The Junior High Presidency Hangs In The Balance…

I’ve been thinking a little bit about junior high lately. Most people look back on their junior high days with either dread, relief, humor, or a mix of all three, I tend to look back at it as a very instructive time that taught me a lot about how the world works (although I did not know this at the time). These lessons especially hold true today.
For example, back in junior high, you had to be constantly concerned about what “they” thought. “They” was an amorphous group hazily defined, but “they” could telegraph an incident, complete with descriptive narration, if you wore the wrong shirt, or did something mildly embarrassing.
In my own junior high in Burlingame, CA, I seem to remember a few incidents involving bad hair days, PE class silliness, and that whole series of “seventh-grader-in-the-trash-can” incidents that seemed to make the “news.” Real information was not as important – it was more important to relay and embellish a good gossipy story, if only to assert yourself in the social hierarchy.
Fortunately I was never involved in any of them – I was too busy being a nerd, reading books, and doing my own thing to catch the attention of the junior high news crew. Which is fortunate – an ill-timed comment or stupid mistake on the first day of seventh grade could mark you for your whole two years! Even now I know of some people, who even now still get a casual ribbing about some “incident”, 22 years later when I see them at a bar back home.
As I said, I had no idea at the time that this life lesson would be one to take to heart and remember, 22 years later. But after watching the “news coverage” of the presidential race this week, I’m beginning to think that Burlingame Intermediate School was teaching me something more important than algebra and how to fake a bug collection for science class, but I’d obviously missed the lesson until now.
I realize more and more that all those classes in journalism I took back in college that beat reporters should focus on what is really going on, and avoid trying to inject too many personal coloration to their work must not be taught anymore in schools, or not a basis for hiring people in the news media. The media’s playful exuberance discussing the “Howard Dean Scream” to me is about as useful, and as relevant, to the presidential contest as hearing the latest gossip on who got tossed in the garbage cans at lunch break.
Lest one think this is another “the media is run by Republicans” rant, it is not. I remember the media having a similar field day when President Bush was alleged to have choked on a pretzel while watching a football game. Now, I may disagree with the president on many issues, but this kind of nonsense is equally irrelevant to the issues of the day.
So he choked on a pretzel for a second. He didn’t die, right? He probably just was watching football and got a little excited when his team was winning. A non-story if I ever heard it. Can anyone say they have never had a food-related incident in their lives (and remember, almost all of us were infants at one time)? I think not. Hence, it’s bogus chatter, just like with Dean.
I took the time, once again, to bypass our mass media and see the incident firsthand on television. I also took the time to call a friend, who as it turns out was at the scene of “Dean’s Scream.” Here’s what I found out: a candidate who’d been up for 24 hours straight, who was losing his voice (as many Republicans are known to have happen – ask President Pete Wilson in 1996), who was in a room full of 3500 college kids who needed a little firing up, and had the misfortune of competing with a loud crowd AND other distractions. Add it up, and you have something that on the ground that qualified as a Typical Goofy Campaign Rally, but nothing that told us much about what the guy would do as President (except perhaps remember to take more cough drops in his coat pocket and lay off the coffee at 10pm)
Now, in fairness, the Dean folks have been taking a pile of crap from the media and their opposition for months and by now should have realized that they’re going to get a scrutiny far more than the President or the rest of the pack At the same time, this was not a big deal. It was just another day in a long campaign.
But to hear the news pundits, the media, and the so-called “reporters” covering this “incident” (using all sorts of colorful metaphors and smart-ass liberal commentary), you’ think the guy had gone up there and read Mein Kampf to an assembled group of brownshirts or something.
No, he didn’t do anything wrong, or even unpresidential. He didn’t have sex with an intern, didn’t call a reporter from the New York Times an “asshole” for the entire world to hear over a hot microphone, and he didn’t say something false that led us into some sort of war or flip-flop on votes for a war. He just had an incident during a run for junior-high school president that made it over the PA system one day.
I’ve felt for a long time that the bias we get in corporate media really isn’t ideological per se (although their biases can help one side or another). Rather it’s a bias bought at a high-priced college and paid in installments at tony suburbs around large urban areas that tends to benefit the elite.
It’s a bias from people who Know Better Than The Peasants what is right and what is wrong and what you should think. I’ve seen this from snarky conservatives who tell me why I can’t read or watch something on TV and from smart-ass liberals who boldly pronounce what is happening, and are usually wrong.
It’s the snide comments of a known liar like Joe Klein (he lied about not writing the dreadful novel Primary Colors) calling Rep. Kucinch’s campaign “silly” and refusing to even listen to the guy – just because it doesn’t fit his notion of what’s “silly” and what’s not – merely one example of many journalists who make arbitrary decisions about what you hear – regardless of whether it’s true. They did the same thing to John McCain too.
Either way, it’s a grown-up version of the junior high school hierarchy of gossip…if you don’t repeat the gossip, you’re not as “cool” as the kid who broke it first. If you don’t’ embellish it to re-assert yourself, you risk being on the outs. So we come up with cute little commentary on the TV news, NPR runs stupid little mixes of “I Feel Good” with Dean’s comments, and the papers piously tell us what it all “means.”
Whatever it is, it’s bullshit and I’m getting tired of wading through it all, liberal bias OR conservative bias, to try and figure out what’s going on.
Meanwhile, as you saw soon-to-be-ex Rep. Gephardt’s tearful withdrawal from the campaign and national politics, no one in the press corps bothered to mention the real reason he lost – his own negative, nasty, well-funded, attack campaign.
Lost in the coverage of the race was the kind of campaign this alleged elder statesman was running in Iowa. Gephardt paid for an entire anti-Dean website worthy of the RNC, and a massive hate-mail campaign. And three campaign insider sources on the ground in Iowa for three different candidates counted a minimum of fourteen negative mail pieces attacking Dean from every direction blanketing the Iowa landscape. No bold leadership or ideas here, just a pile of negative crap.
Fourteen. Now, in most statewide contests, no candidate would even send out fourteen total pieces of mail to voters, much less fourteen hit pieces. That’s a lot any way you count it. However it backfired – Dean turned and attacked Gephardt back, and the winner was John Kerry.
It’s sad in a way – here’s someone who once was a leader of Democrats in the House, who once ran for President, and spent years planning his big run – and the way he ended up finishing off his career was in a torrent of negative campaigning and some of the nastiest attack ads seen in a while.
One can almost forgive him for his total failure as a Democratic Leader in the House retaking the chamber from the GOP, but to follow up that failure with a bruising negative campaign that got him fourth place? Now that’s a way to end on a high note.
Thus when I saw his tearful farewell to the world of politics, and the pious newspeople all giving a glowing farewell to this alleged statesman, after doing my own research on what was going on, I realize the real career-ending, “rageahol”-induced yell wasn’t Howard Dean’ scream. It was Dick Gephardt’s nasty, hate-filled campaign as it went down to a fourth place defeat. Don’t let the door hit you on way out, Dick.
Just the other day I was talking to a neighbor who noticed my latest Netflix delivery – Disc 3 of the Love Hina anime series. “You’re watching THAT?” exclaimed my neighbor. “It’s a silly little Japanese show about a hapless guy who’s always getting his ass kicked for silly misunderstandings in an all-women apartment house.”
I simply replied that I knew in fact, it was a silly show, but after a week of non-stop bogus news and a ton of work here at the home office, it made for an ideal escape and besides, if I’m going to be subjected to silly, juvenile humor and stories, I’d rather they be about the hapless Keitaro than about people who can launch nuclear weapons or pass laws that will tax me to death. And I can do so without having a forty oz. bottle of rageahol at my side.
My neighbor waved off my comments and we both went back to our respective apartments. Now I wonder, what will my anime-inspired nickname be around the apartment complex?
A note to former colleagues who worked on Dick’s campaign – my comments are aimed soley at him, not you. Dick Gephardt was the one responsible for his campaign’s tone, and hence, why I aimed my comments at HIM, and not his staff

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