Primary School

Well, it was primary day in NY and six other states plus the District of Columbia yesterday.  Here are some of yesterday’s lessons that are clear about the American people (that I have harped on for so long):

1) Without a cool, young black guy there isn’t nearly as much enthusiasm for politics in America (from some groups).  Barack Obama’s double-edged sword of 2008 is coming to fruition.  He ran as a pop culture icon, which was brilliant personal strategy.  However, many of the “engaged new voters” (yes young people and black people I am talking to you most of all) who were not as much engaged in the political process as they were engaged in Facebook, Twitter and wanting to be part of history.  I waited an hour to vote in November 2008.  I waited 0 seconds yesterday, despite going at the same time of the day.   Ironically it was at the Church I attend and the demographics looked the same – me and some old women.

2) People want to matter, more than they care about issues.  The tea party has two unspoken founded principles.  One is that they are bursting with racist frustration at having a black president.  They KNOW they cannot say “Nig*er” but they can still feel it.  Joe McCarthy did not hate “socialism” as much as these people.  “Obamacare,” “socialist,” and “not born in America” are all surrogates for nig*er.  But the less insidious, but more relevant factor behind the Tea Party is the desire to matter.  The new American way is to force the world to recognize your relevance, even if you are completely irrelevant.  Some examples:

  • Reality television – failed actors and stupid people now can become stars, as long as they have an unbridled desire to be famous.  Talent, relevance or meaningful contributions are no longer needed to be famous.  All you need is the desire to be famous above all things.
  • Twitter, Facebook – we now all have important things to say
  • Political elections – The Tea Party is comprised almost entirely of angry, older white people and they were the ones who felt left behind by Obama’s election – either because of their age, the skin color or their inability to use a computer.

The Tea Party is a great example of this.  They may cost Republicans a chance at the Senate because above political gains, they value being heard and being viewed as relevant above all.  Now they get attention paid to them.  That is the end game, whether they are conscious of it or not.  They are never going to win the White House, they are never going to win a 51 seat majority in the Senate.  But they are going to be noticed.

3) America is about “Me” and about “Them” and Not about “We” or “Us.”

Every marketing campaign in the U.S., from medical books to cable television has some variation of “It’s about you,” or “The Guide to You” or “On Your Time Warner.”  This is what people want.  An increasingly superficial and secular society still has the needs that family and religion provide(d).  Obama created his election in 2008 into a moment for each person to be involved with.  He may have said “You” and “We” as a collective term, but his election presented the rare opportunity for people to feel like they were individually part of history – something that we all seem to want nowadays.  But when that “we” started to be used to ask for patience and cooperation and voting in smaller elections that are just as critical, that “we” started to feel like being an anonymous part of a group, i.e. we’re no longer special and important individually.  That is why voter turnouts are terrible on primary days and on non-awe inspiring election days.

The flip side of this is why the Tea Party candidates won in New York and Delaware.  Carl Paladino, he of the Pimp Obama  e-mail, crushed Rick Lazio in the Republican primary because the Republicans that cared the most were the black-hating, black-fearing folks (sorry a photo of The President and First Lady as a pimp and a prostitute has no humor value unless you believe the simple fact that they are black makes them pimp and prostitute material – remember when being a racist could disqualify a lot of candidates?).  They were the most fearful of being left out of the new America (seriously can someone explain to me what is so drastically new in America?).  Also in Delaware, where you have the trifecta of being old, white and from Delaware – the perfect storm of obscurity, they nominated Christine O’Donnell, politically, fiscally and intellectually the poor man’s Sarah Palin.  But now Tea Party people from Delaware get to be on the front of the New York Times.  Mission Accomplished – you matter.  These candidates have managed to to turn blacks, Democrats, immigrants and Muslims into “them.”  And that is saying something considering Rick Lazio lost, despite making opposition to the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero his signature campaign issue.  Perhaps he simply did not want the mosque located there, whereas Tea Party voters felt more sure that Paladino actually hated Muslims.

I just think America is too full of sh*t anymore.  There is a tremendous amount of racism still in this country’s fabric.  There is also an incredible amount of self-centeredness.  If Obama wants to keep Congress or at least the Senate he needs to get all his people that voted for him in 2008 (at least the ones that were not doing so to appear less racist to their peers, kids and grandkids for voting against a historic candidate) he needs to make it about US (i.e. You and ME).  We are the country that stops buying SUVs and clamors for energy independence when gas is high and then, in an almost seasonal and satirical shift – we immediately start buying SUVs when gas prices lower.  From the angry to the apathetic the majority of this country (comprised of all political stripes) just care about themselves.  Both sides of the country, left and right want to matter more than they actually do.   But we are only moved to political action when it appears that we can win (and winning does not mean winning the election – winning means mattering).  Obama voters felt like they mattered in 2008 (I remember reading posts on Facebook on Election Day from people who I knew to be politically apathetic – “Bye bye Bush – get out there and vote everybody!” – those would have actually mattered a lot more in 2004 dummies) and Tea Party members feel like it is their time to matter.

Whichever side you are on – I think we are all fu*ked.  And to paraphrase Obama, we are the ones we have been waiting to blame.  The Internet, 24 Hour politicized “news” and our decreasing attention spans are going to bury America in an interminable, political trench war.  I think America is becoming a place where the average person (i.e. obviously the people who vote in primaries are more politically involved than the average person – and yes I know people are registering more and more as independents, which fits my theory – everyone wants to be that critical swing vote in a meaningful election) don’t care about issues or candidates or America.  They care about themselves and they care about mattering.  The average voter is no different than Kim Kardashian or The Situation. They’re just uglier.


Conan & Obama – Hard Work, Nice Guys &…

It was a tough week for professional comedians and half black men, but it was also a tough week for Conan O’Brien and Barack Obama.  Conan O’Brien’s dignified speech towards the end of The Tonight Show was very impressive and inspirational, but at the same time felt like a scolding for me.  He said not to be cynical (too late) and that nice people who work hard do have good things happen to them (apparently he missed the Cohen Brothers’ “A Serious Man”, and the bringer system of NYC comedy clubs).  I feel like the motto this week should have been “Be Careful What You Wish For” for two of America’s most prominent public figures.

In The Untouchables, Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone said to a reporter, “We have a saying in my neighborhood, ‘you get a lot further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.'”  Despite its cynical undertone, Conan and Obama would be wise to consider it (metaphorically, at least in Conan’s case) from here on out.

Here are a couple of other lessons I think they could learn:

1) Young People Can Get You To The Top, But Cannot Keep You There

Obama – all the new voters, especially in the young and African-American communities, (as I stated when he was inaugurated) were excited about Obama the idea and Obama the fad, but not enough were interested in Obama the policy maker or Obama the executive.  Here is an analogy – when Jay Z or Green Day come out with an album it sells well in the first week, but then tails off greatly because of iTunes and an overzealous anticipation of that first week.  However, if you want to sell a lot of albums today you want someone like Susan Boyle – someone who benefits from the media saturation of today, but whose base is old school and will support their artist in a substantial way that lasts longer and in a more traditional way (i.e. massive CD purchases).  Obama played the new technology in a great way making him a superstar, but a lot of his supporters will not support the old, boring white (albeit inspiring to some people) Susan Boyle’s who make the laws year after year (midterm elections).  They are just waiting for 2012 when the new metaphorical Obama album drops.  And by then he will have lost Congress and they’ll be complaining about his ineffectiveness.  See, Republicans are not to blame for all of Obama’s problems.  Just most.

Conan – his fans woke up when it was too late.  In the end the folks that eat up the road comics’ jokes on GPS navigation systems, erectile dysfunction and how odd white people can be to black people (and vice versa) have decided they want the safe guy back.  And like Congressional Republicans, Jay Leno had no interest in what was right and only interested in getting (more of) his.

2) Getting Tough Works

Obama – I hope he stops his moderate, reach across the aisle rope-a-dope and lives up to his recent speech in Ohio.   He will help himself and his country in the long run if he digs in and says enough is enough.  The word moderate has to have an objective value, which it does not for Republicans.  Instead, when Republicans hurl the term “moderate” they really mean, “We will prop up the Glen Becks, Sarah Palins and Tea Parties, pretending they speak for mainstream Republicans, even though we really believe they are far-right crazies, but then we will claim ‘the middle,’ by comparison, which is actually very right of center.  We will then bash the president for not moving halfway between rational and batsh*t crazy.”  But he should also get tough with the far left morons who are calling him George W. Obama.  They still need to live in the real world and not in a progressive utopia that is impossible with the Internet, 24 Hour News and the Constitution.

Conan – It may have seemed cynical or mean-spirited, but dropping the hammer on NBC was great (and funny)television.  He may not want to, but I think becoming the anti-hero of late night television would be great.

3) If all else fails, be a little cynical.

They both work in a country where a guy named The Situation may have more enduring popularity than either of  them.