When looking to find the article yesterday that I had written for the Huffington Post, I came across yet another piece that struck a chord with our times today. It doesn’t go back as far as yesterday’s, but was nonetheless written long enough ago while Barack Obama was still president and the Republican Party had only gone partially insane before it began to reject reality.
The subject at hand at that time was Climate Change, and how Republicans were rejecting the science. And not only rejecting science, but doing so because it was incompatible with religion. Now, why in the world that should be a concern to a political party is the question of note – and fits in perfectly with yesterday’s article on how the GOP path to become a religious cult today was set in motion years ago and not something created by Trump.
But what leaped out even more in the old article – most especially today with the GOP near-total rejection of science even in the face of a worldwide pandemic, when you’d think rational people would embrace it all the more with gratitude -- was a larger point that has been totally lost by today’s Republican Party.
So, here then is that article written on September 29, 2015.
Science and Religion – Together Again!
Not long ago, I was reading a book, What Hath God Wrought, an epic, 850-page history about the transformation of the United States from 1815-1848. It won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2007, and is part of the acclaimed Oxford History of the United States series.
I mention this because the other day, I came across a passage that leaped out in the midst of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States and his addressing Climate Change. This was followed by a range of conservative voices outraged that the Pope would delve into matters of science, most notably GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush who said that the Pontiff’s words on Climate Change should be disregarded because “He’s not a scientist, he’s a religious leader.”
(Never mind that the Pope actually is a scientist, with a degree as a chemical technician. And never mind, too, that the Pope is also a head of state, as leader of the Vatican, which is a city/state, and has a council of scientists advising him.)
More to the point at hand is the division we’ve seen in the conservative perspective of distrusting, often even dismissing science as being almost an agent of the devil (I don’t exaggerate, more on that in a moment), instead of trusting the Bible when it comes to matters like Climate Change or evolution or women’s health. Which brings us back to the book at hand, What Hath God Wrought. Discussing Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph (whose first message was the words out of the Bible that serve as the book’s title), the author Daniel Walker Howe writes:
“Morse’s synthesis of science and religion represented the predominant American attitude of the time; only a few eccentrics believed there was any conflict between scientific and religious truth.”
So much for the whole concept of how life progresses and that we learn from the past. I guess not for everyone. This is the natural, expected result of what happens when you deny education, deny science, and retrench your foundation of knowledge, scholarship and reality purely on a system of faith. You regress, as the rest of the reality-based world passes you by. Accepted thought becomes what was once the domain of “eccentrics.”
On the other hand, when your education is based solely on what you believe, it makes passing tests in school so much easier. Unless your teacher believes in grading on a curve.
“Revelation and reason alike, Americans were confident,” Howe continues, “led to knowledge of God and His creation.”
Go figure. Back in the 19th century, in the midst of the greatest period of religious revivalism in U.S. history, Americans believed that education actually increased one’s understanding of the Bible. Not just did religious leaders accept science, but “Evangelists welcomed technological advances along with mass education,” he writes, because science helped them “spread the good news of Christ.”
Compare this to the religious Far Right of today who view the work of scientists as evil. Who want to push science out of the classroom, or at the very least obfuscate it with things like Creationism.
Compare this to when Scott Brown tried to pander to the religious Far Right and snarkily demeaned his then-Senate opponent Elizabeth Warren by continually referring to her as “Professor.”
Compare it to the pronouncements of people like Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) who actually serves on the Science Committee of the House of Representatives, saying – not that “Religious awakening, expansion of education, interest in science and technological progress all went hand in hand,” as Howe describes national and religious thought in the mid-19th century, but rather – “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”
Life changes. Opinions change. Values change. But life is supposed to move forward. Otherwise we’d all be living life in reverse like Benjamin Button or Merlin. Starting with all our knowledge, and then forgetting it day-by-day, getting more stupid by the hour. Which is a theory that does appear to work for some people. But fortunately, not for Mankind.
What’s interesting is that long ago, the very opposite reality reigned. Back in 1615, the scientist Galileo was the eccentric, found guilty of heresy by the church’s Roman Inquisition for daring to suggest that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the other way around. He was found guilty. Belief ruled the day. Two hundred years later, the reality of science was accepted, and it was only the “few eccentrics” who didn’t understand that science and religion were seeking the same thing – the truth.
Unfortunately, when some people intentionally pander to the worst instincts of others in order to stir up fear in a base to score political points, the result tends to be falling backwards towards ignorance – which is the very opposite of that whole “mass education” concept. But then, that’s what happens when one looks to politicians for religious and spiritual guidance.
You know, here’s one way I look at it – if God had intended Man to ignore the discoveries, teachings and advances of science, He would never have created scientists.
To anyone thinking that the Republican Party's full transmogrification into a religious cult is as a result of Trump, it’s not. The Religious Right has, of course, been critical to the party for half a century, at the very least, when Richard Nixon courted evangelicals in the late-1960s. Actually, it goes back much further with those like the far-right, anti-Semitic and pro-fascist radio demagogue Father Coughlin who railed for the GOP. (No, I’m not being subjectively hyperbolic, that “anti-Semitic and pro-fascist” description is from the website for the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum here.)
But although these earlier ties are a well-established part of the Republican Party’s history, they’re mostly individual cases of the GOP co-opting religious groups and using religion to the party’s advantage, likely trying to identify itself on a shaky pedestal as the Moral Majority. However, what I’m more talking about is how their association with religion developed much deeper and stronger over the years to the point where religion stopped being just a convenient adjunct of the GOP and became instead almost foundational to the party – not merely “the base” of the Republican Party, but the fervent, driving force of policy and goals, as the Party-Religion relationship largely flipped end-for-end. Where the annual religious-based Values Voter Summit is now almost a tent revival for the party, where a religious litmus test is now core for much of the party’s most-faithful, where today much of this base sees Trump as being delivered to them by God Himself. Indeed, this GOP religious path had long been paved, and if Trump has been anointed, he only had to walk through the door and take full advantage of it.
In fact, here’s an article that I wrote for the Huffington Post a full 11 years ago, on September 16, 2010. It’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the Republican Party giving up on politics altogether and becoming instead a full religion, period.
The Republican Miracle: Turning Water into Whine
The Republican Party today declared itself to be an official religion, and will be granted full religious protection under the Constitution of the United States. After years of pushing for a spiritual waiver, all members of the former political institution have been granted eternal forgiveness and are now answerable only to the Holy Father, longtime honorary chairman of the GOP.
This change (a step considered more substantive than mere re-branding) comes after a concerted effort by Republican leaders to get all of America to accept the party's divinity.
Sharron Angle, Republican Tea Party candidate for Senate in Nevada, has previously given full credit for her candidacy to the Lord Almighty. "I believe that God has been in this from the beginning," she told Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, who himself hath been touched by God, except for his failed political run for office, "and because of that, when He has a plan and a purpose for your life and you fit into that, what He calls you to He always always equipped you for."
Indeed the Hockey Mother Superior of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, has noted that she was picked to be Republican candidate for Vice President, not by John McCain, as was presumed, but because "It was God's plan." In fact, it is a result of His blessing that Ms. Palin (who presumably quit as governor half-way through her sworn term as part of that plan) was able to explain to Glenn Beck that the Founding Fathers were "quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the 10 Commandments." Though she was unable to identify any of her favorite Founding Fathers, that too was part of the Supreme Being's plan, who works in mysterious ways.
It was Mr. Beck himself who is so connected to God himself that he only had to jot bullet points for his sermon to the faithful on "Restoring Honor Day" so that "I don't get in the way of the Spirit in case He wants to talk," perhaps not only so that the Creator could spread the gospel of Republicanism, but also sell gold coins to a captive audience. "You are going to see the spirit of God unleashed," he said. And Mr. Beck should know, as one of the new religion's high priests.
And now, in an email sent out by the head of the Hawaii Republican Party, Jonah Kaauwai has claimed that the GOP candidate for governor "will win because the church has been behind him the entire time operating in the POWER and the AUTHORITY of the NAME OF JESUS!"
The Republican Party, of course, has had a direct connection to God for many years, often through its longtime spiritual leader and opponent of the Teletubbies, the late Jerry Falwell, who divined the causes of the 9/11 attacks, "I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America...I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen."
Former Republican presidential candidate and TV evangelist Pat Robertson replied, "I totally concur."
In its decision to convert itself from political party to a religion, conservative leaders noted that this importantly provides its most far-right members spiritual dispensation for any intolerance towards Muslims. After all, with Christianity being the One True Religion of the Former Republican Party (and by extension, the sole religion of America, since the Democrats are socialists and communists, who are Godless), then it not only is permissible to demonize all other religions, but becomes sacrilegious and therefore unpatriotic not to do so. This includes faux-gutter religions like Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and some sects of Unitarianism that allow dancing.
Even more, becoming a religion brings one very special bonus for its disciples. Perhaps the core issue of the Party Formerly Known as Republican has long been that of cutting taxes. (Indeed, cutting taxes is the sacred creed of the Tea Party monastic order.) But now, as a religion, taxes are not only cut, but totally eliminated since religions are of course tax exempt. While this mainly benefits its richest members, known now as "Elders of the Church" the flock has been admonished to follow the dogma regardless, for what is faith if not blind, unquestioning faith?
Republicanism also removes the great controversial divide in America over abortion, since it is no longer a matter of secular constitutional law, but religious doctrine. So, too, are the sacred tenets of gun ownership ("The Lord giveth, and the Lord...well, giveth.") and the divine right of healthcare insurance companies to make a false profit.
In fact, the heathen Constitution (exorcised by now-Cardinal George Bush to be nothing more than "a damn piece of paper") has been officially replaced in Republicanism by the Bible, as the foundation of all laws, including carbon emission standards, speeding tickets, and condo regulations. The Bill of Rights shall henceforth be known as "The Little 10 Commandments."
And the Far Right shall henceforth be known as the Far Righteous.
"Who died and made you God?" is a question people have been asking the holier-than-thou for ages. At last we have an answer. Sometimes, all it takes is self-annointing.
This is sort of a companion piece to the article I wrote yesterday about how today's Republican Party didn't come about because of Trump, but rather it has its start at least 40 years ago with Ronald Reagan, though even longer than that, probably beginning with the McCarthy Era, trying to brand liberals as "red" and "commies" (deeply ironic today with the Republican love of Putin) and then ratcheted up during the Nixon Years and his literal Enemiies List and racist "Southern Strategy." With Reagan, he pretty much brought public focus to it in demonizing Democrats as "the L Word" and setting the foundation of uniting the party as a solid, inflexible block by noting the "11th Commandment" for Republicans -- thou shalt not criticize another Republican, which lead the way for making Republicans so inflexible that compromise became a dirty word and any Republican who deviated from the GOP Gospel wasn't not a real Republican, just a RINO, a Republican in Name Only. The racist and divisive path was created for a Trump long ago. He just opened the door made for him and walked through.
Over a decade ago, back on May 12, 2009, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post, "Yes, Virginia, There are Liberal Republicans." To my surprise, I got contacted by CQ Press (which publishes the Congressional Quarterly) about including it in the upcoming edition of their anthology collection of political writing, Clued in to Politics. But the most surprising (and hilarious) thing is that the chapter they included me in, they not only put my article first but the chapter also has pieces by Ron Brownstein (currently a senior political analyst for CNN), Fred Barnes (formerly the executive editor of The Weekly Standard)…and George Washington. Not only "an article" by George Washington, but his famous Farewell Address.
Anyway, I thought the article would be an appropriate piece to bring back after yesterday's and bookend it. And give some further perspective on how much farther the Republican Party has been descending into fascist hell over the past 40 years. Or more.
Yes, Virginia, There are Liberal Republicans
Several weeks back, I was talking with a friend who is politically conservative. I praised a recent Obama bill for remarkably getting bi-partisan support, when he cut me off. "Oh, you mean those two women?" he interrupted, with ridicule dripping from his voice. "They're not Republicans. They're Democrats!"
(A quick digression out fairness. "Those women" was not meant dismissively towards Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. My friend has a memory like a bad sieve. "Those two women" was the best he could do.)
Anyway, I was certain he was exaggerating - but he wasn't. "Oh, please," he kept scoffing, "they're Democrats."
It was clear that this was something he and his circle had previously settled among themselves. And I realized what the problem was, and it wasn't obstinance or gross stupidity.
Here's the thing, I told him. You've confused being conservative with being Republican. But there are conservative Democrats. And once there were moderate and even liberal Republicans, too. But you've pushed them all out, to the degree that you now can only recognize a Republican as someone who is conservative. And that's just not the case at all. There are moderate Republicans. And liberal ones.
To my friend's great credit, he stopped a moment, and then actually agreed. Mind you, I have little doubt that the next day this all was forgotten. Putting life into convenient boxes gives too much comforting order, no matter how false. His loss is that the reality would have been so much more rewarding.
You see, time was when the Grand Old Party did, indeed, have grandness to it. When it was a party of mixed views, and moderates and liberals could be seen as actual Republicans, alongside the conservative party elders.
The Republican Party, once upon a time - a time within the life of most people reading this - included among its members such moderates and even liberals as Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Margaret Chase Smith, Clifford Case, Mark Hatfield (who co-sponsored with George McGovern an amendment to end the Viet Nam War), Lowell Weicker, Richard Schweiker, Kenneth Keating and John Chafee. Remarkable people all of them, well-worth looking up. They may have been in the minority of their party, but they were trusted and admired voices, helping focus Republican direction.
And most of them now have been blocked out of the memory of today's Republicans, dismissed by a current generation that doesn't consider "those two women" in Maine even to be Republicans.
And so the Republican Party has hounded out officials who've dared not to be conservative. Jim Jeffords left the party. Lincoln Chafee left the party. Arlen Specter left the party. Americans have left the party. Today, only 21 percent of Americans consider themselves Republican. And so, today, there are zero Republicans in the House of Representatives from New England - where the country was founded, by the way. Gone.
And the Republican Party has started to lose the rest of the nation, as well. What has happened is that the Republican Party has become a party of the South. Less a party, in fact, and more a little-tent, religious revival meeting.
By contrast, the Democratic Party ranges from conservative senators like Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Jim Webb - to Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer on the liberal wing. With moderates filling the chewy, nougat center. No one would confuse this group - which includes fiscally conservative "Blue Dog Democrats" - of being of a united mind. And the House is even far more mixed. While this often causes consternation within the party, it's also what ultimately gives it a wide exchange of ideas - and ideals.
The result for Republicans is a party so top heavy on the right that John McCain, who long-prided himself as being a self-proclaimed "Maverick," was only able to win the GOP nomination by claiming he always had been a conservative. The result is that "those women" - lifelong Republicans - aren't even viewed as Republicans.
The result is that it wipes out the history - and often impressive history - of the Republican Party.
Today, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt cultivates a divisive, empty demagogue like Sarah Palin, for no reason other than she's conservative, religious, and can see Russia from the beach. Today, the party of Dwight Eisenhower holds Tea Parties and Pizza Parties, dresses up in colonial garb, defends torture, and bows to a radio host..
Today, the Republican Party has forgotten what the Republican Party was founded on, and in doing so, has redefined itself into the ground, as it drives its moderate and liberal members away. The base can deny this all it wants, and wrap itself in its own True Values, but that only confirms the reality.
And if at some point all "those women" and "those men" end up driven away and actually become Democrats, it won't be because the far-right describing them were perceptive, but rather the party created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because when you push people out of the house, slam the door and lock it, they have nowhere else to go, but rely upon the kindness of the neighbors.
For the longest while, I was planning to post the real video of this song the day before the Inauguration – and when I tracked it down online, I discovered that someone had made this parody with new words dubbed in. And did a wonderful job with it, especially if you know the original, even I believe using a brief line from original soundtrack since it fit so well..
Here's the new, remix --
Back in 2008, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about new discoveries surrounding the holiday classic, Handel's "Messiah." Several months later, I followed it up with additional revelations. Given that 'tis its season yet again - it seems like a fine time to repeat the story, as just another of the many holiday traditions. Sort of like a very early, 18th century version of "The Grinch."
But have a glass of nog, as well. Fa la la...
Over the passage of years, we lose track of the conditions that existed when artworks were created. When those years become centuries, the history vanishes, and all that remains is the work itself.That is, until someone researches that history, and puts the piece in its original context.
And that brings up Handel's "Messiah."
By any standard, it's a brilliant piece of music, which has understandably lasted 250 years. Even to those who don't share its religious underpinning, the music is enthralling, and part of the celebration of the Christmas season.
Now comes this detailed, deeply-researched article in the New York Times by Michael Marissen.
"So 'Messiah' lovers may be surprised to learn that the work was meant not for Christmas but for Lent, and that the 'Hallelujah' chorus was designed not to honor the birth or resurrection of Jesus but to celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in A.D. 70. For most Christians in Handel's day, this horrible event was construed as divine retribution on Judaism for its failure to accept Jesus as God's promised Messiah."
Mr. Marissen does an impressive, scholarly and even-handed job uncovering the history of Handel's "Messiah." If anyone is interested in that history, do read the article. At the very least, read it before stating an opinion on it...
To be clear, this is not about political correctness. This is about correctness.
The truth, we are told, shall set us free. Either we go out of our way to learn the truth in our lives - and embrace it - or we bury our heads in the sand and listen to the sounds of gravel.
People will still listen to Handel's "Messiah" for centuries to come, whatever the reality behind it. The music is glorious. The words? Well, be honest, it's a fair bet that most people don't know <em >exactly</em> what's being sung about anyway - it's 2-1/2 hours, for goodness sake. Most fans wouldn't listen to "American Idol" for that long. People tend to tune out Handel's "Messiah" about six minutes in and let the music wash over them. When the "Hallelujah Chorus" is about to begin, they get nudged and sit up straight. And even at that, the only words most people know are "Hallelujah" and that it will "reign forever and ever." (Some people probably think it's about Noah's Ark.)
So, in some ways, the libretto of Handel's "Messiah" is not of critical importance 250 years after the fact. And that might be the biggest joke on Charles Jennens, who wrote the text and apparently saw the work as a way to confront what he believed was "a serious menace" in the world By having his friend Handel set his pointed tracts to music, Jennens felt that would help get his point across more subtly to the public. The result, of course, was that the spectacular music swamped over the words, and over time they took on a completely different meaning.
This is known as the Law of Unintended Consequences. Or also, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Somewhere up in heaven, or more likely down in hell, Charles Jenniens has been pounding his head against a wall for the last couple hundred Christmases, screaming, "No, no, no! Don't you people get it?!! It's supposed to be about celebrating the destruction of heathen nations, not the embracing love of mankind. You people are so lame!"
And it gets worse, because starting the day after Christmas - until the next Christmas when Handel's "Messiah" starts playing again - Jennens berates himself all year, wondering if he screwed up his work and didn't make it clear. Like maybe he used too many metaphors, or commas. Or perhaps in Scene 6, when he wrote, "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron," he should have explained who "them" was or described a different bludgeon.
No doubt there will be some people aghast by the revelations (no matter how valid) about the writing of Handel's "Messiah." I also have no doubt that almost all those who are aghast have never sat through the 2-1/2 hour work. Nor that most of those ever paid attention to what the precise words actually were. But they will be aghast anyway.
On the other hand, most people who <em >have</em > sat and sat through a 2-1/2 hour performance of Handel's "Messiah" likely welcome having an excuse now not to have to do so again.
Mr. Marissen concludes his study with a thought on the subject.
"While still a timely, living masterpiece that may continue to bring spiritual and aesthetic sustenance to many music lovers, Christian or otherwise, 'Messiah' also appears to be very much a work of its own era. Listeners might do well to ponder exactly what it means when, in keeping with tradition, they stand during the 'Hallelujah' chorus."
And while singing along, they might want to add a "Hallelujah" for the truth, as well.
And that, I thought, was the end of the story. But it wasn't.
A few months later, while reading Volume 9 of Will and Ariel Durant's majestic Story of Civilization, entitled "The Age of Voltaire," I came upon their extensive discussion of Handel. After the passage on "The Messiah," the Durants continue on with the composer's life and eventually reach five years later, April of 1747, when Handel had hit hard times. Not only had he written a string of failures and needed to close his theater, but he went into a sort of retirement, and rumor passed that he may even gone insane, though perhaps it might have been mental exhaustion. (The Earl of Shaftesbury remarked, "Poor Handel looks a little better. I hope he will recover completely, though his mind has been entirely deranged.") However there was yet more to Handel - and to the story relating somewhat to the controversy today about "The Messiah." The Durants write -
"...Handel, now sixty years old, responded with all his powers to an invitation from the Prince of Wales to commemorate the victory of the Prince's younger brother, the Duke of Cumberland, over the Stuart forces at Culloden. Handel took as a symbolic subject Judas Maccabaeus' triumph (166-161 B.C.) over the Hellenizing schemes of Antiochus IV. The new oratorio was so well received (April 1, 1747) that it bore five repetitions in its first season. The Jews of London, grateful to see one of their national heroes so nobly celebrated, helped to swell the attendance, enabling Handel to present the oratorio forty times before his death. Grateful for this new support, he took most of his oratorio subjects henceforth from Jewish legend or history: Alexander Balus, Joshua, Susanna, Solomon and Jephtha. By contrast, Theodora, a Christian theme, drew so small an audience that Handel ruefully remarked, "There was room enough to dance."
No doubt, Charles Jennens, author of the text for "The Messiah," is spinning even faster and deeper in his grave. But quality does win out over time. And so does transcending decency. And that, perhaps, in part, and in the end, may well be what we're left with.
As I listened to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany twist herself in knots and try to explain to an unrelenting Jim Acosta of CNN why Trump wasn't lying when he said that "nobody" was really affected by the coronavirus, despite 205,471 deaths of Americans, so far -- and 7,097,937 infections, so far. And these were only in the United States. In fact, around the world, there have been almost 32 million human beings infected by the coronavirus and just under one million people have died. So far. So, that whole "nobody" thing, not so much.
And yet, on and on, Ms. McEnany went on, trying to explain that Trump was being honest and only talking about young people -- despite that, no, he wasn't, and, of course, despite there also being an actual recording of Trump telling Bob Woodward that he knew young people could get infected by it.
And as I listened to someone from the White House once again try to explain what Trump meant when he said something horrible and irresponsible and cruel and racist, I just started to wonder when it was that we formally went past the line where it become officially head-numbing to hear a White House spokesperson again explain "What the president meant when he said..." something.
I mean, words matter. But when it comes to the President of the United States, words not only matter, they can be life-and-death critical. A president should ever have to have it explained what he meant, but though in life that does occur on occasion, those occasions should be rare -- not something so common that the White House Communications Office has the words, "What the president meant when he said..." on speed dial and a macro.
Of course, most people know what Trump "meant" when he says something. We've heard him for four years. We know he meant something egomaniacal or cruel or untrue or racist. The only time we don't know is when it's totally incomprehensible and a mindless bunch of word less. Or "covfefe."
The thing is, this -- like most things -- isn't just about Trump, though he and his spokespeople have turned it into an art form. (Can we ever forget "alternative facts"?) But Republicans making bald-faced lies and then having to explain what they actually meant when the lie is too egregious even for them to double-down on and they're called out on it. The list is too long and massive, but a few leap out. Like when Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson said that President Obama was responsible for the battle that killed Captain Humayan Khan (son of Khizr Khan, who had spoken at the Democratic Convention) -- except the problem is that Capt. Khan did in Iraq in 2004, and Barack Obama didn't take office until 2008. And of course, there was Republican lying claims of birtherism long before Trump made it his campaign issue. And maybe one of the most legendary of all, there was the infamous article by Ron Suskind in 2004 when an unnamed W. Bush White House official (now believed to be Karl Rove) who chided Democrats for living in a "realty-based community" while Republicans "created our own reality."
In other words, you tell the truth, we make it up.
And that's just been standard operating procedure for Republicans. And as it often happens, I can delve into the archives and explain what I mean.
Back in 2011, I wrote an article about then-senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) getting caught in a lie so blatant that he ended up coming out with one of the more stupid, teeth-aching attempts to explain it away.
This isn't about Trump. It isn't even specifically about All Republicans. This is just one individual. But especially because of what his mind-numbing explanation for his lie was, it is all too indicative of what Republicans have been doing for decades, and what Trump does when he breathes. Over 20,000 Trump lies that the Washington Post documented in just over two years of his time in office.
Yes, all politicians lie. All people lie. But it's how you lie, what you lie about, how you explain your lie, how you correct your lie, if you correct your lie and why you lie that separates people.
This is just a look at Jon Kyl.. But when we live with this sort of thing for decades because one party has "created their own reality" and live on "alternative facts," and as a result of all that we now live with the standard, default White House explanation of "What the president meant when he said..." -- this is far more than a look at Jon Kyl. It's about Trump. And it's about much more than Trump, it's about the elected members of the Republican Party who enable him, are complicit and, in fact, long-since laid the foundation for him.
So, we head back to April 13, 2011.
The Road to Hell is also Paved with Bad Intentions
As a young man, Jon Kyl, the Republican junior senator from Arizona, was convicted of selling heroin, and he spent eight months in federal prison.
This remark was not intended to be a factual statement. Rather, it was to illustrate that Jon Kyl, a Republican senator, is from Arizona.
Yes, that was unfair. But just because Jon Kyl wasn't actually convicted of drug crimes doesn't mean he hasn't committed any legal abuses. Make no mistake, in his early days in Arizona state politics, he was reprimanded for 12 ethics violations, though avoided expulsion on a technicality, changing the spelling of his name which originally was "John Kyle."
This remark was not intended to be a factual statement, either, rather it was to illustrate that Jon Kyl doesn't have the letter "H" in his name.
Joking aside, there is something I do admire Sen. Kyl for. It is his deft skill manipulating the English language to avoid responsibility for making a gross smear on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Addressing his senate colleagues, Mr. Kyl had said that abortions accounted for "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" - though the actual, truthful number is 3 percent. When later confronted over these shamefully inaccurate remarks now in the official Congressional Record, he hid behind his staff, which commented that "His remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions."
Forgetting for a moment that this isn't even an attempt at an apology, there only two options here: either Jon Kyl takes you for an idiot, or himself.
To be fair to Jon Kyl and sympathetic, he has unfortunately been painfully distracted lately, due to a bitter divorce he's going through, brought about by the exposure of a 12-year, secret affair with his secretary.
Just to clarify, this remark is not intended to be a factual statement, rather it was to illustrate that Jon Kyl has a secretary.
A case could be made that Jon Kyl knew his senate statement was a lie when he gave it, or at least that he didn't care whether it was false or not. But even if one chooses to graciously accept that it was just a horrific mistake - we all know what a proper reply should have been. We all know how we ourselves would have apologized. We would have said -
"I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I relied on information given to me, and I should have checked it myself. I apologize to Planned Parenthood, to my senate colleagues, and to the American public. I will immediately correct the Congressional Record. And will strive to make sure such a horrible error doesn't occur again."
We wouldn't have had a lackey say for us - "His remark was not intended to be a factual statement."
Jon Kyl's lie and lying response reminds me of an election several years back for the Writers Guild Board of Directors. An unsigned letter was mailed that smeared each candidate on an opposition slate. Later, one of the non-attacked candidates was asked for his reaction to the anonymous smear of his opponents. Not wanting to defend his opponents, he said with a thoughtful, sad expression, "The fact that it got all the names and some of the ages right is what made the letter so hurtful."
All I could think was, "No! The fact that it got all the names right is what made the letter - a smear."
It was the same attitude weaving through Jon Kyl's own smearing statement and smarmy, staff reply. It's as if the truth doesn't matter. That anything can be said if it helps you. And if you're forced to address the lie, dismiss it as not being intended to be the truth.
Of course it's not intended to be the truth. It was intended to smear!
This is an attitude that permeates the conservative movement these days. Democrats can lie, too, and when they do, it's just as wrong. But these days, the "say whatever you want," "truth be damned" weight has been falling more heavily on the Republican and conservative side. Perhaps because they're the ones in attack mode. Perhaps because the truth that Social Security, Medicare, universal healthcare, and public education all actually help people causes Republicans political trouble.
Whatever the reason, when the truth hurts you, and you choose to say anything to win, the truth doesn't matter.
To make a point attacking President Obama, Bill O'Reilly describes U.S. troops massacring Germans at Malmedy during WWII - when the truth is the exact opposite. To prove a rally was popular, Glenn Beck shows a photograph of the crowd - when the truth is that the photo was taken years before. To terrify the GOP base, Sarah Palin and others lie that Democrats want to kill old people. And on and on the spiral downward goes.
But of course, truth actually does matter. And we should not only expect it of our children, but also our politicians and social voices. Yes, I know that's a lot to expect. So, let's make it easy and start small -
Let's expect it of Jon Kyl.
That remark is intended to be a factual statement.
I was tempted not to say anything upfront, and just post this column as is, and only afterwards give an explanation. But in the end, the piece has too many inconsistencies to be believed as having been written today and ultimately it was more fair to do it this way, at the top.
This is an article that I wrote for the Huffington Post -- over 13 years ago. It was written on March 15, 2007, and I came across it while looking for a different column. Skimming through, I was taken by how much of it not only holds true for today, but holds true so precisely, at times down to the word. And not just the title, paralleling Trump's regular tweet of his "LAW AND ORDER!" rant.
But then, that's been a mantra of the Republican Party for years. As has so much of this. Which is why my oft-repeated comment, "This isn't about Trump, we know who he is, this is about the elected members of the Republican Party who enable him and are complicit," isn't just a catch-phrase. This is about the Republican Party. It's who they are, and who they've been for many decades. The foundation was there. Trump merely opened the door to let it out, and took it to a much higher, and fascist level. But the GOP enabled him and are complicit because it's who they are.
So, here it is, from ?March 15, 2007. Not a word changed.
“The Party of Law and Order” Decoded
Okay, so we know that the Republican Party officially hates “activist judges.”
And we know that they hate trial lawyers with a passion almost as great.
And also we know they utterly hate defense attorneys to the point of apoplexy. (Although the growing number of Congressional Republicans on trial are beginning to see their virtue.)
And seeing comments from top Republican analysts and party leaders dismissing the Lewis Libby verdict, and because it was just a “Washington jury” anyway, they apparently hate jurors, too.
And given that Republicans have underfunded police departments across the country, they seem to hate policemen.
And of course now with news reports of the White House involving itself in the political firings of U.S. Attorneys – with an inquiry even coming whether the entire lot of them could be fired – the highest levels of the Republican Party appear to hate the Justice Department.
And with the Administration regularly ignoring new federal laws with the President issuing over 600 “signing statements,” and nary a complaint from the Party, Republicans evidently hate the legal system of statutes, as well.
After all of this, it’s become clear what the issue is:
Leadership of the Republican Party hates the law. Period. And they’ve convinced much of the membership of the party to feel so, too.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Republicans have long-proclaimed their detestation of most of these legal standards for years, decades in some cases. It’s just that the Bush Administration has made it an art form. After all, this is the President who was famously quoted as calling the Constitution of the United States “just a piece of paper.”
When the Republican Party didn’t hang him out to dry for that, you knew the country was in for a bumpy ride.
We have an Attorney General – the highest law official in the land – who previously wrote a memo to the President and Defense Secretary explaining how the U.S. could ignore the Geneva Convention and justify torture.
We have FBI leadership dismissing abuse of the Patriot Act as really just a mere paperwork oversight.
Then again, this is the Administration who, when given its first opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, gave the name of a person who was generally agreed to be among the most unqualified nominees in history, Harriet Miers – the woman, by the way, who sent the memo about firing all the U.S. Attorney’s. (This would all suggest that maybe the White House also hates the Supreme Court, although since it owes its Presidency to that august body, there’s probably a certain grudging appreciation.)
And the Republican Congress, indeed Republicans throughout the country, accept all this. All of it – the hatred of “activist judges,” trial lawyers, defense attorneys, runaway juries, taxes to fund police departments, federal statutes, U.S. Attorneys and the Justice Department, civil rights, human rights and, presumably, the Constitution.
At what point did the Republican Party get away with convincing the American public that it was the “party of law and order”??! This is a trick worthy of Houdini. It’s flimflammery that would make P.T. Barnum proud. It’s a fabrication that makes Pinocchio look like a snub-nosed pug.
The only thing that Republicans seem to seriously like about “Law and Order” is that Fred Thompson plays a D.A. on it.
Now, I know that every single Republican doesn’t feel this way. There certainly are Republicans outraged by the abuses and anti-law attitudes of the vast majority of their party. (These Republicans are generally known as “disenfranchised.” Or “conservative Democrats.”)
And I also know that most other Republicans who have made it this far reading are likely up in arms, spitting nails, insistent that they love law and order even more than common decency itself. Of course, this is the same mantra they’ve been spitting for decades. But the reality is, if you hate “activist judges,” trial lawyers, defense attorneys, runaway juries, taxes to fund police departments, the Justice Department, human rights and think it’s okay to consider the Constitution “just a piece of paper,” then you can spew all you want, but you hate the law.
Because the whole point of the law is that it is blind. (You know, that whole “Justice is blind” thingee? It’s not just a slogan, bucko.) The law pastes everyone equally, and if you don’t like how it applies to you, tough tooties, you still can’t drive 60 MPH in a school zone. If you don’t like a law, you hit the pavement and work to change it –
– and hope and pray that once you’ve changed the law, there’s not a President in office who will ignore it with a “signing statement.”
The Republican Party is no more the “party of law and order” than a kegger is a party of good manners and fine tea.
The next time a Republican struts around, puffing out his chest to make sure you see the plastic flag decal pinned there, and proclaims he’s in the party of law and order, ask whether you can join and if you should bring your toga.
It turns out that Dennis Prager has a video out with him "pontificating wisely" (tm) in front of a fireplace with a personal observation that he tries to make oh-so very clear is not for every man but...well, but for "some," and not just some, but "enough that I can make this point" -- so, despite his insistence, it's clear that this pertains to a lot. A LOT. And it's that "enough" men today are growing beards because "feminism and the Left have crapped on masculinity" and they need to say "hello, I'm not a female."
Interestingly, that is the exact same reason that was given for men having beards in 19th century England! And also in 1250 B.C. Jerusalem.
And Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz in 2019.
And Santa Claus.
And Abraham Lincoln, father of the Republican Party.
Reading or listening to what Dennis Prager has to say is an ethereally mind-numbing experience. Not always. Some of the time. And enough of the time that I can make this point.
Actually, now that I think of it, it's most of the time. I was just being polite before.
And it got me to thinking of an article I wrote about Mr. Prager on the Huffington Post back in 2010. It was the result of an exchange of emails I had with a friend who's a reasonably well-known public figure, very right-wing and a friend of Prager. Initially, when I decided to re-post this here, it was only because I think "enough" of what Dennis Prager writes and says is crushingly empty, made under the seeming guise of sage advice, and I wanted to follow-up on his little video chat with my encore from the past. But as I re-read the article, I realized that in many ways the two pieces are connected, that indeed both of them have a similar theme of Mr. Prager -- a total mis-understanding of historical fact, and insistence that the cause of the world's ills, which tend to be things different from him as seen through his small, myopic view of life, are due "enough" to liberals.
By the way, this is an especially-ludicrous perspective to have, given that conservatism is about protecting what's good about the past, and liberalism is about finding what's good about changing and progressing into the future -- and 10,000 years or so of history have shown that, in fact, life actually changes. A lot.
But then, as I said, not understanding history and the reality of life is so-very Dennis Prager. Well, okay, not understanding some of it. And enough of it to make this point.
June 3, 2010
Dennis Prager: Making the World a Crueler Place, One Word at a Time
A conservative friend has me on his mailing list. He forwards me diatribes from his circle about how the world will end because of liberals, a term loosely defined as "anything that isn't conservative."
These articles have two things in common. One is that they all border on fear, and the other is their relationship to facts is similar to P.T. Barnum's.
What is unfortunate is that my friend - and his circle - accept them all on faith. And the problem of accepting temporal matters on faith is that it doesn't develop the power to think for oneself.
The other day, the latest forwarding was an article by Dennis Prager. It was an essay that, on the surface, appeared to discuss a philosophic argument comparing religion to the evils of the secular world. In reality, it was just bulldozing facts to make a political point.
This below isn't whole article by Mr. Prager. In fairness, I only got through the first four paragraphs. But I include those four, so that what follows would be in context.
* * *
May 25, 2010
The World Is a Cruel Place -- and If America Weakens, It Will Get Crueler
By Dennis Prager
One of the many beliefs -- i.e., non-empirically based doctrines -- of the post-Christian West has been that moral progress is the human norm, especially so with the demise of religion. In a secular world, the self-described enlightened thinking goes, superstition is replaced by reason, and reason leads to the moral good.
Of course, it turned out that the post-Christian West produced considerably more evil than the Christian world had. No mass cruelty in the name of Christianity approximated the vastness of the cruelty unleashed by secular doctrines and regimes in the post-Christian world. The argument against religion that more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other doctrine is false propaganda on behalf of secularism and Leftism.
The amount of evil done by Christians -- against, for example, "heretics" and Jews -- in both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity -- was extensive, as was the failure of most European Christians to see Nazism for the evil that it was. The good news is that Christian evils have been acknowledged and addressed by most Christian leaders and thinkers.
But there were never any Christian Auschwitzes -- i.e., systematic genocides of every man, woman and child of a particular race or religion. Nor were there Christian Gulags -- the shipping of millions of innocents to conditions so horrific that prolonged suffering leading to death was the almost-inevitable end.
This is as far as I got. It was either keep reading or stop before my head exploded. I opted for the latter.
The problem, you see, is that there are a great many things Mr. Prager far too self-comfortably and intentionally overlooks. Like, for example, giving a pass to the Spanish Inquisition and its Auto-de-fe torture. He does this by conveniently (and simplistically) self-defining religious mass murder on his own very-limited terms, as systematically killing "every" person of a religion. Of course, in reality, even Nazism didn't systematically kill "every" Jew by his own definition, any more than Spanish Catholics did in the 356 years of the Inquisition. But what the Inquisition did during those 3-1/2 centuries was pretty darn systematic and massive. Not to mention that it was torture.
And though he eases his conscience by insisting, "Nor were there Christian Gulags...", he again intentionally (because if not intentional, it is ignorantly) overlooks 800 years or more of horrors that cumulatively likely were crushingly worse than any Gulag since they defined nearly a millennium of daily culture.
But mainly, I didn't get that far because Mr. Prager showed an unacceptable lack of history and reality when he wrote, "The argument against religion that more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other doctrine is false propaganda on behalf of secularism and Leftism."
While this statement sounds authoritative, it is of course backed up by…nothing. Not a single word of it is backed up by - anything. It is words strung together.
I actually read history. I have no doubt that Dennis Prager does, as well. But I can't speak to what he reads, or chooses to remember, or include. But honestly, his above is a numbing statement. Last year, I finally finished reading Will and Ariel Durant's brilliant and legendary 11-volume Story of Civilization. Probably around 8,000 pages. Up until about the year 1600, probably the bulk of wars were religious-based, and many wars beyond that, through 1800. National governments were religious for much of history, as kings ruled their nations by divine right, and fought off opposing armies for fear of another king's religious encroachment. The Holy Roman Empire dominated Europe. Muslimism, Hinduism, Buddhism dominated much of the rest of the world. Pure secular rule only came later. Villages of 20,000 people - 30,000 or 50,000 people - would be wiped out without a thought, becoming almost commonplace, century after century for a thousand years or more, from the beginning of history through the early 17th century. (In the early volumes, Durant writes of such ghastly massacres with eloquent horror. Later, as they continued through the centuries, the historian instead wearily addresses them as almost footnotes before moving on to the next.) The continuing Crusades of Christianity against Moslems were almost unendingly devastating to the society it crossed and ravaged. For over 200 years, there were 11 of these Crusades, all of them religiously-approved wars.
But more than that, as Mr. Prager tries to whitewash what was done specifically to Jews throughout history by focusing on Nazis, let me offer a passage from Volume 6 of the Durants' history, "The Reformation." Pages 730-731. An important thing to keep in mind is that this was written in 1957. After World War II. After the Nazis. Written by a renowned historian who made it his life work to study the history of mankind. Durant begins the passage this way --
"The Black Death was a special tragedy for the Jews of Christendom. The same plague had slain Mongols, Moslems and Jews in Asia, where no one thought of blaming the Jews; but in Western Europe a populace maddened by the ravages of pestilence accused the Jews of poisoning the wells in an attempt to wipe out all Christians."
Durant then continues with a lengthy tale of how such "fevered imaginations" swept across all of Europe. "Nevertheless, some Jews were tortured into confessing that they had distributed the poison...Merciless pogroms broke out in France, Spain and Germany. In one town in southern France the entire Jewish community was cast into flames. All Jews in Savoy, all Jews around Lake Leman, all in Bern, Fribourg, Basel, Nuremberg, Brussels were burned."
(If Dennis Prager is looking for "systematic genocides of every man, woman and child of a particular race or religion," that long list of "all" is a good place to start. But I digress...)
And then, after this lengthy passage describing these many dark years, Will Durant concludes by writing -- and I repeat, this was written a decade after World War II by a man who made it his life work to study the entire history of man --
"It would be hard to find, before our time, or in all the records of savagery, any deeds more barbarous than the collective murder of Jews in the Black Death."
So, while Dennis Prager wants to whitewash history for the sake of making a political point -- shame on him.
Shame on him.
And his shame extends further. It's when Prager writes, "The good news is that Christian evils have been acknowledged and addressed by most Christian leaders and thinkers."
"Good news"?? That's the good news?
Yes, to Dennis Prager in his political, high-wire, contortionist act, that's the "good news." It all makes up for the Inquisition and a thousand years of torture and persecution. Good news indeed! "Sorry we tortured you and killed you and wiped out entire villages for hundreds of years. Our bad." Good news? That's great news! Of course, it would have been even better news if all Christian leaders and thinkers acknowledged Christian evils, and not just "most" of them, which could mean only 51 percent... But hey, who am I to quibble?
Mind you, all Dennis Prager says is that most Christian leaders and thinkers merely "acknowledge" these "Christian evils" - not that they are horrified, repulsed and mortified by them, or ever did anything to make up for them. Just that they "acknowledge" their existence. Okay, sorry, "most" do. (However many "most" is.) Given that "it would be hard to find," as Will Durant said, "in all the records of savagery, any deeds more barbarous than the collective murder of Jews in the Black Death," I guess that in Dennis Prager's politically conservative world the best we can get is to accept that as "good news." Swell.
I got no further than these opening paragraphs. To be fair, maybe in the rest of his article Dennis Prager had a complete change of viewpoint. But I didn't have it in me to keep going and see if such a miracle had occurred. Because I was reading empty and dishonest words. All designed to misinterpret history to make a political point.
None of this is to criticize religion or praise secularism. There is room for an honest discussion of that. It is, instead, to note solely that what Dennis Prager wrote is not acceptable.
Actually, what he wrote is pathetic. And I'm sorry my friend and others accepted it as the truth. Because it ignores the reality of history. If a person wants to share the same political beliefs with Dennis Prager or with anyone amongst themselves, that's fine. But one should still be willing to tell those you otherwise agree with that they're wrong when they are very wrong.
"Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters," said Albert Einstein, who knew something about pursuing the truth carefully, "cannot be trusted with important matters."
Dennis Prager says the world is a cruel place. Maybe it just looks that way when you are so careless with the truth.
Several months back, after writing an article about the death of a famous screenwriter (sorry for leaving out the name, but that's part of the twist in the story. Bear with me, we'll get to it...), my friend Dr. Greg Van Buskirk posted a reply online asking me to tell the story tangentially related to that of my odd confrontation online with Alec Baldwin. I'd never told the full thing, and he was curious. I promised I would, but other news stories and interests got in the way. And the spirit didn't move me enough to delve back into it then. But enough time has passed -- since the request and the actual incident -- and it seems like a good respite from writing about Trump, who by comparison makes it all seem incredibly benign.
Also, I was reminded of it to a while back last year when the TV critic for Salon.com, Melanie McFarland, wrote a review in October for the new ABC talk show, The Alec Baldwin Show. What leaped out to me in fond remembrance were several passages she wrote --
Now, Baldwin is a case where we can differentiate between the actor and the person. When other people are putting lines in his mouth, he’s terrific — or at the very least entertaining. He’s not the best Trump impersonator, but by “Saturday Night Live” standards, where he plies his poor impression, he gets the job done.
As you will see, that review resonated with me.
By the way, I want to be clear about something right upfront. If anyone wonders why I am bringing out this tale publicly, please know -- that I'm not. The story is already public. As will be clear from the online links to articles, it has already been told. There's not even the slightest reason to "hide names" because they've already been written about -- by the participants themselves. Nor was anything about it ever secret. I'm just late in fulfilling my promise to retell the tale after that associated news story and am filling in some holes that wouldn't be otherwise clear, mostly from the distance of time.
And we dive in.
The tale had its beginnings 11 years ago during the 2008 Writers Guild Strike. During that time I had a column on the Huffington Post, and as a Guild member on strike I wrote a weekly "primer" of sorts, explaining the strike, what I thought were the important and valid reasons behind it, and the current status of things. Yes, I was biased. But I tried to be honest and as objective as possible. And I also should add, from my absolutely biased perspective, my analysis tended to be proved reasonably-correct in the end. Including coming with in days of predicting months earlier when I thought the strike would end. And why.
Needless-to-say, I wasn't the only person writing about the writers' strike against the AMTPT. There were many, on both sides. As a slight digression, but as background, among them were many entertainment lawyers. And what seemed bizarre is not just that entertainment lawyers all seemed wrong, but SO wrong that it was like they were clueless. One day I mentioned to a member of the WGA's negotiating team that it was my observation that of all the people writing about the strike -- AMPTP negotiators, studio executives, directors, actors, producers, journalists, even fans-on-the-street -- the group of people who were more-consistently wrong about more things with the strike were entertainment lawyers. The negotiating team member, who had read most-everything written about the strike and was intimately involved with the reality, laughed and said, "I think you're right."
Anyway, among those putting in their two-cents about the strike was Alec Baldwin, who in his own pieces on the Huffington Post tried to analyze what was going on, and was very critical of the writers. He would use the Directors Guild as the shining example to emulate, referencing that they had only had to strike once in their history, and that was just for 15 minutes. It should be noted that "not striking" is not always A Good Thing because it can mean capitulating before you get what you want. More to the point, the DGA rarely ever had to strike because they would negotiate weakly, settle, the WGA would fight hard, go on strike, get all these benefits, and then the DGA would come in and say "Wait, we want these, too." Indeed, that very thing happened just prior to the 2008 strike.
Every once in a while, I would write a few HuffPo columns refuting what I believes were errors in Mr. Baldwin's positions, and he would go on making errors. As far as I knew, he wasn't aware of my pieces, although they were all prominently featured on the Huffington Post's Entertainment section front page, so I guess it was possible.
(One of the amusing things about my column-responses were all the reader comments I would receive from worshipful Alec Baldwin fans, blisteringly outraged that I would dare criticize their beloved hero and shred me for it. I tended to skim them and let such things be, but what I really wanted to write back was, "Please know that Alec Baldwin is not going to invite you to his house for dinner, no matter how much you suck up to him.")
Anyway, one day Mr. Baldwin wrote an analysis that I thought was especially wrong-headed and particularly divisive given the then-status of negotiations. And I knew the kind of commentary I wanted to write in response.
Not long before that article, the Screen Actors Guild had graciously joined the WGA in solidarity and organized a day when SAG members were encouraged to join the Writers Guild picket line. A great many did (at my picket line, I recall that Debra Messing and Emily Deschanel were there, which only added to why I was a big fan of them both), and it was extremely generous and the joint-effort got a great deal of attention in the news. It was this that I decided to write a column about of appreciation.
In making clear with this event was so important, I knew it was important to put this unity in perspective. I explained that writers and actors were often natural enemies -- largely based on "I created the characters and they're not doing the lines right" and "I brought the characters to life and therefore they're mine" -- and I included some examples of the antipathy, one of which was an infamous tale of two unnamed actors on a movie set ridiculing a famous, unnamed Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy writer who had written the screenplay, as they shouted out a stream of deprecating remarks (knowing the writer was nearby and could hear), most notably, "Doesn't anyone here know how to write comedy?!!!!." And yet, as I went on to note, despite actors and writers having this lifelong battle, my point was that it was so incredibly magnanimous of the actors to come to the support of the writers during the strike. And which showed the importance of what was being struck for.
You can read that article here.
I intentionally left out the name of the actors and famous comedy writer and even the movie, because I didn't want that to be the point of the honorific. But I also knew that if Alec Baldwin ever read the piece, he would know the story and people involved I was referring to. Not because it was a well-known story in movie circles...but because the actors in question were himself and his then-girlfriend Kim Basinger. And the famous comedy writer was indeed incredibly famous -- Neil Simon. (Again, "Does anyone here know how to write comedy?!!!") The movie was the flop, The Marrying Man. More on that in a moment.
I also wrote the piece the way I did for another reason. I didn't want to slam Alec Baldwin publicly, but since I knew he would of course know all the details, if he ever did read the column I wanted him to know very clearly that in our HuffPo disagreements on the strike I wasn't some little ignorant sap to be lectured to, but knew exactly what I was talking about. (Indeed, as I noted above, I had friends on the negotiating committee, as well as on the WGA board, and actually did know what I was talking about. Rather an being an outsider pontificating. I may have been biased, but I was biased based on facts.)
It turned out that Mr. Baldwin saw the column. I know this because his next article was titled, "Quips are Killing Me" -- and the opening two lines of it were, "That Robert Elisberg keeps putting out funnier and funnier stuff. His 'quips; are killing me." So, that was the first hint that he had read it. He went on to make a number of criticisms about what I had written that I didn't think were remotely supported by reality, but personal opinion aside that's not what most caught my attention. That's because the most bizarre and silly thing was -- for reasons unknown to man, he decided to out himself!!! Inexplicably, he repeated the Marrying Man story, took credit, defended it, and insisted that it was ludicrous of me to suggest that even the great Neil Simon couldn't ever dare be criticized. (Fun fact: That was something which doesn't remotely exist in my article. More on that in a moment, too...)
And yes, for those interested in if this is true, you can read his Quip article here, in all its self-aggrandizing glory.
Again, to reiterate, this story is already public. I have told absolutely nothing new here about the articles, nor remotely secret. The links are to articles long-since printed.
Back to the tale. As you can imagine, I was utterly flabbergasted that he chose to reveal his own participation in the event, especially after I had taken great pains to hide it all. The best I can figure is that some actors really do just want to see their name in print, even if it makes them look like churlish. Just make sure you spell my name right.
Most everything he wrote was so off that it was the world's easiest set-up to correct, like a grade school t-ball sitting on its perch just waiting to be aimed, leveled, and then knocked out of the park. I SO much wanted to take it apart, line by line -- my typing fingers were aching -- but -- but -- I also knew that if I did, he'd reply. And then I'd reply. And he, and me and he and...and...and what I remembered was one of my favorite expressions from my good friend Nell Minow -- "Sometimes you have to be the adult in the room."
And so I chose to be the adult in the room, and let it slide. And let all the reader comments from adoring Alec Baldwin acolytes sit un-replied to. Instead, I moved on and for my next column about the WGA strike I covered it from another angle entirely.
And so 11 years have passed. I think the statute of limitations have run out. Even still, as before, I have no intention of dissecting his original article line-by-line. I do admit there were a few things in it so egregiously wrong that to this day I've remembered then with wearily-shaking head. And since it's no longer part of a "back-and-forth," with miniscule chance of it becoming one, I do think it's time to correct at least one aspect of the incredibly foolish record, especially since Neil Simon passed away last year at the age of 91. As one writer to another (albeit that other typing on a higher plane), I feel it's his due. And by the way, it was Neil Simon's passing that prompted my friend asking me to retell this tale.
In all Alec Baldwin's criticism and blame of Neil Simon for The Marrying Man, nowhere did Mr. Baldwin make note of some of the most obvious realities. As much as he wanted to blame the script and did so repeatedly and at length -- he and Ms. Basinger had read the script and clearly liked it enough to sign a contract, get paid, and star in the movie of it.
Also, while the movie did flop, and likely the script did need additional work, Neil Simon was renowned throughout his acclaimed career for rewriting and rewriting and rewriting his material until he got it right. And as the culture knows, Neil Simon got it incredibly right A Whole Lot. (When I went to UCLA grad school, Neil Simon received an lifetime achievement award and gave a speech after. I recall him talking about The Odd Couple, one of the great, and most successful comedies in the American theater, and how he still sees things in it he wishes he could fix. The audience burst into disbelieving laughter.) But as much as Neil Simon loved to rewrite and get everything as correct as he could, after being slammed on the set by the movie's two stars, he didn't need the aggravation, left the set and didn't do anymore work on it, letting the screenplay exist as it was. And being a Neil Simon project, no one else could work on the script either. So, the outburst didn't fix anything, it only served to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And nail the coffin lid closed.
It should noted, as well, that in all the blame he heaped on Neil Simon for the film's failure, nowhere did Mr. Baldwin suggest that just maybe, possibly, the actors didn't give performances that were totally strong and could have at least perhaps been one conceivable reason the film fell flat.
And in the end, as I said above, nowhere in my article did I suggest that Neil Simon -- or any writer -- can't be criticized. Indeed, the favorite sport of Hollywood has long been to criticize writers. Or "Schmucks with Underwoods," as studio mogul Louis B. Mayer called screenwriters and their typewriters. "I have some notes..." is a phrase all screenwriters likely consider having chiseled on their gravestones. The thing is, as we all know -- and by "all" I include all mature adults around the world whatever their profession and even many immature children -- there are good ways of criticizing and inane ways. With a screenplay, a good way is sitting down with the writer and telling them what you don't think is working and why. A very bad way is to yell out insults to the entire cast and crew about the most successful comedy playwright in the history of the theater, knowing that he can hear you, and topping that by shouting out, "Doesn't anybody here know how to write comedy?!!!!"
I think that over time Alec Baldwin has developed into a very good character actor. He was an absolute joy on the TV series, 30 Rock. Tina Fey and her writing staff gave him brilliant material, and nailed it most every time.
Hey, y'know, we all have flaws. Some people just have more of them public than others. And in the end, I've left out some of the tale because as interesting as some tangents may be, they're still just tangents. And also because, speaking personally, one of my own many flaws is that I often type for far too long. But rest assured I'm almost done here... And finishing, I'm quite certain that Mr. Baldwin couldn't care one single whit for what I think about this, or anything -- and far more likely doesn't have even the most-tenuous clue who I am. Which is fine in the Grand Scheme of things.
And if he did have a clue, I'm pretty certain he'd think I was just a few steps below a slug. Which is fine, as well, to each their own. Me, I'm glad that I have people like Greg Van Buskirk in my life. If ever I need a chemist to develop a formula for a new detergent, or take apart my motorcycle (if I had one), I know he'll be there for me.
And so, for those who don't remember it from the first time around, that's the tale my friend asked about...
As we've seen over the past few weeks especially, the Republican Party has continued its war against women and abortion, doing their best to make it impossible to get access to despite being legal, the law of the land. Missouri is the latest conservative state, ratcheting up the hurdles until there is now only one clinic in the entire state that qualifies to perform abortions, and that one is at serious risk of having to close. And as Rachel Maddow reported last night, the state has recently taken even further steps to make it harder for women to get an abortion there.
That has been the playbook for conservatives over the past few years. Though abortions are legal, create state laws that make it almost impossible for abortion clinics to operate, for doctors to be licensed to give abortions, for women to unnecessary, insulting, hurtful step to get abortions.
This all reminded me of an article I wrote six years ago for the Huffington Post on another matter entirely -- gun control. It was written largely tongue-in-cheek, though mostly in its exaggeration. As time as passed since then, and as Republicans have been shameless (and I don't mean merely nasty, but in full meaning -- without even a sense of shame) to create the most-insurmountable roadblocks for something legal, I keep thinking of my article and that I'm even less tongue-in-cheek than I was before.
Here is that article, from March 13, 2013.
The Good Thing We Can Learn from Anti-Abortion States
I was watching the news the other day, seeing several more stories about how states are continuing to get around the legality of abortion. Though abortion is legal, the states are writing laws to make the availability of abortion near impossible. These could be from zoning laws, or code requirements and medical licensing. As a result, if the ability to have an abortion isn't available to a woman, it doesn't matter how legal it is. You can't get an abortion.
I can only imagine how wrenching this is to women who want to exercise their legal right to have an abortion. Especially if it's for health reasons. But any reason.
After I finished ungnashing my teeth, however, I realized that there's a lesson that can be learned here - not about abortions, but another issue that's just as divisive. And using those lessons, it would be possible to start making a dent in a problem that the vast majority of Americans are now saying they want addressed.
For the sake of argument, let's say that the most rabid gun advocates and the radical fringe group, the NRA, are right, that the Second Amendment is inviolate and that every American has the right to buy whatever gun they want, no matter how many rounds of ammunition the weapon can fire in 10 seconds.
Using the logic and tactics of the anti-abortion activists, however, there is nothing to say that states - or even local communities - can't take that legal right and make it as unavailable as possible.
Some suggestions to start with.
Anyone who wants to sell a gun can only do so in a standalone store that has a business license permitting operation.
Any gun store must also have a separate license to sell guns.
Any license to sell guns is good for only one, specific type of gun.
Any license to sell a specific type of gun is good for only one manufacturer.
A gun store must meet certain zoning and code requirements:
No gun store can be within 1,000 feet of a liquor store, tavern or any establishment that sells tobacco.
No gun store can be within a mile of any school or place of worship.
A gun store shall be licensed to sell guns only. No other merchandise may be sold, including tobacco, alcohol, soft drinks, chewing gum or beef jerky.
A gun store must have at least one bathroom for every employee.
No gun store may operate any electronic food devices, including but not limited to a refrigerator, coffee pot, hot plate and microwave.
A gun store is required to have air conditioning, sound-proofed ceilings, locked cases in which all guns are kept, and be wheelchair accessible.
Only one gun may be removed from a locked case at a time.
Ammunition cannot be sold in a gun store, but must be sold in an ammunition shop only.
An ammunition shop shall be licensed to sell ammunition only, and no other products.
Every box of bullets must be individually licensed.
An ammunition shop cannot be within 1,000 feet of a gun store.
An ammunition shop cannot be within 2,000 feet of a liquor store, tavern or any establishment that sells tobacco.
No gun store can be without five miles of any school or house of worship.
The owner of a gun store or ammunition shop must pass an official test to be personally licensed.
A gun or ammunition store owner license is good for one year only.
The owner of a gun store or ammunition shop is required yearly to take a two-week gun safety course.
The gun safety course must be retaken every year.
A two-day refresher course for gun safety must be taken quarterly for gun store owners.
Any employee of a gun store or ammunition shop must be licensed yearly and take a four-day gun safety course every year.
Any owner or employee of a gun store must have a high school diploma from the state in which he or she works.
No owner or employee of a gun store or ammunition shop may have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or more than two traffic violations in any calendar year.
Any alcohol-related conviction prohibits someone from selling guns or ammunition for a probationary period of three years.
An owner or employee of a gun store must pass a target score at a licensed gun range each quarter with every gun model the store sells. Failure to pass a minimum score for any gun invalidates all other scores and that employee may not sell guns.
Neither guns nor ammunition may be sold on the Sabbath.
Before selling a gun, the salesperson must get an MRI brain scan and consult with a psychologist to ensure that they understand the full ramifications of their actions.
All owners of a gun store or ammunition shop must offer Affordable Health Care to all its employees.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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