Are We Still Friends?

Danny Grosso

The network cut away from the debate broadcast just after an enticing view of the candidates approaching one another in seemingly casual conversation. As the lights dimmed for a commercial break, the candidates were left to speak without moderators, and the sounds of armor shedding preceded an exchange:

Donald:   Jeb! How’s your mom?

Jeb:   Very well, thanks big guy!

Donald:   Please give her my best…

Jeb:   You know, we’re all getting together up north this weekend, we don’t you ‘copter on up?

Donald:   Better take a rain check until after Super Tuesday. Gotta keep up appearances you know…

Marco:   (out loud to himself) There’s no one here to check my aggressive foreign policy anymore.

Jeb:   (turning his back to Marco) Hello Governor John!

John:   Hey fellas! I betcha I could even balance Bernie’s budget! (laughter all around, except…)

Ben:   I need a vacation.

Marco:   (out loud but not to himself this time) There’s no one here to check my aggressive foreign policy anymore.

Donald:   Guys, are we missing somebody here?

Marco:   Yes, there’s no one here to check my aggressive foreign policy anymore.

Chris:   Oh boy Marco, you know I’m gonna have to hit you on that one.

Marco:   That’s ok.

Chris:   Really?

Marco:   That’s ok.

Marco:   (after a pause) That’s ok.

Moderator 1:   Places everybody!

Donald:   (intimately, to Jeb) You’re strong tonight, my friend, high energy. Drinks tonight? My treat.

Jeb:    Ok, but don’t tell Marco. We’re not done with his initiation yet.

Donald:    Fine. I’ll just send tweets to all the others.

Moderator 1:    We’re on in three…two…

Giving ’em What They Want

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Copyright 2016 Danny Grosso

The relatively mild winter in New Hampshire has welcomed the mobs of press and campaign staffers ahead of next week’s first-in-the-nation (trademark pending, if the locals have their way) primary. The cause of the polite weather has been wryly attributed to the extra warmth generated by the crowds of transient pols and press, but the true cause of all this heat may be the anger bubbling up from the several campaigns and the fervor manifesting in followers of the front runners.

As of this writing, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are way ahead of their rivals in New Hamphire polling. This, in itself, is remarkable. Sanders is an Independent, and Trump has never run for elective office. However, like the mild weather, these two campaigners have defied expectations and, like a prolonged Santa Ana wind, are blowing lots of hot air into the campaign season. This is not a snark or a metaphor for ridicule – the cold, stiff manner of politicians and political gridlock needed changing, loosening, warming…and therein lies the recipe for what’s happening.

People have been clamoring for a genuine and unababashed personality to vie for their interest. Now each party has produced one. In some ways this is no surprise. The parties, particularly the GOP, have been lambasting the elected political class for decades. It is unlikely that this constant drumbeat would have produced anything other than disdain for established politicians. However, this year the effect is furthered by the important factor of the candidates’ personalities. Both are unafraid to offend expectations of what a politician should advocate for (social medicine, anyone? How about mass deportations?) and both could get along just fine with their lives without becoming president. The embrace of anger by the leading campaigns is the other important factor in this electoral mix. Anyone outside of a bubble knows that apathy toward political stagnation turned at some point to anger and caused people to become, unexpectedly, engaged in the process again. Obama hopers, and Tea Partiers are recent examples of this, and increased voter turnouts, though modest, are extremely important in an era of close elections.

People all over are acting on their anger with the status quo, and aware politicians are giving ’em what they want – the feeling that they are being heard, that their existence in the system matters, and that their anger can be put to good use. Of course, the savvier politicians are then gathering these people into their respective folds.

The genesis question may remain regarding this phenomenon – whether the anger brought about the politician or the politician brought about the anger, but it is largely moot now, or will be by this Tuesday night. When the votes come in from Dixville Notch, and Nashua, and Manchester, two politicians who rose from outside of their just recently chosen political parties will have ridden a wave of fed up voters into prominence and changed the way we forcast the political weather for the foreseeable future.

– D.G.

From a Whisper to a Scream

imageBy Mark Fishbein – Honorable Friend

Oh if the customers like it then they’ll keep on paying
If they keep on drinking then they’ll end up staying…

Like a finger running down a seam
From a whisper to a scream

Elvis Costello, “From a Whisper to a Scream”

In the mid-1990’s, my buddies and I joked about “road rage” as a novelty term when it first entered the popular lexicon. Today it is an epidemic and not really a laughing matter. People gun each other down over slights and perceived slights. Manners and common courtesy come off as pleasant surprises instead of cultural expectations. A person with whom one disagrees is more likely to be de-friended on Facebook and socially ostracized than engaged in heartfelt discussion without deep personal animosity. This is an unflattering picture of our societal evolution, if it can be called that.

In the inseparable world of politics and media, information no longer filters through a few major networks and newspapers. The public wins big by having access to additional information and differing viewpoints it otherwise would not have. But in a free market, multiple cable news and opinion channels and dozens of print and Internet news and opinion sites must constantly battle for survival. If it sounds a bit like a reality show, in some ways it is. Sensationalism, one-upsmanship, trickery, and spotlight grabbing, however unseemly, is crucial to the formula for success. As much as we might say we don’t like the noise, we prefer kindness and manners, we wax nostalgic about a more genteel time… Do those programs survive? Do those papers sell? Do those people advance?

Do those candidates get noticed?

Our culture has coarsened in competition for attention. The Western virtue of reason is at times drowned out by natural human instincts of passion and emotion. All have a role to play, but hopefully we strike the right balance.

The artwork above graphically fuses Messers Sanders and Trump. Both know how to make noise and rattle the cage to be heard. They make it look easy, but it isn’t. Ask the nearly 20 other candidates who began this primary season screaming from mountain tops yet barely spitting into the wind. It’s not for lack of intellect, message, or substance. Some of these folks have been at it a very long time, probably speechifying since heading up their elementary school student councils.

We live in an age where loud is proud. Too often quiet confidence is deemed as no confidence. TR once said speak softly and carry a big stick. Now too many talk and talk in the hope that in the next news cycle nobody remembers what was said. I’m from 5 generations of Chicagoans but Texas educated. There they believe in action. “All hat, no cattle”, describes the empty talkers. But noise is playing well in 2016. I’m curious to see how Mr. Trump does down at the border in the Great Republic of Texas.

Have we become all about the scream? Or can a whispered message still be heard? Continue reading

The Lounge

By Mark Fishbein
Honorable Friend

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Traditional partisanship holds less sway at a time when fewer people identify with the major parties.  And bipartisanship, understood as some soothing landscape where less entrenched Republicans and Democrats meet to “get things done”, is similarly on life support if it hasn’t flatlined completely.

But if we are willing to cast aside preconceptions and accept a new paradigm, there is a developing consensus between political adversaries that goes well beyond mere coincidence.

We’ve all heard this is the political season of the outsider.  The cliché is well worn, but the facts on the ground are somewhat unique.  Most of the clamor has been on the GOP side, where the first results saw well over 60% of voters turning to candidates for whom the political class has no great love.   The size and enthusiasm of crowds for Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon in the public eye for decades but a political novice, defy convention.  Bernie Sanders went from a 25-year obscure novelty backbench congressman to a 74 year old rockstar.

At first glance, the Sanders throngs and Trump throngs would appear diametric opposites.  Interview some Trumpies and they’d dismiss a bunch of naïve granola eating, America dissing PC types enticed by government handouts while blaming their woes on “the man”.  Ask folks “feeling the Bern”, and those Trump gatherings are dark nativist places driven by xenophobic anger and unwelcoming to an American vision of compassion and modernity.

So goes the conventional wisdom, which is always conventional and rarely wise.

But if you ask the people in each crowd, both would describe their candidate as listening to them when their pleas fall on deaf ears in Washington.  Both turn on their televisions to a media who talk past them and only into an elite echo chamber.  Both crowds see an entrenched political class, bought and paid for, that they aren’t allowed in and a genuine candidate that can’t be had.  Neither crowd knows a Beltway cocktail party or Hollywood gala.  Both know the burden of loans and the realities of foreclosure and unemployment in the face meaningless positive economic indicators.  Both know that politicians live a certain way and talk a certain way, but their candidate talks straight.  One crowd was so hopeful for change in 2008 and 2012, victorious, yet still sees little future and a mountain of debt while Wall Street coasts along.  One crowd sought constitutional restoration in 2010 and 2014, reigned victorious, yet saw their deceitful leaders take them for fools and pursue the status quo.

Are the throngs cheering for Sanders and Trump really that different, or are they the unorthodox occupants of our Bipartisan Lounge?

Our talking heads blather on in an outdated concept of this place between right and left where government is supposed to work for the people.  But it doesn’t.  It works only for the governing and not for the governed.  Our leaders are elected to serve us, not to perpetuate themselves.  The Bushes and Clintons, for all their dollars and aggregate sense of entitlement, still haven’t gotten the memo.

There’s an entrenched political class, and there’s us.  We the people are the bipartisans, even if we come at it from different sides.  So imagine the supporters of Sanders and Trump/Cruz, backs to one another, weapons drawn, and beginning to pace opposite directions as opponents in an old fashioned duel.  But in a nod to David Bowie, they do not pace in a straight line, but instead travel the width of a circle until eventually they meet face to face in exactly the same place and join hands.

We are American brothers and sisters who fiercely exchange opposing ideas on how to best improve the country we love.  We are not enemies.  Keep our lounge clean.