Monday, November 24, 2008

If Hillary, Why Not Me?





With all the talk in recent weeks about the surprising choices that President-elect Obama has made in terms of people who will probably work for him, one question has come to my mind: if Hillary, why not me? Or you? Why shouldn't we be part of the Obama Administration if we want to be? And then I learned the good news that anybody can apply for a job with Obama simply by going online at Change.gov.


Obviously, more people are going to be applying for positions than there are jobs. But I think I've got a really good chance. I don't even have some of the strikes against me that some people have that he's already hired. Here's what I'm talking about:


I've never said that Barack Obama's entire experience comes down to "just one speech back in 2004." I've never said that he "isn't ready" to be President. He won't have to ask me more than once, if he decides to offer me a job. My family's finances are an open book – a pretty thin one, at that. I don't even have to move to Washington. I'll be happy to do something part-time from my house. How can they say "no" to all that?


Obviously, I'm not expecting a Cabinet position. I'll be happy with a lower level job. I'm not looking for fame and fortune. I just want to help the country. Okay, I admit it. I'd like a little perk, too. I'd love to have "franking privileges" in which I get to mail things for free. By four years from now, an ordinary stamp might cost about as much as an ordinary car.


I'm not going to get too cocky about this. I know I have to apply like everybody else. So, I went to Change.gov and started to toss my electronic hat into the ring. Once there, I found a link at the bottom of the page that says, "Jobs, Apply Now." I clicked it, and got to the page that I guess Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton had to fill out.


Under "Application Process," they explained that soon after filling out the application, I'd receive a link to a more complete application, then I'd get an acknowledgement, and then "if and when" I'm considered for a specific position, I'd have to fill out more stuff and possibly be checked out by the F.B.I.


I confess that the idea of being investigated –- or "vetted" -- by the F.B.I. made me nervous – even though I have nothing to hide. If they want to stop me from serving the country just because of what happened in history class in high school, or in Reno when I was in college, or that flashback episode of "Family Ties," then that's their loss.


I submitted the form. Almost immediately, I started wondering if this was really a scam. Was this something just to make people feel good, make us feel like the administration was open to hiring people in a new way, but it's really not? After I hit that "submit" button, was my information really going anywhere?
But within seconds – yes, seconds – I received an email from them. This is what it said:


Hello Lloyd,

Thank you for your interest in joining the Obama-Biden Administration.
Within a few days, you will receive an email with a link to the more complete
on-line application. Please be patient, as we are trying to respond promptly
to the large number of people who are interested in working in the Administration.

Thanks.



So, it's legit! I thought the "Hello Lloyd" (with no comma in between) was a bit informal for a response to a job application. However, I realize this is the "new politics," and we're all going to have to get used to things not being done "in the same old way."


When I started to reflect on the hiring process, I began to realize that they hadn't asked me what kind of a job I wanted. What if they ask me to do something really dull? I don't want to have to have to figure out how many bushels of Brussels sprouts American farmers should produce or count bathtubs for the Bureau of Statistics. Or worse, what if I'm humiliated and they don't offer me a job at all?


But then I calmed down. The Obama-Biden group is considered by some to have run one of the smartest campaigns in history. They know what they're doing. They'll know how right I am for this. After all, isn't my more than thirty years of working in sitcoms the perfect experience for someone wanting to get into politics?


I'll keep you posted.



Thursday, November 20, 2008

No Email Day






According to his staff, once Barack Obama becomes President, he'll probably have to stop sending all those emails he likes to send. Not surprisingly, there are some concerns about email security since it seems like everybody but me knows how to hack into someone else's email. In addition, the Presidential Records Act requires that all correspondence of a President must be made part of the public record. Obviously, we don't need to have hours and hours of him saying things like, "Love you, too," or "Who won the game?" in the Smithsonian. So, it looks like he'll be hanging up the old Blackberry – his emailing, phone calling, Internet checking, etc. device.


It's ironic to cut Obama off from the Internet since the Internet was such an important part of his campaign – and of his victory. It also seems somewhat unfair. I mean, if he's comfortable communicating this way, should he really have to stop? He was elected President of the United States. It's not like telling your teenage kid to stop using the Internet. And let's put it in an historical perspective: suppose they told Lincoln he could no longer use a pen to draft his speeches? We might never have had the Gettysburg Address.


But as we've seen over and over again, President-elect Obama is a very disciplined man. If he has to give up communicating via the Internet, I'm sure he will. But would you be able to? It might not be as easy as it sounds. I think a lot of us are addicted to writing e-mails, checking our e-mails, sending messages via Facebook or I.Ms., etc.


Here's a simple test to see if you are an Internet messaging addict:


1)You come home from a party. Are you capable of going to bed without checking your messages?

2)In the morning, do you feel you have to check your messages before you eat breakfast?

3)You're having sex when you hear a beep that means you have an incoming message. Do you ignore it, answer it, or try to get the sex over with as soon as possible so you can check the message?

4)When you're bored or waiting for a phone call, do you sometimes send completely unnecessary messages to people, such as: "Call you later," "I'm thinking of getting a haircut," or "I'm really bored?"

5)Do you ever go through your electronic address book, looking for people you haven't sent messages to lately, and then send them a message like those in Question 4?


If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you could be an Internet messaging addict. If you answered "Yes" to Question #3, your relationship is also in trouble.


I'm not saying that this is necessarily a dangerous addiction. What I am saying is that many of us waste a lot of time doing this and could probably cut down on it.


Here's my proposal. Even if you're not an addict, why don't we all show some solidarity with the President-elect by having a No Email Day? Let's all just stop using email for one day. (And by email, I also mean all the other electronic ways people communicate, so don't be a wise guy and think you can keep I.M.-ing). These are difficult times for our country, and by doing this we can demonstrate that we are capable of making sacrifices.


You get to pick your own day for your No Email Day. We don't all have to do it on the same day. That way, you can pick a Sunday when you know you won't need to send messages for work, or a Wednesday when you know you won't have to send messages about last night's football game.


A few years ago, most of us were spending zero minutes a day emailing. Surely, we can go back to that for just one day, especially if Obama is going to be refraining for at least four years. I'm going to set a good example, by starting things off. Right when I finish this column, I'm going to stop sending and checking on electronic messages for 24 hours. Ready, set, go!





Okay, okay. I admit it. I only lasted 20 minutes. In a moment of weakness, I walked back to my computer, and once I was there, the next thing I knew I was checking on my email. (No new messages, by the way). Well, I guess it proves one thing: Now we know I'll never be able to be President.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Real American Familes






For the past several years, we all know that there has been an emotional issue that has divided the nation. The other day, Connecticut became the second state to make the practice legal. After that happened, I interviewed Frank Wilson, the head of the Campaign For The Preservation of Keeping American Families The Way We Like Them. When I talked to him, he was a bit upset because he thought that his proposal should have been on all of the ballots across the country in the recent election. He calls his proposal Proposition 8A and it deals, of course, with the controversial issue of making it illegal for "anything other than the traditional lawn to be legally called a 'lawn.'"

We conducted the interview on his beautiful green lawn:



ME: Mr. Wilson, why shouldn't couples be allowed to have whatever kind of lawn they want?


WILSON: If you look up "lawn" in the dictionary, you'll find that it's defined as "a stretch of open, grass-covered land." It doesn't say a lawn is something that contains a rock garden, a waterfall, or a big tree in the middle of it like some people are trying to get away with these days.

ME: So, you don't like the way some of these non-traditional lawns look.

WILSON: We do not object to the way they look. What we object to is calling them "lawns."

ME: What do you think they should be called?



WILSON: Civil Union Front Yards. But they say that's not good enough.


ME: Maybe in the spirit of equality, they feel the same word should be used for them as the one used by more traditional lawns.


WILSON: Tough. We had the word first. Look, sure they should have the same legal rights as those who have normal front lawns – water, sunshine, etc.— but they are certainly not entitled to the name. These people have an agenda of changing a definition that has been important to the sanctity of American families for generations.


ME: What does a lawn have to do with the sanctity of American families?

WILSON: A lawn is where Americans have tossed baseballs and footballs around. It's where little kids wrestle. It's where young couples have sat and smelled the recently mowed grass.

ME: Yes, but...

WILSON: A lawn is made of American grass. Period. It's not a place where people admire a rock formation or listen to a waterfall. If two consenting adults want those kinds of things, they should put them in the privacy of their backyard. We don't want our children being taught about non-traditional lawns that belong to a small, but loud minority.

ME: Mr. Wilson, maybe it's time to accept that over the years, the meaning of the word "lawn" has evolved.

WILSON: Please don't bring that ridiculous "evolution" theory into this.

ME: But obviously, the vast lawn and garden of something like the Palace of Versailles is quite different from your own front lawn.

WILSON: Let's not bring the immorality of the French into this discussion.

ME: Mr. Wilson, you don't only object to couples having non-traditional lawns, but you claim that their having these lawns somehow denigrates your own lawn. Could you explain that, please?

WILSON: Glad to. If a couple has some weird thing in front of their house and they are legally allowed to call it a lawn, that diminishes the status of my own lawn. Next, anything could be called a lawn. A monkey could be called a lawn. And we don't want to allow monkeys to replace American families frolicking on their lawns.

SUDDENLY, THERE IS A LOUD NOISE COMING FROM NEXT DOOR.

ME: What was that?

WILSON: Next door neighbors. Those Macmillans are fighting again. One of them probably threw something at the other. It happens all the time.

ME: That's terrible.

WILSON: Yeah, it's one crazy family. Each of them has been married three times, their kids are on drugs, empty beer bottles come flying out of their house at all hours,...

ME: And yet, their lawn is perfectly manicured green grass.

WILSON: What's your point?

ME: Isn't it just possible that the couple down the street that has the nontraditional lawn with a rock garden and a waterfall might have a loving, caring family?

WILSON: How would I know? I've never met them. And I don't plan on it, either. Hey, is that crabgrass?

As Mr. Wilson bends over to weed his lawn, I resist kicking him in his traditional, American rear end.












Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tears For Obama?





The political cartoon that has probably affected me the most in my life was the Bill Mauldin drawing after the Kennedy assassination. As you can see, it shows the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial, with his face in his hands, obviously crying. In response to Barack Obama winning the Presidency, maybe an appropriate cartoon today would show Lincoln crying once again, but this time they would be tears of joy or amazement.


I'm not so naïve as to think, as Rush Limbaugh and others scorn, that Obama is "the one," the Messiah, the person who is going to single-handedly cure America of all of its problems. I don't even know if he's going to be a great President -- only time will tell. I'm also not so naïve as to think that his election means that bigotry is a thing of the past in the United States. I'm sure there are people who don't think Obama's election represents progress so much as a lucky Democrat who happened to be running at the right time. I disagree. There are several areas of real progress. Personally, I'm going to give Obama a chance and my support despite his rooting for the Chicago White Sox and my being a Cubs fan. I think you'll agree that's real progress.


Barack Obama and his family are now preparing to move into the White House – which was built with slave labor. That's progress, isn't it? Apparently, there was no "Bradley effect" in this election in which people claimed to the pollsters that they were going to vote for Obama but when they got into the voting booths, they just couldn't bring themselves to vote for a black man. It's possible that some people did feel, "I hate voting for a black man, but this economy is killing me and maybe he can get us out of this jam better than McCain." If that's true, maybe it's not such a bad thing. It means that some people's self-interest trumped their prejudices. Maybe in a few more generations, their families won't have these prejudices at all. No progress?


Something that seemed to elude Sarah Palin and some of the Palinites is that while it's true that "Joe the Plumber" is a real American, he's not the only real American. The Muslim who became a citizen a year ago is also a real American. The rabbi with Russian parents who was born in Brooklyn is a real American. And the black woman whose great-grandparents were slaves is also a real American.


One thing the election seemed to do was repudiate fear of or hatred for "the other." It didn't represent a triumph for the stereotypical "typical American," but for all Americans.


Most of all, to many of us, it represented an enormous step forward in American history. Just like the elderly African-American woman crying in Chicago's Grant Park, I never imagined that I would see the election of a black or a multiracial President in my lifetime. I'm old enough to remember visiting Florida in the Fifties and seeing "colored" water fountains and bathrooms. I recall going on driving vacations with my family to Wisconsin, and not being able to stay at certain motels along the way because they were "restricted" to white Christians. I can certainly remember the killings, the lynchings, and the other violence associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties.


Coincidentally, I was in Grant Park for the last big political demonstration there during the violent days of the 1968 Democratic Convention. (I wasn't a war protestor, I was a journalism student at Northwestern. I was covering the all-important delegation of Hawaii. They showered me with flowered leis, not tear gas – but I think I'm allergic to both). Even though there were many more people in Grant Park for Obama's acceptance speech, there was no violence. That's real progress, too.




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