This is something I try to avoid with all my heart and soul, but lately I've been thinking about Newt Gingrich. A lot. Basically every time I drive pass a gas station and see gas selling for $2.09 a gallon -- realizing that across the river in Jersey and elsewhere around the country it often costs even less than that.
You see, it was Gingrich who, as a 2012 presidential candidate (which feels like it was two decades ago, but anyway..), promised America that a Newt Administration would bring prices at the pump to the seemingly unthinkable level of $2.50 a gallon. Because that was what what was killing America, Gingrich insisted -- a lack of imagination and determination to exploit all the God-given crude that surely lies under our feet, and any new carbon pollution from fossil fuels be damned!
Actually, if you're willing to pretend that the science on global warming doesn't exist (as are all the 2016 Republicans running for president), there's a lot to like about cheap gasoline. For the last century, there's been a huge correlation between whether gas prices are low (the mid-20th Century, 1990s) or high (the 1970s) and the health of the American economy. Low prices at the pump mean lower costs and higher profits for most industries, while allowing middle-class families to spend more on other consumer goods.
Alan Mairson and I are both writers and journalists of a certain age -- old enough now to have young voters in the house. And we share a similar fascination with what, at this point, could fairly be called The Bernie Sanders Experience. How similar? Alan launched a smart podcast called "Searching for Bernie." I wrote an e-book called "The Bern Identity: Searching for Bernie Sanders and the New American Dream." As you might imagine, we had A LOT to talk about. Do me a favor and check out the podcast!
“What [Brave New World author Aldous] Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.”
-- Social and cultural critic Neil Postman in his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.
Culture death came at approximately 4:10 p.m. Tuesday , around the moment that the New York Times breathlessly reported the official, momentous word that the former half-term quitter governor of Alaska has endorsed the serially bankrupt real-estate developer to become the 45th president of America. The actual news that Sarah Palin is endorsing Donald Trump's White House bid may be the least surprising news story of our so-far grim 2016; Palin had been certainly looking with increasing desperation on how to get back into the Big Grift ever since TLC canceled her moose-killing Alaska reality show.
"You can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can't talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism."
It's funny -- nearly 50 years later, only 47 percent of the American electorate says it could ever vote for a "socialist" (does that include a "democratic socialist"?...we may soon find out). This weekend, as evidence mounted that Sen. Bernie Sanders is posing a very serious challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, a few folks on the right began sharpening their knives. Rupert Murdoch's house organ, the New York Post, ran a "hit piece" on Sanders career --most of it stuff that's been in the public record for decades and covered thoroughly in my e-book "The Bern Identity". (The most hilarious part is an accusation that Sanders named the minor league baseball team that he'd wooed to Burlington "The Vermont Reds" in honor of his "Commie" political leanings...and not because it was a Cincinnati Reds farm team.)
Just as I predicted, absolutely nothing happened during my planned 11-day sabbatical from the blog. Unless you insist on counting the American prisoners who were freed by Iran. Or President Obama's State of the Union address. Or another Republican Party debate with a lot of fireworks. Or a deplorable, bona fide act of terrorism right here on the streets of Philadelphia. Or the hiring of a new Eagles coach.
OK, I guess a lot happened. And one other thing happened: The long, slow march of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as a White House contender to be taken seriously. As Sanders, Hillary Clinton and someone apparently named Martin O'Malley prepared to square Sunday night in Charleston, S.C., for the last of the Democratic Party's notorious "secret debates" ("Watch 'em if you can find 'em!"), polls show Sanders has pulled to roughly neck-and-neck with the presumed frontrunner Clinton in Iowa, holds a considerable lead in New Hampshire, and it starting to gain in some of the remaining states.
Surprising? Yes and no. As someone who spent last fall reporting an e-book "The Bern Identity" on the rise of Sanders, I knew that enthusiasm for a Hillary Clinton presidency hasn't just waned over the last eight years -- among the folks I tend to know, any lingering excitement about her presidency seems to have evaporated. At the same time, I'm aware there have been huge blocs of voters -- older women, especially African-American, for example -- who seems to be nearly 100 percent Ready for Hillary. And maybe they're still there -- Hillary does still lead in the national polls. after all -- but the enthusiasm for Bernie among under-35 voters (including and perhaps especially blacks and Latinos) is a tsunami that could swamp everything else.
Other than the stock market tanking and an armed insurrection in Oregon, I'd say that 2016 is off to a pretty good start, wouldn't you? In fact, I was so much expecting things to be on cruise control ("Cruz control"?...God no!) in this presidential year that I figured the start of January was a good time to take care of some personal business. Regular blogging won't resume until Sunday, Jan. 17.
Of course, I'm already deeply regretting this. Over the coming days, in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire (if it ever actually snows), the nation's future course seems to be at stake. There'll surely be days I miss weighing in. Indeed, I'm already getting a weird vibe that 2016 will be tumultuous on the same scale as the epic year of 1968. Just hopefully a lot less violent.
What can you, the faithful Attytood reader (notice that's singular), do over the next week and a half? First of all, use the space below to comment on the various follies of Hillary, the Donald, Ted...and the rest (including that crazy situation in the Middle East -- and Philly's new mayor!). I'm sure you'll have a lot to talk about. Second of all, if you'll allow me to be self-serving for the very first time in the history of Attytood, use the break to read my new e-book, The Bern Identity: A Search for Bernie Sanders and the New American Dream. It's good...trust me. There'll be a quiz when I return!
Before grabbing their assault rifles and heading off toward the wilderness to begin a possible suicide mission, several of the terrorists took part in the 21st Century ritual of filming so-called "goodbye videos," explaining to the world and their loved ones why they did what they did. "I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to defend against tyranny...," one declared, looking directly into the camera. The man added: "To my family, just know that I stood for something. Don't let it be in vain. I love you."
This wasn't the latest jihadi plot from ISIS, or al-Qaeda. In fact, the online wags are calling them "Y'all-Qaeda"...or "Vanilla ISIS," taking part in a "YeeHawd" against the United States government. I'm talking about the armed goons up in Oregon who see themselves as some kind of patriotic militia -- maybe 150 of them, or maybe a dozen, probably closer to the latter. This weekend the group, linked to three sons of the anti-government Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, took over a federal facility (OK, it looks like a glorified highway rest stop, but still...), the headquarters of a national wildlife refuge in south-central Oregon. Some have threatened to stay their, Alamo-like, until their death of a tyrannical government.
On one hand, the whole thing is a freakin' joke -- half-wits with an insane hatred of the federal government (at least when there's a Democrat in the White House) and a few AK-47s play-acting as right-wing revolutionaries, showing their might by taking over an unknown bird refuge that's closed on the weekends. (This ain't the Bastille.) Although it's impossible to predict how these things play out, my guess is that it's less likely the next Waco or Ruby Ridge and more likely that the Fabulous Bundy Boys and their thugs go home when their last bag of Doritos and supply of Bud Light is exhausted.
OK, the verdict is in -- and 2015, defying all predictions, was a pretty interesting year! Here at Attytood's Mission Control Center, it was a struggle to keep up with it all -- the rise of Bernie Sanders' democratic socialism and Donald Trump's "national socialism," if you know what I mean, the election of a new mayor and the dawn of a new governor closer to home, triumph and bitter setbacks for the social justice movement in America. As at the end of every year, I've tried to re-stir the pot with a "Five for Fighting" post of the things that mattered. In 2015, I was the same pathetic liberal hack (or so they told me) that I've always been. but at least this time around I had some good material to work with.
5. You call that 'democratic socialism'? Count me in, then, Nov. 19, 2015:
First, while I applaud Sanders remarkable consistency over the last 55 years, I'd have to say that "democratic socialist" isn't the branding that I'd go with if I were starting from scratch in 2015. Why? I think the term "socialist" suggests certain programs -- nationalizing industries like the railroads (oops, we kinda did that one...nevermind) or coal mines, when that's not in any way what Sanders advocates. Instead, he supports an expanded role for government in a handful of areas where unfettered capitalism -- insurance executives paying themselves 7-figure salaries while rejecting your kid's transplant, for example -- doesn't make sense.