February 28, 2014

Beer and Loafing: On the Campaign Trail ’16

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:22 pm

Protest in Berkeley 2014

A spontaneous chance to cover a political protest in Berkeley on the morning of Sunday February 23, 2014 provided a photo-op and an opportunity to learn about a political dispute that hasn’t suffered from overanalyzes on the network TV newscasts.  The Dalai Lama had given a speech and the protesters were trying to draw coverage of the suppression of the Shugden sect.  The splinter group is brining a Sunni vs. Shiite style dispute to Buddhism.

The serendipity discovery of the religious feud was an opportunity to write a column about the allegations that the Chinese government was funding the rebel religious group for political reasons and that the Shugden believers were responding with accusations that the Dalai Lama was guilty of bigotry and religious suppression.

Initially our inclination, since access to the event was very limited, was to dash off a column about how restricting coverage to news events is an initial step towards managed news and de facto censorship.

We were bothered by the fact that devoting a full column to one particular topic in a week when a smorgasbord of issues begs for attention does a disservice to the other problems.

Has anyone noted that the Arizona veto story was a perfect example of a wedge issue taking up valuable air time on talk radio while the war in Afghanistan crumbles into another example of why quagmires aren’t popular with taxpayers?

Did a brief blip on the news radar, about the possibility that American sailors may have been exposed to a dangerous amount of radiation while providing a propaganda photo op moment at Fukushima, unleash a discussion about Veterans’ benefits?  If it did, we missed that.

When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the plans to reduce the Military to the 1940 level, we thought about doing a column questioning that ploy which might have the unintended consequence of causing a member of the Axis of Evil to become more belligerent.  Then we wondered if it was a variation of the rope-a-dope strategy meant to goad some more aggressive response to American foreign policy.

Then the media started reporting some ominous activity on the Ukraine border with the Soviet Union and we were reminded that after giving Syria an “or else” ultimatum, President Obama backed off on his threats to that country.  When Secretary of State John Kerry issued a similar sounding “or else” message, it brought back echoes of the preliminary stages of the Cuban Missile Crises and we wondered if President Obama was ready for a similarly tense confrontation.

After buying a bargain copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing:  The Campaign Trail ’73,” we noticed that much of the material could be written this week with only a few name changes being necessary.

Thompson’s description of the scene when George McGovern is asked if he would support Ed Muskie if he got the nomination and gave a “Yes, I’m inclined to that position” made us think that most likely Vice President Joseph Biden will back Hilary after she gets the nomination in the summer of 2016.

When Thompson castigates the Air Force for the results of the bombs they dropped, it sounded very much like the current disapproval some are expressing about the drone strikes.

Hunter marvels that McGovern had the Democratic nomination wrapped up by April.  The New York Times this week ran a story that makes it look like Hilary has a lock on the nomination and the only horse race for the press to cover is over in the Republican Party.

The Thompson book skips over the second rate burglary at the Watergate.  All most all journalists dismiss the question “what did the buglers get at the Watergate?” and ignore the crimes’ immediate impact on American History.  How did Thompson handle that thorny issue when it was a current event?

Unfortunately the book doesn’t have an Index and we started flipping pages and skim reading to get to the Gonzo assessment of the burglary in the context of the 1972 Presidential Election.

There was some iconoclastic name calling, a lot of name dropping, and the self promotion aspect of the book was, in retrospect, annoying.  Hemingway had to fight a perpetual battle with the bull known as a blank white sheet of paper.  Hunter S. Thompson fought a myth of Sisyphus battle with deadlines.  That was before the advent of cable news networks.

At the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory many of the employees with a great deal of seniority believe that the Watergate burglars went looking for skeletons in the Democratic closet and that they found what they wanted.  Among the material they took were copies of Thomas Eagleton’s medical records.  After he got the Vice Presidential nomination and the conventioneer went home, somebody leaked the damning information to the press.  The McGovern campaign was tripped up and never regained their footing thus assuring Richard Nixon of re-election.

There is an old journalism adage:  “When you can’t cover the story, cover the coverage.”  That accurately describes the essence of the Gonzo account of the McGovern Presidential campaign.

Doug Brew, who parlayed an assignment to cover the 1980 Ronald Reagan campaign for Time magazine into the coveted White House correspondent slot, once summarized the attitude of the big league journalists:  “Monkey see; monkey do.”

The hell with Thomas Eagleton’s medical records and the fact that they were the keystone story for Nixon’s reelection; on the morning of Friday February 28, 2014, we had a 10 a.m. reservation for a computer and at 7 a.m. the Perils of Pauline question was could we pump out the necessary keystrokes, transfer the column to the thumb drive, and get to the computer appointment without getting soaked in the much needed rain storm that was helping to break the drought in California and then get it posted on time?

Our efforts to get press credentials for the 1968 Democratic National Convention had failed.  Our attempt to get a press pass to cover this weekend’s Oscar pageant had been unsuccessful.  A word to the wise is sufficient.  Our efforts to secure a Press Pass to the 2016 Republican National Convention will begin this weekend.

Isn’t the decision about where to hold that event being made this weekend?  Isn’t Cleveland the front runner?

As New Jersey’s governor Chris Christy’s Presidential hopes are nibbled away by the piranha-icle mainstream media, the question now for political pundits (resorting to sports clichés) will be who is going to be the next Republican party bum-of-the-month?  Our prediction is that the man who gets the nomination will sit out the primaries and then listen to a committee begging him to break a deadlock.  (Hint:  His initials are J. E. B.)

[Note from the photo editor:  Photos of a protest in Berkeley have been popular for almost fifty years.  The tradition continued last Sunday when members of the Shugden sect protest of  a speaking appearance by the Dalai Lama drew extensive news coverage.]

Hunter, on page 300 of the Campaign ’72 book, writes:  “Later that night, at a party on the roof of the Doral, a McGovern staffer asked me who I would have chosen for the VP  . . . and finally, after long brooding, I said I would have chosen Ron Dellums, the black congressman from Berkeley.”

Now the dick jockey will play Ted Nugent’s “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” Rattlife’s “Great White Buffalo,” and As I Lay Dying’s song “Nothing Left.”  We have to go check out the San Francisco History Expo being held this weekend at the Old Mint.  Have a “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” type week.

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