Work and Days

Say They Aren't So

Ironies of 2008

Once one decides to unite the oppressed people of the universe and save the planet, a number of ironies arise in such megalomaniac responsibilities. Here are five that bothered me this past year.

1. Class

Sarah Palin perhaps flubbed the interview with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, at least in the clips that were edited for TV. She also drops her g’s and says things like “you betcha” and “pal’in around”.

She surely didn’t give snap answers on foreign policy matters. In no short order, a woman who had five kids, a 16-year political career, and a successful governorship was reduced to a white-trash hack, the mother of a promiscuous teen, as awful rumors, trafficked in by liberal professionals, swirled about her own most recent pregnancy.

The mainstream media’s narrative was thus that glibness matters, 16 years of Alaskan politics don’t quite cut it for national office, and a candidate’s personal life is fair game, as the moose-hunting ex-mayor of Wasilla and her life-story attest.

Or is that entirely true? I could make the hypocritical contrast with the gaffe-o-matic Joe Biden, but instead read below.

These same egalitarians in the media, however, do not seem to have a problem with Caroline Kennedy, soon perhaps to be anointed Senator from New York.

But on the basis of what? Political experience—zero.

Past elections? Zilch.

Eloquence? Nope. Ms. Kennedy drones on with “you know” and “I mean” dozens of times per minute. In comparison, Sarah Palin sounds like Demosthenes or Cicero.

Full disclosure? Hardly. We know nothing about Caroline’s vast fortune—where it exactly came from and how it is used. We learned far more about poor Mr. Palin’s decrepit old prop airplane than Ms. Kennedy’s stock portfolio and past contributions.

Perhaps the difference is good citizenship? I doubt it. Palin ran for offices; Kennedy often passed on voting entirely.

Is it doctrinaire politics? Again, I doubt it. Palin has taken on Republicans in Alaska, entrenched males, and indeed, on matters of energy, her own running mate John McCain.

Kennedy? I don’t think there a liberal dogma or progressive politician she has ever questioned.

We laugh about Palin’s Idaho work-your-way-through-college sports journalism degree, especially perhaps in comparison to Kennedy’s Ivy League pedigree. But the latter is too often affirmative action for silk-stocking East Coast grandees. Take away money and nomenclature, and I doubt Kennedy would have gotten into such schools on her own merits. I offer such an unsupported generalization on the basis of her elocution: I turned out about 100 classics majors and MA students during 21 years at CSU Fresno, and without exception every single one (mostly poor or minority students without parents who went to college) in interviews sounded far more knowledgeable and grammatical than does Ms. Kennedy.

The irony in all this? Too obvious to state…

(Maybe a tiny bit is due to the fact that Ms. Kennedy affirms she is “pro-choice” while the Palins bring to full term an illegitimate teen-pregnancy and a Down-Syndrome child.)

2. Islam

I confess this war on terror business is coming down to fear or no fear. A film maker, a novelist, or a comedian dreams publicly of killing George Bush—and he wins a big book contract or an arts award. A cartoonist does a sketch of a Mohammed and he faces death threats. Liberal contrarians honor the former and abandon the latter.

We are told terrorism bad, democracy good. Really? Every terrorist Hamas rocket is aimed at a Democratic civilian; every Democratic IDF air -to -ground missile is aimed at a terrorist.

The common denominator in all this? George Bush or an IDF colonel is not going to show up at your editorial office in New York or Madrid or Paris with a suicide vest on. Write a novel about Bush deserving to die, as did Nicholson Baker, and you win a Knopf contract; write one about the Prophet as did Salman Rushdie and you go into hiding for a decade.

Fear is about all I can come up with. (And easy guilt as well.)

3. Bush Did It

George Bush, Ashcroft, Halliburton’s Cheney, Feith, et al, remember, shredded the Constitution.

Remember—The Patriot Act, FISA, renditions, Guantanamo, wiretaps, preventive detention? All that meant we lost our liberties and couldn’t scan the Internet at the local library in freedom—or so we were told.

Bush’s Texas-twang explication that he kept us safe for seven years was laughed at, especially by a suave ex-Harvard Law Review editor Barack Obama on the stump. And then what?

Are we now in February to see no more Patriot Act? At least FISA overturned? Couldn’t we shut down the Gulag Guantanamo by January 25? (as easy as getting out entirely from Iraq by “March 2008” as promised once by Obama?)

Or now are all these once so clear-cut issues “problematic” and “raise concerns”? The irony? Compared to what Lincoln, Wilson, FDR or Truman did during wartime, George Bush was a constitutional purist—and the former all had conventional enemies in wartime, not stealthily terrorists who entered our shores to murder 3,000 Americans.

The issue was never empirical, never historical, but simply political most of the time. Once Bush was wounded over Iraq, his opponents smelled blood and jabbed at anything they could. Most current Senate civil libertarians voted for both the ‘that was then, this is now’ Iraq war and the Patriot Act, and oversaw the CIA and FBI as much as Bush did.

A President Obama will not revoke all, or even most, of Bush’s supposedly unconstitutional measures. Why? Because he knows they did not end our civil liberties but most assuredly helped to keep us safe.

In short, the media will grow silent as the issue now suddenly disappears—as we probably keep wiretapping and holding enemy combatants and terrorists in detention…

4. Prop 8

It’s hard to craft a uniform class of victims that transcends ethnic, racial, sexual and cultural fault lines. But it is tried nonetheless.

Here in California the effort to ban same-sex marriage was passed by the voting public—to the outrage of the homosexual communities. The latter immediately blamed Christian evangelicals and Mormons and those vocal opponents of homosexual marriage with strong religious affiliations. And indeed there was some merit to their angst since all these groups were openly on record, by vote and purse, against overturning centuries of tradition to elevate civil unions to the legal status of heterosexual marriage.

But both the African-American and Hispanic communities likewise voted overwhelmingly in support of Prop. 8 to ban same-sex marriages. And both groups turned out in high numbers, like gays themselves, to vote for Barack Obama. (I confess here that I grew up, and live, in a predominately Mexican and Mexican-American community and schools. And on the issue of gay tolerance, the community, if there is such a thing in the formal sense, to use a liberal euphemism, ‘needs work on the issue’—given the various slang deprecatory slurs about and treatment of the openly homosexual.)

Why then did not gay groups march through the streets of West Fresno, San Jose, or South Central LA, where such opponents are concentrated en masse and could be picketed, demonstrated against, and megaphoned for their sins?

Was it because it is more dangerous calling Latinos in Fresno barrios homophobes than screaming the same at Mormons in the upscale temple parking lot? Or was that to do the former questioned the fable of uniformly aggrieved groups who share a variety of racial and sexual grievances, while to do the latter attested to the easy oppression we associate with white male Christians?

5. You buy it, not me

I did a lot of Q-and -A interviews on talk radio recently about the bailout. And I got dozens of angry letters about my written opposition to government money going to the Big Three. But one argument struck me. For all those who wish to save the UAW and “high-paying union jobs”, why not just buy American?

I have this unsupported, but I think empirical notion that those on the Left in California both supported the bailout and the idea of unions, but seem to like Hondas and Toyotas better than Focuses and Escapes—and most certainly Mercedes, Volvo, Lexus, and BMW SUVs more so than Tahoes and Yukons.

Is the message, ‘Taxpayer, give your money to the Big Three/UAW to save American industries, but by God, I’ll never buy one myself?”

I never bought a foreign or even a new car until 1991 when I first sinned at 38, and got a cut-rate, entry-level 4-cylinder Mazda MPV van for the five of us ($15,100/five years at 5%, and a $1000 down). (It ran wonderfully for 130,000 miles without a glitch).

That said, over the subsequent years and in subsequent real guilt (My late B-29-flying Dad wouldn’t buy Japanese), I did atonement and bought my two kids two Chevy-S-10s. I got my other daughter a Chevy Malibu. In the 1990s I drove only Dodge Pick-ups—a little Ram D-50 and then a Dakota.

Then I noticed the following: Malibu—6 brake jobs, alternator out twice, air conditioning never worked right after 5,000 miles. The two S-10s: alternators went out, fuel line problems. Dodge pick-ups: one broke down late at night on California’s empty West Side due to ignition and chronic electrical problems, and then again during a rain storm in the Sierra. (on a high pass on a curve). The other’s timing belt quit at 40,000 miles (stuck while driving on the coast for two days); the head gasket blew at 85,000 miles (stuck in Hollister).

Then in 2004 I sinned again (mea culpa, Pater care, mea magna culpa!) and borrowed and bought a Honda Accord (now 110K miles, still no problems), then yet again with a 2006 Civic for my daughter (60K no problems), and, yes, still more, with a 2005 Honda CRV for my wife (70K, battery once went dead).

So I tried, I really did. But during all these hours along side the road with our American cars, I couldn’t quite figure out why consumers had no problem importing cheaper food when what we grew as broke farmers was both safer and more nutritious. Were $10 a hour farmers who made a good product supposed to buy $70-an-hour poorly produced trucks? (The left-overs of the small farming class in the 1980s and 1990s were decimated, though they worked for far less compensation than UAW workers, and had no union rec centers and golf courses.)

The next soap-box speaker on Detroit bailouts should at least buy American. When he does that without exception, so will I again be willing to max out my AAA tow card—and, as I did for twenty years, catch up on reading while I wait patiently beside the road.

(Note. I recently was generously accorded the use of a nice-looking Chevy while teaching at a small college. It broke down in the shopping center parking lot, 4 hours after receiving it.)