Sunday, July 24, 2016

Part 3 of One Voter's History with "The Lesser of Two Evils"

Click Here for Part One: 1968, 1972, 1976
Click Here for Part Two: 1980, 1984, 1988

The height of new technology in 1992, Jerry Brown
included a toll-free 800 number on everything.

1992 was another year in which the candidate I supported in the primaries lost. (The background music for the writing about this year is R.E.M.'s Out Of Time.) The Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton clashes, some of which involved Hillary's law firm weren't the only similarity with 2016. Jerry Brown was also a precursor of Bernie Sanders in his attack on PACs, his $100 cap on contributions solicited from small donors with his ubiquitous 800 number, and a no-frills campaign in which he stayed in supporters' houses rather than fancy hotels (cf. the photos of Bernie flying coach and carrying his own bags). Since his first round as California Governor, I always liked Jerry Brown's style that was totally out of sync with conventional politics and conventional American lifetyles. I wasn't a fan of Bill or his centrist path, and I was disappointed when he got the nomination, but I voted for him. I didn't see it as a case of  "the lesser of two evils." It was more a case  of "the leftest of two centrists," and note that's 'leftest' as in 'most left'; there were no leftists involved on either side. George H.W. Bush had lost my vote for good when he gained the support of 90% of Americans with Operation Desert Storm.

1992 is also the rare classic case of the third party helping rather than hurting the Democrats. Ross Perot got almost 20 million votes and Bush only lost to Clinton by about 5 million. If some of those Republicans had voted for "rightest of two centrists" rather than the shiny little nut from Texas, George the First would have easily won re-election.


I voted for Clinton/Gore over Dole/Kemp in 1996, but I don't remember much more about it than that. I remember having one Clinton/Gore pin similar to the one pictured here, but I haven't stumbled on it or anything else from that year. (This entry will be too short to require a change in soundtrack on my turntable, but if I did pick something to represent 1996 for me, it would probably be Blur's The Great Escape).

It might be worth mentioning that Ross Perot ran again in '96 and got 8 million votes, enough to swing it as he could have in 1992 if his voters had gone Republican. Also, the Green Party's candidate in '96 was Ralph Nader, who came in fourth with 685,297 votes.


This is the year we'll hear about most in 2016 if it seems as though a significant number of hardcore BernieOrBusters will be voting for the Green Party's Jill Stein or the Libertarian Gary Johnson. (My soundtrack for 2000 is, of course, Kid A.) Early in the primary season, I thought I'd be voting for New Jersey's Senator Bill Bradley over Al Gore, but by the time the New Jersey primary came around Gore was unopposed and I didn't even vote in the meaningless preliminary round.

I had no problem voting for Gore over Nader and Bush in the general election, but others did. Nader got just under 3 million votes nationwide, but - most importantly - he picked up 97,488 votes in Florida, which Gore only lost by 537 votes (though even that thin Bush margin needed an assist from a Republican Supreme Court). If a miniscule percentage of those 97,488 who felt their votes didn't count except to "send a message" had voted for the major party candidate closest to their views, George W. Bush would not have been able to gain the White House (even with help from the Supremes).

Adding insult to injury, of course, is the fact that Al Gore won the popular vote by over 450,000 votes nationwide.

Try to imagine a situation in 2016 where Donald Trump loses a key state by less than a thousand votes, or loses the electoral vote after winning the popular vote. Will he, a conspiracy theorist who already claims the system is rigged and fixed, go quietly? Will his supporters, more conspiracists and heavily-armed white supremacists and motorcycle gangsters, go quietly? Do we want to find out? It's important that Donald Trump be crushed decisively in November, and not only to show the rest of the world that he only represents a fringe of America. Ralph Nader in 2000 is still the best lesson we have for why it's sometimes necessary to choose the lesser of two evils rather than send a message that no one hears (unless it blows up the side you're closest to).

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Make America Grateful Again.

Happy Saturday!

Goddamn, well I declare
Have you seen the like?
Their walls are built of cannonballs,
their motto is Don't Tread on Me
Come hear Uncle John's Band
by the riverside
Got some things to talk about
here beside the rising tide

The Paranoid Style in 2016 American Politics

In 1964, largely with the Goldwater campaign and the John Birch Society in mind, the Columbia history professor Richard Hofstadter published "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in that November's issue of Harper's. When I read this essay in college ten years later, with Nixon in the White House, it was already a classic that transcended its original time. I was happy to run into it in electronic form on the Harper's website  again last night.

The words "paranoid style" instinctively seem to go with "Trump" as perfectly as words like "vulgarian" and "trumpery" do, but while paranoid style is an ideal frame with which to view the celebration of fear and loathing that we just saw during Trumpapalooza in Cleveland last week, it is not necessarily a style used only by forces on the right.
Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style.
As I watch the news this morning, waiting for the first official appearance of the Clinton-Kaine ticket in advance of next week's Democratic Convention in Philadelphia and the reporters on CNN are reviewing the preparations for mass demonstrations by hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters who are suspicious of any middle-of-the-road "establishment" candidates, I just read the following paragraph worth quoting in full, to which I will add no further comment of my own.
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
Read the whole thing by clicking here. This essay and Hofstadter's book Anti-intellectualism in American Life are among our nation's essential  political documents. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tru'mpery makes its second appearance as the TBL word of the day

I know I've posted a definition of the word of the year here once before, but this morning I ran across the word in the book I'm currently reading. I couldn't resist ripping a facsimile definition from Samuel Johnson's great 18th-century dictionary in honor of the man who will be speaking at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland tonight.

TRU'MPERY. n. [tromperie, French, a cheat.]
1. Something fallaciously splendid ; something of less value than it seems.

   The trumpery in my house bring hither, For state to catch these thieves. Shaksp. Tempest.

2. Falsehood ; empty talk.
   Breaking into parts the story of the creation, and delivering it over in a mystical sense, wrapping it up mixed with other their own trumpery, they have fought to obscure the truth thereof.  Raleigh's History of the World.
3. Something of no value ; trifles.
   Embrios and idiots, eremits and friars, White, black, and grey, with all their trumpery. Milton.
   Another cavity of the head was stuffed with billetdoux, pricked dances, and other trumpery of the same nature. Addison.

Excuse the fact that I'm repeating myself on this blog, but I love the way that all three definitions fit different facets of Donald J. Trump on this big, this YUGE, night of his.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The only books Trump cares about are the books he can cook.

"Hillary’s called me a 'xenophobe' a few times. How many people even know what the word means? Same with 'nativist'."-Donald J. Trump, June 2016

The Republican National Convention is beginning in Cleveland today. There are so many things to wonder about in the strange rise of Donald J. Trump's joke candidacy, but this quotation from a couple of weeks ago sums him up for me today. Has the United States ever had a major-party candidate who is as relentlessly and proudly anti-intellectual as he is? He could turn to his dictionary to look up 'xenophobe' and 'nativist,' but he's not a big fan of books. And who needs books when you can learn everything you need from "watching the shows"?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Part 2 of One Voter's History with "The Lesser of Two Evils"

Part 1, which includes the introduction and election years of 1968, 1972, and 1976 can be read by clicking here.

Now we enter a much darker era in American history...

How to throw away a vote.

I couldn't find any buttons in my own collection from the year that ushered in Reaganism -- or from any of the elections in the Gordon Gekko decade -- so the buttons to the left were grabbed from Google images. (The soundtrack as I write about this year is the Clash's London Calling album.) For most of the 1980 election season I was working as a clerk at the Strand Book Store in the Village and living in Brooklyn, which -- when I see that sentence appearing in print across my screen -- I realize could describe an almost stereotypical media version of a #BernieOrBust voter in 2016. Having lived in California during the time when the right-wing host of Death Valley Days became Governor and started destroying the UC system and the rest of the state's progressive values, I already knew the dangers of Ronald Reagan. However, in the heart of  New York's hipper precincts he was nothing but a joke. We would get celebrities shopping in the Strand all the time; one day before the conventions David Brinkley was checking out and the clerk behind the register asked the anchor of NBC News who he thought would win the election. "I'm afraid it's going to be Reagan," is how I remember his answer. If those weren't the exact words, there was definitely a tone of disappointment and resignation to a fact that most of us saw as outside the realm of possibility (again, reminding me of the conventional wisdom about Donald J. Trump in 2016). Reagan was a joke. We saw him as Goldwater, heading for inevitable defeat in the summer of 1980.

So I don't know how to explain my vote. Between the boring cardigan-wearing Jimmy Carter and the genuinely scary Ronald Reagan, we were also given the choice of John Anderson, who made appearances on SNL and must have had some sort of interesting political ideas that appealed to me, because I pulled the lever for him, just as many Bernie supporters will vote for Gary Johnson this fall. I can attempt to blame the fact that I was distracted. Between September and election day I had left the Strand, got married, started grad school at Columbia, had my best man murdered, quit grad school, and was job hunting on election day, but I should have voted for the merchant of malaise, lowered expectations and cardigans, over Ronnie and John.

It's funny how this writing process election-by-election is jogging my memory, because it wasn't until I got to the last line that I remembered exactly why I didn't vote for Carter, and it has a direct relationship with 2016. I had not voted for Jimmy Carter in the primary; I had voted, of course, for Ted Kennedy! And Ted did not go quietly at the convention in August. As a matter of fact, he gave one of the most memorable speeches in the history of late-twentieth-century American liberalism.

"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
Compared to the aura and eloquence of Ted Kennedy, is it any wonder that Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis failed to inspire even many in their own party in these elections of the 1980s? It still seems tragic to me that neither Bobby nor Ted ever moved into the White House. That being said, once Ted (or Bernie) was out, we should have given all our energy to electing Jimmy (or Hillary) over Reagan (or Trump), no matter how uninspiring we personally found the man from Plains (or the woman from Chicago).

They were obviously trying to capture
some of that People's Party magic
with this design.

Here we are in the dark ages Orwell warned us about in 1948. (The soundtrack is Tom Waits' Heartattack and Vine.) We're also entering the darkest period in my political life. I have no buttons or stickers from this period at all. I voted for Mondale and Ferraro in 1984, but I did so with very little excitement. If the Democrats hadn't put a woman on the ticket, I might have just sat it out. I had moved out of Brooklyn and down to the Jersey Shore, largely because of crime; I was commuting to an office job in the city as a young married guy who was worried about his first mortgage; I was prime recruitment material for the GOP and people were turning into Republicans all around me. Anyone who has ever seen any zombie movie can imagine the atmosphere. When were they going to get me?

I don't remember Ronald Reagan's reelection ever being seriously in doubt and I'm convinced that Donald Trump's visceral hatred of "low energy" candidates must come from memories of Fritz Mondale and the next Democrat who followed him to the slaughter in 1988.

... or not. I really can't remember.

"Maybe it is just the time of year, or maybe it's the time of man." (The soundtrack as I write this is not Joni Mitchell's 'Woodstock' but Keith Jarrett's Dark Intervals.) Maybe it was the fact that I was approaching my mid-thirties, commuting to a conventional job, and living the expected conventional life, or maybe it was the every-man-for-himself Wall Street Zeitgeist, but for whatever reason this was the most conservative period of my life. I'm trying not to avoid a very dark fact here, but once again I really can't remember if I actually flipped a lever for W's daddy when it came right down to it.

The Democratic front runners were in rough shape after Gary Hart fell to a sex scandal and  people still remembered Jesse Jackson's "Hymietown" statements from 1984. The convention was a mess, with Ann Richards' "Silver Foot In His Mouth" speech being the only shining moment; it's also remembered for the worst and longest keynote speech delivered by a young Bill Clinton.

Dukakis did nothing for me on a gut level. I didn't mind his silly ride in the tank, but I hated the way he purposely fled from the word "Liberal" until a lukewarm acceptance of the label in the last days of the campaign. I wasn't a fan of his wonkiness and the fact that he proudly stated at one point that he never read fiction (which I was writing at the time). I know it's shallow, but there are a lot of people rejecting Hillary Clinton this year for shallow reasons, or voting for Trump for even shallower reasons. 1984 never struck me as a choice between the lesser of two evils; it seemed more like the lesser of two nonentities.

I'm going to end Part Two here, giving the decade of greed its own section, but I have to finish on a positive note. Any flirtations that I might have had in the 1980s with the Dark Side of American politics came to an end with the birth of my son in late 1989 and the beginning of the first George Bush's first Iraq War in early 1990. Those events snapped me back to my liberal peacenik senses for good.

Click Here for Part Three: 1992, 1996, 2000

Saturday, July 16, 2016

One Voter's History with "The Lesser Of Two Evils" -- Part One

I began thinking about this blog post on the day that Bernie Sanders formally endorsed Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire earlier this week. I thought this might be a short post talking about how I supported Bernie from before his announcement last May until this April 26th when it was obvious to me that my candidate no longer had a chance. If I were younger I might be a #BernieOrBust dead ender now, so I thought it was worth trying to examine that impulse. As much as I would have hated at 18 or 25 to have been given a lecture by a 60-year-old man, I need to write this; I hope it doesn't come off as a lecture, but as more of a case history. It seems necessary because Donald Trump is the most dangerous candidate I've seen in almost fifty years of closely following politics; not only does he need to lose, but he needs to lose as decisively as possible.

I thought I'd be writing a little bit about 1972 when I supported Dr. Spock of the People's Party -- because I thought him more ideologically perfect than George McGovern -- and contrast that with the very first election where my guy won the primaries and the general election, which didn't come until Barack Obama's victory in 2008. However, when I started refreshing my memory by digging through a box of old buttons this afternoon, it started to seem as if I might have something to say about lesser-than-two-evilism in every presidential election from 1968 until 2016. So I think this will be at least a two- or three-part blog post.

I was in eighth grade in the San Fernando Valley during the events of 1968 (I'm listening to After Bathing At Baxter's to complete the mood as I write this). By the time the primaries reached us in California, I was definitely more of a Bobby Kennedy than Gene McCarthy supporter, so on that June primary night in Los Angeles...

It's fucking awful. After all these years it comes flooding back. We knew a young woman, our old babysitter, who was at the Ambassador Hotel during his victory celebration on the night when...

He would have been our president, you know. There's not a fucking doubt about it. I can still remember the people of Los Angeles all driving with their headlights on during daylight (a very rare thing then) on the day when he lay in the hospital dying, as a way of silently saying "Pray for Bobby." The prayers didn't work. I saw adults crying.

In retrospect I have hard feelings about the nomination being taken by the party establishment for Humphrey from the remaining peace candidates McCarthy and McGovern, but I think it's mostly in retrospect. I don't have any first-hand memories of watching the police riots in Chicago; I was camping in the High Sierras without television or radio during the convention. I had no problem wearing a Humphrey/Muskie button during the fall. I don't remember having any sense of selling out or choosing "the lesser of two evils." Hubert Humphrey would have been preferable to Richard Nixon then, almost as clearly as Hillary Clinton is preferable to Donald Trump now.

Digging through my buttons, I found two other candidates that I was more excited about than Hubert. Alan Cranston ran for Senator in 1968 with an explicitly anti-war message, as can be seen from the peace symbol on his button. I definitely wore this with more passion than any HHH button. The button next to it is from Tom Bradley's first run for mayor of Los Angeles against Sam Yorty (in a Democrat vs. Democrat non-partisan election). He didn't win that first race in 1969, but it's hard to overstate how revolutionary it felt for an African-American man to be favored to win the top job in a major American city (and it shouldn't be surprising that he lost in this first attempt).

For the 1972 election I was a senior in high school with hair down my back, which I was careful to tell everyone was a political and not a fashion statement. (The soundtrack for this election year is Sticky Fingers.) I was living in New Jersey and I was the Student Mobilization Committee organizer in my school for National Peace Action Coalition anti-war marches to D.C. and New York in 1971 and '72. When George McGovern first announced his candidacy, I signed up and did canvassing for him in suburban neighborhoods (where I was shocked to find registered Democrats who told me they were actually supporting George Wallace living near me!). McGovern did what any candidate needs to when trying to get a major-party nomination, appealing to more than the party's left-most peacenik wing, and somewhere along the way he lost me.
I read an article about Benjamin Spock's presidential campaign with the People's Party in The New York Times Magazine and I wrote to the paper to see if I could get an address to contact the party (it's hard to remember how hard it was to get this type of information before the internet). The article's author Judith Viorst wrote back to me with their address and I became very involved, meeting Dr. Spock and portraying him in our school's mock election (which was won handily by Richard Nixon). I remember feeling very proud of my ideological purity as did my fellow students who represented the candidates from the Socialist Workers and Socialist Labor parties. We should have ALL been backing McGovern, of course, but we were young and not prone to compromise. Bernie Sanders, who was an adult and a new resident of Vermont at the time, belonged to a party that also supported Dr. Spock and the People's Party. He should have known better. In the choice between McGovern and Nixon, there wasn't a whiff of choosing "the lesser of two evils"; one was evil and one was George McGovern.

Having Nixon back in the White House allowed those of us with a passion for demonstrating in streets to travel to D.C. on Inauguration Day 1973 with our sense of righteous anger about the war and all of the other abuses of the Nixon White House intact. We could raise our fists and take over the area around the Washington Monument with Vietcong flags. It reminds me of Susan Sarandon's recent statement about how a Trump election might do more to hasten some sort of "revolution" than the election of Hillary would. But Sarandon's not seventeen. That was my excuse in 1972. She's even older than me and she should know better. Without sounding like an old scold, I want to tell the young #BernieOrBust voters that I know what it's like to be caught up in a "more radical than thou" frame of mind. I know what it's like not to want to compromise a single principle, but I don't feel I (or any of us) have that luxury this year.

This was the first year I was old enough to vote, and as a university student I was more concerned with Japanese literature, German philosophy, and the Grateful Dead than I was with Jimmy Carter. (The current soundtrack in this room is side four of Steal Your Face.) Sadly, I honestly can't remember if I even voted in this first year of eligibility, though I did find this Eugene McCarthy button in this afternoon's treasure hunt. I have always loved Gene and I wrote here last June about his similarties to Bernie, but I honestly can't remember whether I voted for him, for Jimmy, or for no one during the Bicentennial year, though I do remember being happy that Jimmy Carter beat Jerry Ford.

As far as the lesser-of-two-evils theme applies to 1976, I don't remember thinking of either Jimmy or Jerry as evil. Ford had beaten the very evil Ronald Reagan at his convention, and the only act of Ford's I remember disagreeing with was his pardon of Nixon. I like Jimmy Carter a lot as an ex-President, but ...

Well, I might as well end part one of this on that undramatic note, so you'll all be on the edges of your seats waiting for the 1980 story of Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, and John Anderson ... oh yeah, and Jimmy Carter too.


" never saw so many phonies in all your life..."

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was published by Little, Brown exactly 65 years ago today, on July 16, 1951.

Despite attempts by Samuel Goldwyn, Billy Wilder, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jerry Lewis and others to secure the movie rights, Holden Caulfield's story has never been seen on the big screen. However, thanks to the Strand Bookstore and YouTube, we have this brilliant short adaptation of the novel starring Gizmo:

(On a related note, upon hearing that both Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley, Jr., had been radicalized by The Catcher in the Rye, Donald Trump has just announced that, if elected, he will declare war on J.D. Salinger's ghost.)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Trump Is Still Mastering the Art of Making GREAT Deals with Designers!

"I have so many websites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a website. It costs me $3."         --Donald J. Trump, Trump Tower Campaign Announcement, June 16, 2015

Today the improbable presumptive nominee of the GOP made another official announcement, about his choice of running mate Mike Pence, and he spent another whole three American dollars* on a new logo.

*The new slang term for "three dollars" is "trumpence" (pronounced like tuppence in Mary Poppins).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Helvetica Hysteria

There was a certain lack of typographical variety in this afternoon's haul of junk mail from triple A and Crate & Barrel. It's common knowledge among designers that Helvetica is a safe and classy choice, but one can be too safe.