Archive for July, 2016

BERNIE’S HOME RUN

A week ago, I watched Donald Trump’s acceptance speech from Cleveland. I would have watched more of the Republican convention, but the speakers were uninspiring. Not so the Democrats. In baseball terms, they all delivered big hits as did Independent former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But to me, Bernie Sanders hit a critical home run.

Given the letdown and anger Bernie’s supporters exhibited in Philadelphia, his Monday-night speech may have just cleared the wall—but it did. He targeted neither Republicans nor Hillary supporters. Rather, he addressed his followers. Two questions required answers: Would Bernie support Clinton enthusiastically? If so, could he bring his supporters—many young and new to presidential politics—along?

Prior to the convention, Bernie was given great sway over the Democratic platform. So everyone knew he would support Hillary to some degree. But a whole-hearted endorsement? That remained a mystery even after he started to speak.

Still, as he began, the structure of Bernie’s speech became apparent. For openers, he wisely acknowledged his followers’ efforts and passions. He praised them for delivering 1,846 pledged delegates to the convention. Because he didn’t focus on Hillary, he might even have led some of his supporters to believe he was about to open up a floor fight. As bitter as his defeat felt to him—and them—he didn’t.

Instead, Bernie rededicated himself to the issues in which he and his supporters believe—from a $15 federal minimum wage to universal healthcare to breaking up the big banks. Whether you or I agree with his positions isn’t the point. In terms of the speech, what mattered was that the middle portion stressed not Bernie Sanders’ worthiness to be president but the issues that propelled his candidacy. The cult of personality, Bernie implied without mentioning Donald Trump, is irrelevant.

The windup brought his directive to his followers. “Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency—and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.” In effect he said, “I’m not with her; I’m with the issues—our issues—she will champion in the White House as I would.”

As the campaign moves forward, some Bernie supporters may sit out while others adopt third parties. My great-nephew Matthew Miller, 20, will vote in his first presidential election. He offers his perspective online. In brief, he’s a staunch Bernie supporter but just re-registered with the Green Party. Nonetheless, he’s unsure how he’ll cast his ballot. If he votes Green, it will be because he believes Hillary will easily carry California; his vote won’t alter the outcome.

Will Bernie’s followers reject him, bail out en masse and tilt the election to Trump? Or facing a Trump presidency, will they rally to Hillary as a representative of their issues? Or will they become irrelevant to some degree as undecided voters clench their teeth and vote for Hillary as the lesser of two evils?

We’ll find out in November. But this I do believe: Even if Bernie’s supporters stay home, Bernie’s speech in the face of an enormous challenge will be judged as exceptional—a home run in the annals of American political speechmaking carefully constructed one base at a time.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And whoever you vote for—the Libertarian and Green parties included—be part of the process. Democracy isn’t always pretty, but it beats the alternatives.

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DEFINING FAMILY

Two recent pieces in The New York Times speak to the new populism that threatens the United States. I find part of the solution within my family and my synagogue.

David Brooks’ June 28 column “Revolt of the Masses” quoted David Vance, author of the book Hillbilly Elegy. Vance writes about the Kentucky and Ohio coal regions in which he grew up and the value of intense family loyalty that’s not always healthy. Brooks quoted Vance: “We do not like outsiders, or people who are different from us, whether difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk.” Such loyalty also forbids revealing wrongdoing, which lets some family members prey on others. And it generates a parochialism that can isolate families from their community, state, nation and the world.

On July 11, Robert P. Jones in “The Evangelicals and the Great Trump Hope” pointed out that white Christians—Protestants and Catholics—no longer make up a majority of Americans. They’re now 45 percent of the population, down from 54 percent in 2008. This drop is highly visible. When I was a kid in the 1950s, movies, TV shows and advertisements rarely portrayed other than white Christians—almost always Protestants—except as maids, shoeshine boys, train porters and humorous “ethnics,” including Irish, Italians and Jews.

Populism, which spawned Donald Trump’s presidential nomination, is not new. Populism has an economic agenda: spread the wealth, which tends to get sucked out of working-class regions. But it traditionally has constituted a movement to keep white Protestants in power. Now, pushed into a corner, many populists accept white Catholics as allies. Where populists once sought to keep white Americans on top of the pecking order, they now want to return white Americans to dominance. Ironically, the majority of the nation’s business and political leaders are white Christians. Still, “ordinary” people remain distanced from them while feeling threatened by a perceived lack of standing in a nation increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-religious and increasingly secular.

As to my family and synagogue, we open ourselves to others. We understand that while there’s nothing wrong with the Jewish, heterosexual home or congregation, these can be—going back to David Brooks—parochial. When Carolyn—a white, lapsed Catholic—and I decided to marry in 1967, we called my parents. Sight unseen, my father Morris welcomed Carolyn into the family. My mother Blanche flew down to San Antonio. She brought Carolyn a potato grater and a jar of schmaltz (chicken fat). It was love at first sight. Carolyn became a major non-Jewish Jewish mother.

When our youngest, Aaron, married Jeremy, Jeremy became our fourth son. Our fourth because our middle son Yosi was once Rachel. Yosi is transgender. Our love for Yosi remains unchanged. So, too, Congregation Sherith Israel boasts Jews of all genetic backgrounds and sexual identities. Maybe we don’t always “look” Jewish. We just do Jewish.

In the book of Numbers, Moses sends twelve spies to scout the Promised Land. He asks them to report whether Canaanite cities are fortified. A midrash offers commentary: A city surrounded by walls is weak. An open city is strong because its inhabitants aren’t fearful. We might look to Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!”

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And welcome someone new into your family.

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SERIOUSLY FUNNY

Last Friday, I invited readers and Facebook friends to You Tube to see the stand-up comedy act I performed in 2013 at San Francisco’s Purple Onion as research for my novel The Boy Walker. I spent many hours writing that nine-minute set. Was it because I was a neophyte? Jill Maragos, a professional funny woman, confirms the axiom that it’s harder to make people laugh than cry.

Jill developed her sense of humor to survive growing up with a crazy family in Buffalo, New York. Also, she holds degrees in broadcast journalism and mechanical engineering. The progression to stand-up was natural and inevitable.

Four years ago, Jill was working on an acting career in Los Angeles. To better understand sit-coms, she took a stand-up course. She discovered she could write humor. Since she was a performer, Jill started doing open mics. Then she got gigs—most without pay. Her first experience hooked her. “I couldn’t shake the adrenalin rush from making people laugh.” She equates audience response to unconditional love. At the end of 2015, her husband Matt was offered a job in the Bay Area. Most of Jill’s best-paying gigs were up in the Pacific Northwest, and travel there from the Bay Area is as easy as from L.A. They moved north. Jill’s career headed north, too.

Like most stand-ups, Jill creates material by looking into herself. Pet peeves offer one reliable topic. Does she write eight hours a day? “My writing goes in spurts,” she says. She spends about 15 hours a month actually at her laptop. But writers are always working. “I gather a lot of material just walking around.” She takes notes in her joke book, a notebook she brings everywhere. “I try some of the jokes on friends.” Matt hears all of her material and offers advice. Some, she takes.

In addition to developing new bits, Jill constantly enhances her current routine. “I’m really particular about jokes,” she says. “I tend to overwrite.” She may spend hours on a bit to end up with a few minutes she believes will work. She experiments with new material at open mics. Jill’s also merciless. “I’ll toss out a good joke for a better one.” Her goal: always have on hand 45 minutes of top-notch material.

Probably the bane of all stand-ups is going on the road. Jill describes it as “like solitary confinement with half an hour like a surprise party at the end of the day with everyone you’ve ever loved and known. Then you drive someplace else or go home.” Still, she hits the road with enthusiasm. Those are paying audiences out there. In the next few years, she’d love to open for a headliner on tour. She reveals her approach to making that work: “My material is dirty enough for me to be interested in using it but not so much I’d conflict with the headliner.”

Some people wonder how Jill can devote her life to stand-up. “How could I not?” she responds. That’s why she’ll appear in San Francisco tonight (July 8) at the Hell Hat Improv Comedy Show and Friday night, July 15, at the Underdog Wine Bar in Livermore. Friday to Sunday, August 12–14, Jill will appear in Laughlin, Nevada at the Edgewater Casino & Hotel. Whatever happens at the tables, Jill’s show will be a sure winner.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And get more on Jill at jillmaragos.com.

The blog will take off July 15 and return July 22.

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