Friday, November 30, 2012

The Man in the Black Cloak

I am stalked by the man in the black cloak
Whose gaze is so hateful and stride is so strong
His skin has no shine, nor his hands any warmth--I know from when I've felt them
But his footfalls take so precise a path

The man in the black cloak is going to kill me
I've known it for a while

I find him in the strangest places
Standing beside the young men in the park
Where he blasphemes the sunlight with his sallow palms
And turns magnolia trees to weeds

He leers at me with pointed teeth
His mouth a hungry pit of doubt
He smiles from the dressing-room mirror
And from my kitchen window

My kitchen window

Now I can never eat again

No one else sees him
Except those who do
And they all run away
For he is hideous to look upon, and has so fearful a grin

I would run, too
If he would not follow me
With his moonlight skin and gaping mouth
And his bloody red eyes

The eyes are the worst
Their cracked glare a laughing portrait of what I was
And a howling crimson vista
Of what I am

Once you see those eyes you can never unsee them
And they will never unsee you

He drags his talons across my chest
And leaves dappled maroon paths along my hairless back
His legs are long spears of ice that sear when he crawls unbidden to my bed
He's the only man who stays

He whispers sweet nothings in my ear
Of the fat that oozes across my stomach and down my thighs
Like the venom dripping from his jagged maw
Of the rats and spiders that will eat my face should I chance to fall asleep

He is clad in bank statements and cameras and pounds
Beneath his grease-stained cowl
And before he leaves he exacts a promise
Made in putrid breath, that I will keep him in my thoughts my every waking moment

And I always do
I always do

The man in the black cloak is going to kill me
I've known it for a while

Friday, November 23, 2012

I Should Have

I should have been a giant
A monument so high
I should have been the golden oak
Whose arms held up the sky

I should have been the morning
I should have been the light
I should have been the savior beam
That pierced the wall of night

You should know I did not lie
That I did not mislead
I thought that I could take our dreams
And turn them into deeds

I should not be what I am
As powerless as this
The gulf to what I should have been
Is such a deep abyss

You should know my tears are filled
By all I could not be
And by the squalor of myself
By loveless, hopeless me

I should have labored harder
All things I should have braved
Perhaps I should have always known
That we cannot be saved

Monday, November 19, 2012

To the Future

This has been a campaign year to try the spirit of even the most perseverant fact-checkers. The Republican primary season featured a predictable slew of dubious claims, from the assertion that President Obama had "taken over" healthcare to the idea that unemployment was nearing 20 percent, and when a nominee finally emerged he led one of the most willfully dishonest races in modern presidential history.

Mitt Romney's plan to cut taxes for billionaires while raising taxes on secretaries wasn't popular? Then he wasn't for it after all. The public was angry over high gas prices? Why, the President was to blame for that, never mind that he increased domestic production to unprecedented levels. The auto bailout worked? Hey, guess what: Jeep is going to transfer its operations to China! Even though they're not, which the CEO of Fiat felt the need to clarify.

The GOP nominee may have sustained life-threatening whiplash from all the flip-flopping he did in this cycle, but in retrospect the biggest whopper of them all came after the votes had been counted.

"Status Quo Wins" the Wichita Eagle declared on the morning of Nov. 7.

"Barack Obama will remain president," the paper informed its readers. "Democrats will still control the Senate. Republicans will still control the House. Nothing changed."

And that's where they're wrong.

The voters decided last week to retain the current roster of political leaders, but in so doing they bucked--decisively--a series of long-established trends. Let's take into account two facts:

1. President Obama went into the election carrying the albatross of 7.9-percent unemployment, a major handicap given that no president since FDR had won reelection with unemployment higher than 6 percent.

2. President Obama's opponent, Mitt Romney, won 59 percent of the white vote, comparable to what Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon won in their respective 1952 and 1972 landslides.

Why does any of this matter?

Because according to history, President Obama should have been doomed. Swamped. Obliterated. And instead he throttled Mitt Romney to the tune of 126 electoral votes.

So, yes, the American people voted to keep the same chess pieces in Washington. But they changed the board.

What we are witnessing is not the reelection of an incumbent president but the formation of a dominant political coalition whose inclusiveness renders the old models untenable. In a white, male America that breadth wouldn't matter--as evidenced by most of our history--but in a changing America it makes all the difference. Consider who this coalition is: women (55 percent of whom supported the President), African-Americans (93 percent of whom supported the President), Hispanics (71 percent of whom supported the President), Asian-Americans (73 percent of whom supported the President), and gays (76 percent of whom supported the President).

Then, of course, there's the biggest factor no one's talking about: the young. This one, mark my words, is the real sleeper threat to the conservative movement. Up until recently there was a good argument to be made against this idea. The 2008 election was exceptional, the conservative line went. Young voters' extraordinary support for then-Sen. Obama (66 percent of voters under 30 went Democratic four years ago) could be chalked up to naivete or enthusiasm or sheer frustration with the economic climate of the time. It couldn't last.

But it did.

On Tuesday voters between the ages of 18 and 29 went to the polls and, by 60 to 36 percent, voted to keep Barack Obama in office. That demographic designation, by the way, does not distinguish by any factor other than age; that means that of all American voters under 30, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, income level, or religious affiliation, six in ten went Democratic. Six in ten. We are looking at an FDR-level realignment, one in which progressives will enjoy major inherent advantages.

This is all the more impressive when you consider that the President's base, contrary to media analysis, was actually depressed this year.

Yes, you read that right.

To begin with, a difficult economy always weighs heavily on an incumbent and the Democratic base did erode, however slightly, between 2008 and 2012. Beyond that, the Hispanic vote, rightly hailed as key to President Obama's reelection, still comprised only 10 percent of the national electorate this year. That means that the 2012 landslide wasn't a landslide so much as it was a warm-up.

The Hispanic population is expanding rapidly--with Pew Research predicting it will double by 2030--and nowhere are the numbers more dramatic than in the swing states that are key to victory. Between 2008 and 2012 the number of Hispanic voters rose nationally by a single percentage point; in battleground Nevada, however, the cohort grew by 39 percent in the same four-year period.

Combine that demographic reality with an economy that will presumably be much recovered four years from now and you have a very favorable outlook for Democrats in 2016. Add in the GOP's generational crisis and the crystal ball gets even bluer. It's not just Nevada and Colorado that are in play now. It's Georgia. It's Arizona. By 2020 at the latest, it will be Texas.

That's not to say that the Republicans have no way forward.

The Democrats, who beginning in 1968 faced a situation comparable to what the GOP faces now, saved themselves from oblivion by dumping the Great Society progressives of the 1960s and embracing centrist candidates like Bill Clinton who promised a "third way." Hardliners fumed, but Clinton recognized an essential reality: that the center of the country had shifted and that the Democratic Party had to shift with it. If the Republicans can stand on a platform of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism they will at least be able to remain credible in an increasingly progressive environment.

Republicans like Susan Collins, Bobby Jindal, and even John Boehner appear to have absorbed that lesson, but they face the challenge of corralling a base significantly more inflexible and extreme than the Democratic core of the 1990s. Consider that the Tea Party movement rejects both evolution and global warming. Consider that they support (and managed to insert into the 2012 GOP platform) a total ban on abortion. Consider that they scorned electable Republicans like Richard Lugar of Indiana and in so doing lost the Senate. Then consider that their caucus, even after this election, still holds about a quarter of the Republican seats in the House.

This puts the Republican leadership in the ultimate Catch-22: they need the Tea Party's numerical support to achieve a national majority but because they are associated with the Tea Party's message can't achieve a national majority.

John Boehner and company have to resolve this. If they can't, the GOP will learn the hard way that there is a big difference between an inherent minority and a permanent one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Home Sick

It's been quite the week here at the Our Family household. At a little past two o'clock on Sunday morning I happened upon Thomas, who was conducting an impromptu Family Guy marathon instead of, say, getting some sleep five hours before he had to wake up.

"Um, don't you have school or something tomorrow?" I asked the twelfth-grader.

He turned to me with a heavy face.

"My stomach hurts so fucking bad. I literally can't sleep."

I frowned.

"Have you taken any of the nighttime Aleve?"

"I took two."

"Okay," I said. "Don't take anymore. That should conk you out. I have to go to bed, but if it gets too bad wake up Mom."

Three hours later Thomas was on his way to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with appendicitis and prepped for emergency surgery. The procedure went smoothly, thank goodness, and Thomas's appendix was removed before it could rupture, but he was fairly well out of commission and would be for several days.

I didn't much mind this. Thomas, like a cactus, requires only token care; a little water, a bit of sunlight, and periodic checks to make sure his stomach hadn't burst open were enough to keep him in good working order. Late Monday morning, however, I received a smaller and altogether more cuddly patient.

"BB, can pick up Pie from school?" my father asked after phoning in. "She has sinusitis and she's been throwing up."

So I brought Der-Der home to the Our Family sick bay and have spent the last few days playing nursemaid to two siblings who don't seem terribly aggrieved by their afflictions.

"Pie, aren't you going to change out of your pajamas?" I asked at the crack of noon as she and Thomas sat at the kitchen table playing Flow on my parents' iPad.

"Um, noooo," she singsonged. "I'm home sick."

"You hobo," I accused. "Tell me, oh homeless person, what kind of soup do you want?"

Thomas, meanwhile, reveled in the sensory experience of post-surgery recovery.

He stumbled while padding through the living room in his slippers and started laughing.

"Hey, BB, I'm on drugs."

He raised one eyebrow and drooped the corners of his mouth in a display of mock impairment before his face brightened with epiphany.

"Oh, my gosh, BB," he said. "I'm on drugs. I really am on drugs. I'm high as a kite!"

He did the closest thing to a jig he could with a stapled stomach.

"I'm on drugs!" he exclaimed. "I'm on drugs!"

I smiled in spite of myself as he cripple-hopped about the room, looking every bit the doped-out vagrant.

He's staying home tomorrow, too.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Unconscionable Delays

First I had important editing to do on a manuscript. Then I was busy drafting a contract for a client. Now Thomas has developed a case of appendicitis requiring immediate surgery, and so instead of writing a blog post I will be spending the evening in a hospital room wooing my brother with Crab Chips and guitar magazines.

Rest assured, though, the post-election entry is coming. Given how things turned out, I'm very much looking forward to writing it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

With Friends

I'm going out tonight to a wine tasting with Norwegian and Progressive Girl at the vineyard of Norwegian's sister, then tomorrow night will head into the Goldlands to watch election returns with Progressive Girl and some others.

I'm quite confident of President Obama's victory, of course, but am happy to know that, whatever the outcome, I'll learn of it in the company of lovely and like-minded friends.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another Reason

As if I needed any more incentive to vote for President Obama in the upcoming election, I stumbled upon another bit of inspiration this weekend at, of all places, my parents' Halloween party. Remember that one? The one where politics couldn't be discussed?

I learned on Friday evening that the Halloween event I was to attend with friends had been moved to Saturday, so I decided to stay home, enjoy the free liquor, and spend the night relaxing. Politics had no part in the equation.

That, of course, was before I saw the cute girl with black ringlets running around the patio and screaming her head off in the good-natured way of very small children having an awesome time.

"Is she yours?" I asked Progressive Man when I caught him waving at her.

"Yeah," he smiled.

"She's so adorable," I replied. "How old is she?"

"She's actually eight," he answered.

I tried to keep my surprise in check; the child he referred to looked no older than four or five.

"Oh," I remarked. "She's so petite."

"Well, part of that is her health," he said. "She has a congenital condition. Have you ever heard of the bubble boy?"

I nodded.

"She basically has a suppressed immune system. Almost no resistance to germs."

I looked at the girl again. She was flying through the dirt at the tail of a grade-school horde and, but for her small stature and oversized head, seemed like any of the other children.

"How is it that she can be out here?" I asked. "You know, like, with the other kids?"

"Well, we have her on this gene therapy that's been really successful. The condition is pretty rare, though, and the cost for her medicine is through the roof. It's about $100,000 a year."

This time I didn't even attempt to hide my shock.

"That's crazy," I said. "How are you--I mean, I hope you don't think I'm being rude, but how are you doing that?"

"Well, the insurance company is paying for it," he said with a lift of his eyebrows.

"They haven't tried to jerk you around with that?"

"They can't," he said. "At least not now. Since Obamacare passed there are no lifetime caps. So we're in a good situation. But if my wife loses her job or Romney gets's something we worry about a lot. That we'll lose our insurance if she has to switch employers or that they'll change the law and the insurance company will cut us off."

I cast my eyes toward the children shrieking in the field. What could I say?

But I realized in that moment, more than at any other, the huge import this country's November 6 decision carries. If Mitt Romney is elected president, political theories and abstract concepts of government won't bear the brunt of his policies; it will be people. Real people, real college graduates who can't find work, real senior citizens who have every "preexisting condition" in the book, real men whose daughters are only alive because they have access to gene therapy. The election is the only thing standing between them and something too horrible to speak of.

We have to get this right.