Notes on Political Venality, Pomposity and Associated Stupidity.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Boy Scouts Wimpworld Debacle

I never joined the Boy Scouts when I was a kid. I went to one meeting to see what it was all about and decided that "I wasn't a joiner." Besides, living as I did with the woods right outside my back door, I was pretty well versed in camping and tramping skills by this point.

In a way, I've always harbored this sense that the Scouts were for losers who couldn't learn how to do most of this stuff on their own, or who didn't have any friends. Call me cynical.

Now, I am truly beginning to wonder whether the Scouts haven't entered the 21st century with all the cluelessness of your average Game Boy-obsessed, spoiled suburban brat.

While the deaths of four of their leaders was tragic, it also points to a real lack of "being prepared." Mucking around near electrical lines is something even a Cub Scout knows is bad business.

And now comes the heat. Obviously unprepared little scouts are falling like flies because it's hot at their Jamboree. Excuse me, but isn't this precisely what they have supposedly been taught and trained to deal with? If they can't deal with the heat, what can they deal with? Sure it's darn hot, but you drink tons of water, stay in the shade, wear a hat and limit your activity. Then you drink more water. Hey look, I could be a Scout leader!

My guess is that too many of these scouts have merit badges in things like hard drive reformatting and iPod downloading, instead of stuff like latrine building and summer survival skills. Honestly, if this is the next generation of hard-nosed, outdoorsy kids, I'm very worried.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Jesus Innoculation

First, let me get this off my back; if one more person repeats the phrase, "person of faith," I am going to puke on their shoes. You see, I just don't care what your religious beliefs are. Doesn't matter to me. You can believe that "god" is embodied in the form of a massive interstellar locust, which only appears every seven years. I don't care. More power to you. Maybe you believe that the mother-ship locust left behind the cicada which have begun singing again this summer..and are now busily repeating a religious chant that, if we just tried, we would understand. Don't care. Have fun.

So this leads me to my thought today. Clearly the GOP decided, and this goes back years, that the future of their party (and the associated platform of corporate avarice) could be accomplished by embracing evangelical religious beliefs. We all know this. The question, of course, is why.

It seems simple enough. If you get in bed with Jesus (or any religion, for that matter) no one alive can question your logic, because religions are, by their very nature, anti-logic. They exist on faith alone. This is what I call the "Jesus innoculation." Take a hypo full of Christian fundamentalism and all attempts to discuss or question a political issue are stopped dead, like a virus encountering a particularly effective vaccine.

Religion is the great debate ender. It's tantamount to the eternal parental scold, "Because I said so!" And this is exactly why this has been so successful for the Republican's. They have managed to stifle, and in most cases, eliminate debate on many of the important social issues of the day. They have come down from the mount with the Ten Commandments (we used to call this a political platform) and made life simple for the simple. No longer to people have to think; all they have to do is "believe."

For many, many American's, this is very heady stuff. On one hand, it allows them to feel like they are part of a large and important "movement." On the other hand, they no longer have to support their political beliefs with something messy and difficult like facts and logic.

The bonus round in all of this is that it also means anyone who doesn't believe like you can be attacked as a heathen non-believer who, because of that, is morally suspect. Takes us back, unfortunately, to "people of faith." While I don't have it in me to excuse the dolts who have been duped by this long-term policy, I do, at times, feel sorry for them. I honestly believe that most are completely unaware of how they are being manipulated by a cadre of very wealthy forces, whose real religion is centered on a once-walled street on the island of Manhattan.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Missionary Zeal for the Commonweal"

In the softball New York Times Magazine article on Senator Rick Santorum which ran a month or so ago, one of his staffers related that they thought the Senator was something of a "missionary." I agree. The problem is, he was elected to be a politician from the State of Pennsylvania, not a moralizing preacher.

But he is a missionary, there is not doubt of that. He hews to their basic tenants, which can be summed up thusly;

"We are bringing the truth to you heathen savages, whether you like it or not. Whatever you know, or think you know, is wrong. Ours is the one true way. And, by the by, many of you will probably die in the near future, since we have brought with us, not just bibles and the gospel of guilt, but also, many voracious diseases for which you have no immunity. But that's okay, because it is God's will...and ours."

The junior Senator from PA has been anxious to get back in the good graces of his base since his endorsement of Arlen Specter sent them into fits of apoplexy and his new "Bible according to Rick" is nothing more than a very long, hardcover bit of political advertising. After all, it would have been hard to fit all this moronic drivel into a direct mail piece, since the postage would have been way too high. So the trick was to get people to buy his political screed, not just fish it out of their mailboxes. Also, the "earned media" he's getting is part of this parlor trick as well. The more people say he's nutty, the more his base drifts back and forgives him (I mean, they are capable of forgiveness, no?) for his sins.

Let's be clear about one thing. When it comes to politicians, NOTHING they say or do hasn't been vetted or tested or mulled over. Santorum didn't just go off and write this because he always wanted to be an author, or a preist, he (or a equally noxious ghost) wrote this book with a very specific political agenda in mind. Whether it's the first salvo in his nascent Presidential bid, or his last smirking screed as a Senator remains to be seen.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Karl Rove is a star in a dark universe.

Most American's are vaguely aware of "political consultants," but few of them understand who these people are or how important they have become in the political process, since most of what they do is accomplished in the dank shadows...not in the bright lights of the dias.

Consultants get people elected. Consultants take stupid ideas and sell them to the public. And many consultants, like Rove, end up not just "spinning, " but creating. They adroitly cross over the line from ad guy to policy guy...and hardly anyone notices. This happens because politicians, egotists all, will kill to get elected and re-elected. If a consultant tells them, "Run this commercial and you'll win," they will do it 99% of the time.

Campaigns today resemble nothing so much as huge corporations, driven by the same sorts of marketing schemes and ad rollouts and press manipulation that your average Big Pharma would be proud of. The very last thing they represent are ideas or concepts or grass roots support. In fact, one of my favorite political bits of jargon is "astroturf marketing," a play on grassroots, where phony "hand made" signs and fake protesters show up to cavort for the cameras. And it works. In the :07 clip people see on TV, there is no way of knowing that those weren't your friends and neighbors.

But back on topic. It is not surprising that Karl Rove would eventually step over the line or be trapped with his own words. While he is, by all accounts, an intelligent and artful player in this game, he is also, as most consultants are, not without an ego of his own. And like most "men behind the men," he hates to lose. That sort of drive, coupled with the power of the WH, has obviously pushed him to say and do things that he shouldn't have. It's my guess that the Plame affair is only one of many "slips of the tongue." But in this case, he was up against people who weren't going to let him get away with it.

But let's be clear about this. Rove might be good at what he does, but there are dozens of his brethren lined up to take his place. Losing Karl may stain the Presidency of GWB, but it won't change anything about how Dubya does business.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

My Pollster Told Me To Say....

President Bush clings, as all modern politicians do, to polling numbers. They are the box scores of this particular game, and pols pour over them like rabid baseball fans parse a team's statistics. They are, in my opinion, the defining characteristic of today's politics. Where once research was done one-on-one, "How are they taking this down in the 7th Ward, Frank?" today an entire industry seeks to find out what people are thinking.

But it's not that simple, for the pollsters are an integral part of all political campaigns and the idea isn't simple to "find out" what's up, but to take that information and craft "the message" to match it. This takes me back to Bush.

Anything he says, any word or phrase he utters (or stutters) has been thoroughly tested and vetted before it leaves his mouth. And these days, he is clinging to the one simple thing that, apparently, still tests well; "We will defeat the terrorists." This line, with its heavy, scary baggage of 9/11 and now London, is a stupid, pointless statement; as any reasonable person knows there is no way to defeat these people. Ever.

And yet, it tests well. Presumably because people want to hear it. People want to believe it. People want Daddy to make it okay. People want to be safe.

So we will go on hearing this. Even if and when a terror attack again strikes our shores, this phrase will never be far from the President's snarling lips. He'll cling to it, not because it's true or accurate, but simply because -- it tests well.

Another phrase that must be high in the GOP gamebook is "liberal activist." Last election cycle it began to enter the lexicon when applied to judges of all sorts. "Liberal activist judges" became a rallying cry of every conservative politician. I'm guessing that "activist" is seen as code for "nasty people who want their own way," and is perceived as a holdover from the 60's. But now the term has been coopted by others; Kenneth Tomlinson, the conservative head of the CPB yesterday applied the term to broadcasters, calling Bill Moyers a "liberal activist."

If you weren't sure the guy was a political hack before this (hard to believe) you now have proof that his public speech has been fully vetted and run through the GOP thinkspeak gauntlet. He's drunk the cool aid. He's on board. He knows the polls.

What is missing from the other side of the aisle is any attempt to diffuse these idiotic statements. And it would be easy. Simple turn them on their heads. Tom Delay is a "right wing activist." Rick Santorum is an "anti-school activist." It's easy and fun; go make a few of your own! Or better yet, grab a weak-kneed Democrat by the collar and tell them it's time they spoke up. After all, isn't that what activists do?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Santorum's Specter of Defeat

What if.

What if Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and therefore a front line player in the Supreme Court dustup which is approaching like a voracious tornado, somehow manages to step on the toes of those who are seeking a "true believer" on the bench? It could happen. Specter is an odd duck these days; a somewhat less than crazy Republican, who, it seems, does not tie his entire political past, present and future to Biblical prophesy. Arlen is also suffering from serious health issues, having been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease some months ago. A life-altering diagnosis such as that has a way of clarifying your thoughts.

What I find fascinating, however, is how all this could impact Specter's junior colleague, Sen. Rick Santorum. Rick is a far right-wing idealogue, who brooks no variation from the Fundie playbook. He defines himself and sets his political compass not by what is best for our nation or for the State of Pennsylvania, but by what he thinks is best for his family. In other words, he has a personal religious, dominionist philosophy which all residents of PA are supposed to adopt -- or go to Hell. Literally.

Santorum's problem is that he, in a very public way, endorsed Specter over super-conservative Pat Toomey in the last primary. It did not make Rick's base happy. As is so often the case with such intensely Christian and understanding people, they whined and screamed and threw tantrums. And they didn't forget.

So now, if Specter doesn't put his feet in the strirrups, swing both legs over the Bush nominee and straddle that person for all it's worth, Rick may be the one who pays the price. Arlen, good or bad, ill or well, is serving his last term. And if this doesn't go the way Santorum hopes it does, he may be also.