When things are said off the record in the world of politics, they should stay off the record. Unless I need something to write about, of course.
Last week I brought you an exclusive report on the scripted outbursts Representative Joe Wilson almost said in place of “You lie!” when responding to President Obama’s position on illegal immigrants receiving universal health care. I obtained the list of outbursts from a congressional aide named Trey Falls, who asked not to be identified, but I’m not a real journalist with “standards” or “common decency” — either slip me a Benjamin or suffer the consequences. You want something, I want something, and neither of us wants to see the other one naked.
On Monday the president was about to be interviewed by John Harwood when the CNBC reporter casually asked him what he thought of Kanye West’s outburst at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday night, comparing the hip-hop artist to Wilson. West had interrupted Best Female Video winner Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech by grabbing the microphone from her and complaining that Beyoncé deserved the award instead. Obama’s opinion was “He’s a jackass,” which got some laughs from people in the room, but the president quickly tried to make sure his off-the-cuff comment would stay off the record.
Yeah, right. The tape was already rolling, and Terry Moran, co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline, apparently overheard the pre-interview conversation, because he soon jumped on his Twitter account and wrote, “Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a ‘jackass’ for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential.” And that’s unprofessional — unless Moran somehow got a Benjamin out of it, that is. (Or did he have to see what John Harwood looks like naked?)
Thanks to my good friends at TMZ, who must’ve skipped journalism class the day ethics were discussed, the audio is available to anyone with an Internet connection. According to FoxNews.com, only a president who “lashes out” would make such a “stunning remark,” but if you listen to the pre-interview conversation, the president is simply reacting honestly yet lightheartedly to West’s latest attempt to grab the spotlight. Then again, if you get your news from Fox News, you may have an honest reaction of your own to what I just said: “You lie!”
Fair enough. But as my friend Beau Johnson pointed out to me this morning, “There have to be a billion Republicans who think the same thing [about what West did to red-state sweetheart Swift]. And now Obama and Rush Limbaugh have something in common!” Beau lives in South Carolina and is proud that Joe Wilson has his state’s best interests at heart, not to mention Governor Mark Sanford, whose efforts this past summer to build a bridge between Argentina and his pants were highly commendable. And now that Kanye has built a bridge between Democrats and Republicans, who can’t agree on anything else lately, this country has a real shot at progress.
That’s why we as a nation shouldn’t come down too hard on Mr. West. After all, he did apologize to Taylor Swift two days after upstaging her victory at the VMAs — first he had to talk it out with his therapist, Jay Leno — just as Wilson quickly apologized to the president for calling him a liar on September 9. And much like the illegal immigrants Wilson wants to prevent from hogging all the complimentary lollipops at the doctor’s office, West takes the thankless jobs the rest of America doesn’t want.
C’mon, don’t you wish Kanye could pop into your life every now and then to speak up on your behalf? For instance, let’s say you’ve been called into your boss’s office at work. He has some bad news — you’re being laid off. Have no fear, Kanye’s here: “Yo, mister boss man, I really like your office’s tasteful artwork, and I’m-a let you finish your severance-package talk, but [your name here] is one of the best employees of all time. One of the best employees of all time!“
Here’s another example. Your boyfriend takes you to a crowded restaurant, and right after the main course arrives, you suddenly realize he’s about to break up with you. Soon-to-be-single ladies, you could use some help from Kanye: “Yo, dude, I really like that you’re willing to shell out for Olive Garden on a Friday night, and I’m-a let you finish your fancy meal, but [your name here] is one of the best significant others of all time!” (Aimiee, if you’re reading this right now, stop. You know how you get.)
Today is the two-month anniversary of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. being arrested by white police officer James Crowley in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Do you remember where you were on 7/16? Do you think you’ll ever be able to forget the events of that day? If your answer is no, drink a beer. Then drink another one for Vice President Biden, who drank a nonalcoholic Buckler at the July 30 “beer summit” at the White House, possibly so he could stay sharp and not have to see what either John Harwood or Terry Moran look like naked.
Gates shouldn’t have been arrested, but the president shouldn’t have commented on July 22 that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly” in arresting him. Why, you ask? Because I slapped the handcuffs on racism and put it away for life back in June. Didn’t America learn anything from me? What’s with you people?
Yes, the 2008 presidential election made us a postracial society, but my June 30 column made us a postpostracial society, which should’ve turned things kind of self-referential and meta, which in turn should’ve led to Kanye West interrupting Lucia Whalen’s phone call to the Cambridge Police Department on July 16: “Yo, 40-year-old white lady, I’m really happy that you’re doing something nice for an old white lady who thinks a middle-aged black man who walks with a cane is breaking into a house through the front door in broad daylight — and I’m-a let you finish your call — but Henry Louis Gates is one of the most respected scholars of all time! And Sergeant Jim Crowley, who I’m predicting will be on the scene in a few minutes, is one of the most colorblind cops of all time, though I mean that in a metaphorical sense because he’s taught classes on racial profiling, not a literal one!”
See, Kanye could’ve identified the real enemy in the Gates-Crowley incident: old people. The events of 7/16 never would’ve happened if that little old lady, who remains anonymous and allegedly cell-phone free to this day, hadn’t stopped Whalen on the street.
Old people are living longer and longer — life expectancy in the U.S. as of 2005 was an average of 77.8 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, up from 75.8 in 1995 — which means they’re going to be setting up more and more of us to make “emergency” phone calls, which will lead to more and more of us having to explain to the media and the nation that no, we don’t believe in racial profiling, but yes, we do believe it’s a serious problem. (Don’t look now, but you’re getting older every second.) The increasing need for weekly beer summits — Wilson and Obama, Kanye and Taylor, Obama and Kanye, Wilson and Mexico — is already a problem.
Speaking of cell phones, you may remember that on July 17, also known as “the day after 7/16,” I published a guest column by Murray, my lawyer/friend Dave-o’s dog, about how he wishes Dave-o would spend less time on the phone and more time with him. I thought it might be a good, gentle wake-up call for Dave-o, but I didn’t let him see the column before it was published. He went nuts.
He felt that Murray’s thoughts should’ve stayed off the record and that I should’ve let him vet (hell yeah, pun intended) the story first. It seems Dave-o’s been receiving some pretty nasty e-mails and phone calls from SICEM, the Society of International Canine Enthusiasts and Militants, and they’re not too happy about the so-called “psychological torture” he’s been inflicting on Murray by ignoring him on their walks.
Dave-o was threatening to sue me, so my girlfriend, the aforementioned Aimiee, convened a beer summit — Murray was the designated driver, so he only had a Buckler, for PETA’s sake — and I agreed to not publish another Sugar Water that referenced my personal life until September. So, to all of you who’ve been writing me e-mails and accusing me of procrastinating the past two months, all I have to say is that you didn’t know the whole story. Or, as Joe Wilson might say: “You lie!”
On August 1 the New York Times published an op-ed by Bob Herbert about Gates’s arrest. “The very first lesson that should be drawn from the encounter between Mr. Gates and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, is that Professor Gates did absolutely nothing wrong,” he wrote. “You can yell at a cop in America. This is not Iran. And if some people don’t like what you’re saying, too bad. You can even be wrong in what you are saying. There is no law against that. It is not an offense for which you are supposed to be arrested.”
You can also yell at the president of the United States, as Joe Wilson did, but just like in any other situation, whether you’re on the record or off, it’s important to watch what you say — or post online, as I learned with Dave-o and Murray.
As for Kanye West, judging by the crop-circle-type markings he’s shaved into his head, I can only assume that his many public outbursts are some sort of signal to an interstellar race, one he hopes will beam him up and take him to a place where he’ll no longer be misunderstood. Which makes him not much different than the rest of us, I suppose.
(I promised myself I’d keep these columns short and simple from now on. No surprise — I lied.)
Beau Johnson, “Walking” (from 2009’s Chill Out: Atlantic Edition, Vol. 2)
Common featuring Kanye West, “Southside” (from 2007’s Finding Forever)
Pretenders, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” (from 1987’s The Singles)
Bunny Sigler, “I Lied” (from 1996’s The Best of Bunny Sigler: Sweeter Than the Berry)