I appreciate Joe Biden. I appreciate that what you see is what you get, that he doesn’t hide his grief over the death of his first wife and child while obviously adoring his current wife and family, and that he tears up when mentioning his recently passed 92-year old mother. I appreciate his understanding of the larger picture, his humanity and his enthusiasm. In short, he’s the kind of guy you really would want to have a beer with, and preferably, at a Boston pub where you could join him in singing Irish songs.
Oh, I know the downside: he’s a bit of a hawk, a career politician well connected to the money boys that run the Hill, and you never know what he’s going to blurt out. On the other hand, given the lack of candor these days, seems to me that Joe’s spontaneity is more like a refreshing peek into the reality behind the smoke and mirrors, surely a premium in this sterile landscape of carefully tended opinion. His latest episode made me laugh and laugh — the clumsy puppy snagging the nylons of the parson’s wife, metaphor for all things Sagittarian — which prompted me to look up his chart. Turns out Joe’s Sagittarius ascendant is conjunct my Sun, not much of a surprise. I know a fellow blurter when I hear one!
On a campaign swing through Virginia this week, Joe told a crowd about Romney’s desire to “unshackle” Wall Street, adding, with a snort, that given the chance, Romney’d have “y’all back in chains.” Watching that clip, I didn’t see the camera pan to expose upturned black faces. I didn’t hear offended outcry. I assumed — rightly, it turns out — that the faces would be white and brown, yellow and black and all shades in between. Biden was talking about financial inequity, the likes of which we have not experienced in more than a century. What the right insists was clueless Joe playing the ‘race card,’ I saw as clued-in Joe telling the truth about the plutocrats. My response was not a politically-correct gasp at yet another stumble, it was a decisive nod of agreement, and if you don’t think Wall Street wants you — no matter your color or demographic — in chains of financial servitude, laboring for the sweatshop-capitalism that feeds it, you’re brain dead.
And — oh dear — it appears that a good many of us still are brain dead, or are at least close. The Republican faithful seem almost suicidal in their embrace of policy that would eventually give us little folk all the rights and privileges of a 17th century vassal while turning back centuries of modernity. Their zealotry blindsides them. When I think of their devotion to their austere, repressive vision, I think of a deluded John Wilkes Booth, who, having decided to stop Lincoln from giving liberated slaves the vote, spent his last days on the run shocked and bewildered that his sacrifice was not welcomed by a grateful nation. What awaits us should the Romney/Ryan ticket succeed would ultimately please very few Americans, who are dependent on a moderating system of governance and are completely unprepared to shift entirely for themselves.
These faithful voters will probably not be turned in the remaining weeks, but it isn’t them I fret about. I read this week about four women in Wisconsin who voted for Obama last time but think perhaps they’ll give “the other guys a chance” this time. Really, ladies? I’m horrified! How is it possible that they’re that uninformed, not just about politics in this glaring cycle but about politics in general? And especially in Wisconsin, where it seems as though every wart and wrinkle on democracy’s ass is coming up for review. It appears that Orwell’s warning “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” was written not just for his time, but for ours as well.
I mourn the apparent IQ of some of my fellow citizens, although unlike some, I wouldn’t take away their vote. IQ isn’t measured in what we know, but rather in our ability to connect data in logical sequence to form context. In order to follow such a sequence, of course, we have to have real facts. Trouble is, in this extraordinary period in history it also appears that we must WANT to know them.
In logic’s world, 2 + 2 = 4, and if it doesn’t, then one of those 2s needs examination; not true, however, when truthiness prevails. 2 + 2 can equal just about anything with facts skewed and meanings reinterpreted. Still, some of us can sniff out what isn’t reasonable rather quickly. Others are waiting for someone to GIVE them their opinion, as happens daily on FOX News, and leads to a level of truthiness that has, literally, given us candidates who represent two different realities, jousting with one another over a breach nearly impossible to cross.
Post-gaffe, both John McCain and Sarah Palin have advised the administration to replace Joe with Hillary Clinton. Yes, of course, since they did so well in their own 2008 campaign, I’m sure Obama will take this advice seriously. How does that add up to make four? What candidate in their right mind would take election tips from their opponent? That was my second thought. My first was the one Snow White should have asked: What’s wrong with this apple?
Since we don’t have an active journalistic presence to help us make sense of all this, we need some good old common sense: what my great-grandpa called “horse sense.” Horses aren’t the brightest critter in the animal kingdom, so they say, but the cowpokes of yesteryear supremely valued their survival instincts, which is where the term originated. Equine reflexes are sharp. “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” probably saved more than one cowboy’s life, connecting the dots to a bad water source. A horse can hear the faint rattles of a sidewinder from far away, smell a storm in the making and — oh, yes — knock that poisoned apple right out of the Wicked Witch’s hand, stamping it into the mud. Horse sense: invaluable.
Connect the dots, gather the context. You have horse sense, for instance, if the fact that Monsanto contributed over four million bucks into a $25 million biotech/Big Ag campaign to defeat a food labeling bill in California causes you to suddenly wonder what’s in our (Franken) food they don’t want us to know about.
In addition, you’re using horse sense when you read that Wal-Mart has approved the sale of GMO corn products, and you decide to avoid the purchase of any maize-related products at WallyWorld (including tortillas,) warning all your friends, as well. Since we have no labeling to protect us, you might also quiz your grocer about the origin of their own corn products (and while you’re at it, ask about Franken-apples — a cut apple destined to never turn brown? Pffft!).
You’re learning how to connect the dots if you wonder what the Republican candidate is determined to hide when he refuses to share more than a minimal amount of personal tax information, and then sends his wife out to assure the country that combing through details of prior filings would only create a blitz of criticism (but just ask around, Mitt is a fine, decent, trustworthy man).
And given Mrs. Romney’s insistence that she has no idea what’s in that blind trust the couple has had since 2002, we might expect a credible candidate to send his wife out to meet the press armed with some answers or, barring that, a good defense. She didn’t have either, except – yes, yes – Mitt’s fine, decent, trustworthy, yadda (and wealthier than the last eight presidents COMBINED). Still, it takes hardly any common sense at all to realize that, while we no longer expect our First Ladies to be window-dressing, we also don’t expect them to be snotty: “We’ve given all you people need to know.” Mmmmmm — snotty.
Well, what can we expect from a woman whose horse gets a $77,000 tax credit, as pointed out by AlterNet, while we only get $1000 for our kid. The Romneys live in a different world, never doubt it. But if we wanted to snipe back, we might tell Ann to remind her hubby that if wanting more information on his Swiss bank account (amnesty, anyone? Anyone?) along with Cayman Island and Bermuda holdings is “small minded,” then he just called the majority of Americans snippy little shits. Not a good way to run a presidential campaign.
A little horse sense would tell us that while running an entire campaign on his business acumen, Mitt’s insistence that Obama stop questioning his business record and tax returns is worthy of a good horse laugh and little else. But the candidate of inappropriate chuckling and deer-in-the-headlight grins just can’t help himself, explained Brigham Young’s great great-granddaughter in a recent article, Mitt was born and bred to be an elite ninny, unprepared to endure confrontation or emote for any but his peers. And it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that accusing the Dems of running a campaign of “anger and hate” will earn Mitt a brilliant take-down by Jon Stewart (who played nice by using Ms. Palin as example; much worse is available daily at FOX News.)
Meanwhile, Mitt’s new running mate — the guy with the Eddie Munster hairline — didn’t give him the bump in the polls he was looking for. Infamous among the politically astute but relatively unknown to the public, Ryan’s policies are national suicide and everybody on the right except the Tea Baggers acknowledges that the less said about them, the better. That may mean the Romney campaign has just gotten even vaguer, if that’s possible. I keep hearing all the things Mitt will do on his first day in Neverland — quite a schedule, including his pledge that, “By the end of my second term, I make this commitment: We will have North American energy independence. We won’t have to buy oil from Venezuela and the Middle East.” The naïveté of that is simply stunning, both as a campaign promise and as an example of the mentality that drinks up such Kool Aid, but then, Republicans don’t do nuance (and the horse ain’t lapping it up, either.)
Last but not least, a little common sense would go a long way toward realizing how the vote is — once again — being manipulated by Republicans. On target, Jon Stewart cuts to the chase with a piece he calls Cock-Blocking The Vote, showing that the stringent voter ID laws passed in 37 states are not a response to “voter fraud,” given a recent study finding only 10 — alleged, not proven — incidents of fraudulent voting among 146 million voters in the last decade. The ID laws and voter purges that are running through Republican-held states like swamp fever will disenfranchise some 5 million or more American voters, and you can bet the majority of them are neither white nor wealthy. Given that this election is tight, with those in the know pointing to a handful of counties — not states, counties — as potential tie-breakers, this aggressive voter purge is a potential disaster for Obama. Every four years it happens, every four years we pretend it doesn’t. If that isn’t brain dead, what is?
Yes, Joe’s gaffe sucked up the oxygen and took attention from more serious debate this week, thanks to our “bread and circus” mentality, and no thanks to a press more given to ratings than to truth. You’d think with the country at serious cross-point on the political ideology that will thrust us, for good or ill, into the coming century, we’d want to have real discussions, but we don’t. Not yet, anyway. Still, the press should be forcing us into a conversation about what’s right for the nation, not pandering to our delusions and desires.
Some of us have lost our ability to recognize good sense when we hear it, because it’s no longer fashionable to show we’ve got some; it’s easier to accept, unquestioned, positions that fly in the face of horse sense, like the free market being self-correcting, entitlements we pay into for decades being a form of welfare, or that a work-force expecting a livable wage victimizes his/her fellow citizens with greedy, unrealistic demands. Some of us may believe those things are true, but what is unsupported by fact is merely truthiness.
And just as not all arguments are created equally, neither are the arguers; I doubt that Joe Biden would have any problem responding to those truthiness topics, and if he and Obama win in November, perhaps we’ll hear him do so. Meanwhile, where’s Edward R. Murrow (sadly, forced to pay for authentic reporting by doing puff pieces even in his own time) when you need him, standing fiercely for what’s right?
Well — by golly! — the Murrow standard is still alive and well in so unlikely a personage as CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. In a recent interview with John Sununu, who parroted Romney’s talking points on Obama’s Medicare cuts, O’Brien did what every journalist SHOULD do: she did her job, held her ground and provided the public with the truth:
At this point Sununu, clearly agitated, became nasty and indignant, angered by O’Brien’s insistence on fact over fiction:
“Soledad, stop this!” Sununu replied, raising his voice. “All you’re doing is mimicking the stuff that comes out of the White House and gets repeated on the Democratic blog boards out there.”
O’Brien continued reading from the Romney and Obama plans verbatim, and cited Factcheck.org, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and CNN’s own independent analysis in refuting Sununu’s deceptive rhetoric.
“Put an Obama bumper sticker on your forehead when you do this!” Sununu barked.
And here’s where O’Brien, following a heated exchange where she demanded, “Let me finish…let me finish!” demonstrated that she has more balls than anyone in television news right now:
“You know, let me tell you something. There is independent analysis that details what this is about. … And name calling to me and somehow acting as if by you repeating a number of $716 billion, that you can make that stick with that figure as being ‘stolen’ from Medicare, that’s not true. You can’t just repeat it and make it true, sir.”
Not MSNBC or Keith Olbermann, but mainstream CNN. Pretty refreshing, don’t you think? If that’s something we want more of, we’d better get on Sistah Soledad’s bandwagon and let her network know we want more truth telling, more reporting of fact in the face of partisan opinion. Although the radical-right calls her a “liberal Muppet,” later in the same hour she challenged Obama-spokesman, David Axelrod, asking if he was trying to scare seniors with projections of Romney’s Medicare proposal.
O’Brien is walking in the footprints of real newspersons, so let’s get her back, thank her for her courage and professionalism, stand with truth-telling wherever we find it! If you’re a FaceBook person, you can go here to post on her wall. Encourage her to continue to ferret out the facts in an honest discussion of policy.
Challenging tired old talking points in this day and age has become as scarce as … well … as horse sense, but as Stephen Colbert so aptly put it, “It is a well known fact that reality has liberal bias.” The more reality we can bring into this moment — television news reporters and average citizens, alike — the easier it will be to grapple with our problems and find real solutions; and this is true not just in politics but for all of our challenges.
Pulling our heads out of the sand is only a first step; the next asks us to declare ourselves and stand up for what we believe. Having given ourselves permission to WANT to know the truth, our next inner-dialogue must be to give ourselves permission to act in our own best interests, and those of our loved ones. Step by step, we’re closing in on our authenticity and power. Day by day, we’re making the journey towards co-creating a functional, compassionate world.