2004: When Culture & Politics Blur
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Itís never easy to write one of these.
You have to be clever, prophetic and compassionate. You have to be critical, uplifting and visionary. New Yearís columns are a bummer. Everyone does them and rarely are they done well.
So, why do one, you ask?
Itís Jan 1, 2004. Iím in Florida as I begin this column. We fly home tonight. Itís 11-something in the morning; Lil is at the pool catching the last few rays of the sun which has been elusive most of the week. Allison is in the next room catching the last few zís of a week where they too have been a bit elusive for her. Me, Iím all packed and have some free time while I watch the Gator Bowl and they struggle to check out by 1 p.m.
I need a column for next week, but was away from news and politics which usually inspire me. I spent the time relaxing and visiting with mom; mom-in-law; New Yorkers Jerry and Lois; my sister Carole and hubby Gil; and Mindy, Jeff and family, dear friends who just moved here from New York.
So, with two transplanted New York mothers and sets of New York friends and family being the extent of my home-related news for the week, the New Year seems the subject which beckons me.
And so, if this column eventually gets to see ink, please be tolerant. It was born out of New York withdrawal in Florida, a spare hour in a hotel room and probably will be built at the airport or on the plane. It will ferment inside the laptop until the weekend when it will have aged well enough for me to refine or it will ultimately face eternity as some lost bytes in an old hard driveís recycling bin. Even words can have a lonely existence.
I guess the predictions started last night, when Mindy asked for them. Almost 15-year-old Todd declared that he gleefully predicts he will be driving in 2004 Ė he gets his learnerís permit in March when heís 15. I quickly countered with a prediction that Florida would raise the minimum driving age. That ended Mindyís game.
I try to pick it up here.
In 2004, American men and women will continue to die in Iraq. The sneak attacks costing lives will become the Democratic nineís rallying cry to prove Bushís war was wrong. Every so often, one of the nine or whatever number there are at the moment will remind the American public that we attacked Saddam because of his weapons of mass destruction.
But his 2004 trial and ultimate conviction in a court recognized by most of the international community will be the centerpiece of the Iraq war debate. And at the end of the year, punishment for a guilty Saddam will be the yearís climax.
And George W. will be back above a 65 percent approval rating and the Democrats will be running Mike Dukakis again. (For those who donít remember: Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts who captured the Ď88 Dem Presidential nomination and was photographed in a tank to look tough, was ultimately devastated by George Bush Ė the father ó and a "Willie Horton" TV commercial embarrassing him for pardoning a murder and rapist. It was all over.)
And so it shall be before the Republicans and Tom Delay embarrass themselves in New York with vile fundraising, anti-New York City actions and their renomination of a guy who canít speak straight. (In all fairness, Carl Rowe will orchestrate some glorious Republican sound bites at Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty and other City spaces. But deep in their hearts, the GOP will do as little as possible to help our Democratic city.)
The Dems will do no better. Theyíll go to Boston with almost two handfuls of candidates and return with a Mike Dukakis clone. We Dems seem to continue to wish for the likes of George McGovern or Eugene McCarthy.
Howard Dean seems the likely sacrificial lamb and those Dem beltway insiders will relish throwing him to the Republican wolves, abandoning him as unelectable and continuing to demonstrate that Democrats eat their young while Republicans finish off the adults.
At the end of the day, we will have reelected George Bush by a significant margin and have Tom Delay gloating ó a symbol of whatís really wrong with the Republican Party and perhaps politics in our country.
Public service will again take a back seat to partisan interests. And recognizing that NYC goes Democratic, the Republicans will spend more per capita on Homeland Security in the cornfields of Nebraska than in New York and the other major cities that vote D.
George Pataki will grab as much exposure as possible during the Repub convention. It will do little to help his pathetic approval rating due to his dismal failure with the state economy, nor will he receive any national Republican help with his sham of a State budget. Pataki will cling to the hopes of a position in DC with the new Bush Administration. Heís better than half of their bunch but donít expect him to find comfort there.
Mike Bloomberg Ė come back Mike Ė will take a stand against the Delay-type New York bashing and will, during the Repub convention in New York (I hope), clearly differentiate between the hateful Tom Delay Republicans and New York Repubs of Jack Javitz.
He can, at the expense of alienating the national right-wing GOP leadership, recapture the independent Dems of his City. He can do it all while still nominally endorsing Bush for reelection and speaking of "Public Service not Politics" as the ultimate mission. Criticism in the name of public service is so much better received than personal attacks. We expect old friend, Bloomberg Communications chief Billy Cunningham, to embrace and initiate this strategy.
To date, the Mayorís people have failed to capitalize on his apolitical stances. Hey Billy, thatís an asset in any party, in any election. Mike must be portrayed as apolitical Ė a CEO (add: with a heart) who is here to do the job without regard to the old alliances which often led to corruption, distaste and stagnation. As the year ends, the new Bloomberg image will be emerging to enter the campaign of 2005.
On the NYC Dem side, remember, Dems eat their young Ė but that will be a 2005 story. This year will witness Giff Miller, Bill Thompson, Anthony Weiner, Freddy Ferrer, Virginia Fields and Brian McLaughlin playing chicken in the Mayoral sweepstakes. Before yearís end, Miller will drop down to the Comptroller slot, and McLaughlin will ultimately take a pass in favor of retaining his powerful labor posts. Fields will be the poor player and look for other options like Pub Advocate. While dealmakers will attempt to unite Ferrer and Thompson, donít bet on it happening.
(An hour after our 7:30 p.m. take-off, we land at a closed Myrtle Beach airport because of problems with our backup generator. As we sat on the plane, ground maintenance did their thing. Almost two hours later, we pushed back from the gate and readied for take-off. The pilot comes back on the loud speaker to inform us that the problem persists. We deplane into an empty, closed Myrtle Beach airport to find out the snacks on the plane and in a single vending machine were all that was available and our wait might be long.
Weíre informed the plane could not be repaired as Spirit staffers scurried to locate alternatives. There are no available seats out of Myrtle Beach for at least two days. At 4 a.m. a backup plane finally arrived from Ft. Lauderdale and we were at LaGuardia after 6 a.m. We arrived home tired and hungry as the sun came up. A quick breakfast out, some phone calls and emails to the office, and Friday was lost to sleep.
The column whose energy was also lost somewhere over the Carolinas was in need of closure.)
Perhaps the positive hope for the future, out of the mess of the above-described national politics, is the possibility of the Iraq debacle bringing real change to the Middle East. If by chance, we could engineer the construct of a true non-sectarian democratic government in Iraq and build a meaningful education system and viable economy with jobs and opportunity, Western culture could be viewed with something other than disgust and disdain.
Along with western investment comes western television. And HBO could be the ultimate panacea to fundamentalists recruiting oppressed youth as terrorists and a culture which ferments hatred. Give any healthy young Iraqi boy a night of Carrie Bradshaw or just a couple of minutes of Samanthaís oral sex, and they, like us will be converts forever.
Once tasted in Iraq, the ruling families of the fundamentalist Middle East nations will realize the inevitable: HBO is infectious. And what started as a war against weapons of mass destruction could result in a massive cultural conversion led by television, the weapon of mass communication.
The western life of "Sex and the City," or perhaps the "West Wing" would take hold. Young Middle Easterners could watch as Martin Sheen, in the middle of a crisis in the Middle East, seeks comfort in the bed of a young intern or reporter played by a post-"Sex and the City" Sarah Jessica Parker. And the world would have to wait while the sexual fling played out until they learned the fate of peace in the Middle East.
And 2004 may just be the year where the fine line between life and art becomes so blurred that we canít tell the difference between Martin Dean and Howard Sheen.
Happy New Year!