The Horror (Of Saying Something Nice), and Ted, the Salamander

The Horror (Of Saying Something Nice), and Ted, the Salamander

Joe Biden said something nice about a Republican! Liberals of America — recoil! The horror. The horror. The horror.

The Times recently reported that this past fall former VP Joe Biden spoke at college in western Michigan. Apparently Biden spoke generally on the subject of American politics. During his speech, Biden gave a shout out to a Republican congressman, Fred Upton, who was in the audience. Biden did not endorse Upton, but he did offer praise for Upton’s support of cancer funding legislation. This subject is important to Biden as his son, Beau, died from brain cancer several years ago. Several weeks after Biden’s speech, Upton won a narrow re-election bid. 

Generally I like the Times. I think they’re one of the best news sources out there, and excepting their op-ed section (which, to their credit, is clearly well marked), find them far more balanced than conservatives’ claim. However, the headline of this piece seems to have been written with a dramatic bludgeon. 

Biden’s Paid Speech Buoyed the G.O.P. in Midwest Battleground.

Splash that title next to a grainy picture of Jeff Bezos’ new girlfriend and the story about giant 12-foot salamander in Utah that gave birth to sextuplet human babies and BAM! — you got next week’s National Enquirer headline.

But you probably haven’t heard about the salamander story, because, in yet another example of the Enquirer‘s ‘catch-and-kill’ approach, this story was bought and buried at the behest of as yet unidentified backers. Insiders believe the funding came from nefarious forces affiliated with or funded directly by the Salamander Society for Sustainability, or SSS, although certain far right “cultural heritage societies” insist that the responsible party or parties were backed by funds from George Soros.1 Fortunately for you, dear readers, I know a guy, and through a combination of dogged sleuthing, palm-greasing, and multiple Freedom of Information Act filings, have managed to get my hands on the unpublished Salamander story.

Which brings us, dear readers, to a fork in this essay’s path. If you choose, you can continue the ostensible theme and read some thoughts about Biden’s speech. OR — you can tack hard right and read the heretofore unpublished story of Ted, the Salamander. Of course you’re not prevented from reading both, but really, who has the time? In terms of subject, tone and argument, these are very different pieces; it’s possible such will make this choice fun. Equally, the whole thing could be a giant stink bomb. Only one way to find out. 

I have the strong suspicion this will look like crap if you’re using your phone, so mobile folks — humblest apologies. I wish I knew how to track who preferred which story, because I’m a responsive writer, and from that data could direct future writings — my readers demand more stories involving amphibians! Lastly, I’m sorry for stacking the deck — out of necessity I have to place something in the left column, and as most English readers will naturally incline that direction, I’m unwillingly biasing the process. For what it’s worth, I made that determination based on the flip of a coin; the respective locations reflect no preferences other than fate’s. 

Either way, friends, readers, lost souls — enjoy:

BIDEN’S SPEECH

The truly terrifying thing about this article isn’t simply that for his speech Biden received $200,000. $150,000 of that was a speaking fee, and $50,000 was for travel expenses. $50K for travel expenses?! Joe—what the hell kind of traveling are you doing?2 Think about this — you can buy a used, outfitted Sprinter Van for $20K, which is a home on wheels: you can take it anywhere the roads go — sleep in it, cook in it, live in it — and you’d still $30K left. $30K! Hell, with the shutdown you can park that van for free just about anywhere in our National Parks these days. You’re making money on this plan, Joe!3

That Biden gets paid for speeches shouldn’t surprise anyone. Like any expert in a field — and right now Biden is one of only 5 living former VP’s, which makes it difficult to argue that he doesn’t possess a very specialized knowledge — he receives compensation for sharing his expertise. As a matter of policy, Biden refuses to accept public money for his campus speeches, and this situation was no exception. After the speech, Upton’s campaign used Biden’s comments to buoy their campaign. To me, that’s a no-brainer — the former VP says something nice about you, you’d be a damned fool not to mention that in your next campaign ad. That Upton’s opponent couldn’t get out in front of that speaks to the weakness of his campaign strategy and nothing more.

Outside the travel expenses (seriously, $50K?!), the most important thing is this article is one word in its title: Battleground. That’s a military word, battleground, and indicates that we’ve become fragmented and divided to a point that a Democrat saying something nice about a Republican is anathema. Joe Biden complimented a Republican who helped support cancer funding? String him up!

Democrat. Republican. Socialist. Freemason. Little Monster. These are simple categories we employ to aid our conversations, but they’re terribly narrow regressions when confronted with the complexity of any one human being. Further, they cannot function as negations of good deeds.4 Sadly, our nation is currently so divided politically that we’re actively conflating conversational short-hand with human character.

Your dad’s a Democrat?—He’s not welcome at my house for Thanksgiving.

Your mom voted for Trump?—Send that Christmas gift back.

The article points out that this speech will impact Biden’s potential Presidential campaign in 2020. Knowing the bumpy trails well intentioned liberalism leads too many down, I fear that’s probably true, which makes me wonder — Why? Since when does saying something nice about another person count as a negative against you? In fact, wouldn’t it be worse if he hadn’t? Wouldn’t it have been far more terrible — for Biden, for the memories of Biden’s son Beau, for Upton, for all of us — if Joe had said, Yes, Fred Upton helped fund cancer research, but none of that matters because he’s a Republican? Who the hell wants to live in that world?!

The reality is that most of us, whether we’re on the right, left, center or the upside-down, mostly want the same things — access to good and affordable health care,5 positive employment opportunities, excellent and affordable education, consistent and evenly applied public safety, a healthy and sustainable environment, etc. and so on. Do the differences between being a Republican and a Democrat matter for obtaining good and affordable healthcare?—obviously, Yes, and those differences are important and worth arguing over. But if all you see are differences you’re missing the point. 

How much do they matter? is the question whose answer speaks to the ability to govern. We can disagree about how to get good and affordable healthcare, but if we all we’re doing is disagreeing, or disagreeing so strongly that it’s verboten to even acknowledge a positive contribution from someone on “the other side,” then we’re all but guaranteeing that when it comes to our health, we’re going to remain as sick as ever. 

 

TED, THE SALAMANDER

No one knows how the salamander became pregnant with human fetuses. It occurred in the deserts of Utah. As everyone knows the divine has a predilection for deserts, and based upon this many have argued this was an act of supernatural intervention. Other explanations were put forth, but the most likely is also the most cringe inducing: a simple act of human initiated fence-hopping, for after all, the salamander in question — whom we will call Sally, for alliterative purposes, although her true name, like an Indian’s, can never be spoken — was a very attractive salamander, as far as these things go, with beautiful vermillion spots along her trunk and a very well proportioned tetrapod frame. (You try and cool your loins when Sally’s sunning herself on a piece of petrified wood!) Fact is, there are many precedents for this sort of thing. Some argue that Rome wasn’t founded on much more. 

What’s indisputable were the six human fetuses that developed inside Sally. They grew rapidly, with a gestation period that lasted a mere seven weeks. One hot, arid August afternoon, they sprang forth from Sally’s womb, slime sticking, eyesore and wailing. Being hungry from her labors, Sally immediately consumed three of the little babies weeping on the desert floor. The cries from the remaining newborns drew the attentions of carrion creepers, a ruckus of feather that subsequently alerted a sharp-eyed hawk from many miles away. Festooned in topaz tail feathers, he torpedoed across the sky, and while we’ll spare you the graphic details, readers can rest assured his hawk family ate well that evening. 

The remaining infants regarded one another warily. Between the two of them they’d been on the earth less than 12 minutes and already four of their siblings had been killed. They decided it was about time for them to beat it, and looked about, but it being the desert there wasn’t a whole lot to see: beside Sally, who’d found shade under a rock, where she lolled after her recent meal, all their eyes found were red sanded mesas and table topped ledges. The occasional scrub-brush tumbled through for effect. 

“I’m a head north,” the first baby laced up his little Air Jordans and stretched his calves. “Probably best you don’t follow.” That sounded fine to the other baby, who decided to head south. He tucked a bowie knife into his belt and pulled his black hat low across his eyes. Under a clear blue sky the two parted ways. In the far off a coyote howled. It was something.

The salamander that headed south ended up in Texas, where the environment was well suited to lizards. His skin grew greenish and he took on the name Ted. There was something always a little weird about Ted. He liked money and power and didn’t care much for people or other animals. Parents encouraged their children to play with Ted, but no one enjoyed having Ted over to play. One time the TV in his high school showed a video of a green frog singing about the challenges he faced. Although this was only a televised puppet, this was the only time  Ted ever felt a sense of connection to another being. When the song finished he went back to bilking kids out of their lunch monies. 

Later, Ted went to school at some fancy east coast colleges, where once again he was not well liked, possibly — although no one was indecent enough to admit it — due to his salamander past. Fueled by others’ disregard, Ted became a hard working, angry person, and was both feared and admired by others. For obtaining such a character he was subsequently elected to the US Senate. The heights that abandoned salamander baby had risen to.

Life was good and Ted grew a beard, although it too failed to completely cover up his amphibian ancestry. One day The President said that Ted’s dad was an illegal immigrant who killed Castro and noted that Ted’s wife’s face resembled a pot of overcooked lentils. Ted was naturally sensitive to talk about his birth, and his wife sure did earn a lot of money. He decided to stand up to The President.

“I am not a servile puppy dog!” Ted told The President, before he ran and fetched his bone. The President really knew how to throw a bone. It went so far. 

Ted was right. He was not a servile puppy dog. He was a servile salamander. 

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  1. Those very groups would like to remind everyone that as a general rule it’s best never to rule out the Jews when it comes to stuff like this, which just goes to show that no matter how specious your reasoning, everyone needs a bad guy, or what I think the someone’s scriptural traditions call a Scapegoat.
  2. If for some stupid reason I was invited to Michigan tomorrow (say, to speak on the challenges confronting straight white men in America today…), I could book a flight from Seattle to Detroit for $450; rent a car and drive to Benton Harbor for another $65; let’s say $100 for meals along the way; $200 for a hotel. That leaves $49,185, roughly enough to offset many of the challenges confronting this straight white man in American today.
  3. Wise and attentive readers: Yes, this essay was originally written when the government shutdown was in effect (because sometimes I do that), potentially rendering that reference moot. However, unless compromises are reached the government will self-shutter once more on February 15th, just over a week from now. Anyone feeling like a wager? I’ll show my hand by leaving the reference in; if you’re up for a classical allusion, you can think of this time we’re currently in as Purgatory, only instead of evolving toward Heaven, we’re probably going to slink right back down to Hell…
  4. At some point Hitler probably gave a homeless guy enough cash to buy a burger. That stupid annoying fact makes Hitler, and the entire world, more curious, complicated, challenging — in a word, human. While you’d be a dumbass if you read that as an argument for or against anything other than what it says, it’s also a reality. Same as the hamburger that homeless dude ate.
  5. That subject was not chosen at random. I don’t agree with Fred Upton’s approach to healthcare, but my disagreement doesn’t change the fact that he helped support cancer research legislation.

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