Monday, November 3, 2008

Last Dispatch

The Last Dispatch

A Tribute to Terence...Obama and the Age of Inclusiveness...Joe the Plumber seals the deal...Predictions!...the Round Mound of Governance...A Farewell to Dispatches...

This is the last dispatch of the 2008 election season, and it begins with a heavy heart. This morning I learned that Terence Tolbert, a friend, and my boss from the 2004 election, passed away from a sudden heart attack at the age of 44. Terence had returned to Nevada to serve as State Director for the Obama campaign, taking a leave of absence from Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Education. Terence was the second person I met upon arriving in Las Vegas in the summer of 2004. My first full day he took me out to lunch, and struck me as an extraordinarily easy-going man in what was already, and would very much continue to be, a stressful and chaotic election. Soon the weight of campaign hours ended adventures like trips to the Rum Jungle, but in an office full of egos, stress cases and young people who weren’t 100% sure what they were doing, he was always smiling, unwilling to let his world collapse over a missing van, overbooked hotel rooms, or an uncertain volunteer capacity. Despite his ’04 and ’08 stints in Las Vegas, Terence was a New York City boy, and his presence will be missed most in the Big Apple, where he was a long-time fixture in the political scene. For him to die only a day before he could have seen the first African-American president elected is heart-breaking. Hopefully Terence was able to enjoy the victory just a little as he saw it on the horizon, and hopefully he was able to reap the satisfaction of finally turning Nevada blue. There is no question in the online political community that all eyes will be on Nevada tomorrow, as the staff and volunteers hit the pavement not just for Barack, but for Terence too.

The other tragic death that took place yesterday was the passing of Obama’s grandmother. There is little more than one can achieve in life than having raised young Barack to be the man he is today. Watching Barack grieve over her illness, and ultimately her passing is one more reminder of how human he is. Many months ago, being able to look into his eyes and see a person, not a robotic politician, is one of the main reasons I initially supported the Senator. His empathy is strong and real, and it has constantly reminded him of the causes that got him into politics and into this campaign.

Senator Obama reminded us of the people this election is really about in last week’s infomercial, which was watched by 26 million people. I teared up during when he spotlighted the man who has to keep working with a torn ACL and Miniscus because his disability benefits during the surgery process couldn’t support his family. What slaves have we become that we subject our proud working citizens to endure that kind of physical pain? After weeks and weeks of nervously making phone calls and searching the web to see if my worker’s compensation will cover my $25,000 ACL surgery, and whether that coverage extends to the hospital room, the anesthesiologist, and the necessary rehab, I can truly relate.

Like many of my fellow students I go through the constant ritual of donning a suit and tie and spending 20-30 minutes explaining my qualities strangers, grasping for a job that will justify 21 years of education. Like most young people, I grimace at the cost of rent, medical bills, and every last confusing credit card charge that plunges me closer to an empty checking account. I know I’m blessed, and have had great opportunities in life. But in these challenging times, feeling blessed and worried are less mutually exclusive than ever. In large measure, Obama has gotten as far as he has because he is the one man in 2008, Democrat or Republican, who has demonstrated that he can make people hope again, that can make people believe in a brighter tomorrow.

I’ve written before about the buoyant optimism of the Obama campaign, the place I call Obamaville. I’ve noted that it’s unlike any other place I’ve seen, except for Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. In Biloxi, there were no questions about who you were or where you came from, only if you were willing to help. Soldiers and hippies literally worked side by side, fixing houses and eating Salvation Army meals. Catholics, Baptists and atheists sat together in damp meeting rooms for hours figuring how to help rebuild a city. There was no barrier- race, religion, age, or class, that could get in the way of the solidarity.

I hesitate to use the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast as to broad an example of the change we need. After all, much of the coast is still in tatters, especially New Orleans, which very much did fall to the pernicious influence of racial, class-based and territorial factionalism. In Biloxi that great progress of the early years has hit a standstill precipitated by low funds, massive burnout, and short memories. After all, as I sit here writing this, it occurs to me that not a week has gone by when I don’t wonder if it was a mistake for me to leave Biloxi before the job was done.

But for all of its flaws, the passion of those early Gulf Coast days was America at its finest, reacting to crisis with a unity of purpose. And the reason I believe Barack Obama can turn to governing with those same winds of common goals and dreams behind him is that he has blown the passage to the American Dream wide open, and in doing so, inspired untold millions. Not just African-Americans, though there is almost no way to underestimate the significance of having our first African-American president. In 2001 I helped my friend Emily write and produce a play for young students at a public school in Manhattan. The play, The Land and the Sea, was about how the people of the land came to find peace with the creatures of the sea, a plot the students created. In a performance before ours, another group of students enacted a skit in which they represented their role models. We’ve all heard the importance of young African-American having famous role models to aspire to, but it was powerful to see in person that these were 11 year-olds who could only imagine a destiny extending as far as hip-hop or basketball. The lamentations of the older black gentry like Bill Cosby has been only half helpful, because the clarion call to turn off the TV and take school seriously was coming from a man who built his career on telling jokes and starring in a sit-com. Now when they turn on the television, African-American children, and all minority youths, will see one of their own in the most powerful office in the country.

I mention other minorities because to me Obama’s candidacy spoke particularly loudly to three other demographics, or at least three demographics that touched me personally. One is to bi-racial people. Despite Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that invalidated laws against interracial marriage in 1967, five years after Obama was born, and fifteen years before I was, interracial marriage is still unspokenly taboo across the country, and not just by conservative whites. Minority groups themselves can be tremendously insular, be they Jewish, Korean, Hindi or others. Turn on any TV show, or watch any movie. Hollywood is happy to put minorities in positions of prestige (like president on “24”), but they are far more reluctant to show cross-racial coupling. If there’s a new hot black girl in town joining the all-white cast, you can bet a fine-looking black boy will pick her up soon.

Now Obama’s bi-racialism has not exactly been a major talking point, and I’m not arguing it won or lost him many votes down the stretch. But you might remember back to the pre-South Carolina days, when the pundits were still wondering if he was “black enough.” There was a reason to that. 'If you are black,' political players posited, ‘we generally know where you come from. You might have been one of the young lieutenants of MLK’s civil rights movement, or Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. You might be one of those smart guys who rose from the projects that we built for you, and built your career as the mayor of a predominantly black city like Newark or Richmond.’

That Obama was not one of these people confused and worried the political establishment, black and white. How could they trust a man if they didn’t know the predictable story of where he came from, what his base was, and were his political limitations laid? Bi-racial people don’t make sense in the linear American narrative. What Barack Obama has done since 2004, in his constant refrain that his mother is a white woman from Kansas, and his father a black man from Kenya, is remind us that the American Dream applies to literally everyone, no matter how crazy his or her fairy-tale story of success might be.

That brings me to the third realm of his inspiration which is to immigrants, both here and abroad, and foreigners. Addressing the latter groups first- Obama actually explicitly reaches out to them in his speech, challenging America to live up to the standards of those who yearn to reach our shores for our freedoms and opportunities, those who see America is their great last hope. During these hard times, it can be difficult to remember that even through the Bush years, America has remained a beacon of freedom to those who struggle around the world. In New York City, one can recognize this most easily among the taxi-driving population, which is full of proud men who work ungodly hours to send paychecks home to third-world families, in the hope that maybe they can one day be reunited on our shores. And to our old friends in Europe and elsewhere, it will feel good to say, “America is back!” We have all been reluctant ambassadors during the Bush years. Lord knows I've seen things get ugly in America’s defense, from Belgium to Costa Rica, but as Americans ‘we believe in our country, even if we don’t believe in our government.’ I think George Bush said that in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Above all, we say “we” when referring to our country, even when talking about things about our country we oppose, like invading Iraq. I was at a German dive bar in 2003 when my new drinking buddies explained how unique that really was. United “we” stand. It’s a concept that feels strange after these last eight years. Let’s just say Obama will bring back the “we”, stronger than ever.

The second group of immigrants, which may indeed include a fair amount of New York City taxi drivers as well, are those who have planted their roots in the United States for a generation, and raised their children as first-generation Americans. This group came here seeking opportunities unavailable back in their home countries, worked hard, paid taxes, and sent their children to the best schools they could get into. They may have been naturalized, that is, awarded legal American citizenship. But whether they were ‘real Americans,’ is a question many would insist upon those with different skin tones, strange accents, and unfamiliar customs. I am of such immigrants, from a mother who was raised in Stalinist Hungary, and a father who came from a region of India so poor and wild that when I tried to visit it two summers ago, my trip was cancelled by Maoist rebels who blew up the train tracks in their guerilla effort to return the land to the people (and they call Obama a socialist). I have never doubted MY American-hood. I’ll out-American anybody. But Obama’s message is to my mother and all other immigrants, that there is no hierarchy and no tiers as to who is a real American. The first ever son of immigrants to be elected president is sending a message to all immigrant parents trying the best they can to raise their children that there truly is no limit to their children’s futures. One wonders if even a dreamer like Barack Obama, Sr., could have imagined sitting in the White House one day, watching his son at work.

The final group that has been inspired, and perhaps had their conception of politics changed forever are progressives. Progressives have been lonely outsiders looking in, in perpetuity. Their fleeting moments of glory, the Progressive Era, the early New Deal, and the Great Society, are so long ago that today’s leaders have long ago retreated to non-profits and academia, where their brilliant ideas and energy are obscured from the greater public eye. This is particularly true for the young progressives who came of age in the Bush years. The thought of the federal government as an agent of change is beyond the realm of possibility. Before we go any further, people will fairly ask whether Barack Obama really is a progressive, and where the proof lies after a general election campaign that stressed his centrism and post-partisanship.

First, let’s revisit the Democratic primary. Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, who was not only the institutional candidate, but the NAMED successor of the man who defined the Democratic party during his right by lurching to the right and clutching dearly to the middle. When Bush won re-election in 2004 despite displaying a clear allegiance to conservatism, Clinton’s centrism suddenly revealed itself for what it was- not a political necessity, but either an act of political expediency, or true belief in those values. That Obama beat the Clinton machine is no small feat. The more progressive candidate has lost the Democrat nomination in every primary since George McGovern in 1972, and we all know how that one turned out. Is Obama the most liberal member of the Senate, as Republican talking heads claim? Of course not- that’s just crazy. Bernie Sanders from Vermont actually IS a socialist. But he’s up there.

Think about his campaign. He wants to end the war in Iraq. He wants universal healthcare. He wants to focus on climate change. He wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for programs that will help the poor. These are all things our ilk have protested in the streets for. Now we’ll have a president who actually agrees with us on our core values. That’s crazy, just nuts. Who ever thought that would happen so soon? As for his post-partisanship, that too is real. It doesn't mean he's going to split the baby on every issue, it simply means that he will change the tenor of Washington, to limit slash and burn politics, erode the influence of lobbyists, and return civility to discourse on critical issues. Post-partisan is an approach to governnance not an ideological position.

There is no doubt that in the coming years Obama will be hammered for the left- his budget options simply leave him too small a window of escape. Today I overheard multiple people knocking Governor Patterson for his budget cuts, as if there’s something a governor can do about a budget billions of dollars in the red during a recession. There’s no way Obama or our local officials will be able to deliver on their promises in these economic times. The best we can hope from our elected leaders is that they will show strong judgment in how what they cut, what they preserve, and what they strengthen. And for that, there is no better indicator than their core values. I’ll take my chances with the Senator from Illinois.

If Barack Obama has taught us nothing else, it is to stay calm in the eye of the storm. As the McCain camp turns to Joe the Plumber to close out their campaign like a bald Brad Lidge, Obama closes with the same message he started with, “the same message we had we were up, and the same message we had when we were down.” It is a basic message of hope, an affirmation of the best America has to offer. The campaign was historic. The Democratic field was its finest since 1960, maybe ever. Hillary Clinton not only proved to be a bruising campaigner, but her supporters’ loyalty ran deeper and wider than anything I could have imagined. Obama is the first nominee in generations who truly left nothing on the table- the electrifying Convention, the speech on race, the fundraising machine, the immediate response media team. He has set such a colossal standard for future Democratic candidates that one wonders how anyone, sans the built-in stature of a Hillary Clinton, could ever expect to even approach it.

And in their final days, the McCain campaign thought they could bring the whole thing down with ‘socialism.’ The charge wouldn’t be worth addressing if here if there weren’t a need to expose it for what it really is- a racially charge proxy for “the other”. The subject of “socialized medicine” notwithstanding, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton would never be pilloried on charges of socialism in this manner. No self-respecting reporter would dare ask those Democrats to respond to similar charges. And yet, here’s Barack Obama with a bi-partisan stable of highly respected economists, his University of Chicago influences, and a tax plan extensively borrowed from the Clinton Era, and yet he might be the one to realize Eugene Debs economics? What the McCain camp is really saying is, ‘Obama is a socialist. How much do we know about people like him? After all, brown people (Chavez, Castro, Nassar), yellow people (Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Soviet enemies (Krushchev and Breznev) have always been socialist enemies of the United States, so why not Obama too?’ The attack ultimately won’t work, largely because of the aforementioned ‘proof’ Obama can trot out. It’s just sad that he has to. Perhaps the best line of all came from the great Stephen Colbert, who pressed a Republican pundit, “So if Obama wins, is this an electoral mandate for socialism?” Somewhere Debs was chuckling at that one.

Speaking of mandates, Obama will enter office with the most favorable Congress since LBJ’s Great Society, and the most momentum since the Reagan Revolution. The House Democrats, already in charge, ought to pick up a net of 20-25 seats, which means they won’t have to treat Blue Dog Democrats as gingerly. In the Senate, where Dems have 51 seats now, my predictions are as follows:

Udall (New Mexico), Udall (Colorado), Warner (Virginia) romp to victory.

Shaheen (New Hampshire), Begich (Alaska), Merkely (Oregon) and Hagan (North Carolina) will win somewhat convincingly.

That puts as at 58. Toss-ups will include:

Franken (Minnesota), Martin (Georgia), Musgrove (Mississippi) and Lunsford (Kentucky). Those last three are important to keep an eye on, along with Hagan’s race. No Democrat has won an open Senate seat or Republican-held Senate seat in the former confederacy since John Edwards in 1998. The Democrats putting the most conservative part of the country in play has been one of the underreported stories of the 2008 election.

The culmination of the new southern revolution will be the 2014 election of Charles Barkley as governor of Alabama. Barkley, a recent convert from Republican to Obama Democrat, is poised to be the nation’s fourth African-American governor, and lord knows that will be one hell of a campaign to work on. I’ll close out this dispatch with his words to CNN’s Campbell Brown:

"I can't screw up Alabama. We are No. 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren't going anywhere."


Sometimes, reflections on moments of passion yield the old refrain, “I said a lot of things I didn’t mean.” Well, I’ve said a lot of things, my friends. About 60,000 words on this election, straight from the heart of a man who doesn’t know a damn thing about journalism, except what he reads in the papers. I said a lot of things that were mean-spirited, sappy, even factually questionable. But I meant every word when I said it, even if my brain gave it only Keruoacian consideration on its way from my fingertips to the page, and even if I’ll be apologizing for it in front of some special interest group years from now. We all had a lot of fun, tortured ourselves with the ups and downs that make politics so riveting and addictive, and generally lived the dream. Tonight we’ll sit in living rooms, bars and burlesque halls, watching the results pour one more time. Watching John King play with his fancy CNN map one last time. Watching the weird banter between Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman one last time. Watching the networks call the presidential race for a progressive for the first time in most of our lifetimes.

I’ll be thinking of Barack, who is about to spend eight years feeling the weight of the world of his shoulders. I’ll be thinking of Michelle, who will bear these challenges with him. I’ll be thinking of my friend Carrie, working in 85 degree Texan heat re-electing Nick Lampson, one of the finest men in Congress, fighting for his political life down in Sugarland. I’ll be thinking of my friend Lis, trying to get Dan Seals elected to Congress from Illinois to replace an incumbent known for confusing ‘Obama’ and ‘Osama.’ I’ll be thinking of my friend Pat, who left his job behind to follow the Obama campaign, and has wound up, of all places, in Las Vegas- avenge me, Pat. I’ll be thinking of my friend Russ, who is helping run that union machine up in New Hampshire. I’ll be thinking of Terence Tolbert. And I’ll be thinking of all of you out there in Philly and Virginia and Ohio doing your thing, while I sit here on my wrecked knee, an untimely gimp in Brooklyn, which probably hasn’t voted Republican since Teddy Roosevelt was on the ballot 100 years ago. But I’ve had my run, and I’ll always come back for more.

“I have not yet begun to fight,” said John Paul Jones.

“The sun also rises,” said Ernest Hemingway.

“Sometimes…there’s a man,” said the stranger.

Thank you for reading, responding, and hanging out during these amazing times. I’ll see you all on the sunrise side of the mountain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 16

"They were discussing the international situation, which was desperate, as usual."

- Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

These are fast and heady times, and keeping up with the McCain meltdown, the spasms of the stock market, and the annual collapse of the New York Mets leaves little room for reflective dispatches. I am, after all, just one man in search of a story- like the time I met President Bush in 2006 and gave him a presentation on the dangers of toxic black mold in the Gulf Coast. That story wowed the crowd at Comix a few weeks ago, though it still left me short of the Moth Storytelling GrandSlam. But after a whirlwind spell away from the keyboard, it is, as Joe Biden would say, "literally great to be here."

If 2008 was the year of change, September was definitely the month. The stock market proved, once and for all, that no one can understand it, except perhaps Mad Money Jim Kramer, who on Friday practically grabbed me through the television to buy, buy, buy on Monday. "These are great times," my friend Will noted, "for those who still have any money left to invest." It is out of lack of knowledge, rather than interest, that Roving Storm has been silent during the last few turbulent weeks. The extent of my usefulness on the bailout and its aftermath was limited to explaining the irrational votes of Congressmen to bewildered Wall Street friends who couldn't believe that the Republican leadership was willing to play politics with the entire international finance system. "Break out the vodka," Will added. "And look at the bright side. Things are going to get much, much worse." The wheels have completely come off, and no one really seems sure what's going on anymore.

At least not in the economic world. The political world makes a lot more sense. The message-disciplined, well-funded, enthusiastic campaign for change seems to be slowly pulling away from an erratic, feuding campaign based on appealing to Americans' lowest common denominator through lies and fear. At another time, perhaps even a month ago, the tactics of the McCain campaign would have induced me to rage (see my Joe Lieberman rant). But at this late stage of the game, Obama has revealed himself the consummate cool hand at the tiller that McCain said we should be looking for in a president. He showed in the debate that he understood America's problems, and he was already hard at work trying to come up with solutions requiring shared sacrifice for a shared purpose. At this point the worst thing Obama could do is get dragged down to the mud, especially since his campaign has lasted 20 months without needing to. It is unrealistic to expect all of his supporters to remain as calm while Sarah Palin incites rabid conservatives to mob violence against him, but I'll try my best. Starting November 5th, after all, the serious business of unifying a broken country begins.

"So don't call me part of the Washington elite, because I come from the absolute worst place on earth."

If nothing else, the wild last few weeks have brought out the best in our nation's bards. Jon Stewart, particularly his coverage of McCain (who he once publicly admired) and Congress during the bail-out crisis, is doing his finest work in years, albeit with a darker hue than usual. He is a man badly in need of a vacation. Saturday Night Live, which somehow mis-lampooned the entire Bush years, has hit its groove again. These two clips are the must-sees:

First, the Vice-Presidential Debate. Tina Fey has deservingly won tremendous props for her Sarah Palin, but the fellow playing, Joe Biden, Jason Sudeikis, is similarly hilarious. Maybe the best SNL skit of this century.

http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/vp-debate-open-palin-biden/727421/

Second, watch the incredible Darrell Hammond (of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jesse Jackson fame) as John McCain, challenging Obama (Fred Armisen) to suspend his campaign and engage in a series of pie-eating contests across America.

http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/presidential-debate/704121/

Rolling Stone's vicious unveiling of the real John McCain showed that the magazine can still be politically relevant, outside, of course, the continually brilliant work of Matt Taibbi. Taibbi's transparent power grab to assume the New Hunter S. Thompson mantle led to an uneven debut, Spanking the Donkey, but he has come into his own considerably with his 2006 work, Smells Like Dead Elephants, and his new book, The Great Derangement. He certainly has the Gonzo sense of tortured desperation down pat; observe the following passage from his recent article on Ms. Palin:

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power. Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV – and this country is going to eat her up, cheering every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

I thought it would be interest to dig up some vintage Hunter, god knows he would have something to say right now. In the interest of parallelism, I found this passage about Nixon's VP, Spiro Agnew, taken from Hunter's not so kind eulogy for Richard Nixon:

Not even Spiro Agnew was that dumb. He was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon's vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.

Unlike Nixon, Agnew didn't argue. He quit his job and fled in the night to Baltimore, where he appeared the next morning in U.S. District Court, which allowed him to stay out of prison for bribery and extortion in exchange for a guilty (no contest) plea on income-tax evasion. After that he became a major celebrity and played golf and tried to get a Coors distributorship. He never spoke to Nixon again and was an unwelcome guest at the funeral. They called him Rude, but he went anyway. It was one of those Biological Imperatives, like salmon swimming up waterfalls to spawn before they die. He knew he was scum, but it didn't bother him.

Agnew was the Joey Buttafuoco of the Nixon administration, and Hoover was its Caligula. They were brutal, brain-damaged degenerates worse than any hit man out of The Godfather, yet they were the men Richard Nixon trusted most. Together they defined his Presidency.

It would be easy to forget and forgive Henry Kissinger of his crimes, just as he forgave Nixon. Yes, we could do that--but it would be wrong. Kissinger is a slippery little devil, a world-class hustler with a thick German accent and a very keen eye for weak spots at the top of the power structure, Nixon was one of these, and Super K exploited him mercilessly, all the way to the end.

Kissinger made the Gang of Four complete: Agnew, Hoover, Kissinger and Nixon. A group photo of these perverts would say all we need to know about the Age of Nixon.

There are two key differences between Taibbi and Thompson. First, Taibbi may be as skilled a writer as Thompson was, or at least has the potential to be, but whereas Hunter could effortlessly inject himself into a story as a thrilling main character madman, Taibbi the Person comes off as plain and cold, his boring fa├žade perhaps the reason he was able to blend into John Hagee's congregation, a truly terrifying chapter of his most recent book. The second point is related- whereas Thompson also used titled like "Songs of the Doomed" and "Fear and Loathing", his despair was never permanent. For all his despondency about Nixon, he saw a ray of light in Jimmy Carter, who he helped launched to the national spotlight in "Jimmy Carter and the Great Leap of Faith." Taibbi, in contrast, considers Obama a less destructive empty suit. Thompson could get depressed as hell about the political state of affairs in America, but he would still get amped for the Sunday football game, and his constant adventures in alcohol and drugs were rooted in his prankish upbringing in the Ken Kesey-era counter culture. Taibbi, to cite a phrase, hardly seems like the kind of person you'd like to have a beer with. Hopefully he'll lighten up a little when the Age of Change begins.

A Farewell to William Shea Stadium…

This was not a Mets team that deserved to make the playoffs. Their bullpen was the laughing stock of the league, and there were no tears in Mudville when Scott Schoenweiss gave up the season-ending home-run (except from Schoenweiss, later found weeping by his locker), only an avalanche of boos from the stadium faithful that did not end until the game had long ended, and the Shea Stadium farewell ceremony was well underway. To be clear, to make the playoffs the Mets only needed to win two out of three games at home against a dismal Florida team that my roommate ran into wasted and in costume on the subway late before the last game of the series. The only thing that could stop the booing was a tribute to the 1986 World Series-winning team, the only Mets champions in the last 39 years. Hopefully the impressive young core of the team- Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, John Maine and Johan Santana- can leave the ghosts of Shea behind as they head to their new taxpayer funded stadium.

Though I shed no tears for the hapless 2008 Mets, my heart does grieve a little for the loss of Shea, the stadium that anchored my baseball fandom for so long. Few know that the stadium was named for the lawyer who brokered the deal bringing National League baseball to New York. Romantic a story it is not, but it's better than "Citi Field." My dad took me to my first Shea game sixteen years ago. He knew nothing about baseball, and groaned with exasperation every time the scoreboard flashed "Let's Make Some Noise!!" "You can't get any peace here," he'd mutter. He was a dignified-looking man, and when we accidentally wandered into the field-level seating area behind home plate, the security people didn't even ask to see our tickets. It was from that vantage point that I watched the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0 in 13 innings, when pinch-hitter Daryl Boston was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, forcing in the winning run. It remains to this day the oddest conclusion to a baseball game I've ever seen.

King Bloomberg Seeks Third Term to Speculate About Future Run for Higher Office…

Much has already been written about Mayor Mike's quest for a third term as mayor. For a well-written and even-handed coverage by someone who understands New York City politics to the core, check out the articles from Parks Commissioner Henry Stern at NYCivic.org, specifically, "Let the Voters Decide" and "Keep Us Employed."

I share Starquest's disdain for Bloomberg's tactic to use a pliant City Council, full of term-limited members themselves, including 8 members only in office because their own relatives were term-limited. It's bad for democracy to have one-party towns, but it's far worse to have one-family districts and counties. Bloomberg's desire for a third term has been driven largely by vanity and a growing appetite for the power he now realizes comes with politics. Many business-types frown upon politics as provincial, even irrelevant in the face the power of the markets. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, was shunned by his family after he forwent his lucrative options to enter into the dirty world of local New York politics.

Bloomberg likely felt this way until 2001. He now recognizes that having yourself identified as "Hizzoner" in newspaper headlines on a daily basis is way cooler than an occasional byline on how much money your company is worth. This obsession with glamour has been distracting the mayor for some time now. His flirtations with running for president loomed over local news, as well as flirtations with running for governor now, or in 2010. Which is not to say he has been a bad mayor; I'd probably rate him a B plus, noting that any mayor who can prevent New York from descending into madness and chaos deserves at least a B. His administration has been capable on bread and butter issues like crime and education. The impending budget doom is not his fault, though frankly my question is this:

If Bloomberg is so brilliant that we need to rewrite the law to let him serve again, overturning a referendum passed only 12 years ago, why wasn't he brilliant enough to see this crisis coming, or do anything about it now, or be able to do something about it in the remaining 15 months he has in office?

Doing anything constructive in the wake of an international fiscal crisis is a tall order, I know, but what I don't understand is how someone with past, present and immediate future control of a disastrous situation has earned the right to keep being in charge of that disastrous situation. Additionally, why is he the only person who can lead us in these times? Despite the talk of a weak 2009 mayoral field, upon inspection the field looks about average- the leading contenders are the City Council Speaker, a Borough President, a Congressman, and the Comptroller.

Though the Comptroller position has not traditionally been a successful electoral stepping stone, this might be the year for two reasons. First, Bill Thompson, who has earned good marks through his two terms, has a job primarily focused on fiscal oversight. Given that the next Mayor will sadly have a job mostly consisting of making a series of incisive budget cuts, we need someone who can do this carefully, without seriously lowering the quality of life for middle class or poor New Yorkers. Second, Thompson is an African-American, and in New York's tribal political scene, that will at the very least give him a shot at winning, depending on how charismatic he is in expanding his base.

Incidentally, if Bill Thompson is elected Mayor, come November of 2009, citizens of New York City will proudly be under the leadership of a black Mayor, Governor and President. Crazy how things move in the Age of Change.

Notes on the State of Virginia…

Our crew has road-tripped to Virginia for two out of the last three weekends. Virginia is the ideal destination, going on offense in Republican country, but within striking distance of the D.C nightlife and friends.

The Democrats have not won an open or Republican-held Senate in a former Confederate state since John Edwards won his North Carolina seat in 1998. The solidity of the Southern voting bloc, which empowered the Democratic party for decades, has now done the same for Republicans. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and voti, he famously sighed, "We have lost the South for a generation." It's been a little longer, but those days are finally over. Virginia has not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate since LBJ, and Loudon County, the swing county where we were out knocking on doors, hasn't voted Democratic since then either. But change is on the way.

When LBJ pushed the Voting Rights Act through Congress in 1965, enfranchising black voters and giving teeth to the 15th amendment, passed nearly a century earlier, Mississippi Senator John Stennis balled like a baby on the floor of the Senate. In southern Mississippi they have a space center named after the last Democrat to ever hold the position of Senator in Mississippi. Now, change is on the way. Former governor Ronnie Musgrove is running neck and neck with incumbent Roger Wicker, who was appointed by Governor Haley "Now, Guillermo, we're not gonna talk to the President about microcosms" Barbour to replace Trent Lott, who retired a year after re-election to take a lucrative lobbying position. If you are looking to donate your last $25, forget the Obama campaign, give it to Musgrove, and his band of brothers, Rick Noriega and Jim Martin.

Lt. Col. Noriega, a decorated soldier in Vietnam, commander in Afghanistan, and director of Houston's post-Katrina operation, is becoming a tough opponent for the Texas Senate seat held by top Bush cheerleader John Cornyn. In Georgia, Republican Saxby Chambliss, who six years ago won his seat with ads comparing Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, to Saddam and Osama, is only up a few points against a progressive Democrat named Jim Martin. Add Kay Hagan's dismantling of Liddy Dole in North Carolina and Obama's numbers in Florida and North Carolina, and suddenly great reign of the southern strategy, founded by Goldwater, secured by Nixon, and used to create a Republican safe zone for decades, is completely unraveling.

But back to Virginia. For the second time, we canvassed Loudon County. Even after six years of steady canvassing, I've always treated the undecided voter as something of a mythical creature. But this weekend I sensed the reality of the undecideds of Loudon County- these were people who had always voted Republican. Now they knew in their hearts that they should vote for Obama- they wanted to, their neighbors and family were going to, and the Republicans just flat didn't deserve their votes or share their values anymore. But change is not easy. And I will grant them time to think it over. I can't dream of the day I'd vote a Republican for president, and I have to respect the leap of faith they are making right now, even in just spending time in the undecided camp. And when they do pull that lever for the Democratic Party, the man we'll have to thank most of all is Mark Warner, who single-handedly rebranded Democrats in the state of Virginia. He is now up 23 in his Senate race, and we will welcome him to that hallowed hall come January.

We knocked on hundreds of houses this weekend, and returned to New York exhausted and satisfied. Driving by the lights of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, I turned to the backseat and wondered aloud, "How great this will it be when you know the Obama family is behind those gates." Peace, hope and justice will be home in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68KLZCVFDQI

Later I read Time Magazine's Karen Tumulty recount her trip to the Republican headquarters, which included a volunteer prep session led by state GOP Chairman Jeffrey Frederick explaining the talking point linking Obama and Osama bin Laden: "Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon," he said. "That is scary." Indeed. I think he's just terrified to be the state GOP Chairman during the three years that the Virginia GOP lost a governor's race, both their Republican senators, and their ability to keep Virginia red in a presidential election.


"No more cigarettes, no more having sex, no more drinking till you fall on the floor…"

I returned from Virginia weary, but the show raged on. Last night it took us across the river to Hoboken. As we walked block after block away from the Path Train, it felt like a weird death march into Jersey, but it was worth it to see one of the great new bands of the Age of Change, Titus Andronicus, a band with a Shakespearian name that rocks like the Clash and other heroes of late 70s garage punk. You can check out their myspace site here:

http://www.myspace.com/titusandronicus

They play fast and hard and loud and with the angst of a bleak future, with song titles like "No Future", and repeating choruses of "your life is over!" What makes them not trite is that this dark vision of the road ahead seems to actually bother them, torture them, even make them furious. Plus they scored points with me for calling the first track on their album, "Fear and Loathing in Mahweh." "Fear and Loathing" is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, but if it's a reference to growing up in Jersey, I can see it.

Being good New Jersey boys (and infallibly polite with family members in the audience), they covered the Boss, going with a bruising rendition of "Badlands." You can tell a lot about a band by who they cover, and the choice was fitting for the band whose "Airing of Grievances" is the most exciting debut rock album to come out of New Jersey since "Greetings from Ashbury Park." New Yorkers can next see them in New York on November 9th, at Santos Party House, and others can check their touring schedule off their myspace page.

…..

Man, that is all for now. This week will feature a canvassing trip to New Hampshire, where the motto is "Live Free or Die," the leaves are in full autumn plume, and the great Senator's lead is too close for comfort. It will be my last canvassing trip of the 2008 Election Season. On Monday, October 20th, I will undergo reconstructive knee surgery for the ACL I tore at the end of this summer. It will keep me in bed for a week at least, but my goal is to be back for Election Day for some voter protection


As our friends at Defiance Ohio would say, "This time, this year, is bigger than us, it goes on and on after this town has taken it all out of us…"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYcQobeySN4

Have a good night, and keep living the dream. Ask not for whom the bell curves, it curves for thee...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Katie Baron on Sarah Palin (As Hot As It Sounds)

Sarah Palin

By Katie Baron

What’s the difference between a hockey mom and the second in command to be leader of the free world? I can tell you for damn sure, it’s more than lipstick.

I consider myself more of a pop culture critic than a political aficionado, so I’ll stick to what I know. If I didn’t hate Sarah Palin so much, I would love her. In fact, I love to hate her. She has emerged onto the political scene as a true star. “Babies, Lies & Scandal”, that was the headline on the cover Us Weekly Magazine. Celebrity gossip junkies like myself live for this stuff-- scandal, scandal, scandal-- it’s so irresistible! The whole can’t-turn-your-head-away-from-the-car-wreck phenomenon that leads the public to watch Amy Winehouse’s drug use spiral out of control or Britney Spears’ demise into mental illness fuels much of the interest into Sarah Palin. Bristol Palin is the GOP’s very own Jamie Lynn Spears! How better to draw attention to a lackluster campaign than bringing it to the forefront of the pop culture dialog? The Republicans can no longer criticize Barack Obama for being the biggest celebrity there is. I personally have a little more faith in the Republican Party than to believe that Sarah Palin wasn’t properly vetted. I wouldn’t be surprised if the McCain camp was telling the truth when they said they knew of Bristol’s pregnancy before they chose Palin. Under investigation for trying to get her ex-brother-in-law (a violent drunk who tested a taser on his step-son) fired? Come on, how could they have missed that? By adding to the ticket this no name Governor from Alaska, a state with a population less than one-third that of Brooklyn, the Republicans have inserted themselves into the minds of more Americans by appealing to the lowest common denominator among us. It’s the same reason reality TV dominates programming and radio stations all play the same shitty songs. We are an over-mediated society and Sarah Palin is easy on the eyes.

In the words of Peggy Noonan, speech writer for Ronald Regan, the Republicans have gone for this narrative bullshit- whether Noonan is right in saying that it doesn’t work for the GOP is yet to be seen. The choice of her as John McCain’s running mate says so much about what is so wrong with Americans today. She epitomizes the “candidate that you’d most like to sit down and have a beer with” factor. Sarah Palin: Mother. Moosehunter Maverick. This video put out by the RNC pretty much sums it up. With a tune highly reminiscent of the theme song from the prime time soap opera Dallas playing in the background, the Republicans paint a picture of a small town girl who rose through the ranks. From the PTA, to the City Council, to the Mayor’s Office, to the Governor’s Mansion, and all this while popping out FIVE children. The McCain camp definitely went “all-in” with this one, attempting to appeal to disaffected Hillary supporters and their conservative base at the same time. Sarah Palin resonates.

Never mind the facts. Never mind the fact that she took a $600,000 loss for the state of Alaska by “putting that corporate jet on eBay.” Never mind the fact that she straight up lied about her stance on the Bridge to Nowhere and stance on earmarks. Never mind the fact that she didn’t have a passport until 2007. Never mind the fact that being in close proximity to Russia doesn’t actually give you ANY foreign policy experience. Never mind the fact that she thinks global warming is not caused by humans. Never mind the fact that thinks abortion should be illegal, even in cases of rape and incest. Never mind the fact that she is such a poor decision maker she changed colleges six times, often because she didn’t like the weather.

In 1984 Barack Obama had graduated from Columbia and was taking on his first job as a research associate at Business International Corporation. That same year Sarah Palin was coming in runner-up at the Miss Alaska Pageant! From a McCain camp whose biggest knock against Obama was his lack of experience and over-hyped celebrity status, this choice of Sarah Palin has proven that the GOP has subscribed to the philosophy that if you dominate the public discourse and win over the hearts of Americans the rest will follow. After all, whatever it is that the VP does all day wouldn’t we have fun watching Sarah Palin do it?







A Way Worse Than Michelle Quote

"No one knows what war is like other than my family. Period."

-- Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain, on the Today Show.

Let's see if the media treats this like a misstatement, or if it spends the rest of the campaign harping on it like it has ever since Michelle's 'proud of my country' comment.

Denver Dispatch, Part 2

Wednesday, from the DNC...

I’m John Kerry, and I’m Reporting for Breakfast!

Wednesday morning was the toughest of times, the point in the Big Weekend where only the indomitable nature of the human spirit allows you to carry on after your body says no. Cursing myself as I narrowly missed multiple buses, I rushed as fast as my gimpy legs could carry me to the Tent. The day’s main attraction was T. Boone Pickens, an old deuschebag, a right-wing Texas billionaire oil man. He was sharing the Big Tent stage with Sierra Club Executive director Carl Pope and Center for American Progress (moderate left) founder, John Podesta. Pickens is long-time oil and gas speculator who has made literally billion dollars in the oil industry. He played a big role in the Swift Boats debacle, and has been a big financial backer of true right-wing idiots like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who thinks global warming is “a giant hoax.” Podesta and Pope seemed in utter awe that they were sharing a stage with an old foe like Pickens. Pope even made the alliterative and probably correct comment that, “You know our politics is broken when Podesta, Pope and Pickens agree on something, and it’s still not getting done.” Pickens seemed unfazed, even annoyed. He knows these stooges on stage with him will last as long as he needs them, at which point he’ll eat them alive.

You see, Pickens has this thing he calls “the Pickens plan.” Though couched in a lot of talk about wind energy and solar energy, where Pickens perhaps believes he can make his next billion dollars, what the plan actually amounts to is putting Pickens in charge of our country’s energy policy. Picking a convenient time to go ‘non-partisan’, Pickens insists he has met with both Obama and McCain, and is willing to be appointed energy czar no matter who is elected president. How thoughtful! A snake in the grass is a snake in the grass. I’ll trust this septuagenarian oil mogul with our renewable energy policy like I’ll trust Paul Wolfowitz with running Dennis Kucinich’s Department of Peace or Ricky Martin with getting Pink Floyd back together.

I was dithering on the stairs a little later when I heard the booming voice of Dan Rather coming from the upstairs stage. Rather was engaging in the most typical mainstream media self-flagellation. The crowd hissed as Rather went through the mainstream media’s complete failure to focus on substantive stories, its subservience to the Bush administration in the lead-up to the War, its lack of fortitude in the face of “access-restriction” threats. Indeed, today’s mainstream journalists are complete wusses and worthless lemmings at the very least. The crowd gave Rather no credit for his periodic, “I do no except myself from this statement.” After all, the damage was done, and giving self-loathing talks on the academic cocktail circuit won’t repair it. One novel reason (at least to me) Rather gave for the media collapsing on itself was the diversified holdings of major media companies, which cause them to act profitably with respect to the media channel, which but also answer to a larger company that doesn’t really care about its news content at all. These mega companies leave ownership too diffused for someone like Anchor Rather to have an individual he can point to as “running CBS.” It was sad, sad but boring. I agreed to meet Paul on the street.

MSNBC was doing its best to make its “live studio” sitting in the middle of nowhere, a mile from the Convention, interesting. As it turned out, the Roll Call vote was going down, so we stayed to watch on the big screen. My friends, let me tell you something. I’ve worked on two presidential campaigns, and run meetings with Robert’s Rules of Order for two years as Student Body President, but the Roll Call vote was one of the strangest procedural events I’ve ever witnessed. First of all, each state gives its “Chamber of Commerce” pitch:

“The great state of New Jersey, home of Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, with its gorgeous beaches and green mountains (??), home of our great Senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg…” This goes on for a maximum of 45 seconds, though that self-promotional rule is constantly violated. At the end of the pitch, the state declares, “the State of New Jersey proudly casts its 126 delegates for the next president of the United States, Barack Obama!” Now imagine that, for every state, in alphabetical order. And Guam. At one point, California passed. No one was sure why. Then Illinois passed. Then, for the grand finale, New Mexico deferred to Illinois, so that Mayor Daley could take the mic and defer to New York, where the delegation marched into the room, with Hillary leading the way. I have to admit welling up in pride a little bit- we have a damn fine delegation: Governor Paterson, Attorney General Cuomo, the dean, Congressman Rangel, Senator Schumer…these guys aren’t perfect, but they are tough as nails, and I’m happy they’re in office to stand up for our interests. Somehow Shelley Silver ended up with the mic though, and as he nasally crooned for Hillary, Chris Matthews interrupted to observe ‘how amazing it was that we all have such different accents in America.’ Hillary then motioned to suspend the rules and make Obama the nominee, cool pageantry, if not rendering the whole exercise something of a waste of time.

We were about to walk away when I spotted a costumed representative of Nos Energy Drink. It was like Red Bull, but grosser, and I had discovered it on my last trip to Canada. You don’t get your nickname in a can every day, and I’ve become a volunteer endorser of the product. Perhaps sensing this, the Nos representative handed me a few cans, and asked if I could pose for a picture holding them. Clint, ever the thorough journalist, lined up to take one as well. Then a random dude, sensing that this was a picture worth taking, lined up his camera too. This caught the attention of random journalists, not wanting to miss out on the Big Photo, and the bored crowd, who by this assumed the recipient of all this attention must be celebrity. I was wearing a silver shirt, after all.

Lesson learned. Paul and I made a pact that next Convention we are bringing a video camera and taking turns pretending to follow the other one around. Washington has always been called “Hollywood for ugly people”, and in this environment, it’s pretty easy to convince people you’re important just by acting like it- there’s no People Magazine to verify who’s who in politics.

After the Roll Call, I met up with Brett, who had also acquired a free bike, and was casually following a massive anti-war protest, taking pictures. The protest had been declared by Rage Against the Machine, who were holding a concert several miles from the convention. The band, forming an intimidating alliance with Iraq Veterans Against the War, descended on downtown D.C, with an army of anarchists, hippies and Code Pink demonstrators in tow. It was an impressive show, and reminded me of the old days past. Outgrowing the spirit of the movement is one thing, but the chants you just grow sick of. There’s only so many times you can yell “Who’s streets? Our streets!” into a megaphone. Sally said her least favorite is the inane, “If the people are united, they will never be divided.” It’s largely incorrect, and it doesn’t even rhyme. My favorite was always “money for schools, not for war.” Keep it simple and on message. In my attempt to meet up with Brett during this circus I had found an embankment near a bank, and yelled, “I’m on the grassy knoll!” over the phone several times before I realized that might send the wrong message to the hundreds of cops standing near me.

All the energy drinks in the world couldn’t help me get through Evan Bayh’s speech, but sleep was impossible, as the loud drone of speakers introducing speakers introducing speakers wore on and on. Markos Moulitsas gave me a supportive high five when he saw I was fading- by the way, the DailyKos founder is one of the nicest famous people I’ve ever met, straight up. At this point the line-up for National Security Night came into focus. Evan Bayh. Jack Reed. John Kerry. Bill Clinton. Finally, Joe Biden. Apparently, in the Democratic Party, as in the rest of America, “having national security credentials” is just another phrase for being a bellicose old white man.

John Kerry was speeching like it was 1971, thundering, “patriotism is not love of power, it is love of country” before delving into a great flip-flopping routine. Flip-flopping, of course, is the dirty word Republicans came up with to describe John Kerry’s ability to change his mind when the circumstances around a question evolved. In contrast, Stephen Colbert notes, “George Bush believes the same thing on Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.”

Nevertheless, flip-flopping has been with us ever since, and John Kerry was more than happy to lay into the many, many occasions in which John McCain has changed his positions (sucks to have the paper trail of a longtime Senator, doesn’t it?). Kerry took McCain for violating his own campaign finance reform bill- “Talk about being for it before he was against it!” Kerry ended, “Before he ever debates Barrack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate he started against himself!” In 2010, after 26 years as an understudy, Kerry will finally become the Senior Senator from Massachusetts.

Next up, Bill Clinton. He may have been an SOB this primary season , but it’s hard not to get teary-eyed when Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow blasts out the speakers and President Bubba takes the stage to a sea of flags. The applause was epic, second only to Obama’s, and unable to talk over the wild cheers, Bill smiled, put his head down and muttered, “God I love this” into the microphone. Bill’s message that night was simple:

1. Rebuild the American Dream

2. Restore American Leadership in the world

“The world has always been more impressed by our power of example than the example of our power,” he preached. So simple: American can do better. After eight years, who would you rather trust to rebuild the American dream and restore American leadership in the world? A war-monger who admits to not understanding the economy, or a post-partisan leader who thinks in 21st century terms

“They actually want us to reward them for the last 8 years by giving them four more years,” Clinton continued. “Let’s send them a simple message: thanks, but no thanks, this time the third time is not the charm.” Having once again simply thrown down the Democratic Party’s core principles and why we must support Senator Obama, Bill ended with his classic line, “America Must Always Be a Place Called Hope.”

Closing out the night, even Joe Biden, who I’d always kind of regarded as kind of a tool, was searing with emotion, reminding people of the values his parents taught him, “that everyone is equal to you, and you are equal to everyone.” It seemed an odd line, almost socialistic. Biden also has a shelf-life at which point you just want him to stop talking, but near the end of his speech he nailed this line:

“In all of my years in the Senate, Washington has never seen so many people get knocked down, and do so little to help them up.” After the speeches we all met up at a dive bar and took in the events of the day. A lady offered us Joe Biden paraphernalia, including the big red signs you wave on a stick. I accepted. Joe is on the Moving Train now, and we’re going to ride this train together to the very end.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Denver Dispatches, Part 1

“If John McCain is the answer, the question must be ridiculous.”

-New York Governor David Paterson

It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago the Denver madness was only just underway. How the air has clouded and the good memories faded from what will go down as one of the most seamlessly executed political conventions in history. These days the daily stress of seeing the media and populace fawn over a book-burning creationist and watching Gallup release preposterous poll numbers has me retreating into the pleasant world of sports (it’s better for you than whiskey).

Last night, in a stadium for the first time since Invesco, I joined another packed crowd in cheering on a sweet rock star (Johan Santana) shut down the forces of evil (the Philadelphia Phillies) with the help of his own bearded fat man (Carlos Delgado). Happy times are here again in Shea. Some say the stadium is hideous, but it was the stadium that raised me. I’ll miss it, especially knowing that it’ll end up costing New York City taxpayers nearly a billion dollars to provide the Mets and Yankees subsidies for their new stadiums.

Tonight Roger Federer also redeemed his season, winning his fifth consecutive U.S Open title, against his fifth finals opponent in as many years. Watching him play induces jaw-dropping awe constantly. May he wear that headband and remain the classy champion of tennis for another two or three years. But back to politics, and not fury-induced rants about people I loathe, but fond recollections of living the dream in Obamaville Central, where hope goes to hang out.


A Man Without A Laptop

Denver was the perfect host city, big enough to put on a full scale carnival in its downtown, but also small enough that the whole city was drenched in Convention, unlike Boston or New York, where conventions seem more like inconveniences than celebrations. The sun was shining, the band was playing, the free stuff was flowing. But not all was well in Obamaville when I walked glumly into the Big Tent on Tuesday morning.

My new buddy from the National Democratic Institute saw me first. Fresh off a tour of showing African dignitaries “how democracy works”, he needled me, “The Kennedy-Minh ticket didn’t work out, did it?”

“You’re damn right it didn’t. Supporting the ticket got me kicked out of at least two places.”

“That’s to be expected.”

“Of course it was. The country wasn’t ready for Kennedy, and I suppose they’ll never be ready for Minh. But I have bigger issues now, Greg. I’ve gotta find my laptop.”

“Shit man, it’s tough to blog with a laptop.”

“I know, but worst comes to worst I’m going old-school style- by hand!” The bloggers sitting by Greg looked unimpressed as I whipped out a crumpled little notebook. Greg shook his head, and as did the rest.

“Kennedy-Minh… That was some funny stuff. Pretty weird though…”


It was around two in the morning Monday night when I had found myself alone on a bus heading downtown, away from the action. Worse than that, I realized I no longer had the laptop I had started the night with. Still hobbling somewhat from my torn ACL, I scrambled from the bus towards the mall, where Paul was swearing at me for leaving him behind.

“We’ve gotta find my laptop man!”

“Where did you leave it?” My mind raced. I couldn’t recall having it for hours. The best plan was probably to retrace my steps. “Let’s go back to the bar.”

“You want to go back in? You must be joking?”

“I was just wondering if I could go in real quick to look for something I left back there.” “Hell, no. After that stunt you pulled…”

Our final destination had been some lame bar on 16th street. The bouncer was a tall blond punk, with a perfectly trimmed blond Mohawk. It wasn’t clear what decade he was supposed to be in. Paul and I had settled in with some locals, sipping on cans we had smuggled over from the Big Tent. Out of nowhere, the bouncer snuck up on me, grabbed my can and poured it out into the trash. No one at the table really knew what was happening, and even I was surprised when he crushed the can, slammed it in front of my face and snarled, “Why don’t you recycle that, bitch?”

Having seen this movie before, I calmly nodded, went to the bar, ordered something on tap, and carried on with my conversation. On our way out though, I let him have it: “You call yourself a punk! Is that what punks do? Going around crushing people’s beer cans? Is that what punks do? Hanging out in trendy bars with their fake Mohawks and designer clothes?! You’re not a punk, you’re a joke, and your bar is a joke…”

As the Disposable Heroes sing, “I’m not so proud, but I’d do it again.”

No sight of the laptop. On the way out I patted him on the back. “I’m sorry about earlier, man. No hard feelings.” He sighed.

“No worries, man. Things can get crazy, I understand.” Having made peace with the bouncer (who was still a suspect for theft as far as I was concerned), we headed to our previous destination, the Slate party.

Slate, or Salon.com, the difference was never really clear to me, had held some sort of book party on the top floor of a giant book store. My only solid memory of the party was Clint constantly reminding me and Paul, “Don’t fuck this up for me, I really want to work here.” As far as I know, I was on my best behavior- gin and tonic goes well with an endless sea of books to stare at absent-mindedly while munching on celery and dip. Paul wasn’t as sure, muttering, “I think I told Matt Cooper he was a loser, and he should have stayed in jail.”

If convincing the security guard to let us into the book store at the three in the morning (laptop wasn’t there) was a challenge, we knew the Mother Jones hotel party was out of the question. As I retreated home for the night, tail very much between my legs, a thought occurred to me. No one had ever seen me carrying the laptop since Laughing Liberally.

Hours before, after crashing a venture capitalist party (to aplomb and success, I might add) Clint and I had snuck Paul in to the Big Tent, and were enjoying the last hours of the free beer service. Just as we were getting feisty, however, they booted us up to the top floor, where they were still serving canned beer and forcing people to watch Laughing Liberally. Now I’ll doff my hat to the great Mr. Justin Krebs, founder of Drinking Liberally. It is a great organization that started with a simple premise during the low point of the Bush years- provide liberals a place to get together and drink every week. It has since expanded enormously as a franchise, to hundreds of cities and off-shoots, like Reading and Eating Liberally. But Laughing Liberally has never been in its strong suit. They were less than pleased when we took a couple Kennedy signs we had found and started chanting “Kennedy-Minh for President!” After accosting a few hapless audience members, who weren’t really sure if we were part of the show, for not supporting Ho Chi Minh, we were eventually booted out by Justin. We took off for the Mother Jones hotel room, and the rest is history. I was crushed the next morning to find that my laptop was not at the site of the Laughing Liberally Massacre. Pen and paper it would be.

The Tent was slow and hot that morning. Some news about rednecks trying to assassinate Obama being pulled over for driving around drunk and on meth with guns in the car. One of them was a neo-Nazi named Adolph, who sprained his ankle jumping out of a sixth-floor hotel window (super race?). As someone whose actually met George Bush, there’s no chance four meth-heads are gonna get within 100 yards of a presidential nominee, and even if they did, they’d get their heads blown to pieces by machine guns before they could pull their own triggers.

Having spent most of Monday watching a series of panels, this morning I decided to explore the Big Tent and its companion Colorado Alliance for Sustainability building. The scene was part library, part sports bar, part … Well the last part was just unique.

At any given time there were 100 or so bloggers at their laptops, some typing away, other lazily lounging on gmail, sipping on beer or munching on tacos. The dull noise from the panel being broadcasted or the afternoon Convention banter rose faintly above the humming of industrial fans and chatter about sharing electrical outlets. Woodstock it was not, but at least it was a place to call home.

“Blogger” is an ugly word, like “mold.” It’s one of those things I cringe at being called, like “hipster.” As it was, the Big Tent was crawling with video-journalists (Vloggers?) making short pieces about bloggers, and rather than risk the alienation of my Tent-mates, I gave several interviews on the impact of blogging, etc.

I will say this about bloggers though:

They are not all white young men living at home in their parents’ basements. While statistics have long shown this to be quite obvious, mainstream journalists, perhaps out of jealousy and fear, continue this idiotic characterization of the blogger movement. In the Big Tent, which was absolute blogger central, males outnumbered females by the same amount you’d expect in any political crowd (Washington staffers, campaign workers, D.C bar scene), at about 60-40. Though the group skewed white, it felt pretty damn eclectic, especially when assessed by age.

“They think we’re space aliens,” a middle-aged woman lamented to me. I know a thing or two about space aliens- I was accused of housing one in 2002- but the lady was right. Bloggers fit no stereotype; they are the most eclectically banal slice of America you could put under one tent roof.

“So what does one do in Denver during the Convention,” asked Paul. “I mean, besides go to Convention events.” The streets answered for me: Get Free Stuff. Within blocks we had been given free stickers, free tshirts, free condoms, free energy drinks. We were also getting delirious from the heat and fatigue- I thought I was hallucinating when I was almost run over by a series of chariots led by Captain Morgan and his pirate wenches.

“What more free stuff could they possibly give us?” Paul wondered aloud, just a middle aged man jumped out from behind the curb and yelled, “Who wants free bikes!” During the week of the Convention, there were about a dozen spots around Denver where you could pick up a bike for free, just showing your ID, on the condition that you return it to a drop-off location by 7pm. We biked around Denver living the dream.

At night I was back in the Big Tent to catch the speeches. Hillary was the main attraction, and as if to offer juxtaposition, an assembly of also-VP-rans were paraded out before her. Tim Kaine was mediocre, and his rantings in Spanish, cool as hell in person, seemed weird on television. Sebelius, my number one VP choice, delivered a hum-drum speech full of almost-Janos phrases like “saving the dream” and “to the stars through difficulty.” I much prefer “lying in the gutter, reaching for the stars” myself, although its prominence was far overshadowed during my Student Body President elections by the main slogan, “It’s hard to stop a moving train.” Sebelius did have one great line- “As we like to say in Kansas, ‘there’s no place like home.’” Or, as John McCain puts it, “There’s no place like home, or home, or home, or home or home….”

Former Mayor Pena quoted Congressman Barney Frank, calling government “the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” It’s a nice way to think about government, after both parties have demonized the whole concept.

Mark Warner was supposed to be the keynote, but he was so terrible that most people in the Tent stopped listening half-way through, and Fox News cut the speech off entirely to go back to discussing Bill Ayers.

Hillary Clinton, at her best when she has nothing to lose, noted, “It makes perfect sense that in a week George Bush and John McCain will be in the Twin Cities, because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart.” As it turned out John McCain did everything he could to keep George Bush out of the Twin Cities a week later, but that’s another story. There was definitely a buzz in the room that maybe it had been a bad idea after all not to make Hillary Vice-President, but there’s no need to dig through bad memories of days past to recall why that would have been a terrible idea, regardless of a good speech here and there.

After the speeches we went to a fancy hotel where I had been put on the list for a Moby party, and I was shocked when Margot and I actually got in. Not only was the scene wild and gorgeous, but there was free vodka and Sam Adams on the house, and I got a seat on a couch next to some rapper named Bazaar Land or something (it’s not Bizarre from D12). Fortuitously, Moby and his band began setting up right next to us. My knee was aching, and I leaned it on a speaker. This, again, fortuitously, gave a few people the impression that I was some sort of bouncer (I was wearing an army jacket and sunglasses indoors). A couple nervously approached me as Moby finalized his set-up. “Hey,” they asked meekly, “is it cool if we take a picture of Moby?” Realizing that I had become a de-facto bouncer, I gruffly replied, “Sure, but make it quick.” My status was set for the rest of the set.

Moby, by the way is a bit of a prick. At one point the music stopped so his female singer could shout, “Hey all of you shut the hell up! You can drink and talk to your friends any night, but how often do you get to listen to Moby?” The VIP crowd looked perplexed as she continued, “We’re not even gonna waste our time playing until you all quiet down.” But fully quiet down the young, drunk, excited crowd did not, and after a few minutes Moby and the crew begrudgingly continued their set. No worries, we were already scheming about after-parties.

Denver, unfortunately has the highest concentration of asshole bouncers between New York and Los Angeles (see: Monday night). After we failed to get into a party at a club using Congressman Clyburn’s name, a helpful staffer came out and clarified that we had actually been invited by State Senator Malloy, and that we were welcome. The big bouncer shook his head. “You said Clyburn. You can’t just go around saying whatever.” It made no sense. I was about to protest, but saw that Brett and Paul were already trying to get into the Arkansas Democrats party next door. The bouncers wouldn’t let them in either, but as the bouncer bumped Paul down the stairs, he led a fired up pack of Arkansas Democrats in a raucous chant of “Yes we can!” This eventually attracted the attention of a couple vans marked, ‘Sheriff’, and I retreated to a nearby jazz bar. Like second hand Beats we bopped our heads to the music in the only local bar not filled to the brim with lame delegates.

The drummer was not amused by our chants of “Yes we can,” interrupting the band. “God damn it man, yes we can- give me some fucking cash!” We laughed, tipped the band well, and soon we were in a cab home, stopping at a drive-through Burger King, living the dream, and halfway through our week in Denver.