3rd November 10
Thirty-one years ago today, on a Saturday afternoon, I was born in Columbus, Ohio, in the heart of the state’s 12th congressional district (then represented by Republican Samuel L. Devine, a creep who’d been elected in 1959 after chairing the “Ohio Un-American Activities Committee” in the state legislature).
Three days later, on Tuesday, November 6, 1979, the voters of Ohio rejected a Constitutional amendment ballot initiative to “provide mandatory deposits on all bottles and prohibit sale of beverages in metal cans that have detachable pull-tabs” by a margin of 3-to-1. My dad probably voted in this one. Maybe he drank a can of Coke on the way to the polls.
Almost all of my birthdays fall right before, right after or right on election day. Inevitably, most of my birthdays are partisan affairs.
November 3, 1992. The evening of Bill Clinton’s election, as well as my 13th birthday. I was beside myself with glee, addled on hormones and teenage liberalism, eating popcorn and watching the coverage on TV. The 1990s, I thought, are going to be an awesome time to be a liberal teenager! Actually, as it turned out, I wasn’t completely wrong on that point.
Prove me wrong, Bill. Remember how insouciantly shaggy his hair was?
November 4, 1997. This would have been the first election I could have voted in, but I didn’t turn 18 until the next day. This would have been crushing in an election year, but fortunately, I don’t think the 1997 election cycle was that thrilling.
November 3, 1998. This was the first election I ever voted in, and it fell right on my birthday. The candidate I threw my first vote for was also the first candidate I was ever excited to pull a level for: Scott Ritcher, Reform Party candidate for Louisville mayor. Ritcher is a public figure in my hometown who has had a classic “only in Louisville” sort of career trajectory. He’d founded a wildly popular record label while still in his teens, and had an almost cult-like following in the local youth community. After the label folded in the mid-1990s, he got into publishing, design and politics, launching this year what might best be described (if somewhat cynically) as a youth-cult campaign for mayor. As a somewhat committed youth-cultist myself, I had a bunch of “Ritcher for Mayor” stickers plastered to the tacklebox I carried my art supplies around campus in. Ritcher was of course defeated in a four-way race by the Democratic candidate. He later ran for State Senate.
These exact same guys probably screen-printed my stickers by hand.
November 6, 2000. I am sure I spent at least part of my 21st birthday arguing with my painting professor about whether I should vote for Nader or Gore. I was recently trying to explain to a 20-year-old intern here at work that, when I was her age, there just really didn’t seem to be a huge difference between Bush and Gore — I explained that they were both running against Bill Clinton from the center, basically. She was incredulous. As well she should have been.
November 2, 2004. Oh, god. I don’t remember anything about my birthday this year. I watched the returns at Danny Cash’s place while sealing a couple hundred tiny paintings of cowboy murders into plastic sleeves in preparation for an art fair in Milwaukee I left for later that week. The blue coloration of the Upper Midwest on the electoral map looked really inviting and Canadian. Of course, four months later I was there.
It looked like Lower Canada.
November 4, 2008. Drunk, sitting on the curb outside Erte on 13th Avenue N.E., talking to Herbach the night before. “The thing is,” I moronically explained, “is that after tomorrow, we just won’t have to worry. Or not like we have for the past eight years. I won’t have to worry every single goddamned day that our president is dangerous, or that he’s going to destroy America. Think of what normal, intelligent people will be able to get done, just knowing that their president’s OK and not actively working to undermine everything I like about this country.” Good one, Sturdevant!
November 2, 2010. I feel like I have a hangover today. My birthday reveries are haunted by an orange-colored man from Ohio bellowing “Hell no!” over and over in a never-ending animated GIF loop. Somewhere, former Rep. Samuel L. Devine is smiling.
Post-script: Samuel L. Devine was unseated by Democrat Bob Shamansky on November 4, 1980. That was also the year my dad cast his sole presidential vote for a non-Democrat: not Reagan, obviously, but independent candidate John Anderson. Last time I was home, dad and I were talking about the way Carter was perceived by the left at the end of his presidency. “In light of all that, I think I sort of understand why you voted for Anderson,” I said.
“Well, I wish you’d tell me,” he said. “Because I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.”
Rep. Bob Shamansky (D-Ohio).
15th December 09
Lyndon B. Johnson gives 90-year old Rhode Island Senator Theodore Green “the treatment” in 1957.
I was complaining to Herbach the other day, after that Nobel speech, that I was really not enjoying watching Obama turn into LBJ over Afghanistan. Of course, I realize now that’s not totally fair to LBJ. Sure, Vietnam was bad, but look at the man’s legislative record: most monumentally, civil rights and Medicare/Medicaid, not to mention smaller accomplishments like the NEA and public broadcasting. All the stuff Kennedy gets credit for.
How did he get it? By being totally inflexible, basically. As he once said to Humphrey:
“Don’t ever argue with me [about health]. I’ll go a hundred million or a billion on health or education. I don’t argue about that any more than I argue about Lady Bird [Mrs. Johnson] buying flour. You got to have to have flour and coffee in your house. Education and health. I’ll spend the goddamn money. I may cut back some tanks. But not on health.”
I wish Obama would start acting less like LBJ in regards to Afghanistan, and more like LBJ in regards to health care.
For example, I heard Joe Lieberman on the radio this morning, saying in his Droopy Dog voice that he’d have “trouble” voting for that pathetic shell of a health care bill as it currently exists. Immediately, I imagined the response Lyndon Johnson would have had hearing about Lieberman’s “trouble”.
“You’ll have ‘trouble’ votin’, huh? You’re gonna have trouble walkin’, too, because Ah’m gonna put mah foot so far up your ass you’re gonna be tastin’ wingtips fer a month. Now you get back in there, and get your fuckin’ people together on this. We got sixty votes, and Ah will be god-damned if Ah’m gonna let this shit fall apart on me on account of Joe Fuckin’ Lieberman.”
I can’t quite imagine Obama leaning in like that.
10th December 09
When Nate and I were kids, and we would come to our dad with some minor complaint about television programming or homework or each other’s personal habits, he would often shake his head and chuckle and call us both the “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Oh, that would get us so upset. What is a “nabob”?
It was, of course, many years before we realized he was just throwing around a beloved old Spiro Agnew line that Bill Safire had written. The Vice President made that quip sometime around 1970, when my dad was 20. I imagine him as a young man, laying around a living room in Cincinnati and drinking a Hudepohl, and hearing Agnew deliver that zinger on the radio and chuckling derisively. Agnew and Safire’s political orientation aside, it’s a really good line. Good enough for dad to ironically adapt it for everyday speech, at least, and use through the mid-1980s.
We all do that; these memorable lines from the world of politics make their way into our everyday speech. How many times have you met some minor accomplishment with a sarcastic “yes we can”?
Above I have posted my favorite example from the last ten years. I probably mumble that exact phrase to myself once a day. I mutter it everytime something is not going my way; when I stub my toe, or miss the bus, or read a “Best of the ’00s” list and find Sleater-Kinney nowhere on it. I like it because the rhetoric is so inflammatory. Try it: next time your Reuben comes out and they’ve skimped on the saurkraut, shake your head and shout “Skimping on the saurkraut?” and then deliver the line.
(Actually, I usually drop the “no, no, no” and the “Not…” at the start, and rephrase the first sentence as a rhetorical question, but still, same idea.)
1st December 09
There is something about President Obama’s sense of drama and timing that is very canny, and that makes me wonder if his true political education was in watching English midcentury boarding school dramas. In the two years or so that we have known Obama as a public figure, how many times has this exact scenario played itself out?
A problem arises, and the problem needs to be solved. The naysayers are naysaying, the people are grumbling. Obama is thinking. He’s deliberating. People are getting restless. The problem is hanging in the air. “He’s finished,” the naysayers say, “unless he can somehow explain how he’s gotten us all into this mess.” Obama’s got to do something. He’s got to give a speech! This is it. This is the make-or-break monologue. If he blows this, it’s all over. And so everyone is shouting and muttering among themselves, and then Obama stands up, looks around in that way he does with that air of magesterial authority, and then he clears his throat and he gives The Speech. He gives The Speech, and it’s beautiful and there is a moment after The Speech has been given where an uneasy silence hangs in the air. And then someone slowly does that slow lonely clapping thing, and there is a moment where the only sound in the room (maybe a long communal dinner table) is the slow lonely clapping, and then the rest of the room joins in and there are cheers and the music swells and Obama has done it again! The camera pans to the jubiliant faces in the assembled mutltiudes. It pans again to the faces of his enemies, rubbing their eyes slowly in utter defeat. Another stirring monologue that has silenced his opponents and redeemed his work!
He’ll do it tonight at West Point about Afghanistan. The Jeremiah Wright was perhaps the first and the best, but he did it as recently as September with health care (“A make or break speech for Obama,” said the Financial Times). The problem seems solved, until the next one comes along. And then it’s another make-or-break monologue.
30th October 09
I’m not a dad or a homeowner, Obama. What can I do to help?
I am hoping the answer is “form a bluegrass band and travel across the country in a red-white-and-blue solar-powered conversion van solving mysteries.”
2nd October 09
Since it’s been a dreary, rainy week (here in Minneapolis, anyway), and there’s been so little to get excited about regarding President Obama lately (even Molly and Mel seem much less chipper on the subject these days), I thought this would be a good time to share with you a favorite personal entry in the Dreams I Had About Barack Obama sweepstakes. Remember there was once a semi-popular blog on this subject? Last updated in May, 2008. Those were the days, huh?
Anyway, it went like this: during the campaign, Barack and I had met, and struck up a wonderful friendship. On his off-days campaigning, he’d fly into Minneapolis and we’d get together in my dream apartment (which was much nicer than my non-dream apartment). We had beautiful matching velvet waistcoats and matching trousers that we stored at my place, and we’d put them on, play Moody Blues records on my turntable for a few hours and sit around talking about poetry. We’d do this once a week; it was how we both unwound from the pressures of our lives. Velvet’s a comfortable fabric, you know? A lot of cute stories about our meet-ups were appearing in the press (Barack’s Velvet Pantsuit Parties: The Trees Are Drawing Him Near! Inside, We Find Out Why!).
One day, before our appointed meeting, an aide (let’s say it was Rahm Emanuel) pulled me aside. “Andy,” he hissed. “These get-togethers with Barack have to stop.”
I was perplexed. “But why?” I asked.
Rahm stared at me with a look of barely contained rage. “The velvet jackets. The fucking Moody Blues. It’s all too effete. It’s not the kind of image he needs in the press right now.”
“But…but…,” I stammered.
“It ends now.”
I was on the verge of tears. “But Barack and I love the Moody Blues,” I wailed.
And so we did. In the dream. Above is ”Minstrel’s Song,” from 1960-something. Happy Friday, reader.