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Election 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Urine trouble!: American Masters, with Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly

Posted By on 11.30.12 at 01:10 PM

Noted postmodernist Glenn Beck
When Americans went to the polls earlier this month to select their new leader, I shared in their concern about what the postelection season could look like. As a "writer," what would I do at work all day long if I couldn't spend my time making lowest-common-denominator jokes about lowest-common-denominator politicians? Thus began a search for meaning.

Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly faced the same problem and have reinvented themselves as cultural critics. Glenn Beck heard about the guy who submerged the crucifix in a container of piss and, 25 years later, formulated his rebuttal: he would relieve himself in a jar and stick a little dashboard Barack Obama in it, and deem it art, and explain the project in a rambling disquisition in which he'd repeatedly cite the men's "ding-a-lings" that are so prominent a feature in the annals of Western art. Was this "provocative," as Beck intended? No, it was far too weird to provoke. It read, like any given public appearance by Ann Coulter, like a nuanced, multilayered performance piece, a send-up of a send-up of a send-up: satire so long dead that it had to be revivified, just so Glenn Beck could kill it again. The jar of Beck's piss sells for $25,000. "A fear of sex this latent but pronounced makes for a fantastically charged visual paradox," the art critic Jerry Saltz observed of the proceedings.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

White House turkey begs your pardon

Posted By on 11.21.12 at 02:44 PM

President Barack Obama lays hands on a turkey, 2009
  • Lawrence Jackson/Wikimedia Commons
  • President Barack Obama reads auras, 2009
Last night, trying to take the temperature of America, I watched the first two episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on YouTube while I sewed, for the second time, holes that had appeared more or less simultaneously in each front pocket of a pair of pants. (The leading indicator of this problem is the cold metallic feel of coins hitting your thighs on their way down your pant legs, a 100 percent metaphorical experience.) I was left nonplussed on two counts. First, sewing—Jesus H. Christ has some famous bon mot about getting a camel through the eye of the needle, but you've got to imagine the guy never tried straight-up thread, which is nigh impossible. Second, Honey Boo Boo—was this good? Was this exploitation? If I were writing an exegesis for n+1, could I use the word abjection?

Happily, an easier cultural analogy became available in the sentient forms of Cobbler and Gobbler, two turkeys, though that ended up a wasted opportunity. The White House put its special spin on the annual tradition of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey by choosing two birds and then asking the country to vote (on Facebook, natch) on which would receive the official pardon—a grisly, fucked-up, almost unbelievably hilarious publicity ploy. I loved it for all its reality-TV-era possibilities. The two turkeys' differences were delineated as follows:

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Could the natives be restless?

Posted By on 11.14.12 at 06:45 AM

Nancy Wade and campaign workers Sam Holloway and Walter Pituc
  • Courtesy of Walter Pituc
  • Green Party congressional candidate Nancy Wade with campaign workers Sam Holloway and Walter Pituc
On election night I was in one of presumably few places in Chicago where the name "Rahm Emanuel" drew boos. The campaign for Green Party congressional candidate Nancy Wade was hosting a viewing party at the Globe Pub, and the message to Chicago Democrats was "stop drinking the Kool-Aid."

"In Chicago we live in something more like a dictatorship than a democracy," said Wade, who served on her local school council before becoming involved with the Occupy movement and MoveOn. "We have no votes for the school board, no votes for the park board . . . "

On the issue of representation Wade wasn't alone: an advisory measure in favor of an elected as opposed to a mayorally appointed school board drew 86 percent of the vote in the 327 precincts where it ran on last week's ballot. Now some Chicago aldermen are pushing for a citywide referendum on the issue, a move that was earlier blocked by a parliamentary maneuver that had certain people crying foul.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mr. Smith Screws Up Washington

Posted By on 11.13.12 at 04:00 PM

James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
In the history of American movies, has there ever been a scene with more pernicious consequences than the filibuster in Frank Capra's classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Well, maybe Travis Bickle's mirror monologue from Taxi Driver, but even Travis could hurt only one person at a time. Perhaps you've never seen Mr. Smith, so let me lay it out for you: Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), a greenhorn senator hand-picked by a malevolent political boss (the magnificently slimy Edward Arnold), learns that a pending appropriations bill will fund a graft-lousy dam project backed by his powerful sponsor. To prevent the bill from passing before this plot can be revealed to the public, Smith takes to the Senate floor to stage a filibuster and speaks for hour after hour, a lone hero standing up for what's right.

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America—a constitutional theocracy

Posted By on 11.13.12 at 07:30 AM

The Queen opens parliament.
  • The Queen opens parliament.
Major League Baseball’s response to 9/11 was to add the singing of “God Bless America” to the seventh-inning stretch. Eleven years later the Irving Berlin song continues to be sung and I can't be the only person who thinks the ritual long ago wore out its welcome. But it would take a brave baseball executive to decree, enough. Once God is invoked there’s no turning back.

In 1954 Congress formally amended the Pledge of Allegiance to include the phrase “under God.” Said President Eisenhower, on signing the bill into law, “We are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future.”

No particular faith, mind you, though there are clear favorites. But that’s progress. A third of the way through the 19th century, De Tocqueville, describing America, observed that no particular Christian faith enjoyed the upper hand.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

How social media might be hurting presidential elections

Posted By on 11.10.12 at 04:00 PM

Just look at how connected he is!
  • Just look at how connected he is!
Every election I've followed in my lifetime has been influenced to some extent by technology. The earliest one I can recall is the 1991 mayoral race, when Richard M. Daley was elected to a second term. I remember it because I would sometimes stay up late and watch the 10 PM news with my parents, and on one night, that was the main headline. But it was television that kept me abreast of what the results were, and five years later, the first time I stayed up late to see the winner of the presidential election, I watched TV all night and flipped between news channels until I got the results.

Virtually all the participation I had with presidential elections was through television until 2008, which now seems like a flash point when reflecting on technology's influence on presidential elections. I wasn't on Facebook at the time, but it was the first instance in which I spent a lot of time following the election through blogs, which were another type of social media, since so much writing seemed to be a reaction to something that someone else had written. But even then, as the results were coming in, my friends and I were gathered around the television, waiting for a station to call a winner.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The dwindling minority of white male voters

Posted By on 11.08.12 at 02:36 PM

Republican transportation unit
  • K&M Rentals
  • Republican transportation unit
"Obama received the votes of barely 1 in 3 white males," says the front page of Thursday's Tribune. Making white males about the only significant minority that didn't favor the incumbent. But then, significant might be overstating their importance.

As a white male, I should have insights into this minority, particularly the subset consisting of white males of a certain age. I don't. My thoughts may be muddled by the memoir I'm reading, Life, by Keith Richards, whose credentials as a white male of a certain age are very much in order. As a boy, Richards was a Boy Scout. An ardent Boy Scout. "I had badges all over the place, unbelievable!" he writes. The best evidence of his ardor is an anecdote Richards relates from years later:

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Dread of what the oligarchs will try next

Posted By on 11.08.12 at 12:24 PM

Jane Byrne
  • Jane Byrne
During the winter of 1979, after Jane Byrne beat Daley-machine seat warmer Michael Bilandic to become mayor of Chicago, Mike Royko began his daily newspaper column like so:

"It was the most stunning upset in the long, wild history of Chicago politics and this column is about the single most important person involved in that incredible upset—the remarkable individual who made it happen.

"And who would that be?

"No, I'm not talking about some brilliant campaign manager, or media manipulator, or generous back-room financier, or any of the other political operatives who usually get top billing in day-after-election stories.

"And, no, it isn't about Jane Byrne, although little Ms. Sourpuss finally has something to smile about.

"This column is about you. That's right—YOU there, on the L train or bus, or in your kitchen reading this over morning coffee. You, at your punch press, or in your firehouse, or hospital cafeteria. You, behind the counter at the department store, or jockeying the cab or unloading that truck.

"You did it, you wild and crazy Chicagoans."

I thought of those lines when Barack Obama took the presidency four years ago and thought of them again on Tuesday, when he repeated the feat. (I'd have transcribed Royko's entire, gorgeous utterance into this post if I'd been able to find it; it's a disgrace to American culture that even the fragment given here is hard to dig up.)

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sure and certain doom ahead for America

Posted By on 11.07.12 at 06:43 AM

Light one. It cant hurt.
  • Light one. It can't hurt.
The future could not look darker . . .

"An Obama second term means that the movement toward European-style social democracy continues, in part by legislation, in part by executive decree. The American experiment—the more individualistic, energetic, innovative, risk-taking model of democratic governance—continues to recede." Charles Krauthammer

"The record shows Obama can be trusted to deliver more of the same ideological agenda that has kept too many people out of work and eroded the American dream." Steve Huntley

"Obama's fatal flaw is not just his policies (as bad as they are), but the fact that he isn't and never was cut out to be president. He's not up to it. He's the kid who got thrown into the pool without knowing how to swim. He lacks the experience, composure and certain qualities of leadership required of a president." —Dennis Byrne

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

View of Obama from his backyard: "You need another four years"

Posted By on 11.06.12 at 06:05 PM

Harlette Smith Washington: Not even the last presidential election had this much constant traffic.
  • Harlette Smith Washington: "Not even the last presidential election had this much constant traffic."
Just before three this afternoon, a woman with a limp cast her ballot in the St. Philip Neri school gym at 72nd and Merrill and rushed through the drizzle outside to a waiting car. "That felt good!" she said. Election officials said voters had lined up well before the polls opened at 6 AM and kept coming.

Four years ago, when I spent much of Election Day trekking around neighborhoods on the south and southeast sides of the city, the excitement was palpable: people were buzzing about Barack Obama making history on the bus, outside the corner store, at the senior citizens' home, at the crosswalk even after the light turned green.

I figured that when I went back to some of the same neighborhoods in Obama's backyard today, the euphoria would be long gone—and I was right. But in its place was something else: a sense of commitment, a willingness to go to work and get the job done by giving the president the second term his supporters think he needs.

People were getting out to vote, with no hesitation about who they were voting for.

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