Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Al Gore,"Soul Man"

If Al Gore had listened to me, we would not be in Iraq today. It's not that I didn't understand the significance of a campaign theme song when I attempted to submit it to him in the election of 2000, I just couldn't find anyone to take me seriously enough. See, I'm a Gore man; have been since 1988 when I was fortunate enough to join a multi-religious delegation from Tennessee to the state of Israel, led by then Senator Gore, and accompanied by Tipper and his children. It was supposed to be a cultural exchange program with a grand concert in Jerusalem with a cadre of Nashville acts like the Charlie Daniels Band and the Oak Ridge Boys. Living in Nashville, I went to the promoter and begged to musically represent Memphis on the show, but when turned down, I joined the tour group anyway. In the end, not enough people signed up to make it worthwhile to take planeloads of country bands to the Holy Land, so the only musicians in attendance were songwriter Dave Olney, gospel star Bobby Jones, and me. We ended up performing in the courtyard of the Laromme Hotel in Jerusalem for the delegation, the Gores and their staff, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, and Mayor Teddy Kollak. It was good the country stars stayed in Nashville. On the same night as our courtyard concert, Bob Dylan appeared in Jerusalem.

Even then, Gore suffered from the "stiff" syndrome, but I was able to notice that it usually happened just for the cameras. When Gore was at ease with his family, being a tourist like the rest of us while instructing his girls about the meaning of the sights we were witnessing, he was approachable and affable. When Gore was briefed by the Israeli Government on the then novel idea of "land for peace," he took time to board our different tour buses and use the driver's microphone to brief us on what he had learned. During that trip, observing Al Gore in both formal and informal moments, I came to believe that Gore was the ablest, brightest, and most sincere politician/candidate in Congress. That's why I tried to help with a song for the 2000 race.

Every political theme song from FDR's "Happy Days Are Here Again," to JFK's "High Hopes," have had one thing in common. They are instantly recognizable and beloved songs that are adaptable for lyrical changes to promote the candidate. It's no mean thing to get Frank Sinatra to record your campaign theme as JFK did, and who can listen to that Fleetwood Mac song any longer without first thinking of the Clintons? Since I had described myself as a "Gore Man," it was easy to transfer that lyric to the Sam & Dave soul classic, "Soul Man." I rewrote the whole song, including a tag in the chorus to be sung by a woman to make the song gender neutral. Imagine these lyrics being sung by Sam Moore and say, Sheryl Crow;
He's coming to you/On a high road/brain power, he's got a truckload/ and when you get him/You got something/So don't worry/Cause Al's coming
chorus: I'm a Gore Man/ (female) and I'm a Gore Woman/
I'm a Gore Man, "play it Steve./"
bridge: Grab a rope/ He'll pull you in/give us hope/ and bring this country back again/ yeah, YEAH"

Would it not have been cool to have Sam Moore record that for a theme instead of the insipid "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," by the stuttering Cheap Trick? Better yet, have Sam Moore tour with Gore and sing the song at every major rally. I imagine if they'd asked nicely, they might have gotten the Blues Brothers' Band to participate. I believe Steve Cropper is a good Democrat even though I once caught him in Nashville producing an album on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Although song parody is legal, I even told one of the composers, David Porter, what I had in mind and he thought it was a great idea. I attempted several times to reach someone within the Gore campaign and was finally able to speak to a staffer who promised to forward the song to the person who could give it proper consideration. I admonished him to please tell whomever received the suggestion that it may sound like a joke on paper, but I was most serious in my intent to boost the campaign. I did not hear from them again. Who knows? "I'm a Gore Man," might have inspired a few extra Florida voters to go to the polls just for the soul music.

When 2004 rolled around, I dusted off the song and prepared to offer it again. I delighted in Gore's hilarious performance as host on Saturday Night Live and was sure this was the "new, relaxed" Gore preparing for a second presidential run. But, he said instead that he did not want to re-fight the election of 2000 and would not run. I wanted exactly to re-fight the 2000 election and I felt Gore would win in a walk and was bitterly disappointed by his decision. I felt he was making a political "Nixon calculation;" the one that says "if the people are tired of me then I will lay low and re-invent myself and fight another day." Nixon, like Gore, lost one of the most closely contested races in history. Close enough that Mayor Daley of Chicago and officials in Cook County, Illinois were suspected of padding the "zombie vote," enough to throw the election to Kennedy. After eight years of war and a fistful of political assassinations, the nation was so screwed up that Nixon was elected by the same razor thin margin that he lost by in 1960.

I believe this was Al Gore's strategy. I cannot believe that after a lifetime of being groomed for high office, Gore would just turn his back and walk away from the presidency after coming so close. If this was his calculation, it has proven to be a miscalculation, complicated by a factor Gore could not have seen in 2004. That "X" factor's name is Barack Obama. I don't think even an Academy Award could get Gore elected now. I only know as much about Obama as the next extremely well informed person, despite the reckless smear attempts by Fox News and Rev. Moon's Washington Times organization, to label him a Muslim who only conveniently converted to Christianity in time to run for President: all despicable lies, proven false by some simple decent journalism. I am impressed, however, with Obama's measured magnetism.

Obama's lack of experience is a false negative. What is appealing about him is his relative ease in his own skin and his forthrightness of speech. Obviously intelligent and thoughtful, Obama has a way of distilling his thoughts into succinct and direct answers to the questions asked of him without pretense or prevarication. The public response to Obama's steady assurance of confidence and calm has not been seen since the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. And regardless of his legislative experience, his middle name, his race,(I'm sure he'll be portrayed as an axe murdered before it's over),or his faith, Obama is the kind of candidate that appears once in a generation. And if the heavens line up as properly for him in the future as they have in the past, Barack Hussein Obama, is beginning to take on the appearance of that rarest of beings, an historical inevitability.

There's lots of time for faux pas and screw-ups for one and all, but Obama does not seem the type politician to be caught in a contradiction of principle. Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post made some prescient editorial comments yesterday when she said about the campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, "Both...were listening to their political advisers and pollsters instead of to their hearts. Trying to be what they thought people wanted them to be, rather than who they are," adding, "they may have wanted it too much." "Want has a scent. It reeks of rapaciousness and oozes from the pores of the overly ambitious. Others likely to make a run in 2008 are similarly malodorous, and you know who they are." I certainly do, but Obama is not among them. His reflective demeanor prevented him from acquiring the affliction that makes desire and desperation visible to the observer, like Al Gore demonstrated in 2000 with the "Love Story" Convention Kiss, or the invasion of Dubya's limited debating space. One of the reasons Bush was elected was simply because he was not devouring himself with desire. For now, I'm still a Gore man, but I'm watching carefully and worried that I may have to sing my Gore song alone. In that case, I may have to adapt the old Mexican song favorite "Manana," and change the lyrics to,"Obama, Obama; Obama is good enough for me."

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Fuller Brush Strategy

Imagine this Sunday, settling in to your favorite lounger with a bowl of potato chips and a soft drink to watch the playoffs when there is a knock at the door. When you answer, there are a group of swarthy men, each with an automatic weapon and a double bandoleer of ammunition crossing his Kevlar-coated chest, speaking in a foreign tongue, and demanding the whereabouts of any men, ages 14-50, that live in your house. I think even a reasonable person might have a Dick Cheney flashback and shoot somebody in the face over such an outrage. And yet, that is exactly what President Zero is asking our troops, your children, to do.

After the nation waited an entire month for Bush to listen to all the experts and revamp his Iraq strategy, the best he can do is send 21,000 more troops to Baghdad to go door to door, like Fuller Brush salesmen, embedded with Iraqi units asking for the trust of the populace. Is this not the most insane maneuver since lying us into this hellish war? What unlucky National Guardsman has been sentenced to their doom by this intransigent usurper of the Presidency? It's well to remember that one of the articles of impeachment passed by the Congress against Richard Nixon was abuse of power. Bush is like Nixon on steroids. He discards the advice and wishes of his generals, the Iraq Study Group (Daddy), the electorate, the soldiers on the ground, and now key members of his own party, to pursue a trail of tears that we have all witnessed before.

It wasn't necessary for Dubya to have actually fought in Vietnam; just paying attention would have helped. But this arrogant child of privilege was assured his non-lethal slot in the Texas Air National Guard, cushy even among Guard positions, so why would he need to concern himself about Vietnam? He just supported his president and wore his Guard flight jacket on campus, while his fellow students were demonstrating and dying. This ignorance of the past, not just from Bush but from his entire never-having served administration, is taking us down the same road as the LBJ escalation of Vietnam in 1965. That's when I began paying attention. 1965 was the year I graduated from high school and suddenly the abstraction that was Vietnam became very real. When your high school buddies began to ship out, or the guy down the hall in the dorm wasn't there anymore, war became personal. I doubt Bush ever even knew a peer that served in Vietnam, or he wouldn't be so cavalier with other people's children in the crusade to save his legacy.

Most people tuned out Bush long ago. Even the most patriotic among us have bullshit saturation levels. But last night Bush accused Iran and Syria of aiding "terrorists and insurgents" and said the U.S. will "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." This sounds like the Nixon secret Christmas bombings of Cambodia in 1972. In a previous post, I noted that a flotilla of US warships were gathering in the Persian Gulf off Iran for maneuvers. Last night the president announced his orders for a carrier group to move to the area. And only a few hours ago, the BBC announced the invasion of an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Ibril by U.S. troops, saying "The U.S. soldiers disarmed guards and broke open the consulate's gate before seizing documents and computers during the operation, which took place today at about 5 a.m. local time, the Islamic Republic News Agency said." The report added that five people, possibly diplomats, "were detained."

You need not have the imagination of John LeCarre to understand what is going on here. Bush has been provoking the Iranians for months, and today again violated international law by storming an embassy for documents and proof that the Iranians are aiding the insurgents; his very own Watergate break-in. Bush is itching to bomb Iran. He must know that Iraq is lost militarily because everyone tells him so. But if he can force Iran into a Saddam-like, "mushroom cloud" confrontation, he can bomb their nuclear sites, set them back ten years, and somehow redeem his disastrous and grievous adventure in the Middle East. He is sending 21,000 more troops to buy him time. If the Iranians take the bait, there will be wider war and the pressing need for even more soldiers. If they don't, Bush will run out the clock on his watch and leave his mess for the rest of us to clean up. I pray I am wrong; I fear that I am not. But an animal is at his most dangerous when he is cornered.

In the post, "First Things First," 11/14/06, I tried to make the point that there were more pressing issues in the Congress than Bush's impeachment. But, if he is determined to take the Nixon path, he must face the Nixon fate. If he refuses to stop his mad dash toward Armageddon, then the Congress must stop him, and, yes, it is now a most pressing issue. Last week, no one would have suggested that there were nearly enough votes in the Senate for impeachment, but after last night's science-fiction address, the head-counting, at least on the internet, has already begun. President Zero insists his "surge" is something new. Escalating a lost conflict is as old as warfare has been folly. Wire service reports now say "the surge" began last month and the soldiers are already arriving in the desert, just in case anyone believed protesting would do any good. It was a done deal before all the post 11/7 ruminating by "The Decider." He decided, once again, to listen to Cheney.

Meanwhile, last month down on the Bush "ranch" where all the "deliberating" was going on, the whole crowd came out for a Texas down-home photo-op. All the men wore jackets, no tie, with a single button fastened in front, except Condi, who hobbled in high heels in the gravel. They even managed to make General Pace look like a dork. It reminded me not so much of a president and his cabinet as the Clanton gang at the O.K. Corral. So did the stage-managed Rumsfeld resignation celebration at the Pentagon in November where Cheney, Bush, and Rummy walked the gauntlet of career diplomats in lock-step, even swinging their arms together like Goebbels, Goering, and Himmler. I usually detest comparisons of our politicians with the Nazis, but these boys are spoiling for another, potentially catastrophic and all-consuming war in the face of opposition from the American people and the best minds in the military. Let the investigations begin in earnest, and should the facts lead to impeachable offenses, in the words of our deluded president, "Bring 'em on!"

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dead Man Talking

It's a sad commentary when the Executioner of Austin can't even properly hang the Butcher of Baghdad. In one and a half terms as Governor of Texas, George W. Bush presided over more executions than the other forty-nine states combined. He was on a par with Judge Roy Bean with handing out Texas-style justice. They wouldn't allow him to hang anyone, although his "dead-or-alive" mentality may have preferred it. If he had to abide by that sissy lethal injection business, Bush was going to run the most efficient "stick-em and brick-em" operation in law enforcement. He did, however, demonstrate his compassionate-conservative side when supporters of the born-again Christian, Karla Faye Tucker, pleaded for leniency. Bush promised to pray for her before she was put to death, thus making her the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War.

Of course the US Government says the hanging of Saddam was an Iraqi affair and they had nothing to do with it because they were too busy preparing to celebrate Eid. But the entire hooded, lynch-mob was helicoptered into the Green Zone and taken to the execution chamber by US forces. And what was to be a mark of achievement by the elected Iraqi government has been degraded and translated into more outrage and fury in the streets. Bush has managed to do what even Saddam's personal attorney's were unable to do at his sham trial; create sympathy for a tyrant and a killer, and make him into a martyr for Sunni Muslims all over the middle-east. Heckuva job, Bushie. And all over another pesky cell-phone video. Somewhere Michael Richards is saying "I know how he feels." Bush enjoys Western lore. Didn't he ever read the "Ox-Bow Incident?" Disciplined hangmen must be hard to find in Moktada Al-Sadr's army. But Dubya has achieved the motivating reason for his presidency; he's killed Saddam for Daddy. Do we feel better now? Bush used to enjoy showing Saddam's pistol to visitors in the Oval Office. Now, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, "he has his pecker in his pocket."

All of that controversy was unfolding while the Gerald Ford farewell tour dominated domestic news. It's hard to work up any animus over Gerry Ford. Even the sting of the Nixon pardon has lessened with time. What remains is the fact that Ford's actions regarding Nixon subverted the judicial process by offering a blanket pardon for crimes for which Nixon had not yet been charged. I'm no lawyer, but I watch "Law and Order." Nixon should have been required to allocute before receiving his pardon. Otherwise, what's to stop him from stalking and killing John Dean with his bare hands? But Gerald Ford did calm the post-Watergate vitriol as evidenced by George McGovern's confession that he voted for Ford over Carter in 1976, and did offer a soothing presence while presiding over the collapse of Saigon. Other than that, I mostly remember his policy to fight rampant inflation was to print up a bunch of buttons that said "WIN," for "whip inflation now." It didn't work.

Gerald Ford's comments to Bob Woodward published posthumously in the Washington Post show a deference towards the current administration that might have been courteous, but less effective than had they been printed while Ford was alive. Ford said he "very strongly" disagreed with the President's decision to invade Iraq and chastised his former employees Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld by saying, "Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq." As the troika's excuses for war switched from WMD to the US' "duty to free people," President Ford said, "I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

While Bush41, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Goober eulogized Ford as a man of wisdom, newspaper readers were discovering that Ford had said "I don't think, if I had been president..I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer." While Cheney choked up at the funeral podium over the good old days with his boss, Ford had described him as "pugnacious" as vice president and agreed that Cheney had developed a "fever" about Iraq and the so-called "war on terror." The "Accidental President" never claimed to be brilliant, but he had wisdom tempered by war. Something that his proteges never experienced.

Now on the eve of the swearing in of the 110th Congress, Bush is earnestly appealing for bi-partisanship. He has seemingly rejected the Iraq Study Group Report and dawdled for the month since it was presented talking to anyone with an opinion about Iraq, until he heard the one he wants. Had he only spent as much time in consultation before invading Iraq. Now, he can't be rushed. Early reports say that Bush will do what he intended to do all along. He will ignore the American people, the "generals on the ground," particularly General Casey, the Iraq Study Group, and the soldiers themselves by committing up to 40,000 more troops to the flames to try and save face, Nixon style.

If the 110th Congress has been given any mandate at all, it is to bring this Iraqi horror to an end. If the president refuses to submit a plan for withdrawal, but a "surge" instead, he must be stopped, Nixon style. Not with impeachment, but the cutting off of funds for the war for any other purpose than evacuating our troops from Iraq and transporting them home. If Bush thinks he can play bully-boy to a Democratic congress, I believe he is in for a rude awakening. At least, I hope he is. It's too late in Bush's term to devote the daily attention and man hours needed toward preparing impeachment. In any case, we would have to impeach Cheney first, which would only allow Bush to appoint a caretaker vice president, just like Gerald Ford, that he trusts would carry on his tattered legacy and consider a pardon sometime down the road. In such a scenario, we may one day again hear the words, "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," from President Condoleeza Rice.