Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nader's Nadir

An Open Letter To Ralph Nader

Dear Ralph:

Don't do it. It's not too late to drop out. You can say you were just kidding. Everyone knows you have a great sense of humor. I remember seeing you smile that time on television back in, I think it was 1998. Anyway, Ralphie Boy, I'm not asking you to drop out of the race because you might mess things up. I'm asking you to drop out because of your own legacy. You were an American hero for decades. Wouldn't you rather be remembered as the guy who saved countless lives by forcing auto companies to make safer cars than some guy who ran for President a bunch of times because of his ego?

You have every right to run for President. If the long primary campaign has proved one thing, it is that any person -- regardless of qualifications, philosophy, or lack of common sense -- has a right to run for president. And I don't think you're going to have a meaningful effect on the election as people feel you've had in the past. You seem to agree with me, because on "Meet The Press" you said you doubted you'd be a "spoiler" in this election. You went on to say that if the Democrats don't "win in a landslide... they should just close down."

So, even you don't think you're a serious candidate who can win. So, why are you running? And don't tell me it's because you want to publicize some issues that are important to the American people. You publicized important issues in the past without running for office.

Throwing your well-worn hat into the ring ranges somewhere between annoying and pathetic. It's not like a political group clamored for you to run. You don't even know what party you're going to represent. Ralph, admit it: most candidates know which party they belong to.

Years ago, when you pointed out the safety problems of the automobile in your book, "Unsafe At Any Speed," car companies and corporate heads said you were a "crank." They tried to characterize you as someone who should not be taken seriously. They claimed that what you had to say was nonsense, and you were just out for publicity.

Of course, they were wrong. You were one of the most selfless consumer advocates in history. But now it seems like those old charges might really apply to you. You seem like a "crank" running for President who isn't being taken seriously. When you declared that you were running for President, it wasn't even front page news. It was around page 10, next to stories like "Bush Says War Still Going Great" and "Icy Streets Are Slippery."

You deserve a better legacy than that. I think about schoolchildren in the next generation reading about you. I would hate for there to be only a sentence or two about all of your accomplishments, and then several paragraphs about your unfortunate runs for the Presidency.

I understand that you're not a young man, and perhaps you're looking for something to do with the rest of your life. But maybe after all these years of seriousness, you need to do something that's fun. Maybe go to a karaoke bar and sing a duet with someone you never met before. Rent a motorcycle and take it for a thrilling ride. Or maybe buy a tie that was actually made since the Beatles split up.

Lots of people from one kind of work and then do something totally different. Look at Jimmy Carter. Many people do volunteer work. Some teach. Some go back to school in a field that's completely new to them. But they don't all run for President just because they can.

I got an e-mail from someone I went to high school with the other day. He retired recently, and is about to embark on a new adventure in a completely different profession: he decided to be an usher at Wrigley Field. I have to say I respect his decision a lot more than I respect yours.

Sincerely, Lloyd Garver

A former admirer

Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain And Clinton To Obama: No More Good Speeches

Finally, John McCain and Hillary Clinton have something in common: They are both against good oratory. In fact, the speeches McCain and Clinton gave after winners and losers were declared last Tuesday were pretty similar. Voters were urged not to trust "eloquent but empty" words by one of them, while the other one said, "We need to make a choice between speeches and solutions,..." I don't remember which one said which, but it doesn't really matter. The point is that both of them warned the country not to trust language that in a previous time would have been called the "silver tongue" or the "fancy speechifying" of Barack Obama. Somehow this year, it has become a bad thing to be able to make good speeches.

Obviously, this is not the first time in American politics that candidates have pandered to voters by seeming to be anti-intellectuals and "just plain folks." Andrew Jackson's campaigns characterized him as a daring adventurer when running against dandies with too much "book learnin'." Adlai Stevenson was derided by his opponents as being too much of an intellectual, or an "egghead." More recently, there was Ronald Reagan who made the statement while running for governor of California that "universities should not subsidize intellectual curiosity." And the books aren't even closed yet on the President who made "nucular" a word and has been anything but an eloquent speaker.

Most American politicians have simply feigned this anti-intellectualism and "aw shucks, I'm just one of you" attitude. The current crop has followed in this tradition. Clinton, Obama, and McCain, schooled at Yale, Harvard, and Annapolis, certainly didn't have an anti-intellectual education. But that doesn't stop them from trying to be "one of us." McCain says "my friends" almost as often as he says, "surge." Clinton and Obama are capable of turning on and off accents and dialects depending upon the group they're speaking to. But I've never heard a candidate criticized before just because he's good with words.

I'm not a fan of demagoguery, but I don't think that's what's going on here. Obama's opponents may say that's the case, but in their doing so, they're using their own brand of demagoguery. I don't remember Senator Clinton criticizing Barack Obama as using empty words back when he made his famous convention speech. She seemed just as excited by his speech as the rest of the Democratic Party.

McCain and Clinton really seem to be trying to convince America that Obama should not be trusted because he is a captivating speaker. One of the strangest aspects of criticizing Obama like this is that it's acknowledging that he's a better speaker, a better communicator than they are. Since so much of running for President is making speeches, is it really a good idea to admit that your opponent is better at it than you? Would any of them admit that the other one was better at kissing babies?

What's really annoying is the condescension that this criticism of Obama reveals. It's as if they're saying that we Americans, we potential voters can't tell what is meaningful language and what is not. If it weren't for our good buddies, Obama's opponents, we might be taken in by all his fancy language. I'm not just engaging in my own demagoguery when I say that I have a lot more faith in the American people than that. I think we know when someone is just trying to manipulate us by his or her language -- and that's exactly what Obama's opponents are trying to do.

Don't get me wrong. Everyone running for high political office speaks largely in platitudes. We always have to listen with an appropriate amount of cynicism. But I like listening to someone who can speak in sentences of more than three words. I don't think there's anything wrong with inspirational, motivational oratory. It wouldn't be the end of our country if we had a leader who spoke using proper English. It's about time for that, ain't it?

Friday, February 15, 2008


I'm very happy that the writers' strike is finally over. However, even though I've been a member of the Writers Guild for about 35 years, both the strike and its aftermath were a bit odd for me. You see, about five years ago, after working quite steadily as a television writer for many years, I made a big mistake: I allowed some of my hair to turn gray.

In the eyes of those at the networks and studios, I was suddenly too old to be funny and too old to be a good writer. I joined many people of similar vintage as being an unemployed TV writer. Then along came the strike, and I was no longer unemployed. I was "on strike." I picketed with my "union brothers and sisters." I was part of a group trying to bring about an important change. I no longer had to go into a long explanation to my neighbor whenever he asked me how my television career was going. And then the strike was over. Hooray! It was time for striking writers to go back to work. But not for me. As a television writer, I was back to being "unemployed."

As a writer, I hadn't really been unemployed before the strike. I just hadn't been writing for TV. I've been writing my column for over six years, and I'm always working on other things as well. Yet that doesn't mean there haven't been times when I felt a tad bit of embarrassment or disappointment that I was no longer working on a television show. It was probably my imagination, but I often felt that some of the mothers with their little kids would wonder why an able-bodied man like me was walking through the park in the middle of the day. So while I certainly wasn't thrilled that we television writers went on strike, as the result of a simple vote, I had moved into a different category of people with no regular job to go to.

I knew that whatever gains the writers might get from a strike would probably never benefit me, but I was completely supportive of the Guild. I had things like healthcare and residuals because writers struck and made sacrifices many years ago. So, it was fine with me to picket for a few hours here and there, knowing that the beneficiaries of my shoe leather would be writers of the future.

During the strike, I was not only concerned about writers who were suffering psychically and financially, but about the "collateral damaged" folks of the strike: the makeup people, the grips, the waitresses at restaurants near studios, etc. But I didn't worry every minute. There was something enjoyable about the camaraderie at the Guild meetings and at picketing. And I didn't need any convincing that our cause was just. But as someone who hadn't been working before the strike was called, I never felt completely a part of it.

When writers expressed unbridled enthusiasm for the strike at the very first meeting, I wondered if they realized how serious a strike was. I also wondered how many of them would be so enthusiastic in a few weeks, or a few months. And I knew that whenever the overwhelming majority of writers would feel that it was time to accept management's proposal, I wouldn't feel comfortable voting against it regardless of what I thought of the offer. I wouldn't be able to ask working writers to stay out longer than they wanted, considering that I wasn't going to be working in television either way.

So even though I may not be able to say, "I'm not working in television now" with the same pride that I could say, "I'm on strike," I don't miss it. Overall, I'd rather be an unemployed television writer than a striking one. I've gotten used to it over the years, and I'm pretty comfortable with that position. And why should I care what those mothers in the park think of me in the middle of the day? In a little while, they're probably going to go home and watch a rerun of some show I wrote - – a show that will pay me a residual because somebody else went on strike a long time ago.

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by