‘Giant of the Senate’ Infuses Hope, Humor Into Our Collective Political Nightmare

Al Franken, author of Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, is currently serving his second term as U.S. Senator from Minnesota. He is a multi-talented man who entered politics in 2008 after more than 30 years as a satirical writer and comedian.

This is his seventh book.

In Giant, Franken does the impossible — he turns our current political mess into an enjoyable story — one that even offers some glimmers of hope. This is especially true in the way he ends the book — written after Trump’s inauguration and Trump’s slew of race-baiting and immigrant-hating comments. Franken tells the story of some of the Somali refugees that reside in Minnesota — showing how they easily assimilated into the various communities, bringing with them a strong desire to thrive.

But, before the Somali stories of hope (and others sprinkled throughout the book), Franken offers a very realistic view of what its like to be a U.S. Senator. He details his recount in 2008, the money-grubbing members of Congress do to remain in office, and the various tactics he used on the campaign trail to throw off the GOP tracker.

The book, though, also shows the difficulty legislators face if they truly want to do their job and legislate. One telling example was his desire, after meeting with a vet suffering from PTSD, to get more service dogs paired with veterans. Franken, after researching the concept (or as he will readily admit, reading the research provided by his staff) sponsors a bill to fund broader research. Although the bill was passed relatively quickly in his political career, the research is just now being conducted because of all the various agencies involved and some false starts when the project launched.

All Those Liars

Franken, who made a name for himself before entering politics by taking on GOP politicians, writing books making fun of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and George W. Bush, had to put his humor on hold when he entered the Senate. And, his approach in politics, for the most part, is considerably different than his comedy. It’s more workhorse and less showboat. But, that does not mean he shies away from calling out the worst of the political bunch — like Ted Cruz and other members of the Tea Party.

He reserves some very good one-liners for them.

Big Ideas

Franken, a very well read Harvard graduate, is a deep thinker and strategist. Although Giant is an easy read, Franken does explain, in depth, some of the complicated programs — like the Affordable Care Act — with enough detail that a lay person can understand the logic of the legislation.

But one of the concepts that resonated with me was not Franken’s — but rather a writer he quotes, Jonathon Rauch.

Writing about our current political mess, Rauch states that many Americans just do not get politics and, in an effort to understand it, lump all politicians into the same class — presuming that the fault in Washington is spread out evenly between parties. Rauch calls these people ‘politiphobes.’ And, Franken, quoting Rauch writes,

They see the contentious give-and-take of politics as distasteful. Specifically they believe that obvious, commonsense solutions to the country’s problems are out there for the plucking. The reason these obvious solutions are not enacted is that politicians are corrupt, or self-interested or addicted to unnecessary partisan feuding.

But as Franken explains, folks did not come to this position without assistance — and he is more than willing to explain who created the perception.

Rated: 5 out of 5. This is a very readable — and fun to read — book. It could serve as an entry-level book to those wanting to better understand our political system.

Categories: Books I have read, Politics

Posting, Sharing Facebook Memes Not Solving Any Problems

Trump, the man who gave up his billionaire lifestyle to be humiliated and ridiculed and slandered in order to save the American people — post on Preble County’s Republican Facebook page.

Last fall my wife and I took up a new hobby — hiking and camping. We began this new chapter in our life in Hocking Hills, Ohio and have, in the past nine months or so, hiked several of Ohio’s state parks as well as along the Niagara River in New York.

Versa and I checking out an Ohio hiking trail.

As an introvert, hiking is a natural fit and I would describe a perfect day as one that includes a 10-15 mile hike with my dog, watching her chase wildlife, and seeing the sheer joy the simplest of moments bring my faithful sidekick.

It’s relaxing.

But, the unintended byproduct of hiking is my exposure to the reality that there is no ‘Ohio miracle.’ This is true along much of Ohio’s southwestern portion where I live and to the east where I hike.

Small Towns, Small Dreams

As I drive through these small Ohio towns heading to my hiking destinations many look like mine — with their gutted downtown regions filled with a handful of establishments that cater to the impoverished — tattoo parlors, vape shops, dollar stores, satellite churches — and empty storefronts.

I assess these towns and mine by looking at four things: the library, the post office, amenities and billboards. In impoverished regions libraries and post offices are neglected, amenities are rare or non-existent and the public service announcements reveal the town’s problems. (Recent PSA signs in Preble County show we’re trying to convince people not to smoke if pregnant.)

Billboards also tell a community’s religious flavor. Those traveling south through Preble County on U.S. 127 will be reminded to ‘repent’ if they want to be saved — and to ‘Stand with Israel.’

Who’s Minding The Store?

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

I also glance at the political social media page in the counties I visit to see if the public interacts with its political leaders. When I visit the Preble County Republican Facebook page, I notice less than 500 people follow it. We are a county of 40,000 residents with about 11,000 registered Republicans.

Social media memes also indicate local ideology. On the Preble County page I learn that — despite our small-government mentality — we need a political savior.

I Need A Hero

I read the local newspaper, occasionally listen to the audio of the Board of Commissioners meetings, comb through police reports, but this year I intentionally sought out a different audience to better understand my community. I took a job that put me shoulder-to-shoulder with community members who, for a variety of reasons, are ‘down on their luck.’

As I interact with this broader base of citizens, I’m seeking answers for our collective demise trying to comprehend our entrenched poverty. It’s an economic decline that coincidentally followed my lifespan since my father moved the family here during Preble’s financial peak.

As I observe and research, I also ask questions.

I want to know, for example, how a county that had $1.9 million dollars in new construction in 1969 ($12.6 million in today’s dollars) has become an entity where the ‘construction fee’ was recently increased (by a 2-1 vote) in a effort to offset a line item deficit. Based on the dissenting opinion, the change may be ineffective — and one of the reasons given for the increase — rising gas prices seems incorrect since gas is cheaper today than in 2006, the last time the fee was increased.

Most importantly, though, it’s a decision that may stall our (slowly) returning construction industry.

How did we go from ‘boom to bust’ in a generation or two?

A Disappointing Approach To Problem Solving, Humor

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

I never intended to be interested in politics. I prefer hiking, it’s more serene.  But as an accidental political news junkie I now believe, much more strongly than before, in a bi-partisan approach to running the country or a county. Based on news clipping, the bipartisan era left Preble County during the Reagan years. From the 1980s on most of our county offices have been filled by GOP candidates who ran unopposed.

This lack of an opposing viewpoint moved us further to the Right.

In the past three decades the local GOP’s shift can be seen in how we treat our children. In the 1970s members of the Board of Commissioners raved about the new orphanage, colloquially known as the Children’s Home, as one of their greatest achievements.

About 30 years later, by a 2-1 vote, the board voted to shutter it under a rallying cry of fiscal responsibility and an overreliance on verbiage (‘there’s no orphans in the orphanage’) costing us 11 local jobs.

Today some board members can be heard during public meetings adding up the dollar amount the county spends to place our children in agencies outside the county.

We aren’t cheering anymore — apparently the kids are costing us $500,000 annually.

The Truth Will Set You Free

I have thick skin, and I’m okay with opposing viewpoints, but when I look at the local GOP Facebook page, the posts intrigue me. Some show a lack of political literacy. For example, the quote from Teddy Roosevelt, is pulled out of its historical context, naively suggesting that today’s terms of liberal and conservative have the same meaning as they did a century ago.

Although Roosevelt was a Republican, his views more closely aligned with today’s Democrat party — he ‘took on’ business and believed that government action was required to keep the economic playing field level. He also ran as an independent for the Progressive Party (taking a literal bullet on the campaign trail) and his political position was center-left. Roosevelt’s Progressive Party called for the ‘direct election of United States Senators by the people’ something Trump wants reversed.

Since Roosevelt is more closely aligned to liberalism in today’s definition of the term, it is also possible to interpret his words (like most quotes) deeper than the surface level (i.e. saying the truth — what is ‘really happening’ in a society — will anger a liberal because they will perceive it as unjust.)

When I came across the ‘cry baby’ graphic, the first thing I noticed, because of my copy-editor background, is the misspelling of protesters. Although, I would presume the image was design to ‘irritate a liberal’ — in light of the recent level of resistance to the ACA repeal the joke doesn’t work. Besides, dissension is a foundational requirement of a representative republic (just read some Thomas Jefferson). More importantly, when we, as a nation or community, get to the point that all must act, think and believe the same — we’ve lost what makes us unique and strong — our diversity.

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

But my real complaint with the post is — it’s a really poor attempt at humor. Humor is a skill best left to comedians.

Here’s a much stronger, and better approach.

As anyone who follows politics knows Chris Christie has been dealing with backlash over his decision to shutter the state parks — especially after he was photographed on one of the beaches sans citizens. At a recent MLB game, as he tried to eat his nachos, Christie was harassed. Angered by the jeering, Christie got in the face of a Cubs fan and ‘let him have it.’

After viewing the video clip of the exchange, comedian John Fugelsang Tweeted,

And don’t ever again question Chris Christie’s humanity after seeing him cradle those nachos like a mother primate cradling its young.

Now, I don’t care who you are — or what your political angle is — that’s funny.

Spoiler Alert: Trump Won’t Save Us

Screenshot from Preble County GOP Facebook page.

Despite what my Congressman Warren Davidson Tweeted earlier this year — that all liberals want to do is add another program — as a liberal, I don’t want that. I want an effective, efficient government. I want leaders at the local, state and national level to solve problems, not engage in political warfare. I want a president that leads instead of one who Tweets and campaigns.

I want this because of what I see in Preble County. Here are three recent examples:

  • When I drove to work the other day, as I was stopped at a stop sign, an elderly man stooped over pick up a hypodermic needle, shaking his head in disgust. As a human, politics withstanding, I want the heroin problem here treated as the mental health crisis it is. I want us to mimic Miami County. When a OD victim is rescued there, within 24-48 the responding police officer, paramedic and mental health professional reach out to the addict to help them find treatment. In Eaton, we reserve the right to charge the OD victim with disorderly conduct.
  • A man I recently spoke with who has worked at one of Eaton’s ‘better jobs’ for several decades admitted that they struggle to fill job openings because ‘Johnny can’t pass a drug test.’ As I have posted before, several jobs advertised in the local paper have not been filled for months. This includes farming-centric positions in a farming community. Again, this is a reflection of who we are.  As one recent high school graduate Tweeted, ‘There’s nothing to do in this town but drugs. ‘
  • A local home I lived in 20 years ago, has been available for rent ($550) for four to six weeks. When homes sit empty it can be for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common causes is an inability of residents to pay the rent. We need livable wage jobs and affordable housing.

But one of our biggest problems here is what one local man called our harshness. ‘People just don’t give a shit about each other, anymore, ‘ he said. I agree. Even though some of our harshness may be a result of our mores and values — a lot of it is because we’re reaching a point where we just don’t like each other.

And social media is partially to blame.

Fellow citizens engaging in combativeness is undoubtedly irritating, but when the harshness is championed by a political party via social media it causes societal damage. It hinders progress and perpetuates pettiness.

Preble County’s challenges could be more adequately addressed if the Facebook platform was used for something beyond the national political game of meme ping-pong because, at the end of the day, no one, not even Trump, is going to save us.

That’s on us.

Categories: 8th congressional district, American History, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties | Tags:

‘Trump’s Rich, He Doesn’t Care About Health Care’ — Worker In Preble County

A statue of William Bruce overlooks Eaton, Ohio, the city he founded in the early 1800s. Bruce was a member of the New Light church, a conservative Christian movement that championed an extreme, literal interpretation of the Bible. He also operated the town’s grist mill. Bruce split with the group when church officials told him it was ungodly to feed the poor on Sunday. Bruce fed them anyway, reasoning that destitute people did not choose which days to be hungry.

While T-Money sat on the sidelines during the ‘skinny repeal’ Tweeting ‘Go White, Angry Guys, GO!’ (I may be paraphrasing his Tweet slightly) my mother, 75, and her older sister, 82, had spent weeks ‘worrying themselves sick’ about what would happen to their health care. Being of a generation where a grade school education was considered adequate, they have very limited options on purchasing quality care.

They are not really in a position to alter that either, but like the Preble County man, a conservative, I quoted in the headline stated — Trump isn’t concerned about the issue.

Based on his Tweets since the failed vote — for 45* health care repeal is about the political win.

The Blame Game

Once the legislation was defeated by Trump’s on-again, off-again hero John McCain, the crying and finger-pointing began.

Freedom Caucus member Warren Davidson, who represents Ohio’s 8th Congressional District where I live, was one of the GOP politicians to start whining, Tweeting his favorite tagline, ‘It is not compassionate to bankrupt America.’

Besides the obvious, that Senator Mazie Hirono was not issuing an insult instead she was actually asking a legitimate question of a Party that a decade or two ago branded itself as Compassionate, what I found even more interesting about Davidson’s Tweet is the lack of interaction. I captured the image two days after it was written and it still only had 3 ReTweets and 16 Likes. There were 17 comments and none of the comments were from supporters of his position.

The GOP, with its oppositional approach to governing, have proven themselves to be incompetent fools (that’s an intended insult) in the health care repeal debacle, but they are highly skilled in one aspect — they know how to frame an issue. Ever since Ronald Reagan attached the label entitlement to social safety nets, the GOP has had a field day trying to undo as many as possible because, they know, Americans hate the word entitlement.

Of course, the people impacted by destroying the safety nets are citizens like my mother and aunt.

Frame and Reframe

Davidson’s Tweet frames health care as a situation where if it’s not repealed the country will spiral down into a debt-ridden abyss. An either/or situation. But one would presume, with the plethora of options available, other methods of cutting costs exist. For starters forgoing the $1.6 billion earmarked in Trump’s proposed budget for a wall on the southern border that the Freedom Caucus supports.

If the ‘big, beautiful wall’ is going to be transparent like Trump suggests (so no one is hit in the head by bags of drugs being tossed over) just put up a plastic orange snow fence with some no trespassing signs.

It will be just as effective and cost pennies on the dollar.

Is Health Care A Right?

Many of my conservative friends and family — and even those with ties to Christian fundamentalism — do not view health care as a human right. After all, they reason, why should I ‘pay’ for someone else’s healthcare. It’s their responsibility. Whether it’s a human right can be debated, I suppose, but whether it is humane to deny health care access cannot be debated especially if one claims to be pro-life.

You either believe life is sacred, or you don’t. If you do, then take the humane route and make health care affordable to all Americans.

Here Come The Levellers

It was, in part, the Bible — or at least a novel interpretation of it — that changed the power structure in the western world. Many of the liberties we take for granted in America are the result of a group largely lost to history — the Levellers.

England’s Levellers shifted the political structure by contesting the notion that Kings were ordained by God (despite earlier interpretations of the Bible) — and in doing so they also fought for a broader voting base and for increasing the ability of ‘commoners’ to govern themselves. (The movement was considerably more than this — read The Leveller Revolution by John Reed (2016) to get a thorough understanding of their tactics and beliefs).

It was also their belief that people have the ability to reason — and if they can reason, they can govern.

Age Of Reason

But, it is the reasoning that is missing in our current era. A minority of Americans reasoned ‘what could possible go wrong,’ and supported 45* helping him squeeze out an Electoral College win. And politicians of the majority party reasoned that they could do whatever they wanted because the ‘American people have spoken’ by putting them in power.

Sensible people see the error in the logic.

For example, Davidson touts that he won 77% of the vote in the June, 2016 election. It is, after all, a fact. As an avid Cincinnati Reds fan I know that the Reds won the 1919 World Series, but I never say that because a tainted (gerrymandered) system yields tainted results. However, I will talk about the 1975 World Series — a contest that pitted two of the best teams in MLB history against each other.

It was an untainted Series and a legitimate victory for the Reds. It was also a bit of a quandary for my pre-teen self. I was a fan of both teams. I mean, the Red Sox had Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Carl Yastrzemski — and the Reds, well they had Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan. Although my allegiance tilted toward the Reds, either way I would win since both of my favorite teams were competing.

If only politics worked the same way.

Out Of Touch

A strong sense of decency is driving many Americans to push back against the current political mayhem. More Americans are questioning why they cannot have access to the same quality of care as, say John McCain or Steve Scalise. They are also tired of a Party wanting to ‘Repeal and Replace’ with health care plans that are more harmful to average Americans.

Plans that hurt people like my mother and aunt.

In a recent article by Freedom Caucus members Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, written about a week before the failed Affordable Care Act repeal vote in the Senate, the duo preemptively tried to discredit the Congressional Budget Office. They wrote,

Congress too often makes the mistake of blindly following projections of the Congressional Budget Office that later prove to be grossly inaccurate. The CBO’s reputation among the public and the media may be strong, but its track record in providing accurate estimates to Congress leaves much to be desired.

The pair then proceeds to show all the wrong projections about the CBO’s rating of the ACA. Although attacking the credibility of institutions represents a new low for the GOP, they are missing the larger picture.

Many (most?) Americans, like mom, are not interested in political blathering. And far too many Americans no longer trust the intentions of the GOP. Others, like the man I quoted, accept the reality that the current health care system needs tweaked and want improvement, not replacement. Americans like myself, expect a bi-partisan approach to health care because, at the end of the day, I don’t want my mother and aunt exempted from health care just to satisfy the Orange Menace’s ego or to pad a rich man’s wallet.

And, I certainly don’t want ideology to bankrupt an individual or a family — and even more importantly I do not want it to cost someone their life. One of the commenters to Davidson’s Apples-to-Oranges Tweet said,

Debt is only money, healthcare is American lives. Shame on you for showing your true priority of money over lives.

I agree and would add, if you’re pro-life, then be pro-life from the uterus to the grave.

Categories: 8th congressional district, health care, My America, Things I'm Tired Of, Understanding Trump Counties