"What's going on, Al?" I asked, as I sat down at the counter. "It's this," he scowled - tossing the front section of the paper at me as he poured me a cuppa joe. I saw one article about the uproar over Mr. Obama's firebrand-pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Another piece reviewed Hillary Clinton's claims that she and her party had to run for their cars, with heads down, when they came under sniper fire during a visit to Tuzla, Bosnia, in 1996.
Mrs. Clinton claims that the Tuzla welcoming ceremony was cancelled because of the snipers, but archival video footage shows her being greeted on the tarmac by a group that included a little girl who read a short welcome. There was no sign of either hostile or friendly fire. (Historians note that the war in Bosnia was over by the time of Mrs. Clinton's visit.)
The Obama article contained comments from various politicians, celebrities and ecclesiastical figures about the Rev. Wright's racist and virulently anti-American statements - as well as opinions on whether Mr. Obama should have gone further in distancing himself from the controversial minister.
"So what's the problem?" I asked. "It looks like the media are covering these stories well. Nobody is getting off the hook."
"The problem is, it's all a gigantic game of Spoons," said Al. "The media coverage is not the real object."
"I'm not sure I follow you," I said. "What's the deal with the spoons?"
Al explained that Spoons is a child's game where the players sit round a table. Each has a spoon on his left (except for one player), and each holds a hand of cards. The players go through the motions of a card-game, but that is not the true action. At any time during the game, a player might surreptitiously pick up a spoon. Others will also snatch a spoon. The spoon-snatching quickly escalates, until every player but one holds a spoon. The spoonless player must withdraw from the game. The card-game has no real meaning. It is a diversion from the true objective.
Al argued that media coverage of the various issues and squabbles between Senators Obama and Clinton are the "card game" which keeps the public's attention diverted from the game's true purpose. That purpose, said Al, is to hide the political and fiscal platforms of the Democratic candidates long enough to let one of them get elected in the fall.
"Think about it," said Al. "Both Hillary Rodham and Barak Hussein are the left-most members of the entire U. S. Senate. Both want to go back to the Great Society or the New Deal. Both distrust business but believe big government can solve the nation's problems. Both want higher taxes. And both know a majority of the American Public will never buy that platform, no matter how many times the Mainstream Media genuflect at the mere mention of the word ‘change'. Experienced political strategists must know diversion is the only strategy that can succeed."
I admitted that Al had a point, but it occurred to me that he might be overstating the case for any unified "strategy" coming out of the chaotic Democratic Party. I reminded him of Will Rogers' famous quip - "I don't belong to any organized political party; I'm a Democrat."
"Very droll, very droll," said Al, "but you're missing the point. No, I don't think operatives from the Clinton and Obama campaigns have conspired over wine and brie to map out a road to the White House. They don't need to. Each campaign knows, instinctively, that a far-left vision of big government, high taxes, business-demonizing, high energy prices, more government control over families and education, abortion-on-demand, gun control, the nanny-state, and diminished individual freedom will not resonate with enough voters.
"Zillionaires like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates call for higher taxes on personal wealth. (What the heck do they care? They have so much they wouldn't even miss it.) But Hillary and Barak know it's no use - ordinary, hard-working Americans who hope to get where Buffet and Gates are will not buy it. Keeping ‘New Deal II' hidden is the only way to make it a real contest against Senator McCain."
"If it's true, this is a big story," I said. "'Democrats Hide Liberal Governing Plans' would be a career-making scoop for some reporter. Surely we can't be the only ones talking about it. It must be more widely known."
"You're right - we're not the only ones who know," said Al. "But media pundits and reporters are not speaking up because they're in on the game. Polls show that they favor Democrats and leftist government by a 90% to 10% margin. It would be an act of rank betrayal to reveal that the ‘most exciting campaign in modern times' is really just a gigantic scam meant to divert voters' attention from the substance (or lack thereof) of the Democratic platform."
I had to admit that the media do seem fixated on campaign trivia. Every week brings new charges or disclosures about one candidate or the other - usually hurled from the opposing camp or disclosed from unknown sources. The pot is kept boiling (or the card-game is kept going) while the weeks tick by. The horse-race aspect of the campaign is continually raked over - the delegate count, the remaining primaries, the super delegates, etc., etc. Very seldom do reporters question Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama about their putative programs.
During a recent interview on CNBC's "Closing Bell", Maria Bartiromo atypically managed to draw out Mr. Obama on his tax-views. He unguardedly said the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to die and he called for the wealthiest taxpayers to pay more. Some of the Bush cuts lowered taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains to 15%. The silver-tongued senator said these rates are too low. Under some probing from the interviewer, Mr. Obama admitted that citizens making $75,000 or more a year are the "wealthy" he means.
The senator tried to sweeten the medicine by claiming that he wants tax cuts for those making less, and he spoke of eliminating taxes on the Social Security income of people making under $50,000 a year. With respect to raising taxes during an economic downturn, Mr. Obama waffled and weaved, lamely noting that no one could tell what the economy would be like when he took office. (No kidding?)
Nevertheless, said Alex Conant, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, "Obama's completely disingenuous dodge on whether he would raise taxes during a time of economic slowdown is belied by his [Senate] vote earlier this month. [His] votes to raise taxes on people earning as little as $31,850 are straight from the Democrats' tax-and-spend playbook."
Maybe the "spoons" game can be kept going through November, but I doubt it. We are living in the post-news-monopoly age - meaning that the big networks and a few major newsprint organs (e.g., the New York Times and Washington Post) can no longer control the news people read, see and hear.
The sniper-fire and the racist pastor stories are like chum thrown into the waters to attract sharks. The media obsess on these stories, using up valuable time when they might be reporting on the candidates' platforms. But alternate news sources (e.g., the internet) cannot be diverted indefinitely. Little by little the retro-leftist views of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama will be exposed. Both candidates are fatally flawed where it really matters - in what they stand for.
Americans want something new. They don't want to go back to the golden days of FDR or LBJ. The spoons game will crash, and the Democrats will crash along with it. It's not going to work.