Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hold, Fold, Walk Away

Hold, Fold, Walk Away

It was only recently, quite honestly, that I restored my membership in the Grand Old Party. I had defected in the late nineties in favor of Libertarianism which I, in my wiser thirties, decided was too radical and un-nuanced an answer to our nation’s ills. I’ve always considered myself a Jeffersonian, and agree that his brand of liberal democracy is best suited for a small insular, wealthy, homogeneous, market-directed nation. His theories and writings, quite aside from his biting politics, form the basis for an ideal, academic thought experiment.

Alas, that is not our America; while I think this was potentially Jefferson’s America—an America made, in many ways, rich on the backs of slaves—it is an America that can’t—without a severe and painful social, economic and cultural restructuring—be recaptured. Besides the dark past of Libertarianism’s (then called Democratic-Republicans) first true experiment in America, pure modern Libertarianism, informed most famously by the objectivist theories of Ayn Rand, devolves into selfishness, arrogance, and self-absorption (and awful prose).  

Ultimately I decided that my vote would be worth more within the big tent of the Republican party where the broad, watered-down, relatively sustainable institutions of limited government, expanding opportunity, personal responsibility, free enterprise, free speech, strong national defense, and fraternity through patriotism could temper the potential pitfalls of pure ideology. I would help widen the tent from within the party, I argued to my friends as I began sending my efforts to the Republicans and their candidates. I had no reason to expect that I would soon wish for the known knowns (thanks Rummy) of theoretical politics. 

Little did I predict that the 2015 Republican party could be hijacked by a personality that stood for all the worse byproducts of Libertarianism without, at least, the well-developed personal ideology. And yet, a part of the (formerly) Grand OP has been blinded into a view of America that is thoroughly unAmerican: built on anger and gambles instead of optimism and rationality.

Even if you argue that there might be some missing context around the following quotes, the fact that these could be mined at all proves, at best, a complete lack of diplomatic skills and, at worst a robust, simplistic disdain for decency.  

“I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened to ISIS,” bragging without a real plan to Barbara Walters in December.
“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,”in the third-person to a rally in Charleston just last  December.
“I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong,” doubling down on Jimmy Fallon’s show in September.
“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her… wherever,” gushing incomprehensibly about GOP debate moderator Megyn Kelly.
“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” of patriot and Republican demi-god John McCain in July. 
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting,” announcing his presidential candidacy in June and setting the stage for the greatest disappointment to befall the Republican party since David Duke. 

And speaking of borders:

“We have to have a wall. We have to have a border. And in that wall we’re going to have a big fat door where people can come into the country, but they have to come in legally,” obtusely arguing for the most poorly articulated public works program since the Berlin Wall.

Orientalist bordering on racist, sexist bordering on misogynistic, bombastic bordering on insulting , ill-informed bordering on asinine, and divisive bordering on, well, every single possible border, he’s wrapped in an abrasive, un-elegant, simple-spoken, intellectually vacuous, string of self-aggrandizing ideological bankruptcies. Based on celebrity and the ability to work a news-cycle for soundbites, he has been nothing but lucky in business and now politics. He’s a gambler who has a penchant for letting it ride until the luck runs out and then, rather than simply leaving the table, razing the entire casino to remove evidence of his failure. 

He speaks for himself and himself only. He does not speak for my Republican Party, nor even for the Republican Party I abandoned the Libertarian Party for during the presidency of Bill Clinton. 

I will not even grant that he is a flipper of flops because that implies that he once held a set of beliefs and now holds another on guns, abortion, and healthcare, for example. By his own admission, he supported causes and candidates in the past in order to rig the odds in his  business gambles. By our own observation today, we can see that positions, often inconsistent with his constituencies’ or a coherent ideology, are meant to fuhrer…er, further, damn autocorrect…his own personal brand. 

Even Bernie Sanders has ideas. I may not agree with them—many of them—but I respect that he has put thought into practice and developed a cohesive set of policy solutions to see his vision through. He can clearly and unequivocally articulate a set of thoughts. For that, I respect Senator Sanders. 

So, in light of this week’s caucuses, and as I consider my vote in the primary and then in November, I know that I could vote (warts and all) for Wonky Jeb!, Throwback  Kasich, Combative Christie, Rosy-cheeked Rubio, Feisty Fiorina, or even grudgingly Libertarianish Paul. Short of these choices, I could vote, Benghazi and all, for Teflon Hilz who would—despite liberal primary posturing—lead like Bill, Bush and Barry, from a pragmatic center. Short of that, I’m at a complete loss. 

Who I will not ever vote for is clear. 

As I wander through the northeast this week, I pick up grumblings about a Bloomberg third party candidacy; I’m all in. 

Lame Duck: Looney Toons and Disney's Vertical Merger

Lame Duck:
Looney Toons and Disney’s Vertical Merger

Neither Daffy nor Donald, 
But animated still,
A sidekick to himself: 
Comic relief in the face of 
Rodents: Mickey and Bugs.
Steamboat Billing. 

That left at Albuquerque,
Or was it Chicago? Hawaii?
All paths have led to DC:
Rabbit holes beget black holes.
Rodents: bought and feckless.
Yosemite’s shooting. 

A new breed, part bred
Of bloods mixed red with red
And white and blue:
American doubtlessly through.
Rodents: bureaucrats, all. 
Pepe’s feline striping. 

Seven years in the making, 
Betraying pragmatism
For legacy and posturing:
Hard lefting, reinterpreting.
Rodents: seekers and rats.
Foghorn shuffling.

Tamany-like in its reach,
Godfather made and making,
Hope marginalized, star fading:
Posturing for replacements:
Rodents: blood stained chompers. 
Minnie pursed-pouting. 

Stacking long-packed boxes 
In creases of office oblongota,
Next to others never opened:
Laws from decrees, by veto’s pen.
Rodents: flushed out by flood. 
Gonzalez speeding. 

Cherry blossom lei’d,
Enjoying his victory lap,
Campaigning finally complete:
Restart in retirement?
Rodents: ducking and lame.
Sequel tour planning. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Heroes: A Distracted Meditation on Bowie and Reagan

Heroes: A Distracted Meditation on Bowie and Reagan

“I have a copy of the first album that David Bowie ever released in the United States.” He said from beside me at the Capital Grille bar.

“OK.” I didn’t even feign interest.

“What a terrible loss for all those people who lived heroically through his music. For people who always wanted to be someone else, who is there to look up to?” His slurred British accent annoyed me.

“How sad.” I demurred, sipping my Hendricks. I wasn’t in the mood for the morose babbling of a sneering queen which would eventually become an assault on my insular American sensibilities. It was too cold outside and I’d had a long day. I just wanted to defrost and watch some ESPN.

Were I to entertain this conversation, I told myself, it would be with Billy Manes. At least I like him and I’ve learned to appreciate his accent.

While I sympathize with the visceral loss felt by some of my friends, I have had difficulty really empathizing with what it was about David Bowie that touched so many. Frankly, I’ve spent the past week trying to piece together what should have been more of a loss to me. I was never really a music snob; I was never really a misfit. 

I did, however, enjoy Labyrinth.

Insofar as I don’t feel the overwhelming emptiness that some of my more drama-phillic friends—many of whom I love very much and with whom I want to share this sadness–do, I feel left out. In the David Bowie mourning club, I am the outsider.

Although I declined to engage the mourning drunk Brit in a conversation that night at the haughty bar, his words have echoed in my mind:

Want to be someone else?
Who to look up to?
A terrible loss?

Clearly I get how Bowie served as an icon to a segment of gay society and how that segment of gay society represents an avant garde of the wider culture. He was gender bending before it was cool. He was—by many accounts—a gifted singer and performer. He embodied personal redefinition. I have friends who could fill out this paragraph with a gushing novella. 

I get that he and I are kin.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

When Reagan died, I got the news from a friend by text on my Blackberry. I had just stepped off the Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom.  He was my hero, the icon to my coming out as a flaming patriot in elementary school when that was quite possibly the most uncool thing to be (maybe I was more of a misfit than I thought?). While Reagan had announced the brave sunset of his life more than a decade before, long past the time of his multiple personal redefinitions, he nonetheless continued to serve as an icon to me. 

In the queue to a dated ride in a kitschy land dedicated to a forty year old vision of tomorrow, I quietly wept. 

Bowie and Reagan, in this meditation on heroes and icons, are not so different really. In what they did for our world, and even in how they did it, memorializers and detractors alike should agree: they changed their worlds: they changed our world: for four decades easily, they changed our tomorrow.

Each, in his own way, worked to upend the despair of otherness: one by pulling the velvet beauty out of it, one by optimistically (velveteenly?) imagining it away.

Each, in his own way, practiced the art of personal reinvention: one by invoking a series of personae from whimsical songwriter to Ziggy Stardust to Alladin Sane to elder statesman, the other by invoking a series of personae from charming actor to union activist to politician to elder statesman.

Each, in his own way, used the arts to affect culture: one by crooning through the haunts of the human mind, the other through the eloquent exposition of the American spirit.

Each, in his own way, lived—saddened—through the AIDS epidemic and watched friends and strangers alike ravaged by a disease for which neither they nor the world was equipped: one mired in the politics of misunderstanding, the other working to support eradication of both the malady and the stigmas around it. 

Both were, in an interesting piece of trivia, cold warriors. In 1987, one week before Reagan’s famous, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” speech, Bowie incited riots in Berlin with a daring and provocative concert played at the wall meant to stir the souls of  those whose lives were oppressed by stifled speech and poverty.

Their politics may not have been in sync, and surely the experiences of their lives and trajectories sent them into opposite corners of the shared Hollywood society in which they both mingled. But they were both sons and fathers and husbands and beautiful and made the world better for their existences.

While I may not share the personal loss that some have staked claim to in the passing of David Bowie, I understand the loss of an icon. I understand that there are some people whose passing from this earth serves to magnify their presence in our ether. I am sad that these men, like all men, must eventually die, and that we feel loss as we wander about the crater in which their passings leave us. I understand, lurching toward empathy,that David Bowie was important to all of us and that he should continue to be.

And perhaps, like lovers at the Berlin Wall, Reagan and Bowie are together now, not merely joined in this meditation. Doubtless, they are “Heroes” for far more than just one day:

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Le Mal du Pays--Homesick

Le Mal du Pays—Homesick

Somewhere near Baltimore, I think,
Or maybe it’s Daytona Beach: 
Either way, it’s down the road from
Nostalgia. Across the Bay:
Where the cruise ships pass 
Without stopping or even slowing down.
More an inlet than a bay, really:
Docks, man-made peninsulas.

I’ve missed you.

From thirty thousand feet, or twenty, 
Six-hundred miles per hour, five-fifty maybe:
Either way, miles from the surface,
Pulling rotations and g’s like  facts:
High above where details pass
From faceless figures, soundless.
Deaf to each others’ itineraries:
Boarding passes, all aboard. 

I miss you already.
I miss you still. 

Taking up so much to have so much,
Sullen in the mud of success:
Either way, caught betwixt joy
And the cloudless sky’s blued limits:
Not quite sad, just full of empty,
Overflowing with whispered secrets,
Pillow talk in loose translation:
Sleepless, lucid dreams.

I’ve missed you. 

Neither tropical nor polar belted,
Neither cold nor hot nor comfy:
No Goldilocks, no just-right porridge,
More like Humpty Dumpty:
Careless, yolkless, wall-sitting
As the Earth spins below me,
Looking for king’s men and my shell:
Potted, caulked pieces.

I miss you already.
I miss you still. 

Making melancholy in immediate past,
After-tasting astronaut ice cream:
Freeze-dried Neapolitan confection,
Holding water spheres in zero gravity:
Gagging on sweet remembrances,
Concocting quicksands to escape
High below the stillness of dredged canals:
Tided inlets to outlets.

I miss you.