Friday, October 31, 2008


A couple of years ago, I witnessed an altercation in a Rite-Aid between two large women over the question of which one had been first in line to the cash register. As often happens in these impromptu urban contretemps, there were no preliminary remarks or introductory material. Rather, my first inkling there was any problem at all was a 110-decibel blast, issued by the party of the first part, the shock wave from which knocked me half a fathom leeward. “WHAT’S YOUR FUCKING HURRY, BITCH?” she inquired.

Then the situation deteriorated.

They didn’t know each other, and they were both young and strongly built. There never seemed to be any danger the pair would actually grapple, but they stood about fifteen feet apart, arms akimbo, and discussed their differences, loudly and firmly, at considerable length. It was surprising, to me at least, that they were able to maintain their level of invective and their volume for as long as they did. The cashiers and the other customers and I were dumbstruck. We watched silently, our heads turning from one to the other as if at a tennis match.

The original dispute, precedence at the register, was quickly abandoned as the pair moved on to more pressing issues: the shoes they were wearing, their respective hairstyles, the likelihood that the other had unsightly hair sprouting from her nipples, whether they were paying for their purchases with earned money or welfare benefits, and the nature of the odor emanating from the other’s feminine area. It was very educational. It was a tour-de-force, in fact. I have been in many bars and locker rooms and other male enclaves, and while I will freely admit that men can be crude, there are certain things we will not say about even the most loathsome woman. There in Rite-Aid, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I learned that women recognize no such limits.

One was white and one was black, and while this in itself did not create any particular friction, the beautiful multicultural diversity of it all led to a colloquy where all of us learned that each of the combatants lived with a black man. This realization framed what became the ultimate issue in the debate: to wit, whether white women or black women were better equipped to satisfy black men sexually. Jaws dropped in the peanut gallery as we listened to the ladies express their strongly-held views on the subject. While I won’t describe for you the activities that each of them felt was essential (and which a woman of the other color was incapable of providing), I will say this: “being there emotionally” was not one of the activities mentioned. They were talking about other stuff.

And then the party of the first part showed other stuff. Lifting her tee-shirt and cupping her breasts in her hands, she screamed, “AND WHAT ABOUT THESE? YOU CAN’T SHOW YOUR MAN TITTIES LIKE THESE, CAN YOU, BITCH?” And lowering her shirt, she stomped out of the store. Triumphant, I guess.

* I‘ve told this story at parties, and it’s certainly good for a few laughs, but the truth is that I find this kind of behavior vulgar rather than amusing, and I don’t much like the amount of vulgarity I see around me. I don’t listen to Howard Stern and I don’t think there is anything cute about Paris Hilton. I also don’t like movies where angelic, grandmotherly women say bad words for comedic reasons. South Park annoys me. And it makes me sad when I hear kids in junior high school swearing, in loud voices, on a bus or a train. I can be a fuddy-duddy about such things.

There is more of this than there used to be. Now, I know that every generation says the younger generation is going to hell, but I’m not really talking about the younger generation, I’m talking about my own. Certainly, the crudeness has trickled down to kids today, but it started with my peers. All this comes from baby boomers.

This is not an original observation, of course. You can fill a library with everything that has been written about the cultural changes in the 60’s and 70’s and whether they were caused by the JFK assassination or Woodstock or the invention of birth control pills or the spread of nuclear weapons or the international communist conspiracy or Nixon or the Beatles or twenty other things. I don’t know. I don’t have a theory on that. I just know it happened. Something changed. And I don’t think it was altogether a good thing.

I am not simply talking about vulgarity in the public square. That is only the most obvious manifestation of what happened, which was that our shared idea of what constitutes a “good person” changed. At one time, there was only one generally accepted definition. A good person was truthful, respectful of others, loyal to God and family and country, self-reliant and optimistic. All of these virtues are derived from the Bible, of course, but they were not religious values so much as American values, and they developed because it’s simply not possible to separate the American experience from its Judeo-Christian roots.

There are many places in America where these qualities continue to define what is thought of as goodness, and there are many parents who are dedicated to instilling them in their children. What has changed is there is now an alternate definition that dominates the public sphere and our educational system, and it comes directly from the “Me Generation.” Behavior that once would be viewed as disgraceful is excused (or even praised) as being “honest.”

Spouting a string of expletives at a store clerk? “Hey, I gotta be me. I was PISSED!” Flipping off another driver? “Well, I HAD to. That’s how I really felt.” Expressing what one is feeling, or doing what one is tempted to do, is always defensible because it is deemed real and authentic. The real sin, for those in this alternate moral universe, lies in espousing traditional values and then falling short of one’s ideals. This is called (for no apparent reason) “hypocrisy.” So it is that a Republican like Mark Foley can be pilloried for sending flirtatious emails while his successor (Tim Mahoney) is excused for multiple incidents of adultery, sexual harassment, payment of hush money, etc.

But there is more to being a good person under this alternate definition. In addition, a good person is one who believes and promotes certain positions on an array of social issues. Global warming is the result of human activity, gay people should be allowed to marry each other, smoking is wrong, affirmative action is the right thing to do, men and women are exactly the same except for anatomy, abortion is always a woman’s choice, etc. There are many more. These are not political views or scientific conclusions, they are moral absolutes. To those who have rejected our traditional values and adopted the Me Generation ethos, you are a good person if you believe all these things. If you don’t, you’re not simply wrong, you’re evil. (Note: I speak here from personal experience.)

My son was taught this new morality in the public schools he attended, and to his credit, it only persuaded him that most adults are fools. But most kids subjected to this type of indoctrination simply accept it, just as previous generations accepted the values of truthfulness, respect for others, loyalty, and so on. In college, where the stakes are higher, the situation is worse. At universities large and small across this country, students are routinely disciplined for speech protected by the First Amendment if that speech questions affirmative action policies or offends feminist sensibilities. (Browse for a while if you have any doubts about this aspect of academia.) Lawrence Summers was fired as President of Harvard University solely for suggesting (gently) that differences in scientific achievement between men and women might have something to do with how their brains work. Such wicked thoughts may no longer be spoken in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And this new ethical system is not an addition to the traditional rules; it is a substitute. What used to be thought of as virtues are gone, or at least are regarded as deeply suspect. Every year Tex was in public school, he was given “contracts” by his teachers that he was required to sign. In these, he typically agreed to “respect the property of others,” “refrain from foul language,” “not cheat on tests or plagiarize material for papers,” and a long list of other rules. When I went to school, the very idea that a student would have to agree to such things would have been preposterous. These were simply the minimum requirements of civilized behavior, and we all knew what would happen if you swore at a teacher or cheated on a test. Students broke the rules, of course, but no one questioned their underlying ethical basis. Now, however, for teachers and principals, there is a sense that moral condemnation for behavior is wrong, and that passing judgment on another’s actions can never be justified. We’re all flawed, of course, so who are we to demand adherence to some arbitrary code of proper behavior? Perhaps Johnny has a disability of some kind. Or maybe his cultural heritage is such that certain expectations are unfair.

Students get the message, or the lack of one. Over the past few years, there has been much in the news about file-sharing, piracy of copyrighted music, movies and the like. If you talk to an 18-year-old about this, as I have, you are likely to find he does not understand there could be any moral issue involved. “It’s there on the internet, so I take it.” The idea it can be viewed as theft is met not with disagreement, but with a blank stare. “But it’s just a big corporation,” is another explanation, shifting the focus to the identity of the victim (“big corporations are evil” is another moral absolute), and away from any responsibility for one’s actions. The belief that big corporations are evil makes you a good person, and once you’re a good person, it doesn’t matter what you do.

For their baby boomer parents too, the rules have changed, and to illustrate this, I’ll give one example. A recent study found that when parents are asked whether they would rather their child were caught smoking a cigarette or cheating on a test, a large majority of them answer they would rather their child be caught cheating. Perhaps you would agree with them, and that’s fine. My point here is simply that American morality has changed. When I was a teenager, my parents and every parent I knew would have answered this question differently. Today, smoking is a serious moral lapse, but bearing false witness would be called merely a “behavioral issue.”

All of which brings us to the American presidency, which used to be held by men whose personal lives were probably never beyond reproach, but who respected the office and at least tried to project the image of rectitude and honesty that was expected of them. And when they failed, they were held to account. When Nixon lied, it mattered. When Jimmy Carter waffled in the face of an aggressive bunny rabbit, he was mocked. Reagan, no matter what you thought of his politics, was a courtly gent in public, and his foes gave him credit for it. Even Lyndon Johnson, a very coarse and unsophisticated man, did his best to project himself as a Southern gentleman.

And then came Bill Clinton, our first Boomer president, and none of that old, tired morality was relevant anymore. When he lied, it didn’t matter. Investigating women he had harassed or toyed with, and then releasing disparaging information about them to the press---well, that didn’t matter either. That was simply his personal behavior, and according to Boomer morality, it is wrong to judge someone on that basis. That’s the old morality, you see. That’s what the bible-thumpers do. The only thing that matters is whether he believes the right things, and like all libertines, Clinton was a staunch supporter of abortion-on-demand, so he was OK. And thus it was that NOW and other feminists rallied to his support, even as foreign political cartoonists depicted him strutting pantless, waggling his penis at cheering crowds, with discarded women littering the street in his wake.

I found this disturbing. I disapproved, and it had nothing to do with Clinton’s politics. That was a separate issue. And now we are faced with the possibility that Barack Obama, a far nastier, far cruder man, will be elected president. And again his personal behavior won’t matter, because Obama believes all the “right things.”

No one in the media has connected the dots on Obama’s personality (or on anything else about him, for that matter), so that’s what I’m going to do. This is my November 2nd pre-election special report for all my friends and relatives who are planning to vote for Obama on Tuesday. I want you to reconsider.

*For me, the first red flag was the bizarre announcement of his choice for vice president. A text message to his supporters at 3 A.M.? “Why?” asked the dimmer reporters who didn’t get the nasty little joke behind it. This was a 3 A.M. phone call that Hillary would NOT receive. Get it? Pretty clever, huh? It was a smarmy little shot at the woman who fought him tooth-and-nail (but fairly) throughout the primaries, and whom he had come to hate for her failure to concede defeat. Like all of Obama’s meanest digs, it was completely unnecessary and completely deniable. “A shot at Hillary? Who, me?” And as always, there is a wink and a nod to the other smart kids in the class.

There are women who will not vote for Obama because of his treatment of Hillary (or rather, his campaign’s treatment---it’s never Obama himself). And while I am not a Hillary fan or terribly sympathetic to feminist sensibilities, the misogyny on display has been of the crudest possible nature. For months, Hillary endured the “Bros Before Hos” crowd, heckling her in state after state. No one claims that Obama organized this activity, but neither did he condemn it. Always, he can disclaim responsibility, but his campaign set a tone where this sort of insulting behavior was acceptable. You may have seen the YouTube video (it’s easy to find) where Obama pauses on stage after making a reference to Hillary, and thoughtfully (with a deadpan expression) scratches his temple with his middle finger. Watch it, and you will remember that kid who sat in the last row in seventh grade and did the same thing, with his head turned slightly so the teacher couldn’t see.

More recently, Sarah Palin was confronted at a rally in Philadelphia by four protesters in tee-shirts proclaiming “SARAH PALIN IS A CUNT.” Again, Barack Obama did not print the shirts, but his reaction to this type of nastiness throughout the campaign suggests he thinks it’s kind of cute.

His “lipstick on a pig” remark also fits the pattern---completely deniable (“Who, me?”), but understood perfectly by everyone on both sides of the aisle. Just as “old” means McCain, “Messiah” means Obama, and “hair plugs” means Biden, “lipstick” means Palin. And everyone knows it. On websites hawking Palin tee-shirts and bumper stickers and such, fully a third of the items make some reference to lipstick. In terms of the campaign, she “owns” the word. Personally, I don’t want a president, regardless of his politics, who will publicly call a woman a pig. Even Bill Clinton wouldn’t do that. He always had his surrogates do it.

And speaking of Bill, his speech at the Democratic Convention made it clear that for Obama, it’s never enough to win, it’s also essential to humiliate those who opposed you. We all know that some bad blood had developed between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama during the primaries, and that was in everyone’s mind as the moment approached for Bill’s speech. He had to deliver one, of course, because he’s a Democratic president, but what kind of speech would it be?

If you saw it, I think you will agree it was a classic Clinton performance---folksy, generous and funny. There was no hint of the bickering that had dogged their relationship. At one point he even compared Barack Obama to himself, and this is the greatest compliment a narcissist like Clinton can pay to another person. He held nothing back in his praise for Obama and the campaign he had waged.

And then the speech ended, to a standing ovation and unrestrained celebration in the hall, and as Clinton left the stage, the Obama campaign, which had orchestrated every detail of the convention, cranked up Robert Palmer singing “Addicted To Love.” See ya, Bill. Thanks for the speech. Sucker.

Our presidents are not saints, and some can probably be said to have crawled to the top over the mangled remains of their vanquished foes. So if Barack Obama is just a misogynist and a vindictive SOB with a 12-year-old sense of humor, well, maybe he’s not the worst human being we’ve ever considered putting in the White House. Maybe, one could argue, this is sometimes what our political system produces.

But it’s worse than that. There’s also George Obama, his half-brother, who lives in a six-by-nine-foot shack in Nairobi, Kenya on a few hundred dollars a year. George is mentioned in “Dreams From My Father,” and Barack is well aware of his situation. On his grand tour of Kenya almost two years ago, Barack saw George, spoke with him for a few minutes, and then moved on to the next photo op. Apparently, they have had no contact since. George lives alone, struggling to survive, and dreams of learning to repair cars at a technical school, but the course costs about three hundred dollars, a sum he could never hope to raise. Barack Obama, of course, is a multi-millionaire.

Reading about George, I found myself wondering what I would do if I had a half-brother in George Obama’s situation. I am not a rich man, but it would take almost nothing to help this desperately poor man in a significant, even life-changing, way.

What would you do? Suppose you were separated as children and you didn’t really know the guy, but he was your blood and you could lift him out of squalor and give him a chance, at a cost you would never even notice. Wouldn’t you find some way to send him a few bucks? Wouldn’t you try to help? Wouldn’t you do something? Of course you would. Any decent human being would. But Barack Obama does not.

So yes, there’s the middle finger scratching the temple and there are the childish jokes and there’s the sickening joy he takes in revenge, and these are bad things, but they are not the worst thing about Barack Obama. The worst thing is that he has not lifted a finger to help George Obama when it would cost him nothing to do so. Barack is cold. Barack is ice. There is nothing inside of him.

Copyright 2008 Michael Kubacki

November 2, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Back when there were two sets of primaries, I would sometimes ask my Democratic pals whether they wished sometimes that their candidates would argue with each other about matters of substance, since the contrast between the primaries, Republican and Democrat, was so stark.

On the Republican side, you had pro-life candidates and pro-choice, pro-war and anti-war, pro-Israel and pro-Arab. You had global warming alarmists and global warming skeptics. You had a governor (Romney) who had set up a state-run healthcare system and you had others who wanted the government completely out of the health business. You had Fair-taxers, flat-taxers, no-taxers and John McCain. You had guys who wanted a border fence with snarling dogs and guys who wanted to give them all drivers licenses and margaritas.

On the other side, they never seemed able to muster much of an argument about anything. National health care? Mandatory! Raise taxes? Of course! Lose the war? Absolutely! There were nuances, I suppose (some of which may have been lost on me), but there was no real disagreement in any of their stated positions on major issues and there have never been any debates about policy.

And once in a while, one of my Democratic pals would agree that it might be better, or at least more interesting, if one of their candidates would propose a different idea about abortion or affirmative action or gay marriage or taxes or terrorism or something. More common, however, was the view that the uniformity of opinion among Democrats was actually a wonderful thing. We're united, you see. We don't have to argue about these things. We all agree on what the country needs.

Of course, one can't help but wonder what Joe Lieberman or Zell Miller thinks of this supposed unity, and I also have a feeling I could find a Democrat or two who might have some reservations about tax increases or abortion or banning guns. But whether you call it a glorious unity or suppression of dissent, the absence of policy disputes created a problem far more serious than boring debates. It created a situation where the only basis on which Democrats can pick a candidate is identity politics.

And that is what has happened to the Democratic race, which has become a death spiral of race and gender and ethnic groupings in which neither side has the juice to kill off the other. Hillary's supporters are determined, and Obama's minions are not backing down either. And since the only disagreements between the two have been purely superficial ("I'm for change!" "No, I'm for real change!"), there is no rational basis on which a Hillary supporter can be persuaded to switch to Obama, or vice versa.

It's an argument no one can win because there has never been an argument. All that's ever happened is a sorting out of skin colors and private parts and income levels and religions. And it continues. You there, you with the dark complexion---over here, please. And you with the vagina and the sub-75K income---this way. Bitter union members with guns? Step over here. And you Jewish folks---sorry we have to ask, but are you the sort of Jews who go to temple every week or are you the kind who eat cheeseburgers on Yom Kippur? Because if you're the first kind, we're going to put you in Hillary's stack, but if you're the second, you go to Obama.

For those of us who think it's morally wrong to judge people on the basis of their skin color or their gonads, the spectacle is somewhat disgusting.

Still, somebody has to win, and it looks like it will be Obama, though how and when this will occur is still anybody's guess. His black/leftie/academic mojo seems a shade more potent than her female/union/take-your-vitamins brand. Also, of course, should he be denied, the spectre of rampaging black Democrats outside the convention in Denver is genuinely chilling. By contrast, when Hillary is finally dragged from the stage, any vision involving legions of outraged Geraldine Ferraros laying waste to a Starbucks is more difficult to conjure.

And so they slog on, slowly, toward Obama's seemingly inevitable nomination. And this inevitability too is a product of the straightjacket of race and gender and ethnicity in which the Democratic Party has voluntarily encased itself. Obama's candidacy has never been based in a political vision (since all the other candidates had the same vision), but rather on who he is and, by extension, who his supporters are. This means that ditching him now, even though his vulnerabilities in November have become apparent, would be more than a political disappointment for his minions, it would be a personal affront. It would be---RACISM!!! And we can't have that sort of thing in the Democratic Party, can we?

So it is, in this most Democratic of all election years, that the party is poised to nominate one of the very few Democrats who is capable of losing to the blathering mess that is John McCain. With six months left in this most supernatural of presidential elections, I don't presume to know the result. But looking at the map, it's hard to fathom where Obama is going to find 270 electoral votes.

Start with West Virginia, where Obama was shellacked in the recent primary. The last Democratic president who lost West Virginia in the general election was named Woodrow Wilson. It's almost impossible for a Democrat to be elected president without West Virginia, and Obama can't win there.

And the West Virginia problem is bigger than West Virginia, of course. Bitter, gun-totin', church-goin' Democrats can also be found in abundance in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, all of which Obama lost and all of which are critical to a Democratic victory. (Kentucky loved Bill Clinton, by the way; they hate Obama.)

And then there's Florida, another critical state, which Obama lost handily in a record-turnout, perfectly fair primary that doesn't count. Jewish voters are deeply suspicious of a guy with links to Farrakhan (via Rev. Wright). Obama's desire to sit down for a chin-wag with Raoul Castro is not a popular position in Florida either.

In a general election, Obama is virtually certain to win New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, D.C., Illinois, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. That's 157 of the 270 he needs. Kerry also won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Maryland and Maine, and many of these are likely to remain in the Democratic column. But Kerry lost. Not only must Obama retain all the states Kerry won (and places like Pennsylvania and Michigan won't be easy), he must expand the base elsewhere. As more is learned about his background, however, the trend seems to be heading in the opposite direction.

But Obama may recover. And McCain can blow it (as he, at times, seems determined to do). I have little faith in election predictions at this point, including my own. My point is that the politicizing of group identity is cancer for our democracy, and it's been a cancer for the Democratic Party. It's the sort of factionalism the founding fathers did everything in their power to prevent, and the Democratic Party is a troubling example of how far this destructive process has gone. When months of primaries and televised "debates" are designed solely to divvy up the electorate into manageable little demographic cells and sort them into camps, what is left of the democratic process where free citizens weigh the arguments of the candidates on the issues of the day? Where are the hard questions from the peanut gallery? Where are the hecklers? Where is the point-counterpoint of finely-honed rhetoric and argument?

There used to be Democrats who favored a strong national defense. There used to be Democrats who had doubts about abortion. Believe it or not, there used to be Democrats who thought cutting taxes was sometimes a good idea. They tended to lose their arguments with other Democrats, but they existed, and they created a playing field on which important political questions could be discussed. And now they're gone, lost in the obsession with race and gender and class and religion and ethnicity, lost in the enraged cries of racism and sexism. This is not a healthy development, either for the Democratic Party or for America.

Copyright 2008 Michael Kubacki