Friday, November 30, 2012

All The President's Hashtags.

The 5 living US Presidents at the opening of the Reagan Library, 1991;
Reagan was known as "The Great Communicator" for his ability
to use social media to rally his base.

With the recent success of Obama's #My2K Twitter campaign, many assume that this is the first time a US President has used a hashtag to promote their agenda, but in fact, the hashtag is a long & proud American political tradition. For centuries, presidents have been using hashtags to rally their bases—first through printed leaflets, followed by telegraph, telegram, email, & finally, through Twitter.

American Wolf is proud to present the first time they've all been gathered in one place.

So, without further ado, here's—

A Brf Histry Of POTUS #Hashtags:

@TheWashington: #SpiritOf76
@JohnMFAdams: #XYZnot4Me
@ThomJefferson: #2xTheU@2centsPerAcre
@ConstitutionFather: #NoWayUK1812
@LastCockedHat: #MonroeDoctrine4All
@JQA: #Back2TheAdams
@OldHickory: #WeH8TheNatlBank
@LittleMagician: #DontPanic1837 
@OldTippecanoe: #2TermsOrBust
@FatherOf15: #2Legit2Quit
@YoungHickory: #GoWest
@OldRoughNReady: #OldSoldiersNeverDie
@MillardFillmore: #ISucked
@FranklinPierce: #IReallySucked
@JamesBuchanan: #IReallyFuckingSucked
@MrLincoln: #4Score7Years
@TennTailor: #PlsDoNotImpeach
@USGrant: #PopularButIncompetent
@RutherfordBHayes: #TildenWho?
@JamesAGarfield: #DarkHorseRox
@ChesterAArthur: #ImWithChet
@GroverCleveland: #IWillReturn
@LittleBenHarrison: #GrampasPride
@GroverCleveland: #2Kool2BKonsecutive
@WmMcKinley: #RembrTheMaine
@RoughRider: #TrustBust4U
@BigBillTaft: #Death2Washtubz
@ProfWilson: #14Points4USA
@WarrenGHarding: #GStands4GodAwful
@SilentCal: #_________
@GreatEngineer: #2Chickens4EveryPot
@FranklinDelano: #4Freedoms4EVA
@HarrySTruman: #BuckStopsHere
@GenEisenhower: #ILikeIke
@JackKennedy: #WhatUCanDo4UrCountry
@LBJ: #Gr8Society4All
@TrickyDick: #Waterg8Sux
@GeraldRFord: #IBegUrPardon
@MrJimmy: #Malaise4UandI
@TheGipper: #TearDownThisWall
@GeorgeHWBush: #NoNewTaxe$
@WilliamJClinton: #WeCannotFearChange
@GWBush: #MissionAccomplished
@BarackObama: #My2K

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Top 5 Ready-To-Steal "Friends" Lines.

A few months ago, my friend Margaret posted a confession on Facebook: "I stole a joke from 'Friends' & passed it off as my own."

It was a perfect miniature commentary on the blurry lines between (post?) modern American humor & culture. To wit: Despite of—no wait, make that because of—its overwhelming mainstream popularity, Friends is the antithesis of a hip show. Contemporary non-hits like Arrested Development are the stuff the hip kids get misty-eyed over; the few big-hit shows that become cool only do so in retrospect, usually through nostalgia (see: The Cosby Show).

All of which overlooks a simple fact: Friends is a very funny show. As a result, it exists in a weird pop cultural loophole: It's chockfull of great jokes that thousands of "mainstream" folks have seen, but a disproportionately low number of "hipsters" (Malcolm Gladwell might say "influencers") know. The result is an entire demographic unwittingly hungry for an avalanche of readymade product.

But where to begin? Friends lasted 10 seasons is upwards of $300 for the whole series. Well don't worry, American Wolf has got yer back. Some jokes are more universal than others; for better or for worse, I've parsed through all of the shows to compile a Top 5 shortlist of my fav instantly-ready Friends jokes that can be applied to nearly any occasion.

Oh yeah, & the first is the one that Margaret had stolen.

1. Chandler: "Oh, I think this is the episode of Three's Company where there's some kind of misunderstanding."

Mark Twain famously wrote that American humor is so deadpan that when an American tells a joke, you don't realize it's a joke until after its over. In this regard, Chandler falls somewhere between a punchier Jack Benny & a less-surreal Mitch Hedberg as a master of deadpan. This is one of his finest—& easiest to lift—jokes, because its utility is staggering. When I first read Margaret's post, this was the first joke I thought of, in part because I had stolen it myself earlier in the week when discussing The Avengers movie: "My favorite part is when the one guy fights the other guy." One friend responded with confusion: "Isn't that like, the whole movie?" Exactly.

2. Phoebe: "Did you ever see An Officer and a Gentleman?" Rachel: "Yeah!" Phoebe: "Well, he's kinda like the guy I went to see that with."

After Chandler, Phoebe has the most amount of clutch lines, only the majority of them are not universal. But this one's got the perfect setup of a commonplace expectation that delivers an odd punch you don't see coming, as well as a transferability that makes it easy to use, in places far beyond love. Example: Someone describes a brave friend. You: "I know what you mean. Did you see Saving Private Ryan? He's kind of like the guy I went to see that with." & in one instant, the familiar becomes the random, & the pertinent becomes useless.

3. Julie: "We've gotta get some sleep." Ross: "Yeah, it's really 6:00 tomorrow night our time."
Chandler: "Well, listen, don't tell us what's gonna happen though, 'cause I like to be surprised."

This is probably my very favorite line—it's not nearly as universal as the rest, but when you can work it in (usually when people are describing jet-lag), you'll sound like the cleverest guy in the room. You can also scale it down to a more-universal-yet-less-brilliant-remark with anything that has an obvious conclusion. Example: I recently posted on Twitter, "I can't wait to see the new Lincoln movie, I just hope nobody gives away the ending before I do." Wah-wah.

4. Chandler: "You're right, I have no excuses! I was totally over the line." Joey: "Over the line? You — you're — you're so far past the line, that you — you can't even see the line! The line is a dot to you!"

This is my least favorite of the 5, but still included it to reach 5 (damn you, human fingers!), because I still do use it a lot. I often drop the last part about the line being a dot & stick with the more conventional surrealism of placing a cliched metaphor as the center of a conversation, only to arbitrarily abandon it to make a point. Example: "I am so over you, I can't even see you from where I am." Again, not exactly genius, but a decent thing to say if you wanna throw an unexpected twist into what may otherwise be a blank tirade.

5. Monica: "Hypothetically, why don't I have a baby by the time I'm 40?" Chandler: "Oh dear God — this parachute is a backpack!"

& when all else fails, you have this. This is from the early episode where Ross's son is born, & Chandler offers to have a baby with Monica if she doesn't have one by the time she's 40. This, of course, leads to the above dialogue, topped by Chandler falling backwards out of his chair as he grasps furiously at his invisible backpack. So the next time you irrevocably put your foot in your mouth (ideally while sitting down), you know what to do.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Top 5 Most Bizarre Moments of the 2012 Campaign.

It's only been 10 days, but the 2012 election already feels like eons ago. The perhaps-likely win for Obama has become now-obvious, while Romney's disappearance from the mainstream Republican dialogue has been carried out with a velocity that is almost staggering.

But even as the surreal settles into the ordinary, the campaign still comes back to me in bits like a deep, long dream that stalks waking life. Like a dream, it was very weird — far more so than any other election I can remember.

Perhaps this could only be expected from the setup. On one side, you had Barack Obama, champion of all things hope & change, now trying to show that the hope had begun to deliver & that we could not risk change right now, despite the nation's economic woes. On the other side, you had Mitt Romney, a big-business Wall Street tycoon who was the exact person who was vilified in the financial crisis in the first place. Throw into the mix that Romney's signature achievement as governor, Massachusetts' universal healthcare, was the direct template for Obama's signature achievement as president, national universal healthcare, which put Romney in the position of arguing against his own achievement while Obama praised it, & you have a very strange predicament indeed.

Which in turn was only the backdrop for a non-stop parade of weirdness:

5. Three Debates in Three Phrases

Ever since MTV first reared its beautiful, frenetically-edited head, the news story has been morphing into the soundbite. This election took things one step further, turning the soundbite into a phrase that "summarized" (more like overshadowed) the 90 minutes of debating. The first, "Big Bird," was supposed to show Romney's small-government credentials but instead found him being sensationalistic (the average American pays $1.35 a year for PBS) & out-of-touch (Elmo is the new Big Bird!). The second, "Binders Full of Women," was supposed to be a passing phrase in a clearly-rehearsed story to prove Romney's cred with women, but instead stuck out like a sore thumb & succinctly summarized everything that made Romney oblivious to the very social issues he was trying to master. The third, "Bayonets & Horses" was the only pre-planned "zinger" that landed in the debates, & was Obama's sole debate catchphrase, used to show the anachronism that was Romney's vision of national defense. & with this, the evolution was complete. Soundbite, meet bit-bite.

4. Romney Proves Unqualified To Be a UK Tourist.

It shoulda been the most open-&-shut foreign policy trip either. Mitt Romney, savior of the 2004 Olympics (an accomplishment even most Democrats gave him), was going to visit the London 2012 Olympics, held in our strongest international ally & led by fellow conservative David Cameron. Instead, Romney gave an interview on the eve of the trip expressing "disconcerting" efforts made by England that implied a lack of preparation. The result was the worst American tour of England since Jerry Lee Lewis. Romney struggled to find his footing regarding the Olympics, called diplomats by the wrong title, & told the press about meetings that were supposed to be confidential. As the gaffes followed him to his scheduled stops of Israel & Poland, so too did the always-perfect tag from the Twitterverse used to document them: #Romneyshambles.

3. Obama Sleepwalks Through the First Debate.

A perfect storm of careless statements, international stupidity, & staffing blunders had taken hold of Romney's campaign by the time he walked onstage to meet the president in the first debate. Pundits on both sides agreed that if Obama could "win" the first debate, the election would be all but over for Romney. Instead, Obama choked. What everyone forgot was that Obama was never a great debater — Hillary won most of their primary square-offs in 2008 — & Romney had sharpened his skills in the two dozen or so Republican primary debates. With the assist of non-moderator Lehrer, Romney was able to bully & bluff his way through, keeping an upper-hand on the conversation in a strange mix of curt rudeness & blatant lies. For me, though, the most head-shaking-at-a-trainwreck moments for Obama came at the beginning & end: First, when he opened with a maudlin 20th Anniversary message to his wife & began his closing remarks by saying, "Four years ago, I said I am not a perfect man & I would not be a perfect president." WHAT?! Or, he coulda added, a perfect debater.

2. Romney Rejects 47% of All Americans.

There have been blunders & there have been blunders, but there has never been anything quite like Romney's infamous "47%" comment. Secretly filmed at a closed-door campaign fundraiser, the video leaked just prior to the first debate & threatened to take his entire campaign off-course. In it, he derided 47% of the population to be victims "who are dependent on the government" & believe the government has to care for them in an act of willful laziness. These are the "people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney explained, failing to realize that the states with the largest-amount of government aid programs are in solid-Red states like Alabama & Mississippi. But what happened next made things even weirder. Forced to answer to the video, Romney held an awkward press conference in which he granted that his words were inartfully stated, but essentially true. So the man looking to lead the country secretly writes off almost half of its population & then publicly stands by this assessment. Romney didn't plan to reverse this until the first debate, when much to his shock (& everybody else's) Obama did not bring it up. It's too bad he didn't because, based on the tepid explanation Romney gave to Fox News later that night, it woulda landed a much-needed point in the president's favor.

1. Clint Eastwood Talks to an Empty Chair.

National icon Clint Eastwood gives a high-profile endorsement of Romney & is invited to speak at the Republican National Convention after making a great impromptu speech for Romney on tour. What could go wrong? Well, Eastwood could request a chair. & the rest is...history? Said Eastwood later: "If somebody's dumb enough to ask me to go to a political convention & say something, they're gonna have to take what they get." & after watching some 12 minutes of his unscripted surrealism, this may just be the only 100% true statement to come out of the 2012 campaign.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

By The People, Or: The OTHER Reason Why I Thought Barack Obama Was Going to Get Re-Elected All Along.

I realized after completing my last post about why I always thought Obama was going to win the 2012 election, I left out the one reason that had most inspired me to write the article in the first place, probably because it was the most partisan:

Barack Obama won the election because a Republican has not fairly won an election since George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988 — in other words, in the last 5 elections, the Democrats were or should've been the true winners.

Clinton's wins in 1992 & 1996 along with Obama's win in 2008 are the obvious ones. & everybody knows that in 2000, Gore got the most number of votes, but lost it in a perfect storm of Fox News, political corruption, & (most disturbingly) the Supreme Court's Gore v. Bush decision. (Which, if you don't think it's possible for something to be compelling that's written in legalese, check out Justice Stevens' masterful dissent, which concludes that the real losers are not Al Gore or the Democrats, but the people of the United States.)

Bush's "loss" to Kerry in 2004 is the kicker, & the one that'll make most conservatives roll their eyes & think you're a joke. To all the haters (as well as all the believers), I refer you to one place, which is one of the most overlooked piece of journalism of the last decade: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" from the June 1 issue of Rolling Stone, which has been reproduced on the progressive website Common Dreams & can be found here.

The 2004 election was a bitter one, in some ways just as much as 2000. But ultimately, in both cases, it seemed as though the "true" winners, Gore & Kerry, didn't really want it so much after all, & in some ways this was the hardest pill to swallow of them all. After a prolonged fight to election day, it was as though neither one had any fight left in him. If Gore hadn't dismissed all of the people contesting their votes (or lack thereof) in his waning days as President of the Senate, or if Kerry had shown the muscle he failed to in the swift-boat controversy, we might be looking at a very different chain of events.

Now, in the end, it was worth the crushing defeat of Kerry (& perhaps even Gore too) if that's what it took for us to get to Obama. With Obama in 2008, the Democrats finally had a candidate strong enough to beat the Republicans, no questions asked. & with Obama in 2012, the Democrats finally had a candidate who could campaign just as strongly as the Republicans, pulling tricks right out of their handbook: Namely, defining Romney before Romney could define himself through his tenure at Bain (this year's swift-boat, if you will) & capitalizing on the "47%" video (this year's "I voted for the war before I voted against it"), which helped to keep an upper-hand on the news-cycle.

But most importantly, in 2012 the Democrats were able to learn from their previous trials & tribulations & turn them around into a stunning mandate. Voter suppression & corruption at the polls were no match for an electorate that was diverse & well-informed. The Democrats were finally able to tap into the base they always knew was out there, & deliver on it honestly & fairly.

&, as icing on the cake, an exasperated Karl Rove on Fox News began accusing the Democrats of rigging Ohio, even after the channel's own people had called the state for Obama.

Pot, meet kettle.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama 2012: Second Terms of Endearment.

It's often said that the eskimos have over 100 words for snow. After this election season, I feel that pragmatic liberals such as myself probably have 100 words for "cautiously optimistic." I think I may have used that phrase at least as much as "please" & "thank you" & definitely more than second-stringers like "happy birthday," "let's watch TV," or "dude, this makes James A. Garfield look like Calvin Coolidge."

Suffice to say that after the defeat of John Kerry's so-called "loss" in 2004, I never again would take up any of that "when we WILL win" junk that made Bob Dole sound like the scrappy old white guy that he was in the '96 election. (& no one need be reminded that Bob Dole lost too.)

But now that the dust has settled & the race has been decided by everyone except Karl Rove's superego (pun intended), it is safe for me to finally unveil what I was REALLY thinking (very loudly) every time I spoke those two hollow words: cautiously optimistic.

Thus, I bullishly call my reasoning:

Why I Thought Barack Obama Was Going to Get Re-Elected All Along.

1. Party stalwarts almost always beat compromised choices. Whenever it comes down to somebody that one party is genuinely behind — think Reagan in 1984 or Bush in 2004 or Obama in 2008 — vs. a compromised choice — think Mondale in 1984 or Kerry in 2004 or McCain in 2008 — it usually comes down on the side of party favorite. This only makes sense. Pundits can sit around & rationalize all day about why their candidate could/would/should/will win (& Fox News certainly did that with Mitt Romney), but the fact is that at the end of the day, someone who's a true party consensus leader will turn out the base. It always feels better to vote FOR somebody than AGAINST somebody else, which in this case worked to Obama's advantage.

2. Barack Obama is the greatest campaigner of his generation, if not of all-time. Love him or hate him, Barack Obama ran what may have been the finest political campaign in 2008. & I study this stuff. I imagine the only people who could give him a run for his money would be JFK in '60, Reagan in '80, & Clinton in '92, but that's about it. So the Republicans weren't just going up against a decent candidate — like, say, an LBJ or a Harry Truman. They were going up against THE BEST. I think a lot of people really underestimated this fact. & indeed, outside of one major folly — that lackluster, if not utterly bizarre first debate performance — Obama ran a campaign that was nearly has smooth as the one from four years earlier. Meanwhile, Romney's campaign was a ramshackle mess, with gaffes & miscalculations running ramped, outside of that week or so following that first debate. Romney would've ran the lesser campaign against any decent competitor, but going up against Obama made him look downright amateur.

3. The media built the election up into a horserace that it never truly was. Again, I first learned my lesson in 2004. After Kerry won the first debate, it was then decided that Bush won the second debate, & that the third was — surprise, surprise — a "draw." I later read an interview with John Kerry in which he said he thought he had won all three debates. I had to agree. But biases are biases. At any rate, after the first debate, the usually unflappable David Gergen on CNN said, "Now we have a horserace," as though he had been waiting for the exact right moment to use that phrase. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign sent out emails proclaiming that victory was in sight. After the first debate, Romney was propped up as the neck-in-neck contender, even though his first debate "surge" was clearly dissipating after about a week or so. As one pollster I read commented, if this was truly neck-in-neck, Romney would be coming out on top just as often as Obama, yet Obama almost always maintained a (however slight) upper-hand. Even more to the point, Romney was never really up in Ohio, without which there was practically no way in which he could win the electoral map. & as Obama proved last night when he won Colorado, he had enough wiggle room to win the electoral map WITHOUT Ohio, Florida, OR Virginia. Which itself is rather staggering. The short version is, nobody stays glued to a campaign when it looks like a definite landslide. & first & foremost, our media is driven by ratings & print sales.

4. Polls can be manipulated, but ethnic demographics cannot. One of my favorite jokes of this election was the SNL Weekend Update in which Seth Meyers was reporting Romney's stubborn supposed lead in the Gallup poll. "That's right," Meyers said, "Out of all of the people who still have landlines & answer the phone when it's an unrecognized number, Romney is winning." It was a telling observation. So much was written about polls & how they are manipulated (or fabricated) by one side or the other, but often the "mainstream" polls were getting it wrong by under-sampling the African-American & Latino vote. Obama won the former at his taken-for-granted-but-still-rather-amazing ~90% or so, but just as important was the fact he won the Latino vote at 70%. The 2012 election marks the first time that Latinos broke into the demographic double-digits, comprising a full 10% of the electorate. (& everyone knows it's only gonna go up from here.) By championing programs like the Dream Act — & not having to pander to his base about immigration law that is about as up-to-date as a spaghetti western — Obama held the distinct advantage over Romney. That sound you hear is all Republicans scratching their heads trying to figure out how to better embrace the Latino voter while still not betraying their party base, or as I like to call it, 1952.

5. History is on Barack Obama's side. It's conventional wisdom among American History junkies that all of the great presidents were reelected for a second term: Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, & Reagan. Heck, even "near-greats" like McKinley, Truman, Eisenhower, & Clinton were as well. Excluding 3 of the biggest failed presidents — Grant, Nixon, & George W. Bush — there is a pretty direct correlation between greatness & getting reelected. The only real outliers are James K. Polk, who could've been reelected but held to his campaign promise of not seeking a second term (find me a candidate today who's willing to do THAT!), & JFK, who almost certainly would've won a second term (especially if he had run against Goldwater), but did not live to do so.

Thus, if Obama was & is going to be as great as some people want him to be (myself biasedly included), he was going to need a second term. Part of this is just conventional wisdom — in the world of the political arena, eight years is a lifetime longer than four — & it takes a lot of time to get stuff done. & with the type of vision Obama has always maintained, he was going to need all the time he could get. (He shrewdly gave himself an "incomplete" when asked how he thought his presidency would be ranked so far.)

Well now, I am pleased to announce, he has gotten it. & no small feat at that: He lost only 2 states from his landmark 2008 victory (the traditionally-Republican Indiana & North Carolina — although the latter of which he just barely lost) & held on to the 3 major battleground states of Ohio, Florida, & Virginia (not to mention keeping lesser-but-still-significant battleground states like Romney's native Michigan & Paul Ryan's native Wisconsin...oh yeah, Nevada & Colorado too). In the popular vote, Obama is the first president since Reagan to receive over 50% of the total vote tally for each of his two terms. & he is the first Democrat to do so since FDR.

So despite all the nitpicking, etc., about the "closeness" of this election, Barack Obama won, & did so decisively. The catch is that the first term is always the glory term & the second is the hard one — thus, Lincoln's assassination, Wilson's 14 Points, Nixon's Watergate scandal, Reagan's Iran contra scandal, & Clinton's impeachment hearings all happened in the latter half of each respective president's administration. However, Obama has the experience & wisdom to weather through his second term better, beginning, hopefully, with a Congress that is not solely out to defeat him (& America) by making him a one-term president & willing to use some compromise on their part to get there.

For Barack Obama is now a two-term president, & God knows he's earned it.