Politics & Policy

The “Industry” Gets Involved


So Donald Trump is in the race. Cybil Shepard is seriously thinking about it. Warren Beatty is doing his Hamlet act (with better lighting). Jesse Ventura and Lowell Weicker are pondering or pondering pondering. And they are all thinking of running on the Reform party ticket. There’s also Pat Buchanan, heretofore one of the 20th century’s most loyal Republicans, who feels that he has no place in a pro-life party but feels there might be a home in a … [content of Reform party’s “thinking” to be determined at a later date]… party that doesn’t care about abortion and is teeming with the sort of people who in the 1970s were relegated to bothering people at airports.

Now, how could this be? Well, publicity and ego can never be discounted as prime movers when talking about politicians. But there’s got to be something else. Hmmm … thinking, thinking, — or as Data likes to say: processing, processing — do they serve more shrimp at Reform party parties? Never, ever, underestimate the power of shrimp, especially on journalists. I am convinced that if I had an unlimited shrimp budget I could get The Nation to endorse Gary Bauer or support letting Pinochet go free.

But no, my shellfish scouts report no such policy. Wait a second! Doesn’t the Reform party get twelve million dollars in government money? That’s right they do. Hmm … isn’t that interesting …

Now, Pat Buchanan says he ain’t in it for the money. Warren Beatty and Cybil Shepard say, well, who cares what they say? And the Donald has scads of totally legitimate and honestly earned New York and Atlantic City real estate money.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that the government is creating a party where there was previously only the rubble of Ross Perot’s water-cooler putsch. By giving matching funds, the Federal Election Commission is essentially building a giant vehicle which any number of intellectually dubious, ideologically nutty, politically inexperienced ego maniacs, malcontents, and weirdos are irresistibly attracted to and of which they are now fighting for the wheel.

In years to come when campaigns are FULLY FINANCED BY THE GOVERNMENT (sorry that’s the way Warren Beatty says you have to write it), and every political neophyte bozo with a research assistant thinks he can be president because his make-up artist told him he was “really super smart,” we will look back on this election as the point where it all began.

The various gitchy-goo good-government types and Hollywood Huey Longs who claim that the only way to make politics pure and honest and decent and good and nice and friendly and bunny-wunny soft is to get the federal government to pay for it should take notice (did you know that Rep. Jerrold Nadler actually said that campaign-finance reform is the most important issue in the United States since slavery? Did you know that that man is my parents’ duly elected representative in Congress?). America has had blessedly few charismatic demagogues — I assert there have been 6 but I am making that up. In the past when they were exposed their movements tended to dry up and blow away. Demagogic movements are by definition based on personalities. But now, whatever heat rather than light they generate will have a permanent half-life. Worse, when they’re out of the picture, the movement will be the equivalent of a teenage dude after his first date — all worked up, with no productive outlets for his energy and inclined toward mischief.

That’s what happened when Ross Perot left the Reform party. It was his party after all — the initials even matched: R.P. was the RP. Well, now that Ross spends his time walking around with his underwear on his head reenacting the fall of Saigon with company execs dressed in their pajamas so they can pass for the VC, his party is still hanging around. It should have dissipated like the gassy historical hiccup it was. But no, the federal government is subsidizing it.

So now, just as when the government skews any other market, the free-speech market is getting messed up. If you make the price of goat cheese artificially low, people with no business getting into the goat-cheese business will hop in, lured by bad market signals. The same thing is happening with the political-speech market and it stinks far more than cheese.

Liberal and left activists don’t mind, of course, because first of all they never mind when the government pays for anything — unless it’s a private-school scholarship for poor black kids. But second, they like the idea because it gets us closer to what political-science professors and other liberals bored with America’s successful politics have always dreamed of: A MULTIPARTY SYSTEM (sorry, maybe this Beatty guy is ON TO SOMETHING).

A multiparty system, by the way, is the ultimate logic of identity politics. All of a sudden essentially marginal groups and people become major power brokers. Jesse Jackson stops being the “conscience of his party” and becomes the deal-cutting chairman of the Conscience party. Ditto feminists, gays, unions, etc.

I’m not saying for sure that’s gonna happen. The point is really that we don’t know what will happen. Every time the government has paid for a program or meddled in something, the consequences have been unexpected. The whole campaign-finance reform movement is a consequence of the “reforms” of 1974.

Even if we don’t see a 21st century with the Hemaphroditic Narcoleptic Party being a powerbroker, isn’t anyone troubled by the fact that the government is creating a party where there was none?

CORRECTIONS, CLARIFICATIONS, & MORE Well, the little lady is out of town. That’s right, this beast’s unshackled. But what to do with this newfound liberty, other than water her plants and walk around her house in her underwear? I mean the thrill of impersonating the first waspy-looking Jewish Sumo wrestler wears off pretty quickly. I’ve now eaten all of her leftovers — you know, Sumo training and all — so there’s not much left to do. Also, I’m heading to Vegas in about three hours for a the-web-is-the-greatest-thing-since-Colecovision conference. So this may be my last column as I fully expect to win, nay, earn, enough money to never return to this thankless e-journalism.

So we might as well tie up some loose ends by moving straight into corrections and clarifications Friday (if you’re a newcomer, check read or FAQ sheet).

Starting close to home, I should start with the important fact that I am not living with the little lady. About a dozen very nice and mommish women (no offense) wrote me chastising me for living in sin. I live in squalor, not sin. When I said she lived “here,” I meant she lives in D.C. now.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, Mr. Gavora can put away his shotgun and I can move on with other items on the agenda.

Movie quotes: In the Ventura column I referred to how Jesse was the kind of guy who rarely wears underwear, but when he does it’s usually something interesting. This was a reference to Stripes, and pretty much everyone got it. But I also said that he was the kind of guy who wouldn’t mind if you threw up in his car. Surprisingly many seasoned movie-quote vets didn’t know this one. It’s from The Sure Thing, one of John Cusack’s few truly quotable movies (“Lance sure drinks a lot beer…”).

Switching gears, last week I asked if Odin — king of the Norse gods — were asked by Barbara Walters what kind of tree he would be, what would he answer? Now, the response was surprising. As a kid, I was a huge Norse-mythology freak, and I’m not just talking about the Kirby and Lee Marvel Comics. But I thought I was pretty much alone on this front. Wrong! As John McLaughlin might say to a producer who said, “But I need to go to the bathroom, Sir.” Anyway, most people — and I mean scores — said that Odin would answer “mistletoe.” The reason? Because mistletoe was the only thing in the world that had refused to promise never to harm Balder, the dreamy son of Odin and Frigga.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Dozens of other people said, “I assume you’re thinking of mistletoe, but mistletoe isn’t a tree [you dumb ass].” I looked this up, and yes, its true. Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic shrub of the family Loranthaceae, which, loosely translated, means “Robert Reich.” It is also the state flower of Oklahoma, and if a $5 bill came with that information it would be interesting.

There were actually several correct answers. You could have said Askr or Embla. In Norse mythology, the gods created two trees — sort of the original Adam and Eve. Askr, an ash tree, is the guy and Embla, a creeper (figures), is the girl. But nobody guessed that and so the year’s supply of scotch goes back in the vault. And only one person said Yggdrasil, the tree of fate, which is perhaps the central metaphor of the entire Norse mythology. Good golly, people, what were you doing when you were kids? Playing baseball?

Other important items. The racially divisive ads I mentioned in Wednesday’s column (which got a nice plug in Greg Pierce’s column in the Washington Times) were actually run in 1998. Also, Ashcroft is the junior Senator from Missouri (I got confused for a second, mixing up time on the job with who was the better Senator). But most importantly, I omitted an important point which several of you emphasized. All of this racial-paranoia mongering is a deliberate strategy to help Al Gore. I meant to address that but the Baywatch where they go to Alaska was on. Anyway, yes it’s true. The Gore camp now realizes that they need to scare blacks into the warm bath of the Democratic party’s demagoguery. That’s why they hired this woefully under-qualified black woman, Donna Brazille as the number-two person on the Gore campaign. That is why Al Gore has been telling black audiences (I’m not making this up) that opponents of affirmative action are morally akin to the murderers of James Byrd.

But the most divisive thing I did was write on eggheady topics again. About half of the feedback was very pro-egghead. The other half couldn’t be more furious. We went through all that yesterday. Anyway, in Monday’s column on art and the cult of the new, I wrote about John Cage’s “silent concerts.” Someone wrote in and said, “You fool, that’s Phillip Glass!” Now, as I think I made abundantly clear, I don’t know jack about clever avant-garde music. So, I switched it. Then, I got an e-mail from one of my best friends saying that I had it right in the first place. At this point I could only care less if I were really, really drunk and — if my flight to Vegas has those little airplane bottles — I can assure you that by the end of the day I won’t care less.

Now, in a previous egghead column I referred to Hesse’s “Magic Bead Game.” Dozens of people explained to me that I am an idiot, a bore, etc. A few people dug it. But that’s not really the point. The point is that one guy sent me free stuff. Now I can’t encourage people enough on this score. A reader who had actually composed music inspired by the Magic Bead Game sent me a free CD. I haven’t listened to it yet and that’s not the point (if you want to check it out got to http://www.jmrcds.com/GlassBead.htm). My point is that it is very important to send me cool free stuff. Alas, if my journalists standards sunk any lower I would be qualified to be the ethics czar in the Clinton administration or chief of police in New Orleans, I cannot make any quid-pro-quo promises. And I’m not really inclined to do anything for anybody anyway, I just want the free stuff. Books and magazine subscriptions are always good. Food makes me nervous, though I suspect that many of the mommish ladies make some very yummy cookies. Cash really is best.

And on that score, I’ve recently signed up with a speaker’s bureau (Keppler Associates — which has the bestest, prettiest, smartest, neatest people trying to make me money). This column has always been an entrepreneurial effort and I’m hoping this will finally be the payoff, as I have little desire to sell my last kidney. So, now, if you feel uncomfortable just sending me money — and you really shouldn’t, it’s totally painless — I can always come and talk to you first. If you’re interested, go to http://www.kepplerassociates.com/goldberg.htm [Link defunct] and look me up.


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