Let's stick with Hillary, who as we apparently all know, will be the next president of the United States. Why exactly are her poll numbers so high? Well, because she has the most money, and she gets the most press. That's reflected in the polling. And why does she get the most press? Well, because her poll numbers are so high, and she's raised so much money. And how has she managed to raise so much money? That's right-- because she gets the press and has the polling numbers. People want to support the winner; no one wants to throw good money after bad.
Notice anything missing in this upward spiral? Yup. The voters. Hillary Clinton has been anointed the Democratic nominee for president, and not one vote has been cast in a single primary.
Is this really how democracy is supposed to work?
This isn't a knock on Hillary; she knows how to play the game. From the beginning, her campaign was based on creating and sustaining an air of inevitability, not on merit or policy (she's neither the most experienced or the best at policy; why she refuses to admit her Iraq vote was wrong is beyond me.) It has been all about the juggernaut, about the polling and the money and the press coverage, because sadly, that seems to be how elections are won in America these days. She has the best team in place, and they know how to win.
With states tripping backward over one another as they move up their primaries and caucuses in order to be "first" and to "matter," a case has been made that the disproportionate importance traditionally held by votes in Iowa and New Hampshire somehow perverts democracy. The argument goes that bigger, more populous states ought to go first and carry the disproportionate weight. I could not agree less. If New York and California were the first two primary states, then yeah, the Democratic race would be over. Because the kind of money you'd have to spend to compete in these media markets would essentially eliminate the sleeper candidate; if you didn't have tens of millions of dollars to spend on spot TV (in New York and LA yet, where that gets expensive fast) you'd already be wasting your time.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, though, you campaign the old fashioned way. You kiss babies. Drink coffee at the diner. Speak in peoples' homes. Shake tens of thousands of hands. It is precisely because these states are small that they need to go first-- so that we can at least cling to some vestige of hope that voters still matter, matter as much as polls and coffers and CNN. The voters in Iowa and New Hampshire take their politics seriously; they endeavor to make informed, committed decisions. Maybe, just maybe, it is still possible for someone to come out on top in these two states without having the most money or the highest national name recognition.
Take a look at Joe Biden on This Week With George Stephanopoulos today. Around here, we think he's far and away the best candidate in either party. But be honest. Does it make any sense at all that Hillary stands, depending on the poll, at forty-some-odd percent, and this guy is floundering in the single digits? Watch that video, and then tell me he isn't the best candidate in the Democratic field. He doesn't waffle, he isn't calculated, he has command of every issue, the right position on every issue, he's the only guy with a plan for Iraq. He smiles when he's amused, not when his handlers think a smile would soften his image. But he isn't inevitable, so you probably think I'm crazy.
Which brings us back to Iowa and New Hampshire... because maybe, just maybe, Joe can finish, let's say, second in both Iowa and New Hampshire, behind Hillary in one state and O'Bama in the other. Suddenly he's a player. Suddenly all bets are off, and he becomes the juggernaut, gets his face on Time and Newsweek at the same time, like he's Springsteen or something.
I like to think we live in a country where something like that can still happen. Watch the video, and tell me you disagree.
I made the haul over to Randall's Island to see Farm Aid on Sunday September 9. Ordinarily I possess neither the endurance nor the attention span for an all-day concert, and indeed this was no exception; but enough of the artists were among my favorites that I made the trek (but arrived about 3 hours into it and split before the end.) Not surprisingly, the Allman Brothers (in whole and in their various disaggregated parts) stole the show... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The Allman Brothers were on deck, but Gregg Allman served to tease the palate with a 2-song mini-set. First he duetted with Willie Nelson on "Midnight Rider" (a song Willie covers in his own act.) Willie, who is about as good an acoustic lead guitar player as you're wont to find, highlighted this version. A lot of grizzled road-weariness for one duet. Then Gregg was joined by Haynes and Dave Matthews for "Melissa," Gregg and Matthews trading verses, Haynes playing an exquisite, breezy solo over the outro as dusk falls.
Next up is "Revival," an old song made new by the current band's arrangement and fire. The mid-section gets a long, extended jam treatment, drifting through different spaces, but anchored in slide blues; Derek Trucks tosses in a snippet of "Fly Me to the Moon," then Haynes cranks it up, accelerating until he's pulled the corns right out of their husks with a thrilling climax that leads back into the "Love is everywhere" verse, and a close...
...that segues into a big, dark, Santana-ish intro to the Howlin' Wolf cover "Who's Been Talkin'," a Haynes tour de force. He sings the sad, sad words, then fires guitar lightning straight into your groin. Derek steps up and tells a different story, the band teetering on the verge of falling off the tracks behind him... then pulling back to the smooth groove for the final verse. Haynes says goodbye to his baby, then lets the repeated refrain, "I'm the causin' of it all" hang in the air as he and Trucks dance off together into some nether realm where time slows, stands still, as twin guitar lines fall like droplets of gentle rain.
"Black Hearted Woman" has become a real go-to song for this band over the past 2 years. During the extended jam that morphs into the Dead's "The Other One" riff, Trucks lays on the "My Favorite Things" melody line before falling hard on the riff. The percussionists-- notably Marc Quinones-- accent and add flourishes to the mix as the band shifts back into the "Black Hearted Woman" riff to storm home.
"Statesboro Blues" is instantly familiar and rewarding to the largely non-partisan crowd. The song appears to end, but Derek leads an easy, loping coda that soon erupts into a full onslaught. Oteil now has his back to the house, locking in with the drummers. The band stays on the "one" chord, Haynes and Trucks fall into a jaunty new slide groove over Oteil's sprightly bass lines, then a rollicking finish that just oozes bluesy joy and doesn't want to end. What is usually a rote number, today is a highlight.
The band closes with a rewarding read of "One Way Out" that has everyone in the festival crowd up and dancing, the glow impossible to resist.
After the set, it is gratifying to hear the buzz as I walk among the concession stands and along the row of port-a-potties. The Allman Brothers have conquered Farm Aid, given the crowd a major funky stomp upside the booty.
Dave Matthews and his musical sidekick Tim Reynolds are up next. They play a hit-laden set, from what I gather; that song "Under the table and dreaming" was in there somewhere. They play a nice cover of Daniel Lanois's "The Maker." Nice guitar sounds waft out over the night; Reynolds gets a violin effect going on "Cortez the Killer" that is reminiscent of Television. Nice enough overall, but I don't get the Dave Matthews fuss. I'm sure I'm just too old.
At this point I decide to walk over to the ferry for the ride home; I know I'm missing the headliners, but for me obviously I've seen my headliner. On the way out I hear Mellencamp's set, wherein Derek Trucks sits in a whole bunch, as does the missus, with whom I am sure Mellencamp would like to make time (although, to be fair, who wouldn't?) Suzie T shares vocals with him on "Little Pink Houses," which is great. She wears her glasses, which have the affect of making her appear something like Clark Kent; in glasses she is Soccer Mom; she takes them off and she becomes Blues Mama. Mellencamp is solid, although the dreadfully treacly "This is Our Country" is no less dreadful or treacly live.
I assume Willie Nelson and Neil Young were good, but I'm home before the show is over.
Labels: The tunes