Six Characters in Search of a Blogger


1.7 The Seventh Day: It Takes More than a Village
November 17, 2008, 2:42 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008

As a woman who is very interested in politics, this was a bittersweet year for me. I am thrilled by the success of the Democratic party in races across the country, and most importantly in the very symbolic victory of Barack Obama. Like many of you, I found myself tearing up as he made his election night address at Grant Park in Chicago. Despite the economic hardships we are facing in the coming months, that single moment felt chock full of real possibility. I look forward to his administration and the change that it will bring—to energy policy and the fight against global warming, to our health care policy, to our status in the world, to our day-to-day lives.

But I can’t turn the page on Campaign 2008 without noting how greatly it has saddened me as a woman—specifically in regard to women’s status politically. For this year, in my very humble opinion, was the year we became our own worst political enemies.

Let me say first that I was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and a strong one—as were most of my family (including the men.) What we liked about her was her pragmatism, her ideas, her inside knowledge of the workings of the West Wing. We felt she would be the Democrat to hit the ground running with the greatest speed and efficiency. And there were 18 million people who agreed with us. But how successful Hillary would have been we will never know.

But when Obama won the Democratic nomination, I immediately transferred my loyalty to him—even before Hillary’s graceful and stirring convention speech, where she urged her 18 million followers to do the same. Some of these supporters were unwilling, however. Some, who dubbed themselves “PUMAs” (for Party Unity My Ass) were indignant about the loss, and refused to back Obama, despite the fact that his campaign platform was incredibly similar to Hillary’s. In their protests against Obama, some PUMAs were spiteful, some were conspiracy theorists (saying the electorate had been “hoodwinked” by Obama, the DNC, and the media), some were propagandists, and some were downright offensive. I was ashamed. Because part of my belief about the importance of bringing more women to elected office is that we can raise the level of discourse. But we can’t do it by complaining, or wailing, or saying “why me?”

Even now that the election is over, the PUMAs are still howling from their outposts in the hills. They are muttering that Hillary should not become Obama’s Secretary of State, if she is asked. They are saying that it will ruin her chances to run in 2012. And while I understand these womens’ right to feel passionate about their candidate, what I don’t agree with is the way they go about showing it—with vitriol and nastiness. There can be dignity in political dissension. And they could certainly put their passion to better use.

The issue of dignity brings me to the case of Sarah Palin. I am no more proud of the PUMAs than I am the idiots who wore “Sarah Palin is a C*NT” tshirts to political rallies. That sort of behavior is offensive to all women. Say what you will about Sarah Palin (and I have said a lot), she does not deserve that kind of treatment. We should be able to win our political arguments with civility—if we can’t, we mustn’t have much of an argument to begin with.

Her surprise selection as VP inspired both adulation and revulsion among women. I belong to that group of women who considered Palin’s candidacy to be an assault upon the integrity of political women—and no, not because she was stupid, or she wore expensive clothes, or because she was better looking than me. It was because she wasn’t intellectually curious, because she thought mere ambition qualified her for the Vice Presidency (and, by extension, the Presidency), because she thought the hand holding the door of national political office open was God’s, and not the men who control the Republican party. And that sort of proud ignorance is the worst kind of enemy to any woman seeking political office.

Her performance at the recent Republican Governors’ Association meeting was a good example of how out of her depth she is. While her speech about the future of the party gained some applause (despite its overall rhetorical awkwardness), what will remain as a lasting image of that Conference is Governor Rick Perry of Texas gently pushing Palin aside as he ended her press conference with “no more questions.” The moment had huge symbolic importance—not only in terms of how sexist it was—but also in terms of Palin’s role in the Republican party. Because until she educates herself on policy and starts talking substance instead of folksy platitudes, no one, not least the Republican party, will take her seriously. She will be (as she is now) a pawn, a photo op, a pin up. And worst, a joke.

We need women on both sides of the aisle who can fight the good fight, regardless of their political ideology. Women who have the intellect, experience and credentials to meet men eye-to-eye. And we need them in numbers. For even in this day and age, when women now outnumber men in our country, there will only be 17 women sitting in a Senate chamber of 100 when the 111th Congress begins in January. There will only be 77 women in the 435-member House of Representatives. And 8 of 50 state governorships will be held by women.

It will take more than one woman’s symbolic candidacy at the highest level to change things. It will take one village electing a woman, and then another, and then another, and then another. It will take a groundswell of women actively seeking and encouraging other women to become candidates. It will take women who are willing to run, and to fail, and to get up and run again. It will take supportive spouses and partners helping to shoulder the responsibilities of home and family while women manage their campaigns. It will take more of us getting involved in the political process. It will take donors. It will take talent. It will take time.

So let’s begin.



1.6 Hillary Clinton in Purgatory

When I was six, I learned about purgatory from my first grade teacher, Sister Kathleen.  For those of you without the privilege of a Catholic upbringing, purgatory, is, of course, that place between heaven and hell where people’s souls go when they didn’t entirely suck during their lives, but who weren’t good enough to pass St. Peter’s inspection at the Pearly Gates, either.  So instead, they went to purgatory, where they had to wait for redemption–for their souls to become clean–before they could be allowed into heaven.  And that waiting could last for a long, long time.  Sort of like the checkout line at Costco on the day after Thanksgiving.  Like, forever.

Now, for some reason, at six, I had a rather difficult time with the concept of a “soul.”  There were never any pictures of souls anywhere, no points of reference for me to refer to.  When Sister Kathleen said they were deep down inside of us, I turned to a classmate, and asked “where?”  And he, with an air of very pronounced solemnity, poked me in the belly and said, “in there.”  And since the only thing for sure I knew I had inside of me was bones (I’d had an xray of my ankle once), I assumed that my soul was a bone.  Yes, my soul was a bone, deep inside my belly.

So when Sister Kathleen told my class that sins were black marks on our souls, I started to picture people walking around with polka dot bones in their abdomen.   And the bones could be really, really clean for good people with only teeny, tiny dark dots on them–they were the ones that went to heaven. Or some really bad people (like the girl who stole 75 cents and a bag of jelly candies out of my locker one time) could have bones that looked mostly black, with only little specks of white peeking out here and there.  They were the ones that went to hell.  

But it was the in-between soul bones, the ones that looked a bit like the skin of a Dalmatian, that would go to purgatory.  And since purgatory was a place for the souls to become clean again, I imagined a great laundromat in the sky, with a long line of bones waiting their turn for a wash and dry cycle.  And once they had been made squeaky clean again, the bones would receive a pair of wings, with which they would fly up to heaven.  There they would do whatever happy bones do.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

But what, exactly, does this have to do with Hillary Clinton, you may ask?  Well, I’ve been thinking about Hillary quite a bit lately–not simply since the speculations emerged about her being appointed Secretary of State, but really since she suspended her campaign in May.  For since then–despite her graceful performance at the DNC, and all of the speeches she gave on Obama’s behalf in the weeks leading up to the election–she has been in a political purgatory of sorts.  Neither here, nor there.  Not exactly in hell, but not in the White House, either.  Still repaying millions in debt from an unsuccessful campaign.  And slowly making her way back to the Senate, where she is not one of the voices of authority, and where she must passively wait for whatever is next.

So, as conjecture spins in the wider world about her political fate, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at Hillary’s political “soul bone,” to see what earned her this place in purgatory, and consider some reasons why her candidacy may have failed.  For no discussion about women during the campaign of 2008 would be complete without the woman who made 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling.  Here are some of her sins–some with which she was politically “born”, some she earned, and some which she had thrust upon her:

• Her legacy from the Clinton years. There was, of course the “original sin” she had incurred during the Clinton Administration.  Many Democrats feared the baggage Hillary brought to her candidacy:  namely, her role as such a polarizing figure while she was First Lady.  You may remember how much resentment there was toward her because of her active involvement in policy decisions during the Clinton years, most pronouncedly on the part of the Republicans, who thought she had overstepped her bounds politically.  This was most crucially seen when she spearheaded health care reform effort during the first two years of the Clinton administration, which ended in the “Hillarycare” debacle of 1994.  When the bill failed, it proved so unpopular that it had a sizeable impact on the midterm elections that year, in which Democrats lost their majority in both the House and Senate (they lost 52 House seats and 8 in the Senate.)

• She hired the wrong people. It has been suggested by some that she chose her campaign staff based on their loyalty, and not necessarily on how well they played the campaign game.  This was particularly true of Patti Solis Doyle, who served as Clinton’s campaign chairwoman until February ’08, when she was asked to step down from her position. Many have noted that Solis Doyle lacked important credentials for the position she was given beyond her role as Hillary’s “alter ego” (see The Atlantic February 2008); she also had never run a campaign or venture on that scale before.  And then, of course, there was Mark Penn, who was Clinton’s chief political strategist through April of 2008.  Penn was dubbed the “Karl Rove” of the Clinton campaign, in a year when the Rovian brand of politics was proven ineffective.  Penn designed the “big state” strategy that some think ultimately cost her the election.

• She played by old rules.  Clinton, with Mark Penn’s advice, bet it all on Big Blue–capturing high-delegate and high-profile states and primaries.  But it has been suggested that if she had focused more on caucus states initially that she may have been the nominee–if Obama hadn’t won Iowa, it is entirely conceivable that he might not now be our President-elect.  (And let’s not forget that Hillary came in third in that contest, behind Obama and John Edwards.)  Another old rule from the Clinton playbook of the 90s that proved unhelpful to Hillary: she fundraised the same way her husband did almost 20 years ago, at cocktail parties and by courting big donors.  Despite the hint from the 2004 Dean campaign that something quite powerful was possible at the grassroots level, she and her staff never saw the juggernaut of Obama’s internet fundraising campaign coming.  

• She went “there.” Some have said that the roughness of Hillary’s campaign made Obama the tough competitor that he had to be against McCain.  This is certainly true; but it must be acknowledged that she was quite ready to employ negative tactics whenever necessary—think of her use of the Tony Rezko scandal, accusations about plagiarism in the Obama camp, and even voter suppression efforts in places like Nevada (with the Culinary Workers Union).  And in a year where voters were looking for inspiration more than fistfights, Obama was rubber, she was glue.  It’s as simple as that.

• Bill, Bill, Bill.  How do you solve a problem like “Bill Clinton?”  How do you take a cloud and pin it down?  How do you find a word that says “Bill Clinton?”  A flibbertijibbet, a will o’ the wisp, a clown?  Many a thing you know you’d like to tell him.  Many a thing he ought to understand.  But how do you make him stay?  And listen to what you say?  How do you keep a wave upon the sand?  Oh, how do you solve a problem like Bill Clinton?  How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? 

Yes, Bill Clinton could teach Sarah Palin a thing or two about “going rogue.”  

• She wasn’t different enough.  Even though she was the first viable woman candidate ever to have a realistic shot at becoming President of the United States, in this historic election, that just wasn’t good enough.  Hillary counted on her record of experience to help her ride a rising movement of change in the country.  Unfortunately, even though her name was Clinton (and, as she had noted, Clintons are good at cleaning up messes caused by the Bush family), it was a name that had too many associations with the past.  And more unfortunately, she voted for the Iraq war, which was one of the major rhetorical points Obama had against her.  It was hard to argue that she was a “change” candidate when she had voted the wrong way on one of the most crucial issues of the decade.

But despite this perceived error in judgement, President-Elect Obama, we are told, is seriously considering Hillary for the position of Secretary of State.  Will she be asked?  If asked, will she accept?  It all remains to be seen in the coming days.  But with the prospect of a long, quiet political purgatory before her, perhaps she will surprise us by joining the team of her once political rival.  Perhaps she’ll get her new political lease on life by washing herself of past associations, expectations, disappointments.

She might get her wings much sooner than we think.



1.5 Living la vida Oprah
November 14, 2008, 10:29 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008 | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been writing a lot about imaginary places and things this week:  Never-Never-Land, Oz, time machines–even Disney World, which is really just a giant theme park about imaginary places.  

But I have saved the most magical place of all for now.  (Please bow your heads in reverence.)  Ladies and gentlemen, we are now going to enter the realm of Oprah.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Yes, Oprah is magic.  We all know it.  People have talked about the special feeling they get when just standing in her presence; some have described it as a tingling, others a warm radiance, still others just a variation on speechless awe.  But how can we help it?  She is a one-woman empire, and very much the Empress of that empire.  She waves one hand and houses appear in ravaged New Orleans; waves the other and schools sprout out of the ground in Africa.  She simply picks up a book and it becomes a bestseller.  She espouses a spiritual philosophy and suddenly there are thousands of adherents around the world.  She plays with an Amazon Kindle, and it goes on everyone’s Christmas list.  (I can only hope that her primetime hug with Tina Fey on “30 Rock” last week will ensure the show is picked up by NBC in perpetuity, or at least until Alec Baldwin’s contract runs out.)

But Oprah took a big leap of faith during Campaign 2008, something she had never done before.  This time, she took sides.  This time, she endorsed a candidate.

Her admiration for Barack Obama had been obvious for years before the endorsement.  In fact, he had appeared on her show twice: once in 2004, following his starmaking address at the Democratic National Convention, and then again in 2006 before he declared his intent to run for the Presidency.  As she noted on The Larry King Show in May of 2007, she never attempted to hide her regard for Obama, the man she referred to as “my Senator” (Obama is, of course, the junior Senator from Illinois, where both Oprah and her company Harpo Productions are based.)

What was shocking, however, was the fact that she decided to throw the full force of her iconic power behind a candidate in a political race–not simply by lending her name, but by actively going out on the stump for him.  And while in her role as “America’s most popular daytime talk show host” she did not have the same obligations as, say, a network news anchor–she had neither the journalistic gravitas nor the professional obligation to remain impartial–nevertheless, the impact of her endorsement felt like that of a network news heavyweight (someone like Tom Brokaw comes to mind.)  For Oprah had, in the 21 years her show had been on the air, held herself above the fray, using her show’s platform to feature all the candidates, and allowing her viewers make their own decisions.  She famously humanized both Al Gore and George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign when they each appeared individually on her show.  So viewers had become used to a certain degree of impartiality.  On the aforementioned Larry King Live episode, Oprah hinted that she understood the risk she was taking by getting involved in politics at this stage in her career, but also acknowledged she had strong reasons for doing so:  “I think that what he [Obama] stands for, what he has proven that he can stand for, what he has shown was worth me going out on a limb for–and I haven’t done that in the past because I…didn’t know anybody well enough to be able to say, I believe this person.”  

Oprah campaigning for "her Senator," Barack Obama

Oprah campaigning for "her Senator," Barack Obama

And most of us know what followed from there.  Oprah was on the stump for Obama in places like Iowa and New Hampshire during the early campaign for the Democratic Party nomination, drawing sell-out crowds in stadiums from state to state.  She held star-studded fundraisers in his honor that raised millions.  But on her daily talk show, she remained mute about her support.  It was a matter of principle, she said:  because she had indicated a personal preference in the Presidential race, she would keep discussion of the campaign off of her talk show.  She wouldn’t attempt to have any candidates on, because she didn’t want to appear disingenuous, pretending to be objective during the interviews.  The candidates, she said, would have to wait until after November 4 to be featured as guests.

But here is where the risk came in.  Oprah, no doubt, was very conscious of the demographics of her viewership when she made her decision to support Obama’s campaign.  And she must have realized that a significant portion of that population would be Hillary supporters–because her audience is “predominantly female, white, and over age 55.”  (Source: MSNBC)  So when she announced that she would not have Hillary Clinton, (or later, Sarah Palin) on her show, despite myriad requests from many of her female viewers, she must have anticipated some sort of backlash.  Supporters of the candidates (particularly Sarah Palin’s) protested, and boycotted the show in an indication of their displeasure.  And the results of the protests made their mark–one USA Today-Gallup poll taken earlier this year indicated that between 2006 and Fall 2007, after Oprah had endorsed Obama, her favorability ratings dropped from 74 to 66 percent.  (Apparently, though, her gamble paid off:  according to this source, Oprah was responsible for bringing in approximately 1 million votes for the Obama campaign during the Democratic primaries, which enabled his ultimate victory.) 

But I think this willing sacrifice on her part (to “take one for the team” so the team will win) is emblematic of a major change in what I call “La Vida Oprah.”  While her life has always informed her work, and vice versa, small stress fractures are beginning to appear as she attempts to maintain the delicate balance between the two.  Why?  I think it is because she has realized that the authenticity of her mission, the show’s motto, “live your best life” is more important than her ratings.  Thus, she chose a work that had a profound influence on her own life, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Life’s Purpose for her book club, despite the displeasure from many of her fans about choosing piece of writing about new age spirituality.  And then, she chose Barack Obama as her candidate, because she thought it would be best for the country to have him as President–despite the fact that she lost the very high viewership numbers his appearance on her show during the campaign (as well as Hillary Clinton’s, John McCain’s, and Sarah Palin’s) would have guaranteed.  My own personal hope is that Oprah will extend her dedication to doing what she thinks is best (instead of what is popular) by cancelling her “Favorite Things” segment, where the display of excess and emphasis on “stuff” has always seemed to run counter to her true message–and is especially troublesome during this time of economic crisis.  Despite the fact that she gives the “stuff” to her on-set audience for free, her “Favorite Things” episodes have often seemed somewhat hypocritical, especially when they have aired within a week or two of stories about people living beyond their means/losing their homes, or financial guru Suze Orman’s very firm messages about fiscal discipline and avoiding the trap of “keeping up with the Joneses.”  

Despite this small quibble of mine, I must admit, there is a certain magic in this new La Vida Oprah.  Not the tingly, awe-inspiring kind, but something that more closely resembles hope.  Because by living her best life, it benefits us all–we have a new President-elect to show for it.  So I say, Viva la Vida.  (Thanks, Coldplay.)



1.4 Michele Bachmann needs a time machine

Yes, you heard me say it.  Michele Bachmann needs a time machine.  

Let me tell you why.

Perhaps, during the crazed three-ring circus of what was (and still is, in some states) Election 2008, you may have missed Congresswoman Bachmann’s (R-MN) not-so-shining moment in the media spotlight.  She appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews for an interview on October 17 to voice her support for the McCain/Palin ticket, where she weighed in on Obama’s associations with Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers.  During that conversation, she made made some very frightening comments about anti-Americanism in the U.S.  Here are just a few of the gems:

When asked about liberals being anti-American:  

“…Most Americans, Chris, are wild about America and they’re very concerned to have a president that does not share those values. …I am very concerned that he [Barack Obama] may have anti-American views.”

When asked about which areas of the country are anti-American:

“I don’t think it’s geography. I think it is people who don’t like America, who detest America and on college campuses Ward Churchill, another college campus, a Bill Ayers, you find people who hate America and unfortunately some of these people have positions teaching in institutions of higher learning but you’ll find them in all walks of life all throughout America.”

When asked about anti-American members of Congress:

“What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating exposé and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an exposé like that.”

If you want the more of the full interview experience, check out the video here:

 

 

I’m not sure if Congresswoman Bachmann is familiar with McCarthyism or not; she was born in 1956, just as the movement was starting to wane.  And I’m not sure if she paid any attention to her history lessons about the McCarthy era while she was in school (if there were any).  Perhaps–and I’m grasping at straws here–she went on a date with her husband to see “Good Night and Good Luck,” George Clooney’s powerful film about Edward R. Murrow’s journalistic struggle to expose the McCarthy witch hunt.  Hmm, doubtful.  Clooney is probably a bit too politically left of center for her taste, not to mention a chronic bachelor who goes off to Africa far too often.

Tardis for hire?

Tardis for hire?

So that’s why I’m commissioning a time machine for her.  Or any means of time travel that is available, personal or mechanical.  Because if she hasn’t learned about the evils of McCarthyist perspectives by now (blindly accusing Barack Obama and liberals around the country of being “anti-American,”) then she needs to see these evils for herself.  Perhaps Dr. Who could take her on a short expedition back to the 1950s in his Tardis, charming her with all his brilliant witticisms along the way.  Or maybe Harry Potter’s friend Hermione Granger could make a special trip to Minnesota with her Time-Turner and help out–Britain and the U.S. are diplomatic cousins, after all.  Even Hiro Nakamura from the NBC show Heroes could take a brief respite from saving the world to escort Ms. Bachmann back.  (And I think this trip would count towards his “saving the world” miles, anyway.) 

A good place to start would be on February 9, 1950, at Senator Joe McCarthy’s speech before the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, WV, where he first announced his infamous “list of 205” Communists working in the State Department.  That was the spark that set off the fire–from thence followed fear, accusations, recriminations, blacklists, Congressional hearings, the Rosenberg trial, and Herbert Hoover’s reign of terror in the FBI.  Innocent people’s lives were destroyed, both literally and figuratively–destroyed simply because of paranoia about their political affiliations and “Americanness.”  That last word sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?

What I hope Ms. Bachmann would gain from her time travel would be an understanding of the very real difference between “patriotism” and “nationalism” that we, as Americans, as Citizens of the World, should be aware of.  Patriotism is love of country; and like any love, there are many forms of it, that are expressed in different ways.  My patriotism will be different from that of someone in western Pennsylvania, which will be different than someone’s in San Francisco.  And those differences should be celebrated, not scorned.  With “nationalism,” however, we stray more into the realm of ideology–it is about loyalty and dedication to the notion of what a country is, to the point of considering one’s nation superior to all others.  This may not sound terribly ominous; I mean, we all consider the U.S. to be a great country (even if for some of us it is more in ideal than in practice.)  But it is when nationalism becomes extreme–and is painted in the language of absolutes (like “pro-American” and “anti-American”)–that we need to be very careful.  Nationalism is the force that drives the English-only U.S. language movement, as well as the “America for Americans” anti-immigration stance.  Therefore it must be handled delicately indeed.  Because it is not a large jump from the extremes of nationalism into the realm of xenophobia and fascism.

Now, in recent days, Bachmann has denied making her statements about Barack Obama, and about “anti-Americanism,” and such.  She has called her controversial appearance on MSNBC a misunderstanding, and even a trap by the media.  And she declared in a campaign ad that surfaced after the Hardball broadcast that  “I may not always get my words right” but I still believe in “liberty.”  She has even gone so far as to say about the results of the recent election that she is “extremely grateful that we have an African American who has won this year” and that it is “a tremendous signal we sent.”  (Source: Politco.com)

But I still have my doubts. 

So for the final leg of her tour of the McCarthy era, I would send Bachmann back to June of 1956–just two months after she was born–to the testimony of Paul Robeson before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Robeson was a prominent African-American athlete/actor/artist/activist/lawyer during that time, and was a fairly controversial figure of his day, with sentimental ties to many countries, including the Soviet Union.  This was primarily because of his tireless campaign for equal rights for African Americans, as he viewed other countries as models for the way America might be.  But regardless of his questionable affiliations,  he was proud to be an American.  And his words ring clear, bright and true against the accusations of his questioners.  I can think of no better way to close this post (apologies for the length; but the substance is definitely worth it.) 

***

Mr. ROBESON: You are the author of all of the bills that are going to keep all kinds of decent people out of the country.

THE CHAIRMAN: No, only your kind.

Mr. ROBESON: Colored people like myself, from the West Indies and all kinds. And just the Teutonic Anglo-Saxon stock that you would let come in.

THE CHAIRMAN: We are trying to make it easier to get rid of your kind, too.

Mr. ROBESON: You do not want any colored people to come in?

THE CHAIRMAN: Proceed. . . .

Mr. ROBESON: Could I say that the reason that I am here today, you know, from the mouth of the State Department itself, is: I should not be allowed to travel because I have struggled for years for the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa. For many years I have so labored and I can say modestly that my name is very much honored all over Africa, in my struggles for their independence. That is the kind of independence like Sukarno got in Indonesia. Unless we are double-talking, then these efforts in the interest of Africa would be in the same context. The other reason that I am here today, again from the State Department and from the court record of the court of appeals, is that when I am abroad I speak out against the injustices against the Negro people of this land. I sent a message to the Bandung Conference and so forth. That is why I am here. This is the basis, and I am not being tried for whether I am a Communist, I am being tried for fighting for the rights of my people, who are still second-class citizens in this United States of America. My mother was born in your state, Mr. Walter, and my mother was a Quaker, and my ancestors in the time of Washington baked bread for George Washington’s troops when they crossed the Delaware, and my own father was a slave. I stand here struggling for the rights of my people to be full citizens in this country. And they are not. They are not in Mississippi. And they are not in Montgomery, Alabama. And they are not in Washington. They are nowhere, and that is why I am here today. You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of his people, for the rights of workers, and I have been on many a picket line for the steelworkers too. And that is why I am here today. . . .

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Mr. ARENS: Did you make a trip to Europe in 1949 and to the Soviet Union?   

Mr. ROBESON: Yes, I made a trip. To England. And I sang.

Mr. ARENS: Where did you go?

Mr. ROBESON: I went first to England, where I was with the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of two American groups which was invited to England. I did a long concert tour in England and Denmark and Sweden, and I also sang for the Soviet people, one of the finest musical audiences in the world. Will you read what the Porgy and Bess people said? They never heard such applause in their lives. One of the most musical peoples in the world, and the great composers and great musicians, very cultured people, and Tolstoy, and-

THE CHAIRMAN: We know all of that.

Mr. ROBESON: They have helped our culture and we can learn a lot. 

. . . .

Mr. SCHERER: Why do you not stay in Russia?

Mr. ROBESON: Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you. And no Fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear? I am for peace with the Soviet Union, and I am for peace with China, and I am not for peace or friendship with the Fascist Franco, and I am not for peace with Fascist Nazi Germans. I am for peace with decent people.

Mr. SCHERER: You are here because you are promoting the Communist cause.

Mr. ROBESON: I am here because I am opposing the neo-Fascist cause which I see arising in these committees. You are like the Alien [and] Sedition Act, and Jefferson could be sitting here, and Frederick Douglass could be sitting here, and Eugene Debs could be here.

. . . .

THE CHAIRMAN: Now, what prejudice are you talking about? You were graduated from Rutgers and you were graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. I remember seeing you play football at Lehigh.

Mr. ROBESON: We beat Lehigh.

THE CHAIRMAN: And we had a lot of trouble with you.

Mr. ROBESON: That is right. DeWysocki was playing in my team.

THE CHAIRMAN: There was no prejudice against you. Why did you not send your son to Rutgers?

Mr. ROBESON: Just a moment. This is something that I challenge very deeply, and very sincerely: that the success of a few Negroes, including myself or Jackie Robinson can make up—and here is a study from Columbia University—for seven hundred dollars a year for thousands of Negro families in the South. My father was a slave, and I have cousins who are sharecroppers, and I do not see my success in terms of myself. That is the reason my own success has not meant what it should mean: I have sacrificed literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for what I believe in.

. . . .

Mr. ARENS: Now I would invite your attention, if you please, to the Daily Worker of June 29, 1949, with reference to a get-together with you and Ben Davis. Do you know Ben Davis?

Mr. ROBESON: One of my dearest friends, one of the finest Americans you can imagine, born of a fine family, who went to Amherst and was a great man.

THE CHAIRMAN: The answer is yes?

Mr. ROBESON: Nothing could make me prouder than to know him.

THE CHAIRMAN: That answers the question.

Mr. ARENS: Did I understand you to laud his patriotism?

Mr. ROBESON: I say that he is as patriotic an American as there can be, and you gentlemen belong with the Alien and Sedition Acts, and you are the nonpatriots, and you are the un-Americans, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

THE CHAIRMAN: Just a minute, the hearing is now adjourned.

Mr. ROBESON: I should think it would be.

THE CHAIRMAN: I have endured all of this that I can.

Mr. ROBESON: Can I read my statement?

THE CHAIRMAN: No, you cannot read it. The meeting is adjourned.

Mr. ROBESON: I think it should be, and you should adjourn this forever, that is what I would say.



1.3 Elizabeth Hasselbeck in Oz

Oh, Elizabeth Hasselbeck (picture me shaking my head in pity.)  How often she has made me grit my teeth or clench my fists or talk back to the television in the past two years.  I know she has accepted Barack Obama as her President.  Maybe not quite the way she has accepted Jesus as her Savior, but still, it’s a start.   But I know it’s hard for her.  I’m sure she was alarmed on November 5 when she woke up in Oz and found the world had turned into technicolor, filled with sparkles and music and singing, with lollipop guilds and lullaby leagues dancing for joy because of the Obama win.  She wasn’t in political Kansas anymore.  Alas, many red states had gone blue (or even purple.)  

The View's Elizabeth Hasselbeck

Elizabeth Hasselbeck

Yes, November 5 must have been a very hard day for Elizabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of The View on ABC and one of the most prominent conservative TV personalities on the regular networks.  Hasselbeck, at least since last year’s famous on-air feuds with Rosie O’Donnell, has made a name for herself by staunchly defending President Bush and the war in Iraq, as well as promoting the McCain/Palin ticket without question, going so far as to continually raise the issue of the Obama-Bill Ayers connection.  While she has openly declared herself to be without a specific party affiliation, her considerable lean towards the right side of the political spectrum has been obvious:  she is anti-abortion; anti-gay marriage rights; anti-euthanasia; and pro the Iraq war and the Bush Doctrine.  Not to mention she admittedly loves the FOX news channel, has guest hosted on “Fox and Friends,” and has even been rumored to be leaving The View to get her own show at FOX.  Check out some vintage partisan parrying on The View below:

Besides using The View as a platform for her political opinions (which, after all, is what the show is all about), Hasselbeck took her advocacy to a new level in campaign 2008.  She was a keynote speaker at a Republican National Convention luncheon honoring Cindy McCain, where she threw an only slightly veiled insult at Michelle Obama, comparing the potential First Ladies’ appearances on The View:

“Cindy came into our hair and makeup room, fresh as can be, and unlike another wife of a political candidate who shall remain nameless, she didn’t come with a list of topics that we weren’t allowed to touch.  Nope, that’s because she has nothing to hide.”

Now, depending on how you read the quote, you could infer that Michelle Obama has some pretty ominous secrets, and that (according to Hasselbeck’s syntax) Michelle might be less than “fresh.”  Hmm.  I’ll leave that one alone.  But what I find infuriating about Hasselbeck, and about several conservative hard-liners this year, is that while they are quick to sling nasty accusations, they are slow to realize that these accusations might magnify the faults in their own candidates.  Take, for instance, Obama’s association with his “pal,” (1960s domestic terrorist William Ayers), that Hasselbeck so fervently trumpeted for weeks.  If she wants to make it an issue, that’s fine.  Mud gets slung in political campaigns, and everything about a candidate should be considered.  But she never once analyzed McCain’s role in the Keating Five scandal (“he was cleared,” she said dismissively), nor did she mull the more troubling associations “First Dude” Todd Palin brought to the McCain/Palin ticket–namely, his membership in the secessionist Alaska Independence Party.   

Then, of course, there is Wardrobegate, (also known as NeimanMarcusgate, HillbilliesGoneWildatSaksgate, and SpiffingUptheFirstDudeandtheKidsontheRNC’sDimegate.)  While on the trail in Florida campaigning for Sarah Palin a few weeks ago, Hasselbeck was quick to recuse Palin of any guilt in the scandal, instead accusing the media of being “sexist” by pursuing the story.  But what she didn’t seem to understand is that the accusations were not about the clothes themselves, but about the image the campaign was projecting to the American people by putting Palin in them.  Hockey moms (outside of Manhattan) don’t usually wear, say, Valentino.  And Joe the Plumber can’t afford Armani (well, at least not until his country music career takes off.)

And as much as Hasselbeck may complain about the double standard (that the Democrats didn’t suffer the same scrutiny), perhaps she forgets how much news circulated around Michelle Obama’s appearance on The View over the summer when the dress she wore–a chic $148 off-the-rack number–quickly sold out online when women found out they could afford it.  Not to mention the fairly critical opinion polls about the red and black dress the future First Lady wore on election night.  Like it or not, Hasselbeck must realize that you can’t claim to be the “party of the average guy” when the VP candidate has a wardrobe two, three or four times the value of most peoples’ salaries.  When building a political image, these factors must be taken into consideration (just think of the object lesson in John Edwards preaching about poverty and then getting a $400 haircut.)  And saying “Palin didn’t know” is no excuse, because there’s just no excuse for ignorance. I’m sure Michelle Obama’s decisions about wardrobe were both deliberate and cost-conscious–she was acutely aware of what she was representing to the country.  Actions (like wardrobe purchases) speak volumes. 

But back to the yellow brick road for a moment.  I know Elizabeth Hasselbeck has probably learned not to stray from the golden path of the party line because bad things might happen to her.  She could get fired from her job, like columnist Christopher Buckley.  She could get death threats, like journalist Kathleen Parker.  She could be quietly exiled into obscurity, like ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.  Or she could just wander into a field of flowers filled with the scent of forgetfulness, like blogger Andrew Sullivan, author Christopher Hitchens and others, content to dream until a better version of conservatism emerges.  (Quick word of warning before they go to sleep, though: watch out for Dick Cheney and his flying monkeys.)  

But, despite the scary consequences of moving off of the brick road, Hasselbeck shouldn’t think for a moment that she has to link arms with her roadtrip pals–the one without the brain (Palin), the one without the heart (McCain), and the one without the courage (Bush)–just because they also happen to be conservatives. She–and other Republicans like her–shouldn’t be afraid to ask them questions.  Like hey, Sarah, do extreme cold temperatures in Alaska impair brain function and disable intellectual curiosity?  And excuse me, John, what happened to that heart of yours when you hired the same cynical operatives who destroyed you in 2000 to sling smears at Obama?  And, geez, George, why didn’t you just have the courage to say you were wrong about WMDs in Iraq in the first place?  

But if she continues to stay on the path with her friends, and she gets to the Emerald City, I’m going to give her a little advice about the Great and Powerful Oz.  I will say this:  

Elizabeth, he will try to boss you around, and scare the hell out of you with his big, bald head, his fearmongering and firethrowing.  But when you are frightened the most, look for a little booth in the corner.  Roll back the curtain, and see:  it’s just a little man named Karl Rove, furiously pulling levers, pushing buttons, and flicking switches in his political control booth.  You don’t really have to do what he says.  You can say “no.”  You can say, “it ends here.”

The power is in those ruby red pumps of yours, Elizabeth.  It has been all along.  Click your heels, or simply walk away.  For once, let your shoes do the talking.



1.2 Off to Never-Never-Land with Rachel Maddow (in a good way)
November 12, 2008, 1:08 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008 | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ll teach you to jump on the wind’s back, and away we go.  -Peter Pan

Rachel Maddow is like the Peter Pan of MSNBC.  I’m not talking simply about the physical resemblance; it isn’t a stretch to see Maddow playing the part, flying across the set in a green tunic and her pixie hair cut, leading the “Lost Boys” of Olbermann, Matthews, Scarborough and Buchanan as they fight the good fight against FOX  (Bill O’Reilly as Captain Hook, anyone?)  No, what I’m referring to is her enthusiastic, easy boyishness; her absolute self-confidence; how skilled she is at what she does.  It’s like inhaling a little bit of magic dust every time I watch her.

Anyone with their eyes on the political scene in recent weeks–or for that matter, anyone who watches late-night television–must be aware of Maddow by now.  She has been taking the talk shows by storm; she’s mixed drinks with Martha Stewart, chatted on the couch with Jay Leno, been called the “Queen of Cable” by Stephen Colbert.  And here’s the thing:  the “Queen of Cable” title could actually be true.  Maddow has been a phenomenon, often beating her opponents Larry King and Sean Hannity in their 9pm time slot on rival news stations CNN and FOX.  And her show only premiered in September.

So what is this magic dust that Rachel exudes?  Where does this Peter Pan phenomenon come from?  The most succinct answer I can give is that she is simply being herself:  a highly intelligent and incisive pundit with a sharp wit, extraordinary memory, a cool head, and a polite manner.  And here’s the best part:  she’s a Democrat.  With a big, big D.  For years, liberals have had to endure pundits from their own party who, although they made sense to us, couldn’t penetrate the vast fog of political rhetoric Republicans would spout.  They were the nerds cowering in front of the bullies–think of Alan Colmes facing Sean Hannity.  Or if they weren’t nerds, they simply couldn’t beat the Republican strategy of TALKING SO LOUD AND WITH SO MUCH FORCE NO ONE COULD GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE EVEN IF THEY TRIED.

Enter Rachel, with her extraordinary calm and impeccable analysis–and with one, quick insight/puff she blows the Republican political fog away.  It’s like watching Peter Pan fly circles around pirates, with a little bit of playful glee thrown in for good measure.

What is also amazing about Maddow is her background–Ivy League without the pretention; Rhodes Scholar without the hubris; a prison AIDS activist; a doer of odd-jobs and deeds before she landed an on-air slot at a small Western Massachusetts radio station.  And her career has simply proceeded on from there–she got a gig as a co-host on an Air America radio show during its nascency, and from there started appearing as a guest on CNN and MSNBC.  After that, it was only a matter of time before The Rachel Maddow Show was born;  her talent was undeniable.   

But why is all of this important?  Because Rachel Maddow represents all of the promise in progressivism, at least as it is represented in television punditry.  Her intelligent analysis allows the big D Democratic argument–that government can effectively improve our society–to move away from its popular caricature in modern America, that of the bleeding heart, big spending solution.  Think of her as the next evolutionary step beyond Keith Olbermann’s eloquent and righteous outrage; Democrats can be playful and funny, too.  And win arguments with their wits, not with their volume.   

As I sit on my living room couch in my pajamas, typing away, I’m realizing that the Rachel Maddow/Peter Pan comparison seems to be a particularly apt symbol today, as indignant bloggers around the country react to Sarah Palin’s latest barb.  In her Monday night interview with Greta Van Susteren of FOX News, Palin called us “those bloggers in their pajamas, sittin’ in their parents’ basements, just writin’ garbage.”  

Let me pause here for a moment of Maddowian self composure.  Deep breath.  Ahem.  The pajama issue aside, if Sarah Palin is our nation’s future, then I don’t mind saying that I would rather be in Never-Never-Land than here.  I don’t think I could endure more of the passionate ignorance, religious intolerance, unchecked militarism, willful deceit, and championed mediocrity that has marked the last eight political years in our country.  So yes, I would like to go to a place where time seems to stand still.  Could we make it this one moment, now?  This moment when possibility is so palpable, despite the immense challenges we face as a nation?  This moment when my country doing right in the world seems possible again, when intellect and eloquence in prized politically, when “yes we can” is a better answer than “no, let’s just trust big business to do it”?    

Rachel, let me just say, should the worst come in 2012, I will be waiting for you here by the window in my pajamas. Promise me that we’ll just jump on the wind’s back, and away we’ll go.  Even if it’s only to your house in Western Massachusetts.  

 

The Rachel Maddow Show airs on MSNBC, every Monday through Friday at 9pm EST.  Check it out!

 



1.1 Sarah Palin goes to Disney World!
November 11, 2008, 1:06 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008 | Tags: , , , ,

We are a nation that loves princesses.  Just ask my two-year-old niece, Neve, who rarely sits still, but is somehow hypnotized by the image of “Cindalella” swirling across her TV screen.  Or ask any of my fellow Wellesley alumnae with daughters, who have tried in vain to fight the rising tide of princess mania.  Or there is, of course, the simple evidence of this most recent Halloween, where every fourth piece of candy was distributed to a Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Snow White, or Jasmine. Despite the economic crisis, this was certainly the year of tulle and the tiara.

We are also a nation that loves Sarah Palin (another 2008 Halloween favorite): we love to love her, love to hate her, love to laugh about her, love to watch her.  In a year that was already forged with political emotions, due to the virulent reaction to the Bush legacy, the historical promise of the Obama candidacy, and the unexpected demise of the Clinton campaign, when Palin joined the McCain ticket she became an unprecedented emotional lightning rod.  For some (like my mom) this emotion was a visceral reaction to Governor Palin’s approachability:  her “aw shucks” folksiness; her can-do approach as a mother of five; her unapologetic Christianity; her girl-next-door youth and good looks.  But for others (like me), there was the shuddering horror at Palin’s lack of basic knowledge about domestic and world affairs, her questionable political pedigree, her rhetorically narrow vision of patriotism.  

Two visions of Sarah: one of adulation, one of fear.  Both extremes might have disappeared last week when she returned to Alaska after her defeat, back to her frozen exile of gas pipelines, political scandals, moose hunting, troublesome brother-in-laws, and snow machine races.  But instead, she remains in the public eye, still very much a part of the zeitgeist.  Journalists have flocked to Juneau to see if she might run for Ted Stevens’ senate seat; pundits have speculated about a future career in television; she has even received the longed-for summons from Oprah. But why, some might say?  She failed.  She should become a political footnote, like Dan Quayle.  McCain’s loss has been (rightly or wrongly) attributed to her candidacy.  So why can’t we let her go?  

And then I realized:  it all comes back to princesses.  Gosh, Matt Damon was right.  It’s Disney’s fault.  

Perhaps many of you will remember Mr. Damon’s now infamous comments about the Palin candidacy back on September 10 (oh so politically long ago):  “It’s like a really bad Disney movie–‘The Hockey Mom’; you know, ‘oh, I’m just a hockey mom from Alaska,’ and she’s facing down President Putin and using the folksy stuff she learned at the hockey rink.  It’s totally absurd.”  Check out this hilarious parody:

But beyond the obvious sarcasm behind Damon’s comparison, there is something that rings resoundingly true: America, and with it that uberAmerican institution, Disney, is all about the rags-to-riches story, about pulling characters from obscurity into the limelight, about making nobodies into somebody, dreams into reality.  And what else is Sarah Palin but the embodiment of the ultimate political Cinderella story?  The girl who went from Wasilla to Washington?  You can almost visualize the scene of McCain at her doorstep, asking if the red patent stiletto will fit.  (And enter the fairy godmother, the RNC, waving its wand and covering her in Neiman Marcus splendor.)

Say what you will about Sarah Palin, but know that in a very real way, she is a product of our own distinctly American Disneyesque design, for better or for worse.  With her pretty face, skill at the podium, and sleek wardrobe she became a part of that cult of celebrity that has gained such esteem in our culture.  We may have mocked her for the “I can see Russia from my house” claim, but 70 million of us watched her from our houses during the Vice Presidential debate.  So perhaps the last laugh is hers.

Not surprisingly, as McCain gave his very gracious concession speech last week, I couldn’t help but stare at Sarah Palin.  I could tell her eyes were tearing up, and I found myself questioning her motives.  By then, news reports had been circulated about dissension in the McCain/Palin camp, Sarah “going rogue,” even planting the seeds for a 2012 run. Was it regret, I wondered, coming through those eyes, pity for herself and for her running mate after such a hard-fought race?  Or was it anger, because McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt wouldn’t let her give a valedictory speech to her adoring fans?  Or perhaps even resentment–I could almost see the Schwarzeneggeresque lines “I’ll. Be. Back.” being broadcast through her designer rimless glasses.

Thinking about it now, the teary-eyed emotion might have been something else entirely: triumph.  Like a political phoenix rising from the ashes, who’s “not doin’ this for naught,” she saw her future pretty clearly.  All we were missing was that quintessential moment from our political superbowl as the teams leave the field after the game is done.  While the victorious Obama is carried off (to face some of the greatest historical challenges our country has known), we are left to question his smiling (victorious in her own way) challenger:  Governor Palin, what’s next for you?  

(Cue the instrumental music from “When You Wish Upon a Star.”)

And she will answer, with a knowing wink and a nod (for every princess gets her happy ending), “I’m goin’ to Disney World.”  And the next stop in the political pumpkin coach?  2012.  You betcha.