Thursday, April 28, 2011

Going to the dogs

By Don Klein

I was driving along a country road in Delaware the other day when I noticed the van in front of me was in the business of “Mobil Dog Grooming.” Across the top of the back doors was inscribed it’s clever motto: “Going to the Dogs.”

How appropriate, I thought. This company was going to the dogs while the country in general was also going to the dogs but without the tongue in cheek. We just experienced the exasperation of the president of the United States being forced to bow so low as to publicly produce his birth certificate.

At first I was exhilarated when I learned that President Obama released his long form birth certificate to finally shut up the growing political rabble who were making an issue of his legitimacy as the elected leader of this nation by attacking his birthright.

Such criticism was patently absurd from the start and was clearly not anywhere near the level of the real problems facing the nation. Yet it had to be handled because it absorbed too much of the public debate, thanks to a Republican barrage of lies, at a time when the nation could not afford it.

But after a time, I thought about it some more and the idea sank in and I became deeply dismayed that this sort of mischief-making and slanderous insinuations became such an issue that Obama had to stoop to silence the morons across the nation who embraced such inconsequential nonsense.

Jackie Robinson had his painful trials as the first black ballplayer in the major leagues and today is hailed as having changed the nature of America. Now Obama has become the equivalent of Robinson, but in the much more significant environment of the presidency.

The challenge to his legitimacy can only be explained as racism, pure and simple, although clumsily disguised by people like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin and silently indorsed by Republican leaders in Congress who stood to gain from any damage done to the Democratic leader.

Interestingly none of the previous 43 presidents of the United States have ever be asked to prove they were legitimate Americans. None have been accused as foreign interlopers trying to steal the American government from the people. John McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone was never challenged. But he is white and Republican.

The weight of this embarrassing conclusion to this totally unnecessary revelation of Obama’s, lies on the Republican Party. It is their members who have launched and sustained this illogical and insulting campaign and none of the so-called sensible leaders of the party put the matter to rest.

Oh yes there was one. Mitt Romney declared openly that Obama is American born and Romney said he would not discuss that issue but rather would devote his campaign to matters of importance facing the nation. All the rest toyed maliciously with the birther lies.

John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, said he takes the president at his word that he was born in the US but would not counsel his caucus to drop the birther issue. He claimed it was not up to him to tell his members what to think even if he knew what they were thinking was untrue. With that Boehner became the first among many scoundrels.

What really hurts is the fact that polls showed that the majority of Republicans believed Obama was not born on US territory or were not sure of his citizenship even after the State of Hawaii released a certificate of live birth in his name. The American voter, not known for sharp intelligence, often dwells in knownothingism.

As the great political pundit of the early Twentieth Century, H.L. Mencken, claimed in a lecture at Columbia University in January 1940, most political candidates reach public office usually by their power “to impress and enchant the intellectually underprivileged” in the country. In the 71 years since he mutters those words not much has changed.

I hold the masses of Americans who listen and believe the most outrageous claims by half-baked candidates for office as the real culprits in this insidious drama. Fortunately they are not a majority of the electorate but they are a large enough minority to often affect close elections.

Who can forget the classic Ed Murrow CBS Reports program about the great American voter which opened with the lead character entering a Mississippi polling place and signing the register with a broad “X” while millions of literate blacks were kept by unjust laws and cold fear from ever thinking of voting.

Republicans have made an industry of weaning fear into political victories. Remember the Michael Dukakis campaign derailed by the Willie Horton story, remember Ronald Reagan and his onerous charge that the government is the problem, and remember eight years of terror fear during the George W. Bush years which robbed thousands of GIs of their lives and millions more Americans of their Constitutional rights of privacy.

The sad fact is that instead of Obama being hailed as the great American example of the triumph of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks making it as a brilliant student, as the editor of the Harvard Law Review, as an author and a Constitutional scholar, and then the ultimate prize, as president, his detractors will now try to debunk him as a scholastic fraud and the beneficiary of affirmative action.

There were political observers in Lincoln’s day (another success story of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks) who described him as a baboon. No one remembers their names today, but the world honors the memory of Lincoln.

Donald Trump take note. History will record you as a detestable charlatan, if it records your name at all, while Obama surely will earn the plaudits of time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Once in love with Amy

By Don Klein

I arrived at the local medical laboratory to have a blood test, It’s nothing special, I’ve been doing this routinely for years. Nevertheless the occasion this time brought back ancient memories.

It’s funny how life is. You are doing one thing and it reminds you of something completely unrelated and soon you are wandering in that pleasant old neighborhood: Memory Land. That’s what happened the other day.

After a short wait a receptionist called my name and led me into the catacomb-like sanctum of the hospital lab. She took me to a small room with a desk and a computer and pointed to a young woman who was waiting for me, The escort said, ”This is Amy. She’ll take care of you.”

At the sound of the name Amy I broke into a silly rendition of that old favorite of mine, “Once in Love with Amy, Always in Love With Amy.” The clerk behind the desk who was preparing the papers for me to sign before having my blood drawn was much too young to have remembered Ray Bolger in “Where’s Charley,” but she started to laugh at my singing. That happens a lot. I asked her, “Have you ever heard that song before?”

“Many times,” she answered pleasantly, but with a hint of the forbearance of a person who was listening to a repetitious old joke. I decided I had to better my status with her by asking, “Do you know where it is from?” She had a puzzled look on her face, “What do you mean ?” I responded “What show the song came from?”

She was about 30 years old and of course didn’t know. It was a hit song in show that was last performed on Broadway some three decades before she was born.

“It was sung by and danced to by Ray Bolger. Do you remember him?” I said. Her answer was expected “I think so. Wasn’t he the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.”

Of course she was right, but my memory of Ray Bolger is a bit different and her name resurrected memories. It goes back to Christmas time 1950 when I was a recruit taking basic training at Camp Edwards army base at the foot of Cape Cod near Hyannisport.

Because it was holiday time rigorous basic training was suspended and half the recruits were on leave during Christmas for a few days and the other half got New Year’s off. Since many of my Christian buddies wanted to spend time with their families during Christmas I volunteered to wait for a New Year’s leave.

At the same time “Where’s Charley” starring Ray Bolger was in the midst of it’s pre-Broadway run in Boston and someone associated with the show thought it would be a good idea to invite a group of GIs as guests during the holiday season. I guess there were many empty seats at that time.

“Where’s Charley” was a spoof about college life at the turn of the century in which someone had to impersonate an absent rich aunt. This version included music by the famous Frank Loesser and was destined for Broadway fame. “Once in Love with Amy” was a show stopping sequence performed by Ray Bolger, who won a Tony for his efforts.

When word got out I joined about thirty soldiers for the free show. We had early chow and left before 5 pm for the 2-1/2-hour drive to Boston. Curtain was at 8.30 in those days.

As luck would have it we started off in cold clear weather but we weren’t on the road very long when it started to snow. Soon we were in the midst of a mini-blizzard which covered all road signs and left crossroads unidentified for our half-witted driver, a farm boy for central Pennsylvania.

I figured we would not only miss the show because of the driver’s ignorance of the terrain now blanketed in snow making his written directions useless, but surely we would end up stranded on the side of the road for most of the night until the state police found us nearly frozen in our seats.

Despite all obstacles about four hours after we left Camp Edwards, the driver miraculously pulled the vehicle up in front of the theater. We had no idea how he got there, nor did he. Anyway they rushed us into the theater to the seats reserved for us and Ray Bolger was on stage in front of the curtain. The show had not started and he was going through some impromptu routines to keep the audience entertained while everyone had waited for us.

He saw us enter and said something like, “A-hah, there they are. Now we can begin the show.” We learned later that Bolger had refused to get on with the show until we arrived. He said there were a bunch of young men, most of whom were away from home for the first time at Christmas and the least he could do was wait for us. He then went on stage telling jokes, sharing stories and even dancing to keep the audience from getting restless because of the delay.

I was grateful he delayed the start of “Where’s Charley” until we got there but never gave it much more thought at the time. But when I got out of the army years later I remembered Bolger’s thoughtfulness and couldn’t help admiring him for being a willful man who was considerate of people who, while away during the holidays serving their country, thirsted for an enjoyable night out.

It was not a momentous act, but from then on every time I hear the name Amy I think fondly of Ray Bolger and what a big heart he had. He was no strawman to me.