"Reality" Show?

It’s not funny anymore.

It used to be very funny. But not anymore. Not to me, anyway.

Many (including the Doc) were anticipating a glorious return of Tina Fey as the garbled, grammar-impaired former governor of Alaska after Palin’s (at times incoherent) endorsement of a presidential candidate blew up the Internet with flurries of “no she didn’t,” and “what the hell did she say?” and a bunch of snark about her and her family’s fortunes.

And deliver Tina Fey did. Down to the Liberace Vegas cardigan, Tina Fey continues to do a spot-on Palin spoof.

Ha! Ha! How goofy is she. Ha! Ha! What a pair. Ha! Ha! Is this real? Ha! Ha! What are the voters thinking? Ha! Ha! What a joke this entire election process is.

But it’s not funny anymore.

It’s very very serious.  We are so busy having out-of-the-body-politics-experiences, mocking people–candidates and voters alike–we aren’t seeing that we risk the very existence of our democracy.

WHOA, you say. Aren’t you going a little overboard? Maybe this political season is pushing you too much to a docu-drama.

Hear me out.

It’s not like the right to vote is guaranteed. There are plenty of places where people can’t vote. Or places in which people vote in sham elections. Despite high voter-registration rates, too few people vote in U.S. elections. Too few people know how our government works, even folks purportedly defending it. Our 240 year grand experiment in democracy is not a sure thing. And the way our Constitution is structured, it’s up to us to make it so.

It’s not enough to be entertained by politics and our presidential process. That’s not participation, that’s observation. Take this seriously, learn about the issues and the candidates and vote.

Let’s use political satire as a motivation. Okay?

When Thinking Doesn’t Count

Ooogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas

Charles Blow writes today in the New York Times about head versus “heart.”

This underscores the current fight for the soul of this country. It’s not just a tug of war between left and right. It’s a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.

This conflict was captured in a tit-for-tat between Obama and Rush Limbaugh. In an interview with CBS this week, Obama complained about the “vitriol” coming from the likes of Limbaugh: “I think the vast majority of Americans know that we’re trying hard, that I want what’s best for the country.”

Limbaugh shot back on Friday, “I and most Americans do not believe President Obama is trying to do what’s best for the country.”

And there it was. Obama’s language focused on what people “know,” or should know. He seems to find comfort in the empirical nature of knowledge. It’s logical. Limbaugh’s language focused on what he thinks people “believe.” Beliefs are a more complicated blend of facts, or lies, and faith. And, they can exist beyond the realm of the rational.

And this is the part where I get really scared.

You see, I am a thinking person. I will look at facts. I will look at data. I will follow the trail. If I am worried about the provisions in the health care bill, I will read them for myself. And, I will change my mind when I am wrong.

Here’s the scary part. There are many–and truly not all–people who are strongly against health care (really insurance) reform who are just making stuff up. These people are making stuff up all the time. They are in an alternative reality. Where birth certificates from a sovereign state are suspect and there is a great and evil communist-nazi conspiracy.

And the left, we are going with logic. And facts. And thoughtful arguments. If people only understood–the President seems to be saying–they would support.

They have the boogie man. Boogie man wins over thinking man.

Keep an eye on the elections. Thinking people need a new strategy.

Interviews and Debates and Speeches, Oh My!

The ruby slippers as worn by Gov. Palin.Somebody needs to remind Alaska’s Governor Palin about the differences between an interview, a debate and a speech. Oh, well doggone it, I’ll do it.

Interview: This is a format in which a reporter asks questions and the interviewee answers them. The interviewee–in this case you, Gov. Palin–doesn’t get to choose the questions. That would be more like a town hall or Ask the WhiteHouse as hosted by the White House. Sometimes the questions might be a surprise and sometimes if you don’t answer the question or you try to “pivot,” the reporter tries to pin you down with a follow-up question. The reporter gets paid to get to new information. You shouldn’t be annoyed when they do their job and follow the structure of a standard interview rather than a Speech (see below).

Debate: Here is another one where the format is already known. In political debates, the first thing that happens is that there is alot of negotiations regarding whether the debators (the candidates) sit or stand, limits on time and engagement, and even topics. The campaigns also decide on debate moderators. All this happens weeks before your preparation begins. So, it’s important to know what the rules are in order to know what to expect, but since your team is part of making the rules, it’s easy enough to find out.

During the debate, what happens is the moderator asks some questions, and you respond to those questions. It’s perfectly okay to direct your response to the pre-scripted talking points that you wish to cover. Everyone does that. It is not so okay, however, to say “And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people.” When you talk straight to the American people in an unfiltered way, that is called a Speech (see below) not a Debate.

Speech: This is when you get to say whatever you want, for as long as you want, to the audience that you want. You can take questions, or not. But remember, not every exchange when you speak to the public is a Speech. You have been doing mostly speeches, so dagnabbit, maybe you forgot what happens in other venues, see Interview and Debate above.

Last reminder Gov., you’re not in Wasilla anymore.

Addicted to Palin

Okay. I said it. It’s the first step. I admit that I have a problem.

I have been thinking about Sarah Palin, reading about Sarah Palin, watching video about Sarah Palin, following convention coverage about Sarah Palin, wrestling with my feelings about Sarah Palin, and trying to figure out what I think about this polarizing newly minted political rockstar.

I can’t get her out of my mind, because I am having a hard time making a decision about her and what to think about her.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President.

The qualifications for the vice presidency are the same as those for the presidency. The vice president must be a native-born American of at least 35 years of age who has resided in the United States for at least 14 years. — Encarta

This means that I, too, am qualified to be Vice President–or President for that matter.

In my obsessive reading, some folks are saying that they have alot in common with Gov. Palin, and since they do NOT think that they are qualified for the job, therefore SHE isn’t qualified. Others are happy to have somebody who is “just like me,” who will understand and respond to their needs. Next I find myself thinking about why I believe that Brack Obama is qualified to be President.

This gets me thinking about serendipity and timing. Before Obama became a 2008 Presidential candidate, I was wishing that he would wait until the next round. But sometimes circumstances thrust you into a position and you have to grab for the ring. It might not be presented again. And I think that I need to apply that same standard to Palin.

But what about her family?, I was thinking. How could Palin be a mother to babies, young children and teens while being Vice President?

What wrong thinking.

I always thought that I tried hard not to judge other parents and their decisions–whether mom should work or stay home, what role does dad play, is quality time better than quantity time, prudes versus permissives, milk versus ice tea? In our family the mom went back to work when the babies were 9 and 8 weeks old–and still nursed both until they were two. The dad worked part time for the first few years and did main duty. The mom took a new job that entailed alot of domestic travel 4 months before the youngest was born–and she dragged the baby from coast to coast. His first hotel was in Boston at 10 weeks. Good mom? Bad mom? Sometimes. Okay, I think Palin is a fine parent. Her kids look happy (and gorgeous!) and I bet they will survive her parenting and become productive adults. As I pray my kids will survive my own parenting.

But what does parenting have to do with being a “heartbeat away from the Presidency” anyway? Nothing. But the heartbeat away from the Presidency thing is pretty important.

So, I think that Palin is qualified enough. And I think that, as Obama has forcefully and genuinely said, her family needs to be off limits. So that leads me to where I should have been from the beginning–what do I think about her as a potential president, because that’s the job she is going for?

I definitely think that she is a shrewd and formidable politician. She has worked hard and appears to spit nails and bring down the hammer on foes. Her rise to the governor’s mansion in Juneau is something to be respected and admired. Politics is a tough game, and a young upstart from a small town making it to the top of the heap in Alaska is nothing to shake a stick at. Go Sarah Barracuda!

So now I am returning to her convention speech–what tells me most about who she is and what kind of president she might be, because that’s all we got. And this is the source that makes me most uncomfortable about Sarah Palin, and a McCain-Palin presidency.

The speech–well delivered by a confident, accessible, smiling candidate–helped to draw a clear distinction between the choice we have in November. And it isn’t about Palin, specifically, but about what her ticket stands for.

Change for them means making a U-turn and going back to the 50’s. The speech was very backwards looking, to the “good ole days” of some idyllic and perhaps mythical small town America. Where people are homogeneous (but not homos), where nostalgia and the familiar trump intellectual curiosity, and where we need to run back to the cocoon rather than boldly face the challenges of health care, the environment, education and globalization.

Backwards to when diplomacy means that the U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A. (chant it with me like its 1980) plays nuclear games of chicken with our enemies, and globalization means that everyone oversees wants an American car and the imports from Japan are cheesy.

Where small towns are filled with honest, sincere dignified people who are somehow immune to a failing economy, the mortgage crisis, and the false prospect that cutting taxes for the wealthiest will make us all better off, even if that leaves state coffers empty without money for infrastructure projects and public safety (can you say levies?) and with gimmicks to improve education.

When the natural resources of this great planet were seen as infinite, and frontier settlers were the masters, taking whatever they wanted and moving on when the land was depleted or destroyed because it was their right. In contrast to the people already in this country that the settlers displaced. People who were stewards for the land, the water, the air, the animals and plants.

I watched Gov. Palin’s speech–and within the context of the Republican Convention–felt like she saw the best times were behind us. Simpler times. Times that needed to be protected from the future.

And her reiteration of wedge issues in the guise of small town values–guns, abortion, creationism–sets up the old “us against them” no-compromise zone. I appreciated Sen. McCain talking about reaching out across differences to make changes during his acceptance speech, but he really didn’t advocate anything new. And, if his running mate and others making speeches have their way (as they did with his choice for VP), his calls for pragmatic compromise to resolve tough issues will likely disappear.

I used to work in an academic environment with decisions made by “consensus.” What that meant in practice was that anyone could stop an idea by crapping on it. It was a huge challenge to get anything done, make change, see things in a new way, innovate or invent. It was status quo all the time, because there was always someone who knew they could stop change and keep their fiefdoms intact.

So it’s really not about Sarah Palin, who is truly a remarkable person on many levels. I don’t need to think about her, although she helped me to reconcile some ideas that were vexing me.

It’s about the fact that on most issues I absolutely and fundamentally disagree with Sarah Palin and her running mate. And all the distractions that have been fed up by the 24/7 news personalities and Democratic and Republican spinmeisters are just that. Distractions.

So yes, I have been thinking alot about Sarah Palin. And I think that now, I am on the road to recovery.