For People Who Think

March 28, 2010

“Tea Party” Etiquette…Not all that different!

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 12:58 am

So, just the other day, there was U. S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, predicting on TV that more and more people will accept the Obama health care reform as time goes on. Maybe, I thought, but probably not. Too many people are too upset about federal spending and the fiscal future of the country in general to accept any major new federal program, whatever its purported virtues.

These people are frightened and likely to stay that way. They don’t necessarily understand the entire health care reform package – most people don’t, actually – and they might not understand specifically that the country has seen no real household income growth in 30-some years. They might not understand that the stock market has seen zero growth in the past decade or that the first decade of the 21st Century showed zero net job growth. They might not understand that the American share of the world’s GNP has slid from 50 per cent at the midpoint of the 20th Century to 25 per cent at century’s end. What they do know, though, is that we have 10 per cent unemployment with no end in sight. They do understand that federal spending to save the banks and to keep state and local government at least moderately functional as tax revenues have dried up has not directly touched their lives in any way they find tangible.

The people most upset over this are the Tea Party people. I had a Tea Party guy call into my program the other day on Albany’s WGDJ Talk 1300 AM. He was disturbed that the Tea Partiers get no respect, that so many people seem hostile to them when the Tea Partiers are only trying to sound the alarm on national fiscal collapse.

Part of that, I explained to him, is because of some bad behavior on the part of Tea Party people at various demonstrations in Washington and at those congressional “town hall” meetings on health care reform last summer. Most of it, though, is that Tea Party viewpoints just don’t mirror those of most people in this country. Recent polling by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute illustrates that. When you examine the composition of the Tea Party movement you discover that:

74 percent are Republicans or independent voters leaning Republican;
16 percent are Democrats or independent voters leaning Democratic;
5 percent are solidly independent;
45 percent are men;
55 percent are women;
88 percent are white;
77 percent voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008;
15 percent voted for President Barack Obama.

Only 13 percent of American voters say they are part of the Tea Party movement. By a 28 to 23 percent margin, American voters have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party, with 49 percent saying that they don’t know enough about the group to form an opinion. While 70 percent of all voters are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the way things are going in America today, 92 percent of Tea Party members are dissatisfied. Government does too many things better left to businesses and individuals, according to 54 percent of all voters, while 42 percent say government is not doing enough. Tea Party members say by a margin on 83 to 15 per cent that government is doing too much. The Tea Partiers are wild about Sarah Palin. Most people view her with considerably less enthusiasm. A total of 19 percent of American voters trust government to do the right thing “almost all of the time” or “most of the time,” compared to only 4 percent of Tea Party members.

Does this mean that the Tea Partiers are wrong? Not necessarily. There’s nothing extreme or illogical about fretting over the country’s dismal economic and fiscal situation. The problem seems to be that too many of the Tea Party people, whatever the justice of their cause, are new to politics and tend to express their legitimate fears through displays of rage rather than through rational, persuasive arguments.

To a certain extent, that’s an American tradition of long standing. Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has done some research on bad behavior on the part not of ordinary citizens terrified of the country coming apart but of members of the U. S. Congress. Forget about Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer’s”baby killer” taunt to the Democrats in the House of Representatives the other day. Forget about South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s call of ”you lie!” during a speech by President Obama last fall. Political debate on the part of lawmakers in this democracy has always been nasty. A few examples:

In 1798, in the midst of a dispute on the House floor, Rep. Roger Griswold, a Federalist from Connecticut, impugned Rep. Matthew Lyon’s Revolutionary War record. Lyon, a Republican from Vermont, spit in Griswold’s face. Two weeks later, Griswold hit Lyon with a cane, and Lyon responded by attacking Griswold with a pair of fire tongs.

In 1837, Rep. Balie Peyton of Tennessee took offense at testimony by former federal bank director Reuben M. Whitney before a committee of investigation. Payton shouted at Whitney, “You shan’t say a word while you are in this room; if you do I will put you to death.”

President John Quincy Adams kept a diary. After leaving the White House, he enjoyed a long and illustrious career in the U.S. House of Representatives. He described in his diary an incident in 1845 in which Rep. Edward J. Black, a Democrat from Georgia, “crossed over from his seat . . . and, coming within the bar behind [Ohio Whig Rep. Joshua R.] Giddings as he was speaking, made a pass at the back of his head with a cane.” Rep. William H. Hammett, a Democrat from Mississippi, “threw his arms round [Black] and bore him off as he would a woman from a fire.”

In 1856, furious about attacks against pro-slavery Sen. Andrew Butler, a Democrat from South Carolina, by Republican abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Butler’s relative, Rep. Preston Brooks, another South Carolina Democrat, went on to the Senate floor and beat Sumner senseless with his walking cane. When other senators tried to aid Sumner, they were stopped by Rep. Laurence Keitt, another South Carolina Democrat, who brandished a pistol to keep them away. Sumner was badly injured and unable to return to the Senate for more than three years. Brooks survived an expulsion vote in the House, resigned his seat. South Carolina voters rewarded him by reelected him to that same seat that November.

In 1902, in the Senate chamber, Sen. John McLaurin, a Democrat, accused his fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, another Democrat, of telling a “willful, malicious and deliberate lie.” Tillman responded by punching McLaurin in the face.

In 1964, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina, positioned himself outside a committee room in an effort to dissuade his arriving colleagues from forming a quorum to consider the nomination of LeRoy Collins to head the Community Relations Service under the new Civil Rights Act. When pro-civil rights Sen. Ralph Yarborough, a Texas Democrat, showed up, the two ended up in a wrestling match.

In 1970,: Sen. George McGovern, Democrat of South Dakota and fervently opposed to the Vietnam War, took to the Senate floor where, to the gasps of colleagues and people in the galleries, he declared: “This chamber reeks of blood.”

In 1985, After a disputed 1984 election in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District resulted in a party-line House vote to seat Democrat Frank McCloskey, Rep. Bob McEwen, Republican of Ohio, lashed out on the floor at Speaker Tip O’Neill, Democrat of Massachusetts. McEwen said,”You know how to win votes the old-fashioned way; you steal them.” Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, then characterized the Democrats as a “leadership of thugs.” Republicans marched en masse in protest out of the House chamber, the first time that had happened in 95 years.

In 2003, in protest over the lack of notice about a markup of a pension bill, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee left the hearing room. The one Democrat left behind to make sure nothing untoward happened, Rep. Pete Stark of California, was told to “shut up” by Republican Rep. Scott McInnis of Colorado. Stark’s response: “You think you’re big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me, I dare you. You little fruitcake.”

Then, in 2004: Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing in the Senate chamber in his capacity as president of the Senate, became involved in a discussion with Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, about Cheney’s ties to his old firm, Halliburton. The conversation ended with Cheney telling Leahy to “[bleep] yourself.”

In the context of all that history, the Tea Party people aren’t really all that bad. Their problem is that they haven’t yet learned that in order to convince people it’s a good idea to refrain from offending them with hostile and bellicose behavior. The antiwar protestors of the Vietnam era never really learned that lesson, which was why it took them a full decade to persuade Americans that the war had never been that good an idea from the start. If the Tea Partiers really want to get beyond that 13 per cent and move into the mainstream they should learn from that example.

March 12, 2010

“Tickled” to Political Death; The Eric Massa Debacle

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:13 pm

It was a week night. I’d just emerged from the home studio from which I do my daily talk radio program on Albany’s WGDJ Talk 1300. An hour later I found myself at the gracious home of a neighbor, along with a dozen other people, to meet Eric Massa. He was running for Congress in our district in New York’s Finger Lakes/wine country region.

Massa was a 50ish Annapolis graduate, a 20-year Navy veteran who’d later worked on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee. Two years earlier, running against a weak incumbent, he’d lost by two percentage points. He came across that evening as earnest and informed – a major improvement over the guy who was in that seat at the time. At the end of a few hours of conversation, I wished Massa luck, shook his hand and figured that he had only the longest of shots to win in that conservative, largely rural district where Democrats were little more than a rumor.

Then came the Barack Obama tidal wave. Massa squeaked into the House of Representatives along with two dozen other Democrats running in Republican districts across the country. I predicted to friends that the guy would get his two years in the Big Show, do what party leaders told him to do, go down fighting like a man in 2010 and end up a lobbyist on Washington’s K Street pulling in big bucks. That wasn’t the way it turned out, though.

Instead, Eric Massa resigned from Congress last Monday in the most spectacularly suicidal political meltdown that New Yorkers had seen since Eliot Spitzer’s showy adventure in imprudent self-indulgence. The only politician I’d ever seen behave in a more self-destructive manner had been Bud Dwyer, a Pennsylvania pol I’d once covered for the Philadelphia Inquirer who’d been charged with bribery. Bud had responded by walking into a press conference in Harrisburg, pulling out a pistol and blowing his brains out in front of a room full of reporters and TV cameras. That, I suppose, was more suicidal that what Massa did, but just barely.

Massa's problem developed when his chief of staff, Joe Racalto, contacted an aide in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office back in October to discuss (ahem!) problems with Massa's behavior toward male staffers. This was four months before another Massa aide, Ron Hikel, went to the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer with a detailed harassment allegation against Massa. Hoyer’s staff told Hikel to contact the ethics committee within 48 hours or that Hoyer would do it for him. Hikel did what he was told.

Massa’s response to all this was to announce that he wouldn’t run for a second term. Cancer, he explained; his doctors had told him that he needed to take it easy, and he did have a wife and two kids to attend to. Then, when word leaked out about the sexual harassment charges and other such incidents alleged against Massa during his 20 years in the Navy, he announced that he would resign Monday, which he did.

The problem was what he did before that resignation was tendered. He went on the radio in his district and delivered a spirited, only semi-coherent rant against the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, whom Massa characterized as “the son of the spawn of Satan.” That means, apparently, that Emanuel is the devil’s grandson.

Massa’s complaint against Emanuel? That the White House staff chief, formerly a congressman from Chicago, had approached a naked Massa in the shower of the House gym “without even a towel around his tush” and lobbied him to vote for Obama’s health care reform bill. He wasn’t about to stand for such flagrant bullying, Massa insisted; that was why he was resigning.

Immediately, Massa went from being a one-term back bencher in an obscure district to a topic of intense interest to the conservative opinion media. Rush Limbaugh played Massa’s radio rant at length on his national radio program. The evening after Massa resigned to avoid that House Ethics Committee probe into the harassment charges, he appeared on both CNN’s Larry King Show and on Glenn Beck’s one-hour show on the Fox News Network. After an hour of Massa raving more or less incoherently about boyish tickling incidents with his male staffers and the sheer innocence of it all, Beck apologized to his audience for wasting their time.

So, Eric Massa is history now – until his obituary appears at some point in The New York Times, that is — but the House Ethics Committee investigation isn’t. The House voted 402-1 Thursday in favor of a GOP measure calling on the ethics committee to reopen it investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct. The focus will be on what Pelosi knew and when she knew it, but every detail of what Massa did or did not do – tickling parties an all – will now come out

Oh, and that cushy K Street gig?

As we say in New York, fuggetaboddit.

March 9, 2010

Finally another Blog ….a Movie Review and a Word about the Oscars

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 4:34 pm

To those readers who have been waiting on my blog, my apologies. It has been a crazy busy time and while I planned to write at least once or twice a week, that effort has not materialized. I will try and do better.

When last we left we were putting together the “On the Lake” pilot. Once conceived in theory it was time to put a plan into action. My group included Dan Lynch, writer and executive producer, Robert English, director, Sony Stark and Robert Shenise, both talented camera people and editors, Kristina Krawchuk, former Channel 9 News Anchor and our program host and Michael Kelleher, our assistant producer…oh yeah, we also have pirates aboard. Everyone liked the concept, even the pirates, but would people actually allow us into their beautiful lake homes with cameras and questions in tow. Folks of means tend to be guarded and for good reason when the location of their homes are quite secluded.

Our plan was for Michael Kelleher and me to spend what ever time it took in the area to meet the “right people” and persuade them to introduce us to the folks with what we would consider the most interesting homes on the lake. It would be easy we concluded to be welcomed into most businesses or report on some of the lakes rich history, but getting access to a high priced lakeshore sanctuary was another matter all together. In addition we had identified four must have homes to make the program fly. These were our elephants and we needed to bag one for me to greenlight the show and absorb the expense of filming.

Sony Stark (PilotGirl Productions) put us in touch with Cathy Slaughter in Bolton who owns a really cool designer lake store called “Summer Life” located right behind “Happy Jack’s” on Lakeshore in Bolton. We had a breakfast meeting and I gave her my wish list. She gave me the name of a woman who proved invaluable in getting our project off the ground. That woman was Lonnie Lawrence, long time resident and probably one of the top two or three realtors on the lake. Lonnie agreed to come out on the lake with us to discuss our concept for the show and to look at some of the houses we had identified.

On my next blog I’ll fill you in on our boat ride with Lonnie.

Last blog, I promised to review the James Cameron spectacle, “Avatar”. I have to admit that initially I was concerned that the special effects would not interface naturally with the human actors. Well, I was wrong. It is so natural that you really believe that you have been transported to the earth-like moon planet of Pandora and the 12-foot tall blue skinned inhabitants called the “Na’vi” really do exist. The special effects are just awesome and that explains why the film was 6 years in the making, allowing for the technology to catch up. James Cameron delivers a new world that is as visually entertaining as anything you can imagine. The only drawback is that the story, while compelling, is hardly original. It is a sci-fi version of “Dances with Wolves”. And that is why Avator failed to win the Oscar for the best film, losing out to “The Hurt Locker”.

After seeing both films, “The Hurt Locker” has what no amount of special effects can overcome, great acting and a really great script (Although for me I thought the lead character played by Jeremy Renner, was just too “nuts”, but I’m sure there are adrenaline fueled danger junkies like him out there somewhere…maybe on Pandora!).

Story is the most important element of any film. While state of the art special effects can get you nominated, it’s the original story that win awards. Both films are well worth seeing and while “The Hurt Locker” walked away with the hardware, “Avatar” will surely set fire to your senses and tug at your heart strings. Three and ½ reels out of four for “Avatar”. Also see it in 3D unless you’re prone to motion sickness.

My next movie review will be “Crazy Heart” which stars one of my favorite actors, this year’s best actor Oscar winner, Jeff Bridges.

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