Modern Civics (Part One of Two)
Today, I’m reporting from the family cabin on French Lake in Rice County, Minnesota. The weather is sunny and beautiful, my pontoon boat is running like a champ, and I have a nice bottle of chilled white wine. To top matters off, my personal forecast calls for steaks and stone crabs on the grill, cold Old Style beer, perhaps a kayak trip while being sweetly serenaded by Suicidal Tendencies on my iPod. If this somehow fails to satiate my mellow yet persistent demands for summer perfection, I can always go casting for sunfish and walleyes. And if that fails to keep me occupied, I can always get my father’s new puppy drunk. She’s young enough to be curious, yet not old enough to know better. I see a lot of me in her.
As good as this sounds, (and it is, believe me) my summer solitude was shaken this morning when I opened the latest copy of Time magazine. The cover featured filmmaker Michael Moore, whose new political tragicomedy Fahrenheit 9/11 is cleaning up at the box office. Since I haven’t seen the movie, I have nothing to say about it. However, Time features a regular sidebar forum every month where the magazine’s editorial staff prints notable quotes from people of moment, alongside a contextual explanation. To get back to the point, I almost choked on my rouille-topped eggs upon reading Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) addressing the last of her recalcitrant supporters by stating: ‘We’re going to take some things away from you on behalf of the common good’. (Time, July 12, 2004)
Now, I don’t know if you’re still young enough to be curious yet not old enough to know better but what Clinton said (and fairly clearly for a politician, I might add) is that she wants more of your hard-earned money to fund … well, something. Just exactly what that ‘common good’ is, we don’t know. But if history leaves us any clues, we may deduce that health insurance will triple in cost (euchred from an inflated tax pot); or perhaps we’ll be funding a power-hungry turd of a prosecutor who’ll waste our time and money to recount the tantalizing adventures of her husband’s pecker.
Perhaps the senator wants to bring back common-good programs such as ‘Midnight Basketball.’ Which, if you remember, spent a load of the taxpayer’s money to supervise kids acting like, well, kids. But, where do Clinton and her cronies get off turning childhood playtime into an OSHA directive? I don’t know about your upbringing, but I don’t remember my friends and I needing an Act of Congress to play our version of ‘Light A Paper Bag Full of Dog Shit On Fire and Ring Old Man Tillson’s Doorbell.’
And that’s the thing about Democrats: not only do they honestly believe that the ‘common good’ includes federally-mandated bedtime, but that the nation is better off if we fund the program with actual money. By ‘actual money, I don’t mean the dough the government siphons off millionaires I’m talking about the 3.5% of my income that arbitrarily gets added to my tax bill whenever the Democrats obtain a majority. Since this is a confession, I’ll admit that 3.5% of my income last year added up to a tidy sum of $1260.00.
I’ll leave it to you to do the math in reverse if you really want to know how much money I made last year. I believe it’s on par with what a manager at McDonald’s makes, not including the luxurious health and dental benefits they receive. In terms of what this means to the Padre’s life, a 3.5% tax hike equals two months’ rent (that’s 1/6 of my annual housing budget) to fund the ‘common good.’
Since speech is still (relatively) free, I’ll spend freely and say: ‘Fuck that.’
But this isn’t a diatribe against Democrats. Republicans can spend money they don’t have with the best of them. Since Republicans like to practice a form of economic voodoo known as ‘deficit spending,’ they let you keep the money you have in your pocket but fund evil foreign-policy directives on a fictitious Visa card with no foreseeable spending limit and an unimaginable interest rate. As a result, the money Republicans borrow gets paid back when Democrats get elected and raise taxes. This generally happens when Americans can’t stand unelected right-wing creeps like Ralph Reed anymore.
Beyond that, Democrats make much better comedic fodder. On the surface, one would think that Republicans should be the mark for humorists because they’re corrupt and evil. But the lefties take the cake because they’re corrupt and dumb or at least dumb enough to tell their wealthiest supporters that they’re about to get skinned so farmers who can’t balance their checkbook can stay in business.
As for me, I can’t decide which form of corruption repulses me more. Since both presidential candidates moved to undermine basic civil rights with their support of the Patriot Act, I’m hesitant to give either the time of day. Frankly, my revision of the Patriot Act would start by taking everyone who voted for it out to the Rose Garden at the White House for a press conference. After serving them Kool-Aid and cookies, I would have them shot as traitors, followed by a mass burial on the patch of lawn outside the Oval Office so future presidents will think twice about putting their political agenda above our freedom.
We all know that George W. Bush is an utter failure as a president. In point of fact, he wasn’t even elected. Even though Minnesota is considered a ‘battleground’ state, meaning it might actually vote Republican for the first time since God knows when, I (sadly) don’t feel compelled to cast an anti-Bush vote for Kerry. If the Republicans are the party of evil, then the Democrats are the party of dumb. Remember that it was Al Gore’s wife Tipper who parlayed her husband’s influence in the Senate to censor lyrics on rock albums. This is a direct attack on the first amendment and the freedom of speech. Which, incidentally, includes her freedom to fret and worry over Ozzy Osbourne’s sophomoric poetry.
Not that Mrs. Clinton was about to be upstaged by the Second Lady. She obviously felt no misgivings towards trading her silence on Bill’s extramarital encounters for the privilege of writing that failed health-care package that, in turn, fueled the 1994 Republican Revolution, complete with Newt Gingrich’s moronic ‘Contract With America.’
I know that I’ll receive complaints from well-meaning people who’ll undoubtedly point out that government policy does, on occasion, make law of what we know to be ‘common good.’ For example, any law that designates people of all colors, faiths, genders and such as being worthy of being treated equally and fairly under the various Articles of the Constitution may qualify for the ‘common good.’ But, let’s face it: there isn’t much for Congress to do except keep the streets in good repair, fund schools and seal our borders from those sinister Canadian war-hawks that are always plotting to invade America.
If we look back, Congress has been writing laws for two hundred twenty-eight years. I’m told that the latest crop of congressional hopefuls are ready to write another slew of legislation for my enjoyment. However, an indefensible amount of laws are drafted when politicians confuse the common good with their personal peccadilloes. This is upsetting enough by itself, but the fun never stops there, does it? The default position of lawmakers is to take an inch of mandate real or imagined and turn it into a mile of red tape. For example, which part of the Constitution says I can’t enjoy a smoke with my beer at the local watering hole?
Since this is election year, what do we vote for: freedom from federal babysitters or an honorable discharge from Bush’s confederacy of corruption? Political humorist P. J. O’Rourke said that the Republican Party attracts the scum from business, while the Democrats cater to the scum of politics. He surmised he would rather side with the business clan because the political poops on both sides of the aisle are equally adept at ruining the environment, job market and supply of affordable housing. The only difference is that unlike the righty-tighties, who at least make a profit, Democrats do this shit for fun.
While I see the clarity in O’Rourke’s logic, I’m at odds with his simple duality. In my opinion, both parties exact their contempt for the common good by combining their party’s platforms with contradictory positions. The Republicans talk about the wisdom of small government, but create unmanageably gigantic agencies to keep me from making my connecting flight in Memphis. Democrats profess to be the party for America’s underdogs and then write rent-control policies that keep investors from developing run-down properties into affordable housing.
As a service to America, I’d like to straighten these people out. While I make no promises that the actual politicians will function within the parameters of the platforms that I’ll lay down, I do guarantee that it’ll be easier for you to pick a side and demand that your candidate tows the party line.
This month I’ll start the restructuring process with the Republicans, since they need the most work. I’ll dig in on the Democrats next month after they’ve alienated the common citizen with their proposals for the common good at their convention in Boston.
A small and unobtrusive Federal government is allegedly the heart and soul of the GOP. Thomas Jefferson put it succinctly: ‘The government that governs the least governs the best.’ The general thought is that an individual can more effectively manage life better if they’re left with the freedom and resources to do so.
Which is exactly what the Republican Party fails to stand up for. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, religious ninnies, uptight yahoos and bastards with no sense of compassion whatsoever have dominated the party of Lincoln since Goldwater. Although Nixon somehow transformed civil liberties for minorities into the standard practice of the land, the Grand Old Party has become the mouthpiece for the selfish and the inept.
Under my restructuring proposal, certain groups who traditionally have fallen under the right’s constituency will be left out in the rain. Jesus-wheezing pro-lifers and the Moral Majority will find themselves out of luck when the Republicans step out of people’s private lives. By private lives, I mean: whom people marry, what they smoke, where they purchase their health care and how they worship.
Thus, the New Republicans have to become the party of tolerance. If folks don’t elect candidates to tell them how to live, then they shouldn’t pester the government with their opinions about who can marry whom. Instead, Republicans will have to defer to the U.S. Constitution, which states in plain English that folks are created equal and actually guarantees the pursuit of happiness in print. The drawback is that assholes like the Klu Klux Klan get to have their name on Adopt-A-Highway signs across America, but an under-funded Environmental Protection Agency won’t have the resources to prosecute African-American mothers who literally take the law into their own hands and throw their shit-soaked diapers out the minivan window for the Klan to pick up twice a year.
A small federal government doesn’t indicate a land without laws. Instead, the power to govern falls under state’s rights, where individual citizens debate and decide legislation in a more immediate context. Thus, Nevada may have legalized prostitution and gambling, but California forbids smoking cigarettes.
Since the New Republicans won’t waste time snooping around your house for marijuana and buggery, you won’t have to pay for it. Small federal government indicates lower taxes for all. While there would be less ‘taking from the rich to give to the poor,’ there will be no ‘taking from the rich and the poor to recycle in questionable and dubious programs that nobody needs.’ (See ‘Midnight Basketball’ above.) For all intents and purposes, Social Security will get the axe as well, which is fine by me: all the money has long since been spent, and you and I are paying into an outdated farce for which we’ll never collect. Let’s just cut our losses.
The axiom ‘If you think health care is expensive, wait until you see how it costs when it’s free,’ carries a lot of weight for the Republicans. Federal health care isn’t even a consideration in the GOP caucus. Instead, health care moves to the states, where the needs of citizens are met under a smaller umbrella. Depending on where you live and what state government you elect, you can pay into a local health management system or just allocate the money the government didn’t tax you to buy your own insurance. The theory is that individuals purchase insurance cheaper than the government can provide it, and if you remember the Department of Defense buying $800 toilet seats, you may agree.
While you won’t be able to have Medicare cover that stomach stapling and plastic surgery to trim the resulting excess skin away from your throat because your ‘neck looks like a vagina’ (Fat Bastard, Austin Powers Goldmember), you won’t have to pay for anyone else’s foolishness. However, raiding Canada’s state-subsidized prescription medicine will be encouraged, at least until our neighbors to the north go into bankruptcy, probably by October 2005. After that, we’ll have to get our pills from Mexico, which is fine, since they already provide the rest of our cheap drugs.
Obviously, the practice of so-called conservative policies excludes several common-good (and common-sense) initiatives. The very nature the right’s hands-off politics fails to compensate the toll industry takes on the environment, the repugnant practices of using unquantifiable bigotry as leverage for promotion in the workplace and all-around evil.
This is where the Democrats come in, but not until next month. Be sure to tune in.
This month’s recipe is a nod to America’s favorite corporate stock cheat and homemaker, Martha Stewart. As a tribute to her five-month prison sentence, I’m featuring Martha Stewart’s Jail House Mac & Cheese. If you’re like me, you’ve been eating Kraft’s 79-cent version for years. But it’s time for an upgrade; it’s time for a mac & cheese that’s boss- and I think we know who’s wearing the Daddy Pants in that jail cell…
Martha Stewart’s Jail House Mac & Cheese
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter,
plus more for casserole
6 slices good white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Pound elbow macaroni
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish: set aside. Place bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour melted butter into the bowl with the bread, toss. Set the bread crumbs aside.
2. Warm milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Melt remaining butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring 1 minute.
3. While whisking, add hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until mixture bubbles and thickens, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, peppers, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano), set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining cheddar & Gruyere (or Pecorino) and bread crumbs over top. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
7. Transfer dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes. Serves 12.
I mentioned earlier that I ‘almost choked on my eggs topped with rouille’ while eating breakfast. The rouille (pronounced Roo-Wee) I speak of has been featured as a recipe before, but it’s worth a repeat.
Rouille is a garlic/basil sauce that is easy to make and brings an immediate legitimacy to almost everything you can top it with. Aside from that, it is simple to make, provided you have a food processor. Simply put all the ingredients in a blender and mix for a minimum of four minutes. Chill in the fridge for at least one hour before serving.
6 CLOVE GARLIC
1 TEASPOON SALT
12 LARGE BASIL LEAVES
1/3 CUP RED PIMENTO/ROASTED RED PEPPER
1/3 CUP PACKED BREAD CRUMBS
1 EGG YOLK
1 CUP OLIVE OIL
FRESH PEPPER (to taste)
HOT SAUCE (as you like it, you dirty sinner)
This month’s Old Style Zealot is none other than my life-long friend Erick Sommers, (But my father calls him ‘Ear-Ache’). An early musical influence of mine, Erick was the first cat I knew who would play guitar without structure of any kind- and never discouraged other people from playing with him. Jamming, jamming, jamming… Cheers!