an empty grab for attention.

And that’s what I have tried to get across to my kid. You can’t force a moment to happen. You can’t contrive it. You can’t chase it. You have to put your head down and do your work. Because the harder you try, the more desperate you’ll seem.

And desperate never won a popularity contest.

 

 

 

Watergate-gate

Even though some of us were not yet born, the scandal that was Watergate is embedded in the American subconscious for the foreseeable future.  Is it because the secret recordings and spying on enemy parties was of a higher level of evil than we had ever seen in American politics thus far? Because it resulted in the first resignation of a President, thus proving the fallibility of our highest office? Or is it really because we have yet to move past adding the suffix “-gate” to anything remotely scandalous American culture?

We all remember “Nipplegate,” when Janet Jackson’s breast flashed during the Superbowl halftime show a few years back. And who can forget “Dopegate” which eventually brought cycling champion Lance Armstrong’s career and legacy to a pitiful and shameful end.  Political scandals are rife with “-gates,” from “Weinergate,” the Twitpic heard ‘round the world when then NY House Representative Anthony Weiner accidentally broadcasted what was supposed to be a private penis shot to a constituent.  There are three “Troopergates” on record, one involving Bill Clinton, one Eliot Spitzer, and the Sarah Palin brouhaha where she allegedly fired the state safety commissioner for failing to fire her brother-in-law when she was the Alaskan governor.  Palin countered that claim with “Tasergate,” claiming that her brother-in-law had used the weapon on his ten-year-old son.

I’ll say this for the American media machine, we know a good thing when we see it.  Like producers of reality television series’, using the same exact plot scenarios to release the same exact television show year after year to unsuspecting viewers, our collective vernacular has varied little since 1974.  We beat the proverbial dead horse.

And I, for one, am sick of it.

I’m sick of pundits keeping close eyes on political figures not because we need to hold their feet to the fire and hold them accountable to anything like, say, doing their jobs, but for the one tiny misstep that we can pounce upon.  This past election season alone produced so many distractions with “-gates” that the substance of choosing the most qualified human to take the most powerful position in the whole freaking world was reduced to “Big Bird” and “Binders of Women.”   Immediately after Joe Biden stated, “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey, because not a single thing was accurate,” when he systematically destroyed debated Paul Ryan in their Vice Presidential debate, #malarky trended on Twitter.  Six minutes into the State of the Union Address by President Obama, a Twitter account with the name @JoeBiden’sGlasses was created with hundreds of followers instantly onboard.

Which brings us to Marco Rubio’s rebuttal.  The fact that he had crafted a speech that answered to exactly not one thing the President spoke about was not the most talked about story of the day.  Not his claim that the President wanted to raise more taxes, or the untruth that cutting taxes for the wealthy boosts the economy.  No, the blogosphere and the Interwebs were ablaze with the gif of Mr. Rubio, who, whilst never losing eye contact with the American people, made a desperate grasp for a Poland Spring bottle and nervously gulped it down, as if by keeping us in a hypnotic stare we might not compare his awkwardness to Obama’s smooth delivery.

The memes were created.  The puns abounded, like Jon Stewart’s headline: “Water for Elephants.”  People claimed on Facebook threads that it was his “thirst for power” and the need to “water down his rhetoric.”

But I just think it’s lazy.  I think we need to look beyond the insignificant gaffes of our public officials and to finally move forward, past the silly wordplay that haunts us from almost forty years ago. And I know that you do too. That’s why I think we should band together and demand that with the final sip of Rubio’s water bottle, we end the nonsense of silly political jargon. Let this human error, this nervous tic that was almost downright adorable if we look at it objectively, not define us as a people, not become the next, oh I don’t know, “Watergate.”

Let this be the last straw.

 

The Next Chapter in our Immigration Story

Have the immigrants changed or have we? There is the part in us that, having edged our way into this society, wants to close the door firmly behind us.

Reports  are trickling in now, via a leak to Politico, that the right is now ready to compromise and come together to pass immigration reform.  It seems divisiveness is a thing of the past and this new Congress is ready to roll up its sleeves and get shit done or as James Wolcott of Vanity Fair put it: stop “legislative constipation.”

Or…

During the RNC Presidential election post mortem—you know, the one where they sat around looking at each other, at the ground, then at each other again, knowing full well that something’s gotta give if they don’t want to remain losers from this point forward—Republicans realized it was time for “Operation Woo the Latinos”.  Marco Rubio will offer up his face as the beacon that sheds light on the Hispanic population, saying “See? We’re with you.”

The Hispanic share of the electorate grew to 10% in 2012. The hard truth that the right had to face, undoubtedly accompanied with some aged and very strong scotch, was that while Romney shored up the white vote just as Reagan did before him, it wasn’t nearly enough.  The Hispanic vote is now five times what it was in Reagan’s time.

And so – immigration reform. Turning a kindly eye to the brown people. Extending a hand.  The main objective behind this bipartisan Senate deal put together by the self-proclaimed “Gang of Eight,” led by Chuck Schumer, would be to offer undocumented workers a path to citizenship.  But will their constituents on the right follow or will they use their votes to slap back Republican candidates in the midterms? If gun control is a hot button issue with right-wing Americans, try selling them on ingratiating themselves to the Hispanic community.  And watch gun sales skyrocket even more, if that’s even possible considering the spike we’ve seen in the weeks following the Newtown tragedy. Americans are arming themselves at a historic pace in anticipation of stricter guns laws.

But expect the gun debate to take a back seat as Facebook memes are undoubtedly being created to vilify the lowest class of non-Americans.  Prepare for talk of more welfare recipients, those “taking advantage” of our system, and well-paying jobs being whisked away right under our noses.  Pay no mind to the fact that these are counter-arguments to each other. One cannot be a lazy freeloader while simultaneously working so hard as to steal work from others.  Watch for this: the folks who decried Obamacare as socialist and unconstitutional  might start looking at it differently in this context.  Might “illegals” be here to take advantage of our healthcare system?  It doesn’t matter – this is an emotional issue, much like gun control, and the arguments are rarely based in thought and sense and has its roots, like so much else, in our collective American culture.

When we broach the subject of immigration, I find that what infuriates us the most is the lack of assimilation. You know the story. Our grandparents worked hard to come here and adopt American customs and spoke quietly and seldomly for shame of their accents.  They taught our parents English and wished for them to be above all else, the picture of white American success. Business owners, college graduates, home owners. Yet, somewhere along the line, we separated into groups with distinctly drawn boundaries and identities.  These lines are drawn along socio-economic and racial lines. And they are etched ever deeper now, instead of dissolving into the melting pot of this country.

It might serve us all well to question why.  Have the immigrants changed or have we?  We talk about American exceptionalism, sometimes as a boon to our nation and sometimes as a scourge.  There is the part in us that, having edged our way into this society, wants to close the door firmly behind us. The part that believes to let others in might dilute what makes us stand out among the world as strong, singular, unique. Have we lost the distinct pride of country and if so, when?  Or is it that because the country is colored differently from our grandparents’ generation, we fail to recognize it as our own? Could the strides that we made in civil rights have opened the floodgates of criticism by giving a microphone to people who said things we did not want to hear?

The voices of the smallest among us are growing louder.  They are issuing demands and asking for consideration.  And it just might be too much. Equal rights and opportunities are to be earned, we chastise.  I picture in my mind the high school bully holding the head of his victim in the bathroom toilet, where he cannot breathe but for foul-stench water.  When he is let up for air, the bully expects profuse thankfulness and deference and is shocked, utterly shocked – to receive that toilet water spit into his own face.  Now the anger is multiplied and the blurry random victim is given a face to direct it to.  Now it’s personal.

Where is the roadmap back?

Could it start with a gang of eight senators, each with an agenda of his own, whether it is a hungry ego that needs his name front and center on a bill, or the strategy of one party that knows it must sacrifice some of its “sure thing” voters in lieu of a growing population?

I’ll wait for the memes to let me know.