Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Last Night I had the Strangest Dream


Living in these United States, the most affluent and powerful country in the world, we have much to be thankful for.

But what a weird country this has become. Where O.J. Simpson is reportedly paid $3.5 million advance to write a book about how he would have killed his wife (if, of course, he'd actually done so). Where the character Borat is applauded at a real rodeo somewhere in the South as he whips the crowd into a frenzy with his mock patriotic call to kill the men, women and children of Iraq (presumably leaving only dogs and chickens to appreciate its much vaunted democracy). Where we celebrate a holiday of giving and thanks by lining up at malls the following morning for a trampling frenzy of -- what else -- buying ("Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for mall aisles filled with stuff ..."). Where young adults at times seem more invested in reality TV than in reality itself.

In its way, of course, Thanksgiving as a holiday is a bit weird itself. We recognize and celebrate the sharing and kinship of the Pilgrims and Native Americans they found here, those same Native Americans who in the 250 years that followed were systematically annihilated by the descendents of those same Pilgrims and other European immigrants. Oh dear.

But suspect or not, Thanksgiving remains a wonderful holiday. It's a chance to eat all day, to share stories and laughter with friends or extended family, to remember loved ones who are gone and renew ties with old friends who've drifted away.

I just hope as we sit down this Thanksgiving that we do more than feel thankful for what we have, do more than say thanks for those who've come before us, do more than bask in the warmth of the company and the taste of good food and wine.

For this has been an exceptionally ugly year on a globe always riven by some war or another.
Whether in Iraq or Sudan, Lebanon or Afghanistan, the world remains waist deep in violence and suffering. What would happen, I wonder, if each of us this year pledged to do one small thing to alleviate suffering, took one small action to end wars? What if?

As I drove to the store yesterday to buy a few last minute groceries, the voice of Joan Baez on folk radio reminded me that idealism never completely vanishes from the political landscape, not even in an age of cynicism. She was singing a song I remember from childhood, a song with a message at least as urgent today as it was then. You'll know the words:

"Last night I had the strangest dream I'd ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war."

I can't say I have a lot of faith in putting an end to war anytime soon. But perhaps we can find some small solace, give thanks if you will, to the fact that the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Fox News and its nauseating celebration of O.J. Simpson forced the network, and the publisher it owns, to cancel both the Simpson two-part interview and the book for which he was paid.

Take note Borat.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The 2006 Elections: First Take


Maybe it's the hangover from four hours of sleep Tuesday night. But America's new political landscape is just beginning to come into focus. Please pinch me if I'm dreaming.

Hyperbole is always a big part of politics. Still, for me, and a lot of people I know, this really was the most important election of a lifetime. I was bracing, I confess, for the worst -- not on the basis of polls or logic but because I was half-convinced someone really would tamper with those untraceable electronic voting machines ending American Democracy as we've known it.

Instead, fragile and imperfect as it may be, the system worked. It will be my most enduring take on the elections of 2006. As much of a blood sport as Karl Rove and company have made campaigning, as bad as their dirty tricks from fake mailers to fraudulent programmed phone calls proved to be, as calculatingly as Republicans gerrymandered congressional districts to skew the vote, the American public won. Mad as hell, they threw the bums out.

Mind you, it took some doing. In this election, nearly 54 percent of the American public voted for Democrats. That's close to an 8 point spread over the Republicans, a blowout in the world of political realities. And yet a lot of the races won and lost by the Democrats Tuesday were real squeakers. In other words, the voters, and Democrats, needed every one of those points to have a chance, to take a step toward righting the equilibrium of a country that's tilted precipitously to the right.

Don't expect the Republicans to disappear any time soon. But it's as if this morning the bullied woke up and the bullies had vacated the block. Likely they've just gone inside to plan their next assault. But they've given the Democrats a chance -- to regroup, to speak up, to lead.

None of it will be easy. Democrats ultimately will need a plan and a voice. But for now at least, I feel secure in this: The rubber stamp Congress has dried up for any of the swaggering, tone-deaf, corrupt or idiotic ideas that wander with regularlity from the White House.

For a few days at least, I feel safe enjoying the parade. For me, its top acts include:

1. The election of Deval Patrick as governor of my home state, Massachusetts. He's the first Democrat in 16 years, the first African-American governor ever. No one really knows how he'll lead. But he's set a magnificent, positive tone and gave a compelling and embracing victory speech, reaching out across divisions of class, race, age and region.

2. The defeat of Rick Santorum, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate and a combative, gay-bashing right winger. He got thumped -- positively pulverized. How do I feel about Rick? He's the guy at every office party you love to see leave early and cross the room to avoid. Bye-bye Rick.

3. The departure of .. guess who. Maybe there actually are two guys you love to see leave that office party. Maybe Rummy should rent a room in retirement at Guantanamo and, while contemplating his next job, take one for the team by acting as a guinea pig for Dick Cheney's theory that a good dunking is a "no brainer." Or maybe Dick could join him and they could take underwater swimming classes together. Bye-bye Rummy.

4. The arrival of the new, bipartisan George W. Bush. Did you catch W's press conference the other day? He did fine with the prepared remarks. But when the questions came, I thought maybe I'd stumbled into a central casting audition for Nixon Redux. Or perhaps the film will be titled George Unglued. Mind you the President has never been a smooth speaker. But his perseverating and dissembling on Wednesday would have been funny if it weren't scary.

5. The arrival of Jim Webb -- the warrior anti-war senator from Virginia, a gun-toting novelist, a Reagan Republican turned Democrat. He's short, positively untelegenic and not terribly articulate. But the guy burns. It's sort of like watching Marlon Brando leading the Wild Ones on motorcycles into Washington. Webb should be interesting to watch.

6. The "Nancy Pelosi comes to lunch" picture in this morning's newspapers. There she sat smiling next the president, who smiles back. And there sat Dick Cheney, looking as though he'd swallowed a really slimy live guppy.

It's OK, Dick. Pelosi isn't an agent of Osama bin Laden, despite Karl's campaign propaganda. She's not even a terrorist sympathizer, though, come to think of it, you may have something to be terrified about. Call them oversight hearings.

In the meantime, my guess is Pelosi will work effectively even with the fellow she once called an idiot. You know, the other guy in that big White House.

Jerry Lanson teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He can be reached at