Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Reading

We Can’t Hear You — Carl Hiaasen hits the Mute button.

At this point, the public should be fairly numb to all droning charges and countercharges. People just want the election to be over. From one side of the country to the other, this campaign has been so base – and so barren of honesty – that voters can be forgiven for their rock-bottom expectations.

The most intriguing thing to know about the political ads – which would almost make them worth watching – is who’s putting up the mountains of money. Good luck finding out.

Deep-pocket donors hide behind “political action committees” with patriotic-sounding names and the most venal, self-serving intentions. Thanks to the comedians at the U.S. Supreme Court, major corporations and unions are now free to finance attack ads with no spending limits, and a virtual guarantee of anonymity.

Bankrolled by free-spending special interests, elections can only get uglier and more exhausting. Civility will be scarce; the truth, even scarcer.

So in front of our televisions we sit, mulling over a stalled economy, a precipitous deficit and a war that’s costing more than $2 billion a week, even more in American blood. Our reward is to be swamped with gangrenous political ads that appeal chiefly to suckers, xenophobes and undermedicated paranoids.

Still, it’s impossible to go forward as citizens without believing there are some smart and decent people – Democrats, Republicans and independents – who are serious about working together to turn things around at home and in Washington.

You wouldn’t know it from watching their campaign commercials. In fact, you wouldn’t know jack.

Mute button, please.

More below the fold.

Frank Rich — The Tea Party folks are about to find out that they’ve been used and will be tossed aside like an old, um, teabag.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal have been arduous in promoting and inflating Tea Party events and celebrities to this propagandistic end. The more the Tea Party looks as if it’s calling the shots in the G.O.P., the easier it is to distract attention from those who are actually calling them — namely, those who’ve cashed in and cashed out as ordinary Americans lost their jobs, homes and 401(k)’s. Typical of this smokescreen is a new book titled “Mad as Hell,” published this fall by a Murdoch imprint. In it, the pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen make the case, as they recently put it in Politico, that the Tea Party is “the most powerful and potent force in America.”

They are expert at producing poll numbers to bear that out. By counting those with friends and family in the movement, Rasmussen has calculated that 29 percent of Americans are “tied to” the Tea Party. (If you factor in six degrees of Kevin Bacon, the number would surely double.) But cooler empirical data reveal the truth known by the G.O.P. establishment: An August CNN poll found that 2 percent of Americans consider themselves active members of the Tea Party.

That result was confirmed last weekend by The Washington Post, which published the fruits of its months-long effort to contact every Tea Party group in the country. To this end, it enlisted the help of Tea Party Patriots, the only Tea Party umbrella group that actually can claim to be a spontaneous, bottom-up, grass roots organization rather than a front for the same old fat cats of the Republican right, from the Koch brothers to Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. Tea Party Patriots has claimed anywhere from 2,300 to nearly 3,000 local affiliates, but even with its assistance, The Post could verify a total of only 647 Tea Party groups nationwide. Most had fewer than 50 members. The median amount of money each group had raised in 2010 was $800, nowhere near the entry fee for the country club.

But those Americans, like all the others on the short end of the 2008 crash, have reason to be mad as hell. And their numbers will surely grow once the Republican establishment’s panacea of tax cuts proves as ineffectual at creating jobs, saving homes and cutting deficits as the half-measures of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress. The tempest, however, will not be contained within the tiny Tea Party but will instead overrun the Republican Party itself, where Palin, with Murdoch and Beck at her back, waits in the wings to “take back America” not just from Obama but from the G.O.P. country club elites now mocking her. By then — after another two years of political gridlock and economic sclerosis — the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.

Pee-wee Herman Returns

The red bow tie is back. The white chunky loafers are, too. So is that too-tight gray suit.

The Secret Word today is: Comeback. Pee-wee has returned from exile.

Paul Reubens, who virtually abandoned the cult character he created nearly two decades ago following scandal, is making his Broadway debut with a reworking of the same theatrical show that started Pee-wee’s career in the late 1980s.

“I think it’s full circle. I view it even a little fuller, I guess. I feel that it’s full circle in that I can come back around to a really good place where I was. As opposed to having my career end on this really sour note,” says Reubens during an interview before a recent rehearsal. “I absolutely feel like I want to redeem myself to a degree and this seemed like a really pure way to do it.”

Reubens, now 58, has been soaking up the attention this time around. He has donned his Pee-wee suit and popped up all over New York to drum up attention for “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” which officially opens Nov. 11. Everywhere he goes, people say: “Welcome back!” and “Glad you’re back.”

“I really just never got any of this the first time around,” he says, getting a little teary. “I feel really lucky and really blessed right now. I just feel like it’s my time right now. The stars are aligning for me.”

Reubens, who is as quiet and thoughtful in real life as Pee-wee is zany and high-pitched, is still slim and boyish. He’s dressed for California on this chilly New York day — jacket-less in jeans, a plaid shirt and a clunky digital watch. He’s pressed for time — so much of it has been lost.

“I wasn’t feeling it for a long time. And then all of a sudden it became a long time. All of a sudden I was like, ‘Wow. How do you come back now out of this?’ And you know what the answer was? You just do it,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I needed anyone’s permission to come back. And what do I have to lose? Nothing really.”

Much of Pee-wee’s exile has been self-imposed since Reubens’ July 1991 arrest for indecent exposure in an adult-movie house in Sarasota, Fla. He was handed a small fine but the damage to the character was incalculable.

“When I was arrested in 1991, offers poured in,” he says. “All kinds. I mean, some of those offers weren’t things that I wanted to do and were taking advantage of the luridness of my situation, but I haven’t really had trouble working or existing or having a career. It just changed. Everything changed.”

Doonesbury — The road to recovery.