Ads 2012: Collected
All These Helicopters
The problem with Election Day is that it is simply a choice. If there were levels of involvement other than making up a metaphysical mind and pulling a metaphorical lever, we’d be saying how justifiably we’ve hyped the event to ourselves. Months of waiting and avoiding and posting slander on our personal media(s) and smoking too many cigarettes while we wait for the big browser in the sky to refresh have brought us to this: ducking behind a curtain or into a divided nook and casting a vote like it’s a shameful thing. You wouldn’t want to be seen voting because it is too small.
Meanwhile, presidents don’t do much even if you elect them. America wasn’t built too big to fail, but it was built too big for hands. It cannot be reshaped by any citizen at least thirty-five years of age with money in the bank and enough working digits to throttle Grover Norquist. What we vote for isn’t a stewardship or a ceremony. It’s a job with legitimate consequences and glassy implications, but it doesn’t make or break your own personal life. Our two most recent presidents were a deranged war criminal and a crack-sniffing socialist, yet things have turned out okay!
It’s a job no one would want, but everybody wants it.
When the twelve tribes of Israel convened to choose a king (polling data is unavailable from that election), they picked the tallest son of a bitch they could find. By and large (p.-the-p.), America still does that. Nobody has since done what Saul the son of Kish did, which is hide among the stuff—although in the election confronting us now, one of the candidates both has a lot of stuff and has done a lot of hiding, in and of it.
Perceptions accrete around presidents both during and after their time(s), like the television characters they are. Kennedy was the Boy Wonder, flawed and circumflex. Carter was the Agrarian, salted and packed in earth. Reagan was the Great Grandfather who walked in on us in the bathroom and then apologized. Some of the forty-four were assholes and some of them played piano. At least one of them, Jerry Seinfeld suggested, had to have done some percentage-based cross-dressing.
Lyndon Johnson is considered the Most Shakespearean president, in that he really was, even by such an incredible standard, the most attracted to/conflicted by power. His shower off the Oval Office had such a powerful spray it decapitated his successor Nixon, and it took just over five years for the headless corpse to be discovered and impeached.
It is said Johnson said once to a nervous Marine who asked him which helicopter was his: Son, all these helicopters are mine. The joke is that none of them really were. The president is our highest-paid employee, who, if we his employers are lucky, occasionally does something to justify his salary. So to speak.
And you, you precious voting babe: never forget that all these helicopters are yours.
Boss And Loving It
You can tell a lot about a person by his or her face when he or she isn’t talking. Romney’s face, which I have sent dead flowers on behalf of before, acquires such a lightning-struck apoplexy of calm when someone else talks, you’d think he didn’t do it much. (Not talk.) Does he know the presidency is not All Talk?
And then when he does talk it’s in such a jacked-up spray of decaf Red Bull he becomes a green cloud of hyperverbal toxicity. Romney and Obama may have gotten equal time in the debate(s) but while Obama’s sentence structures come with air built in, the Romney talk moves in Wurtzelian avalanches.
He does not listen. He’d be the first president who has never had to stfu.
The Prose Isn’t Purple, Either: A Campaign Day
On Thursday September 20 I, being of sound mind, free will and above-average sobriety, visited the Pasadena, CA offices of Obama 2012. Never having entered a political campaign’s beast-belly before, I had no preconceptions whatsoever; although I did sort of imagine there would be food. If frozen carrots, ostensibly hand-wrung salsa with quite a bit of elbow grease for a deli, and bunting-like cake may be considered food, I was correct.
September 20 was the grand opening of the Obama 2012 Pasadena store, as it were. Festivities included a speech by Jane Kaczmarek, TV-famous as Walter White’s first wife; I missed the speech on account of hellish traffic on the 110 but I’m told said speech was rousing. By the time I and my +1 arrived, celebratory strains had lulled, diehards and curiosity-seekers alike were milling around like extras or baseball players in a baseball fight, and the bulk of the staff seemed to be on a kind of extended lunch break, unsure what work there was to go back to. Conservatively, of all things, I estimated the ratio of actual campaign workers/enthusiasts to people just there for the free food to be 2:3.
Even though it has two Whole Foods, nothing about Pasadena is outwardly to the left, especially if your ideas about such things lean to the clichéd and adamantine. It’s not called the City of Roses because it smells like East LA; it is a veritable peach festival of clean. The streets look scrubbed raw with a fistful of pumice; the cars in them are showroom-fresh. Nobody honks, nobody jaywalks. The sidewalks are swept with Christ’s ass in mind. Never mind that the quality of air in Pasadena in terms of lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter is significantly worse than average on each count, or that it houses the third-largest percentage of people in homes or halfway houses for drug/alcohol abuse and the seventh-largest percentage of people in homes for the mentally ill—it has a Cheesecake Factory! Pasadena with its exfoliated exurban face forward is over-the-shoulder politics at its worst: something will always be gaining on it.
The Obama venue itself was still in a rather various state, suffused in that lambent half-moved-in quality usually found in apartments more often than houses. Campaign offices are inherently transient, so settling in is beside the point, especially this close to the election. Moreover, this was not an Ames, IA bunker the summer before election season, or a delirious post-vote hotel ballroom. The Pasadena field office is in one of the most reliably-Democratic counties in the most reliably-Democratic state in America. The Democrats knew eight years ago they’d win California this year. How the staffers stay motivated is a question my own personal borderline-ADD scuffles with. Although, swing-state phone banking is a critical function here; there were sign-up sheets for local volunteers to call Virginians and New Mexicans and North Carolinians. On day 1 there were still a slew of shifts to be covered.
47 DAYS TO GO read a hand-lettered sign on the main room’s northwest wall. There were many such signs scattered throughout the venue: OBAMA IS AMERICA, FIRED UP READY TO GO, ARMENIANS FOR OBAMA. The regularity of the posters and their arrangement through blank, kind of drafty halls resembled a gallery devoted to children’s refrigerator art. The main room’s west wall had been turned into a “Message Wall for President Obama” which visitors are encouraged to deface with supportive and peppy commentary, Sharpie-party style. Among the taglines, aphorisms, and Bidenianly literal personal entreaties were the following, copied at random and (sic):
FORWARDS NOT BACKWARDS!
Mutts for Obama
Blues Muskins Fer Obama
President Obama and First Lady Michelle & Family the Resendez familia send you our love respect & blessings
Four More Years I Love You
The latter, all alone where wall met floor, hit me with its melancholy patch. If the best kinds of campaigns can be said to resemble love affairs, reëlections are about getting back the old woo, wrangling mistakes and mutual oversights back into recognizable order. Four More Years becomes a postcard from the edge, all the way past bias toward something resembling truth.
Past the main room was a kind of vestibule where they kept the snacks—coolers of Sprite and Diet Coke in half-ice/half-water; the aforementioned salsa, which was tasty; obligatory Aram sandwiches, which were not tasty. The RW&B cake was emblazoned with OBAMA-BIDEN, and was already half-demolished to the extent that it more or less read Ama-Bi, which only I found amusing. (Upon touring further,I discovered another cake on reserve in the next room, although the candidates’ names disappearing from the main cake apparently didn’t merit a substitution.)
The vestibule-like enclosure also contained the karaoke setup. No alcohol was visibly on the premises, unless Jane Kaczmarek drank it all, but there were still responsible adults taking turns shouting I Love LA and Celebrate Good Times (Come On) and What’s Going On in that way glasses-askew drunks do, without respect for any kind of tuneful fact-checking. A wiry older black guy in a paisley baseball cap took several turns and during each would appear to lose steam around the bridge of the song before sort of reanimating for the final chorus. He gestured to me and my guest in televangelical appeal.
Now, I know of no reason why there shouldn’t be karaoke at a campaign field office, or if it’s something that’s regularly done. I can’t imagine the Romney campaign putting up with it, but I also can’t think how I acquired such an opinion (bias!). It may be that I caught the Obama people at a really good angle, just days after Romney’s 47 percent comments leaked, and the levity of the president’s perceived lead had everyone para-sailing adrenaline-wise. It’s true that the faces of at least the youngest staffers were rosy with confidence and the general gestalt of the proceedings was pretty much all swag, Barry Scheck interrogating Dennis Fung (How about THAT, Mr. Romney?) But because karaoke and its attendant celebration of good times was clearly nothing but a vote-grab (for those of us in the 18-34, you might say, a vote grab-ass) I, being of sound mind, free will, and above-average sobriety respectfully refused.