Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Play Nice

I find it fascinating -- especially when it comes from folks I know who are pentjak silat players -- to see all the shit Hillary Clinton is getting as the campaign for the D's candidate for President progresses.

Why, she is saying bad stuff about Obama! Can you imagine? Just to get the nomination! She even says McCain would be better than Rocky! She -- she's trying to win, and doesn't care how!

What a bitch!

So, I have to ask: Where were you when politics were covered during history class? What were you smoking that semester?

Pick an election, back to Washington, and look at what got said. Go back to Hamilton and Burr -- people used to kill each other of the slurs, slanders, and libels that were flung around like whiskey bottles at an Irish wake.

Scurrilous talk, sir! How dare you? Pistols at dawn, you cur!

Of course, some of it was true. Jefferson, that paragon who wrote that all men are created equal, owned slaves, and even fathered children by one. That was bandied about by the yellow press even way back when. He denied it. Our brilliant forefather was a liar. It took DNA testing to prove it.

Politicians bend the truth like pretzel makers. It's always been that way. Always.

When you are fifteen points ahead in the polls, you can afford to be magnanimous; you can play nice, you can duck debates, you can avoid saying the other guy's -- or gal's -- name. Take the high road. Be above it all.

Once you draw even or start losing, the game changes.

First off, anybody who wants the job of President has two strikes against him or her going in. A) They have egos the size of super-tankers. They think they are qualified to run the country and not coincidentally, have the wherewithal to be the most powerful person on the planet. Somebody who can wipe out most life on Earth. Once you get to that level, when you truly believe you are The One, then ends-justify-the-means is SOP. You can smile, hold your nose, and swallow stuff that would gag a maggot and rationalize it as being for the greater good. Once you get the job, you'll make up for it. Really.

I was for it, now I'm agin it, and once I get elected, why, I'll be for it again. The sand shifts underfoot, one has to step lively or get sucked under.

B) Any Presidental candidate has -- any of them -- in order to have arrived at the place where they have a legitimate shot at the office, given up part of their soul. Yes, it's true, you can't get anything done if you can't bend with the wind now and then. Politics is the art of compromise, you have to be a horse trader, quid pro quo, or you can't do the job. But: I have yet to see a President in my lifetime who didn't give up something that he once swore he'd never do, to be able to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. (Well, except maybe for the Current Occupant, and about whom I have nothing good to say, so I'll stop now.)

They lie. They have to. They promise the moon and deep down, they know they can't deliver it. But, they think, they will be ever so much better than the alternative, that such, um, shadings are necessary and valid. They'll make up for it. Really.

The silat reference? Our art has a running joke: If somebody says, "Hey, you cheated!" we all laugh. Stealthy and sneaky are part of what we do, because the goal in our fighting art is, when the dust-up is over, to be the guy who goes home, under his own power, with his teeth intact, instead of the guy who is going to the hospital or the morgue. We don't play fair, and we are proud of it. But, of course, that's just us. Nobody else should do that, especially not in the sainted realm of politics, where everybody should always, you know, play nice ...


People don't like to see negative campaigning. But as long as it works, you will see it, and it does work. War hero? Why, not at all -- he's a coward who lied about his record, he kicks old ladies down escalators, plus he has children who say Baaah! when they try to talk ...

As I said in an earlier post, it doesn't seem to be enough for people to triumph, they need to feel that their enemies fail, as well. Nobody running for President has reason to claim purity, because none of them are pure. You pick one you like, who seems closest to your philosphy, whom you believe will do the best job for the country, and you make your mark. But if you put them up on a pedestal and think they are any better than the rest of humanity, you are apt to get surprised two years on.

(Two points if you know where the picture came from and why I used it here ...)


Doctor Jay said...

I couldn't agree more. In fact, what Hillary is doing to Obama right now could be seen as a favor.

It reminds me of a training session I had with my sensei just before I was going for my black belt.

To put it in context, I am a very "nice" person. Slow to anger.

During this session, sensei teased and tormented me until I let my spirit come out a bit more. When he saw what he wanted, he stopped immediately and said "that's it! That's what I was looking for! Feel it!"

What Hillary is hitting Obama on are the very things that Republicans will make an issue of. He needs to be able to deal with them better, and he needs to show America his fighting spirit.

They need to trust him to defend America. He needs to show his spirit and show he has control of it while showing it.

Jas. said...

My memory isn't what it used to be but I think that's the scene in "The Magnificent Seven" when the gunslinger said he was faster than the knife-thrower (James Coburn, I think).

After the "for fun" round, the knife-thrower refused to concede and pride made the gunslinger want to do it for real.

That's when the knife-thrower slipped the knife into his hand before the "draw". He "cheated" ... but they were no longer just playing a game.

It's important to know the difference between a game and reality ... between the time when the rules matter and the time when they do not.

Is that what you were going for?

Steve Perry said...

Precisely. Whoever is going to have his or her finger on the red button, I want that person to be able to deal with the piddly stuff without blowing a fuse.

If they start foaming at the mouth if somebody asks a tough question or calls them a name, that's not an endearing quality.

These are all big boys and girls and how they behave under stress is part of why we hire them. If they can't deal with the back-and-forth of electionary politics, the stress of being Head Honcho is going to squash them like a bug under a steam roller ...

Steve Perry said...

Two points to Jas.

The image of a duel was the first thing I wanted, and I went looking specifically for that scene, which was from The Magnificent Seven.

Knife versus gun was another -- don't bring a knife to a gun fight is the old saw, but not always true.

And I don't think Colburn's character cheated much, by the way, in opening his knife before the throw, since his opponent's revolver was already loaded, I see that as a wash -- Colburn only had one chance, as opposed to the shooter's five or six.

In a duel, the winner is the one who walks away.

In an election, the winner is, well, the one who wins.

Dan Moran said...

Mostly I agree with you, Steve -- Hillary's criticisms of Obama have been relatively mild and well within boundaries. If Obama's fans think this has been rough, boy, wait for the general.

But the paired praise for McCain/criticism of Obama on the subject of competency to be CIC ... that's wrong. Scorched earth during a general election -- I wish Dems would do more of that. I wish Dems had put all the women who accused Schwarzenegger of rape in ads during Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign; I would have. (Republicans would have too, if the accusations had gone the other way.)

Scorched earth for people who are basically on your side? That's a fine way to earn persona non grata status with the likes of me. I don't care if Hillary wins or if Obama does, but I do care that a democrat does, and when she starts making that less likely, I object.

Steve Perry said...

Good point on the possibility of splashback, Dan. Still, it's always been a bloodsport, and before you can get to the finals, you have to win the semi-final round.

Right now, Obama is the guy to beat, and both Clinton and McCain hope he doesn't get to the general.

Obama's campaign has been fairly careful and clean thus far not to overstep too much into personal attacks, but you know, I'm guessing that a lot of stuff that pops up on the web anonymously about how awful Hillary is isn't just coming from the Republican dirty-tricks guys.

I've been involved peripherally in a couple of political campaigns, and I know the guy running doesn't always know what his staff and volunteers are out there doing, and some of it isn't pretty, even for good, relatively clean, candidates.

It's not a game for people afraid to get their hands dirty, and if they are, they ought not to be the winner, because it will get a lot dirtier once you get to be POTUS, some of what you will have to do.

Mushtaq Ali said...

It's a matter of ethics Steve, something that I find lacking in both Silat and Politics. Both seem to enjoy feeding on their own a bit too much.

There are a few lines that in my opinion should not be crossed. Clinton has crossed several of them in a way that begins to approximate Bush. If you are fine with that, all to the good. I am not.

If, after years of seeing first hand the kind damage that lack of any sort of ethical code has done to silat and politics you are happy with the outcomes, that's your prerogative. Both politics and American Silat seem to me to select for sociopathic behavior. I choose to take a stand against such behavior in both cases. That's my prerogative. Time may tell us how this turns out, but to do otherwise would violate my own ethics.

Steve Perry said...

Mushtaq --

In south Louisiana, near the mouth of the Mississippi, the land is dead-flat and wet for as far as you can see. Here and there are spots that are less wet -- "dry" isn't really the right term. There is no high ground.

Much as I would have it be otherwise, this is how I view most of American politics today. There isn't any moral high ground on the field, and if there was, nobody capable of doing the job can lay claim to it.

I'm not *happy* with it. But I call it like I see it.

Last "moral" President we had was probably Jimmy Carter, and he couldn't get anything done because he didn't know how to play the game.

If I have a tumor I want excised, it isn't necessary for me to love the surgeon -- only that he or she has the skill and determination to do the job well.

I believe either Hillary or Obama could do a good job. You may disagree, that's your right.

That you seem surprised that, while standing knee-deep in mud, folks will stoop to grab a handful and sling it seems more idealistic than I can be in this arena.

Would that it wasn't so. But it is so. Has been as long as I have been an observer.

I don't see that Hillary, for all her hardball tactics in this race, is within parsecs of George Bush. Maybe you do. I don't see that anything she has done is a patch the Current Occupant's ass. And her political philosophy is a lot closer to Obama's than it is to Bush or McCain, so sorry, we have to disagree on this one.

Ww are going to hear more about uppity niggers and ballbreaking bitches before this is over, and some of it will be generated by people on both sides. I don't like seeing dog turds on the sidewalk when I take a stroll, but I don't pretend they aren't there and step in them ...

Kai Jones said...

Honorable means are for honorable opponents.

Steve Perry said...

Yep. And life would be great if the Marquis of Queensberry had done a set of rules for it and everybody played by them. But even in the squared circle, you have to have a referee and some ring judges ...

I think HIllary's people sat down with her and said, "Look, you have to come across as willing to mix it up, otherwise you'll get the she's-a-sissy comments. You want to be Commander-in-Chief, you have to be willing to kick ass and take names."

Just like I expect Obama's people sat down and said, "You're Mr. Nice Guy, you don't say anything that comes across as an attack. You duck and cover, we'll handle all that, don't worry."

I think the most honest statement in the campaign so far came from Michelle Obama, when she said she finally had something to be proud of in America, and Rocky's campaign was quick to leap on that and stomp it to death.

She was right, it was true, but it brought up ole demon Race, and that's a losing argument.

What you see in politics is seldom what really is, save in the case of flat-out idiots. If you elect those, whose fault is that?

Ed said...

I wonder if Bruce Lee taught Coburn the knife too?

Steve Perry said...

I don't think Lee knew much about the knife; in any event, Magnificent Seven was early enough in Coburn's career that he hadn't met Lee yet. (1960)

When Coburn did the Our Man Flint pictures, spoofs of James Bond, his karate moves came from the redoubtable Bruce Tegner, who has a bit part as one of the training group in an early scene. It wasn't until those movies were in the can that he started training with Bruce Lee.

The Green Hornet, in which Lee played Kato, hit the air in 1966; his high-profile student list came from that -- in '67, he started teaching expensive private lessons to Coburn, Steve McQueen, Kareem abdul Jabbar, Lee Marvin, James Garner, even Roman Polanski.

Ximena said...

That's from the Magnificent Seven. How can a guy with no butt be so HOT??

Steve Perry said...

You know, Tango Girl, I"m not even gonna speculate on how it is you can recognize James Coburn's butt from a still taken from movie way older than you are ...

Ximena said...

I really hate to break the mystique, but it's because watching westerns has been part of my novel research this year. I've been reading them and also watching the movies and also watching the movies mentioned in the commentaries and so on. After the Mag.7 we checked the 7 Samurai out from the library (which has been one of my favorite movies since I was about 9). So that movie was pretty fresh in my brain, and I recognized the knife/gun dichotomy, and there you are. I don't think I've seen any other James Coburn films, although they're on my list. His commentary on the Mag.7 was wonderful.

He did mention, BTW, that the particular knife move he does here (it's an underhand throw) was developed by the stunt coordinator/fight choreographer, so whoever that was, is to be credited with the training.