Friday, September 26

Familiarity: The Breeding of a President, 2008

Remember the saying made famous (I believe) by Woody Allen: "I would never belong to a country club that would have me as a member?" That quip used to evoke laughter, a recognition of the powerful feelings of inadequacy that plaque not just scrawny men in oversized eyeglasses but also the rest of us. You know, those of us who aren't in any club, unless it be a poker club or bridge club or maybe a book club.

Today, we are sorting through the qualifications for office of applicants for the highest office in the land and arguably in the world. The applicants? Sarah and Barack and Joe. Oh. And McCain. Plus there was Hillary. Mustn't forget Hillary. And I find myself wondering when it was that we decided as a nation that we were on a first name basis with these people, as if we knew them personally, as if they were our family, our friends. I also find myself wondering why it is that Senator McCain has somehow missed the boat on this bonanza of familiarity. No one calls him John. I'm not even sure Cindy does. Of course, I'm not really sure she can talk, though she sure looks good standing behind him, sort of like a Barbie doll really, if you think about it.

I first realized this when I was visiting my parents, and in reference to another city, my dad commented, "Yep. Sarah's husband is going to be there." Now, I have a niece named Sarah who is engaged to be married, and so of course, given that I was in conversation with Sarah's grandfather, assumed he was already referring to Sarah's fiance as her husband. The two are, after all, already living together, a fact that fundamentalist Christians like my parents sometimes deal with by deeming them morally married. And so our conversation stumbled around for a few sentences while I tried to figure out just what the heck Sarah's Jason would be doing here in Wisconsin when he's a professor in North Carolina. Well, my dad, of course, was talking about Governor Palin. Sarah. Everywoman. The one who has the same problems it's presumed the rest of us do: the pregnant teenaged daughter, the baby with special needs, the sister with the ugly divorce proceedings, the husband with the drunk driving issues: Sarah. While we are not supposed to be talking about any of these components of Governor Palin's life anymore, since the woman has practically no substantial qualifications to be on a presidential ticket, we are left with these as the basis of her qualification. She is Everywoman and can apparently do Everything: run a marathon, skin a gigantic animal, see Russia with her own two eyes, stay tan through an Alaskan winter.

Everything, except to hold her own as a world leader. Even Laura Bush has acknowledged this. In fact, Governor Palin cannot even speak coherently to reporters, which is why the McCain campaign has kept reporters at bay for so long. Her media counterpart is probably Katie Couric, who was designated the CBS news anchor largely because of her appeal to the common folk, an audience it was hoped she'd bring with her in her transition from being a daytime talk show host. The two of them share a lot besides shapely legs, most notably a certain perkiness. Well, Katie Couric has learned the hard way that perkiness and a bright smile don't win respect or ratings. Now it's Ms. Palin's turn at bat. Ironically, one of those throwing the pitches her way is Ms. Couric, who doesn't even throw fast balls, just those high, lofting underhand tosses more characteristic of softball pitching. She even helped out Ms. Palin in her interview, when the woman who thinks she could lead our country through one of its most thoroughly challenging periods couldn't think of a word or an answer.

I listened last night to some of the follow-up in the wake of the first Presidential debate. One of the issues all the spinsters addressed was that of approachability, otherwise known as emotional appeal of the candidates or even as likability. On this account, despite the fact that McCain never once looked directly at either Obama or the camera (who was he addressing, anyway?) McCain apparently won. Nearly every commentator found Obama too professorial, too aloof. Maybe he was a little better than in previous debates, but still, he wasn't "warm." It reminded me all too much of the up-tick in Senator Clinton's popularity after she wept in public. Is this really what we are looking for in our President? Someone who's warm and cuddly, whom we know can weep and rage and rudely interrupt others as they're speaking? Someone who's just like us?

Not me. But perhaps you, dear imaginary reader, feel otherwise. Perhaps you feel someone just like you would make a good President to lead us. Me, I'm just glad there is someone better qualified than I and, that said, I leave now to go register young voters, hoping they'll have the good sense to vote for someone more intelligent and better educated than I.

Sunday, September 21

Fighting Bob and the Bobbleheads

Almost exactly 100 years ago, Robert M. LaFollette, then the Republican governor of Wisconsin, seeing what woes beset the good citizens of his state, commenced a concerted lifelong effort to apply the democratic ideas of Lincoln--government of, by, and for the people--to the course of state politics and in doing so launched the boat of Progressivism here in Madison. It was, without doubt, the best ship ever to be floated on our then pristine lakes, and by mid-century its decks were chockful of grateful survivors plucked from the churning waters of surging America industrialization.

The Good Ship Progressive sailed proudly here for three-quarters of a century, under several different pennants. "Fightin' Bob," as his political descendants like to call him, went from Madison to D.C., taking a trunkload of ideas and programmatic blueprints with him to the U.S. Senate and leaving the continuing care and welfare of his beloved Wisconsin workers in the able, willing hands of his first mate, son Philip. Between this extraordinary duo, Wisconsin led the nation in instituting reforms that would not be rivalled in scope by anything until FDR's programs of the Depression. Under the leadership of the LaFollette duo, which formalized itself as an independent political party under Philip's guidance, a civil service system was put in place to eliminate favoritism in hiring by the state. A horrifying incidence of industrial accidents was addressed by the creation of a Workmen's Compensation program. Campaign finance laws were set in place to make sure the vote of the people remained a vote of the common people, not just the owners of industry. A state income tax plan was pioneered here, and revenue sharing among local, county and state government was structured. Unemployment compensation began here under the guidance of the Progressives, too. But things happen. Today, here in Wisconsin as in too many other places, a governor feels fortunate and accomplished to even get an annual debt-dragging budget passed.

"All ebb and flow in the universe," wrote the Roman poet Ovid two millenia ago. "And every shape that's born bears in its womb the seeds of change." Change is everywhere. Children are different than their parents. The sapling under the parent oak is puny and misshapen. One puppy from the litter is adopted and thrives; another forages on the streets for food, and it is this dog who engenders more puppies. Change, as Ovid knew, is ubiquitous and inevitable. It means nothing to say one is an advocate for change; one may as well say one is an advocate of the sun or the wind or the sea. What matters is how one steers change, how one charts a ship's course through the tumultuous seas, what programs one proposes to advance our use of solar and wind power.

A hundred years ago, as the engines of industry roared roughshod down brand new railroad tracks across agricultural America, as immigrant families scrabbled to keep up with dizzying changes in their work prospects and their communities or maybe simply to avoid being run over, Wisconsin progressives stepped up to the challenges and held out a helping hand to the common person. Today, we seem to be holding out a helping hand to the very institutions that have misled and devastated our middle class citizens, and as we bail out the large corporations instead of the individual homeowners, we dare to say it is necessary in order to protect the common man, the taxpayer. The bobbleheads are all wagging, just like the crowds along the route of the Naked Emperor. "Bail out the profiteers now or face recession!" shout the bobbleheads.

Someone should really note, in plain language, that the common man isn't really protected by a government that supports and shores up the very institutions that have robbed him. We, the common man, the taxpayers without loopholes, the invisible men and women, are already suffering in a genuine recession. We need real change. We need new visions. We need Bob. Call us Main Street, if you will, but as the line goes: Call us! Barack, if it's you who answers to the name of Bob today, please speak up, because we're hoping to hear something. It's foggy out here on the seas of change and even the big long solid wail of a foghorn would be of service to us, give us some clue where the shore is, where the shoals. Speak the truth please, speak for us please, and give us some of that audacious hope you used to mention.

Sunday, September 14

Shopping for Votes in the Homeland

Yesterday I showed up in the Republican stronghold of Appleton, Wisconsin, to do my first ever round of door-to-door canvassing on behalf of a political candidate. Why I chose to drive 120 miles to walk from house to house in a steady drizzle of rain instead of doing it closer to home in my personal, progressive turf on the near-eastside of Madison is a combination of personal (my elderly, ailing parents live there) and political (there's a markedly smaller pool of Democratic volunteers there). How Republican is Appleton? Let me put it this way: Appleton is so deeply Republican, so truly Republican, that few there confess to actually being Republican. Here, in a small city that not only sounds like it's the Heartland/Homeland of America, but looks like it, too, independence, privacy and individualism are what is valued, and God above all. In other words, the perfect Petrie dish in which to drop a foreign body like myself. After all, it was this town that made me. I graduated from Appleton High School East in 1971 and fled the city limits just as soon as I could thereafter. That should be sufficient to confer a little immunity to me in this doorbell ringing business; I've already been inflicted with the local germs.

So there I was this Saturday, walking through the unrelenting rain with an armload of glossy flyers and a chest thrumming with anxiety. Why the anxiety? Well, the day before my 79-year-old mother had recounted how, when she told her bridge club I was coming up to canvass for Obama, the women had burst out giggling, "Well, I sure hope she doesn't come to my house!" Please bear in mind that these are old women who actually like me, for the most part, which means the white, middle class woman part of me, the part who likes her countertops clean and her shirts pressed, who keeps her shoes polished and her cup handles all facing the same way. Which is the part of me I'd been hoping to present up here to the good people of Appleton from the other side of their front doors, that most part, my presumed good part. But suddenly that part didn't feel adequate to the challenge of Appleton. To hear that even my mom's longtime bridge partners didn't want to see me through their screened doors increased my inbred apprehension about knocking on strangers' doors tenfold. I found myself wondering whether the pro-choice Obama sticker on my car was really such a good idea.

Frankly, I was nervous about this return to my own personal nightmare of a homeland. I mean, if I were asked to name the ugliest place I've ever been, I would name, without hesitation, Appleton. Despite its well-tended parks, despite its diligently swept streets and broad avenues, despite the neatly arranged pots of bright cerise geraniums and snappy red, white and blue banners bedecking porches painted right on schedule every five years to the day, Appleton manages to suck the soul out of the very concept of beauty. Lush gardens do not spill over walkways in Appleton; poets do not spill wisdom over the airways, and a sense of order can never fill the shoes of beauty, any more than Cinderella's stepsisters can cram their bunioned feet into her glass slipper. In the year since I renewed my Wisconsin residency, I've met several people who have told me that Appleton is a much more interesting and open community now than it was when I lived there, but it turns out all they really meant to say was that Appleton has a tapas restaurant now. Which, admittedly, is a good thing, for sure, but still somewhat woefully short of rendering Appleton "interesting and open."

It turned out my apprehensions were all for naught. No one was the least bit disturbed that an outside agitator was scouring these well-swept sidewalks looking for spare votes for Obama. Oh, not that homeowners welcomed me, not that I found the people on the other side of the door lintel open and receptive to political exchange and inquiry, not even that they turned out to be decent and friendly folk even if they did think they'd vote for McCain -- they just simply weren't home. On this cloudy, drizzly afternoon in mid-September, absolutely nobody was home except a few insane dogs who apparently found some kind of bizarre fulfillment in throwing themselves bodily at locked doors and ravaging the careful pleats of the tightly closed draperies.

What does everyone in a place like Appleton do on a Saturday afternoon when it's raining outside? After marking the last address on my soggy list NH (Not Home), I threw my clipboard into the backseat of my Civic and called it quits for the day. Driving by the big Fox River Mall on the way back to my parents' I did a doubletake; the parking lots around this indoor mall were full. Jammed. Like Christmas time in a good economy. Apparently, Appleton is the last place in the country where the middle class still feels secure enough to shop for a living and to work for the shopping. In Madison, the malls are fairly empty. The coffeeshops are full, but you could pretty much roll a bowling ball down most of the corridors of the city's malls and not hit anyone but the bored attendant at the sunglasses booth. But in Appleton, the middle class doesn't understand yet that they're an endangered specie; the parking lots are full of their Ford Explorers and Chrysler minivans, all idling.

My parents added another helpful bit of perspective. "Well, of course everyone's shopping!" they marvelled at my ignorance. "There's a Packer game on tomorrow afternoon after church!"

Oh yeah. The Packers. I think I'm going back to Madison before I learn anything else about the people I'm hoping will find something to appreciate about Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Hupp!

Wednesday, September 10

I Will Not Wear Purple, Yet

There's this poem, a "greeting card poem," as I think of it, which has gained a certain popularity among Baby Boomer women, among my ostensible peers. In part, it goes like this:

"When I am an old woman, I will wear purple." It is, in case you've been one of the fortunate few to never have had it forwarded to you by e-mail ("Send this to your 20 closest friends, while wearing purple, of course!") or done up in flamboyant calligraphy and sent to you on a birthday card that might have said it much more succinctly ("You're old and pathetic, for sure now."), a verse touting the merits of unconventional behavior for the elderly. It is, you should also know, singlehandedly responsible for the battalions of gray haired women who travel in small mobs, all with elaborately festooned and markedly unstylish red hats. No show of "Menopause: The Musical" would be complete without at least one row full of these infamous red hats nor, for that matter, would "The Vagina Monologues."

But lately purple has taken on a new significance. Purple is in. The candidacies of Barack Obama and John McCain, one ostensibly Blue as Biden's pinstripes, the other Red as Sarah Palin's lipstick, have generated a new interest in purple. Need I explain? I think not, but just to make sure we're on the same page I'll give you three keywords: Beyond Partisan Politics. With Senator Obama seeming to represent a change from the Clinton era Democrats and McCain running as a Republican who condemns Republicans, the prospects for purple in this election year are indeed somewhat intriguing.

Tonight I listened to Washington Post columnist and veteran electoral politics observer David Broder speaking on the topic "The View From Washington: Best Prospects for Progress in Bridging Political Divides." Broder was the first speaker in a series grouped together by the theme: Getting to Purple: Beyond the Partisan Divide, presented by the venerable Wisconsin Academy here in Madison, Wisconsin. Broder spoke about why he feels that the stalemate and impasse of our current Blue/Red divisiveness may be on its way out of our political corps. His sense of impending Purpleness is based in large part on his perception of the way McCain and Obama straddle the Boomer generation, one right at the top/old end of the Boomer Gen , the other just a little bit too young. And both of them, Broder probably rightfully points out, are effectively put even a little further beyond Boomerdom than their birth years warrant, one by virtue of his military ethic, more reminiscent of those dating from the post WWII generation, the other because of his mixed race background and childhood spent out of the mainstream, continental U.S.

Broder's analysis rests upon a phenomenon that many have observed: the divisiveness that occurred to my generation, an inadvertent and enduring legacy of the rapid social change that emerged from the crucible of the sixties and early seventies. We, the Boomers, took sides. We asked that everyone take sides. We were strident, both pro and con, and what's more, we have not mellowed all that well as we've aged. Looking around at my friends and at the aging reflection in my mirror (surely it must be a defect in the mirror!), I would say he may be right. My kids do not have the same need to condemn that I feel. They are, one might say, more sensible, more practical, more moderate. More indifferent, maybe? That last one's uncertain.

But the fact remains. I don't want to be purple. I don't want to say that there's a middle ground on abortion. I don't want us to slowly exit Iraq; I want us out NOW! I don't want limited offshore drilling in delicate natural places; I want solar, wind and geothermal to be developed: NOW! I don't want moderation; the continued existence of so many people seems to depend on direct and radical intervention right now. I am a boomer. I crossed the line. And I don't think I'm stepping back over any time soon.

And I'm hoping Obama doesn't start wearing purple, either. Our parties should stand for something.
The cited poem is by Sandra Martz, by the way.

Sunday, September 7

Choice May Not Be An Option Anymore

The question of feminism is being brought up by some unusual interrogators lately, including several able media players, such as Cathy Young at the Wall Street Journal, writing, of course, in the aftermath of Cyclone Sarah. In her 9/15 column, she poses the question, "Can conservatives be feminists?" I would like to reframe the question a little, to something that to me seems a little less rhetorical and more urgent: "Can an anti-choice advocate/apostle be a leader of women?"

Canvassing for Obama last weekend, I had a long and interesting exchange on the porch of a thirty-something woman, a school teacher who had been supporting Ron Paul and now deeply interested in deciding which remaining candidate was best. At the end of our conversation, as we were shaking hands and I was preparing to open my umbrella and head back into the rain, she made one final comment. It was sufficient to stop me in my tracks. "I guess I'll probably decide on the basis of the abortion issue," she informed me. "I'm a thorough pro-life person," she smiled at me cheerily.

You know, I like to consider myself a pro-life person, too, really. As a lifelong pacifist, it's disconcerting to find that I have been robbed of that designation by people who don't really mean "pro-LIFE," but rather "pro-EMBRYO." I mean, if you are really pro-life, then you really need to be anti-war. If you are really pro-life, then you shouldn't advocate dropping bombs on babies in Baghdad or Kabul or supporting governments whose rule is based on the physical slaughter of their opposition. Slay them in debates, kill them with impeccable rationality, but please keep the guns and machetes in your pockets, boys.

When I was a young woman hewing my first pathway through the thickets of thorny issues and the insidious intellectual vines of contentious philosophies of individual rights and governance, I learned that if I was pregnant, badly injured in an accident, and taken, unconscious or incoherent to a local Catholic-run hospital, I might be left to die in favor of saving the fetus in my womb should a choice need to be made. That stunned me. It stuns me equally to hear both men and women rage against abortion while finding nothing wrong with supporting the wholesale slaughter of innocents in foreign countries or denying health care to poor people here at home, accounting for a dismaying difference in mortality rates between the rich and the poor. Yes, I am pro-life and anti-war and pro-choice, and neither Palin nor McCain are either.

A friend suggested to me recently that perhaps we will some day be rid of this controversy over when life begins due to our vastly changed abilities to read activity in the brain. Legal death is now defined by a loss of brain activity, not by heartbeat. Maybe soon we will be able to determine when life begins using this same criterion. In fact, I have to suspect that maybe we could do this sort of brain wave measurement already, if someone made it a priority. Not that I'm so naive to think this would quiet all the turmoil, but perhaps it would give us a legal starting point, just as Roe v. Wade is now our starting point, a place to stand in the thorny thicket.

Which is what I offered by way of perspective to the "thoroughly pro-life person" standing on her porch talking about the presidential candidates with me. Whomever is elected will enforce the law of the land, I reminded her. That is the function of the President. The law is Roe v. Wade. McCain will have to enforce that, just as certainly as Obama. As for the people panicking about the appointment of Supreme Court justices, well, perhaps it's time to remember that we do have a system of checks and balances.

Can an anti-choice candidate be a leader of women? Do women really want to hand over the ability to make their own decisions about their biological functions to anyone? Most of us don't even appreciate being told by someone else how to wear our hair or how much exercise we need; do we really want someone to dictate our what we must answer to one of life's most consequential decisions? Sarah Palin can believe whatever she wants about her own reproductive responsibilities and freedoms, and I will defend her right to do so as firmly as I will defend my own. But I will not willingly allow her to decide the matter for me nor for my daughter nor for the granddaughter I may be fortunate to have some day. And I will certainly not let any man decide what I can do to my own body!

Meanwhile, while I await November's verdict as to whether an anti-choice candidate can be elected the leader of American women, I'll be busy making this world a better, safer, place because you see, I'm a devoted pro-lifer.

Saturday, September 6

The Damage in Utero & Other Feminist Issues

The charges have been levied: Democrats are being sexist because we're wondering if the Hockey Mom is our best choice for Vice President. That would be Sarah Palin, Hockey Mom, and mother of a 4-month-old baby afflicted with Down's Syndrome. (Governor Palin, if you object to "afflicted" and have an urge to correct it to "blessed," I would politely ask you to refrain from doing so anywhere within 1,000 miles of me. You may feel blessed with your child, but Trig will one day want to hock his soul to have the lifestyle and the life expectancy of his brother and sisters.)

So. When we wonder aloud whether Baby Trig is being best-served by being handed from person to person under the bright lights and loud noises of the 2008 RNC, we are apparently being sexist, according to the Republicans. And who should know better what sexism is, right, than those who have for decades now protested the E.R.A., abortion rights, birth control rights, even, most recently, the rights of adolescent girls to be vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus? This alleged sexism is apparently a sin of omission, according to both the McCain campaign as well as the right wing talk shows; we have not posed the question of Obama: Can you take good care of your daughters while running for the presidency?

My oh my. How the Republicans twist, even now in the twenty-first century when they're the only ones on the dance floor still thinking this dance form is amusing. Obama is certainly taking good care of his two daughters by running for the Presidency. In fact, if Obama doesn't win this election, the prospects for his two little girls are really scary; John McCain and Sarah Palin, hand in hand and without any meaningful differences, would like to take away from the women of tomorrow anything close to reproductive rights. And yes, ladies and gentlemen of the electoral jury, that includes the right to use birth control, the right to any form of abortion, even the right to use in vitro fertilization. This is what the Right to Life has come to mean.

I just came out of a talk by Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollom, NARAL President Nancy Keenan, and actor David Eichenberg. If you wonder what Eichenberg is doing in this heady company, perhaps you can look to his five sisters or to the fact that he was, as he says, "damaged in utero" when his mother went through the pain and anguish of the JFK assassination while pregnant with him! These three wonderful people were out on one of the finest September days ever to breeze through the city of Madison to tell Madison feminists (including male feminists) how critical our involvement is to winning this election, to remind us how critical winning this election is to the fragile rights we've managed to gain, how endangered Roe v Wade is and what the ramifications will be if we lose its protection and freedom. Every thing they said today was right-on and motivating...until the Congresswoman asked us all NOT to go after Sarah Palin on a personal level, to leave Palin's pregnant daughter and her baby son out of the public debate. For me, to whom the personal IS political, for whom lifestyle and yes, even clothing (think of Cindy McCain's gold dress here, please!) is a statement about who we are and what we believe, that was awfully difficult to here, and I admit my applause was somewhat perfunctory and tepid.

But I will try. However, since I wrote most of this posting last night before I heard these intelligent and hard-working advocates for women speaking this fine morning, I decided I still get to post this, complete with my obviously personal commentary about obviously personal parts of the candidates' lives. The speakers were right, though, and the next time someone says something to me about Sarah Palin's baby or her daughter, I am going to do my best to reply with something like, "And how about the fact that she thinks it's fine that insurance companies pay for Viagra for men but not birth control for women?"

And the next time someone tells me that it's sexist to question whether Palin can be a good mother and a candidate, I am going to remind them that it's also sexist to say that Obama's lack of military service is any more a deficit for him as a man than for her as a woman.

Friday, September 5

The Co-optation of Broken Glass

Lately, we've been hearing all kinds of illusions to a metaphorical glass ceiling. Apparently, everyone's got one, and they've all got a heck of a lot of cracks in them! When you stop to really think about this glass ceiling, apparently as ubiquitous as granite countertops in nicer homes these days, you might just wonder why no one is fixing this damaged ceiling...or is someone?

I'm going to get back to that idea one of these days -- the idea that someone has already summoned a glazier who is, as we sit here reading and writing, hard at work replacing it, perhaps with something a little better tempered. Meanwhile, I am thinking about the big panes of glass at the entrance to our downtown Urban Outfitters store. They're not ceilings, but walls, nonetheless I'm thinking about them because they are definitely cracked, with approximately the same 18 million cracks of that damned overhead pane! And in downtown Madison, cracked glass connotes one thing to anyone fifty or over: Political protest.

This blog is, in part, the story of coming home to Madison, Wisconsin after two decades in the American West. I was an undergraduate here at the UW when tear gas and patchouli occupied most of the spaces between blander molecules of oxygen and carbon. State Street, where Urban Outfitters and WinterSilks and Lands' End and Starbucks now dominate, linking then as it does now the liberal arts campus and the State Capitol, was a place where merchants who lived off student allowances regularly boarded up their storefront windows or suffered the certain consequence of shattered glass. Rocks were lobbed, as well as tear gas canisters; students were slammed into buildings by police in full riot gear, in a way journalists in St. Paul this week can vouch is still accepted law enforcement practice. Shattered glass was a common sight along that historic row of storefronts.

Now, 40 years after the historic demonstrations of 1968 across our nation, shattered glass ushers one into the hip environment of Urban Outfitters, and a woman who doesn't even believe a woman has the right to control her own biological destiny hopes to be the one whose hand, upraised in victory, brings the second highest glass ceiling in the land crashing down. Something is wrong here, and yes, I do need to protest once more. History is being rewritten here. You can buy pre-faded, pre-torn jeans at many of the priciest stores in 2008, and you can bring down the roof as well as the glass ceiling just by being a regular old hockey mom and going to all the PTA meetings because the meaning of this glass has been co-opted and corrupted. History is being rewritten by someone who dots her "i's" with smiley faces, hearts, and little daisies. A cheerleader is on one of our presidential tickets.

I was having coffee with a friend the other day, and she had a certain forlorn look in her eyes when she commented, "I have more qualifications for being Vice President than Sarah Palin." And she was right. Those 18 million cracks that Hilary Clinton noticed in the glass? They were created by the 18 million voters who recognized Senator Clinton's extraordinary strength and wisdom, experience and concern, and love and respect for our American democracy. They have nothing to do with a cheerleader for a man who recommended that his own wife compete in a bare-breasted beauty pageant. They have nothing to do with Sarah Palin.

Thursday, September 4

The White Fields of Minnesota

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with having white skin, except that it has a proclivity to get sunburned and a propensity to show blushes and flushes too easily. But when you see a convention floor packed with white faces, all flushed with nearly Pentecostal fervor, there is something terribly wrong, for this sea of whiteness is purporting to represent the best interestsof the whole American people. Fully 93 percent of the RNC delegates were white, a loss of ethnic diversity from previous conventions, while at this year's DNC, 65 percent was white, with Hispanic and Black delegates holding steady percentages from previous years.

Watching the RNC this week made me think all these florid-faced delegates had spent way too much time as spectators at collegiate football games, quaffing way too much weak and soulless beer (probably Bud Light, making Cindy McCain's fortune grow) and following the gymnastics of energetic, bouncy cheerleaders with altogether too much interest and acclaim. Am I the only casual observer who thinks it's notable that Republicans love booing so much? That they revel in mimicry and the mindless incantations of crowd chantings? Even as a college student deeply involved in the street marches of the antiwar protests, I remember feeling diminished intellectually by the expectation that I, along with thousands of my marching peers, was capable of chanting mindless slogans over and over and over. "Drill, Baby, Drill!" is not only mindless; it's sexist and downright frightening. I wonder what symbolic act of rape underlies the chant, or if any of the Republican women lustily chanting along, enraptured in the spell of Sarah Palin, are at all disturbed by the flagrantly male vision, the Great Mother Earth supine below their relentless drills.

Sarah Palin is the mistress of Big Oil. The checks she awarded to Alaskans were taken straight from the pockets of everyone in the lower 49 and the territories who has born the burden of the record-breaking profits recorded by the oil companies who rule Alaska, along with Palin's beloved pipelines. The white faced delegates at the RNC were berserk with happiness.

Me, my own white face is flushed with embarrassment at the spectacle of so many alleged adults shouting like beer-sotted frat boys.

Tuesday, September 2

Plundering New Orleans, Again.

Three years ago, a Republican President fiddled as New Orleans drowned. I have still not forgotten the images of Hurricane Katrina refugees huddled in the stench and squalor of a doomed athletic stadium or the (sometimes erroneously) painted messages on the porches of abandoned houses, "Checked for bodies." Just several weeks ago, another body was found in one of those houses, another tic mark added to the terrible toll.

This week, as Hurricane Gustav rolled in, we had a chance to see what the Republicans of Washington DC along with Louisiana's Governor and New Orleans' mayor have learned from Katrina. On all three fronts of government involvement, apparently quite a lot was learned. New Orleans was evacuated well ahead of time. Evacuation was relatively complete and enforced; staying was not given as an option nor, for longer than residents wanted and eventually insisted, was returning. The National Guard was mobilized, and units across the country were on high alert to ship out down to the overwhelmed bayoux. President Bush set down his fiddle (he has no ear for music anyway--the fiddling was horribly out of tune) and picked up a shovel and a mop, cancelling his opening night speech at the Republican National Convention, along with his pit bull's, the one without lipstick, Dick Cheney's. The Republicans up in St. Paul heaved a sigh of relief so deep and many lunged it blew Gustav just a little bit westward, and New Orleans was by and large spared; at least its levees held.

The Republicans once again lucked out. They didn't have to suffer the ignominy of acknowledging GWB. and his Dick as two of their own and, just to be sure, they cancelled Day One of the RNC. I suspect they were afraid that the lure of the podium might have proven too much for an exiting President still hopeful of adding at least a thin coating of polish to his severely tarnished administration. I mean, there was really nothing for Senator McCain to do, no reason for the convention to be cancelled. It made absolutely no difference to the people of New Orleans or to the weather. John McCain has no special powers. He does not muster the troops. He does not grant aid. He does not wield a hammer or run a pumping station. To pretend that the cancellation of Day One of the Republican convention was anything other than an avoidance of having to host Bush and Cheney in person and to loan an appearance of power to McCain is insulting to the good people of New Orleans, who once again have been booted from their homes and saddled with debt and repair bills while John McCain seized the opportunity for a nap and George wondered how to tune his fiddle.

I'm glad Barack Obama maintained his speaking schedule this Monday and showed up to honor the voters who had changed their lives to make room for hearing him address their economic concerns on this Labor Day. He ended up speaking a lot about the need to help our Gulf Coast sisters and brothers, but he also addressed the 8-year-long storm assaulting not only the Gulf Coast, but every state except Sarah Palin's oil-rich Alaska: the economic storm that has ripped away our economic health and the security of our homes and families.

Palin: The Monster in Make-Up

I have never felt worse about being a woman. I mean, when I was a stick-skinny adolescent tagged with the painfully appropriate nickname "Plywood Oshkosh" after a local producer of those flat sheets of pressed wood, I felt badly. When my flat chest suddenly burgeoned into enormous and fleshy mounds spouting milk like would-be Vesuvians, I felt so alienated from my body and sex I nearly regretted having a baby. Oh and then there have been all the constant, smaller humiliations of being a woman, of acknowledging on a daily basis that yes, there is at least one trait held in common with Britney and Paris and Ivanna and the Olson twins. But none of this compares with the pain of hearing that Sarah Palin is on the Republican ticket.

Why does she bring more pain? Doesn't her enthusiastic political activism as a woman remove her well beyond comparison to the apparently brainless and self-centered antics of fashion-conscious celebrities? Is it just that she's a Republican? Is it just that her upswept hair reminds me eerily of those beehive hairdos inflicted upon an earlier decade? No and no and no and hearty no. What makes Sarah Palin so utterly painful to acknowledge as a woman, her candidacy for John McCain's Vice Presidential spot so terrifying, her potential to claim a spot in history denied any other American woman so revulsive is just that: she might claim a spot in history denied Ferraro 24 years ago, denied Hillary Clinton just this summer and the first woman to win a chance to govern the most powerful nation on earth just might be a woman who denies women the right to control the destiny of their own body. To have an anti-choice woman as a serious Vice Presidential contender is such a serious event that it calls into question everything feminism has accomplished, everything that my age-mates and I fought for back in the seventies, everything that Congresswoman Ferraro and Senator Clinton represented so well: the fact that our bodies do not control our destiny.

If Sarah Palin can abandon her disabled baby and pregnant daughter to run for the vice presidency, I think every bit of my present nauseous tumult of anxiety is eminently reasonable. This is not a seriously thinking, doing woman; this is something of a self-gratifying monster.