Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Vincent Price & John Barrasso are soul brothers

Millennials won’t get this. That’s why we have Google. So, Google “Vincent Price.” Look at that photo. He could be John Barrasso’s brother. Right? They are certainly soul brothers, known for the same act, i.e. trying to scare the bejeezus out of people. Price’s performance ended when he died in 1993. For Republicans, Barrasso’ s act never gets old. And it didn’t start with Barrasso. It’s a Wyoming tradition as old as the hills.

Price once compared “horror-show actors” with “method actors” like Barrasso. The former make the unbelievable believable, he said, while the latter make the believable unbelievable. The GOP is betting Price has it backwards. It’s a bet they’ve cashed in on before.

In 1958, Wyoming Republicans knew incumbent U.S. Senator Frank Barrett was in trouble. The longer that campaign went, the more ground he lost to an egg-head history  professor from the University of Wyoming. They started a whisper campaign. Gale McGee, the whisper went, is a pinko, a Communist sympathizer.

It didn’t work in 1958, but they had good reason to think it would. It wasn’t the first time Wyoming Republicans tried that ruse. The Red Scare was their “go to” strategy for years.

In 1950, John Clark was Wyoming’s Democratic Party nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran against Republican incumbent William Henry Harrison. Harrison’s entire campaign revolved around unfounded that the Democrats were sacrificing American interests in their sympathy toward Communism. The otherwise unbelievable charges were made believable because they were repeated so often.

Harrison won. In his concession speech, Clark said he hoped the day would come when Wyoming Republicans “actually ran an entire campaign on a level of intelligent discussion instead of hysterical name calling.” It hasn’t.

In 1952, the ultimate demagogue, Joseph McCarthy, came to campaign against incumbent Democrat, Joseph O’Mahoney. McCarthy warned that O’Mahoney was a member of the “Commmi-crat” Party. It worked again. The longtime incumbent was ousted in favor of Frank Barrett whose effort to replicate that blueprint against Gale McGee failed six years hence.

With the diminishing impact of the word “Communist,” the Republicans relied on the “L” word. As conservative as Wyoming Democrats have always been, the word “liberal” caused Republicans to cower in fear. Fear has never lost its power to motivate these frightened folks.

Jump forward to the 2020 political campaign. The Republican Party’s main obligation now is to cover up the crimes of a President who colluded with the Russians. Any attempt to connect a Democrat to the Russians would be too obviously hypocritical and polls show more than half of all Republican voters have joined the Vladimir Putin Fan Club under Trump’s guidance.

With the “Democrats-are-commies” charge neutralized, what’s the Party of Perpetrated Fear to do? “Ah ha,” said the pollsters, “We have a new approach.” It depends on a Lassie-like faithfulness in the gullibility of the base. They're like Mikey of the old cereal commercial? “Give it to Mikey. Mikey will eat anything.” So will the GOP faithful.

That’s where Vincent Price’s soul brother arrives on stage. Using his best Vincent Price imitation, Senator John Barrasso recently did a cold read of the new GOP script, sending shivers down the trembling spines of his gullible base. “Boo,” he shouted as he warns, “The Green New Deal is a socialist manifesto, the first step down a dark path to socialism.”

What he’s really saying is, “We know how to manipulate you.”

When it appears Americans are finally having the critical debate about whether healthcare is a right or a privilege, the GOP needs to distract voters.  Barrasso and Trump don’t want the 2020 campaign to be about whether the grossly-wealthy should pay more taxes or whether climate-change science matters.

Republicans lurk in the dark places until a voter passes. Then they cry out, “Want to see something really scary? Don’t look at what America could be. Look instead at what we claim Venezuela has become.”

It is no coincidence Halloween comes just before an election.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

America's problem? Fox News and talk radio

Spring is here and the boys of summer are undergoing the ritual of spring training. See this old, yellowed newspaper clipping? Not sure why I kept it all these years. It’s about Al Worthington, a pitcher whose career started in 1953 with the New York Giants. He played for half a dozen teams and was considered the Twins’ first great closer.

In 1960, Worthington was traded to the White Sox after complaining his team was breaking rules by stealing the other teams’ signs. There, he witnessed an elaborate scheme. Chicago’s pitching coach hid in the outfield scoreboard where he could see catchers signal opposing pitchers.

Using scoreboard lights, he signaled batters. Blinking lights meant a breaking ball. A solid light forecasted fastballs. The practice was illegal and too much for the deeply principled Worthington. He threatened to quit if that “unethical” behavior continued.

Worthington pitched only four more games before the Sox demoted him to the minors. He had brief stays in Cincinnati and Minnesota before his “all-too-honest” baseball career ended.

Baseball is just a game. Don’t you wish those politicians who play games with our lives would be as honest as Al Worthington? His story sounds odd today. The nation’s foundational myth tells of a young George Washington, who, when asked who chopped down his father’s favorite cherry tree, confessed, “I cannot tell a lie.” It too sounds odd by today’s standards.

Wouldn’t America be great again if its leaders reacted to dishonesty in government the way Al Worthington did in baseball?  Wouldn’t it be better if members of his own party would put the country ahead of a President who says, “Well, I try. I always want to tell the truth. When I can, I tell the truth.”

Clearly, the truth isn’t all it was once cracked up to be. There was a time when we the people could agree on facts even when they led us to different opinions. Jesus’s timeless question, “What is truth,” has become complicated. Jesus may have assumed the ultimate goal of thoughtful people was to find truth.

“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” is just some of that old-time religion that is not good enough for a lot of folks anymore.

It started with the 24/7 news cycle. Prior to that development, trustworthy newscasters like Cronkite, Murrow, Huntley and Brinkley were allotted just thirty minutes each evening to give us the facts. We trusted them and used those facts to develop our opinions, to decide how to vote.

Then in 1980, CNN became the first network to give us the news 24 hours a day. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes didn’t like the way CNN reported the news. They built a conservative competitor, Fox. Radio stations found they could make more money if rock and roll disc jockeys were replaced with talk radio dominated by prevaricators like Rush Limbaugh and felons like Gordon Liddy and Oliver North.

Some blame FOX, others MSNBC. One thing is true. Neither can fill 24 hours with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and keep people watching. Networks are built around the willingness of talking heads to spend hours saying anything. Half-baked opinions and falsehoods pass for facts. Facts are increasingly unimportant, inconvenient science ignored and denigrated, history revised, statistics and data disregarded.

The more outrageous guests are willing to be, the more often they are invited back.

Unlike Al Worthington who once sacrificed a major league baseball career to the truth, careers are now enhanced by not telling it. The truth is a relic, a part of museum displays of what our country once was.

No one needs to steal signals anymore. Each side hires its own umpires. Strikes can be called balls, balls can be called strikes. Whatever one’s own team needs at the moment is upheld as an alternative to what was once considered the truth. Alternative facts form alternative universes. We each go off to live in our own.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sen. Enzi explains why he'll vote to remove the president

Once the House of Representatives impeaches the President, Mike Enzi can be counted on to vote to remove Donald Trump

How do we know that? Senator Enzi has been unequivocal about his feelings with respect to presidents who lie to the American people. The country must, he said, be put head of Party.

Senator Enzi believes in the sanctity of oaths. “When our country was founded,” the Wyoming Senator said, “oaths meant everything. A man’s word was his bond.” Enzi cited the oath of office taken by the President when he “raised his right hand and placed his hand on the Bible swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution and to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”

Enzi said the oath committed the President to being the nation’s “chief law enforcement officer.” A president’s “actions which undermine this high duty,” include obstructing justice, which “strike(s) at the very heart of the rule of law.”

About that oath, Enzi offered, “The President’s oath forbids him to selectively decide whether to follow the laws based on a calculation of political expediency or determination of personal gain or loss. He is bound to follow the Constitution and the laws of our country in and out of season.” Enzi said, “violating this duty, the President’s actions displayed the tendencies of and unbridled monarch.”

For the Wyoming Republican, charges against the President were no less compelling because they involved a private sexual encounter. He noted the President “was so thorough in denying any relationship,” adding the President “told all of us he had done nothing wrong.” Enzi continued, “Do you think he will lie only about sex? This man sends our children into war. He has to be held to the highest standard.”

While some have suggest the President should not be removed when he is doing a good job with the nation’s economy, Enzi vigorously disagreed. “Job performance cannot be a defense for perjury or obstruction of justice or any other crime,” adding, “A corrupt president, by contrast, has the power to wreak havoc on the entire political order.”
Wyoming’s senior Senator lamented that when the country needed the truth, it got “spin” instead. The Senator called it “dizzy deception.”

What troubled Enzi perhaps the most was this question: “Are we a country with one set of standards for the rich, famous, or powerful?” Enzi wondered what we teach our children. “Do we tell them they have to follow the law until they become powerful enough, or clever enough, or rich enough to violate the law with impunity?”

The Senator urged colleagues to avoid partisanship. He cited approvingly what he called “the Spouse Test.” His wife had told him that if this had been a President of the other party, “I would have chained myself to the White House fence until he resigned.”

In the final analysis, Enzi found that, “Those who violate the rule of law for their own personal or political ends must not be allowed to remain in offices of public trust.”
Following such a detailed analysis of the law, the facts, and the Senate’s sacred duties, Wyoming’s Senator Mike Enzi decided his conscience demanded he vote to convict…President Bill Clinton.

The words quoted herein are those spoken by the Wyoming Senator on the floor of the Senate 20 years ago tomorrow. The question is, will he apply the same analysis to Donald Trump?

There are three elements in the case against Trump differing from those causes leading to Clinton’s impeachment. One, Clinton lied under oath. But, are not presidents always “under oath”? Second, the case against Trump appears to be considerably more damning. Third, like Enzi, Trump is a Republican.

For all the talk about “the spouse test,” and the importance of putting country ahead of Party, we all know the truth. It takes considerably more courage to vote against a President of one’s own party than one of the other. Trump’s fate will ultimately be determined by whether that courage can be summoned.