He became a superstar in 1992, one of the bright "wunder-kids" who helped Bill Clinton get elected president. After I saw the documentary "The War Room" in 1993, I found the career I wanted...campaign aide/strategist/political aide. He represented exactly what I wanted for a career. If you haven't seen "The War Room," I highly recommend it. It was the first documentary that I actually loved.
In 1996 when the "anonymously-written" novel "Primary Colors" came out, some of the speculation on who the author was centered on George Stephanopoulos. Did he write it? In the novel, his character is represented by the young black man of a Civil Rights preacher who joins the Jack Stanton campaign (the 1998 film starring John Travolta is an excellent adaptation of the novel and one of the best political films I've ever seen). The author was revealed to be reporter Joe Klein, who covered the Clinton campaign in 1992.
However, in 1999, George finally came out with his memoirs of what it was like to work in the Clinton White House and of course, I devoured that book...reading it instead of my college courses assigned readings. I wanted the inside scoop because I was hoping to intern in the White House and wanted to know some good behind the scenes kind of information. His memoirs became my political bible. I was even struck by some of the things we had in common. He credits Robert F. Kennedy as the politician who inspired him to get into politics. In fact, when shopping for a campaign to work for in 1992, he said that Bill Clinton was the RFK of his generation. I also consider RFK to be the political ideal for a dream candidate. An assassin denied our nation of an RFK Administration in 1969 through 1977 (if he lived to win and serve two terms). Who knows how different our country would be if we had RFK instead of Tricky Dick?
Back to George...he worked on the 1988 Dukakis campaign and knew how shallow the Bush attacks were on Dukakis' patriotism, by making issues of the Massachusetts governor's membership in the ACLU, his stand on not requiring school children to recite the pledge of allegiance, and not making flag burning illegal. Republicans are always trying to attack Democrat's patriotism because they think frivolous displays of patriotism counts more than action. So, you're damned if you refuse to say the pledge of allegiance, even if you work to improve the health care of war veterans. Republicans have shown that they pride themselves on their worship of the American flag, but when it comes to war veterans receiving shoddy treatment in run-down hospitals, they can't be bothered.
What's this have to do with George? Well, as I watched Wednesday's Democratic Debate on ABC between Senators Clinton and Obama, I was shocked by some of the questions Stephanopoulos asked. What happened to the young, idealistic, wonky aide who wasn't afraid to call bullshit on phony controversies? If there's ever a case to be made in how corporate money changes a person, I present to you Exhibit A: George Stephanopoulos.
And I was saddened, disappointed...daresay, disillusioned? Is the salary worth becoming an empty suit asking shallow questions that serve little purpose than to keep Americans grossly misinformed and obsessed with sideshow issues?
Case in point...he focused in the beginning on the Reverent Wright's controversial statements. Hasn't that been covered enough already and dealt with? He also asked about Obama's "connection" to a former Weather Underground radical. Obama was awesome in how he responded, pointing out the media's shallow questions that have little to do with the concerns most Americans care about. He has proven time and again that he's a different kind of politician and I was happy to see him do what no other politician has done in decades: call out the media types on their superficial focus. Ooh rah!
What really shocked me the most is that they featured a question by a Pennsylvanian voter. This wasn't an open, YouTube debate that featured many questions by regular Americans. There was only a couple questions from voters, and the one that outraged me the most was a middle aged lady asking Obama why he didn't wear a flag lapel. She went so far as to question his patriotism because of it! I wanted to bitchslap that shallow woman. Where the hell does she think she lives? I thought America was the land of the free. What, we're going to require people to wear flag lapels from now on? You know who was big on flag lapels? Soviet politicans, that's who! Nazi Germany had party people wearing swastika armbands. Is that the kind of country we want to become? Whatever happened to freedom and individuality? Why must we become unthinking clones who wear flag lapel pins as proof of our patriotism? I don't want our country to go in that direction. All this flag worship is considered idolatry, and don't these patriotic, Christian Republicans believe their Ten Commandments when it commands us not to worship other gods? Nationalism and capitalism are American gods that these patriotic types worship like fellating porn stars.
I was quite proud of Obama's answer to that question. He told the audience the ways in which he was patriotic and every one of those were about actions he has done or will do as president. But, by George, old George kept trying to claim that Republicans would make Obama's supposed lack of patriotism an issue in the fall. Obama doesn't seem worried about it because he knows what issues Americans truly care about. I am of the opinion that in tough times, Americans generally aren't persuaded by shallow controversies such as not wearing an American flag lapel pin. The election of 2000 was called "the narcissism of small ideas" and that's what people like George Stephanopoulos are trying to do for this election, ignoring the most pressing concern our country faces: economic collapse a la 1929. Will we be the country that dances as our ship of state is sinking, like what some did on the Titanic? Or will we by like 1992, when "it's the economy, stupid!" was the rallying cry that cost a formerly popular incumbent president to lose to a Southern governor with "character issues." Surely, George can understand the importance of this election. The stakes are even higher than they were when his candidate won.
Why don't I do this? Out of principle, out of conscience, and out of my own nonconformity.
Principle: I've read about communist countries since childhood because I was fascinated by their level of conformity. The odd thing is, the more I learned about how communist countries conformed the masses into wearing patriotic lapel pins and reciting oaths in unison in public, the more I saw similiarities with things we do in our country. If we're truly all that different from communist countries, then why do we enforce the same conformist bullshit on people? If we're truly free, that also means the freedom to not to act like a conformist idiot, reciting a pledge by rote, without any conviction in their voices.
Conscience: When I read the words of the pledge and thought about it, I realized that I was a liar everytime I had to say it. I don't pledge allegiance to people or material objects. In fact, I only pledge my allegiance to two things: my conscience and God. Once, a certain friend of mine wanted me to pledge my allegiance to him and I balked. I don't pledge allegiance to any person because the person could change into something I don't agree with (like George Stephanopoulos, for example). We could evolve in different directions. Pledges of allegiance have a sense of permanence to me. I don't take pledges and oaths lightly. They are deadly serious to me. Thus, to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth is kind of silly, for the cloth means nothing to me. Especially since many American flags are made in sweatshops in China. And if I was in the wilderness and needed to wipe my ass and all I had was an American flag, well...sorry Old Glory, but you're just going to have to surrender to the higher cause of personal comfort. Is that sacriligious? Better to offend a country than to offend God. The reason I won't pledge allegiance to America is because our country has gotten so far off track from our Founder's intention that I don't believe in it anymore. To pledge allegiance to our flag and the nation it represents means we agree to torture, illegal warfare, unlawful detaining of prisoners of war, and a whole host of other objectionables. When I die, my conscience will be clear and if Bush thinks of me in the enemy camp...well, good for him. When he faces the judgment of God, I want it known throughout the heavenly realm that I never agreed to any part of his administration and its destruction of authentic American values.
Nonconformity: Really. If we're truly a nation that believes in freedom, then why get so worked up over the fact that some people might not be pledging allegiance next to you or not placing their hands over their hearts? They tried this stunt one Sunday at the Atlanta North Community of Christ congregation back in 2002...making the entire congregation stand up to recite the pledge of allegiance. In all the years of attending church in many congregations, this has never been done and I was upset about it and complained afterwards. The pastor thought it was a great thing to do as his protest against the Circuit Court in San Francisco's ruling that the pledge was unconstitutional. You bet it's unconstitutional. Making people do stupid shit like that is what Soviet communists do...so it's quite ironic that these people who love to enforce conformity on me are the same ones who often accused me of being a commie. I thought the whole point of our country was freedom, and if we truly believe in freedom, that means not having some coniption fit when the person next to you or a presidential candidate decides not to participate in a meaningless ritual that most Americans do by rote anyway.
Soviet leader in the 1970s Leonid Brezhnev, a stellar example of a lapel-wearing commie bastard. Is he the model of leadership we desire for our country? If that's the direction uber-patriots of the Repugnant party want to take us, then who truly represents American freedom? Didn't Jesus say something about how actions were preferable to making a big show of things? Like how the widow gave her mites discreetly but the Pharisees made sure everyone in the Synagogue knew they were about to drop a load of clinking coins into the collection box?
Is the true patriot the one who visits the wounded veterans in the hospital, who fights to give them more money and better care, and who makes a stand to bring them home from a long-exhuasted and pointless war? Or is the true patriot one who avoids serving in war, sends other people's children to wars of his choice, and wears American flag lapels on his jacket to "prove his patriotism"?
I'm going on a limb here...but you know I'm damn right about this. Anyone who loves freedom has to understand that freedom means not having to conform to your idea of patriotism by phony displays such as lapel pins and magnetic bumper ribbons. Let's get over ourselves and our shallow obsessions.
And back to George: You know better, but your questions at the debate were pathetic. What the hell happened to the young idealist I admired? If joining the media elite turns you into a vapid zombie, then I don't want to be like you after all. Honesty and consistency matters more than all the money on K Street.