Friday, April 28, 2006

Julia and Hillary: Not ready for the big stage

Julia Roberts recently opened on Broadway to poor critical reviews in the New York newspapers. Now Julia Roberts is a great film star - we all know and love that marvellous incandescent smile and have enjoyed her glowing movie performances. Forgive the film flack praise - but how else can you describe her? On film she shines a megawat glow, on stage she proved to be a very dim lamp. This did not mean that Ms. Roberts was a bad actress, merely that she was a fish out of water (albiet a lovely fish) on Broadway, lacking the theatrical training and equipment to meet the demands of a serious stage play, but still a great film star. Her attempting the stage was an act of courage. She failed, but the consequences did not effect the larger world, only her pride and her ambitions. Now on to Hillary Clinton. Let's say it early and say it often. Hillary should not be the next Democratic candidate for President. Like Ms Roberts, she has many commendable qualities, and like Ms. Roberts she will go down in defeat when she attempts to extend her range beyond her present capabilities. But unlike Ms. Roberts, she will take us down with her, and after four years of the Bush disaster, this matters mightily. We cannot afford another four years of a Republican President. Think Mitt Romney. Think John McCain. Think - and shudder - Rudy Guiliani.

I admire Ms. Clinton. As one of her constituants in New York I believe she has done an excellent job representing my state in the Senate, and I mean to vote for her reelection. She is intelligent, resourceful, hard-working, compassionate - all qualities lacking in our current President. But like our current President her rise to power came from family connections and it is time to clear the field of all relatives, even talented ones. Hillary matched against a John McCain or the egrigious Rudy Guiliani is dead meat, and we do not need either of those men occupying the White House, alienating the rest of the world and packing the courts with right wing zealots simply because the Democrats offered a human female sacrifice in a self destructive ritual that was financed by some wealthy power brokers. Anytime you read in the conservative press that Ms. Clinton will be a tough candidate to beat, be scared, be very scared. They want her out there as their most tempting target. I fear that it is not the men of this country who will vote against her in huge numbers, but the women, that unspoken backlash to feminism among women that has found in Hillary its poster child. She is (gasp) ambitious, serious, and living with a famously unfaithful husband. It may be unjust to her to disqualify her for some of her better qualities - qualities we praise in men - but that's the world as it is, not as it should be. And that's the world we will face in the presidential campaign of '08. If being unfair to Hillary is being fair to the country by cleaning out the conservative majority, so be it. She is a risk we cannot take. I feel for her. She draws nasty house-flies like Dick Morris and other professional Clinton bashers - and she would be forced to keep swatting away at them, distracting the country from the big issues and the great problems that confront us.

Most of all, what disqualities Hillary from heading the ticket was her unapologetic vote for the Iraq war. Now I have no inside information, I'm just a plain reader of the newspapers, yet I knew from the start that the war was based upon a lie, as did so many others. It was an embarassingly transparent lie, told by our government, perpetuated by such newspapers as The New York Times, so eager were they to cozy up to power and march to the drumbeat, in this case the dumb-beat. Hillary voted for that war. If she believed in the government's lies about the WMD's she was too easily fooled to be our next President. If she did not believe those lies yet voted for the war it is far worse; it meant that she was too eager to show a martial spirit that would prop up her Presidential ambitions, and such expediency, at the expense of truth and the national welfare is not what we need after eight years of Bush-world lies. Either reason should disqualify her for the Presidency at this time. But there is an office I would like to see her inhabit, the right role for her to play - that of the Vice President. It would be for her what the movies are for Ms. Roberts - the proper place for her to shine. And what an antidote to Dick Cheney! Not a bad stick in the eye to those who have led this country to disaster for eight years. And since Al Gore has recovered his groove, and tells it as it is better than anyone else around, he should be the front runner at this time. In his recent speeches he has told the hard truths about the state of this world - truths about the state of our country, and truths about the dolorous state of the environment. I think a Gore/Clinton ticket might make a winning combo. Women would approve of her in a supporting role, and she would be a great backup to a President Gore - the man who was cheated of his Presidency by a partisan court. Clinton/Gore, no. Gore/Clinton, yes! Why not try it? It worked in the past, and has a winning sound to it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Suddenly The Big Surprise: Growing Older In America

When I submitted my first piece to the Huffington Post I was asked to provide a bio and a photo of myself to be used alongside my web-log. Faced by the request for that picture, I realized that I hadn’t taken a new photo in years. Truth is I had taken a few family snapshots – me looking down in delight at my nine month old grand-daughter - but I hadn’t taken” a good picture” in years. I opened a photo album and pulled out a picture I liked that was taken thirty five years ago. There I was with a full head of dark brown hair, straight white teeth, unwrinkled countenance, a “not bad for a writer” kind of picture which I had used in the programs of my plays. I submitted it to the Huffington Post and it has accompanied every blog I have posted these past months. I rationalized the deception. After all I had lived more than half of my life looking like the younger man in that photo, and less than a quarter of my life was lived as the weary older man I now confronted in the mirror. Nevertheless, I was challenged by conscience or was it truth in advertising (an oxymoron if ever there was one) but not enough for me to remove that picture and replace it with a contemporary photograph. Since I make no pretense about my age – I have recently arrived at seventy four - I know that it is a foolish bit of vanity but one that I am not yet ready to abandon.

I thought little more about my age until I was recently interviewed in Chicago by Time Out a popular entertainment guide about a new musical, “Josephine Tonight!” for which I had written the libretto and lyrics. I had learned the art of lyric writing in my late sixties – not so remarkable – it was the age of many of my friends who were learning new skills and experimenting in other art forms. The show was opening in Chicago in a few days and the publicist asked me to meet with the magazine’s reporter to help publicize the show. I agreed. After being introduced to the young interviewer, he announced that he had looked me up in Wickipedia and he was surprised by the fruits of his research. He wanted to know why I was writing new work at this time of my life. How could a man who had once collaborated with the great Richard Rodgers now write a new musical, with a new off Broadway show in New York and this other one in Chicago? It was as if I had trespassed into a world of creativity that exclusively belonged to the young. Worse yet, how could I, this older white man, write about a young black woman - the teen aged Josephine Baker of my musical? The first question was pure ageism. The second was pure horse-shit.

I tried to explain to Junior that a writer’s material does not belong to any race or any generation, that hard as it is to believe, all of us share a common humanity. Josephine Baker, a woman who had struggled for a lifetime to break down racial barriers would have celebrated a musical written about a spirited young black girl growing up in a Jim Crowe world, one who transcends the limitations of her life. From what I knew of her she would never worry that her life was being dramatized by a white man. I knew that I was in deep trouble with the cutting edge “Time Out.” And I was proven right when the reviews came out a week later. While the Chicago Sun Times had nothing but the highest praise for the work, finding it “hugely entertaining…hit written all over it”, and the Tribune found almost as much to commend in the work of its “redoubtable author;” and other critics thought it was in the tradition of the great American musicals, Time Out found it creaky, yes creaky, you know, the way old people and old floorboards creak? Okay, maybe he didn’t really like my show but I suspected that I was facing the last outpost of bigotry in America; the view that the older artist has nothing fresh to offer the world. Sure there are artists who transcend the negative view of age – the Picassos, the Matisses, and in my field, the Albees and the Sondhiems. But for most of us lesser mortals, the world views us through our numbers. I had written a lyric in the musical sung by an ageing theatre star who sings, “Suddenly, the big surprise. You look old in someone’s eyes.” And here I was, the creator of those words, experiencing that emotion as a result of that article.

It is no longer acceptable to be a casual racist, but bigotry against older people is non-racial, non denominational, and acceptable among otherwise progressive people in this society – such as the men and women who run our entertainment industry. Amos and Andy are gone forever, but foolish, befuddled, meddlesome old grandpa and grandma, prone to do and say silly, rude, and outrageous things are universally accepted on television, in films, in ads. Sadly, this attitude towards older people is a part of our national tragedy, for had “young” W heeded the wisdom of his own aged father, and not his hand picked Hallelujah chorus, we might not be stuck in a dreadful war today. One of the great discoveries of aging – other than finding that our learning and creativity doesn’t stop at any given age - is that it is easier to be bolder in calling the powerful to task. I’m proud to say that some of us older folks were among the first to recognize the arrival in America of the four horsemen of this apocalypse: Bush, Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld.

My mother-in-law Henrietta Fuhr was a modest and moderate woman who rarely made a show of her political views but when she was dying at aged ninety-three she did not waste her last days with sentimental journeys into the past; she expressed her outrage at the Bush administration and the hope that people would soon awaken to its greed and dishonesty. This gentle, intelligent woman was thinking about the world that Bush was creating for her children and grandchildren. She was deeply troubled about the future of the country she loved and was about to leave behind. And so am I and many of my aging contemporaries, most of them deeply committed to a country that honors its best traditions. Like my mother-in-law I don’t wish to leave this world as one who kept a safe silence while the great decider destroys this democracy. We elders have lived through enough storms to know that Bush is our own Hurricane Katrina, bound to leave such material, environmental, and moral wreckage behind that it will take generations of wise old men and women working with the smart young ones to put this country right again. But there are limits to my septuagenarian courage. Yes, I can willingly take on the government and its leaders in a web-log, but what I still can’t bring myself to do is change that picture on The Huffington Post. Perhaps it’s because I still feel that I am that vigorous young man in the photograph. Delusional? Sure it is. Okay Junior, just humor the old guy

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Republicants

A few years ago, the Republicans siezed the language of our politics and ran away with it. Overnight, the Democratic Party became the Democrat party in the mouths of Republican pols, as if the "ic" on the end gave the Democrats a moral advantage that had to be stolen from them after generations of accepted usage. After all, to be democratic meant that the party was inclusive, that it supported democracy, that it represented all the people, and that it spoke for the majority in its aims and through its candidates. Whoever thought up the trick of the disappearing ic, attempted to dissociate the party from the people it represented. With Democrat you end with rat - and subliminally, the ugly sound evokes a rodent and who wants to vote for one of those. Clever! One of the unsung Republican dirty tricks.

I think it is high time that we Democrats of the old Democratic Party persuasion respond in kind. I propose that the Republican Party be renamed in the coming elections by all Democratic candidates, in every public forum, and forever after be known as the Republicant Party. It takes less work than went into lopping off part of the Democratic Party nomenclature. All it requires is the addition of a single letter, a tiny little t to the end of their party name and it does the big job properly, and best of all, truthfully. First, we have the obvious meaning of the Republicants. It is clear that they can't do anything right. Let's examine what the Republicants can't do, and if you agree, let us adopt this as our response to Democrat in the months and years ahead.

1) For starters, the Republicants can't tell the truth. From Bush downwards, they have lied shamelessly and consistently about matters of war and peace. Start with the Iraq war and the WMDs. Having started this war with a bogus claim, they proved that they can't work with the international community, and worse, that they haven't a clue as to how to get us out of the mess they created. They can't win a war against a homegrown insurgency and they can't leave the country for a generation to come - or at least that is what Mr. Bush suggests - leaving the task of extricating us from his national calamity and ours to another President. Try as they will to evade responsibility we cannot let them get away with that awful expression "mistakes were made." They, the Republicants made those mistakes, and they can't hide behind fuzzy, evasive words to escape their actions and their reponsibility. They think they can, but they can't, not the Republicants.

2) It appears that the Republicants can't provide an economy that benefits anyone but the top 10 %percent of Americans. They don't have a clue as to how you deal with a global economy, and the outsourcing of good jobs in America, other than letting profits pile up for the few at the top at the expense of the many and replace decent salaried work with poorly paid service emplyment. They can't provide jobs that offer a living wage, and they can't tell us why they can't. They can provide constantly rising gasoline and heating oil prices to the big oil companies but they can't take the growing burden off the middle class. The Republicants would call this "class warfare" but like Iraq, they started the class war by bringing us to a society of winners and losers - with more losers every day.

3) The Republicants can't provide real protection from terrorists. Remember, 9/11 happened on their watch. They can't say that nobody knew, there were warnings, warnings they chose to ignore as witnessed by Ms. Rice's testimony before the Congress. And they can't play the terrorism card forever. People are realizing that the manipulation of fear, be it code red, orange, or yellow, or by Presidential rhetoric, is about as much about politics as it is about protection of the people. We all know that terrorism is a threat, but it must not be exaggerated so that every person with a Middle Eastern complexion is suspect, save a Saudi Prince of a Pakastani strongman. Was anything as shameful as the exploitation of 9/11 by the Republicant party, and the further exploitation of this administration to curb Civil Liberties and freedom of information?

4) They can't control pork barrel spending and destructive deficits. They have increased our deficit to a point where our children and grandchildren will be paying for their promiscuous errors for generations to come. The Republicants are the foxes who are garding our national chicken coop and they can't forever build their bridges to nowhere.

5) They can't understand science, but they can attempt to block scientific breakthroughs. That includes stem cell research and global warming. And failing to understand the problem, they can't do anything to provide government help to find cures for our killing diseases and to prevent the melting icebergs and the pollution of our air. W has never met a fossil fuel he didn't love.

6) They can't protect our citizens, particularly the least privilaged ones, when a natural disaster such as Katrina occurs. Why, because they don't care, and fortunately, they can't hide their lack of caring anymore. Appointing conservative African Americans such as Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and Condaleeza Rice to be Secretary of State decieves noone within or outside of the black community as to where the heart of the Republicant party lies - in the old pre Civil Rights South which they courted and inherited when the Democrats supported Civil Rights legistlation.

7) Most of all, and worst of all, they can't appeal to the best instincts of the voters, so instead they choose to divide people with bogus issues such as gay marriage. As a man who has been married to my one and only amazing wife for fifty three years - I feel no threat to my life or my family from those who are gay and choose to marry. Given the sorry state of marriage and divorce in this country, we should celebrate anyone who wants to join their life to another to create a family unit and thereby gain the privilages as well as the problems of every marriage.

8) And they can't bamboozle seniors with a phony Medicare drug benefit which mainly benefits the pharmaceutical companies. Not to mention how they can't reform Social Security, since their notion of doing so is to present a gift to the brokerage houses and compromise the security of seniors.

Now, having said all that, and I realize it's a lot of can'ts for this can't do Republicant party, there is another meaning to the cant that applies to our Republicants, an equally relevant meaning.

According to the dictionary cant without the apostrophe is defined as monotonous talk filled with platitudes. Can anything better describe today's Republicants as they attempt to appeal to the voters by appealing to fear and bigotry, the worst instincts of those voters?

The second definition of cant is hypocritically pious language. Nuff said. The abuse of God's name by these Republicant's leads one to belive that they can't have a conscience. And when a John McCain wiggles his way towards courting the very religious right that defamed him and his family, we see that even the most promising of their leaders can't win the Republicant nomination without selling out his own past with plenty of cant. Hear the pious language of the Republicant senators as they refuse to investigate the crimes of their own party, claiming that the Jusice Department is there for that purpose. By refusing to clean their own house, the Republicants expose their hypocracy time and again.

The third definition is that of cant as a special vocabulary peculiar to members of an underworld group. Can anything better describe the vocabulary of Rumsfeld, Libby and Co where all is being done to spread democracy and the billions to Halliburton are merely the side benefit of all that freedom spreading? And what of Mr. DeLay and Abramoff? Kenny Boy Lay and W? As the indictments pile up we know that we are dealing with an underworld group within the Republicant Party, and the special language they speak is greed, profits, at any price, and lies and coverups that are in the words of John Dean, worse than Watergate.

And fourth, cant means whining, pleading speech, to speak tediously, sententiously, to moralize. What better describes our President when he graces the podium to address the press and the nation?

So REPUBLICANT it is for me, and it shall ever be, until some Republicant comes along who is capable of speaking truth plainly and representing the interests of the American people and I will gladly drop the telltale t. Until then, I'll stick with the Democratic Party. I'll even vote Democrat if I am obliged to, for someone who can put the ic back in the party.