I was exposed to politics at an early age–6 to be exact. My first foray was quick, decisive and an utter failure. It was time to choose a first grade class president in room 102 at P.S. 186 Queens. Since we didn’t have a class president in kindergarten, I was thoroughly unfamiliar with the process. I didn’t even know what a class president’s duties were, but it seemed better and more prestigious than class clown–an office I already held–unofficially, of course.
My parents always took me with them to the polls so I imagined electing a class president would be a similar process, you know, with votes. But our teacher, a severe spinster who was also the school’s music teacher and broke out in spontaneous operatic arias, was having none of that. In her mind first graders were not mature enough to choose their own leader so she discarded any sense of democracy, standing in front of the class and barked, “Who wants to be class president. Raise your hands!”
Well…we all raised our hands, with at least one kid named Steven vocalizing, “ooooh, oooooh, ME!” for emphasis. That was my first exposure to overt campaigning. But our operatic instructor ignored Steven and chose another boy…because he was tall. That was my first exposure to what I later came to know as “optics.” Turns out the tall boy was a wuss. He was supposed to keep the class quiet when the teacher had to leave the room but he was deposed in a coup carried out when we launched a barrage of pencil erasers and the ceremonial dumping of a 64-pack of Crayolas. Teacher was nonplussed and simply asked the class, “well, who wants to be the NEXT president?”
This time none of us were stupid enough to raise our hands so she chose a girl in a pink dress who immediately began to cry. Since she was cute and apparently had no political aspirations we didn’t give her any crap when teacher left the room and vowed never to run for political office in the future, choosing instead to consider transferring to Catholic school where students had no say in anything. Ultimately she remained in our class when her family’s rabbi took issue.
Politics remained a part of my life when my mother became very active in the Eastern Queens Democratic Club. She rose to a leadership position, supporting Democratic candidates for New York City Council, NY State Governor and the Legislature. We helped her fold flyers while my father muttered, “why are you helping that asshole?” He considered all politicians as assholes and my father, a highly intelligent chemical engineer, was rarely wrong in his assessments.
My mother’s political connections did hit paydirt for me during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. She landed me a total political patronage job in the New York City Comptroller’s office. It was an awesome job in one of the majestic Municipal Building. It’s that flat building you see as you cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Everything about it was over done, including the men’s room. The urinals were about four feet high and about a foot wide, and you had to step up on a slab of marble to get to them. Every pee was like a performance on your own little stage.
Anyway, my job was to type, on an old Royal typewriter, checks to people who had successfully sued the city for pothole damage to their cars, or heath issues when they received slipshod treatment at a city hospital. I typed maybe five checks a day. I spent the rest of the time reading the papers and studying for the FCC license I would need to pursue my career in broadcasting.
Once, out of boredom after lunch, I attempted to file some case folders but I was almost tackled by one of the regulars who said, “we don’t file in the afternoon in the summer. It’s just too hot!” She ordered me back to my desk which was in a long row like in a classroom. I sat in front of an old dude with a gray crewcut named Higgins. His entire job was rubber stamping the date on a stack of papers. He’d been doing it for 20 years and aspired to nothing. Yup…gotta love those political patronage jobs. By the way, I did study enough to earn my FCC license.
After that, I’ve attempted to avoid any sort of active involvement in politics although I follow it closely. I did watch the debacle in Iowa with great interest though, because who doesn’t love a trainwreck..especially if only politicians are casualties. After all, as my late, wonderful father always said, “why help those assholes?”
Been thinking a bit about the challenge of 10 candidates at a time trying to make their best pitches during the two-night Democratic version of “Survivor.”
The combination of binge-watching “Veep” and lack of REM sleep conspired to create this imaginary scenario of how it might go.
NBC Moderator: Welcome to the first Democratic presidential debates for the 2020 election cycle. Since we have so many unknowns, er, candidates on the stage mixed in with a few old guys, er, elder statesman, we’ll have to set down a few rules to make this work.
First, to save time, we’re boiling your names down to one or two quick syllables. For examples, you, from South Bend, you’ll be addressed as Butt, while long, tall, spastic hand-waving guy from Texas will be Butt-O. See the difference? Makes sense, right? There won’t be a doubt whom we’re addressing. The former Veep will be identified as Bye and the other old guy from Vermont will be Burn. The senators from California and Massachusetts will be recognized as Harry and Tonto respectively. Sorry if we seem disrespectful at times, but this is television and we don’t care.
As for the others whose polls barely show a pulse, we’re just going to address all of you as Who? Just jump in if you have a thought, but be prepared to do so only when we’re in commercial. That’s simply to keep things moving and because, again, we don’t care.
Some of you won’t like the names we’re assigned you but let’s face it, for at least half of you, it doesn’t matter because most Americans don’t know who you are anyway, so go with it and enjoy your 15 seconds of face time in between ramblings by the front runners, aka, those sucking up all the donations, airtime and are prominent enough to earn an obnoxious nickname from President Trump.
We’ll start with opening statements. Due to the number of candidates and time constraints please limit your statements to a 20-second pre-written soundbite you hope will go viral.
From there our panel, chosen from recent visitors to the Bronx Zoo, will fire off piercing questions. Each of you will be limited to either two-word responses or one hand gesture. Rebuttals are allowed, but, again, due to time restraints they will be limited to the following choices: “Huh,” “Uh uh,” “Well, yeah, but,” or simply a moment of arched eyebrows or a tight grimace.
At the end, each candidate will be afforded a closing statement of 12 seconds or less. That pretty much kills the idea of parenthetical thoughts or tangents and gets us off the air on time because no one in this great country wants to miss even a second of the popular NBC series “Filthy Rich Cattle Drive.” which, you have to admit, is genius programming following this useless cattle call.
We realize not every candidate will have to time to fully flesh out his or her talking points but then again, that’s not why you’re watching, right? You’re here for the inevitable embarrassing screw-up or pantsing of one candidate by another frustrated when his or her arched eyebrow rebuttal was laughed off as an incomplete response.
So if everyone is ready, let’s to this thing! Time’s wasting!
The Electoral College is this nebulous “thing” that no one ever really sees and the members seem to come and go in relative anonymity. So I appreciated very much the opportunity to cover for CNN Tennessee’s Electoral College vote after the chaotic 2000 election that saw Al Gore lose his home state to George W. Bush.
The night before the vote we met with several of Tennessee’s 11 electors at steak joint not too far from the state capitol in Nashville. It was December and it was unexpectedly frigid with the prospect of snow on the day of the actual vote. They were mostly down to earth folks who felt the gravity of their task and a devotion to the unique method the nation’s Founding Fathers conjured to basically ratify the election held a month earlier. None of them had any desire to flip their vote to their state’s native son. I don’t recall any of the electors using the term “rubber stamp,” but that’s pretty much the way they saw their responsibility. One even went to far as to say “that boy ain’t really a Tennessean anymore…he’s long gone D.C.”
The next day we showed up early to do our morning live shots but had the opportunity to eyeball the chamber where the 15-minute process would take place. We were told, very sternly, to remain in the visitor’s gallery and not to wander onto the floor. No problem. We were set up outside on the capitol steps to do our live shots and could only hear, vaguely, what was happening. At one point the anchor asked me to describe what was going on at that second even though I was 20 steps and at least 200 feet and a couple of doors away. No, I did not have a monitor to see the feed from the floor.
Check out the transcript from that liveshot I think I faked it pretty well! The magic of preparation. I’m certain it all went down just the way I reported it since no one called to correct me and the producer didn’t yell at me through my earpiece.
Afterwards, the deed done, we retreated to the visitor’s gallery, ostensibly to do a live interview with Lamar Alexander…an elector and former Tennessee governor, U.S. Senator and onetime presidential candidate. Nice man. As we waited for our slot to come up we made small talk, discussed the election and had a great old time. He didn’t seem to be in a rush. After about 30 minutes of this my field producer called down to the Atlanta control room to find out if/when we were going on since we were hanging onto a prominent politician who must have had plenty of better things to do than sit around jawing with a reporter awaiting a two-minute live interview. I got the word through my earpiece and immediately turned redder than Memphis barbecue sauce. “Um…I’m sorry Senator. The producer just informed me something else in the world has happened and our spot was dropped. I’m extremely sorry for holding you up for so long. It was a real pleasure to meet you.” Guess what? Sen. Alexander cracked up, shook my hand and said, “Honestly, the pleasure was mine. If you hadn’t kept me here I’d have to go back out in the cold and figure out what the hell to do the rest of the day.”
One of the best books I ever read was a slim little paperback thing published in 1954 titled “How to Lie With Statistics,” by Darrell Huff. It was required reading in my “Ethics in Journalism” course at the University of Arizona when I attended grad school there in 1978.
I bring this book to your attention because it should also be required reading for anyone who takes any stock in the myriad of public opinion polls tossed in our faces during this dreadful political season.
Huff warns us, “The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify,”
Indeed. If you don’t already know this, polls are not the same as elections. News organizations buy polls to give them something to report, regardless of their accuracy. Polls are also useful for earning publicity for the purchasing news organization because every time the poll is cited in another news organization’s story, the purchasing network, station or publication’s name is mentioned…like the CNN/Wall Street Journal Poll, or the Mad Magazine/Hustler Poll. I made that one up. Doesn’t matter if the polls reflect reality. They can always tout the “margin for error,” to explain away the fact the poll’s results could be full of crap.
Political candidates buy polls to convince voters they’re winning. Corporations purchase polls to prove the world can’t live without their products or services.
It’s all in the wording of the questions. Sure, there can be the simple choice of candidate listed. But then the questions become even more leading. Say, “If Donald Trump wasn’t a misogynistic, lying creep, how much more likely would you be to vote for him?” Or. “How much does the fact that Hillary Clinton may very well be indicted affect your decision whether or not to vote for her?”
A company touting, say, its new miracle product might ask consumers identified as ex-felons, “Agree or disagree that your personal well-being would be enhanced with a product that could completely dissolve the serial number from a weapon used in a crime.”
Huff covers that possibility with the declaration “there is terror in numbers.”
You may recall the polls appeared to predict Mitt Romney unseating Barack Obama from the White House four years ago, only to be handily disproven when actual votes were counted. The polls showed that because those cited were “internal polls” taken for Romney, and paid for by Romney’s organization. Gotta keep the customer satisfied, until poor Mitt let his polls blind him into deciding not to write a concession speech “just in case.” Unfortunately for him, the real poll, known as the election, didn’t square with his self-serving survey and Mitt had to concede to the fact he was unprepared to cogently concede.
This is why I completely disregard any sort of poll plastered on the screen or on the page, no matter the subject. I learned long ago, courtesy Darrell Huff’s 144 pages of truth, the margin for error, is the poll itself.
While many voters are in struggling over the POTUS choices, I think back to the 1964 elections: Goldwater vs LBJ. My father hated them both but respected our distinguished neighbor..a man named Guido Bruhl. His son Gunther was a classmate of mine. His wife Christine was a seamstress whom my mother employed from time to time. On election day my exasperated father declared, “I’m voting for Guido Bruhl!” No matter that the excellent Mr. Bruhl was ineligible as he was born in Germany and even wore Liederhosen on occasion. From that time on, each election cycle, when the choices were less than optimal, our family let it be known our support was firmly behind Guido Bruhl. We never bothered to inform Guido Bruhl of this fact, which was a strategic move as he was a very large man with a mustache.
Political handicappers and other hacks are predicting the 2016 Presidential election will come down to Clinton vs. Bush. This gives rise to the possibility a second Clinton and third Bush in the White House and the first time an ex-President’s spouse will have become the nation’s Chief Executive.
Let’s take those scenarios one at a time.
Third Bush in the White House. Would be proof the voters have adopted a diet heavy in milquetoast and political jams. It would also be disturbing that the name the leader of the free world prefers to go by, Jeb, is an acronym for his actual name, (John Ellis Bush) which could spark a rush of likewise naming newborn babies during his administration giving way to a generation of kids named Inc., Ltd., and SNAFU. That’s a dealbreaker for me.
Ex-President’s spouse as current President. I have no obvious objection to this, but it does make me think of the former Los Angeles Rams NFL team.
Georgia Frontierre inherited ownership of the team when her husband died and moved it twice: first from the LA Coliseum to Anaheim. Not her fault. Her late husband made that deal. Then she moved the team all the way to St. Louis.
I would not be in favor of moving the United States of America to St. Louis and would ask journalists to make that an issue at every campaign stop.
One also wonders what an ex-President does when his or her spouse is busy doing their former job. A little bit of research reveals the most successful strategy is resisting the urge to insert the phrase “well, I’ll tell you what I would have done,” when asked for an opinion about the current officeholder’s latest move. Not that the Clintons sleep together anyway, but this would cause connubial cloture.
None of this, however, has a single thing to do with Clinton’s qualifications to be POTUS, even if she does have to block out time on her calendar to throw hard objects at the First Bubba.
A President Acronym Bush, however, would have no such distractions since his family has shown its members are quite adept at holding high office while perfecting the art of the benign. Finish off Sadaam during Gulfwar 1? Naah..great set up for a Gulfwar 2. Do the right thing for victims of Hurricane Katrina? Naaah…let Brownie mishandle it.
There’s a long way to go before this thing is decided but it’s clear at this moment a tough political battle will ensue and you know, if the second time is the charm for Hillary Clinton it won’t be because she emailed it in.