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Episode 71: The Republican Follies, 2008: a musical

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

The majority of
recently published interview papers that focus on the polictical topics can be found in a list at the main page of the site.

The Last Chance Democracy Café, Episode 71
The Republican Follies, 2008: a musical
By Steven C. Day

Because sometimes only a song will do.

Clearly the public is much more interested in the Democratic presidential race this year than the one for . . . well, you know, those other guys. Even hardcore Republicans seem to be having trouble getting very excited about their candidates. And who can blame them?

Still, being the notoriously gracious bunch we are here at The Last Chance Democracy Café, we want to be sure the major GOP candidates receive all of the public attention they so richly deserve. Thus, when we decided to do a musical “theater” production, as a fundraiser for Claire’s charity, we could think of no better topic for the production than the Republican presidential race — as well, of course, as the media’s coverage of it.

So, without further adieu, welcome to our show.

(I’ll leave it to you to guess which café regular is playing each part: although I’ll break the rule once by telling you that Zach is playing Mitt Romney. He’s the only one with nice enough hair to pull it off.)

Act I

As our story begins (stage left), it’s a blustery March 2007 morning in New Hampshire. A small group of reporters and media pundits talk among themselves as they wait impatiently, in the cold, for Mitt Romney to arrive for a campaign speech.

REPORTER ONE: “I just can’t see how Romney can win the nomination, what with his liberal social views.”

REPORTER TWO: “You obviously haven’t heard the news. That’s the old Mitt Romney. The new Mitt Romney . . . Well, let me tell it to you this way.

(Reporter Two moves to the front of the stage and begins to sing.)

The Ballad of Mitt Romney
(To the music of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”)

Come and listen to a story ‘bout a man named Mitt
A rich governor, as liberal as they git,
Then one day he said “I’m a’shooting for the top”
And out of his mouth came a flood of flip-flop.

Mealy-mouthed that is, two-faced, the twostep.

Well, the next thing you know Mitt’s hat is in the ring
His advisors said, “Mitt, dump that liberal thing,”
Said “far right is the place you ought to be”
So he reinvented himself quite conservatively.

Guns that is, Scalia love, antiabortion

But although Mitt’s close connection to New Hampshire (he is, after all, the former governor of the state next door) makes him an early favorite in the state, Rudy Giuliani looks formidable nationally.

The reporters and pundits reassemble (stage right) in a small town community center for a scheduled “media opportunity” with Rudy.


Episode 70: The Wages of Betrayal

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

With today’s episode, our Last Chance Democracy Café road trip comes to an end at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  As Horace confronts demons of his own involving the death of his only son, Lester, in Vietnam, the rest of us are left to ponder the broader betrayal of two generations of American soldiers, including the one unfolding now in Iraq.  And I find myself wondering: is it possible that in some crazy way, having nothing to do with the neoconservatives’ war goals, that some small element of good might still grow from this debacle. 

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 70: The Wages of Betrayal
by Steven C. Day


Wouldn’t it be ironic, if the neoconservative betrayal of this nation over Iraq turned out to be the very thing that revitalizes both progressive politics and our democracy as a whole?

And, no, even if that turns out to be true, it won’t begin to be worth the price.

Haynes Johnson wrote a book years ago about Ronald Reagan titled, Sleepwalking Through History.   It seems to me that in recent years Americans have been sleepwalking through democracy.

Whatever fire for liberty once burned in the belly of the American soul, seems long ago to have grown cooler, if not cold.  And, yes, I suppose a lot of why I feel this way goes back to the 2000 presidential election.  Anyone looking at what happened objectively — from the suppression of minority votes all the way through the Bush v. Gore travesty — couldn’t help but conclude that the losing candidate succeeded in strong-arming his way into the White House.

And we let it happen.  Oh, sure, rank and file Democrats were outraged, but what’s outrage without action?  Look around the world at what happens in young struggling democracies where similar abuses are suspected: people take to the streets.  Look at the courage of the Myanmar Monks in a very different situation involving human liberty, and the price they were willing to pay for it.  But the only people who took to the streets of the United States in 2000 were a carefully orchestrated gang of well-connected Republican thugs whose goal — far from defending democracy — was to pervert it by preventing the counting of lawful votes in Dade County, Florida.

We the people just sat there and watched the pretender take office.  I guess we didn’t care enough to do anything else. 

Let’s be honest.  For much of America, democracy lost its charm long ago: to many people it seems no more relevant today than a box of old 8-track tapes stored away in some long forgotten box in the basement.  Less and less people vote; we don’t even bother teaching civics in many schools anymore.  After all, what’s that got to do with giving kids the skills they’ll need to qualify for a job that will soon be sent to China anyway.

And what of growing citizens of a republic capable of informed democratic judgments?  Please — that’s just so 1776.


Episode 68: Bashing Bush across the Land of Lincoln

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

These are, in many ways, sad times in America. So it’s perhaps not surprising that many of the episodes here at The Last Chance Democracy Café have also been sad. But even in the saddest of times, sanity requires that we dedicate at least a little of our energy to the pursuit of the pure joy of silliness.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 68: Bashing Bush across the Land of Lincoln
by Steven C. Day

Intending no offense to the fine folks in Southern Illinois, whose neck of the woods we were cruising through, I have to say that after almost two full days of driving, Horace, Tom, Winston, Zach and I were bored silly — and I mean silly. Still a full day’s drive from Washington, DC, where we planned to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, we were desperately in need of diversion.

Horace, sitting behind me in the van’s second row, ever diligent in his duties as the group’s unofficial den mother, had an idea. “Let’s make up a progressive fictional story about the Bush White House . . . You know, we all take turns adding a line or two to the story. The only rule is that everyone mentioned has to be presented in a way that is completely contrary to their normal character.”

“What do you mean by contrary to their character?” asked Zach.

“Think of Chris Matthews being erudite, or Bill O’Reilly being sane.

“Got it. We’re to make them the exact opposite of the way they really are.”


Winston, who wears his grumpiness as proudly as a beauty queen displays her tiara, complained we had disturbed his nap, and then pretended to go back to sleep. But the rest of us, desperate as we were for entertainment, were ready to try anything.

“You go first, Steve,” said Horace, who, not surprisingly, assumed the role of story master.

I jumped right in, saying:

“It was a dark and stormy night in the White House: suddenly a scream pierced the still of the night air, arousing George W. Bush from the deep contemplation of his nightly Shakespeare reading.”

“Oh come on, Bush reading Shakespeare?!” Winston, who still hadn’t exactly committed to the spirit of the enterprise, grumped with exaggerated contempt.

Ignoring him, Horace told Zach he was up next. Without missing a beat, Zach started out:

“‘To duty!’ cried Alberto Gonzales, the dashing and heroic young Attorney General, as he ran toward the sound of the cry, his sword in hand. ‘For honor,’ he screamed, ‘always for honor.’”

My turn said Tom eagerly, quickly adding:

“‘Cheney’s missing!’ said Gonzales. ‘Some cad has kidnapped him!’”

Winston, who was shaking his head in much the way a Southern Baptist minister might upon learning that the son he’s counting on to follow in his footsteps has just had his tongue pierced, still seemed disinclined to play. Horace skipped him, adding the next part himself:

“Bush arrived on the scene, panting and out of breath from the 20 foot run; almost seven years of 18 hour days spent slaving at the people’s work had left little time for exercise. ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘how can I ever go on without my trusted councilor of peace! My God, if it weren’t for Cheney’s sound advice urging restraint, I might actually have made the blunder of invading Iraq!’”


Episode 67: One town’s burden

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

It’s summer!  So what better time to announce the first ever Last Chance Democracy Café road trip!  Horace, Tom, Winston, Zach and Steve have, in the words of that wonderful Simon & Garfunkel song, “all gone to look for America.”  Starting in Denver — the details of why are in this episode — they are traveling cross-country on a journey that is to end at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

We will be following their journey for the next “several” episodes.  In today’s edition we meet Fairweather, Missouri, a deep red town with plenty of reason for feeling blue. 

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 67: One town’s burden
by Steven C. Day

We were a road-weary bunch as we pulled into the parking lot of the Best Western in Fairweather, Missouri.  We had spied the motel from the road earlier, but Tom insisted on trying to find a place with more local character.  A quick drive through town turned up only one other motel, however, a nondescript place called the Peacock Inn.  And given that it didn’t look like it had received a fresh coat of paint since the Civil War (and there were no cars parked out front), we beat a hasty retreat back to the Best Western.

Crawling out of the van, the five of us hobbled into the motel office, where a 50ish looking man with intense brown eyes and a name tag that read Ben rented us three rooms — the minimum number that could accommodate a party of our size, he insisted.  On the wall behind the desk hung a full sized American flag and a picture of three young men, each proudly wearing the uniform of the United States Army.  The familial connection was unmistakable.   

Ben eyed us suspiciously, seemingly perplexed by what five men — three elderly, one middle aged and one college aged — would be doing driving across central Missouri.  He appeared to think we might be up to no good.    

“What you folks doing in town?” he asked with the studied nonchalance of the trained investigator he wasn’t. 

“Just passing through,” I replied with a shrug.  I suppose I could have told him the whole story.  If he’d known we were on the way to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — that Horace’s son was one of the names on the long dark wall — he might have been friendlier.  But to be honest, it didn’t seem worth the effort.  I was dead tired and didn’t much care what he thought.


Episode 66: A heavenly protest, part five

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Episode 65: A heavenly protest, part four

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 65: A heavenly protest, part four
by Steven C. Day

To read the story from the beginning go here for part one.
(part two) (part three)

Vengeance is the pastime of fools: please don’t accuse me of being a fool.
(Message posted on the back entrance to the least popular Mexican food restaurant in all of heaven.)

If you had one last night left in paradise, how would you spend it?

Horace spent what he was certain would be his last night there working on a slogan for his protest sign.  He wanted it to be perfect and was frustrated that the words weren’t coming easily.

Floating weightless, formless and invisible above heaven, and still able to read Horace’s mind and feelings, I sensed his discomfort.  At a time like this, finding the right words is important.  Think of how differently history would treat Nathan Hale if, before being executed by the British, instead of saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” he had developed writer’s block and was forced to settle for, “Hey, I tried my best.”  

No, if Horace was going to voluntarily give up his place in heaven for a higher cause, he at least wanted to do it with style.  But as he sat in quiet agitation at one of the oh so ordinary small round tables used in the Oddball Bar and Grill, writing down one thought after another, nothing came close to being good enough.

It was 3:00 in the morning, heaven time, but Horace wasn’t alone.

As I’ve mentioned before, sleep is optional in heaven: regardless of whether you get your full eight hours of shuteye or party all night like it’s 1999, you won’t be tired the next day.  No one ever gets tired in heaven; bored, sometimes, but never tired.  Still, Herb, the bartender at the Oddball, makes it a habit to go to bed on most nights: “I can only take about 14 or 15 hours of paradise at a time,” he tells patrons who wonder why he closes the tavern for part of the night.  Tonight, however, he was skipping the sack time.

He wanted to be there when Horace needed a fresh beer and to help him in any other way he could.  And he wanted to be there in the morning when Horace would be leaving the bar for what would almost certainly be the last time.  Back when he had been alive, Herb had usually let farewells pass uncelebrated: the people in his life were just so many spare coins to be spent and forgotten without remorse.  But heaven had changed him, and this time he wanted things to be different.


Episode 64: A heavenly protest, part three

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 64: A heavenly protest, part three
by Steven C. Day

To read the story from the beginning go here for part one
(Part two is here).

Worshiping cruelty is sacrilege.
(Message posted on an abandoned hot dog stand next to The Wall of Damnation.)

Horace has a problem.  His conscience demands that he protest the injustice he sees everywhere around him in heaven, and particularly what he regards as the morally indefensible decision to condemn his friends, Tom and Winston, to hell.  Yet, how do you engage in meaningful civil disobedience against omnipotence?  And how do you take a moral stand against the moral arbiter of the universe?

Above all else, how can you ask others to join you in a protest when the price may be the loss of paradise in exchange for eternal suffering?

Can justice really be worth that much?

*  *  *

When you’re a blob floating weightless, formless and invisible above paradise, the first thing you notice is heaven’s astonishing beauty: the constantly changing colors of the sky, with every hue that’s ever existed or ever could exist taking its turn.  Sometimes they come one at a time, and the sky becomes the pure gold of a new wedding band or the enchanting blue of a newborn child’s eyes; at other times the colors mix, with blues, reds, yellows and more dancing together, perfectly choreographed, across the ever changing sky.  

Then there’s the rest of the scenery, which, at least at first, is also in flux: a spectacular rose garden at one moment, a breathtaking sunset over calm waters in the next and a bright new morning as the sun cracks its first thin smile over the Rocky Mountains in yet another.

You could spend an eternity floating above heaven just watching the show around you. 

But, instead, as you float there, you notice other happy things — the luscious amenities: the five-star restaurants, with no reservation (or money) required, the superb wines and spirits and the endless diversions, from theater to music to comedy shows to athletic contests.

Lacking self-awareness, you feel no jealously in being excluded from this banquet as you float above it, just astonishment that any place so fine could actually exist.  

But then, very slowly something else begins to seep into to your consciousness, something troubling and unwanted.  Not a sight this time, but a sensation — a community of feelings welling up from below.  At first it’s just a discordant note, something that isn’t quite right, but hard to put your finger on.  But bit by bit, it settles in, surrounds you, and leaves you numb.  Until, at last, you recognize it clearly. 

It’s fear, of course — cold, raw and unthinking.  And it’s everywhere in heaven — as thick and ugly as black mold growing in a leaky basement.


Episode 63: A heavenly protest, part two

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 63: A heavenly protest, part two
by Steven C. Day

To read part one go here.

Faith without reason is slavery.
(Message posted in an obscure alleyway in the unfashionable Northern end of heaven)

One advantage to being a blob floating weightless, formless and invisible above heaven is that you have perfect objectivity.  Lacking self-awareness, you have no motive to bend reality to meet your personal desires.  You take the truth as you find it.

And the truth I found in heaven was both astonishingly beautiful and surprisingly disquieting. 

Like all newbies, it had taken Horace some time to learn the heavenly ropes.  But now, three months into his stay, things were starting to make sense: he had figured out, for example, that the never ending and seemingly random changing of the scenery around him — with, for example, a mountain village suddenly becoming a city street and then just as suddenly becoming a lush Midwestern farm — wasn’t the permanent face of paradise.

It was, instead, more of a virtual catalog — an endless stream of available “products,” thrown up, one after another, until you make your selection.  Horace, for instance, initially decided on a whim to visit a seaside village in the South of Spain: to make this selection, all he had to do was to say the word “Here” after the village appeared around him and before the next jump occurred.  Instantly, the waterfall of images froze in place, leaving him in Spain for however long he wanted to stay.

Later, when he became bored with Spain, he simply said, “Leave,” causing the cascade of images to start again — an endless parade of possibilities washing over him like the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the rocky coast of Maine. From time to time he’d stop the procession, lingering for a time here or there, trying various scenes on for size like a prom queen tearing through a store’s display racks looking for the perfect dress for her senior dance.

Here’s something that may surprise you, even disturb you, about heaven: most new arrivals tend to quickly lose interest in being reunited with lost loved ones.  All of those heartfelt deathbed commitments that “I’ll see you on the other side” somehow never get arranged in the real afterlife.  Like it or not, the fact is that the longer one remains in heaven, the more irrelevant former earthly connections become: one’s family and friends from the mortal world are just so then; heaven itself is so now.

So it was that Horace’s anguish over Tom and Winston’s damnation and eternal suffering began to dim.  It still upset him when he thought about it, but thinking about it was something he did less and less often.  And although I found this somewhat troubling as I floated there in the sky above heaven, I could certainly understand why it was happening: as the old song goes, “Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today.”

That’s the way souls feel in heaven.  I think He makes them feel that way.  It makes for “better” heavenly citizens.

But it turns out that there’s a flaw in the design.  When you give hundreds of millions of people hundreds of millions of options of where to live and play, what happens is that you end up bringing people of similar interests together — including potential troublemakers.  Since people in heaven have no need to compromise on their likes and dislikes, they tend to settle into the locations they love most.  And, not surprisingly, similar people tend to love similar places.

In the case of Horace, and a small band of other potential heavenly troublemakers, that place had turned out to be a small tavern in South Dakota (or, to be completely accurate, a small tavern in a part of heaven made to look like South Dakota).  It was called The Oddball Bar and Grill.


Episode 62: A heavenly protest

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Horace has finally died and gone to heaven, and by some strange twist of fate I’ve gone along with him for the ride.  But heaven hasn’t turned out to be the place he expected, forcing him to confront two painful questions: Can there really be injustice in paradise?  And, if there is, what duty does a soul have to oppose it, and at what cost? 

This will be the first of a series of weekly installments telling the story of how Horace came to answer these questions.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 62: A heavenly protest, part one
by Steven C. Day

“Heaven is what you make of it.  So don’t blame Me if it doesn’t meet your expectations.”
(Message posted on the gates of heaven.)

When you consider that I had never before floated through the air weightless, formless and invisible, one might have expected that finding myself in that state would have struck me as at least a little odd.  It didn’t.  In fact, it didn’t strike me at all.  I just floated.

I wonder if there’s a moment like that — awareness without self-awareness — early in the life of every sentient being, whether human, whale or silicon-based blob creature from planet X94.  If so, it must happen at that very first moment when the thinking part of the brain switches on and begins to observe the warm, wet and strangely contoured world surrounding it.

That’s where my mind was, anyway, as I floated there in the sky above heaven — pure observation.  Aware only of others: self had not yet been born, or, perhaps it had been but had gone to Vegas to take in a show and drop a few bucks at the blackjack tables.  Either way, it was nowhere around.

And as I floated, unnoticed by anyone including myself, I realized for the first time that my friend Horace was standing directly below me.  Just how I could recognize someone as being my friend when I had yet to recognize me as being me was a conundrum that concerned me not a whit.    

Dead at long last at the age of 97, the last of The Three Wise Men to go, Horace had just received his golden ticket of admittance to heaven.  Far from being overjoyed by this confirmation of his salvation, however, he was acutely downhearted.  The two faces in heaven he had wanted to see above all others, more even than God’s — those of his dear late wife and of his son, Lester, killed in Vietnam — were being denied him.  Those reunions would have to wait until later, he was told by the pleasant young woman in the white robe who processed his papers at heaven’s impressive but entirely unpearly gates.  He needed to work some other things through first, she explained.

“You’ll understand in time,” she continued.

People say that a lot in heaven.  After awhile it begins to piss you off.

That is something else that needs to be understood, if what I’m about to say is to make any sense to you at all: as I was floating there above heaven, being blown this way and that by the spiritual winds, I could do more than see Horace: I could also feel his emotions and hear his thoughts — an invasion of privacy, by the way, that would have outraged him had he known about it.

But then that’s one of the advantages to being a weightless, formless and invisible blob floating in the sky: you can get away with things like that.

So, yes, of course, I knew Horace was sad.  I read his mind.  Never one to waste time licking his wounds, however, he quickly set himself to a new goal: he decided it was time to look up a couple of old friends.


Episode 61: Ghosts from a world away

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007