More on this later in the week...
I'm providing my typically fair and balanced coverage of tonight's Fox News-GOP debates for tomorrow's Daily News, so here's just a short take to close down the week at Attytood. I don't expect many surprises from the Republicans in Cleveland. With consensus opinions that would lead to World War III in Iran, allow the rest of the planet to implode from climate change, and strip millions of their health insurance for the heck of it, it's a hard group to feel warm and fuzzy about. But let's give credit where it's due: There's one area where the GOP is putting the Democrats to shame in the 2016 race, and it's an important one.
It's called democracy, pure and simple.
Including tonight, the GOP is planning at least 11 debates, which for all the jokes is a pretty good chance for voters to see who (if anyone!) is up to the job. The Democrats, who have a robust field of five candidates, and maybe six if Vice President Joe Biden jumps in, have scheduled only six. And the first one is still a couple of months away. That's a disgrace. It hard not to look at the Democratic plan and think that it's a scheme to let to Hillary Clinton run out the clock on her rivals. That's because it is such a scheme.
Every joke is a tiny revolution -- George Orwell.
The revolution will not be televised -- Gil Scott-Heron.
Jon Stewart, who ends his 16-year-run as the host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," and, perversely, as the most trusted man on television, on Thursday night, is a child of the 1970s. Like I needed to tell you that. The aura of cynicism toward government, the media, big business and organized religion that almost visibly exuded from Stewart's head for four nights every week practically reeked of Watergate's "third-rate burglary," "inoperative" statements from the White House, and the latest body counts from Indochina. Stewart recently told the Guardian that he was raised during the '70s “with a healthy skepticism towards official reports” -- about as shocking a revelation as if he'd confided that he eats food and breathes air in order to survive.
Here's my contrarian opinion -- contrarian, at least, for a guy whose ideas often, ahem, skew to the left. I've never been a fan of Joe Biden. Oh, I know, crazy Uncle Joe, all the stuff in the Onion, "BFD"...very funny, ha ha. But his "man of the people" shtick is pretty much what Jon Lovitz used to call "ACTING!" I just finished George Packer's The Unwinding in which one of the main characters is an eventually greatly disillusioned Biden aide; it turns out that the vice president's favorite term for low-level aides is "dumb f---."
Man of the people.
Plus I have this crazy thing where I actually care about a politician's actual policies. And like a lot of "liberal icons" in today's Democratic Party, Biden's has a strange idea of what it means to be a liberal. When I started this blog in 2005, my official name for the #DelawareMan was Sen. Joe Biden (D-MBNA), because he was so quick to do what was right for his state's giant credit card companies as opposed to what was right for his cherished middle class. He's never met a military intervention abroad that he didn't like.
It's still nearly 15 months away, but already there's a number of political journalists in need of a fainting couch. In just a few weeks, Donald Trump has gone from cherished fodder for late-night comedians to the greatest threat to American democracy since 1814's Battle of New Orleans, or something. I'm not so worried -- just in this century the Republic has survived the scariest candidate ever to run for vice president...and also Sarah Palin. I'm sure the Trump boomlet will be looked back on -- to the extent that it's even remembered -- as a case of that which didn't kill America making it stronger.
I am a tad bothered, though, by Trump's impact on people who should know better. The short-fingered vulgarian has done something that many of us thought we'd never see -- lower the bar for political discourse. When Trump said that Mexicans coming to America are criminals and rapists, the Beltway crowd shrugged; when he implied John McCain wasn't much of a war hero, the same punditocracy (those people who may not know any Mexicans, but they sure as hell know John McCain) cringed, but Trump's poll numbers kept rising, and the other 16 GOP Dwarfs continued to shrink.
Now, to get a seat at a table, a Republican has to boldly sink where no candidate has sunk, like Mike Huckabee claiming a peace deal in Iran is leading Israel's Jews to "the door of the oven." But nobody's under more pressure to produce punchlines and headlines than New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie. Governor Sit-Down-and-Shut-Up was supposed to be the brash one -- not an uncouth billionaire's Mini-Me.
If you've ever driven into the heart of Philadelphia down Lancaster Avenue, you've seen it at the big airy intersection with 40th Street -- the stark, towering mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., framed like a Polaroid picture, waving from the stage to a sea of sardine-packed humanity. It depicts an event that was called the "Freedom Now" rally, which happened exactly 50 years ago today.
I wrote about that rally, as well as another memorable speech that that King gave the following day in front of the "Berlin Wall" of the then-still-segregated Girard College, and how MLK's visit affected the city and the people who saw in the Daily News last week. You can read my story here.
Despite the problems facing blacks -- in Philadelphia, and around the nation -- in 1965, there was something of an air of a victory tour for King's "Freedom Now" rallies, which hit a number of Northern cities during what became the long. hot summer of that year. In less than a year's time before King rallied in Mantua, the civil rights leader had won the Nobel Peace Prize and led the legendary Selma-to-Montgomery march; in just a few days (Aug. 6, 1965), he would stand next to then-President Lyndon Johnson as he signed the Voting Rights Act, the second major piece of civil rights legislation in just two years.
It is the most excruciating, painful 20 or so minutes of video that I've ever watched in my life. I'm talking about the first part of the encounter in Waller County, Texas, between 28-year-old Sandra Bland and the Texas state trooper who pulled her over, Brian Encinia. There is a tension in their exchange that even a master Hollywood director, a Scorcese or a Hitchcock, would not be able to evoke -- because the viewer knows the all-too-real ending, that a promising young woman would end up dead in a jail cell three days later.
And so every escalation -- when Bland insists, in often crude language, that she can't be compelled to put our her cigarette or exit her vehicle, when the trooper shockingly pulls out his Taser and exclaims, "I will light you up!", and when first Bland and then a bystander are told they can't exercise their constitutional right to film the encounter ("I need you to leave!) -- carries the sharp, jabbing sting of mortality.
And the film of what happened on a hot afternoon in Waller County in July 10 will also, most certainly, serve as a Rorschach test for a nation that can be so divided not just on matters of race but what constitutes civil authority that I guarantee no two citizens who take the time to watch the incident -- 49 minutes in all -- will see the same thing.
Here's some news to chew on while you stay indoors to avoid that July blast furnace known as the Eastern Seaboard: The world is getting colder! Well. OK, that's just something that I saw during my brief, daily perusal of the Drudge Report, which has long excelled at spotlighting the best climate change research that ExxonMobil's money can buy. Back in the reality-based world, Planet Earth keeps setting new records for average temperature, month after month.
Then yesterday came this warning, which was bannered across the top of the New York Times in "MEN WALK ON MOON"-sized type:
In what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels.