Monkey Business 2008
By Kelpie Wilson
Is this what the 2008 presidential contest is going to look like? Last week, two media stories made me wonder.
On Wednesday we were treated to a jaw-dropping Bill Frist puff piece by Washington Post writer Laura Blumenfield, who followed the politician and heart surgeon into a National Zoo operating room as he performed an operation on a gorilla named Kuja. Her breathless reporting describes the surgeon’s “hairy arms” and the odor of gorilla testosterone. She fantasizes about the stanky hormone clinging to the Senate majority leader as he presides over the Senate later in the day as its top “silverback” gorilla.
And she gives us this incredible quote:
Frist listened to the heart; the gorilla’s lub-dub sounded human. “When you’re this close, you feel this kind of oneness with them ... Gorillas, people, men. You look at the people here, a symphonic flow of people pitching in. It’s the oneness of humanity.”
What does this mean? The surgeon who diagnosed Terry Shiavo by videotape ultimately mis-diagnosed the appeal of the Shiavo death-watch beyond the fundamentalist base. As he sets his sights on 2008, is he reaching out now to animal lovers and ecologists with this declaration of oneness with the gorilla? Won’t he get in trouble with the Creationists for this, despite the fact that he endorses teaching Intelligent Design?
The absolute separation of humans from all other animals is a key plank in the fundamentalist world view. As superior beings, humans are seen as exempt from nature’s rules, with permission to kill polar bears, spotted owls and orangutans anytime they get in the way of human needs and appetites.
But what if we are just like any other creature that overshoots its carrying capacity - like yeast in a jar of sugar water? When it uses up all the sugar, the yeast dies, leaving behind its waste product, alcohol. The Republican answer to the problem of resource depletion is always the same - find more supply. Beg, borrow, steal, go to war or kill innocent beings - whatever it takes.
These days, House Resource Committee chair Richard Pombo is the lead yeast cell, cowboy hat in place, riding high, spurring on the posse to drill the polar bears’ home and bring back the sugar.
But back home, nursing his wounds in Sugarland, Texas, Tom Delay has been bucked off that horse. Delay, along with Abramoff, Duke Cunningham, Ralph Reed and all the rest now just look like little babies lusting after the sugar tit - not a very manly or appealing image to the American electorate. So Frist the doctor desperately diagnoses. His $100 sucker rebate to help the little people cope with high gas prices fell flat. What will he prescribe next for ailing Republicans?
Meanwhile, Democrats are busy in the apothecary, looking for the philosopher’s stone, and last week the media produced another harbinger of 2008 campaign coverage in its reaction to Hillary Clinton’s policy address on energy solutions.
Clinton’s energy plan, while disappointingly modest (it aims to reduce foreign oil dependency only by half over the next twenty years), and too dependent on a questionable technology (corn-based ethanol) at least has the virtue of a real nuts and bolts plan to move the nation toward alternatives to fossil fuels. And Clinton’s speech, which I found in its entirety only on Raw Story is inspiring in its analysis of the problem and its call for an “energy revolution.”
But instead of any real analysis of Clinton’s proposal, the media used it as an excuse to pit her against Gore and declare open season on her marriage. Maureen Dowd’s column titled “Enter Ozone Woman” accused her of stealing Al Gore’s thunder in the opening week of his new climate change documentary, while Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift warned of a “sibling rivalry” between Bill Clinton’s two political children, his wife and his vice president.
Washington Post columnist David Broder easily dismissed Clinton’s energy proposal by comparing it to her failed health care plan of the early ‘90s. The real “hot topic” he said, was Clinton’s marriage. After the appearance that morning of a page one feature in the New York Times that interviewed over 50 people about the Clinton marriage, reporters could not focus on anything else, he said. Certainly not anything as wonky as a major policy address on energy security.
Blogger David Wyles nailed it in a letter to Editor & Publisher saying: “The press is putting everyone on notice that they are going to keep their noses firmly buried in Hillary Clinton’s panty drawer for the next two years.”
Is it any wonder then, that Al Gore keeps saying he is not a candidate? Though the triangulating Clinton seems willing to perform the necessary contortions - like attaching herself to Rupert Murdoch (who organized a recent fundraiser for her), and suffering the odious attentions of the media voyeurs - Al Gore does not want to go there. At least not yet.
And who can blame him? As a non-candidate, he is getting far more serious attention to the issues he promotes than he would as a candidate.
John Heilemann of New York Magazine had this to say about Gore’s reluctance to run in 2008:
Gore’s ambivalence about politics is as genuine as anything about him. And, in the end, it might keep him out of the hunt in 2008 - that and the appeal of the novel role that he’s carving out for himself in public life. The Democratic Party is in dire need of elder statesmen, not to mention truth-tellers, and Gore could provide a valuable service by filling both those voids. And the planet is certainly in need of saving, a cause to which his commitment is evident.
Meteorologists predict that the coming hurricane season will be at least as violent as last year’s. As more and more Americans wake up to the twin dangers of climate change and energy insecurity, they may become exceedingly grateful to have Al Gore as a respected elder statesman guiding a renewed Democratic Party as it retakes the helm of government.
With Gore as adviser, I’d vote for Kuja the Gorilla as president. He couldn’t be any worse than G.W. Bush.