You Can Call Me Al
Over in another venue, I was explaining a bit why I often write the way I do, and it brought up a story that I don't think I've told here, and figured it was worth repeating.
The background is that I was politely challenged for bringing up the thoughtless, inappropriate political argument of "the other side." That even though I refuted the argument, the person didn't think I should have even have brought it up, though knowing I was trying to be fair.
What I said is that it's how I've written probably most of my political articles for years (and some others). For years, I've had people tell me, "You're wasting your time, you'll never convince them" -- and my response is always that I'm not trying to. I'm not writing to the other side, nor am I writing for my own side. Rather, I'm trying to convince the people in the middle who are reading the piece and don't know yet, who are undecided and might be convinced by the other argument. So, I bring up the other side's argument, and then do what I can to knock it down. That then opens the field wide for me to make my point as unimpeded as possible.
All of which brought up one of the most hellish experiences I've had is because of writing like this. It's a very LONG story (and good because of the details), but that's best in the in-person telling, rather the reading, so I'll keep as short as possible.
Almost 11 years ago to the day (May 4, 2006), I wrote an article on the Huffington Post praising Al Gore -- An Inconvenient Truth had just been released, and I wrote about it, and about how Gore would still make a great president if he ever wanted to run again, which he'd said repeatedly that he didn't. But though it was an article of high praise, it began it with all the slams about him -- how he invented the Internet, how he was dull and wooden, how he was a political loser -- which I then explained in specifics why none of them were remotely true. And with those three criticisms out of the way, I spent the second half of the article explaining how terrific he was. Jump forward a couple years --
I was in a hotel room, being interviewed by Al Gore about being the writer of a proposed, syndicated daily radio series he'd do with Westwood One Radio (the company that among many other things syndicates NFL football). I brought along samples of my work...including that piece about how good he was, and that he would be a terrific president if he ever decided to run . He asked to see what I'd brought, which he said he'd read later. I handed them over...but for whatever satanic reason, that article about him ended up on top. And so when he saw it, he decided to read it right then and there, in front of me. While I sat there waiting. An article that goes on for a page-and-a-half bringing up all his supposed flaws -- that he lies, is wooden and is a loser (before knocking them down and then praising him).
All I could do was sit there, in hell, as he read. Knowing that, among many other things, I was going to reference the then-famous, hyperbolic insults lashed out against him by the conservative press after he had delivered a scathing speech about George W. Bush -- among them a quote from New York Post columnist John Podhoretz who wrote, "Gore’s speech is the single craziest political performance of my lifetime." And then suddenly, as I was looking everywhere around the room except where he sat, I heard Gore read out loud in a knowing voice of remembrance, "'...the single craziest political performance of my lifetime,' HA!!!" and I knew I'd likely be okay. And then he finally finished, and silently read the last line of the article which summed up his career, his current activities, and the impact of his new galvanizing movie, and ended with, "And that's the point. Whether or not Al Gore runs for President again; in fact, whether or not he should, make no mistake: there is substance here. And passion. And outspokenness. And now he’s got an 80-foot high soapbox." And having finished, he put the paper down, looked up at me and said, "Thank you."
There's much more to the story. Including that a 15-minute interview turned into 45 minutes. But the short ending is that I got the job. And we recorded half a dozen shows. And we got 200 radio stations to sign up. And raised a lot of money. But -- it wasn't enough for the syndicator Westwood One and Al, who both wanted to bigger landscape to make it worth their time, and so alas it all fell through. And I regularly sing, "This Nearly Was Mine"...
And that's what I mean when I say it's how I often write. I think it's a good way. But at times if you're not careful, it can be a living hell. Until you come through on the other side alive...
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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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