By Mary Lyon
I am literally stuck in the middle with you. Hung almost between Heaven and Hell, at least as of this writing. That's because the latest Democratic candidates' debate has just occurred, and the republi-CONs' next round is still ahead. I suppose it's okay not to wait for the would-be heirs of Junior to speak again. I've seen their schtick. I know what they're selling. And I couldn't be less interested.
On the other hand, I watched the Democrats' latest joust with each other and with Wolf Blitzer (who was born to play a punching bag), and I rather enjoyed myself. The single most glaring impression I took away with me was this: man, do WE have bench strength! In the broadest generalities the Democratic presidential hopefuls have assembled like so many tall poles holding up a genuinely big tent. Just to look at them confirmed, subliminally, what the Democrats are about, at their most basic: pretty much EVERYBODY. Mostly male, yes, but, still, it's quite a combination plate. A suit of every stripe, more human, even a little rumpled (except perhaps for John Edwards' hair), more "one of us" than possibly ever before. The Democratic Cafeteria has served up the first credible female and Hispanic candidates, and a smartly viable Black candidate (and not the first of his kind, thankyouverymuch). A side dish of dedicated back-of-the-vineyard types, a full-fledged peacenik and a plain-spoken well-meaning curmudgeon. And another guy, slightly younger perhaps, who wants to sound like a well-meaning curmudgeon.
I liked it.
They sparred, they joked, they laughed, they yelled, they dodged, they got lost in the details, they ran out of time, they kvetched, they connected with the audience, they stood, they sat, they leaned over and shook hands and signed autographs. Edwards scolded Clinton and Obama, Obama scolded Edwards, Clinton scolded Blitzer, Gravel and Biden scolded everybody.
We came away with a few noteworthy money-shots, too. I rather enjoyed the cross-the-aisle left-cross from Hillary Clinton, quoting none other than Barry Goldwater as saying of gays in the military – "you don't have to be straight to shoot straight." And Barack Obama hit one back at John Edwards' chiding of him and Hillary for sneaking their "no" votes in under the wire regarding the recent Iraq War funding bill: "you're four years late." We got a civics lesson from Professor Biden about why the Dems felt they had no hope of besting Bush in that department – no 67-votes. We got another one, perhaps a bit more esoteric, from Professor Gravel concerning why gasoline prices are more like seven-bucks per gallon rather than three-something. Bill Richardson scored very nicely, I thought, with a "Support-the-Troops" strategy spin-worthy enough to sink your teeth into: the "Hero's Health Card" for veterans to use for entrée to any hospital for treatment. And by the end of the night, we all knew beyond any doubt that he was absolutely the governor of New Mexico.
They all had ideas, and all had a pretty good idea how realistic those ideas would be to push in view of the flooded political rivers they'd have to ford through Capitol Hill. But that's just it. They were popping – not with fear and loathing and dread, but rather, with possibilities and hope and vigor, many concepts into which we haven't been allowed to venture as a nation since the Bush crowd took over. Hillary Clinton, for one, made sure we were reminded of how some of those ideas either succeeded, or were at least attempted, when her husband ran things. If nothing, it was a glimpse into the fresh blood, the fresh air, and the new ways of thinking that are within reach if any of it wins the most votes next year.
On the other hand, it's fairly clear what we can expect from the other team, whether it's tomorrow night on a stage, or during the next few years. And what a motley crew they are. A flip-flopper from Pompadour & Shellack, Inc., an arrogant poseur with an attitude and an entitlement complex, an old, tired, confused also-ran, several bullies-in-training who are obviously overcompensating for something, and at least three members in good standing of the Flat-Earth Society. Oh yeah, and Ron Paul – the resident Odd-Man-Out who kinda makes sense on occasion. Wow. And lest we forget, hovering in the air like smog over the Southern California basin is the spectre of that other big maybe who's perhaps most famous for not necessarily being such a grizzled old tough-guy but certainly playing one on TV. Each of them hoping not necessarily to be a Ronald Reagan as to play him on TV, too. Did I say motley crew? More motley than Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx and company could ever be during their baddest benders with the "Girls Gone Wild" gang.
Basically, with all the aging, anglo, republi-CONMEN up there on the debate stage, you've been offered one basic thing: if you liked the way George W. Bush has done things, you're gonna love these guys. I'm not sure which group of them is "More of the Same" and which is "Piled Higher and Deeper". September 11th! Get your war on. No – how 'bout two? I guess that would be September 11th/September 11th, then. Or MORE? 9/11-9/11-9/11!!! Kill! Let's Kill 'em ALL! Yeah, THAT'S the ticket! 9/11! Never mind how that'll provoke all the insurgents' friends, neighbors, and relatives who'll want to come after us in response. Hey, we'll just kill them, too! You scared yet? Did we mention 9/11? And we'll build a wall! Duncan Hunter is already boasting about how big his is. We'll show all those dang foreigners what's what. Heck, we're so tough we'll even show our own citizens what's what! Women – take your shoes off and lie back and enjoy it - no matter who wants to stick it to you. We'll all be there for ya, fer sure, til immediately after it's born. And if you're Nancy Reagan – forget your last great campaign for stem cell research and just shut up and model your Adolfos for us like a good little gal. And pass me the big cowboy hat, okay? I wanna try it on and see how it fits me. Perhaps during the next GOP convention, somebody ought to sneak a few gallons of Cialis into the local water supply. It could be that all they need is to work off a little of that pent-up testosterone on a smaller scale that won't hurt anybody.
The GOP wannabes are as bankrupt, ideologically, as their fiscal policies have rendered this nation. They're out of ideas, out of steam, out of time, out of it. All they have to build on is what already isn't working – on an epic scale. Flailing away at a group of hornets' nests with a baseball bat is not the answer. Throwing gasoline on the fire is not the answer. The bully-baloney has been attempted – and has failed utterly. We've seen their version, tried it their way, and given it far more time to work than it deserves. Been there, done that. And look where we are. Bereft of funds, friends, defenses, and any realistic hopes for a decent future. Only the richest of the elites in the penthouses of the ivory towers have anything to show for it. The rest of us have only bloodshed, backsliding, and more of the same bombast shoveled our way.
Thanks but no thanks. We're not all that far into campaign season, but already there's one thing I can conclude with certainty: I will take ANY Democratic contender over ANY republi-CON in the running. No further debate necessary.
Then go DO something about it.