Archive for "notions to dismiss"
“What is he doing back here? Didn’t he graduate already?”
What can I say, I just couldn’t stay away. Plus I had some unfinished business here that needed tidying-up, and the new staff of The Advocate was gracious enough to allow me this final – albeit lengthy – submission: The last of a three-part series I was writing on populism and politics.
The first two columns in this set were my attempt to make some hay of what the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements meant for America. Feel free to go back and freshen up if you like, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t – catching up on missed episodes of Homeland is serious business that requires our full attention…I get it.
Anyway, I left off with the thought that while the Occupy movement was successful in bringing about a change in our national political discourse, it was unlikely that it would have a direct effect on the ballot box this November. On the other hand, the Tea Party movement stood a much greater chance of generating an electoral impact, although just what impact that would be was a more complex matter.
That’s exactly what I’d like to try to untangle in this column.
In order to understand the impact of the Tea Party in 2012, it helps to first take a walk down memory lane back to the tumultuous year of 2010 – the first election cycle of the Tea Party era. We all remember the circumstances that year. The economy was still in the tank, unemployment was through the roof, and things were looking pretty bad for President Obama. On the other hand, the Tea Party was coming into its prime and the enthusiasm gap in favor of the GOP was considerable. This all added up to a landslide victory for Republicans, not just in the Congress, but also in state and local elections around the country.
And yet many on the right were left unfulfilled by their historic gains, feeling instead as though they had failed to capitalize on the momentous opportunity with which they were presented.
Indeed there was a case to be made for such discontent. Despite regaining control of the House of Representatives – via the largest electoral swing since the Great Depression – the GOP failed to win a majority in the Senate. No doubt such a feat would have been difficult – Democrats held a 59-41 seat advantage at the time – but a ten seat swing had seemed achievable just a few months earlier.
So what happened to change things? The answer, quite simply, is that the Tea Party happened. True enough, the Tea Party was able to help unseat dozens of Democrats in Congress that year. On the other hand, the Tea Party spared no opportunity to thumb its nose at the GOP establishment by bringing primary challenges against Republican incumbents deemed to be too moderate. These challenges would have a massive impact on the Republican Party, both in obvious and in more subtle ways.
Let’s go to the videotape!
We start the highlight reel in Kentucky. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentuckian himself, strongly endorsed Secretary of State Trey Greyson for the open Senate seat that year. The Tea Party had other plans, helping to nominate libertarian firebrand Rand Paul for the job. Paul would go on to win the election and McConnell would learn that being in a leadership position in the Republican Party doesn’t carry the clout that it used to – even in one’s home state.
Moving on to the Sunshine State, Charlie Crist learned the hard way that even Republican Governors with sky-high approval ratings were not immune from the Tea Party wave. Crist would have cruised to victory in this Senate race in any other year. But this was not any other year. Instead, Marco Rubio, perhaps the most adored of all Tea Party-backed candidates, dispatched Crist – who had committed the unthinkable act of appearing in public with the President – in a heated primary and won the Senate seat for himself in November. Crist was left to ponder his future in the Republican Party. More on that in a bit…
In Alaska, Tea Party challenger Joe Miller won the Republican Senate primary over the incumbent Republican, Lisa Murkowski. Miller was deemed to be more conservative and had the backing of the illustrious Sarah Palin – back just in time from a taping of DWTS – among other national conservatives. In the end, Miller proved to be so unpalatable to the Alaskans in the general electorate that Ms. Murkowski won an historic write-in campaign and was re-elected.
In Utah, Sen. Bob Bennett lost a battle waged by the Tea Party for the GOP nomination to retain his Senate seat.
In Arizona, the Tea Party even tried to unseat John McCain that year, though McCain was able to beat back the challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
These are but a few examples of the cannibalizing that went on within the ranks of the GOP that year, and even though all of these races were ultimately won by Republicans, they nonetheless produced lasting effects, both for the Republican Party and for American politics at large.
First of all, the Tea Party candidates were more conservative than many of their Republican colleagues, and they felt a need – even a mandate – to demonstrate it. It was also clear from the start of the ensuing Congress that the Tea Party freshman felt no need to show fealty to their leaders in the GOP establishment. They had already proven the ability to out-maneuver their more moderate counterparts on the campaign trail, and they intended to do the same on Capitol Hill.
All of this could be seen in the polarizing rhetoric and sharply partisan stances following the 2010 elections. Indeed this would come to symbolize the new normal in an increasingly dysfunctional Washington. Of course, not only were the Tea Party candidates affected by this sea change. A very clear message was sent to the surviving moderates in the Republican Party, and many clearly felt the need to move to the right or risk being swept away in their next primary.
At no time was all of this more evident than in the catastrophic debt ceiling debates in 2011, when Speaker of the House John Boehner was forced to withdraw from negotiations with the White House over a proposed “grand bargain” – the contents of which may very well have helped to solve a host of serious problems facing the nation – because he had lost the support of his rank and file membership, much of which was now dominated by Tea Party influence.
All of this demonstrates the profound impact the Tea Party has had on our elections and politics. However, none of it fully explains how the Tea Party affected the balance of power in the Senate.
For this, we have to go back to the video tape!
In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was in deep trouble in 2010. To say that his re-election prospects were less than rosy would be like suggesting that Gangnam Style has received a modest amount of attention outside of Korea. Reid was a dead man walking. But then, as if from out of nowhere, he was handed the greatest gift of his political career: Sharon Angle. In point of fact, Ms. Angle came not from nowhere. She rode in aboard the Tea Party Express. The epic implosion that followed saved Mr. Reid from certain failure. I would say that Ms. Angle was the only candidate on the planet who could have lost that election for the GOP, but then how could we explain everything else that went on that year.
Across the country in Delaware, Republicans threatened to embarrass Democrats by winning the Senate seat most recently held by Vice President Biden. Going into the fall, Rep. Mike Castle was considered the likely GOP nominee in the race and polling showed him to be a strong favorite over his Democratic opponent, Chris Coons. But the Tea Party would have none of that. And so they brought in…ahem…a witch! Christine O’Donnell went on to lead what was, quite possibly, the worst – and funniest – campaigns in the history of American politics, and Coons went on to represent the people of Delaware in the Senate.
Moving north to Connecticut, Democrats nominated Attorney General Dick Blumenthal for the open Senate seat vacated by Chris Dodd over an ethics scandal. Things were going fine until news broke that Bluenthal had made false statements about serving in Vietnam. Ouch… Surely no politician could survive that and win an election in the same year, right? Wrong! Not if your opponent is the heiress to the WWE. Somehow Linda McMahon’s attacks looked better when performed within a wrestling ring – and they looked a whole lot better before YouTube took down all the AMAZING clips… Anyway by November, Mr. Blumenthal had apologized all the way to Washington.
Back west in Colorado, Democrat Michael Bennet was viewed by many pundits as one of the incumbents most likely to lose that fall. Once again, the Tea Party came to the rescue, securing the GOP nomination for Ken Buck over a field of more moderate candidates. In the end, Mr. Bennet won a razor-thin victory and, once again, Democrats were able to hold onto a Senate seat that had once seemed all but lost.
Republicans won a net of six Senate seats from Democrats in 2010. But, with these four races, the GOP could have flipped the 53-47 advantage Democrats currently hold in the Senate to a 51-49 edge of their own. It’s fair to call that a missed opportunity and it’s certainly understandable why some Republicans felt that they had left quite a bit on the table that year. The Tea Party giveth and the Tea Party taketh away…
That brings us to the 2012 election cycle – which of course began the day after Election Day in November 2010. Let’s imagine the outlook for the many candidates who fancied themselves as potential standard bearers for the GOP in the upcoming presidential election. Your party is moving to the right and is now dominated by a hard-line wing that has thoroughly proven its willingness to bite off its nose to spite its face.
What’s a candidate to do? Simple: Move to the right – hard and fast – and pretend that no one noticed the last twenty years of your public life.
What’s that? Your health insurance model got turned into ObamaCare? Health care is the devil!
You said you would protect a woman’s right to choose? Down with Roe v. Wade!
You went on the record saying humans have contributed to climate change? Science sucks!
You supported tough gun control laws? I just got my NRA card tattooed on my forehead, yo!
Any of this sounding familiar to anyone? Anyone?
The fact is, the GOP and the Tea Party did everything they could to nominate someone not named Mitt Romney as their candidate in 2012. The chart of the polling averages from Real Clear Politics demonstrates that better than any words ever could. They tried everyone. They even flirted with Donald Trump as a nominee. They were all but ready to go with the fuckin’ pizza guy, for cryin’ out loud. Apparently Barry Goldwater’s corpse wasn’t available.
In the end they were stuck with the one guy they didn’t want, never wanted – in part because some potentially strong candidates simply chose not to run when faced with this new Republican reality. To make matters worse, in constantly vying for the unattainable affections of the party’s right wing, Romney transformed himself from a viable moderate candidate into a severely compromised shell of his former himself.
Everyone knew going into this election just how difficult the President’s position was. The economy has improved, but it is still bad. Unemployment is down, but it is still far too high. ObamaCare was upheld by the Supreme Court, but it is still unpopular. No post-war president has ever been re-elected when the fundamentals of the nation were in such poor condition. A strong Republican challenger should have been able to win this election. But there was no such challenger to be found.
In the end, this will be the Tea Party’s greatest impact on the 2012 election, and this is why President Obama will eke out a close victory tonight, defying history once again and leaving Republicans to curse themselves – along with their new favorite nemesis Nate Silver – as he moves into a second term.
Oh, and by the way, remember that popular Governor who lost the Republican primary in Florida? Well, he went on to endorse Obama and gave a speech at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. Somebody remind me, is Florida a swing state this year? Take that, Face!
But what will the Tea Party’s reaction be? Will they lament the impact of their efficacy, regretting how they forced Romney to contort himself into so many ever-less believable incarnations? Will they simply put the blame on Romney’s weakness, eschewing any responsibility for the impending debacle? Or will they be too distracted by the other happenings of this election to focus solely on the top of the ticket?
Let’s remember, of course, we’re electing more than just a president today. There are Senate and Congressional seats up for grabs, among others. Once again, there is a possibility that Republicans could retake control of the Senate this year. How will the Tea Party impact those races? Surely they wouldn’t make the same mistakes twice…would they?
For that, we must go, once more, to the video tape!
In Indiana, six-term GOP Senator Dick Lugar – a shoe-in for re-election – loses a primary challenge to a Tea Party-backed insurgent, Richard Mourdock. Mourdock proclaims divine inspiration for pregnancies via rape during a televised debate. Democrats claim possession of a Republican-held Senate seat Tuesday night.
In Missouri, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was on life support in her efforts to maintain her Senate seat. The Tea Party was kind enough to help select her challenger, Todd Akin. Akin, in turn, was kind enough to educate the nation on the physiological distinctions of “legitimate rape.” Ms. McCaskill will surely be kind enough to send her Thank You card to the appropriate address.
It’s like these guys are having a contest: Who can say the dumbest shit the loudest and screw the GOP in the most uncomfortable place?
In Connecticut, Linda McMahon is running for the Senate again. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
In Texas, the Tea Party defeated the establishment GOP candidate, whom was backed by none other than three-term Governor Rick Perry – my, how the mighty have fallen – in the nomination for the open Senate seat.
The Tea Party even tried unsuccessfully to unseat nine-term Senator Orrin Hatch – the longest-serving Republican in the Senate! – just as they did his junior colleague from Utah, Bob Bennett, in 2010.
The list goes on and one, but I think the point has been made – and beat to death – by now. The political effectiveness of the Tea Party has been, and will always be, nullified by their unwillingness to compromise on any level and their fundamentalist insistence on ideological purity.
All of this now brings me back to Occupy. In the end, what the hippies and their drum circles wanted to do was to change the tenor of our political discourse and help ordinary American to focus on the realities of inequality in this country. I’ve made the case that they were very successful at this, and that their success has endured long after the physical presence of the movement has faded.
Perhaps the biggest bombshell of this presidential campaign was the release of the video of Mitt Romney maligning the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes. It came on the heels of public sentiment moving in the direction of President Obama and it had the feeling of a turning point in the election.
Somehow, categorizing people in terms of cold percentages creates a powerful, almost visceral, image in our minds, reinforcing divisions which perhaps we can feel, but may not want to acknowledge. Putting those divisions into numerical form makes them harder to ignore.
But I think there was something more at work. It almost felt that, as a society, we had already been conditioned to respond to rhetoric like this, as if we had heard it from somewhere before.
I don’t know. Anyone have any ideas on where that might have been? Anyone? Bueller?
– Mike Berman graduated from BLS in 2012 and recently learned that he passed the July administration of the New York State Bar Exam. He is excited to be returning to a career in the hospitality industry with the Gerber Group. He can be reached for comment on Twitter.
Last time out, I took a look at the recent growth of populist activism in America, both on the right and the left, and the impact it has had on our politics and national discourse. There is no question that we currently have a more engaged electorate than at any other time in recent history, and the effects of this have been quite substantial. However, attempting to discern what this might mean for our future requires a closer look at the individual movements themselves. Upon such an examination, it becomes pretty clear just how different these movements are and how much those differences will affect the impact they have on our politics going forward.
On one hand we have Occupy Wall Street and the related demonstrations that have taken place around the world. At first, this movement was largely dismissed by commentators as disorganized and lacking in a cohesive message. In the end, Occupy’s initial “defects” may have proven to be its greatest strengths, as the movement was never about bringing change from the top down, or even via the ballot box.
Occupy was about changing the way we all think about the problems facing our society, and, the organically democratic message which eventually grew out of the movement was able to accomplish this in a way that no set of pre-planned, focus-group-approved platitudes could ever even approach. “We are the 99%” is the wet dream of every political strategist from K Street to Wasilla, and yet not one of them can take any credit for it. Like everything associated with Occupy, it belongs to the people.
It is this very strength, however, that also serves to limit Occupy’s direct impact on our political process. Surely the ideas that have arisen from the movement will continue to resonate with both politicians and voters, but it seems unlikely that Occupy will take any formal role in the upcoming election.
For one thing, the movement just isn’t built for it. Campaigns require hierarchical control systems and business-like efficiency. The individual volunteers don’t get a say in the message or the medium. On the other hand, Occupy encampments operated like Marxist communes, each individual getting a say on everything from the wording of official statements to how many times the bathrooms would be cleaned each day. It’s pretty hard to run a campaign that way…
Furthermore, the Occupy movement never had any interest in connecting or integrating itself with the Democratic Party (or any other major political party for that matter). Its ideals are, without doubt, much further to the left of anything the Democratic Party could ever publicly embrace. So, although many Democratic politicians can now be subtly, or even overtly, heard invoking the language of Occupy, no effort was ever made to formally join the two – any such attempt would have surely ended in failure or worse.
Plain and simple, it’s pretty hard to imagine Occupy Wall Street having a direct impact at the ballot box in November.
But, what about on the other side?
Personally, I think it is on this point that the Tea Party and Occupy movements are most different – even more so than in their core ideologies, which share many basic elements of populist outrage.
From day one, the Tea Party was determined to make changes within our political system, first via constituent pressure on elected officials and then via the ballot box. Before long, the Tea Party had structured itself into a network of semi-autonomous organizations, capable of acting independently, yet able to work in cohesion through coordinated messaging from Americans for Prosperity and massive funding from the Koch brothers. Although infighting and competition would eventually fracture this network to an extent, there still exists a clear consensus on matters as pivotal as the movement’s very moment of origin: Rick Santelli’s visceral 2009 rant on CNBC. So long as that degree of commonality is present, there will always be the potential for great unity in this movement.
And, unlike Occupy, the Tea Party was bred for politics and structured to be maximally effective in that arena. Despite its populist roots, there is definite potential for top-down control of the movement through its organizational structure. When wielded properly, the movement can be focused on particular targets and goals to great effect. The historic electoral gains made by the GOP in 2010 are a resounding testament to this.
Again, unlike Occupy, the Tea Party became the twinkle in the eyes of the Republican establishment. If only it could be harnessed, the movement represented a coalition of energized voters that could deliver electoral majorities for years to come. The thought was simply too good to be true.
And, indeed it was, as this was a tail that refused to be wagged on command by a dog that it viewed as unfit to be giving out the orders. Like any real populist movement – heads or tails – the Tea Party cannot be simply co-opted by party bosses in Washington, and they have proven that beyond any shred of a doubt.
True enough, the GOP rode the Tea Party to victory in the midterm elections, but at what cost? Looking ahead to November, that cost just might be more than the Republicans can bear.
Let’s pick up from there next time…
– Mike Berman, a graduating 3L and life-long lover of all things politics, was proud to serve as Speaker of Assembly A at the 2002 New Jersey Youth and Government Conference. He can be reached for comment through his publicist: @bermorama.
Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a piece for my college newspaper – back then my column was called Reflections in Shades of Black and Blue – about the presidential election that was taking place. It’s a pretty decent read if you have a few minutes; I was much funnier in my youth. I think the point I was trying to make was that while the media was focusing almost exclusively on sensational and ultimately irrelevant details, there was something much bigger and more important going largely unnoticed. It seemed, at the time, as though more people cared and were well-informed about politics than at any other time in my memory. There was something new in the air. And, to me, that felt like it was worth spilling some ink over. A lot of time has passed since then and a whole lot has transpired. But, when I look back, I feel a certain degree of vindication.
In the past, I would often think about how you could frequently see on television, in cities and countries around the world, people marching and demonstrating in their public squares. On the other hand, in America no one every marched or protested anymore. Why was that? Was it because Americans didn’t care about anything? Perhaps it was because Americans were more civilized. Maybe we dealt with our frustration in other ways. Or, maybe it was because we were at such an advanced stage of development that our problems just weren’t as significant as those in other countries. The difference between a 36% and 39% top marginal tax-rate just doesn’t rise to the level of whether your family will eat this month. Maybe our cities just aren’t designed for protests. We don’t really have the kind of central squares that facilitate mass protests in other countries.
Whatever the cause, for two generations most Americans have been largely apathetic when it comes to politics. Long past are the cultural upheavals of the late sixties. Today, so many people don’t vote and so few have a firm grasp on the issues of the day. And yet, for the first time in decades, we know what a true populist movement would look like on our own soil, and just where it would take place. For that, we have the Tea Party and Occupy movements to thank, and regardless of whether you find yourself on the left, the right, or in the center politically, it’s nice to know that we still have that in us as a people. We certainly don’t agree on what to care about, but there seems to be a mutual agreement that it’s time to care.
Without doubt, this has been brought on largely by the recession. In times of struggle, people become more attuned to their surroundings. But I think there’s something else at work here, something that goes back a few years.
The public always pays attention to the ebbs and flows of a presidential election, and maybe that’s all I was seeing when I wrote that article four years ago. But then something else happened. This Obama fellow started tingling the little hairs on the back of our public imagination in a way that no one had for decades. Beloved as he was by the left for what he represented, despised as he was – and still is – by the right for what he represented to the left, in an historical blink of an eye, this man had transcended politics, becoming a symbol for the outpouring of our, until then, collectively repressed public emotions. And, once those emotions started flowing, they’ve done nothing but increase steadily ever since.
On the left, we began with a Messiah complex. That quickly turned to anxious confusion as when the object of our affections hasn’t texted us back in an hour (Did he not get our texts??? What could he be doing??? Does he not like us anymore???). Finally we settled on a resigned sense of disappointment. But then we found a new love…
I can’t speak personally about what it felt like from the right, but I imagine it being something like: At first we were horrified by Obama. Then we grew to utterly loathe him. Finally our feelings evolved into a slowly simmering rancorous hatred.
Anyway, the real key here was that not only were our emotions on our sleeves, but our actions were finally in line with our feelings. The conservative outcry over Obama’s health care reform spawned a political movement that would inspire millions and have massive repercussions at the polls in 2010. Next came the Occupy movement – partly a left-wing response to the Tea Party and partly a long-overdue call for social and economic justice – which would literally redefine our national discourse. All that liberal discontent over Obama could be channeled in a new and proactive direction.
In the last few years, both sides have found a reason to care and the strength to stand up for their beliefs. Looking back, I can’t say that I ever could have predicted what was coming, but I remember being excited and feeling that things might just be different. And different they certainly have been.
It’s pretty amazing to reflect upon how much things have changed in such a short time. As we pass through yet another compelling election cycle, I’m just as excited to see whether these new waves of popular engagement will last and where they will take us, both in November and in the years ahead.
More on November next time…
– Mike Berman is a graduating 3L, an aspiring political pundit, and a Co-Chair of Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest (BLSPI). Come say hello to him this Thursday, March 1, at the annual BLSPI Auction.
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve put together a column. I had planned to write a really great piece just before exams, but, in the true spirit of procrastination, I decided to put it off until now and spit out something utterly mediocre instead.
I took a little walk down Fulton Street the other day. I used to find myself there all the time – that’ll happen with three doctors, my gym, my bank, and my favorite pizza place (may she rest in peace) all being there – but this was the first time I had been there in a few months. To be honest, I was pretty shocked by what I saw. I’ve always known that big changes were coming to these streets; I just had no idea how big the changes would be or how soon they would come. But first a little background about the area.
Fulton Street, or the Fulton Mall as it’s often called, is a pretty interesting place. A vibrant commercial strip with bustling sidewalks; dotted with historic multi-level storefronts; an economically viable retail mecca that manages to get by just fine without catering to the proclivities and tastes of white folks; the seven-block stretch in Downtown Brooklyn stands out in a lot of ways.
The first stores opened up over a century ago, and the burgeoning mall became a model for urban retail, housing some of the most famous department stores of the era. Through the passage of time and the grind of economic downturn, the character of Fulton Mall has changed quite a bit, but the strength of its commercial draw has always endured. To this day, it boasts the city’s third-busiest retail strip, beating out even Madison Ave. I’ve often marveled at how you can walk down Fulton Street one day and see a business that’s recently been boarded up, but walk by that same spot two weeks later and you can bet on seeing a Grand Opening sign in the same storefront.
These days, it exists as a veritable oasis of black commercial culture, surrounded on three sides by the encroaching spread of some of Brooklyn’s bougiest neighborhoods. However, its ability to hold out seems to be at a tipping point, and my recent stroll through the colorful streetscape made it quite clear that a whirlwind of change is on the horizon.
Check it out for yourself and what you’ll find is a neighborhood in the midst of a revolutionary transformation. On the same streets as my $10/month gym (which I may or may not have been to in the last six months) and the fried chicken place that used to happily remind me of my time in Baltimore, a flood of high-rise, luxury condos and boutique hotels have taken shape. I could swear those weren’t there a few months ago.
This time, the new kids on the block are neither a short term fad nor a passing nightmare; they’re the new norm and they’re here to stay. Soon, the entire stretch will consist of high-end, designer retail and upscale wine bars. People will just have to go elsewhere to satisfy their itch for independent cell phone stores, pawn shops, and sneaker stores. In a way, I suppose this has always been inevitable: The unique characteristics and vast potential of Fulton Street make it an undeniable target for urban gentrification.
Of course, the argument goes that this is all done in the name of progress. But I’ve also often heard the Fulton Mall described as ghetto, sketchy, dangerous, etc. The first argument I admit I have some degree of sympathy for; the latter I do not.
The Fulton Mall is a unique and interesting place, well worth exploring and getting a feel for before it’s too late. If you think it’s ghetto, that’s probably because you grew up in the bubble of sheltered suburbia and were trained from a young age to treat as a threat anything that’s brown and not your housekeeper. I know what that feels like; it used to be me, but it’s still no excuse.
The fact of the matter is, a pretty cool place – and one that happens to be right across the street from our collective door step – is about to lose all of its character and a lot of its color. And when it’s all said and done, it might not be whitewashed physically, but it certainly will be from a cultural standpoint. What’s left will likely be a sterile, generic, and massively profitable retail strip in which the whole of New Brooklyn will no doubt rejoice. But ought we to join in that revelry?
I’m not saying these changes should be stopped – what good would it do anyway? – or that anyone who supports them is immoral, but let’s at least acknowledge what the real intentions are here, if not for ourselves, then for the thousands of people who will soon be losing their favorite stores to the tidal force of progress. Is there anyone who will just be honest about what’s happening on Fulton Street?
Apparently not: Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz claims that fears like mine are overblown and that there are no plans to strip the Fulton Mall of its unique character and dynamism. I think the enduring words of another famous Brooklynite should serve as an ample retort: “Up ya nose wit a rubber hose!”
– Since when did this column get all serious??? Love it / Hate it? Let me know how you feel: @bermorama
I’d like to offer up a belated Congratulations! to everyone who just passed the bar exam. We can only hope this is one big, necessary step on the long road to gainful employment for all of you. It’s amazing how much has changed in such a short period of time with respect to the job market, and particularly how few people are getting offers before graduation. Some of the smartest, most dedicated, and competent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing are still looking for work. And that just seems crazy to me.
As usual, this got me thinking one night – which anyone who’s ever read any of my work knows is dangerous – about what things might be like under different circumstances. But it was starting to get late and I had a busy day coming up, so I decided to call it a night.
I was torn from my blissful slumber the next morning around 11am by the sound of my phone ringing. A bit peeved, I checked to see who was calling and recognized the generic number for White & Case. That really got me annoyed. By this point, I must have told at least five of their senior partners that I don’t take phone calls before noon. Look, I know you guys want me to work for you and all, but come on, is this really so hard to understand? I ignored the call and went back to bed, wondering whether I could get a round of golf with their hiring partner out of this if I sounded really annoyed when I called back. I’ve always wanted to play the course at Baltusrol anyway.
I finally got up around 12:30. Missed my morning class, but who really gives a crap at this point? With five jobs available for every two graduating law students, it’s pretty tough to get motivated for New York Civil Practice at nine in the morning. Eventually I got myself together and left my apartment in time to make my two o’clock class. I was about to head toward the F train when I saw a black Towncar parked outside my house. Then I remembered that Skadden had offered me a car service for the rest of the year, no strings attached. It was a nice gesture on their part, but if they think I can be bought for that cheap, they’ve got another think coming.
I walked over to the car and the driver, a solemn-looking fellow named Winston, opened the door for me. He mentioned that he had been waiting there since 8:30am and that, after three hours, he called Skadden to ask if he could leave. Apparently they told him that if he left without me, he could feel free to find himself a new career, because he would never drive in this town again. They don’t mess around over there. I apologized to Winston for the wait, telling him that I had forgotten about the offer. I would feel bad, but I know he’s getting paid like triple overtime right now, and, over at Skadden, they’re using ten-thousand dollar bearer bonds to light their hand-rolled Cuban cigars. Cry me a freakin’ river.
I sat through half of Evidence, but decided to leave at the break. I don’t even know why I bother to go at all anymore. It’s not like I still pay attention. I spent the first hour looking online at Patek Philippe watches and apartments on the Upper East Side. So sick of living like I’m one of the 99%. I decided to go to the gym after class, but didn’t feel like walking the block and a half to Equinox. Lucky for me, Winston was waiting patiently right out front of school. So, I jumped in the car and lived it up for the 55 seconds that it took to get there. A guy could really get used to this. After an intense session with my new personal trainer Denise – all paid for by the generous folks at Sullivan & Cromwell – I thought I’d indulge in that wonderful apricot body scrub they have in the showers there. That stuff will change your life.
Left the gym, jumped back into the Towncar and cruised home down 3rd Ave in style. Upon arriving, I riffled through the mail and found a handwritten letter from Tom Perez, the head of the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division, asking me to come work for him. That was nice because I was running a little low on toilet paper. As if I’d ever lift a finger to help out those liberal weenies in Washington. Please…
Having then been awake for six full hours, I started feeling a little tired. It had been a long, stressful day after all. So, I decided to take a nap.
I woke up realizing I had just spent the night in an alternate universe. And what a universe it was! For a minute, I couldn’t get over how great it all seemed, to have everything handed to you like that. But, then again, maybe it wouldn’t be so ideal, right? There’s no denying that you always enjoy things more when you have to work hard to achieve them. I’d like to know that, one day, when I do get a job, I’ve earned it. And after all, if there’s one thing that everyone at BLS knows: “It’s supposed to be hard.”
- Mike Berman is a certified mixologist and a graduate of the Baltimore Bartending School. He can be booked seven days a week to help make your next wedding, birthday party, or bar mitzvah an unforgettable affair.
Welcome back campers! Let’s get started with our latest edition of “Cooking with Bermo”…wait, that doesn’t sound right…
Before I get into this, I have to put out a little disclaimer: I swear I did not write this column just to rag on D.C. I have great friends who live down there. They’re wonderful people and they always show me a good time whenever I’m in town. But, there’s just something about that city that rubs me the wrong way. Anyway, if you’re a big fan of the place and you have thin skin, perhaps this column’s not for you. Tune in again next time when we learn how to pan sear monkfish tail to perfection.
So, I went down to D.C. last week for a job fair. As my loyal readers well know, I’m about half-a-step shy of full-on panic mode when it comes to my impending unemployment. So, neither my distaste for D.C. nor my frequent, nightmarish flashbacks to the NYU PILC Fair could keep me away from this one-of-a-kind opportunity to schmooze with people who, in reality, have nothing to offer me. To that end, I packed a bag with my favorite suit, shined my shoes up real nice, and jumped on a Mega Bus down to the joyous land of K Street lobbyists, grown-up kickball, and modern racial segregation.
Damnit! I swear I’m not writing this just to gripe about D.C.
I got into town around mid-day and went to drop off my bags at a friend’s office in Dupont Circle. As I was getting off the metro – don’t you DARE call it the subway – ascending those colossal escalator shafts that look more like recycled missile silos than a public transit system, I noticed a crowd of easily 150 people queued up on the sidewalk, waiting to get into a packed restaurant. Naturally, it was all decked out in that faux-chic corporate style that pervades the culture of culinary decor in the District. And, from a quick glance, they were serving up bowls of “Thai noodles” that looked more like a college ramen binge than the lunch special at Joya. My Gotham-inspired sense of elitist indignation was pushing towards 11.
O.K., this is just getting mean. I’m really sorry…
After dropping off my bags, I made my way to the job fair. It was in a beautiful convention hotel and, upon arriving, I instantly began to wonder if the Marriott was hiring. I have to assume that two post-secondary degrees and a bartender’s license would at least qualify me to carry luggage, right?
The job fair itself was fine…I guess. Got my resume reviewed by a “professional” who failed to spot the one glaring typo I had on there; it was later pointed out by someone else (Thanks, Betsy!). I talked to a few employers, all of whom had been sent by their organizations to recruit yet none of whom had any actual jobs to offer.
They all said my resume looked good. I said thanks. They said call us in a few months. I said O.K. You get the idea; so I left.
Judging my afternoon an unmitigated success, I spent the rest of the day engaged in my usual activities of self-sabotage, ending the night by slamming tequila shots by my lonesome and passing out on an ex-girlfriend’s couch (full disclosure: she was sleeping in the other room with her very cool boyfriend).
Woke up the next morning with a nasty headache, a few questionable receipts which I found in my shoe, and surprisingly, still no job for next year. I then slowly made my way down to the National Mall – along the way, dodging about a dozen tour groups riding around on Segways – to meet a friend who was helping to organize a march. I spent the next few hours underdressed and in dire need of Advil, as I was introduced to an entirely new and loathsome aspect of D.C. culture.
Apparently there is a circuit of bands that play mindless, albeit vaguely inspirational, secular music to cater to the endless series of marches, rallies, and protests that go on down there. Who knew?
WTF??? I’m really not this much of a jerk. I swear.
And in that moment of ultimate self-pity, it occurred to me that the band I was trying so hard to ignore really wasn’t all that bad; the noodle bar I passed by the day before really didn’t look so awful; and I don’t really hate going to D.C. as much as I’ve been letting on – I can certainly think of worse journeys to go on. But, in this malaise, brought on by dismal prospects and endless second-guessing, I’m finding that my perception of everything is becoming tainted and diminished, and I don’t like it.
Walking through life wearing shit-colored glasses is no way live, and it’s about time that I stopped feeling so damned sorry for myself and started sorting out what’s in front of me. Are the answers going to come quick or easy? No. But that’s life, and it’s time to deal with it. And maybe, just maybe, I have D.C. to thank for that realization.
See, I told you I didn’t write this just rag on D.C. Now Boston, on the other hand…
Mike Berman is a 3L at BLS and a lesser-known candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination. He will be campaigning in Iowa starting this week and will therefore be unavailable for comment about this article.
Greetings and Salutations!
My name is Mike; my friends call me Bermo. I’m a half Italian-half Jew from Jersey who likes to tell people he’s from Baltimore. I’m 27, I’m a Leo, and I’m the new resident columnist in these parts. Nice to have you on board as I present my take on the events and issues that matter to you – the students of BLS – and me – a 3L counting down the days ‘til they let me walk out of this place with a shred of dignity still intact.
In my column “Notions to Dismiss,” I hope to explore what it really means to be a graduating law student these days – exhausted, debt-ridden, and unemployed – and to provide you with another excuse to surf the web when you’re in class. Let’s be honest, you can only shop for shoes or read sports blogs for so long every day. And when that’s over with, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to drop by this spot and check out the veritable cornucopia of borrowed wisdom, clichéd platitudes and stale jokes I plan on offering up twice a month. I promise it’ll be worth the time.
Ohhh, who the hell am I kidding? I can’t even promise myself to take my meds every day… Never mind, let’s just get started.
So, I was one of the 20,000 people who marched from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park last Wednesday as part of the Occupy Wall Street protest. I can’t say that I believe in every cause being represented there. Who could? Those people are rallying for everything from radical socialism and wealth redistribution to ending agricultural subsidies and banning frack drilling. Some people want all student loan debt to be forgiven; others are marching for better jobs. I even saw one numb nuts with a pizza box that said “Legalize Online Poker.” It’s impossible to be for everything being advocated across the river – although that thing about the student loans sounds pretty good right about now. Instead, the real reason I wanted to be there was to see this phenomenon play out in person and to tap in to the raw energy and passion of all those people. Nothing gets the blood running like a good, old-fashioned protest, and this one did not disappoint.
As a lot of commentators have pointed out, there is no clear narrative to these protests; no cogent list of demands; no single message. Some call this a weakness, others a strength. I call it the inevitable reality when you have that many people all feeling like they got the short end of the stick. Interestingly enough though, the actual protest was like a microcosm for the lack of clear direction that surrounds it. There was no epicenter of activity; no single platform for speeches; no ring master leading the charge. Instead, there were all these seemingly self-contained pockets of frenetic activity, brought together by a common sense of injustice and packed on top of each other by the marked lack of square footage in Foley Square. It was quite a sight.
My purpose here, however, isn’t to recap the event or advocate for the protests – far better writers than myself will be handling that task for this publication. Instead, what I saw on Wednesday got me thinking a lot about my own situation and that of my peers who also plan to graduate in May. Never in my life have I wanted to reach a milestone so badly, yet been so afraid about what will happen when I get there (except for that one Christmas when I asked Santa for a Red Ryder Carbine Action Air Rifle…but the settlement agreement says I’m never supposed to talk about that ever again). Anyway, here I am, sitting on the precipice of a frighteningly unsettled future – the first loan payments just months away – hopelessly second guessing what was supposed to be the safe choice to go to law school, and all the while lamenting over how this is not the way this was supposed to work!
To that end, I can’t help but feel some parallels between our situation here and the core motivations behind the protests that are currently spreading from lower Manhattan to other parts of the country and the world. In fact, these comparisons work on multiple levels. The people in the park are surely divided by their individual causes, but they come together out of a common purpose. My classmates and I don’t share all the same goals for our futures, but our common needs are undeniably in sync. You don’t need to have everything in common with another person to stand beside them make your voices heard. That’s what’s going on in Lower Manhattan now, and I wonder if the needs of Brooklyn students won’t soon manifest in a similar outcry here.
And, to bring this analogy home, it is simply impossible to see some of the messages being espoused by the protesters and not be consumed by a sense of impending solidarity. So many young people at that protest carried signs telling stories of massive college debt, no health care, and only minimum wage jobs to cover irreconcilable expenses. Is that me in nine months? Is that you? Will that be all of us? It’s simply impossible to know now – unless you’re one of the lucky few who have a job already – but for me, it’s a notion that I cannot easily dismiss from my mind.
I guess we’ll have to wait a few more months to find out. Until then though, maybe I’ll just head on back to Zuccotti Park and rejoin all the action over there. Besides, some of those protest chants they had us doing were pretty catchy: “WE ARE THE 99%!!! WE ARE THE 99%!!! WE ARE THE 99%!!!”