Friends

A friend of mine went missing this year. I didn’t know it at the time. Sure, emails weren’t returned over the summer, nor texts, and that was concerning. But then she was the type of person who would vanish, a woman who had sold everything and moved from Houston to Hawaii and fallen off the grid a few times since. So unreachable didn’t necessarily mean lost. It merely reflected her spirit, one of disconnecting from her past to pursue her new future. That kind of passion was a trait to be admired, if one that left her friends in the dark.

My wife and I were eating dinner. Pizza. It was late, after eight, and I turned on the DVR and started the CBS Evening News. I record it nightly. The world “the way it is” collected into thirty pristine minutes. No opinions. No chatter. No debate. Just the facts as best they can be discerned. For a couple days there had been a story in the news that I had ignored. Intentionally ignored. It was about two women rescued at sea — another fucking sea rescue. Like mass shootings they appear with a far too regular frequency, if remarkably less often than the now routine murder of innocents by AR-15s. The story of the rescue appeared on the screen during my first bite of pizza, so no avoiding it without ditching my slice for the remote, and that was a no-go. So it played, and at the first name cited my wife uttered an explicative and then, “That’s Fer!” (Fer for Jennifer Appel, a friend of mine for almost thirty years.) I refocused on the television, and there was my friend on a Navy ship smiling that shit-eating grin of hers. What the hell?!

I met Fer in 1988 when we were students at Texas A&M University. I had placed an ad for an attendant, someone to bathe me, dress me, lift me into my wheelchair. The job paid near volunteer wages and required a parental degree of dedication, but Fer said she was in. I hired her on the spot.

Fer wasn’t your typical co-ed. She was a sorority girl, a professional motorcycle racer, a stripper at Rick’s Cabaret in Houston. And my attendant.

My 5’3″ new helper’s feet didn’t even reach the ground from her 1100cc Yamaha, but that didn’t stop her from riding it to my apartment four mornings a week. It didn’t take long to realize that little stopped this tiny girl from upper crust Houston. She was a force of nature whose college fund had been plundered by her father on his way out the door and who was doing what she had to do in order to pay her way and her brother’s way through school. Like I said, unstoppable.

Fer was my attendant for two years, and relationships between the disabled and their attendants grow akin to family, for better or worse. (Ours was for better.) But ours was also temporary, like most relationships formed in college. So after our graduations we rarely saw one another, yet reconnected quickly when we did. During those reunions I heard stories and saw proof in her high performance vehicles of her all-or-nothing approach to life and business, as she pushed hard and scored good income, then repeatedly lost those gains in dramatic fashion, only to recoup her losses again and again by her all-in tack.

One of the last times I saw her, though, she was changed. She had been in a motorcycle accident, a bad one that had temporarily left her in a wheelchair and permanently, emotionally, different. She soon sold her assets and moved to Hawaii and onto a boat. The suburbs wouldn’t do, mediocrity was still not an option: Retire big or stay home.

Our visits were brief but real the few times I saw her between her move to the islands and her five months at sea. There was no pretense, just reality, her reality, a reality unlike anyone else’s I have known — Fer’s playbook was and is her own. So when my wife and I saw her on that Navy ship, we uttered the same thought, I am sure, that was echoed by everyone who has known Fer, “This doesn’t surprise me!”

I quickly checked Fer’s Facebook wall for a post. Nothing. I emailed her, asked what she had been up to, “Anything interesting been going on?” I didn’t hear back and so I repeatedly returned to her wall, where I increasingly found posts from people who did not know her but had heard claims of aggressive sharks and massive storms that didn’t line up with marine science or weather reports and were piling on. The posts were brutal, vicious, damning. The tale of the lying sailor took on a life of its own as media scrutiny became more intense, more aggressive, more personal, not because Fer had harmed anyone — in fact, the reports of the Las Vegas shooter had been more objective — but because her tales from five months at sea didn’t ring true with experts. A British tabloid then went after her private life, because her adventurous sexuality was easy to judge and appealed to the inner prude in all of us. Nudes were posted on that same paper’s website. It was a tawdry affair, not Fer’s private life but the public expose that cloaked itself as “news.” Jennifer eventually emailed me. She asked for a place to hide. My wife and I immediately agreed. Our friend had been attacked, and friends take care of friends who have been mauled by animals.

Fer arrived last night during an ice storm; the weather was befitting. At the airport she looked like one who had suffered through a long illness and nothing like the joyful sailor aboard that Navy vessel on day one. She and Tasha, her friend who with her spent five months at sea, crawled into my van with their two dogs in tow. Fer told me her firsthand account of their days at sea during our slow drive home. It was nothing like the reports I read in the media.

I will leave it to Fer to write about what she and Tasha experienced at sea and about these horrible days that have followed. Suffice to say their story is much more mundane than that reported by the press and far less controversial. They weren’t without propulsion nor were their lives at risk until the last couple days when they called for rescue. They were instead, while at sea, healthy and happy and enjoying their adventure, if at times afraid of the unknown. It wasn’t until they returned to dry land that true peril found them.

Maybe It’s Time We Wave Goodbye

1980. I was nineteen years old when Ronald Reagan ran for president. It was the first election in which I could vote, and I did. For the Gipper.

A lot has changed during the past 37 years, and I passed through a lot of phases: my teenage Pat Robertson Speaks For Jesus/Jesus is a Republican phase; the Copious Amounts of Tequila post-Pat Robertson decompression phase; and the more recent I Can’t Believe This New Prez Guy Is Such a %&*#! Tool phase. Before I escaped that last phase, my Four Steps of Trump rehabilitation phase:

Step One: Reality. Reality is a monster. Reality is Bernie Sanders being cheated out of the nomination. Reality is him losing to a woman more corrupt and less liked than him. Reality is having to choose between The Unlikeable One and It. Reality is It winning.

Step Two: Despair. You can’t change elections. You can’t put on a pink pussy hat and protest your way back from an election. You can’t avoid the news for days on end expecting to return to a different outcome. No, despair is knowing the Titanic’s going down and that the best you can hope for is Leonardo biting the big one while you float past him on a door. Adios, Leonardo.

Step Three: Pessimism. Pessimism is sitting around all day in your pink pussy cap and briefs. Pessimism is tweeting and bitching and then for variety mixing the two. But pessimism is useless. You can’t give up. You can never give up. And so you move on.

Step Four: Pragmatism. Let’s Dig Deeper Into Pragmatism

I’ve been a political junkie since 1976. I turned 15 that year, when Jimmy Carter showed up, and he set the bar. Jimmy was honest, friendly, a fellow Southerner who got himself elected and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. No limo just feet. No president had ever done that before him. I was a kid and all I knew about politics was what my Yellow Dog dad had taught me (condensed: don’t trust Republicans). But I had internalized the An Evening With John Denver album like oxygen, and I knew that “real” was a real big deal, and I knew that Jimmy Carter was real, and I wept at those feet; my political christening.

The two sides of the aisle were, like now, disagreeable back then. The left and right have always been disagreeable. And yet they talked. Examples? It was the GOP that pushed that crook Nixon out of office. And during the height of the Reagan backlash (maybe because of that backlash), the Democratic Speaker of the House headed weekly to the White House for happy hour with the Republican president. And when Reagan overstepped his bounds and funded South American rebels with the sales of weapons to Iran, the Democratic Congress spoke up but moved on.

That was politics back then. That was being a rational human being carrying out your elected duty back then. But the two sides don’t work together like that anymore, and for that there’s a lot of blame floating around: Conservatives blame Carter, Bill Clinton’s dick (and Hillary’s), and Obama; Liberals blame Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and Bush II aka (another Dick) Cheney. But it took more than politicians to get us to this point. It took Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, talk radio, the internet.

And it took us.

Three decades. That’s how long the left and the right have been whaling on each other like white trash ex-lovers coming face-to-face in the Walmart cammo aisle. We tweet (angrily). We Facebook (angrily). We comment at the bottom of web pages (angrily). But we never discuss our governance rationally, because meaningful and necessary conversations are impossible in this climate. Attempting to cross that line with people we know can introduce toxins that kill relationships we’ve cherished for years. We are intolerant. We have lost the ability to listen, to reason, to compromise. We have most of all lost our immunity to the sting of opposing ideas. Our anger is too deep.

Pushed by non-stop talk radio, cable news, and social media, we have pressed beyond diverse to divided, like every great nation before its fall. And that makes me wonder how close we are to killing our fellow citizens because their politics differ from ours. It sometimes feels like that sort of thing must surely have begun and that it simply isn’t being reported. The bitterness between us is that palatable. And I think we all sense that it’s not going to get better. It’s only going to get worse.

So maybe it’s time for us to think outside the box.

Consider your first reaction to what I write next. Register your second reaction, as well. Ready? Here we go: America should split into two countries, one conservative and one liberal.

That’s it! What was your first reaction? Your second? Let me tell you mine.

Each time I’ve mulled over the prospect of a not-so-United States of America — a liberal America (let’s say in the northern half of the States) and a conservative America (down in good ol’ Dixie) — my first reaction is “That’s crazy!” But my second reaction is calm. My entire body relaxes and a smile appears on my face, the kind of smile you feel from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. The real kind of smile.

What if, as a liberal, I could live in a country where we base our laws on science, where religion is respected not a battering ram, where the poor are educated and lifted up, and all of us are guaranteed medicine? What if these stupid battles with the Tea Party ended and we woke-up in the morning without resentment, without the fear of yet another Cheney-Bush or Trumpian-style presidency, without fracking polluting our drinking water or right wing evangelicals trying to install a Christian Sharia law “like the Founders intended?” What if we could agree to part company with those with whom we seem unable to work out our national problems? What if we could just be their friends again and not fellow countrymen? You know, what if we got a divorce?

I’m not saying that I think this is the solution to what we’re now facing, but I am asking if it might be. Is it time we go our separate ways? It is time Conservatives were free to draft a constitution that guaranteed a free handgun to every living human (born and unborn; I’m sure the Baptists and the NRA both would approve of a fetal right to bear arms). And what if Liberals were free to enshrine universal healthcare and education as a birthright? What if our northern federal document read “Love whomever you want” and our southern exes were allowed to be as bigoted as they wished? What if we happily waved goodbye and started living our lives again in peace?

An unreasonable question?

God of the Box

One of the first questions a child asks is Where did I come from? One of the last questions of old age is Where am I going? We seem to feel bigger than this place.

Faith is increasingly mocked by people who no longer believe and by those who never did. It’s as if belief has come to be associated with ignorance. The two are, accurately, sadly, often synonymous. Still, I believe. And what I believe, I believe firmly: God, Jesus Christ, Death, Burial, Resurrection. Is it hard to believe such an outlandish story? Objectively, yes. Difficult for me? Not at all.

A long-time friend, an atheist, is raising two sons. He bragged that he asked his boys if they believed in God, and they laughed at the concept. Could they see God? No. Touch him? No. In any way detect him? No. The assertion is that spirituality isn’t measurable, therefore it’s bunk. The 75% of Americans who believe in God would disagree. (Internationally, that number rises to 85%.)

Are those of us who believe in a higher power shoring up our earthly fears with the hope of a second shot? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe our belief finds its genesis in something else entirely.

Programmers have striven to create artificial intelligence since the 1940s. We see the term bandied about everywhere these days in tech reviews of smartphones and in the burgeoning internet of things. But AI is more than a better search engine. It reaches beyond a Siri-like interface that carries on conversations. AI is a complex machine that learns and builds upon knowledge. It is a deductive “thinking” computer.

But what if AI achieved a level above deduction? What if we built machines that were self-aware? Machines that had a sense of self? Who — not what — would those machines perceive themselves to be? And would they understand their place in the universe?

Imagine a self-aware processor chip: a thoughtful chip, an ethical chip, a chip that doesn’t hog all the electricity, a chip that performs its job and treats other chips with respect. Imagine a million chips like it functioning within a single large box. Would these AI chips grasp they were created? They have seen nothing outside their box. They have witnessed no clues to indicate there is a creator inside — or outside — the box. Would they intrinsically know they were made?

Add a variable. What if these chips caught a peek outside their box through a camera? What if they saw into the laboratory where they were built? Would they recognize their creator? Would they understand that the object hovering outside their box — the pasty pale blob in the beige shorts and blue knit shirt, that thing eating ham, mayo and iceberg lettuce on white — is the creator who built them? In what context would Bob’s large belly and unshaven face fit into the chips’s understanding of their universe? Likely, none. Bob, aka the “lumbering nebula,” would appear to bear no relationship to their existence.

Add a second variable. What if in addition to a camera there is inserted into the computer’s kernel a piece of code that identifies “Bob” as the chips’s creator? As sentient beings, their first question would surely be Who is Bob? And so the hunt would commence and continue through their circuitry until it was clear that Bob is nowhere inside the box. And if Bob isn’t in the box, that can mean only one thing: Bob is outside the box. So they peer through the camera out at the nebula searching for Bob. But what is a Bob? What is his electronic signature? His power source? His binary code? They can’t know. Yet they search. But nothing in the external universe of beige and blue and sandwichy colors hints at the identity of Bob. Nothing! They find no Bob. Met with failure, they exchange their search for a physical Bob for mere clues to his essence. The chips search within themselves, within their hardware, within their code. What in their makeup points toward Bob? It is a question larger than any chip’s RAM. And seeking it is wearying work with few guideposts and an uncertain destination that sits deep within a fog. This lack of concrete proof of Bob is evidence enough for many that no Bob exists.

Mocking follows, jeers at those chips who hold tightly to the Holy Kernel. Where is your proof? Where is your Bob? Believers in Bob can’t point to anything tangible and say, “This is proof!” There is nothing for believers to share. There is merely the search itself.

From the numbers, it appears that a quarter of us require objective proof of a creator. And you can’t deny their logic. We live in a world of zeros and ones. Even we who believe in a creator make most of our decisions based on data. Yet with regard to the matter of faith, I and the many like me take an exit from deductive reasoning to cling to what is for us an inexplicable certainty. And that is fine with us, if baffling to those who see no point.

It’s the year’s end, and we are entering the high holy days for many of us who believe the unverifiable. They are joyful weeks in which we bask in the comfort of believing that we are loved by the one who made us. No matter what your personal faith or lack thereof, we wish you that same joy and that same peace.

Merry Bobmas!

Smug Bernie Fantasy Shit

I was chastised on social media last night for my post-election posts. I was called out more specifically for my “smug Bernie fantasy shit.” I get my buddy’s criticism. I’ve been in the tank for Sanders for a year now and been disgruntledly anti-Hillary since before the spring. And I get, too, that these post-election doldrums are hitting this person pretty hard. I relate. Nightmares about Trump’s face in my face for the next four years woke me throughout the night Tuesday night. It was a horrid six hours.

I’ve spent 45 years in a wheelchair. For 30 of those years somebody had to bathe and dress me before I could start my day. And that’s if they showed up. (It wasn’t a given.) You have two choices when you’re depending on someone else to wash your ass. You can slip into massive depression or you can fight back. I chose the latter. It came relatively easy. I’ve had loving parents that never let me get caught up in the morass in which we found ourselves. They kept my eyes on tomorrow. And that kind of bright-eyed Annie shit works. Yeah, I love ya, Tomorrow!

A Republican is going to win the White House every 4 or 8 years. It happens. Bank on it. So you gotta deal, even when said Republican is the creepiest of creeps, even when he’s Bill Clinton without the charm, Jack Kennedy without the discretion, even when he whispers a clarion call to the same people George Wallace did. But this creep’s policies, the ones he can actually pass, are yet to be flushed out. (No, he won’t be building a 1,900 mile wall. No, he won’t be sending 11,000,000 people back to their homes. He probably won’t even send back as many people as did Obama, who deported more people than any president in history.) The fact is, we don’t know what Trump will do. He was a registered Democrat until three years ago. He isn’t dogmatic like Cruz and the others of that religio-politico cult. And he wants success. His ego feeds on success. And that should temper the risks posed by his more outrageous campaign rhetoric. It might even lead him across the aisle. (Still, let’s be frank, most of what he’ll do will blow, and hard, and could be extraordinarily dangerous. Yet I maintain those seeds of optimism. I have to. Defeat is not an option.)

Now about those Bernie fantasies of mine. I’m old enough to have grown up with parents who lived through the Great Depression. From what they said it was bad. Worse than bad. Men who were dressed like they had once been bankers knocked on Granny’s door offering to work for food. My mother had one dress she shed for overalls each day when she got home from school. Daddy’s dad cried when my father asked for a 5 cent cone as the old man said through his tears he couldn’t afford to buy his kid ice cream.

But FDR got this country out of the Depression. I state that to be clear: My fantasy isn’t a Bernie dream but an FDR dream. And that dream is of an America that takes care of its poor, pushes its middle class ever higher, and reduces the wealthy to regular citizens. It’s about a country that places as much value on mom and pop shops as Walmart, as much on employees as employers.

We are in a unique and good place, despite Tuesday night. The reason: Even a nimrod like Donald Trump could sail to victory on a message of populism. Populism won Tuesday night not Trump. Populism won despite Trump. That’s how deeply Americans want their country back. And that gives us a chance to return the Democratic Party to its FDR roots and to restart the middle class engine that was abandoned in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton and his free market Democrats shifted the Democratic Party from a populist party to a Wall Street-centric neoRepublican Party. This election proved that Democrats, real Democrats and not those who worship at the foot of the free market, are positioned to return American workers to their rightful place as the backbone of this country.

We’ve got our shot, liberals. And these chances come rarely. It’s time to shed the self-pity and get busy with our Smug Bernie Fantasy Shit. We have less than three years.

Hillary Clinton : The Last of Her Species

Bernie Sanders spoke the truth. The other candidates only framed it.

How do you surrender to half-truths after you’ve heard the unvarnished truth? How do you embrace a lie once it’s revealed to be a lie? You can’t. So there is unrest in the Democratic Party.

Those of us who supported Bernie Sanders because of his character will at best put a checkmark next to “Hillary Clinton” in the fall. We will vote to keep Donald Trump out of the White House. But our vote will be not support but acquiescence.

Hillary Clinton is a dinosaur. The last of her kind. Soon to be extinct. Bernie put a target on her back, and on the back of every one of her species. Unsure of that? Let me ask you two questions:

  • Will you, Democrat, ever trust another traditionally-funded candidate?
  • Will you listen to and love them like you loved Obama in 2008, or will you follow the money and question their loyalty?

And that is why Hillary Clinton is a dinosaur. She is the last candidate we will accept who is bought and paid for by Big Money. Citizens United can stand. It is irrelevant. It is a relic. Bernie Sanders made it a relic. You made it a relic. At $27 a pop.

That’s the power of truth. That’s the power of us.

Bigger Than November

NOTE: This was written before the Democratic nomination. But it is more true now than it was then.

I start with an admission. It’s my own but I think I speak for a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters. I don’t give a damn about the Democratic or any other political party. I give a damn about us.

With that out of the way…

The pundits have been correct for months, maybe since the day Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president or, more accurately, since the day Hillary Clinton announced hers. He is not going to get the nomination. Nobody is but Hillary. Ask Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the superdelegates, the fix was in from the start. We were sheep to them not voters.

But I refuse to be a sheep. And I’m damned sure not inclined to follow the Democratic establishment, any more than I’m inclined to follow Bernie Sanders.

Still, it’s been an amazing year as I’ve watched the Senator from Vermont, somebody with bonafides and a megaphone, give voice to what so many of us have felt for years. So when the Democratic establishment attempted to silence him, they attempted to silence me. And when they did that, they lost me.

Bernie Sanders isn’t my leader. Nor is he the father of this liberal uprising. He is, instead, as he accurately stated must be the case, a manifestation of a grass roots movement. That movement was Occupy. And now it is us. 

Occupy was an echo; it repeated in the public square the conversations we had been having for years in our living rooms, our dorms, at the bar, with God alone as we uttered our fear to heaven. Occupy pared those conversations to their core: The 1% is plundering the 99%. It’s them against us. It’s “Class Warfare.” A term conservatives have for good reason mocked. Because a war was indeed waged. And it proved to be an easy battle to win as long as the 99% were unaware they were even in the crosshairs.

But Occupy spoke the truth. It removed our blinders. And presented with the truth, our ire rose. Then did we.

You and I — not Occupy or Bernie Sanders — are the wave. And this primary was the sound of that wave crashing to shore.

Occupy found its oxygen in our evaporated jobs, our unaffordable education, our underfunded bank accounts, our collapsing environment, our corrupt government, and the once-populist-now-money-hungry Democratic establishment who have since Bill Clinton’s first term increasingly ignored our cries for economic salvation.

As a Yellow Dog Democrat, I refused to acknowledge the party’s apathy toward people like me. I clung instead to the hope that they still cared about working men and women. Until this winter. That was when a candidate who fought for us for twenty-five years challenged a corporate sycophant, and the party establishment en masse sided with the sycophant.

I’m a nobody from the middle of Texas. I vote. I donate small amounts to campaigns when I can. I blog. I tweet. That’s it. But I think it’s time to fight. I think it’s time for all of us to fight. It’s time we take our country back.

I can’t do squat alone. Neither can you. But together we almost won the nomination. That’s a remarkable achievement when you consider who we were running against: A former first lady, former senator, former Secretary of State, a multimillionaire with deep Wall Street connections and the deepest Democratic Party tentacles. She was the chosen one, and we almost knocked her off her throne.

We accomplished that feat because we had the people, the skills, the policies, the passion and convictions, and the money. And now we have in-the-trenches experience.

It is from alchemies like this that Revolutions are born.

In their infancy is when revolutions are most vulnerable. Ours is vulnerable, too. So it will be challenged. By people we know. By party leaders we’ve long considered our advocates. We already hear their gentle coo, “Bernie has brought new people into the Democratic fold. We welcome them with open arms.” We have become a commodity, you and I. The Democratic Party wants to harvest us for our enthusiasm, our money, our votes. It wants to rebrand us The Party Faithful. In that pursuit, we’re told American politics is about compromise. The party and media use words like “moderation” and “reality” to separate us from our convictions. They deride us for seeking political “Purity.” They then define purity as a dangerous thing. But dangerous for whom?

I don’t choose to be mined for the benefit of the 1%. I prefer to be part of that one thing which frightens the 1%: Us, the people, united.

The Democrats are right to want us and the 1% is right to fear us. We have become a force. And unbridled forces threaten the status quo. And so they will try to absorb us.

Since the Democratic Leadership Council took the reigns of the Democratic Party in the late 1980s, the DNC has proved remarkably adept at co-opting grassroots movements and smothering them within their embrace. It would, therefore, be suicidal for us to cozy up to the Democratic establishment. We need instead to become an independent broker, a resource which supports candidates based first on their principles and second on their party. And as that broker our mission is to fight like hell, contribute like hell, and crank out the vote like hell to get liberals (true lefties —  irrespective of party) elected everywhere, from school boards to mayoral offices, city councils to governorships, state houses to federal houses. We’ve proven we can do this. We nearly defeated the queen, her media, her political machine.

As this race winds down, every one of us must vote our convictions. We must show our resolve even when a defeat is imminent — especially when a defeat is imminent.

The 1% cannot be allowed to crush the 99%. We must win. For us and for the next generations.

We can do this. But we have to start now.

The Long Road

Bernie lost New York State tonight. Or was it stolen? We’re never going to know. But either way, what now? Do Bernie Sanders supporters concede what appears to be the inevitable and get behind Hillary? Do we fight on while we hope for a Clinton Foundation scandal or an FBI indictment? Or maybe we simply work harder, push forward and pray that the Far West takes us home?

I’ve been in Bernie’s corner since I first learned what he stands for. But I’m going to be honest with you cowboys and cowgirls, I’m not sure his nomination is key to the longterm health of our movement. In fact, his loss might be the jet fuel we need to take back our Democratic Party. Let me explain:

  1. Since World War 2, no political party has held the White House for more than eight years. (There are two exceptions to this. The first was George Bush the Senior, who followed the mythic presidency of Ronald Reagan. The second was Al Gore, who followed the mythic presidency of Bill Clinton — Gore clearly never held office but he did win the popular vote.) Therefore, if history assures us of anything, it’s that if the Democrats win the White House this year they will lose it in 2020. That brings us to my second point.
  2. If Bernie won this year and lost in 2020 (or lost the general this year), the Democratic Party establishment would blame that loss on his progressive policies. And that would lock liberals out of power for another half generation. (At best, his win would net us four years to accomplish our goals before our exile. Unworkable.) There’s a third reason a Bernie loss could be a plus.
  3. The GOP ran the table in the 2010 midterms. They took control of state houses across the nation. That control allowed them to redraw district lines with unrighteous precision, which resulted in our current situation, one in which Democrats have to earn 54% of the national vote just to break even in the House of Representatives. (That doesn’t address the massive damage the GOP has done at the state level, where issues from voting rights to a woman’s right to choose have been decimated.) The next redistricting takes place in 2020. And Jesus himself could not generate the degree of excitement necessary to create a wave election during a second term presidential run. That’s not what second term elections are about. And Democrats need a wave election if we’re going to take back the states and redraw those lines.

I began 2008 a Joe Biden supporter. I loved the guy. I still do. But when he fell out and Obama ascended, it was easy to migrate to the senator from Illinois. Losing and shifting allegiance is part of politics, as all of us who love this blood sport know. But this year will be different for me. I won’t shift my allegiance to Hillary. (You can read my reasoning here.) I will, instead, as far as it depends on me, stand my ground to prevent the Clintons from returning their peculiar form of unprincipled money laundering to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I will do this because their loss will deny the conservative wing of the Democratic Party even more power than it has now and will buy those of us on the left four years to invigorate and grow our embryonic movement.

The GOP offers a prime example of how insurgent movements like ours can succeed:

When Barry Goldwater lost his presidential bid in 1964, conservatives dug in and methodically gathered their party’s reigns of power while they waited for the right candidate to come along. That candidate rose through the ranks in 1976. His name was Ronald Reagan. Four years later he was elected to the White House. (His bat shit crazy wing of the GOP controls their party still forty years later.) We liberals find ourselves now in the same position in which Goldwater supporters (of which Hillary was one) found themselves in 1964; we are Insurrectionists striving to overthrow the establishment of the party that abandoned us.

It has been twenty-three years since Bill Clinton was sworn into office as the forty-second President of the United States, twenty-three years since the poor and working classes were robbed of their voice, twenty-three years since the poor and working classes were robbed. It’s time to reassert our power and return to our party the ethical, socially just and effective principles with which Franklin Roosevelt energized Democrats and the nation. We have three years to grow this Revolution from the seedling it is today to the powerhouse it can become. Let’s get to work!

The Delicate Flower

Clinton Spin: Sunday’s Democratic debate, the last before the Michigan primary, was about “tone.” Was about “disrespect.” Was about “sexism.”

But it wasn’t.

You know how the game is played if you watch presidential debates. You know that when a campaign complains about “tone” or “disrespect” or, in this case, “sexism,” the issue at hand has nothing to do with those things. It is, instead, about strategy. It is about setting the narrative.

Hillary Clinton needs the female vote. The problem for her is that Bernie Sanders has been getting it in far larger numbers than she anticipated. She has to bring her female numbers up to lock up this nomination. She needs a game changer. Enter “sexism.”

Sexism is something every woman in the business world — hell, some in their own home — must deal with. It’s being treated like you don’t have a brain. Or like your opinion doesn’t matter. Or like you’re not an equal. Or like your value is on the outside. “Sexism” is an evocative term every woman relates to. But what exactly is sexist behavior during a presidential campaign? Or maybe the better question to ask is “What is non-sexist behavior during a campaign?” Is it politeness? Is it deference? It is listening attentively while the other person speaks?

Politics is the opposite of everything your parents taught you was right. “Put others first.” “Don’t brag on yourself.” “Be respectful.” That is what we were taught. But politics turns that all on its head.

During the 1980 Republican primary, when his mic was about to be cut, Ronald Reagan barked, “I paid for this microphone!” In 1988, Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen said to Dan Quayle when he invoked JFK, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Politics at this level gets ugly. Hillary knew that; she’s played on this field before. So she knew it would get ugly for her, too. And as politics go, Bernie’s interruptions were not ugly. They were no more and no less than the heart of presidential politics: an opponent vying for leverage. (True ugly won’t come until November.)

Hillary Clinton is a lot of things, both good and bad. But one thing she is not is a waifish wallflower. She is a former Senator, a former Secretary of State, a witness who testified for eleven hours straight during a mockery of a Congressional hearing without losing her cool. So while one can reasonably question her pro-trade policies (that will further decimate blue collar workers), and while it’s fair to ask her what concessions high-powered CEOs expect in return for their tens of millions of dollars in contributions (answer: many more millions than they gave), it is ludicrous for her to pretend she doesn’t grasp what presidential politics entail. It is likewise ludicrous for her to imply that her opponent, a person who for 20+ has supported women’s rights, is sexist.

Bernie Sanders was not sexist tonight. The person condescending to women was, instead, Hillary Clinton. She mocked every woman’s desire for equal treatment by equating respectful behavior to an endeavor within which it would have been sexist if she had been treated with deference. Are you going to fall for that?

Aiming Low

Hillary Clinton is coming on strong. Behind her are the political winds. (The establishment: Democrats in the Senate, Congress, state houses, even the White House — if rumors are to be believed.) These are folks who loved the 1990s so much that they want to return. And why not? What wasn’t to love about the first Clinton presidency with its soaring economy and that smart vibrant twosome in the White House? And its pretty blue dress.

Life was great when I was a kid. I spent summers in the lake and on my Schwinn Stingray. But I got sick when I was nine. Soon I couldn’t balance my bike beneath me. I was in a wheelchair by the time I was ten.

The illness I had was rare. Wasn’t under control. Multiple times, I almost died. I spent the next four years in and out of hospitals.

By the time middle school rolled around, my hospital stays were done, but I was unable to attend school (pre-ADA). So I stayed home. Days were long, boring, spent with an aged couple who “babysat” me while Mother and Daddy were at work. There was lots of TV.

At the age of sixteen, my parents bought a van with a lift. I could go places without them and started attending a youth group. Soon I was in college, had friends, enjoyed parties. I got to live. I had a life.

It’s been twenty-five years since college. And when I look back, I realize what a good life I’ve had. Swimming, biking, parents who loved me. Then came a world class university, incredible friends, experiences in the bigger world. Because of that, I rarely think about those long years I sat home alone. Or the four years in hospitals that preceded them. I recall very little of that. Like it never even happened.

It’s easy to remember the good to the exclusion of the bad. I think that’s how we survive, our species, because life is hard, often painful. And so I doubt we could make it without selective retention — nature’s benzodiazepine. But selective retention is a double-edged sword. Take, for example, the Clinton years.

It began with rumors of infidelity. Then came Ginnifer Flowers. Yet more rumors. Then Monica. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” Bill said. Kenneth Starr. A blue dress with the president’s semen on it.  What the meaning of “is” is. And then impeachment.

In the end, William Jefferson Clinton won. His favorables remained high for years after. They’re still high.  But we — you and I — we paid a price for that.

For those of you not old enough to appreciate the battles of the 1990s, I can tell you that they possessed every ounce of vitriol you’ve witnessed between the GOP Congress and President Obama. The fire was just as hot. But unlike Obama, Bill Clinton brought those battles on himself. His recklessness, his insatiable desire for pussy, his hubris, his manipulation of the facts and his threading of the needle of legality fueled division that costs us all. Yet he showed zero regret. The definition of narcissism.

Hillary was the facilitator of Bill’s conceit. From the start. On 60 Minutes, two days before the New Hampshire primary, she stared into the camera and lied for him. He hadn’t cheated, she said.

Someone once said that anyone who has the arrogance to think they can run the world will believe they can get away with anything. That stayed with me. Because it’s true. Bill Clinton was the poster child for that arrogance.

Most of us who witnessed Hillary handle her husband’s cheating with Monica respected her skill and her grace. Some women condemned her for not brushing him aside, for not standing up for young women by showing them they had more value than to be cheated on by a man, repeatedly, in public, with no remorse. But Hillary implied through secondary channels (if she didn’t out right say it) that her faith got her through. And while she had said before Bill’s election that she wasn’t a “stand by her man” woman, mocking an old country song that was well-worth mocking, that was exactly who she was. For better or worse. From devotion or ambition.

Hillary ran for Senate in 2000. It was suspected at the time that the Clintons bought their house in New York for the sole purpose of her running, that their move was arranged to coincide with the Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Moynihan. Few disputed that, even among her supporters, as Hillary was young and had goals of her own. Some even speculated that her devotion to Bill had been political expediency directed toward those goals. That it wasn’t love at all. Or not only love. With her run for the Senate came talk of her return to the White House. As president. And we all wondered if she would take philandering Bill with her or leave him in a ditch along the way. Heated speculation: Would his above par political skills make up for his subpar character?

Hillary was described during her time in the Senate as a team player. Her Republican colleagues liked her. Respected her. Worked beside her. Yet she accomplished little: Renamed a US Post Office and renamed a highway. No legislation otherwise bears her name. But she did place one high profile vote. For the Iraq War.

To this day, no one knows if Hillary’s Iraq War vote reflected her true sentiment, or if it was merely to frame her with the necessary toughness a woman would need if she ran for president. Either way, the Iraq War was in part hers. She gave Bush that permission. And she was wise enough to have known that he would use it to invade; if we knew, and we did, then it by no means got past her. So that war is on her shoulders. It was her move.

Hillary Clinton is now running for the nation’s top job. Odds are, she will get the Democratic nomination. She stands a decent shot of becoming the next President of the United States.

From the start, I have been leery of Hillary. I’m male, and have been told online — where I tweet often — that I’m a misogynist, afraid of powerful women, don’t see the need for a woman to break through the glass ceiling. Untrue. I was raised by a strong woman, an independent woman, a woman who believes women can do anything a man can do. It’s a belief she passed on to me. (And if Hillary’s disapproval was based merely on misogyny, then college-aged women would have risen up first for Hillary not Bernie Sanders.) Still, like I said, I’m leery of Hillary. I was in 2008, as well. So this go round I’ve been for Bernie.

I differentiate Hillary and Bernie this way: Listen to Bernie, you hear conviction; listen to Hillary, you hear ambition. Ambition concerns me. It has always concerned me. Ambition is about “me” while conviction is about things greater than “me.” That’s why I enthusiastically support Bernie Sanders. And that’s why I will continue to support him despite what appears to be an inevitable loss.

As my candidate struggles against his opponent’s powerful political machine, I will conclude with this:

What we remember of the 1990s is not what happened in the 1990s. It is a memory. Nothing more. And memory, for our very survival, glosses over some very bad things. In this case, for many who support Hillary, it has whitewashed scandals that ate at us for almost eight years and the laws that were slipped by us with Bill Clinton’s calm cool reassurance (the same smooth demeanor he used on Ginnifer, Monica and the others before and since, no doubt) when he told us that what we were doing was right and good, while it was neither. Those laws instead:

  1. Incarcerated hundreds of thousands of non-violent men;
  2. Threw the poor, the weakest of the weak, onto the streets;
  3. Redirected the Democratic Party’s focus from working men and women toward Wall Street and major financial contributors, the same powers that bankroll the GOP;
  4. Through NAFTA closed tens of thousands of American factories and left millions of hard working blue collar men and women unemployed;
  5. Gave bankers the power they needed to consolidate despite warnings from history and much wiser people that it could bring down the economy, which it did in 2008.

Hillary Clinton comes from a dark spot in American history, one she helped create. No matter how much she denies the bad from that time, or embraces the good, from that forgotten place has returned a deeply flawed couple whom together — “you get two for the price of one,” Bill told us — enacted laws that destroyed the lives of millions of Americans in order to advance one family’s legacy.

Do we really want to go back there?

Half White All Black

Humans acclimate quickly, come to take things for granted. And so it feels normal now. After slavery, after Jim Crow, after the lynchings and the beatings and the murders of innumerable black men by bad men and bad cops, we have for seven years had a black president. Do you remember when that seemed impossible?

This black president was given birth by a white mother and raised within a white family in a white culture. Strange how rarely we think of that, how we think of him only as our black president, how we still see things through old eyes. The one drop rule.

But that we’ve viewed this president as black has revealed an amazing thing about us. For even though we saw him as black — and only black, not white — we ignored all the negative connotations that we’ve been conditioned to believe about brown skin, and we voted for this man. Twice.

And he garnered our vote both times despite the wedges his opposition used to frame him as an other: Dismissed as an African not born here, accused of “palling around with terrorists,” denied of his Christian faith with innuendo that he was the same religion as the 9-11 attackers, accused of “hating white people,” charged with wanting to destroy America, damned as unpatriotic because he dared to tell us that we could do better.

Still we voted him in.

But among Republicans, his elections have never been finalized. He has never been their president. It’s as if they believe his election was a lie, a dream of the far left that the GOP is waiting for us to wake from. In their delusion they have denied him victories and even respect. They have treated him, as they used to say of men subjugated to white will, “like their nigger.”

And that behavior by a recalcitrant Republican congress wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to his election nor in principled opposition to his policies. It was a methodical plan laid out by the Republican leadership on the day Barack Obama was sworn-in, and its set goal was to block every piece of legislation the president proposed, to obstruct him at every turn. It was an action that was nothing short of treason if treason is setting aside one’s sworn service to the American people in exchange for personal ambition.

It’s now been seven years since the Republicans set their plan into motion, and their agenda has remained the same, as witnessed after the death of Antonin Scalia, when the Senate leader stated that no Supreme Court appointment would be permitted until the American people were given a chance to speak in the 2016 election. In other words, the people’s voice in 2012 was an inaccurate measure of the public will. And it must have been. As for the second time they elected a black man to the White House, and surely that kind of irony was a mistake.

Ironic, too, has been the hard-to-comprehend reality that the same people who voted for our first black president voted for this congress. And while we may never know why they split their vote, their will can be seen through the fog of their contradiction: The president’s personal and job approval numbers are through the roof while those of Congress have plummeted to the floor. The people are stating their will, if to an obstinate legislature.

Yet stomp their feet all they might, this GOP will soon have no choice but to listen, as they are a diminishing minority — their numbers shrinking for a reason: Their beliefs are rooted in old fears, old science, old beliefs, old everything. And the old withers away.

Then comes the new.

Barack Hussein Obama is a stark reminder that the homogeneous white nation that was once an island of prosperity in a much smaller world is no more. It has died — has been dying for decades. And it won’t come back, no matter how tightly Republicans hold onto their guns or narrow-minded religions. That old America has breathed its last and the new has been born, sealed with the election of our first black president.

It was a violent birth.

The past eight years have opened up scars long thought closed as the president’s skin — not his policies, demeanor, actions — blinded a majority of far right voters to the absurdity of what they were being told. It was painful to watch up close: Old friends, good friends, fine people behaving like those respectable white men and well-groomed white women on the newsreels from Selma. These good people who work hard and love their families and their country have believed the most despicable lies of their day. And their gullibility is easy to judge, to mock, to look down upon, until you realize we are no different: Black and white, liberal and conservative, young and old, residents of Little Rock and citizens of Berlin. The sin of my friends reveals all our sin. That poison courses through all of us, we are all filled with hate. Those of us not acting out are merely waiting for the messenger.

And this president could have acted in kind. He could have called out our generation’s racism. He had that right, he was its target. But he didn’t. He instead took it like a man and taught us by his good grace and example how we overcome our sin. And because of his dignity, the president’s tormentors grew small while he grew large, and he will only grow larger as history judges him as the steady captain who singlehandedly guided our ship out of the Great Recession while the unruly crew was mutinous.

Be proud, America. We elected this man — the right man — into the White House, and we did that twice. So even if we make the same mistakes in the future that we have in the past, Obama is our proof that we are maturing, that we’re slowly getting it right.

Commies and Fascists

Middle East: We’re in battle with a twenty-first century Vietcong. Middle Class: Our jobs have left for overseas. Middle Ground: There is none.

Middle is a problem.

America’s foundation is crumbling. That means infrastructure, yes. But our problem is deeper than concrete. It’s us. We’re pulling apart.

Read social media. Listen to the radio. Watch cable news. Remember “mutual respect?” No, I don’t either. It’s been a long time.

Republican friends, the vehement type, the ones who are hard right, believe government is out to get us, believe it’s killing our jobs, believe Democrats hate America just like their president hates America. In that respect, they’re fools, and yet my buddies. They think the same of me.

We’ve known each other forever, my buddies and me, shared laughs over beers, checked out women in short skirts at the bars, amped up each other’s courage when we were too afraid to go talk to the cute one, “Quit being a pussy and ask her!” But that was college. Been years. Now we’re older. Wives, kids, house payments. Life is more complicated. Blame easier to hurl.

Yet we’ve got to fix this, get the country under control before it’s too late. But we can’t, because we’re fighting over the wheel. “Let go of that goddamned steering wheel!” we scream. At each other. As we careen toward the ditch. But no one lets go. “Those fools,” we all yell, “are gonna kill us!” And about that the odds are stacking. It’s not looking good.

People don’t suffer fools. And the other ones are fools. So we’re fracturing. As a nation. As friends. For some, even as family. And we have been for a while.

  • Obama? His election exacerbated our division, exploded us into factions not seen since the civil war — or at least since the Edmund Pettus Bridge — even before his oath of office.
  • Bush 43?  His Supreme Court coronation and the wars that followed surely widened the rift between us. But they weren’t what opened the fissure.
  • Clinton? Disliked by Republicans and some Dems, relentlessly investigated, wrongly impeached, certainly immoral and self-serving. But this didn’t start with him, either.
  • Bush 41? Too banal to have caused anything.
  • Reagan? Worshipped and demonized, without question responsible for the deaths of both the middle class and the USSR. But our anger was birthed before him.

Our split was a long time coming. Before Fox News. Before Rush Limbaugh. Before William F. Buckley. Before Nixon. Before Goldwater. Before the John Birch Society. Before the hippies and the yippies and the beatniks and the Vietnam War. Truth be told, I think it has always been here. I think this is who we are. Divided, right brain-left brain, both, the cautious and the aspirational. The “yes we cans” and the “but maybe we should nots.” The dogmatic and the free thinkers. The lovers of science and the prayers to God. This is who we were and who we will always be.

But together?

It feels like we’re at our end. The red lights are flashing. The crossing guard has dropped down in front of the tracks. A train. But no one’s at the wheel while everyone’s at the wheel. And no one’s hitting the brakes. I write about this incessantly because it feels imminent. Like at any moment we’re going to crash and burn. And maybe it’s always been that way. Maybe we’ve always felt like we’re on the verge of our demise because maybe we are. Maybe that’s how democracy works.

Yet as different as we’ve been, we have somehow survived — because we’ve met in the middle, at that center yellow line, sometimes in the left lane, sometimes the right, but always on the road.

But things seem different now. It’s harder to steer, the middle harder to find. And so we’ve angled toward the ditch.

And still we’re accelerating.

Mr. Smith Screams at Washington

The death rattle of the American dream. That’s what we’re witnessing.

Do you know anyone who thinks their vote matters? Anyone who believes Washington hears their voice? Do you know one person whom you respect who believes the nation is headed in the right direction? Who believes the next generation will be better off than this one? Than the generation before?

Of course, you don’t.

The contraction of a democracy brings with it the kind of men who come before an end, the John the Baptists and the AntiChrists, the ones that warn you of your demise and offer the promise of resurrection. (Which of those fates you experience, of course, depends on you. It always depends on you.)

When the voices first rose in late 2008, what would become the Tea Party wasn’t conservative. It wasn’t liberal. It was men and women from across the spectrum enraged at Washington for giving our money (yours, mine) to Wall Street bankers — and then hanging us out to dry. It was grassroots. It wanted justice. It demanded that our government act on our behalf. Then it was coopted by the far right.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are surging because we the people want to be heard. No more platitudes. No more hedging. We want candidates standing where we stand. And no matter which side you’re on, one of these two men echo back your cries: Put us at the front of the line — before Wall Street, before non-Americans, before those who are buying our politicians and robbing us of our voice.

Hear us!

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are our clarion call to Washington that we’re fed up with its narcissism, a message to the powers that be that the people who rose up seven years ago with the Tea Party, the real Tea Party that breathed fire before the Kochs and Fox News harnessed it, are alive and well and still raging at the injustice that’s been leveled at our feet.

But we are not satiated by our anger.

We want good paying jobs. We want to own our own homes again. We want to know what it’s like to have a savings account and what forty-hour work weeks and two week vacations feel like. We want to see our kids walk across the stage after their college education and know they aren’t shackled to student debt but about to embark on a fantastic new adventure. And we want to know our elderly parents won’t die in poverty.

To put it simply: We want our country back.

And through our votes for these two disparate men we are asserting that we expect those whom we’ve elected to turn from the bribery they’re engaging in to the service of three hundred twenty million American futures — and not merely their own.

We are living in a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment. We, right and left, have created that moment. And if Washington listens, the Republican and Democratic parties and America itself might just be revived. But if Washington does not listen…

Slaves’s Revolt

2016. We’re in full swing. I’m a Bernie supporter, will not vote for Hillary in the primary, will not support her if she’s the nominee. I’m catching flack for that. “The Republicans will win,” I’m told. And truth is, if enough people feel like I do, that prediction may be right. But Hillary Clinton is a large cog in a larger machine that has systematically robbed every one but the wealthiest of us of our voice in our government. And as a Democrat, a member of the political party that once stood for persons not corporations, I feel compelled to take a stand before its destruction is complete. Even now, it is no more liberal than the Republican Party in 1972. (I know this. I was there to see the world then.)

The Democratic Party used to belong to working men and women, minorities, the poor, unions. It was us against them, oppressed against oppressor, working class against monied class, Democrat against Republican. It was a frustrating balancing act, a constant tension. And yet it worked. It always seemed to work. Then Bill Clinton stepped into the White House.

Bill was smooth. Ask any woman he shagged. He got into their heads. He knew what they wanted. He had his way. He got into our heads.

Democrats had suffered through eight years of Reagan, four of Bush, and all we wanted was to win.  Bill showed us we could win, and we could win big, could win the hearts and minds of the public like Reagan had. We just had to trust him. He would take care of everything.  Now, Shhh, he said, the lion to the lamb.

And then he brought in some friends.

For over twenty years, since 1992, those of us in the middle and the poor have willingly given the fruits of our labor to the Democratic Party’s new benefactors (AKA Bill’s friends). What once belonged to us — the envy of the world, the great middle class — has been transferred into the swelling bank accounts of the wealthy. Working class families who could send their kids to college, could buy a boat, some even buy a weekend cabin, now struggle to get by. Their jobs, once plenty, reside today in Mexico, in China, in India. The result of Clinton’s push for free trade, we are told those jobs can never come back. We’re told they’re beneath us. We’re told we have to educate ourselves to become those workers’ masters. But, of course, college is unaffordable. Nor is everybody cut out for it. And so hard working men and women, people who built things, now work for minimum wage or maybe, if they’re lucky, twenty bucks an hour. Republicans didn’t do this to us. They alone didn’t have that power. No, our party did this to us — the Democratic Party — and we let it.

Then eight years ago we were offered change. We were told this new guy could bring us back. He would fix things, they said. And we believed like we believed before. Our candidate’s name was Barack Obama. He won the White House because of us.

I heard an old black man say about Obama before the 2008 election that he had seen men like him in the neighborhood before: Handsome suit, creased pants, shiny shoes, a smooth talker who assured people he would take care of them. The man said you should never trust a man like that. But I didn’t believe him. And to be honest, even now, I like Obama. I think — no, I know — he wants to do the right thing. For us. But a slave can only do what he’s allowed to do. (Yeah, I know, that’s an improper analogy, all things considered. But is it wrong? Is Obama not a slave to the system? You know he is, his race irrelevant.)

The severity of our situation is clear. In the months that followed the crash of 2008, when our popular new president could have prosecuted and likely convicted Wall Street for its crimes against us, when he could have shifted some of those trillions used to bail out the banks to Main Street, he did not. What he did instead was first serve our predators. And today their companies are bigger than they’ve ever been, their CEO’s are earning more than they’ve ever earned, while millions of us have lost our homes and may never own one again. Sound like a fair trade?

So will a Republican win the White House if I and Democrats like me refuse to vote for another Wall Street sycophant? Yeah, that’s possible, maybe even likely. But it’s time we take a stand against our party for our party. It’s time we go on strike until the Democratic Party, the one that once belonged to us, represents us again, and turns its back on the slave traders to whom Bill Clinton sold us.