Friday, April 29, 2005

The Blogging Mayor

I recently discovered Jerry Brown's blog. Now I must say first off that Jerry is the reason I'm a democrat. I grew up in Sacramento, when personal interaction with the governor was actually possible. My parents were school teachers, and every politician likes a school based photo op. I met Reagan and his Lt. Governor Reineke (I have no idea if that's spelled right) because Reineke's kids went to the middle school where my dad taught P.E. Our church also sponsored a couple of rallies during the 72 presidential campaign, where I got to shake hands with sergeant Shriver and George McGovern (I often wonder, thinking about those rallies, where Hunter S Thompson was standing at the time).

Jerry was different. We didn't meet him at a photo op. He came into a Chinese restaurant where we ate all the time. He really did live across the street from the capital, drive himself around in his own car, and walk to work. Most days after work he would walk down to Frank Fat's for happy hour. Here was a guy, a Jesuit educated practicing Catholic who studied Zen Buddhism, whose father had been governor, who was governor himself, and he was a guy. Plain and simple. And, of course, all young men of my generation took note and were impressed by the fact that he was dating Linda Rondstadt. All of us felt a certain affinity for the governor in that regard, since we all had relationships with miss Rondstadt of our own--or at least with the poster of her that all of us had hanging on our bedroom walls. My link to Jerry got closer when my father re-married, and maybe a year later Jerry appointed my step grandfather, whom I both loved and admired, to the UC board of regents--but that never actually registered with me till years later. I last met Jerry when he was running for President in 92 and I helped out with a rally for him in Sac-town. He was still great, still a real guy, and when he talked about things like social justice and dignity and security you knew they were not just words or catch phrases to him. He's the guy, there's no other way to put it.

Anyway, the reason I'm a democrat and not an independent is because of Jerry. After the 1980 election, when I was still too young to vote, and when like a lot of young people I had been inspired by the candidacy of John Anderson, I was originally determined to be an independent (even though in California you had to have some party affiliation to register). But I realized that if I didn't register as a democrat I wouldn't be able to vote for Jerry in the primary when he ran for Senate. As it ruined out, coming of age in Cali under the administration of George Dukmajian, and then under Pete Wilson, it was not hard to remain a democrat. Those two vile excuses for public servants made it clear to me who the good guys were.

But the issue here is Jerry's blog. Jerry has always been one of the most forward thinking politicians. The "Governor Moonbeam" appellation pinned on him by My Royko (I'll never forgive Royko for that) referred to his ideas about investing in satellites and telecommunications back when people thought that stuff was all science fiction. That he would be one of the earlier politicians to launch a blog is unsurprising. It is great reading too--not just the stuff he writes about being mayor, but also the comments he gets. Some are fawning, some are conservative vitriol, and a lot are "Hey, Mr. Mayor, when you gonna fix the pot-hole" stuff. I love it. Jerry is still my guy (even though I'm more of a San Francisco then and Oakland booster--and hell, I live in Brooklyn ATM--and I was a big fan of the other mayor Brown as well, the guy who held us democrats together during the dark years of Dukmajain/Wilson). Here's Jerry once again interacting with regular people, only through a new medium. He writes his own posts and you get the impression that he reads all the comments. It is local politics expanded through cyberspace, and it shows how a great statesman can communicate with the people, and also that the old saying "all politics is local" is really true. Read it. It's worth a look.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I Love My Little Joe

They have elcted the Grand Inquisitor pope! Let me tell you, it is a great time to be a medievalist.

Without going into a rif on celebrity funerals, cults of personality, or conservative politics, I got to say I have loved this past week. Not only did I finish writing my dissertaion (all that's left now is cleaning up the footnotes) but I got to witness the election of a pope. What I loved most was not the debate over the future of the church (I mean, how much has it actually changed in the past 2000 years, really?) as watching the media spectacle. THe cables, led by Fox (natch) practically got down on their knees to kiss the popes...well, ok, ring...while the networks treated it like a superbowl broadcast they all had rights to. THe New York Times was one of the few American outlets that seemd to strike a negative tone toward Benidict's election, harping on his conservativism and focusing on how liberal American catholics were likely to recieve the upcoming bitch-slap that is headed their way, but nobody struck the tone of the French or Italian rags, which called him inflexible and doctrinal and compared him with a panzer tank and, (my favorite) "John Paul's Rotweiler." But even more beautiful then this was watching the Vatican spin doctors in action. It was just like looking intot he press room after the first Bush/Kerry debate. Suddenly the rotweiler was "shy," "contemplative," "compassionate," and "spiritual." He was a uniter, not a divider, wven though he had been a divider for twenty years. We started hearing that at the beginning of his career Ratzinger was a liberal theologian, and that as head of the College of Doctronial Faith he had just been doing his job (and where before have we heard a German say "I was only following orders?"). Apparently, in contrast to what he said just three days ago, Pope Benedict XVI no longer thinks other religions are inferior to catholicism, or that catholicism is the only way to salvation, or that Islam represents a threat to Catholicism, or, well, anything he's said recently. Mind you, this is coming mostly from the cardinals who, despite their vow of secrecy (First rule fo conclave is you don't talk about conclave) imediatly went out and held press conferences to tell people about the conclave. We heard that there really wasn't much opposition to Cardinal Ratzinger, that when the ballots from the fourth round of voting were being counted and it became clear that Ratzinger was going to win, there were ghasps and spontaneous bursts of aplause. Soon we saw him on television declaring his humility, promising to unite the church, and walking through the papal apartments in his vestments, the vision of a kindly old grandfather. The spin machine was working overtime, and it was beautiful. Karl Rove himself couldn't have done better. The church really ahs a hold on this media thing after almost thirty years of the MTV pope.

All that interested me. But what interests me most is this: the Grand Inquisitor is now pope. Until Tuesday, Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the College of Doctrinal Faith, which is better known by its older title, the Holy Inquisition. Sure, they no longer tortured people or burned them at the stake, their job is not to force conversions or execute heretics anymore, but it is still the inquisition. Ratzinger's job as inquisitor was to discipline wayward priests and to maintain a hardline fundamentalist dogma. He approved of denying comunion to Amreican politicians who support abortion rights and censured priests who expressed libveral theology. Homosexuals, femenists, deconstructivists, and for some strange reason Dan Brown and Dario Fo as heretics. Can racks, iron maidens and bruning stakes be far behind?

I'm being unfair. A bit. THis pope has declared himself to be an enemy of modernity, of deconstruction, of liberalism--in short, of me and *my* beliefs. I'm not scared or frightened but I am intrigued. I have no sympathy for catholics who say they are catholics and then whine when the Pope tells them what the true way is--that's his job as pope and if you don't like it do what Martin Luter did and leave. I slightly worry about his effect on American politics. For all I know he could turn out to be a very liberal pope once he gets rolling. I don't know.

I just love the fact that the Grand Inquisitor is now pope. I've been humming Mel Brooks for two days now. :)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Missing the Vast Left Wing Bus.

This afternoon I chose a title for today’s blog. I was going to call it “Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.” Then I turned on The Daily Show and found out that some clown just wrote a BOOK by the same title. Not only that, it was about the same thing I was going to write about, only with more words!!! I’ve been saying since before the election that the democrats needed to form an interconnected web of liberal organizations patterned on the movement created by the republicans following the Goldwater defeat of 64. And now they’ve apparently gone and done it! And I’m still in school!

So I have missed the Vast Left Wing Bus. Oh well.

Actually, me and my conservative buddy JP really did get on the vast left wing bus back in 92. It was Jerry Brown’s campaign bus, and we were hanging out with his former chief of staff, who had organized a campaign rally for him on the capital steps in Sacramento. It was a big, psychedelic school bus, kind of a 90s version of the partridge family bus with Jerry Brown for President painted across the side. Everybody was whooping and hollering and pretending Jerry could actually win the nomination (I voted for him, and would again: Jerry is my dude).

But back to the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: what interests me is how, like the Right Wing version, it relies on manipulation of the media. Spin, that is. Not at its core—the foundation of the movement on the left is the same as the movement on the right, a collection of policy ideas coming out of liberal think-tanks bankrolled by big money donors like George Sorros and Ted Turner. It’s at the next level that the spin revolves. The VLWC™ is investing in talk radio via Air America and polemic journalism through Michael Moore. They are starting to release talking points. And I saw the passion that exists at the grassroots level when I volunteered for the Kerry campaign.

Might I suggest a one word plan of attack: conservative.

Do to the word “conservative” what Regan and Atwater did to the word “liberal.” Talk about the “conservative agenda,” label men like DeLay “among the most conservative men in congress,” and rail on their “conservative voting records.” Hammer on it again and again: conservative, conservative, conservative! Now is the time, because the conservatives’s power is such that they are getting fat and lazy. They are going way too far for most people with their statements about renewing the Patriot Act, and the whole Teri Schiavo fiasco, and social security. They are in total control and that makes them vulnerable. It has already started. The Dems have taken a page out of the GOP playbook by going after the republican speaker on ethics violations while hammering on an unpopular social initiative. They’ve got a real chance at the house in two years.

If they make “conservatrive” a dirty word: if they make “conservative” the new “liberal.”