We went to dinner with friends for Thanksgiving, at the home of a couple who have been hosting a crowd of friends for several years now and do an incredible job at making the whole evening feel really special even while it feels completely comfortable. Their Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite traditions from grown-up-hood.
We brought two pies we'd bought (pumpkin and apple), two bottles of Rhone wine, various kinds of rolls, and about three times as many mashed potatoes than the group could have reasonably eaten even if it were the only menu item. A few of us decided that this is typical of Thanksgiving get-togethers: everyone prepares their side dish in a quantity as if the only two things on the menu are turkey and their contribution. When in truth, mashed potatoes need to make room for the fresh green beans, which have to make room for the sweet potato casserole, which have to make room for the candied apples, which have to make room for salad, which have to make room for... well, you know how it goes at Thanksgiving, I'm sure. Ours was very, very good, I have to say.
Here's roughly the recipe we used for the mashed potatoes, created by combining the insights from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook dedicated to "the potato" with a recipe from a 1999 issue of Gourmet magazine, courtesy of the incredible epicurious.com. The key to mashed potatoes is how you prepare the potatoes (steam, don't boil, peeled portions), and the ratio of milk/cream to butter to potatoes.
1.5 Yukon Gold potatoes per person
1 Tbs butter per potato
1/2 cup half-and-half per 3 potatoes
Or, as we did it:
25 potatoes (15 lbs)
3 sticks (24 Tbs) of unsalted butter
4 cups half-and-half
...which was at least double or triple what we needed for 12 to 14 people. Want some mashed potatoes?
If you have kids old enough to negotiate the hot, steamed potato slices with a paper towel or cloth napkin, they will love using the potato ricer to squeeze out strings of potato. (I know this because the 42-year-old who riced my potatoes loved it.)
Not to beat a dead horse, but both Thanksgiving and a recent passage in a book I'm reading (God's Secretaries, by Adam Nicolson, about the making of the King James Bible) brought some historical Blue State/Red State things to my mind. These couldn't even be considered observations nearly so much as the by-product of misfiring neurons.
Nicolson is mostly concentrated on the Anglican divines and religious Separatists who shaped the landscape of early seventeenth century England. In chapter 10, he writes about America's own Pilgrim Fathers, who first gathered in Scrooby, England, and thence to Amsterdam, seeking freedom from a state-sponsored church (the Church of England, which happens to be the antecedent of my own denomination in the U.S., the Episcopal Church).
It very nearly was solely the Fathers who made this trip as the Pilgrim Mothers and Children, in another boat, were left ashore due to a confusion about the tides and subsequent arrest from the constables. Eventually, Mothers and Children were allowed to join Fathers, however, and they lived in Leiden, in The Netherlands, for 12 years. A great number of them emigrated later from Amsterdam (by way of Southampton, England, to join other Separatists), and came to the New-ish World, to settle a land grant in what was then called "Northern Virginia," which would have put them somewhere along the Hudson River.
Which is not where they ended up, of course. They got knocked off course, and landed at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, before getting back in the boats and traveling to the other side of Cape Cod Bay, where they chose to settle Plymouth Colony rather than the Hudson Valley.
Apparently, this seminal event in American history earns barely a footnote in English history, however. Nicolson quotes another writer, Dr. Kenneth Fincham, who wrote in the early 1990s: "One of the few signal successes of the York commission [a church tribunal] in these years was the destruction of a Separatist cell at Scrooby in Nottinghamshire." And that's about the extent of it as far as the British are concerned.
So Thanksgiving, Nicolson's book, and the recent election brought some things to mind and others I wanted to go research. Such as:
You can't stop us on the road to freedom
You can't keep us 'cause our eyes can see
Men with insight, men in granite:
Knights in armor bent on chivalry.
One of these days, at least...
It's too late for slogans and bumper stickers unless we're talking about the mid-term elections just around the corner. In which case, a few choice ones I've heard...
When they jail the opposition on trumped-up charges, these folks will get the dirtiest cells. That's worth an attaboy, I say. They brought us the classic "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot" bumper stickers and T-shirts, as well as the catchy "Stop mad cowboy disease." Unfortunately, there weren't enough people wearing these shirts in the last year and too many pretend patriots wearing "Never Forget" sweatshirts of fire fighters hoisting a flag at Ground Zero, even while they supported America going to war in Iraq.
I've followed several conversations lately where the general consensus has been that leftists, progressives, Democrats -- whatever slice of the spectrum you want to name, from most narrow to most broad -- need to (a) control the zeitgeist and (b) reframe the issues in a way that expresses right-wing positions as a pejorative. And (c) they need to do this without using words like "zeitgeist" or "pejorative."
I agree with all of these, except that most of the discussion threads end up being a magnet for all sorts of clever ideas for new campaign ads ... as if we were still pre-November 2.
However, there's a kernel in all this that I think may actually point to a universal attribute of the right and almost every other criticism can fall under this: hypocrisy.
Fiscal policy: Republicans still accuse Democrats of being "tax and spend" -- even though every family knows that sometimes you have to go into debt to pay for a longer-term gain, whether that's a second mortgage for a college education or a loan to spread out the costs of an expensive surgery bill (if you're lucky enough to get the loan in the first place). But in four years, George W. Bush took the country from a record budget surplus to a record deficit in record time. That's not investment -- that's fiscal mismanagement. Unlike Democrats, who now argue for a balanced budget, the Republicans in the White House and Congress are a bunch of hypocrites -- "bribe and spend" would accurately describe them: bribing wealthy voters with tax cuts and spending non-existent federal dollars on anything that will get them re-elected. They're "credit-card conservatives."
Marriage: As shown below, the states that supported Kerry have a lower divorce rate, on average, than the states that supported Bush. But Bush continues to push this "protect marriage" argument and will apparently have a renewed push for a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But this isn't a red state-blue state battle. The blame lies with the party that used marriage as a wedge issue rather than address the real problems of heterosexual marriages in many of our states. They're basically playing a "marriage manipulation" game.
Abortion: The fact is, abortions rates went down during Bill Clinton's term, because a priority for the White House at that time was to make abortion "legal, available, and rare." And the rate has increased during this administration. The party currently in power wants to use abortion as an election-wedge issue, solely, not making any real progress to reduce unwanted pregnancies. They even go so far as to claim training in abstinence is the solution -- despite the evidence state by state. They suffer from an "abortion credibility gap" and need to be held accountable.
Terrorism: The Bush administration worked to buy votes, with more dollars per-capita to states with little to no threat of terrorism compared to money to combat terrorism for actual terrorist targets in the blue states. Meanwhile, cargo goes uninspected and container ships into U.S. ports are still are unexamined, despite Tom Ridge's color system for terror alerts. Their "cartoon counter-terrorism" tactics are putting America at risk.
Iraq: Bush claims we're better off taking the fight to terrorists "over there" rather than here in America. That would be true (for Americans, at least, and in the short term, at best), except that he created the "over there" and now over a third of the number of Americans who died on 9/11 have died on foreign soil, tens of thousands more are injured and maimed, and Iraq isn't free, it's enduring more conflict than ever before. We had more control over the country during the last Democratic administration -- through no-fly zones, inspectors, and sanctions -- than we have anywhere near control of now. It's clear now that Iraq was simply a "re-election war." So they won -- quit killing Americans for the next election already.
percent of total**
|Bush vote %|
percent of total**
|Bush vote %|
percent of total**
|Bush vote %|
Huh. In other words -- after lots of words -- the state where marriage is obviously most in danger (Massachusetts) has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country and, on average, states who were most enthusiastic about Kerry have lower rates of teenage pregnancy than the states with the "moral values" voters who were most supportive of Bush.
Which just demonstrates Karl Rove's cynical brilliance: campaign in contradiction to the facts and manipulate the issues to appeal not to people's better nature, nor even to their self-interest. To get your states lined up, appeal to their own state of denial.
Half the country is celebrating that they just "saved" the Second Amendment while the other half is thankful we still have the Twenty-First.
The other amendments are just going to have to fend for themselves, I'm afraid. Four words: Chief Justice Antonin Scalia.
In at least 11 of our nation's states, hate apparently is a family value. In eight of those states, the amendments were to the right of George W. Bush's position allowing for civil unions.
The people who actually were affected by 9/11 -- namely, residents of New York City, suburban New Jersey, DC, suburban DC and Pennsylvania -- all went for Kerry in a big way. The people who've never been affected by international terrorism, but just want to "kick butt and take names" in some a kind of large-scale football competition -- Texas, Alabama, Utah, etc., etc. -- all went for Bush.
It's just part of the pattern, of course: the more ignorant we are about an issue, the more likely we are to support the Republican position on it. No wonder the GOP fights so hard to gut education funding.
It's 2:30am, I'm going to bed. Fox, I heard (I don't watch them), called Ohio for Bush and I think NBC did, too. No one else has yet, but it's not looking very good. I'm going to listen to John Edwards address the crowd at Copley Plaza, then I'm going to bed.
Unless the numbers come out to be very different than what we're getting spun tonight: America, either you don't know just how badly you've messed this up, or you don't care. Or you do know, and are proud of that fact. In all scenarios, it's a sick shame. God bless America. Or should I just say "Gesundheit"?
Edwards just now: "We have waited four years, we can wait one more night." And "we will fight for every vote." Good. I don't know if that gets it for them (and us), but good.
I'd say we can wait more than one night; if we have to wait two weeks to count provisional and absentee ballots in Ohio, so be it. But I'm going to bed and for all I know, this will all be decided by the time I wake up. I was just hoping it would have been decided far more decisively by this point, and obviously, for Kerry and the country.
I have to admit, like 98% of the rest of the country, I'm obsessed with this election. John Kerry will be the first Democrat I've ever voted for for President. I wrote in John McCain four years ago, but wouldn't dream of doing so now. Thomas Friedman had a good column yesterday that starts to describe how the GOP has left me as quickly as I've been leaving them over the past many years.
I won't go into all the reasons -- you've probably heard them from elsewhere already, I'm sure -- but probably the overriding reason is how my faith informs my politics. I disagree that someone's religion shouldn't be part of the discussion, since I know for me it's a major part of my life and it should be an even bigger factor in how I live my life and make decisions than it is today.
However, my suspicion has always been that if your faith only confirms the politics to which you're naturally inclined, then you're not taking your faith seriously enough. That's my problem with the "Religious Right" -- which isn't as monolithically uniform in its agenda as others might want to stereotype, even though I largely disagree with their point of view on most every issue, political or theological. For a certain breed of Christian, faith seems to be a buttress for self-satisfaction, division, judgmentalism, and even greed -- not as a conviction and indictment on our natural, selfish inclinations. As the late Bishop Paul Moore of New York used to say, something along the lines of, "There is a final judgment [by God]; it's how you love." It's not a final judgment on how you judged others.
I had big problems with George W. Bush in the last election, which is why I wrote in John McCain. And I have to admit, my biggest problem with Al Gore, much as I wanted to vote for him, was that I couldn't stand his pedantic way of speaking for four years on my television -- almost as bad as the "vote for the guy you'd want to have a beer with" method of choosing a president. But W really lost me when he rushed to war with Iraq; inspections, UN support, bipartisanship all seemed to be perfunctory issues for him to discard as quickly as possible in order to go to war, for which he was lauded for being "decisive." That made me sick, it was just military hoo-ah for hoo-ah's sake. And as a resident of New York City, believe me, I'm not dismissive of issues of national security.
And he's only gotten worse, and his administration more cynical and manipulative in using the Talk-Fox echo chamber, as well as the roll-over mainstream news media (which is...who now? I don't see evidence of such a thing in this fragmented media environment). The underfunding of No Child Left Behind (the weekly remedial reading program at my church for elementary schoolchildren lost all its public funding as a result of NCLB), the attempt to change the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage, the complete lack of regard for the environment, the fact that he took us from a record surplus to a record deficit in record time...and on and on. You've heard 'em all.
I was already an "anybody but Bush" voter, and I liked both Kerry and Edwards while I watched the primaries, but it was watching the Democratic convention in Boston that turned me from lukewarm Kerry voter to an enthusiastic Kerry voter. No, not all the Vietnam service stuff, the toy soldier salute and "reporting to duty" line -- though I still do not understand at all why military families can support Bush and Cheney, with their own draft-dodging and use of the military for their own political purposes, when here was a real war hero and veteran in Kerry; hoo-ah is the paper that beats honor's rock, I guess.
What finally made me sure I wanted Kerry as my president was when he said that, like Lincoln, he didn't want to pray for God to be on our side; he wanted to pray that we would be on God's side. That's it exactly. It crystallized the difference in these two candidates, and the more I've read about them, the more I'm sure this is the case. Kerry gives every evidence to be truly shaped by his religious beliefs and understands that faith and self-justification rarely if ever walk the same path. Bush, on the other hand, seems to have less of a religion than he has a religious biography.
So I'm voting for Kerry, and I hope a majority of people -- and a majority of electoral college electors -- do so, too. And after this election is over and I can mess with my voter registration safely, I'm switching parties. A Kerry presidency will be tough; if I were him I wouldn't want the job, given the mess he's inheriting. But if he continues to pray that we're on God's side, then I'm going to try to be on his side.