is the Title
By Raul Groom
"Sit down, kid. We don't cut no gloves off. This is the
Big Apple. This is the title." - Angelo Dundee
I wake up Sunday morning with sore feet and a serious need
for something to get intensely, unproductively angry about.
Thinking quickly, I switch on NBC and dial up Meet the Press.
Russert is there, talking to Tom Ridge. Bingo.
Tom is in the middle of trying to explain to Tim and The
American People why exactly his office seems to be staffed
mainly by brain-dead howler monkeys. It's a credit to Ridge's
loyalty that he doesn't give the obvious explanation - that
this policy is a White House hiring guideline that comes straight
from the top. Instead he yammers and sweats under Russert's
modest onslaught and basically makes it clear that his job
– which less that two years ago stretched out like a shining
path to fame, fortune and a 2008 Presidential nomination –
has mutated into a nightmarish continuum of fear mongering,
blame ducking and union busting.
The Homeland Security head is insulated from the war scandal
that's threatening to engulf the White House, since everything
his agency does is a Matter of National Security, but the
best Tom can hope for now is that the appointment turns out
to be a two-way ticket to Nowhere and not the more commonly
Unfortunately for me, my principal reaction to this display
is not so much anger as a sort of piteous, vicarious shame
for this man, who as far as I know was once a nice example
of the endangered Not-Completely-Incompetent Republican Governor,
and who is now festering in the bureaucratic bowels of an
administration that has nowhere to go but down. Bush might
optimistically exclaim "Look at the speed we're traveling!"
but Ridge is presumably smart enough to get the joke, even
if he can't quite bring himself to laugh.
In the end I have to change the channel to get really upset.
On Fox, a couple of conservative blowhards are discussing
gay marriage. Another switch to another network finds a couple
of centrist blowhards discussing gay marriage. No one is making
any sense. I am outraged. Mission accomplished. I tear off
to the back of the house to report my anger to Sophia.
"I'm tired to hearing about gay marriage!" I bark. "There
are more important things to be talking about." It is an insensitive,
idiotic thing to say, and I am quite proud of it.
"Okay," she says, and wisely leaves it at that. I switch
off the TV and storm out to wander around in the park and
think angry thoughts. As I jump across the rocks in the rushing
creek, though, my words echo falsely in my ears like a squash
ball hitting the tin at a weird angle. My anger isn't holding
up under scrutiny, and it pisses me off. The more I think
about it, the more gay marriage seems like the seminal political
issue of our generation.
It is a shocking conversion, one that suggests an emotional
rather than logical investigation of the subject, but I press
on anyway. It seems fitting to consider a religious issue
in a faith-based frame of mind, and the fact that gay marriage
is a fundamental religious freedom issue is what could destroy
the Bush Administration's base on this supposed bread-and-butter
conservative issue. If the Bush administration has a core
competency, it's Keeping Down the Queers, but the holy rollers
may find that they've placed themselves in an untenable position
on this one.
Consider the wobbly, orcish opening salvo in the mass media
mobilization – loosed by President Bush just before he high-tailed
it off to the ranch to eat pretzels under intense Secret Service
supervision and drink, well, drink whatever it is the President
drinks these days. Dubya chortled darkly that he has lawyers
who are busy deciding how best to make sure that no state
in the U.S., no matter what its citizens want or what its
local religious standards are, can recognize the union of
two members of the same sex as a valid family under the law.
It was the sort of mean, softheaded snub of a so-called "special-interest
group" that can only be the harbinger of one of Tom DeLay's
mad drives to energize his wealthy pack of evangelical attack
dogs. We are only a year from a major election, after all,
one that could define the direction of the country for decades
to come, and Tom is known to catch as many fundraising worms
The problem for DeLay and, by extension, for Bush, who will
try anything Karl Rove and the Hammer tell him will work,
is that the Republican right wing may have miscalculated the
lengths to which educated religious bigots such as Justice
Scalia will go to make life harder for people who prefer to
deal exlusively with one particular set of genitalia. Scalia
will tirelessly support state statutes banning men from actually
boinking one another, but allowing a federal law codifying
what types of marriages a minister may legally sanction may
be beyond even Antonin's considerable powers of cognitive
contortion. Supreme Court Justices serve for life, and the
idea of a complete reversal of his own opinion becoming necessary,
in the event that some crazy liberal Congress wants to change
the law to read the opposite way sometime down the road, may
be a little too much for Scalia to swallow.
The revival leaders might not even be a sure thing. While
the masses of the religious right may be placated momentarily
by the dogged attempts of their pious legislators, the shrewder
evangelicals – the ones who tend to have their hands on the
money – will know a loser when they see one. The last thing
Pat Robertson needs is for his followers to see Pat's favorite
Supreme Court Justice on board with the folks he's praying
will soon keel over and "retire," telling the faithful they
just have to accept the idea that there may be guys kissing
in a church somewhere on any given Saturday. That's not the
sort of raw spiritual power that Robertson wants to be projecting
to a flock he's almost bled dry with weird vitamin-supplement
schemes and expensive books that make absolutely no sense
Still, though this onslaught could certainly be a failed
attempt to knock our troubles in Afghanistan off the front
page of the Washington Post, there is every indication that
the big boys in the Taliban wing of the GOP are ready to go
to war. There will be blood on the floor at the end of this
one, and the winner may take it all next November.
All of which makes this an extremely interesting junction
in the Democratic primary race. If the Republicans want a
fight on gay marriage, the Democrats need a standard-bearer
for a more tolerant position, and Howard Dean's "Leave it
up to the States" evasion probably isn't a sound basis for
serious ass-kicking. Kerry's strength is national security
so he'll want to keep things in that arena, and Lieberman
is Lieberman and won't want to rock the boat on an issue that
isn't a real winner with his upper-middle-class suburban base.
There is an opening here for a social liberal to toss his
hat in and see how far he can ride the inevitable backlash
to the GOP's ugly gay bashing.
In a perfect world, my pick for the part would be Dick Durbin,
a genuinely classy and compassionate Senator who is probably
too old to have a realistic shot to take the nomination in
2008 and beyond. Unfortunately, Durbin won't even return my
emails begging him to run, which probably means he isn't interested,
but which also may have something to do with the fact that
for a time about a year ago I was given to transmitting wild,
unbalanced screeds to his communications director, whose email
address I had acquired through a series of strange coincidences.
She may still have me on a block list for all I know.
The obvious choice is Gore. The issue is a natural for Big
Al, one that would allow him to spotlight the blatant hypocrisy
and cynicism of Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism" without
bringing up the 2000-lb. gorilla in the kitchen. Of course,
he is still saying he isn't running, and he's starting to
worry me. I had thought he would be back in by now to restore
order to the Universe, as Bill Walton would (and probably
has) put it.
You see, Al, we all understand you're fed up, you're frustrated,
and you're tired of being thumbed in the eye by a bunch of
rich bullies who own every radio station and TV outlet in
town. But let me tell you a story.
In 1964, a young boxer named Cassius Clay came back to his
corner at the end of the fifth round in a state of visible
agitation. "Cut the gloves off," he demanded of his trainer.
"I can't see." Clay had fallen victim to an old, dirty trick,
and his eyes were burning. Fortunately for boxing history,
his trainer was experienced in these sorts of things. He explained
that there would be no cutting of the gloves. He shoved his
fighter back out into the ring to face the music. The rest
It's about time someone shoved Al back into the ring. Maybe
he can't beat Bush. Maybe he can't even beat John Kerry. But
it's not right that a guy with such a bright future should
throw it all away just because his opponent turned out to
be playing dirty pool. Politics is a vicious business, and
if Bill Clinton's veep can't face up to that fact and stumble
back into the ring to take his lumps, the Democratic party
may very well be doomed. Washington is no place for whiners
and quitters. You can't roll over and die - you have to make
them kill you.
There's a lot more to consider, but I won't be considering
it, as I've emerged from the park into a bustling market,
and I need to pick up seven or eight peaches to take home
and test out the new blender, an early wedding present from
some extremely punctual friends. I figure I can hold my train
of thought through the operation, but out of the corner of
my eye I think catch a glimpse of The Roarer, a friend of
mine from about 90 miles down I-95. It isn't him, which is
good, because as I look closer at him , his girlfriend seems
to think I'm looking at her, and she's acting interested.
That's easier to laugh off when it's some stranger's girlfriend
who's shamelessly advertising herself in front of a display
of day lilies.
The important point, The Story if you will, is that the
Democrats have before them a golden opportunity to latch onto
an issue where the absolute worst that could happen is that
the Republicans will ram through a mean-spirited, unworkable
federal law that will immediately be challenged by a half-dozen
state legislatures looking to make a statement and will be
on a fast track to a Supreme Court showdown besides. On the
other hand, there are myriad ways for the Dems to win the
fight, and a convincing knockout of the GOP plans will leave
the Republicans looking weak and stupid on top of hateful
The dumbest thing the Democrats could do is shy away from
the issue, thinking it's not "a winner" or that they have
to keep the focus on Bush's overseas ineptitudes. Bush can
blunder away his foreign policy credentials on his own, as
he has amply demonstrated. On the domestic front, there will
have to be a real battle, and we can't be scared away just
because our opponent is a big ugly bear who will do absolutely
anything to win.
After all, this is the title.