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The old pathways of the Joe Bidens and Robert Byrds are outdated, cast-away like the crooners of yesteryear in favor of digitally remastered voice recordings.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

 

 

 

Breaking Up With the GOP. A White Boy’s Lament.

After the election we were determined to contribute something meaningful to the pantheon of political discourse in America. To inspire other white guys who wondered, “what the fuck happened to the Republican Party?”

After election season, sickened by the toxic atmosphere we soaked in during an endless campaign of lies and betrayal of our ideals, my friend Billy and I pondered over the demise of the Republican Party. Personally, I grew up a Republican, believing in the mythology of our two-party system and living under the illusion that American governance resembles democracy. There were Republicans all around and they seemed like lovely people, so I blithely went about my business believing that I was a Republican as well. Monkey see, monkey do.

Billy is far more cynical and savvy. A street smart kid from Brooklyn, he has a keen ability to read between the lines. He’s skilled at the art of pantomime, reading people like tarot cards and “calling bullshit” frequently. I’m more philosophical, and am skilled at the art of politics. I believe that politics is indeed a bloodsport and I’m game to play all day, every day. Billy believes life is bloodsport and he too is game. He indulges my ramblings on the death of empire, the evils of inequality and importance of civil rights and he makes me listen to the Afghan Whigs and Mos Def.

After the dust settled from the election we were determined to collaborate on an important political project. To contribute something meaningful to the pantheon of political discourse in America. To inspire other white guys who wondered either privately, or aloud, “what the fuck happened to the Republican Party?”

So we recorded what you kids would call a “rap.”

(My wife wrote and performed the chorus. She has regretted it ever since.)

Lyrics:

I’m a white man. I’m your prime demographic.
Used to vote “R” down the line, just out of habit.
But I started listening, then I started thinking.
How did we get so far from the party of Lincoln.

TEDDY ROOSEVELT! Rolling in his grave.
He’d be very disappointed in the way that you behave.
You pushed me away more than you realize,
Voted for Obama (TWICE!) cuz I’m disenfranchised.

You wanna bring together your church and my state?
When your church says deliver even in the case of rape?
Legitimate rape? There’s a difference?
Go sell your hate somewhere else and focus on your own sins.

Chorus:
Liberty. Democracy. Made for you and me. Oh say can you see.
Liberty. Democracy. Made for you and me. Oh say can you see.

This republic can overcome Republicans
who say the rights of a women ain’t equal to a man.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH! IT’S THE FREEDOM TO TEACH!
To reach out and speak out these truths that we seek.

And these truths? They’re self evident.
Two hundred thirty years now we got a black president.
THAT’S CALLED PROGRESS, SON. Overcoming race.
Content of character, not color of face.

Cash from the Koch Brothers, Citizens United
Yeah we one nation, NOW WE DIVIDED
Footsie with Monsanto, taking care of Big Oil
Loopholes and tax breaks on the backs of the poor. COME ON!

Chorus

White upper middle class Republican.
But now these feelings come to pass.
And Occupy she’s got a sexy ass
So now I’m looking down a different path
It’s time for me to let my old earth go
I grab my thoughts and then I’m out the door
My heart pump truth and needs to keep it real
With a party that cares how people feel
So one last time before I walk on out
Silent middle finger I don’t need to shout

CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL. Tyrannosaurus roamed the earth.
There was life on the planet before Jesus’ birth.
Locking up Latinos, yell “Illegal Immigration”
And conveniently forget this was an Indian nation. WE STOLE IT.

NOTHING GRAND ABOUT THIS PARTY
Yo, rescind my invitation.
I’ll take Elizabeth Warren.
Ya’ll can keep Sarah Palin.

 

 

 

My 5 Favorite Political Videos

Some things never get old. Like fart jokes, French kissing and watching Hank Johnson ask stupid questions about Guam. Here’s good old reliable Hank and a few other gems.

#5 – Jones and Morgan. Alex Jones is pushing hard to chew up the remainder of his fifteen minutes. For those of us who enjoy a good conspiracy theory, Jones is a known quantity. But much of America was only recently introduced to him in this now-infamous appearance with Piers Morgan. I actually enjoy joining Jones on the crazy train every once in a while and, sometimes, I allow myself to go all in. There’s nothing wrong with a good conspiracy now and then. Besides, as the adage goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not watching…

#4 – Bachmann and Matthews. Jesus, I do love this woman. And her wife, Marcus. This was the video that propelled Bachmann into America’s consciousness. Bachmann begins the video attempting to poke fun at Chris Matthews but ultimately winds up treating us to a whole pot of bubbling crazy. Oh those eyes.

#3 – Damon on Palin. Full disclosure. I’m like really, really good friends with Matt Damon. At least that’s what I tell people. Actually we’ve never met, but I’m pretty sure we’d be awesome friends. In this interview, Damon says what’s on everyone’s mind after John McCain announces his choice of an Alaskan soccer mom as his Vice-Presidential running mate.

#2 – Stewart on Crossfire. The moment Jon Stewart became the most important political commentator of the modern era. And the moment Tucker Carlson’s career basically ended. Seriously, this was Stewart’s moment and he took it. Not only has Jon Stewart forever altered the media landscape and become the political voice of multiple generations, he has completely re-invented an entire genre of news. When we look back at this period in history, many years from now, we will recognize the turn of the millennium as the dawn of the “Stewart era.”

#1 – Hank Johnson. If you’ve never seen this video, you’re in for a serious treat. No setup, no buildup. It speaks for itself.

The Fundamentals of Fundamentalism

The circumstances that promoted the rise of the evangelical Christian doctrine in the 1920s and ’30s bear a striking resemblance to our current situation.

The sight of so many conservative Christian presidential candidates attempting to out-holy one another during the GOP debate this past weekend was curious but not without precedent. The role of Christianity in the American political system predates the formation of the nation itself, with the more fundamentalist aspects playing a larger part during difficult economic periods. While it can be said that religion informed the political ideologies of the men who established the framework of our nation, fundamentalism was largely relegated to the fringes of American politics until the first part of the 20th Century.

The circumstances that promoted the rise of the evangelical Christian doctrine in the 1920s and ’30s bear a striking resemblance to our current situation and help to explain—as history often does—why right-wing religious views are influencing the social, political and economic platforms of the GOP candidates.

Prior to the Great Depression, the evangelical set were more like babbling mystics than an influential political force. Think Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker. The mainstream transformation came when successful, white Christian men who accumulated and maintained great wealth during this time were looking for absolution of the guilt they felt while their fellow countrymen fell upon hard times. Enter Abraham “Abram” Vereide, the man perhaps most responsible for the modern fundamentalist Christian movement in America.

Vereide was able to coalesce the successful strategies and teachings of other soul-surgeons and evangelists of his era. By rationalizing the financial success of his followers as the earthly manifestation of Christ’s will, he was able to mold a new Christian doctrine that recognized wealth, power and influence as deliberate and divine endowments. As it turned out, mass absolution and wider acceptance came in the form of Jesus Christ as seen through the lens of Bruce Barton’s bestselling book, The Man Nobody Knows.

Barton, who is more enduringly known as the second “B” in the ad agency BBD&O, which exists even today, published The Man Nobody Knows in 1925. It was an instant phenomenon. Barton’s Jesus was the ultimate winner, the consummate salesman. The book was a pocket guide to winning with Christ that helped extricate Christianity from purely religious constraints and bring it to a wider audience as only a professional adman could.

By 1933, when the nation was in the throes of the Depression, Vereide’s organization began to take shape. The political outgrowth of his movement was formalized in Seattle with the creation of the New Order of Cincinnatus. The parallels between the New Order and the Tea Party today are undeniable. Like the Tea Party, the New Order cherished free market ideals and conservative morality, and organized against taxes and big government.

Vereide’s followers heartily rebuked then-President Herbert Hoover for bailing out Wall Street bankers whom many Americans believed to be responsible for the stock market crash of 1929 just as the Tea Party chastised the Bush administration for doing the same with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Both groups found their footing, however, railing against the subsequent administrations for battling economic downturns with public works projects, specifically FDR’s New Deal and Obama’s Stimulus Package. Likewise they share similar views regarding social welfare programs, and were able to elect candidates to battle these reforms. Even the great adman Bruce Barton went on to secure a seat in Congress under the slogan “Repeal a Law a Day.”

Vereide’s organization lives on today through the efforts of a rather enigmatic figure named Douglas Coe, who took over the group upon Vereide’s death in 1969 and transformed it into one of the most influential and highly secretive organizations in the modern era. The only public recognition of the group known today simply as “The Family” is the National Prayer Breakfast held every year in Washington, where political and business leaders assemble to pay tribute to Douglas Coe’s cabal. Most of what transpired beyond the breakfast remained a complete mystery until Jeff Sharlet, a reporter and expert on religion, stumbled upon Coe’s secret world, which he unraveled in his 2008 book titled The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and his 2010 follow-up C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy.

Sharlet painstakingly details the roots of fundamentalism in America and illustrates the many ways in which The Family’s perversion of Christianity as a doctrine of power has transformed modern political life in America. The ultimate testament to the work of The Family is fully on display in the platforms of candidates such as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum—not to mention the political juggernaut waiting in the wings that is Sarah Palin. But before Bachmann there was Frank Buchman, founder of “Moral Re-Armament,” whose closeted reputation was more Marcus Bachmann than Michele, if you catch my drift. Before Palin there was Arthur Langlie, figurehead of the New Order of Cincinnatus, and before Perry there was Bruce Barton.

When placed in historical context, the great revelation of the Tea Party is that there’s nothing particularly innovative about it. As young as our nation is, we’re now old enough that everything old is new again. In Vereide’s time Vladimir Lenin was the Osama bin Laden of the day and Communism was today’s Islam. The rise of the German economy and the grand display of Nazism in the 1936 Olympics openly mocked America’s failing economy in the midst of the Depression just as China’s present-day ascension and the grand pageantry of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing taunted Americans during the Great Recession. And just as FDR became the bête noire of the New Order of Cincinnatus, so too is Barack Obama to the conservative, evangelical wing of the Tea Party.

What I find interesting about the parallels between our past and present circumstances is that there is room for both sides of the debate to find comfort. Christian fundamentalists can take heart in the notion that their wing of the Tea Party is an idea whose time has finally come while opponents of radical evangelicals may take solace in the fact that fundamentalism ebbs and flows with the vagaries of the economy. It’s simply a matter of perspective, or perhaps it’s a lack thereof.

Please Shut The F*#@ Up!

There is a grand chasm now in the media between punditry and journalism that previously existed as a slight divide. Increasingly it is becoming impossible to discern between what is vetted (journalism) and what is contrived for ratings (punditry). And because information is so readily available and propaganda is professionally disguised as gospel, false prophets in the guise of pundits have an incredible ability to take advantage of the masses.

So I says to this great old mama grizzy bear, "Gosh, you're not gonna catch any dinner with that darned cute lil' face. You gotta give the face I give to librel's ya. Like this!!! Grrrrr! Oh, you betcha. Gets 'em every gosh darned time!"

Hours before President Barack Obama’s address to attendees of a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona, Sarah Palin released a video titled “America’s Enduring Strength.” Her comments are tinged with appropriate sadness at first, before her sword turns against those who, she believes, are guilty of sullying the “national discourse”: namely, journalists.

During the video she accuses the press and the pundits who attempted to draw a link between her website and the shootings in Tucson of “blood libel.” The phrase “blood libel” originally referred to the anti-Semitic claim that during the Middle Ages Jews killed Christian children and used their blood in religious rituals. Now it will forever live on here in relation to a national American tragedy as conservative figures such as Palin attempt to appropriate historic and religious language for their own gain.

Palin’s misuse of historical references is nothing new. Her shocking lack of contextual understanding is an embarrassment to the nation, yet she persists, delivering ratings and gaining popularity. To continue with religious parallels for a moment, perhaps this memorial address by the president will be his road to Damascus moment; the great turning point in his presidency during which he transcends politics and becomes the vision of hope that fueled his ascent to our nation’s highest office.

By imputing journalists for tainting the national discourse, she inherently protects herself from the deserved vitriol over her sloppy remarks. The big problems with Palin’s video are that 1) she made it and 2) we’re watching. In it she bristles at being dragged into the limelight over this issue, though the very act of releasing the video furthers her involvement. Doing it on the day the president attempts to soothe the nation’s sorrow over the shootings and using the phrase “President Obama and I” reveal her true intention, which is to be seen as the de facto leader of conservative America. The not-so-silent majority.

Even more peculiar is the use of this video to excoriate journalists for taking part in public discourse while defending the freedoms we enjoy as Americans to engage in it. Palin is a walking, talking oxymoron—emphasis on the latter half of the word. This is essential to understanding Palin’s misunderstanding of America and the spirit of the documents that craft our existence to this day. In attempting to defend civil discourse by casting aspersions on the most valuable aspect of it—freedom of the press—she is engaging in rhetorical discourse and hoping the average American is incapable of discerning between the two. Civil discourse is what the Founding Fathers she is so fond of misinterpreting spent their lives trying to defend. Rhetorical discourse is a hallmark of demagoguery, the true philosophy to which Palin subscribes.

As a nation, we would be wise to tread lightly here. There is a grand chasm now in the media between punditry and journalism that previously existed as a slight divide. Increasingly it is becoming impossible to discern between what is vetted (journalism) and what is contrived for ratings (punditry). And because information is so readily available and propaganda is professionally disguised as gospel, false prophets in the guise of pundits have an incredible ability to take advantage of the masses.

Predictably, Palin plays to her followers by referencing the Founding Fathers, though her knowledge of these men and their actions skims the surface at best. In ecumenical tones, she says that “public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis but of our enduring strength. In times like these we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides.” This is a favorite refrain of the new conservative movement—to draw straight lines between faith and freedom while evoking the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. But these are words that, spoken in foreign tongues, are considered the vocabulary of zealots and extremists. Yet spoken in measured, folksy tones, they have come to embody the political and spiritual zeitgeist in America today. Palin and other so-called fundamentalist Christians who have risen to prominence in our nation fail to realize the decidedly secular importance of a godless Constitution—which is to say that God is not part of our Constitution and our Founding Fathers fought heartily and purposefully to ensure it.
And so it should be said then that Palin has every Constitutional right and freedom to release this video. Just as I have every right to call her a dangerous idiot. (Thank you, Founding Fathers!)

Koch Industries Back Tea Party: The Palin and Beck Show

Every hazardous product manufactured by Koch Industries and every conservative and libertarian think tank established by the family members—Mercatus is eclipsed in absurdity by their other venture, the Cato Institute—pales in comparison to their most important creation to date: the Tea Party. This movement is the culmination of 40-plus years of radical free-market fanaticism beginning with the John Birch Society, of which father Fred was a founding member.

Glenn Beck holds up his silver medal from the Jerk Olympics (He placed second to Charles Koch)

Last week The New Yorker published a missive by Jane Mayer on one of the most dangerous families in America: billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, heirs to the Koch family fortune forged by their father, Fred, himself one of the most influential conservative figures of the 20th century. Their fortune came, predictably, from oil, though their business holdings have been widely diversified since its inception.

What made this article so important was the painstaking manner in which Mayer unraveled the Koch Industries juggernaut to reveal a multi-decade effort by the Koch family to present itself as cultural and political icons whose generosity is beyond reproach. Their donations to museums and think tanks give the impression they are part of the cultural elite, a seminal segment of the charitable establishment that funds areas of our society that government has left behind. This carefully managed image as benevolent billionaires belies the insidious nature of their true life’s work as polluters, climate-change deniers and political dissidents who will stop at nothing to dismantle the system of regulation and taxation in America. In the past decade alone Koch Industries, a $35 billion privately held petrochemical company, has been forced to commit more than a half a billion dollars to environmental remediation, lawsuits, fines and settlements for their scandalous business practices.

The article sparked my memory of having run across the Koch name on two previous occasions. The first was when reporting on economic issues related to Indian tribes. In 1999 Koch Industries was found guilty of poaching oil from Indian reservations. The second was in researching Wendy and Phil Gramm’s involvement in the oil speculation scandal during the summer of 2008—the former serving as a Distinguished Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center, the Koch-funded think tanks at George Mason University synonymous with government deregulation. Wendy Gramm’s staunch advocacy for deregulation and Phil Gramm’s rampant legislative penchant for it eventually led to delightful little treasures like the collapse of Enron, oil speculation, black-market exchanges and the 2008 banking catastrophe. (Postcard from the recession: Dear Wendy and Phil. Thanks for this! Wish you were here. Signed, America.)

Every hazardous product manufactured by Koch Industries and every conservative and libertarian think tank established by the family members—Mercatus is eclipsed in absurdity by their other venture, the Cato Institute—pales in comparison to their most important creation to date: the Tea Party. This movement is the culmination of 40-plus years of radical free-market fanaticism beginning with the John Birch Society, of which father Fred was a founding member.

There is, of course, no central nervous system within the Tea Party. Nor is there a comprehensive platform or call to action other than to call for a return to traditional faith-based Christian values and less government intervention in our lives. For many Americans these are extremely palatable and positive concepts. But the true architects of the movement, such as the Koch brothers, who stoke the flame of discontent in America, are shielded from the public eye; it is as though the machines have come alive through artificial intelligence and are hell-bent on destroying humanity. This week, the anointed spokespeople and demagogues fronting the movement, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, hosted a bizarre yet extremely well-attended rally on the anniversary of Dr. King’s famous civil rights march on Washington where he delivered perhaps his most famous “I Have a Dream” address.

Beck’s hokey, milquetoast evangelism and Palin’s gosh-golly, you-betcha wink-fest played perfectly to the assembled masses who celebrated, or rather, declared that….um…called for us to follow God—well, Christ really—and that we’re going in the wrong direction because the right direction is… uh…backwards! Yes, we need to go backwards! (I watched the speeches and quite honestly I have no idea what the point of the rally was except to further the strength of the Koch zeitgeist through Rupert Murdoch’s bully pulpit and impute the Obama administration for all that is wrong with America.)

This much I do know: The Koch brothers are powerful and evil. Mayer’s deconstruction of the Koch plan for America—or, if you prefer, plan to increase their personal wealth at the expense of the planet and all those who inhabit it—has also exposed the likes of Palin and Beck as the patsies they really are. They aren’t quite stupid, per se, but intellectually inadequate to understand how they are being lulled into the menacing plutocracy that the Koch brothers have woven.

And then, there’s the rest of us. Most Americans don’t have the time or inclination to peel the onion of American politics to reach the rotten core. We are busy raising families, helping neighbors, putting food on the table. In between, however, we are pummeled by talking heads who decry the evils of the left and of the right and tell us how government is either at the root of your woes or the answer to your prayers. Right now, the Koch brothers are riding high by deriding the government and playing the recession for all it is worth. But Jane Mayer peeled back this particular onion to reveal its true inner core and, as expected, not only does it stink, it might even make you cry.