Archive: November 2004

(3 entries)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Why can't I be wrong when it counts?

When it comes to choosing which women are worth pursuing, I am almost always wrong. Why can’t I be wrong about politics sometimes? Or at least about Election 2004?

As long-time readers of Trouble Sells will no doubt hazily recall, my previous eight brief posts on political subjects, written over the course of a year, may well be the most insightful ever written on a blog. Mostly that’s because I’m the only Democrat I can think of that always knew we would lose if we picked Kerry and didn’t change his mind once we did. How could we possibly have won with this guy? I think we figured it was because Bush is so awful. But, you know, a lot of people voted for him before, and we needed some of them to vote for us this time.

Now, on the Ides of November, after a week and a half of hiding under the covers, let me give a brief postmortem based on my earlier theory of the “greater fool”. This is a term from investment, of course, which supposes that it doesn’t matter at which price you buy a stock as long as you can find another idiot who will buy it at an even higher price. In other words, there’s no reason to research good stocks as long as the market is controlled by people who are not paying attention. Doesn’t “control by people who are not paying attention” describe American democracy?

My feeling during the primaries was that people were voting for Kerry because they thought other people were misinformed enough to support him. This didn’t make any sense to me, but it was the only way I could interpret their claim he was “electable”. But their strategy was consistent with what happened after both parties had their nominee. The wrong information was used to select the Democratic nominee, and subsequently the wrong information was used to select the president.

We wanted a nominee who was “electable”. (I’m not sure what the definition of that is, but clearly Kerry is the only guy who we know definitely wasn’t electable, because he lost the election.) We chose “electability” over shopworn talents like the ability to make a good speech, raise a lot of money, or appeal to swing voters. It turns out that, if you have those other things, you might in fact be electable. There is no electability without skills that get people to vote for you. Kerry got an A on the course after getting zeros on all his exams.

The same thing happened with Bush in the general election. Most Americans agree with the Democrats on every issue — way more than 50%. However, less than 50% of Americans want to vote for the guys they agree with on the issues. Why is that? Because we give Bush a string of zeros and then pass him. Because we use the wrong information to pick these guys. We decide that something else is more important than actual issues that affect our lives — Bush the First tried this with the flag-burning amendment, but that was way too irrelevant: the flag-burning amendment failed because no one was used to hating flag-burners because there weren’t any. As the current revision of Bush knows, it’s much easier to propose amendments that affect traditional targets of hate crimes. The market is already there.

But even if you think the election was decided on issues, Bush managed to pass despite his poor marks. His number one issue was, of course, defense against terrorism, even though he managed to inspire more terrorists and turn more actual governments against us than ever before in history. How he could garner support on this issue I really don’t know. Republicans continue to have a kind of mystique that supposes they are the ones to pick for economic and security issues. This has been the case for generations. However, under Bush’s term we had a market crash and the largest attack on U.S. soil ever. This didn’t change people’s minds. (In fact, it seems that the New York mayoral race of 2001 was largely decided by the events of September 11, since the Democrat was leading two-to-one before that happened, and the Republican, who had no particular interest or background in security — let alone plans for what to do — won.) These guys somehow have ownership over the very issues they are incapable of handling.

I knew we would lose, in short, because we picked a “safe” candidate when obviously anyone who wanted a “safe” choice would go with the incumbent, because that’s why they call them incumbents. And we had him run a campaign saying he was better suited than Bush to deal with the world’s issues, when few voters seemed to make a connection between such suitability and being the president. How the Democrats could go forth with their strategy when they knew I disapproved, I don’t know.

I’m not going to pretend to tell you what we should do next; at least not yet. But it really comes down to the fact that there is a disconnect between what people think the Republicans do and what they really do, and the same is true with the Democrats. If we can’t persuade people that we’re the ones who understand their concerns, what’s the point of being Democrats? (Except getting to go to Meetups, I guess. I hate Meetups. They are like book clubs without the books.)

So don’t give up. But next time, don’t believe that you will win because the other guy is an idiot. That’s called “being an idiot”. And as Harry Truman famously observed, when you run an idiot against an idiot, the idiot wins every time.

by Jack, 4:17 AM | Link | Comments (4) | More from Election 2004 | More from The Damned Human Race

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The most years of our lives

During that ended era, the 1990s, there was an elongated and still unpaid-for period in which I sat in bars with a guy I knew, as contrasted with my modern policy, in which I do that alone or with girls. It was that inevitable transition from college to the stunned denial of lack of college, during which you still hang out with frat brothers, and we tried to keep the inebriation at its usual award-winning level. (As I believe I’ve alluded to before, our fraternity was written up in both New York Magazine and the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times for retro-progressive “drunkenness” well in advance of the national return of “cocktail culture”. I’m most proud of having been listed along with Tara Reid, Robert Downey, Jr., and a whole slew of British TV presenters in miniskirts as “Who’s Drunk in the ’90s”. My mother has the clipping, as do theirs.)

We didn’t have jobs. We would sit in bars wearing black, drinking middle-shelf whiskey, and pretending to smoke Nat Sherman’s. I don’t really know how we afforded to do that, and I think the secret is we didn’t, or at least I didn’t. He was the wealthy one; I was the witty, sexy, and depressed one. He was depressed as well, of course, and rich and well-connected. In fact, our good qualities could have been added together to make the perfect man, but, alternately, our depression could have been added up to make the perfect suicide. We sat around bars, drinking of their liquors, complaining to each other about how we were depressed, and then we’d look for girls sort of half-heartedly, because, of course, women are soul-stealing bitches, etc., plus we couldn’t ask them what classes they were taking and if they knew Marge Pengel because hadn’t we seen them over at Marge’s party?

We were particularly mournful that we were no longer in our teenage years. I had turned the big Two-Two and he was ten months ahead of me. I know it must seem odd to you that we were upset at leaving that problematic age, but we didn’t know any better. Our teenage years had been the years of our greatest success. Before that was misery. And the future was an endless decline. We called the happy sojourn “The Most Years of Our Lives.” They were the most years we’d ever had at a go. The idea was that life so far had broken down like this:

0-3: Not really a person.
4-8: Some residual happiness.
9-12: Puberty strikes.
13-19: The Most Years of Our Lives.
20-22: Disaster.

In our teenage triumph we had learned how to drive cars, drink liquor and snort drugs, exit the Midwest, and take bras off of people without needing their cooperation. In other words, we were much more adult and sophisticated than our parents ever were (except the cars). There was nothing more to learn. There was only the inescapable ossification of our talents. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams paraphrasing Chekhov paraphrasing Johnny Cash, we wore the black because we were in mourning for our lives. I would have also worn sunglasses day and night but that would have implied we were living la dolce vita, which we assuredly were not.

One particular night we were ensconced at our bar of routine, draped in black (black velvet in my case, because I am a gentleman), drinking whiskey, and to our mutual relief, out of Nat Sherman’s. I was entertaining the barman by occasionally sighing and saying, “It reminds me of her.” Every time I made him laugh our bill seemed to go up. This confused me so I needed to drink more, which had a similar result. We were in a kind of trendy lounge, as that age of public drunkenness required. Every historic period has its setting for drunkenness, be it the Globe Theatre, Delmonico’s, Harry’s Bar, Trader Vic’s, or Wal-Mart. New York Mid-Nineties (the time of my Second Wind, which would be coming a bit after today’s episode is over) meant loungy dark spaces which were not really for heavy drinking in the same way that scratchy oak rooms were. No one was really getting drunk there except me, my friend, and the bar staff.

But the place began to fill up with amateurs anyway, and they surrounded us with their elbows. It was a mixed blessing. A crowded bar meant shoving. But it also meant women would have to squeeze up against you to get the bartender’s attention, and since we were always so much better at doing that for them, it passed for an entrée.

As I’ve already explained, my friend and I only made one attractive man together, but that wasn’t how sex worked on planet Earth. Thus, any given woman could only go home with one of us on any given night. Since women were the destroyers of all that was good and holy, it didn’t bother me if this was him and not me. In fact, it became a kind of game for me. My wit and charm were often what cemented the young ladies to us after he had called out for their drink and paid for it with his heavy wallet. He needed me to get them interested. But it didn’t mean I begrudged him any eventual success he obtained via the very women I had brought our way; instead, I saw it as a way to experiment. What could I say to this woman that might be intriguing, without having to worry about the consequences, either that she’d hate me or that I’d have to take her home? Although when they hated me, they hated me, but they generally went home with him. He had the money, of course! He made that clear.

Because of my phase of keeping women at arm’s length and generally staying in my brand-new apartment, with the pride of ownership, when not at the bar, for my heroic epithet he called me “the wily hermit”. I didn’t mind. I knew it was just a phase, and that I would be tearing up the streets again soon enough. We didn’t know what to call him.

Among the elbows emerged a lovely young girl whom my friend seemed to know. We all chatted for a bit as she sipped the mojito that I had ordered and he had paid for. She had bright eyes, mojito-dimming, and a kind of fuzzy halter top that no doubt was only comfortable on the outside. Setting the unfinished drink on the bar as a kind of collateral, she slunk off to the ladies’ room.

“She seems charming,” I said, or words to that effect, such as “Dude, fuckin’ awesome.”

He nodded thoughtfully but offered nothing.

“What, you’re finally finding a girl you don’t like? What’s wrong? You have some kind of history? I saw that you knew each other.”

“No, no real history. She’s just nervous.”

“Nervous? I didn’t get that. What does that mean, anyway?”

He said, “She’s just sort of the nervous type. Didn’t you see it in her eyes? I can’t deal with that.”

“What do you even mean, nervous? Is that some kind of code?”

He pulled at his Beck’s back. “She was raped,” he said. He took another slug, and added, “Ceaselessly.”

That was how he got his epithet, which was “the worst person in the world.” It was times like these that let me know the Most Years of Our Lives were at an end.

by Jack, 4:19 PM | Link | Comments (0) | More from Drinking & Women

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Last thoughts on John Kerry

I do mean last thoughts, because just as no one had heard of this guy before he ran for president, no one has heard from him since he lost. I know I’ve always been rough on John Kerry (or, as I call him for short, Jerry) and I want to give a few moments of my own opposing viewpoint before I return to being rough on him, and then, finally, forget about him altogether.

Strength/Weakness: Communication
I never felt he had the ability to really communicate with people in ways that they appreciated. Even worse, whenever he did pull this off, voters interpreted it as slick. This may not be a problem just for Jerry: it may be the dawning of an age where the only way to be trusted by the voting public is to be obviously wrong about everything, because no one would think you were wrong all the time cynically.

Despite my misgivings, I was impressed with him in the debates. His performance was not, as I had feared it would be, some “winning on points” debate-society style they teach you on yachts. It was clear, reasonable, and consistent. While he occasionally missed an opportunity to underscore just how wrong Bush’s comments were, he got most of them, and in exactly the way I would have done it. (I’d give examples, but who wants to watch the debates again?)

If Jerry could have gotten through to people during the rest of the campaign the way he did in the debates, I would have been very pleased.

Strength/Weakness: History
Now, we all know that the guy went to Vietnam. It was mentioned a few times. And we all know he became a war protester afterwards. I’d just like to make sure it’s understood that we had a guy running for president, in fact the nominee of his party, who had made his start as a young activist. That is pretty rare, and a lot more exciting to me than the typical political history.

Of course, he squandered this auspicious beginning with thirty years of mediocrity.

The Great T-Shirt Disaster
In the waning days of the Dean campaign, some of us made T-shirts that attempted to non-non-ironically tap into the growing hipster political consciousness (this was in January 2004, post-Iowa, so before most of the hipster 527s were fully functional). The T-shirts read, “Are you DECK?”, using the hipster replacement term for “cool” that no one uses because “cool” is retro and therefore hip. (It’s a losing battle for hipsters to invent new words to replace old ones, because the very foundation of contemporary hipsterisme is to act like you remember the 1970s, during which you pretended to remember the 1950s. When hipsters shine is when they develop words for entirely new practices, like smirting.)

Underneath “DECK” it read “Dean, Edwards, Clark, Kerry”. Those were the candidates we figured reasonable people should support, in the correct order. We wanted to be inclusive of all the candidates who conceivably could win, to make sure hipsters knew that if they did not vote, they would die (see below). This was potentially a risky move, as the Lieberman camp could have come out with their own “Dreck” shirt.

What’s absurd is I never thought we’d have to go all the way down the T-shirt list to get a nominee. Just as the political blogs read on November 3, “JACK’S FOURTH CHOICE LOSES.”

Media Buys of My Secret Heart

“Cherry Tree”
This was a thirty-second spot I developed in my free time, in conjunction with Peter Jackson, and forgot about until now.

It opened with a small boy in powdered wig and velvet suit taking a big old whack with his axe at a cherry tree. His back is to the camera. From off screen, a colonial voice asks, “George, who chopped down the cherry tree?”

The boy turns to us and it is the digitally miniaturized face of George W. Bush. He grins and through his mind we see economic collapse, the ravages of war, worldwide terrorism, and failed everything. He says, “Not my fault!”

We had trouble producing this incisive, devastating attack on incumbency because I insisted on getting Bush to play himself and he was very difficult to work with.

“Time to Die”
This is an ongoing project with Citizen Change. As you know, Puff Daddy famously asked people to choose the lesser of two evils: Vote or Die. Since the youth voters he (and most of the 527s) were targeting didn’t really turn out in the numbers expected, it’s clear that many preferred to die.

In the post-election season, we are organizing a series of unannounced appearances of Puff Daddy and his entourage in urban markets coast to coast. He will grab a bullhorn and begin screaming that nobody voted, so now they will die, upon which he will personally begin to shoot into the surrounding crowd (with blanks of course). In this way, we will reinvigorate our base and send a strong message to non-voters: we will kill you.

Look for these events in your town, and watch our new ad running during Growing Up Gotti.

Last Thoughts
John Kerry sucks, but only about 95% as much as I had previously suggested. Maybe if I hadn’t been so unyielding in my views, a few more people would have cut him some slack and we would have won a few million extra votes. But it doesn’t matter now, except that millions of people, including most of you slackers, are going to have the life crushed out of them by Grammy-winner Puff Daddy.

Meanwhile, I still get a lot of email about Election 2004, especially from Dick Gephardt. Haven’t they heard the news?

by Jack, 1:24 PM | Link | Comments (1) | More from Election 2004 | More from The Damned Human Race

« October 2004 | Home | December 2004 »