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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Legitimate Rape, Sex, or Love?

I thought it was on page one of the “how to be a politician” handbook: talk about rape as little as possible. If you’re forced to talk about rape, actually say as little as possible. How could Todd Akin, with his comment about “legitimate rape” not have learned this lesson from Clayton Williams? Williams was running for Texas governor back in 1990 when he sort of quoted Bobby Knight and compared the weather on his ranch to rape. “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

Williams was called out for this statement, and his apology did little to appease people. He explained that he said this on his ranch, which isn’t some Republican women’s club, but a working cow ranch, where you can get your testicles kicked in if you’re not careful. But it wasn’t a serious statement so he wasn’t going to give it a serious response.

Well, the people of Texas gave him their own serious response, and elected Ann Richards as governor. At least Akin knows enough to issue a sincere apology, but it’s not enough for many Republicans, who have been begging him to drop from the race all week.

Why? It’s not because Romney and Akin have differing views on rape and abortion, but because Ryan and Akin don’t.

I’ve read more than once that Ryan is known for his fiscal conservatism and not so much for his social views. But I believe that’s merely the story that the GOP is trying to sell. According to Nate Silver of, Ryan has the highest conservative rating of any VP running mate in the last 100 years. This is from an analysis by the statistical system DW Nominate, and it can only assess running mates with a congressional voting record (not governors). But it ranks Ryan as being more conservative than both Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle, and as being pretty much in line philosophically with Michele Bachmann. Or Todd Akin.

Bloomberg has reported that Akin and Ryan have co-sponsored 38 anti-abortion measures during their time together in Congress, and some of those measures provide no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother. In addition, the language in their bills – “forcible rape” – is seeking to redefine what rape is. Meanwhile, the GOP platform committee in Tampa passed language this week that officially opposes abortion in all situations, including rape, incest, and the health of the mother.

So I reject the claim that the Democrats are trying to hype this issue to distract people from the economy. I also reject the idea that this is a non-issue. It’s a very real issue, and Akin’s comment wouldn’t be getting so much press if it wasn’t indicative of something much bigger.

Political gaffes only gain traction if they present an up-close view of an already messed up picture. It’s not that different from infidelity. They say cheating only happens if the relationship in question is already suffering problems. That certainly seems to be the case with Jack.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were having an affair?” I demanded. We were talking on the phone, and I needed answers.

“I wasn’t ready to tell you. It’s not like it sounds, you know.”

“How do you think it sounds?”

He sighed. “Like I was cheating on my devoted wife and the mother of my child with a twenty-five-year-old waitress.”

“Isn’t that what happened?”

He didn’t answer right away. I was sitting in my office, and I clicked a pen open and shut, open and shut, waiting for him to reply. “Petra stopped being in love with me a long time ago.” He confessed. “And we had sex maybe twice a year.”

I swallowed hard. Wow. Twice a year?

He continued. “I wanted us to be different, more affectionate, and I tried to talk to her about it, but I never got anywhere…then Jessie started working at the restaurant, and we hit if off, and it just sort of happened.”

I put down the pen and chose my words carefully. “I’m not judging you. I’m just worried. Now that you’ve gotten caught in an affair, won’t Petra have more wiggle room, legally, to get what she wants?

“That’s what Monty thinks. I’m sure he told you…”

Jack’s voice trailed off but I could feel his angst over the phone line. So I didn’t say that he should have known better, or that he could have looked at past mistakes, ones that other people have made, and figured out how to do the right thing.

There’s more to any issue than a single gaffe, and there’s more to any statement than a few wrong words. “What are you going to do now?” I asked.

“Try and be happy,” he said. “And I’m not going to give up.”


Friday, August 17, 2012

Joe Biden, Villains, and Lies

Joe Biden made a legendary gaffe this week, telling people that Romney, if elected, was going to “put y’all back in chains.”

Of course it was a stupid thing to say, but peoples’ reactions to it are even stupider. Withdraw from the ticket? Come on. Politicians have said many, many things that were far less innocuous and have lived to tell the tale. But not all of them do.

“Villain, you lie!”

 This declaration was made famous by Horace Greeley, who ran for president in 1872 against Ulysses Grant. Greeley was an unfortunate candidate and an unusual guy. He was a fat, bald vegetarian who believed in utopian communes. He always wore a coat and a white hat, even when it was hot out. Well, he lost badly to Grant and he didn’t take defeat well. Before the electoral ballots were even counted, he was admitted into an insane asylum for hallucinations, and died shortly after.

I mention him now for two reasons. 1.) He ran for president at a time when the threat of “putting y’all back in chains” really WOULD have meant slavery. 2.) I like his phrase of “Villain, you lie!” I wish candidates would say that to each other now. Instead, they whine and sort of call each other villainous liars, but never directly and never to each other, and only when the press is around to hear.

Now we have men who claim false indignation whenever they think it will suit them best. I’m not condoning Biden’s remark; it was the opposite of smooth and appropriate. But come on. Romney didn’t even try to win voters at his NAACP speech last spring. Some say he was being matter-of-fact, refusing to pander, and hey, unlike Obama, at least he showed up. But I say that to stand there and claim that he’ll help poor, unemployed black people by promoting family values and traditional marriage is akin to some guy telling me he’ll support women’s rights by making Viagra accessible to everyone. Insulting. To that I’d say, “Villain, you lie!”

But what do I know? I’m neither poor, unemployed, nor black, and I don’t claim to understand the plight of those who are, any better than Romney actually does. And with the advent of truthiness, I’m not sure I even know what a lie is anymore, or for that matter, a villain.

Case in point: I had been nagging Monty all week to call Jack about the divorce. After playing phone tag for several days they finally talked last night, for over an hour. I was reading in bed when Monty straggled in, past our usual bedtime.

“So,” I said, “how did it go?” Monty didn’t answer, instead he sighed and collapsed onto the bed, landing face down, his head in the pillows. “That bad?”

He raised his head to speak. “Worse.”


He rolled over, lying on his back and looking up at me. “Jack didn’t tell you the whole story. He left out a pretty important detail.’

I nudged him with my foot. “Okay. What?”

Petra’s leaving Jack because she caught him cheating on her with a waitress fromthe restaurant.” Monty paused to emphasize the shock value of his statement. I could feel my mouth hanging open. “Her name is Jessie. She’s sixteen years younger than Jack is, and he told me he’s in love with her.”

            I knitted my eyebrows together and bit my lip, trying to keep my face neutral while I digested this information. But my attempt to do so didn’t work.

            “You’re trying not to laugh, aren’t you?” he asked.

            “Yes!” I said, and laughter escaped as I spoke. “And I don’t know why. It’s really not funny.”

            Monty laughed too. “It’s sort of funny. I didn’t know Jack had it in him. But it was idiotic. Now Petra wants to take him for everything he has. Meanwhile, this twenty-five-year-old waitress has him wrapped around her finger. He can’t win.”

            “Did you tell him that?”

            “No. But I told him he was stupid not to leave Petra first.”

            I shook my head. “You didn’t.”

            “Lucy, you wanted me to call him, and you knew I’d be honest.”

            “So?” I demanded.

            “So,” he said, poking my leg gently with his finger, “don’t act angry or surprised.”

            With that he yawned, got up and went to go brush his teeth, leaving me with a ton of questions. Why didn’t Jack confess his indiscretions to me? We’ve been friends for so long, how could he imagine that I’d judge him? Even if technically, in this situation, he’s the villain and the liar, how could he not know that I’d still be on his side? But then – and this was the most pressing question of all – how could he do that to Petra, the wife to whom he had vowed his enduring love and fidelity?

            Chances are I won’t get answers. I can’t pledge my support and question Jack’s actions at the same time. And false indignation over a situation I don’t fully understand would make me a hypocrite. But I’ll also skip the blatant honesty. Saying “Villain, you lie!” was one of the many things Greeley was mocked for, so I suppose you could conclude that this phrase, while catchy, drove him to his death.

            I really don’t want that to happen to me.


November Surprise, a novel featuring Lucy and the past six presidential campaigns, got a glowing review from To read it, click here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan and the Heartbreak of Divorce

The news wires have been abuzz the last few days with talk of Paul Ryan, and Friday night some commentator on CNN was adamant that he was never “going to happen.” Saturday morning: Pow! Ryan is Romney’s VP choice.

 Whenever a VP candidate is named, people start making comparisons to past candidates. I’m going to go out on a limb and compare him to Frank Knox, the 1936 VP candidate under Alf Landon. This was in a race against FDR while our country was at the height of the Great Depression. Like Obama, FDR was popular even if his policies weren’t. The wealthiest part of the electorate hated the New Deal, and despite the fact that the stock market was rising while taxes weren’t, they called him “Franklin Deficit Roosevelt” and said that his desire to help the poor would end civilization as we know it.

FDR’s biggest adversary was William Randolph Hearst, who published stories saying that the New Deal was akin to communism, and reelecting the president would be letting the Soviets run the government. So obviously playing on peoples’ xenophobia and jingoism is nothing new, and it always makes me laugh when pundits declare that “this year is the most negative campaign ever.”

So what about Alf Landon and Frank Knox? Alf Landon was fairly mild and never able to inspire his base. Sound familiar?  Frank Knox was a tougher opponent to Roosevelt than Landon was. At one point Knox was a manager of all 27 of Hearst’s newspapers. He vehemently criticized the New Deal in his editorials, even called them “alien and un-American”.

Now Republicans are hoping Ryan will inspire their base and come out swinging against Obama. He’s off to a good start; over the last few months he’s used terms like class warfare, diminished future, attacking entrepreneurs, and bitter and partisan. Ryan is more charismatic than Romney, just as Knox was more charismatic than Landon was.

Of course, we all know how the 1936 election turned out. Roosevelt carried nearly every state and walked away with around 60% of the vote. I’m not suggesting a similar scenario will occur in 2012, but a girl can dream.

Because as Blondie once said, dreaming is free, and if Republicans get their way nothing else in this country will be. But there are some things even I can’t blame Republicans for, and one of them is the poor rate of return on dreaming. I’m not complaining about my own life; I realize how lucky I am. But the other day my best friend/brother-in-law Jack called me with some heart-breaking news.

 Petra and I are getting a divorce,” he told me. Jack and Petra have been married for over sixteen years. They met in college, and Jack has never been in love with anyone but her.

 I held my breath for a moment, afraid I would respond in the wrong way. It wasn’t a surprise; Jack and Petra have argued for years and I can’t remember the last time they seemed happy. But like the Ryan announcement, it’s still shocking in that I didn’t really think that Jack and divorce was ever going to happen.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

 “I’m great!” he said, enthusiasm dripping out of voice and through the phone lines. He almost sounded sincere. “It’s a relief, really. Now we can decide what to do next, for Mikey and with the restaurant, and move on with our lives. It’s a good thing, honestly.”

Petra and Jack have a son, Mikey, who is seven years old, and they own a restaurant together. But it’s Jack's restaurant, really. He runs it and built it from the ground up.

“You should talk to Monty,” I said. “Having a lawyer for a brother will actually come in handy.”

“He doesn’t know anything about divorce law.” Jack replied.

 “But he could advise you…”

 “I’m not ready to talk about the legal stuff yet. I need to process it all first, okay?”

I agreed, but I know the conversation between Jack and Monty will be all about the legal stuff. Monty will come out swinging for Jack, ready to defend his little brother and protect his interests. That’s what lawyers, older brothers, and vice presidential candidates have in common; they’re there  to do the dirty work. I just hope that in Jack’s case, it won’t be necessary.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Do Mitt Romney and Harry Reid Tell Their Wives Everything?

It’s been an interesting week. We’ve actually spent more time watching the Olympics than the news. Seeing sweet Missy Franklin push and succeed is way more interesting than all the devious presidential politics that are the norm rather than the exception.

            But one story hasn’t escaped my notice. Harry Reid saying that “a source” told him that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for ten years was hard to miss. While I don’t exactly condone Reid’s actions, I’m not up-in-arms about it either. I don’t think it’s the parallel to the birthers demanding Obama’s birth certificate, like Jon Stewart and Frank Bruni suggested. Obama provided his birth certificate, even though the whole situation was completely ludicrous. Romney continues to be evasive about his taxes. Why can’t he just release his tax returns? Probably because to do so would be more harmful to him than to not, and that speaks.

            When you’re running for president you have to be ready for full disclosure about every detail of your life. It’s not unlike being married. The act of keeping a secret becomes worse than the secret itself. That said, I’ve forgiven Monty for not telling me about travelling with Brook (full name Brooklyn) because another essential element of marriage is letting go of a grudge.

            “We don’t get that many chances to talk,” he said to me. “If it had occurred to me tell you about her, I would have. But she and I went to mostly separate meetings, and it’s not like we were hanging out in the evenings or anything. Why can’t you let this go?”

            So I decided I could let it go, and it was a lot more fun to kiss and make up than to continue being mad. Besides, I do trust my husband, and I expect that any secrets he may be keeping from me are fairly benign. We all keep secrets, but when is it necessary to accuse others of doing so?

            Harry Reid’s accusations picked up a lot of steam. Will there be truth underneath the spectacle?