Dan Quayle: Rested, Tanned, and Dumb

The perfect GOP candidate: Dan the Man Quayle

So I’ve been following the Republican “debates,” an act of abuse only slightly less painful than self-flagellation. To call the field “undistinguished” does a disservice to the term “mediocrity.” There are 14 declared candidates, though for some reason the media thinks there are just seven “serious” candidates-Michele Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. Herbert Cain’s shocking win in a Florida straw poll may force the media to call it eight, though nobody with the slightest knowledge of politics would think that Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, or Santorum has a better chance of surviving than a Hershey bar on an El Paso sidewalk. Who is Cain? Oh, he’s black. I don’t think so! Newt is yesterday’s fish wrap, Huntsman is an unknown Mormon battling a known Mormon, Paul should be heading the Libertarian ticket, and Santorum would be a jihadist if he wasn’t such a “serious” Christian.

That leaves Bachman, who is as mean as Santorum and certifiably crazy to boot; Perry who is so dim he’s managed to self-destruct in six weeks; and Romney, a Mormon who’d happily call himself a jihadist if he thought they’d vote for him. Remember how the GOP excoriated John Kerry as a “flip flopper?” If I were a Democratic strategist I’d be salivating over the sound bites I could write if Mitt is nominated. (And can’t you just see those fundamentalists who label Mormonism “Satanic” getting real excited about Romney?) Sarah Palin is, of course, the wild card but the forthcoming Joe McGinniss bio of her will expose her as the vacuous self-seeking troll she really is.

Of the second-tier candidates, only one--former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer--has any name recognition, and then only for those with long memories as he was ousted in 1991. What a set of doozies the rest are. There’s Fred Karger, a gay activist, who never got the memo that Republicans hate gays. Career flight attendant Tom Miller is definitely lost in the clouds, as is Vern Wuensche, whose platform is that CEOs should be in charge of America. (Who’s the VP candidate, Bernie Madoff?) The field also includes Andy Martin, who launched the Obama-is-a-Kenyan campaign, and Gary Johnson, a man so nondescript I had forgotten he was once governor of New Mexico. My personal favorite is Jimmy McMillan, who looks like a bounty hunter and once ran for office on the Rent is Too Damn High ticket.

If ever there was a race to the bottom, this is it. Give them credit, though; Bachman, Martin, McMillan, Miller, Palin, Paul, Perry, Santorum, and Wuensche recognize that the Stupid Bloc might be the biggest sector of the American electorate. He or she who gets the moronic masses off their asses has a chance to win. And, of course, Mitt Romney is willing to be very, very dumb if you say you like him; Mitt’s just so willing to please. He’s probably taking drooling lessons as I type. But, you know, none of these folks are battle-ready stupid; each carries too much baggage (paid for by campaign contributions in Palin’s case). The GOP needs a uniter, not a divider--someone like Dubya, but he’s ineligible.

Then it struck me--why not Dan Quayle? He could package himself as a prophet and proclaim, “I was dumb before my time.” Wouldn’t a man who said “I made good judgments in the Past. I have made good judgments in the Future...” be perfect to lead 21st century Dumb Democracy? His supporters wouldn’t know what the hell he meant when he says, “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not have a mind is wasteful….” But they wouldn’t care! They’d understand when he told them it was time for the “human race to enter the solar system.” Or not. Who cannot love the principles of a man who stood up to Sam Donaldson and asserted, “I stand by all the misstatements I made.” Tell folks that he’s from Indiana, the Hoosier state, and he’ll wrap up white, male, breast-fixation voters who think Hoosiers is the regional name for the Hooters chain. Now that Dan’s older and has lost some of his pretty boy looks his handlers could say that his gray temples give him more gravitas. This would go down well with GOP voters who would say, “Hell, yes, I like a little gravitas on a potatoe.”

Why is the GOP still searching? Its perfect candidate is right before its eyes. I can see the posters: Dan Quayle in 2012. He’s Rested, Tanned, Protestant, and Really, Really Dumb. Mitt Romney might want to sign up for advanced drooling. Better yet; he might want to convert.


Red Heart Falters in Margaret MacArthur Tribute


Your Name in Secret I Would Write

Auger Down Records 008


The late Margaret MacArthur (d. 2006) was one of my favorite people. She was a kind, generous soul who found more value in the simple things of life than most folks could get from a pile of gold. In the 1940s the Ozarks-born MacArthur moved to Vermont and began collecting folksongs, both from the archives and from people she discovered in the hills and along the back roads. Her 1962 Folksongs of Vermont is rightly regarded as a Green Mountain treasure.

If ever there was a CD I wanted to love, Your Name in Secret I Would Write is it. The record consists of plus two field recordings Margaret made in 1961, plus ten of her favorite songs. The latter are performed by a duo calling itself (rather cumbersomely in my view) Red Heart the Ticker. It consists of Margaret’s granddaughter, Robin MacArthur, and her husband, Tyler Gibbons. They have a good feel for old-time music but, alas, not for Margaret’s repertoire. When these songs were collected, Margaret made the conscious decision to present them unadorned. She was, in many ways, the last generation of what used to be called “source singers.” Although a handful of performers--Tim Eriksen springs to mind--continue the stark ballad tradition, unless you’ve got pipes like Eriksen’s, it’s hard to engage audiences these days without more polish and a lot more instrumentation than was expected during the Folk Revival.

There are three problems with Your Name. The first is that the album is neither this nor that. When you have old-time material, it works best to be either a conduit or an innovator. I had hopes that Red Heart would be the second, based on the opening track, “Mother’s in the Graveyard,” in which Robin MacArthur’s dry voice intones atop the drone of an Estey pump organ. It’s easily the album’s best track. The experimentation of the opening track quickly became formula, with other instruments taking on the organ role. And here is where the second problem emerges: Robin’s voice has different qualities than Margaret’s. It is, simply, not clear enough to carry stripped-to-the-bones story songs. If we can’t make out the lyrics of a ballad, they mostly become just long songs with inconsequential melodies. The third problem exacerbates the second--the recording is muddy and the balances are off. “Carrion Crow,” for instance, has parts in which residual ringing from the instruments nearly obliterates the vocals.

Some times being a reviewer sucks. I loved Margaret and continue to indulge in love affair with Vermont, whose arts council (along with the NEA) helped underwrite this project. I wanted to tell you that Margaret MacArthur’s torch is being carried by a new generation. But as a reviewer, I have a duty to say that this album simply isn’t very good.

Boo Hoo in Boston Induces No tears Elsewhere

David Ortiz--who is not the problem--contemplates historic Sox collapse.

As a Yankees fan I’m in Dawg Heaven over the Red Sox collapse, officially the biggest choke since hanging was outlawed. If you’re a Sox fan, don’t look for much sympathy outside of New England. All that Red Sox Nation is a load of crap and the Old Towne team is just as hated as the one you like to call the Evil Empire, and it has considerably fewer fans outside the region. (The Yankees have the odd distinction of being both the most-hated and the most-beloved team in the country.) The big question is what next for the Sox. Heads will and should roll for a team that played as if the season began in May and ended in September. As a baseball observer, not a Yankees fan, here are a few things to watch for.

Reports out of Boston say that Terry Francona is on the hot seat. Are you kidding me? There is, simply, no better manager out there with the possible exception of Mike Scoscia of the Angels and he’s going nowhere. Francona isn’t the problem; I’d happily trade Joe Girardi even up for Francona. The anti-Francona nonsense reminds me of those who wanted Bruins’ coach Claude Juline’s head when the eventual Stanley Cup winners went down 0-2 to Montreal in the first round.

If you want a scapegoat, a better choice is GM Theo Epstein, who assembled this Yugo and tried to pass it off as a BMW. Theo the Boy Genius is another myth the magnitude of Red Sox Nation. The ’04 team that won was Dan Duquette’s team for the most part, as was the ’07 roster. Theo’s only real slam-dunk signing was Curt Schilling. How did the Daisuke Matsuzaka thing work out? Epstein is also the architect of 2011 signings such as John Lackey, Dan Wheeler, Bobby Jencks, and Carl Crawford. Just as important, he’s the guy who did not sign Victor Martinez or Adrian Beltre, and thought that a washed up Jason Varitek and a never-will-be Jarod Saltalamacchia could hold down the catching corps. He’s also the guy who thinks Marco Scutaro is an everyday shortstop. He’d better be; you heard it first: heir apparent Jose Iglesias will not hit MLB pitching. If you’re looking for help down on the farm, don’t; Theo gutted the system in free agent compensation and ill-advised midseason trades. (Did someone say Erik Bedard?) What the Sox have mostly are guys who’ve worn the “can’t-miss” tag for so long that it’s faded on their Pawtucket uniforms: Kyle Weiland, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubrant…. (I actually think the latter has promise, but the Sox have misused him as a middle reliever instead of back-of-the-rotation starter.)

I’m also hearing that David Ortiz may be non-tendered. My word! What more can that man do for the team? All he did was put up a line of .309, 29 dingers, and 96 RBIs. Do they think that September flash Ryan Lavarnway will duplicate that? He’d have to because few scouts think he’s an everyday catcher. If anyone has earned a Derek Jeter-like contract for past services rendered, it’s Big Papi, who will have no trouble finding work if the Sox cut him.

So who needs to go? You can forget about dumping Crawford; no one will touch that contract. Label him J. D. Drew Redux. Lackey, on the other hand, must go no matter how much of his contract they have to eat. In a rational world the Sox and Yankees would exchange bad contracts--Lackey for A. J. Burnett—in the hope that a change of scenery would get a decent year out of each. My thinking, though, is that he returns to the Angels with the Sox picking up about two-thirds of his salary in exchange for a few middling prospects. Two others who should go are Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick. Each is a decent player, but Lowrie plays no natural position that’s open and Reddick would fetch a needed second-tier relief pitcher.

Many people call for Jon Papelbon to be dumped, but I think the Sox must squeeze another year or two from Pap because everyone else in the pen except Alfredo Aceves should go. My list includes the overhyped Daniel Bard, who should be traded before everyone in MLB figures out that his pitches are fast, but straight and Scott Proctor- hittable. Unless he’s hiding a cut fastball somewhere, this kid is not a future closer. The rest of the pen is yard sale material, if there’s a buyer. Otherwise, take a good look at next year’s Pawtucket bullpen. My pare-down list includes a sad call: Tim Wakefield is done. Wake is a class act, but all good things must come to an end. (Hatchet man Josh Beckett should have half of Wakefield’s class—among the Sox needs is a catcher who will protect the everyday lineup from tit-for-tat retaliation by reining in Mr. Beanball.)

How much wiggle room the Sox have is disputable. It’s very possible they may need to unveil Nomar Chapter Two and move a very popular player to fix the roster. Jacoby Ellsbury might win the MVP award, so he’s probably untouchable, and GMs will lowball the injured Clay Bucholz. Sox fans will cringe, but Dustin Pedroia is probably the team’s most-tradable commodity.


Elizabeth Warren Explodes Self-Made Myth

The self-made man: a total myth!

Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has the rightwing blogosphere quaking in anger (or is it in their hypocritical boots?) for a viral video in which she took a butcher knife to one of the most overfed sacred cows in American history: the Myth of the Self-Made Man. She rightly parsed the considerable difference between self-made and self-serving.

In case you missed it Warren said, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory….Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God Bless! Keep a Big Hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

I jumped for joy when I heard this if, for no other reason, I’ve been saying this for years. The Loony Right has, of course, accused her of fomenting “class warfare,” an absurd charge she preemptively addresses. Elizabeth Warren isn’t suggesting socialism, folks; she has something far less radical in mind: social contract. Or maybe it’s Biblical. Republicans love to wrap themselves in Scripture, but do any of today’s “faith-based” moralists bother to read Luke 12:28: “Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required….” The last politician I recall using this line was John F. Kennedy, and doesn’t that speak volumes about the erosion of the civic ideal in America? There’s class warfare going on, but it’s the war of the rich on the rest. Think I’m exaggerating? Explain to me why it’s a radical idea to eliminate a tax break for Americans making over $200,000 but perfectly okay to allow one to expire that affects only those making under $75,000.

Spare me the pious pronouncements (read unadulterated bullshit) about “job creators,” “rising boats,” and “investment capital.” These are lies we’ve been repeating since the Reagan Rhetorical Revolution of the 1980s. Warren got it right—all job creation depends on a favorable business climate that occurs when social capital intersects with investment capital. Do you think, for example, that the New York Yankees decided to build their new stadium in the bucolic Bronx out of the goodness of their owners’ hearts? Or did a billion dollars of city (and taxpayer- supported) infrastructure improvements and revenue enhancements have something to do with it?

Do people rise from adversity and dramatically improve their lives? Of course they do. I’ve done it myself (though let’s say that the under $75k tax break interests me more than the over $200k). Did I do it entirely on my own? No way. I am a product of sweat equity, but also of public schools, aid to poor families, federal educational grants, taxpayer-supported payrolls, insured mortgage programs, and government funding schemes that allow me to travel to jobs on public roads and burn cheap gasoline. (Take away federal trade policies on petrol and let me know how much driving you can afford!)

The self-made man myth is a misunderstood and pernicious threat to American society. The term has been around since the 17th century, but its original meaning implied a person enterprising enough to take advantage of society’s opportunities (even if they came in the form of access to free land). Henry Clay is the person who began to bend the meaning toward crass (and mythical) individualism. In an 1832 speech before Congress Clay bragged that in Kentucky, “almost every manufactory known to me is in the hands of enterprising and self-made men who have acquired whatever wealth they possess by patient and diligent labor.” He said it, but he didn’t believe it. The legislative effort for which Clay was best known? He was devoted to a scheme dubbed the “American System,” a call for public dole money to support building canals, carving out new roads, funding the Bank of the United States, assuming state debts, and improving national defense. He also wanted high protective tariffs. In other words, his “self-made men” wanted someone else to pay for their transportation systems, underwrite their loans, guarantee their physical safety, and protect them from competition. Clay called this the American System, but stripped of the sound bite it’s called “federalism.”

So again I say, hurrah for Elizabeth Warren! At last! A Democrat for whom I can cast a vote without a clothespin on my nose! To those who actually still believe in the hoary old self-made myth I say: build your own damn roads, independently fund your own projects, use your Second Amendment right to protect yourself, and do not come crying to Uncle Sam for bailouts if disasters strike or a future Bernie Madoff runs off with your self-made gold.