Saturday, October 25, 2008

Black Like Him

Remember Susan Smith, the young South Carolina mother carjacked by a black man who drove off with her two sons still in the car? Remember Charles Stuart, the Boston man robbed by a black man with a “raspy voice,” who also killed his pregnant wife? Now Ashley Todd has joined their ranks as creator of yet another lurid tale involving a fictitious black male criminal. Todd doesn’t need remembering, since she has starred in several recent news cycles.

The young, white McCain volunteer decided to stage her very own dirty trick. She would fake an attack on herself by a black man, purportedly enraged that she was working for the Republican campaign. She turned up at a police station in North Carolina with a black eye and the letter “B” scratched in her cheek -- which, a McCain flack helpfully pointed out to a reporter, stood for “Barack.”

You might think that this story would have excited suspicion right from the start, especially since the “B” was scratched backwards, Todd apparently not having figured out to reverse the image in the mirror. In the photographs her stage-makeup black eye looked like it would have yielded to a damp handkerchief, and apparently did, since it had disappeared by the time of her perp walk.

Todd’s story finally unraveled when no record of her was found on the security camera at the ATM where she claimed to have been withdrawing money at the time of the attack. Before she confessed, however, Todd reportedly received sympathetic phone calls from both McCain and Palin, and a concerned note from the Obama campaign expressing the hope that the perpetrator would soon be brought to justice.

Ashley Todd is a disturbed young woman and obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Certainly her failed hoax wasn’t orchestrated by the campaign. Republicans are the party of Karl Rove, after all; they can do better. But it’s horribly depressing to witness the return appearance of this pernicious fabrication. The predatory Black Man. Him, again. He’s 6’4” and is wearing a track suit. Maybe a knit hat. He has a raspy voice. And a gun or possibly a knife. The details vary, but not by much, since the perpetrators of this particular falsehood tend to be imaginatively challenged. So it’s pretty much the same old story.

Our best hope is that the audience for it is dwindling. That would be a change I could believe in.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

John McCain's Imaginary Friend

So John McCain is taking his imaginary friend campaigning with him in Florida. Candidate McCain has just kicked off a bus tour called the “’Joe the Plumber’ Keep Your Wealth Bus Tour.” Joe, being imaginary, will not actually be on the bus. The real Joe, as everyone knows by now, is not named Joe, does not have a plumbing license, and is a tax delinquent. Or he was until a sympathetic Oregon radio host raised $1,200 to pay his tax bill, Queen-for-a-Day-style.

In his famous exchange with Barack Obama, Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher fretted that his ability to buy a business would be undermined by the Obama tax plan – although in fact, an Obama administration would improve Wurzelbacher’s bottom line. Since he earns around $40,000 a year, he actually would get a bigger tax cut under Obama’s plan than under McCain’s, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. []

You’d think that these revelations would enough to make the Republican to tiptoe quietly away from their new Everyman. But wait, there’s more! As one blogger put it in a headline, “Joe ‘the Plumber’ Wurzelbacher related to Charles ‘the Crook’ Keating.” Oops.

It turns out that Joe is a close relative of Robert Wurzelbacher, son-in-law of Charles Keating of the infamous savings and loan scandal that tainted McCain’s early political career. You might think that the campaign would have done a better job vetting the man they planned to reference 22 times in the final debate. You might also think that Joe the Plumber was a Republican plant.

Either way, it makes no difference. A week later, the real Joe’s story is out there, his tax arrears, his unlicensed status, his disreputable relations. Yet Joe the Plumber has transcended these inconvenient facts and become Joe the Political Metaphor. A story in yesterday’s Miami Herald reports on a Florida polling phenomenon they call the “Joe the Plumber Effect,” which apparently has improved McCain’s standing in Florida.

For an imaginary friend, Joe seems to be working out pretty well for John McCain. Better than his imaginary enemies anyway.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain Hearts ACORN

The time: 2006. The place: Miami. The occasion: a rally co-sponsored by ACORN, the community advocacy organization that a Republican spokesman recently called a “quasi-criminal group.” The keynote speaker: a man who is now running for President of the United States.

He addresses the enthusiastic crowd with these words: “What makes American special is in this room tonight.” The room erupts in cheers . . . for John McCain. Yes, the same man who is now “worried” about Barack Obama’s ties to ACORN, says he needs to “explain” them. Here’s the tape:

So I am worried, Sen. McCain – as recently as two years ago, you were praising the very same quasi-criminals you now deem a threat to our democracy. Can you explain?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sarah "Pro-Choice" Palin

Governor Sarah Palin is famously opposed to abortion - even in cases of rape, and even, as she said in 2006, if the victim were her own daughter. Since then, the governor has walked the walk - unlike the hypocritical Rhode Island legislator I once interviewed who voted to bar abortion counseling in that state, and then arranged for his teenaged daughter to get an abortion in New York.

Two years after Palin delivered that speech, her teenage daughter Bristol is pregnant -- though not as a result of rape -- and she will be having the baby. Palin herself has also faced a situation where many have chosen abortion. Pregnant at age 44, she learned as a result of a blood test that the child she was carrying had Down syndrome. Baby Trig now accompanies her on the campaign trail

Yet according to her standard stump speech, the adamantly pro-life Palin apparently did make a choice when told that the baby would have special needs. She and her husband “talked, prayed, reflected and ultimately decided to have the child,” the New York Times reports. According to my thesaurus, “decide” is a synonym for “choose.” A decision is a choice.

Sarah Palin was still a child when many women in this country fought for the right she would later avail herself of, the right to reflect and then to choose. I wonder whether her daughter was allowed the same control over her own reproductive fate -- since Palin also believes that minors should be required to have parental consent to get an abortion.

In her own life, it seems that Sarah “pro-life” Palin is also Sarah “pro-choice” Palin. I'm all for that. You chose, Sarah, as was your right. Think hard about the justice of denying that right to others.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I've just had my first experience of registering voters and I believe I may have missed my calling. Not only did I love it, but to my surprise, I was good at it. Normally I hate accosting strangers. I may be one of the few women around who would rather get hopelessly lost than stop and ask directions. There's always a tape playing in my head of the reasons someone probably doesn't want to talk to me: they're late for an appointment; it's time for their son's nap; they just had a fight with their husband. Even if they're not in a hurry, maybe they're in a bad mood.

But armed with a clipboard and a fresh batch of crisp white voter registration forms, I turned out to be unstoppable. No excuses. Kids fussy? I'm happy to amuse them while you fill out your form. Need to check in for a doctor's appointment? I'll sit with you in the waiting room while you get this done. Aren't eligible to vote because you are an ex-felon? Wait! The law has changed! Sit right here and we'll get you registered. It will only take a minute.

Not everyone needed persuading. Many people I met had already registered to vote, and some expressed great enthusiasm about our efforts. There were hugs and offers of help. Thus I enlisted several deputies, including Kenneth Eady, a young man who told me that he was planning to attend a vice-presidential-debate-watching party that night at a skating rink. The voter registration deadline was looming and he was sure that some of the guests still needed signing up. I gave him all the forms I had left. “When everyone gets there,” I joked, “just lock the door and don't let them out until they've filled out the forms.”

I phoned the next day to see how things had gone, and discovered that Kenneth also had succumbed to registration fever. After signing up a dozen or so new voters at the roller rink, he'd acquired a second batch of forms from the Vote from Home headquarters. I caught him just as he was about to head out and start canvassing campus restaurants. “There are only two more days!” he reminded me, and I knew someone else had found a calling.

Election '08: Showtime in Ohio

The energetic young men and women who organized VoteToday Ohio want to impart some crucial training before their crew of 60-some volunteers hits the campuses, neighborhoods, job counseling centers and other places where likely voters may be found. First there are celebrity introductions to be made. Our numbers include people from many parts of the country and as far off as England, we are told. There is even a honeymooning couple, Vic and Yoni, who have been helping to save the redwoods in California and now are wrapping up their wedding trip by registering voters in Ohio. Vic and Yoni are adorable and we all applaud loudly.

The next volunteer to be introduced is Michael Guston. He is a character actor - L.A. Law, ER, The Practice - and he looks familiar in the way that character actors often do. “Everyone thinks they went to high school with me,” he says. But in fact I also look familiar to him, and it turns out that we have been New York City neighbors for many years. He recently moved to upstate New York near the Pennsylvania border and now spends many hours a week canvassing Pennsylvania voters. Guston plays General Tommy Franks in W., Oliver Stone's new movie about the President, which will open at the end of this month. There is sustained applause for him as well.

Finally the organizers present a tiny, elderly woman sitting in the back row. I don't catch her name, but when she stands, the crowd goes wild with clapping and cheering. She is Howard Dean's mother, and in this group there could be no greater claim to fame. She has come to Ohio with friends to register voters during “Golden Week,” a small window in early October during which it is possible to simultaneously register to vote and cast your ballot.

The training session proceeds in a very organized fashion, as the organizers describe what they want to accomplish, and how we should go about it. Politely, for one thing -- we are not to pester people to sign up. The sole note of discord is when the vehicles in which we are hoping to transport voters to the polls are referred to as “vans.” The consensus is that we should call them shuttles instead, as “vans” sounds slightly sinister.

Just as we resolve this weighty matter, a staff member comes in with an announcement: “Good News!” she tells us. “The Ohio Supreme Court just upheld the challenge to the early voting window.” Since we had no idea that the policy was even under appeal we were not as relieved as the organizers - who had wisely decided not to share with us that the entire program was in jeopardy.

Tomorrow is showtime, and we're ready to rumble. Politely, of course.

Politics and Sleeping Bags

"Bring a sleeping bag and a hearty spirit," the memo says. Sure to the spirit part. The sleeping bag? I don't think so. The memo, written by twenty-somethings, showed up in the email boxes of four women old enough to be their mothers - me and my friends who, in response, are about to set out to register voters for a week in Ohio. The occasion is "Golden Week," a week in early October during which it is possible for Ohioans to register to vote and to vote on the same day. Our posse is eager to help our chosen candidate, but there are limits. Even though the organization we'll be working with has offered to find housing for all the volunteers, my friends and I are well past the age when sleeping on the floor is a viable alternative. We will spring for hotel rooms, instead.

I am reminded of a time when a certain level of roughing it seemed an important part of any political event. It was one of the big marches on Washington to protest the Vietnam War, and I went with friends then, too. We took a long bus ride from my home in New England and crashed on the floor of somebody's living room. I did know a couple of older people, grown-ups with families and professional jobs who attended the demonstration -- and who traveled there by plane.They flew in and out on the same day - no floor sleeping involved. I was appalled. Because they were so rich (by my standards) they were missing out on an essential part of the experience. Fast forward many decades and I am they.

Grass-roots campaigning is a young person's game. People my age usually do things like organize and attend benefits, and write checks. Nevertheless my friends and I will convene tonight at The Surly Girl pub in Columbus, Ohio to meet the (young) organizers of VoteToday Ohio and hear what's in store for us. We're marching in their parade this week, and that's as it should be. It's now their future, not ours, that is hanging in the balance. I'm ready to do anything I can to help. Except sleep on the floor.