The Pencil Today:

“Who’s gonna take me seriously with this on my head?” — Leanza Cornett


I never watch the televised presidential debates for the same reason I’ve never cared about the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Or even any human beauty pageant, for that matter.

You know, these TV debates became important only because of what happened in the fall of 1960. Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Dem nominee for president that year came into the scheduled series of debates — the first time the events would be televised nationally — as the punk kid trying to elbow his way past the sitting vice president and foreign policy maven Dick Nixon.

The wags figured the debates would be a slaughter, with the wily Nixon taking the brash rich boy out for a spanking.

Things didn’t turn out that way.

JFK won the election because, during that first debate, held at the WBBM-TV studios in Chicago, he appeared cool, calm, sun-tanned and healthy. Whereas Nixon was gaunt and pale, having recently suffered through some health issues.

Not only that, Nixon fidgeted and sweated. Kennedy was charming and composed.

Beauty And The Beast

Boom — knockout for the challenger. So Kennedy won the beauty pageant and the White House.

Seems a rather silly criterion upon which to base a vote for the leader of the western world, no?

Anyway, don’t cry for Nixon, America, because he capitalized on his dorky, dweeby, homeliness and his loss to the uber-wealthy, elite Kennedy, to vault into the presidency eight years later. Nixon basically told the voting public, Hey, I’m a schlub — just like you.


The electorate bought it and, coupled with the fact that the Democratic Party was in the midst of a five year long suicide attempt, we elected ourselves a paranoid, self-loathing, suspicious, unindicted co-conspirator to be our leader. As a reward, we got Watergate, an unprecedented bombing campaign in Southeast Asia, Pat Buchanan, Karl Rove, and the original Rat Fuckers.

Oh, and a couple of pandas from China for the Washington National Zoo.

But I digress.

In the 1980 presidential candidate debates, Ronald Reagan out-prettied Jimmy Carter, which wasn’t very hard to do. Carter was somber and serious, talking about nuclear weapons and energy and the Middle East. Reagan was the chipper cheerleader.

The nation was ready for a pep rally.

When Carter brought up some controversial decisions Reagan had made as California governor, Reagan good-naturedly scolded him, saying, “There you go again.”

Grumpy & Happy

The debate would be remembered for those words as well as a line Reagan uttered during his closing comment: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Reagan routed Carter in the election.

In 2004, John Kerry whaled on President George W. Bush in their first debate. I actually watched that show, although I can’t for the life of me remember why. Anyway, I was astounded to discover that I actually felt sorry for Bush. He looked lost, physically diminished even, as the erudite Kerry tore down his arguments one by one.

All the experts agreed: Kerry had won the debate big time.

Dopey & Doc

What do you think happened? A large percentage of jes’ plain folks in this holy land felt Kerry was too smart, an egghead. Poor old Georgy Boy was just a guy trying to do his job running the country and some Harvard-educated snob comes along and tries to tell him what to do. Bush’s polling numbers actually improved after what I’d figured was a knockout blow.

Now, my side of the political spectrum is always honking about “issues.” The debates must be about hard facts and real problems and definitive plans, they say.

Yet many folks on the Dem/Left/Progressive team last night commented that Barack Obama wasn’t “aggressive” enough, whatever that means. Should he have slugged Mitt Romney at some point in the night?

I suppose that would send ratings through the roof. Maybe that’s the future of presidential debates. The candidates can go after each other on a remote island. Whomever captures the other wins. That would be something Americans could understand.

But last night’s debate was a wonk-fest. Obama and Romney argued like seniors on the high school debate team. Which, I figure, is what debate is all about.

But now the Obama side wants glitz and glitter and a he-man show of strength. They want that ultimate zinger, the kind that Ronald Reagan could deliver so well and so easily.

Times and sides change.

For the last few days, wits and pundits have been predicting that Romney would narrow Obama’s lead with his performance in the first debate. How they knew this in advance I can not say (other than to point out that news creatures need to invent new angles when conventional wisdom starts getting ripe.)

Sure enough, the post-game commentary and the pronouncements this morning have Romney coming out ahead last night. He looked like he belonged up there, the consensus goes. As opposed, I guess, to Romney showing up in shorts and a T-shirt. Romney, the experts say, looked presidential.

Maybe Obama should have slugged him.

I bet Obama will slug Romney in the next debate. Metaphorically, of course. Then Obama will see his numbers grow again. The final debate will be a tepid affair, with both guys deking and jabbing, but neither willing to risk going for the big blow so close to the election.

My hundred bucks on Obama still looks safe.


One thing none of the three debates will address is the issue of guns.

That matter’s been settled and put to bed. We have agreed as a nation to allow our citizens to arm themselves to the teeth against…, um, against what I don’t know.

Well not all of us have agreed. Not I, for one. And not Nikki Giovanni, the writer and commentator. Here she is on Democracy Now!, spitting into the wind (click on the image for access to the vid; sorry, I couldn’t embed it):


You’ve been reading about that news anchor in Wisconsin who lambasted an emailer for calling her fat, haven’t you? Or you’ve at least seen the vid on YouTube, right?

The woman is being praised from all quarters for standing up to what can only be described as bullying in the guise of a faux concern for the health of nation’s youth.

I’m all for her. Only I would have saved her a lot of breath. Had I been tasked with writing the news script for her response, I would have handed her a sheet with the original email on it, which she’d read, then the instruction for her to look straight into the lens and say, “And you, sir, are an asshole.”

Simplicity is best, don’t you think?

The only events listings you need in Bloomington.

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Brought to you by The Electron Pencil: Bloomington Arts, Culture, Politics, and Hot Air. Daily.

ART ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron Center, outside WFHB StudiosPublic participation in creating a ten-foot sculpture called “The Angel,” Rain or shine; 9am-5pm

LECTURE ◗ IU SPEANBC News’ Phil Lebeau talks about the auto & aviation industries; 9:30am

STUDIO TOUR ◗ Brown County, various locationsThe Backroads of Brown County Studio Tour, free, self-guided tour of 16 local artists’ & craftspersons’ studios; 10am-5pm, through October

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford HallMike Stern Trio; 2:30pm

MUSIC ◗ Bear’s PlaceGyrogenics Quartet reunion; 5:30pm

MUSIC ◗ The Player’s Pub — Jason Fickel & Ginger Curry; 6:30pm

WORKSHOP ◗ BloominglabsIntro to Programming, 10-week course beginning tonight; 6:30pm

FILM ◗ IU Cinema — “Casablanca”; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ Muddy Boots Cafe, NashvilleKara Barnard, Chuck Willis; 7-9pm

LECTURE ◗ Monroe County Public LibraryNaturalist Jill Vance talks about the wild turkey; 7pm

POLITICS ◗ Brown County Office Building, Gould & Locust Lane, NashvilleMeet the candidates for county offices; 7-9pm

STAGE ◗ Bloomington Playwrights ProjectComedy, “Rx”; 7:30pm

STAGE ◗ Brown County Playhouse, NashvilleDrama, “Last Train to Nibroc”; 7:30pm

LECTURE ◗ IU AuditoriumChaz Bono talks about gender identity, free; 8-9pm

MUSIC ◗ Max’s Place Eric Lambert; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Ford-Crawford Hall — Doctoral recital, Ruti Abramovitch on piano; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ Max’s PlaceNew Old Cavalry; 9pm

MUSIC ◗ The BishopR. Stevie Moore; 9:30pm


ART ◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • “New Acquisitions,” David Hockney; through October 21st
  • Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists; through October 14th
  • “Paragons of Filial Piety,” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi; through December 31st
  • “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers,” by Julia Margaret, Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan; through December 31st
  • French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century;” through December 31st
  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Film: Pop-art by Joe Tilson; through December 31st
  • Workers of the World, Unite!” through December 31st

ART ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • Ab-Fab — Extreme Quilting,” by Sandy Hill; October 5th through October 27th
  • Street View — Bloomington Scenes,” by Tom Rhea; October 5th through October 27th
  • From the Heartwoods,” by James Alexander Thom; October 5th through October 27th
  • The Spaces in Between,” by Ellen Starr Lyon; October 5th through October 27th

ART ◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibit:

  • “Samenwerken,” Interdisciplinary collaborative multi-media works; through October 11th

ART ◗ IU Kinsey Institute GalleryExhibits opening September 28th:

  • A Place Aside: Artists and Their Partners;” through December 20th
  • Gender Expressions;” through December 20th

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibit:

  • “CUBAmistad” photos

ART ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits:

  • “¡Cuba Si! Posters from the Revolution: 1960s and 1970s”
  • “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”
  • “Thoughts, Things, and Theories… What Is Culture?”
  • “Picturing Archaeology”
  • “Personal Accents: Accessories from Around the World”
  • “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”
  • “The Day in Its Color: A Hoosier Photographer’s Journey through Mid-century America”
  • “TOYing with Ideas”
  • “Living Heritage: Performing Arts of Southeast Asia”
  • “On a Wing and a Prayer”

BOOKS ◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit:

  • Outsiders and Others:Arkham House, Weird Fiction, and the Legacy of HP Lovecraft;” through November 1st
  • A World of Puzzles,” selections form the Slocum Puzzle Collection

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Soup’s OnExhibit:

  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Culture: “CUBAmistad photos; through October

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibit:

  • Bloomington: Then and Now,” presented by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

ARTIFACTS ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibit:

  • “Doctors and Dentists: A Look into the Monroe County Medical professions

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2 thoughts on “The Pencil Today:

  1. Jim says:

    Big balls that lady.

  2. david paglis - the lake county republican says:

    tio mikey grande: don’t bust to heavy on my guy nixon. (dick’s the one!). after all he did open up red china. if he hadn’t who would lend us all the money?

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