Mississippi snappin'

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I have never, ever had any desire to run for any office. But for more than an hour last Friday night, I desperately wanted to be Barack Obama, standing on that stage with old Johnny McNasty.

What I wanted to do most is stick a broom handle in front of the old turtle's face. McCain would have clamped on it, hissing violently, back feet kicking, shredding the wood with his little yellow teeth. Trust me, he would have done it. I know. I caught a large snapping turtle in the woods when I was in grade school, and it did exactly that. And it had exactly the same reptilian eyes Old Nasty does, except the turtle's were brighter and more reflective. 

That was almost half a century ago, when McCain was only middle-aged. But on Friday night, the visibly aging Mac was a sarcastic sourpuss. He refused to look at Obama, evidently because that might acknowledge that his opponent was a human being.

"I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand," McNasty sneered, over and over, usually when he was trying to justify his having sold his soul to Dubya over the mess in Iraq. Unfortunately, the batteries Karl Rove inserted at the base of McCain's scrotum didn't last as long as called for. At one point, I thought the oldest living boy in Arizona was having a seizure when he stumbled over the name of the Iranian president, seemingly trying to sneeze out his name (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) before butchering it.

Sheesh. At least his pet parrot, Sarah "Polly" Palin, managed to squawk it out correctly while playing show 'n' tell with Charlie Gibson.

Later, Old Baldy talked about some mysterious new leader named "Qadari."  I thought he meant Moammar Qadhafi, who came to power in 1969, when Johnny Mac was in the Hanoi Hilton. McCain might justifiably have missed MQ's inauguration. But naw, turns out he meant the new leader of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari.

Frankly, I am ashamed of the media for picking on McCain over getting this wrong. Next thing you know, they'll be expecting him to be able to tell the difference between Iraq and Iran.

He certainly don't know much about history. Early on in the debate, for some bizarre reason, McCain began talking about D-Day, as in June 6, 1944.  According to his rewriting of events, Supreme Commander Dwight David Eisenhower wrote out a letter resigning from the Army, just in case D-Day failed. Ike never did anything of the kind. In fact, Eisenhower merely drafted an announcement in case he would have to take full responsibility if the invasion had failed and he would have had to withdraw the troops.

Aw, so what are a few facts among friends?

Meanwhile, poor Obama seemed to feel he had to walk a fine line, tolerating much of McCain's bullshit. My guess is that he was paranoid about being perceived as an "angry, hostile black man." You can scarcely blame him. After all, the supposed elitist Obama had to make it through Columbia and Harvard Law School without a father and on his own merits, while McCain had a daddy and a granddaddy, both admirals, to prop him up.

True, there was a limit to how much propping they could do; McCain finished fifth from the bottom in his class. But he did graduate, and went on to crash planes and marry money.

Now, for the first time, I really think there is a real chance that we as a people may be able to put aside our racism and actually elect the superior human being and candidate.

And I see now, more clearly than ever, why it is a good thing I never went into politics. Because even if it meant losing the election and dooming the world to destruction at the hands of the mad bomber and Caribou Barbie ... 

I couldn't have resisted that broomstick. 

Sensitivity at the Free Press:  Last week's column ended with a reference to a recent staff meeting at which Detroit Free Press publisher Paul Anger announced further changes at the Freep. In keeping with my sweet nature, I noted that the paper was a shadow of what it once was, and that Gannett was working hard to dumb it down and trash it even more. This provoked a volley of letters to the editor from Freepsters, most of which exhibited real or pretend outrage.  Some of these were clearly calculated to ingratiate themselves with management, and don't deserve a reply.

However, the tone of those who e-mailed me privately was different. "You can trash Gannett and management all you like, and they deserve much of it," one said. But many were upset I hadn't praised the good stories they had done, especially on Kwamegate.

The fact is that I have repeatedly praised the work the paper has done exposing the criminal in the Manoogian, both in this column and elsewhere, and voted at Wayne State in favor of honoring the reporters last year. They have done an excellent job and, as I have said more than once, probably deserve a Pulitzer for it.

But I was frankly startled by the sort of childish idea that anytime one points out the paper's weaknesses, one should have to praise the odd thing it has done right. Funny, but when I've read about brutal murders in the Free Press, I haven't seen a companion story saying "Most People Did Not Kill Anyone Last Night."

Nor do I remember one saying "Many Black Politicians Not Felons, Don't Screw Staff Members." My problem is that when it comes to covering this area in any kind of comprehensive or responsible fashion, the paper often falls far short of the mark. 

To name just one: the vast Manuel Moroun empire, the number of Michigan politicians he has bought and the way he has attempted to hold two nations hostage with his ownership of the Ambassador Bridge. Uncovering that would take work and effort, however.

And thanks to the text messages, the Kwamegate saga to some extent fell into their laps. Curiously, the corporate drones who run Gannett seem to think that the way to run newspapers these days is to cut the quality, give people less and charge more — and make an occasional effort to win a few major prizes.

The result of this brilliance is that the Free Press has less than half the circulation it did two decades ago, and the News, which endured Gannett longer, has even less. In a somewhat desperate attempt to defend his bosses, Mike Elrick wrote an unintentionally amusing letter in which he began by saying, "The old business model — subscribers subsidizing newsgathering — is dying."

Everyone now reads the paper online, he explained. Well, OK. Then, after prattling on about how great his work is, he bizarrely ended by plaintively pleading, "Quit your bitchin' and get a subscription. We need your support now more than ever."

But, ah, Mikey — you just told us two paragraphs earlier that them days wuz gone.  Not to be too hard on Elrick, however; his comments illustrate the sort of schizo thinking common in newsrooms today. (By the way, I subscribe to both papers, but haven't read anything other than The Racing Form since 1958.) 

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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