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TEA WITH THE MAD HATTER

Musings on Politics, The Tea Party, and America's Rampant Electile Dysfunction

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Table of Contents

Introduction--March 15, 2011

Week 1: Taking a Stab @ It

Week 2: Lacking Klout

Week 3: Welcome to the Party

Week 4: I Believe in Me

Week 5: Listing to the Right

Week 6: Twitterdreams

Week 7: I Blame Aristotle

Week 8: Electile Dysfunction

Week 9: You Can't Keep a Down Man Good

Week 10: Manifesto Destiny

Week 11: Shames People Play

Week 12: Tweets and CHiRPs

Week 13: Beck and Call

Epilogue: The Perfect Tweet

Friday
Nov222013

Remembering Remembering Kennedy...

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 6: Twitterdreams.

Like just about everyone I knew growing up, I was raised by good, solid, middle-class Democrats. My stepfather worked for the U.S. Postal Service (for a while in the union, but later in management), and my mother typed letters and made appointments for salesmen at the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company’s regional office.  The first meant that weekends were odd, since my stepfather had a revolving work schedule that included every Sunday off along with one other rotating weekday, and the second meant that we had a lot of gum and candy in the house, all of it free. My dentist, Dr. Welcome W. Adamson, was none too pleased. I loved it.  (Great name, isn’t it? But given that he was a dentist and I was a kid, I generally felt anything but welcomed….)

My first political memory rose from the black-and-white graininess emanating from a nineteen-inch Zenith on November 25, 1963, the first ever broadcast of a president’s funeral.  It was a Monday morning. My stepfather’s introduction to my mother was still three years off, and she, post-divorce, had moved in with my grandparents out of necessity.

On the morning of the funeral, I remember lying on the carpet in front of the television with my legs waving behind me and my chin cupped in my hands. The rough carpet chafed both elbows.  Through the living room window I could see a half-masted flag. I was five years old and mostly frustrated because the funeral was on every channel; daytime shows I had come to count on for amusement, like Sheriff John and Captain Kangaroo, were nowhere to be found. We only had eight channels back then—2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 28—and the last of these occupied a wavelength up in the UHF range where no amount of rabbit-ear twisting could bring in a decent signal.  Yes, this was the dark ages.  Our phones had cords, too, if you can believe that, and rotary dials.

Words like “Camelot” and “widow” meant nothing to me; I’m not even sure why I was home on that weekday morning unless, perhaps, school had closed because of the tragedy.  My mother was at work; my grandparents kept watch over me and my sister.

My mother had voted for Kennedy, as had her parents, both working class Jews who had migrated west from the Bronx.  My grandparents had lived their entire lives in rented apartments, had stretched a pound of hamburger to feed five, and had never owned more than one car. My mother, to this day, doesn’t know why she was a Democrat; she just was.  When Lyndon Johnson ran for re-election in 1964 she never gave her allegiance a second’s thought.  (In talking to her recently I discovered that she barely remembered Barry Goldwater’s name.) When 1968 came around she robotically punched her ballot for Hubert Humphrey, Alan Cranston, and Al Bellard. But there were too many people tired of LBJ’s war and they believed that hope could only come with change; the majority populations in thirty-two of the fifty states disagreed with my mother, and Nixon eked into the White House.

Nixon changed everything….

Wednesday
Aug082012

Truth is a Funny Thing, and That's a Fact...

 

The following is an excerpt from "Week 4: I Believe in Me"

Facts are unimportant these days. We live in a time of instant myth-making, a time when revisionist history happens almost before history occurs, a time when the new model for rhetoric is to treat everything like it’s a high school term paper.

It’s Saturday afternoon. The 750-word essay that Mr. Winston assigned for your eleventh-grade U.S. history class is due on Monday morning, third period. You find the subject—the role of the Supreme Court—deadly dull, and after slogging through eighteen pages of densely packed text you are no closer to getting started than before. Your older sister suggested that you just go to the library and find an article to copy, but a gnawing conscience eats away at you and won’t let you do it. The day’s drifting away and your friends, all of whom have either completed the assignment or were lucky enough to get Mrs. Carfulli instead, are off playing stickball.

Sitting in front of an annoyingly blank piece of notebook paper and with a Bic poised in your right hand, you think about it for a few minutes, hoping that something will spring to mind.  You rescan the eighteen pages to make sure you have a basic understanding of the U.S. Supreme Court and its responsibilities, how justices are selected, and how decisions are made.  If you concentrate, you can just barely remember seven of the nine current members and their appointing presidents, enough, probably, for a B+ should there be a pop quiz. Forcing your mind back to the task at hand, you refocus on getting this shitty little essay drafted so that you can get it behind you and salvage whatever’s left of the weekend.

So you decide what to believe.  Your brain kicks in to get-this-over-with mode and you just go with your gut and believe something.  You take no time to explore facts or alternatives, or to analyze what you’ve read.   Your brain comes up with something like “members of the Supreme Court aren’t really objective when they decide cases,” then you roll the idea around a little to see how it tastes before deciding that it’s a reasonable mix of opinion and comprehension, just the kind of thing Mr. Winston likes. A quick review of the reading assignment reveals nothing that would disagree with your premise; the idea feels safe and solid.  It sounds good and feels good, so you go with it.

You haven’t done any research to support the idea and you can’t verbalize where it came from. Most likely you’ve internalized opinions half-heard from your parents or The Huntley-Brinkley Report.   It doesn’t matter, though; you’ve decided.

Welcome to the birth of content-free thinking.

There’s still the actual writing to do, but now it’ll be a breeze.  You just need to cherry-pick a couple of supporting examples and a few references, then clothe them in a bit of intellectual underwear.  Seven hundred and fifty words won’t even raise a sweat. 

You head to the library where you find a couple of books that look like they’ll serve as useful references, then you dig up two quotes buried in a microfiched magazine article.[1]  Adding citations from two recent Supreme Court decisions fills nearly half of a note­book page.  You fill up another half with your basic argument, taking care to use as many extra words as possible in order to meet the essay’s length requirement.  Then you fit in the quotes you found where they seem to belong and log all your references in classic Strunk-and-White style. A final word count takes two minutes, then you spend another ten on a quick re-read. One subject-verb agreement error and a spelling mistake require correction, and you call it your second draft.  Recopying the essay onto a fresh sheet of paper finishes things off.

An idea that began as thin air now seems breathable.  You’ve finished the paper and have now spent a couple of hours working on a convincing argument.  In order to feel good about your work you need to believe it, at least a little bit.  And the more you believe it, the more you believe it more.  

 


[1] Today you just head to the internet, parked conveniently on your iPad or laptop and available while you munch on a Bacon Turkey Bravo at Panera. Back then it meant hopping on a green three-speed Stingray with an enormous sissy-bar and pedaling the four miles to the Gardner Park Library.

 

 

Thursday
May102012

Manifesto Destiny: How to Recognize Democrats and Republicans

UPDATE: On this Tueday's episode of THE MIDDLE GROUND, we'll be discussing what we mean when we talk about "Democrats," "Republicans," and "Independents." To weigh in on this topic (and to tell us what you think are the most pressing issues facing us today), please take our brief, five-question survey HERE.

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The following is an excerpt from Week Ten: Manifesto Destiny...

Both the Democratic and Republican parties have manifestos, though I doubt either would willingly admit it.  They certainly don’t use the word publicly. A search on Twitter for the words “Man­ifesto” and “Republican” returns only one sarcastic tweet.  Note the hash tag:

NotAChance:  The Republican Manifesto #lessinterestingbooks

The same search for “Manifesto” and “Democrat” returns only one link as well, this one for a political party in Scotland.

The Democratic manifesto requires allegiance to a set of beliefs based on the self-evident need for a government-sponsored, government-provided, cradle-to-grave safety net.[1]  Democrats want us all to believe that everyone’s welfare is everyone’s responsibility, that it’s possible (and wrong) to have too much of something, that many people are entitled to assistance and should take it even if they don’t want it or need it, that big business is bent on consolidating wealth and power in the hands of the few, and that the overall needs of the many are more important (and ultimately more valuable) than those of the individual. It also helps if you have just a little bit of unadmitted prejudice for those who haven’t attained a college degree or read anything by Dostoevsky. 

The left’s unwritten manifesto at least attempts inclusivity.  The Democrat comes from anywhere and everywhere: poor and rich, white and black, east and west. The Republican manifesto, in contrast, acts as gatekeeper, litmus test, and all-around vetting machine, St. Peter at the Pearlies passing judgment on a long line of aspirants. It’s a rigid, get-in-line approach to manifesto—and the line is always on the right. Anyone who doesn’t abide by the party principles can expect a rapid trip to the woodshed. Candidates, in particular, have a tough time of it; any that refuse to abide by the manifesto’s unwritten principles have very little chance of winning the nomination. 

First, you must accept that taxes are bad and spending cuts are good, ignoring the obvious triteness of this Aristotelian statement.  There is no middle ground, no situation under which additional taxes on some people might make sense. Second, America and its populace are blessed by God; we are the greatest country in the history of mankind and our way of life is almost (if not totally) perfect. Any attempt to prove otherwise (with facts, for example) is simply unpatriotic. Third, there is nothing—nothing—laudable that a Democrat can do because Democrats are the “liberal elite” parading around with slightly lifted noses and talking down to the common man while trying to take everyone’s money and give it to them. Fourth, there is always a them.  Finally, the manifesto requires that any viable candidate unequivocally support any and all positions promoted by the religious right wing of the party, including the absolute wrongness of abortion, the absolute rightness of bearing arms, the absolute certainty of Christian principles, and the absolute blind obedience to the loudest voice in the room.[2]

Bottom line: to gain the Democratic nomination you have to pretend that you care about everyone whether you do or not, but if you want the GOP nomination you may very well need to check your soul at the door.

 


[1] There’s plenty of justification for this, by the way.  People are notoriously prone to instant gratification at the expense of their own future, and then whining about it later on when things tighten up and some benevolent overseer (whether parent, school, or government) won’t step in and help out. Ditto for corporations.

 

[2] It also helps if you fawningly admire all of the rewritten American history used to support these views.

 

Saturday
Jan282012

Acknowledgements & Thanks

Now that the book is out (and thanks to those who have bought their copy!), I thought it time to personally acknowledge all of those who participated in its creation.  Here, then, is the "Acknowledgements" section straight from the book.  (Yes: that means that, if you're name is below, then YOU are in the book!).

 This book, which started out as a bizarre little idea that I thought might offer some amusement, quickly absorbed the time and attention of quite a few people, and to them I am very gratefully indebted.      

Greg Russak, Reine Silverlight-Mallonee, Mary Ann Reilly, Rob Cohen, Fran Sansalone, and Gabe Vanore all read (and re-read) various drafts, and all provided critical and thoughtful feedback, particularly with respect to the overall narrative arc.  Without their careful evaluations the book could easily have become a series of disconnected essays (or worse, just a bunch of meandering rants).  Rob and Mary Ann also contributed a Jeremy Bentham quote and an epigram, respectively. Rob Traverso and Chris Vetere provided me the younger perspective (and also kept checking in to see what was new on the website). My thanks also go out to Jennifer Newcombe Marine for her sage advice on how to keep the overall effort on track, and to Cindy Sherwood for her excellent editing.

Recently reconnecting with a number of childhood friends (Facebook is a truly wonderful social medium) allowed me to verify and/or flesh out a few of my oldest memories. I’m thankful to Sharon Russell, Craig Hilton, Hartley Engel, Richard Angelini, Roland Greene, and Jeff Shaw for their help (even though they might not have known they were helping…).

Most importantly my wife, Renee, provided not only feedback, but an incredible amount of support as well, giving me plenty of time and space to embark on what I’m sure she thought was just another random obsession.

 

 

Tuesday
Dec272011

Politics, My Foot(note)!

I recently read an article--I'm not sure where--about the changing role of the noble yet lowly footnote. It seems that with the advent of e-reading (and, in particular e-books), the footnote is not quite as convenient as it used to be. Where once it was a downward glance toward slightly smaller print, it's now been relegated to an active link or sometimes--even worse--an endnote, that most feeble of too-easily-ignored information snippets.

Yet for some writers the footnote is a special creature--think de Tocqueville or David Foster Wallace--and is meant to do more than gloss. I use footnotes the same way; it's where I've put most of the humor in the book and so, in the interest of sharing some laughter that might otherwise end up glossed over rather than glanced at (and in the interest, also, of convincing you to read them all when you get the book), here are a few I particularly like....

In discussing how Glenn Beck referred to his first guest, Sarah Palin...

"Actually, he referred to her as 'one hot grandma.'"

In referencing an anecdote of my nearly non-existent teenage romances...

"For those of you too young to recognize the term, 'going steady' was sort of the opposite of 'friends with benefits.' You were more than friends but there were almost no benefits."

Definition of the word zaftig as it relates to the insults Glenn Beck launched at Meghan McCain...

"Yiddish word meaning 'having a full rounded figure; pleasingly plump.' Also a Jewish-style deli in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Apparently their Banana Stuffed French Toast is legendary and their knishes are to die for."

In discussing our country's habit of election watching, our new national pastime...

"Except in Texas, where it's way behind high school football, and Vermont, where it understandably lags behind public nudity."

And finally, commenting on Rush Limbaugh's famous phrase, "talent on loan from God..."

"Limbaugh claims to have his 'talen on loan from God.' The statement strikes me as odd since I usually think of God as a being of infinite gifts, not loans. Limbaugh makes God sound too much like the neighbor who wants to borrow my hedge trimmer. However, if Limbaugh is right and God did loan him talent, then he should have asked for a bigger loan."

There are many more.  Check them out here....