Political Asylum — September 5, 2012, 2:06 pm

Michelle Obama and the DeGeneres Vote

For the last four years, it has been painful watching Democrats struggle to coordinate a single message amid the millions of tiny medialets misting around us. Typically, watching a Democrat on television is like seeing a small child on rollerskates wobble along until an inevitable and ugly face plant. Last night, though, Democrats schooled Republicans on how the accumulating speeches of speakers both soft and hard can create an overarching narrative at a convention. Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland showed current New Jersey governor Chris Christie how you strip the bark off your candidate’s opponent: “If Mitt was Santa Claus, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.” Strickland had a bit of the happy warrior about him. He’d chuckle when he got off one of his zingers, as if to say, I have another one coming. And inevitably he did: “Even his money needs a passport,” he said. “It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps.”

Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s speech was a textbook case of public oratorical structure. He opened by dinging Romney on business: “By the time he left office, Massachusetts was forty-seventh in the nation in job creation.” Then he pivoted into a refutation of the Republican line of “we built this” with a central riff on how public investment pays off. That could easily have faded into stem-winding wonkery. But Patrick whipped it along until bringing the moment down a bit, slowly and sorrowfully describing one of the worst elementary schools in Boston: “Its record was poor, its spirit was broken, and its reputation was a wreck.” He mournfully noted that the opposition was saying that those kids were “on their own to deal with their poverty.” Even though “among them are the future scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, engineers, laborers, and civic leaders,” we as a society won’t gain the benefits of those potential taxpayers unless we invest in schools and buildings. Then he throttled back up for the closer. “For this country to rise, they must rise,” he told a screaming crowd.

The evening culminated in Michelle Obama’s talk. It was masterful on many levels. The wild praise by liberal pundits is to be expected. E. J. Dionne: “a big hit.” The evidence that it flew rhetorically above anything we’d heard in either Tampa or Charlotte was evident in conservative pundits’ reactions immediately afterward. Karl Rove begrudgingly admitted the speech was “very well delivered,” and columnist Jonah Goldberg, after a few paragraphs of buts, finally had to agree: “All of that said, I thought as a political speech it was excellent and did nearly everything she needed it to do. She was more comfortable and convincingly passionate than Ann Romney.” Probably the most telling review was from Wolf Blitzer, whose tedious beard and even-handedness can dampen any moment. And yet, “The first lady not hitting a home run, but probably a grand slam.”

Thematically, she pulled off something rare. She managed to weave together a love of country with the love of her children and her man. Especially with the latter, there’s always the danger of getting goopy and putting off the audience. She layered those confessional moments with humor: “We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.” Sure, she managed to make the case for her husband, but that was almost the least of it. If the Republicans say they want “our America back,” Michelle Obama was content to describe an America to come. She slyly incorporated gay Americans seamlessly into the various melting pot metaphors that typically dot the speeches of both parties: “No matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.” And at the end: “If proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.”

She wrapped up her speech with the phrase “mom-in-chief”—linking every anecdote she’d just told and every virtue she’d just extolled with the key voter that Democrats have been chasing these last few months. Call it the Ellen DeGeneres vote. The independent women’s vote. It’s a sensitive voting segment—one that gets distressed by name-calling and gay-bashing. Romney has been courting them with solid rock-ribbed Republican issues, and he’s right about this: women in the DeGeneres demo may very well not like deficit spending or terrifying national debt. But they also appear more likely to be moved by the social issues on which the Republicans have moved far to the right. A recent poll in Virginia and Ohio—two battleground states—reveal that 55 and 56 percent of women there say they disagree with the Republican Party’s position forcing victims of rape and incest to carry the pregnancy to term. Last year, a conservative group called for a boycott of J.C. Penney after the chain named comfortably-out lesbian Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson and watched it fizzle. This was around the same time as Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, who had publicly made the case for including birth control in health care insurance, a slut and then watched scores of his advertisers walk away forever. (Just yesterday, Sears dropped out to become, by one count, the forty-fourth advertiser to flee Limbaugh.)

This segment of the vote is one of three key demographics the parties are courting in battleground states—the others being the Latino vote and the youth vote. The brilliant speech by Marco Rubio in Tampa, the selection of Paul Ryan as the vice-presidential nominee, and Ann Romney’s graceful speech revealed that Romney intended to fight for each demographic head on. After last night, there may be only two demographics left to fight for.

Share
Single Page
undefined

More from Jack Hitt:

Political Asylum November 6, 2012, 2:01 pm

The Electoral Battle Between Corporationism and Empiricism

Obama’s data-driven approach may decide today’s race—and determine the future of the G.O.P.

Political Asylum September 25, 2012, 3:18 pm

Wall Street Places Its Election Bets

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2020

The Cancer Chair

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Birds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Skinning Tree

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Interpretation of Dreams

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dearest Lizzie

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Trumpism After Trump

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My Gang Is Jesus”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Trumpism After Trump·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The city was not beautiful; no one made that claim for it. At the height of summer, people in suits, shellacked by the sun, moved like harassed insects to avoid the concentrated light. There was a civil war–like fracture in America—the president had said so—but little of it showed in the capital. Everyone was polite and smooth in their exchanges. The corridor between Dupont Circle and Georgetown was like the dream of Yugoslav planners: long blocks of uniform earth-toned buildings that made the classical edifices of the Hill seem the residue of ancestors straining for pedigree. Bunting, starched and perfectly ruffled in red-white-and-blue fans, hung everywhere—from air conditioners, from gutters, from statues of dead revolutionaries. Coming from Berlin, where the manual laborers are white, I felt as though I was entering the heart of a caste civilization. Untouchables in hard hats drilled into sidewalks, carried pylons, and ate lunch from metal boxes, while waiters in restaurants complimented old respectable bobbing heads on how well they were progressing with their rib eyes and iceberg wedges.

I had come to Washington to witness either the birth of an ideology or what may turn out to be the passing of a kidney stone through the Republican Party. There was a new movement afoot: National Conservatives, they called themselves, and they were gathering here, at the Ritz-Carlton, at 22nd Street and M. Disparate tribes had posted up for the potlatch: reformacons, blood-and-soilers, curious liberal nationalists, “Austrians,” repentant neocons, evangelical Christians, corporate raiders, cattle ranchers, Silicon Valley dissidents, Buckleyites, Straussians, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Tories, dark-web spiders, tradcons, Lone Conservatives, Fed-Socs, Young Republicans, Reaganites in amber. Most straddled more than one category.

Article
The Cancer Chair·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The second-worst thing about cancer chairs is that they are attached to televisions. Someone somewhere is always at war with silence. It’s impossible to read, so I answer email, or watch some cop drama on my computer, or, if it seems unavoidable, explore the lives of my nurses. A trip to Cozumel with old girlfriends, a costume party with political overtones, an advanced degree on the internet: they’re all the same, these lives, which is to say that the nurses tell me nothing, perhaps because amid the din and pain it’s impossible to say anything of substance, or perhaps because they know that nothing is precisely what we both expect. It’s the very currency of the place. Perhaps they are being excruciatingly candid.

There is a cancer camaraderie I’ve never felt. That I find inimical, in fact. Along with the official optimism that percolates out of pamphlets, the milestone celebrations that seem aimed at children, the lemonade people squeeze out of their tumors. My stoniness has not always served me well. Among the cancer staff, there is special affection for the jocular sufferer, the one who makes light of lousy bowel movements and extols the spiritual tonic of neuropathy. And why not? Spend your waking life in hell, and you too might cherish the soul who’d learned to praise the flames. I can’t do it. I’m not chipper by nature, and just hearing the word cancer makes me feel like I’m wearing a welder’s mask.

Article
“My Gang Is Jesus”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

When Demétrio Martins was ready to preach, he pushed a joystick that angled the seat of his wheelchair forward, slowly lifting him to a standing position. Restraints held his body upright. His atrophied right arm lay on an armrest, and with his left hand, he put a microphone to his lips. “Proverbs, chapter fourteen, verse twelve,” he said. “ ‘There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is . . .’ ”

The congregation finished: “ ‘Death.’ ”

The Assembly of God True Grapevine was little more than a fluorescent-lit room wedged between a bar and an empty lot in Jacaré, a poor neighborhood on Rio de Janeiro’s north side. A few dozen people sat in the rows of plastic lawn chairs that served as pews, while shuddering wall fans circulated hot air. The congregation was largely female; of the few men in attendance, most wore collared shirts and old leather shoes. Now and then, Martins veered from Portuguese into celestial tongues. People rose from their seats, thrust their hands into the air, and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

Article
The Birds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On December 7, 2016, a drone departed from an Amazon warehouse in the United Kingdom, ascended to an altitude of four hundred feet, and flew to a nearby farm. There it glided down to the front lawn and released from its clutches a small box containing an Amazon streaming device and a bag of popcorn. This was the first successful flight of Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery program. If instituted as a regular service, it would slash the costs of “last-mile delivery,” the shortest and most expensive leg of a package’s journey from warehouse to doorstep. Drones don’t get into fender benders, don’t hit rush-hour traffic, and don’t need humans to accompany them, all of which, Amazon says, could enable it to offer thirty-minute delivery for up to 90 percent of domestic shipments while also reducing carbon emissions. After years of testing, Amazon wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration last summer to ask for permission to conduct limited commercial deliveries with its drones, attaching this diagram to show how the system would work. (Amazon insisted that we note that the diagram is not to scale.) Amazon is not the only company working toward such an automated future—­UPS, FedEx, Uber, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have similar programs—­but its plans offer the most detailed vision of what seems to be an impending reality, one in which parce­l-toting drones are a constant presence in the sky, doing much more than just delivering popcorn.

Article
The Skinning Tree·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Every year in Lusk, Wyoming, during the second week of July, locals gather to reenact a day in 1849 when members of a nearby band of Sioux are said to have skinned a white man alive. None of the actors are Native American. The white participants dress up like Indians and redden their skin with body paint made from iron ore.

The town prepares all year, and the performance, The Legend of Rawhide, has a cast and crew of hundreds, almost all local volunteers, including elementary school children. There are six generations of Rawhide actors in one family; three or four generations seems to be the average. The show is performed twice, on Friday and Saturday night.

The plot is based on an event that, as local legend has it, occurred fifteen miles south of Lusk, in Rawhide Buttes. It goes like this: Clyde Pickett is traveling with a wagon train to California. He tells the other Pioneers: “The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.” Clyde loves Kate Farley, and to impress her, he shoots the first Indian he sees, who happens to be an Indian Princess. The Indians approach the Pioneers and ask that the murderer give himself up. Clyde won’t admit he did it. The Indians attack the wagon train and, eventually, Clyde surrenders. The Indians tie Clyde to the Skinning Tree and flay him alive. Later, Kate retrieves her dead lover’s body and the wagon train continues west.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

In response to a major volcanic eruption, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines vowed he would “eat that ashfall. I’m even going to pee on Taal, that goddamned volcano.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today