Bloom County memes and stranger things

“Before there was The Daily Show or South Park, there was Bloom County, Berkeley Breathed’s satirical eighties comic strip that centered around a sensitive penguin named Opus, and ribbed such cultural cartoons as Donald Trump, Al Sharpton, and George H.W. Bush.”

New York magazine Vulture blog, Oct. 12, 2009

Growing up in the Eighties, I didn’t read political news in the A-section. I assuredly devoured newspapers, but it was 80% sports pages and 5% movie reviews and entertainment news. The other 15% was the funnies, particularly Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County. I would clip comics and stick them in a manila folder. At one point, I had several folders stuffed with the musings of Opus, Steve Dallas and Bill the Cat. I had folders for For Better or For Worse, Garfield, Family Circle (why I don’t know), and, of course, Peanuts, too, but Bloom County was my favorite.

Having little use for political news at the time, I didn’t even get most of the jokes — or rather, I just assumed all politics were a running joke, but somehow cool at the same time (a worldview I still hold today).

I certainly caught on to the pop culture references though, and I even had that floppy, square 45ish record by “Billy and the Boingers” that came with one of the compilation books that were released every other year or so (which I used to buy, even though I had already clipped the comics that were collected in those editions).

Even more, at one point I wanted to be a cartoonist, and would imitate (read: steal) Breathed’s style in my own comics, which I cut-and-pasted into my own two-page neighborhood newspaper I produced in my teens. (I was thrilled to bike down to the local “Copy-A-Second” place and plunk down 5 bucks for like two dozen photocopies, thrilled that the place could print on both sides of a sheet of paper, giving my Commodore 128-produced 8½ × 11 tabloid a sheen of pure professional.)

Bloom County spoofed the Era of Reagan, but, like a lot of Eighties critique during the Eighties (and 20+ years later, my memory is hazy to be sure, so I’m probably mangling this), I don’t remember Reagan himself getting skewered much in the land of Opus. His policies and his clique, sure, but not Reagan himself so much. (Or maybe I’m just confounding my memory with the line from Raising Arizona: “They say he’s a decent man, so maybe his advisors are confused.”) Breathed himself recently said he felt he was trying to play it more down the middle, and that jives with what I can remember.

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Gen X GOP: The Next Generation

What’s a superhero without super-villains? Barack Obama and the Democrats were first to the finish line with the first member of Generation X elected president.

But as a previously (and possibly once-again) conservative-leaning generation, the politicians who came of age during the Reagan Revolution are starting to emerge as foils to the new President.

We’re talking about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, born in 1971, who has been tapped to deliver the opposition party response to the President’s address to Congress on Tuesday. We’re talking about the “hyper-ambitious” Representative from Virginia, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, born in 1963 and said to revere both hyper-partisan Newt Gingrich and über-leader Winston Churchill.

And of course, there’s the 1964-born Governor Sarah Palin, whose cringe-worthy appearances we’ve been (blessedly) able to ignore since the end of the campaign.

(Disclosure: The Obama vs. Bizarro Obama superhero idea wasn’t mine. Slate’s Christopher Beam had it in an article about new GOP National Chairman Michael Steele. That works for me, but Lex Luthor needed his fellow masterminds in the Legion of Doom, even if Luthor was the villains’ acknowledged superior. Of course, this torpedoes my generational argument somewhat — Steele is a late-Boomer born in 1958 — shoo! Generation Jones™ commentariat — but does this work for you? No? Move along. Move along.)

With Obama carrying the mantle for Democrats born after 1960, he’ll need to both work with and occasionally battle these three Gen X rising stars from the GOP, who, like the President, have ascended to their leadership posts with diverse backgrounds — an Indian-American governor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, and the GOP’s first you-betcha’ing female VP nominee.

It’s somewhat worrisome, though, that the Democrats, at least in Congress, have no apparent Gen X sidekicks for the President. And according to my math, there’s only three Democratic Gen X governors, none of whom are household names: Chet Culver (born 1966) of Iowa, Brad Henry (born 1963) of Oklahoma, and Tommy Carcetti, er, Martin O’Malley (born 1963) of Maryland.

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Gen X and Boomers? Sure. ‘Generation Jones’? Not so much.

I’m not so sure of this Generation Jones™ campaign, which I only became aware of from a comment the other day, and which I’ve responded to. It’s a term that now seems to be on some sort of viral marketing push to gain acceptance. In fact, there appears to be at least a small segment of folks born in the late Fifties and early Sixties that seem willing to buy into this concept — and who could blame them? Unless you were born in 1946 or 1947, and therefore really can’t deny it, it seems like no one wants to be associated with the Boomers these days.

I’m of the strong opinion that there are only two American Generations spanning the years when G.I.’s returned from World War II (beginning with the first soldiers coming home in 1943) through approximately 1980 — the Baby Boomers and what we often call Generation X.

From what I’ve studied, I believe Barack Obama’s birthyear of 1961 marks the start of Generation X, based primarily on the work of Strauss & Howe, and for at least two other reasons: JFK taking office that year, and the legalization of The Pill for birth control in June 1960, which would impact babies born starting in 1961. No, I’m not naïve enough to think that birth control didn’t begin until then, only that it was at long-last government sanctioned and kicked off the sexual revolution that lasted essentially until the early- to mid-1980s — impacting most of Gen X’s parents — and ending roughly when the tragedy of AIDS finally hit home with mainstream America following Rock Hudson’s death, and later, Magic Johnson’s stunning retirement press conference. Connected to this, American birth rates declined from a peak in 1957, with a little uptick in 1961, falling off dramatically, past Roe v. Wade and well on into the Seventies.

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RIP Studs Terkel — ‘Take it easy, but take it’

People who thought they were middle class began to accept middle-class values as their values. They accepted someone else’s ideas about what they are. In my book, you find steel workers and farmers out of work, but still liking Ronald Reagan. During the Depression, people who lived in shacks called them Hoovervilles, but I never heard anyone call them Reaganvilles.

—Studs Terkel, 1988 interview in The New York Times

Studs Terkel, a real champion of working-class Americans, died Friday at age 96. The writer and prolific interviewer was best known for chronicling the struggles of working Americans in books like Division Street: America.

Terkel was not afraid to stand up for his liberal causes, including civil rights (yes, one of those dastardly lefties who dared to demand equality for blacks and for all “average” working-class Americans). He had some interesting things to say in his final days.

“I’d ask Obama, do you plan to follow up on the program of the New Deal of FDR?” he told Edward Lifson at the Huffington Post in an article posted eight days before Terkel died. “I’d tell him, ‘don’t fool around on a few issues, such as health care. We’ve got bigger work to do! Read FDR’s second inaugural address!'”

Fellow Chicagoan Roger Ebert said:

Was he the greatest Chicagoan? I cannot think of another. For me, he represented the joyous, scrappy, liberal, generous, wise-cracking heart of this city.

Terkel also knew what it meant to defend and promote working class Americans, and paid a price for his convictions, getting blacklisted because of the atmosphere spawned by the future Gov. Sarah Palin, er, the past Senator Joe McCarthy, for daring to sign liberal petitions and standing firm for his political beliefs. In his work, he championed the rights of all Americans.

“Studs Terkel was part of a great Chicago literary tradition that stretched from Theodore Dreiser to Richard Wright to Nelson Algren to Mike Royko,” Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said in a statement (via

And for all those mocking the Senator from Chicago for his tag-line of “hope,” here’s what Terkel had to say to Amy Goodman after his 95th birthday:

One of my books is Hope Dies Last. Without hope, forget it. It’s hope and thought …. That’s what it’s about. That’s what I hope I’m about.

As Studs Terkel said in his radio sign-offs on Chicago’s WFMT: “Take it easy, but take it.”

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A pleasant tomorrow?

A good sense of humor, good sport, what else can you say? I may find her politics hateful and hate-inducing, and she certainly didn’t recite anything edgy on Saturday Night Live (well, what did you expect from a politician from either side of the aisle?), but Gov. Palin can spark a crowd like no one since, well, Sen. Obama. If her politics weren’t so awful — it’s nearly unbelievable (or is it anymore?) that she said she was happy to see the “pro-America” part of the country, as if the rest of us are anti-American? — you’d wish her political future well. In fact, The Root had an interesting article postulating an Obama-Palin ticket — placing the two Gen X candidates together, representing the changing political landscape of the country.

If Palin can cut down on the hate-promoting rallies and culture war-inducing rhetoric (which beget more hate) and instead stick strictly to her political views and to policy (however much I may diagree), then I can see her someday as a viable and worthy foil for the Democrats and a smart and inspiring leader for the next generation of conservatives.

But for now, her positions represent the politics of divisiveness, ignorance and hate. And unfortunately, the hate-rhetoric can carry a politician a long way. I hope, for my generation’s sake (if not for the GOP’s) that she soon departs from that path and instead she grows up and into the conservative values from the likes of William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan and not those of our current anti-intellectual president and his moloch, Karl Rove.

Fight night

Sorry about my progressive brethren bashing her speech tonight, and I agree with absolutely nothing she said (in fact, was enraged throughout with what she was saying, especially in mocking community organizers — has Sarah Palin ever been in a big city, ever shook the hands and cared for someone in an inner city setting?), but Obama-Biden have a real fight on their hands.

The Republicans do nothing better than fire up their base and encourage them to come out in overwhelming, angry numbers from those small towns I know so well. They do this much better than the Dems do in pulling in their own base (in a battle between bringing in college students vs. small-town residents on Election Day, never bet on the college students). Palin may get an “F” for content — frankly, she misrepresented Obama’s position on taxes and there’s a lot of talk about her late-coming opposition to the Alaskan bridge-to-nowhere — but I think Gov. Sarah Palin hit it out of the park as far as delivery. Sorry, but it’s true.

You can hate everything she said, you can make fun of her accent or her sneers all you want, but she was probably the best speaker with the best delivery among the Republicans since the primaries began. I’d be worried about meeting her again on the national campaign trail in four or eight years.

I’m wondering how many voters from my own Generation X will swing toward McCain with a running mate from the 28- to 47-year-old set that was Raised on Reagan. Oh sure, all the people I know would never consider voting for him, no matter who he was running with. But that’s a small, mostly urban-leaning segment of the population. My own generation, I still believe, is largely conservative.

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‘The Person represents the Promise’

Interesting piece by former Carter speechwriter James Fallows in The Atlantic reviewing the debates from the primaries, with a good analysis of the candidates’ speaking and debating styles, which the author notes are not the same thing (prepared speaking vs. debating, that is). It is interesting to note the look into Obama’s rhetorical skills in light of some of the more recent presidents. To wit:

Based on his rhetoric, Barack Obama would arrive not because of support for his list of programs, although he has offered them, but because of support for his cast of mind. His speeches and debate answers show us how he thinks, much more than they reveal exactly the policies he would advance for, say, improving the economy, dealing with the Chinese (where his proposals have often seemed surprisingly crude and ill-informed), or coping with crime or climate change. Every administration turns on the president’s cast of mind: Bill Clinton’s startling gifts of intelligence and even more startling lack of self-discipline; George W. Bush’s toxic combination of decisiveness and lack of curiosity; Ronald Reagan’s sunniness and lack of interest in detail. But for some presidents, cast of mind is a central feature — the person, much more than the plan, represents the promise of the presidency. Obama is one of these.

I’m not sure his China platform is as ill-informed as Fallows claims, but otherwise, Fallows seems right on the money.