Karl Rove’s Banker, State Republicans Target Judge Kathy Stein for Extinction (again)

***UPDATE, 8/28/2014: A Few More Thoughts on Karl Rove’s Banker, Kathy Stein and the Family Court Judge race***


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Our Lady of Perpetual Awesomeness, Ms. Kathy Stein, former State Rep and State Senator and current Family Court Judge for the 6th Division, 22nd Circuit is running for re-election.

Races for Family Court Judge don’t normally garner much attention, but as is often the case with Kathy Stein, it appears there’s some Republican tomfoolery afoot to once again try and remove her from public office.

As of mid-July, Kathy Stein had raised $600 for her re-election. That seems like a perfectly fine amount for an office of this size. Especially since Kathy Stein is so immovably awesome that she’s a shoo-in to win her re-election, right?

One would think so, but… Jennifer McVay Martin, Kathy’s Republican opponent, has different ideas. As of mid-July, Ms. Martin has raked in $16,000 in campaign contributions. A shocking disparity between the two.

When you scratch the surface of Ms. Martin’s numbers, however, that difference becomes less remarkable and much more interesting. Of the sixteen grand, Martin gave her own campaign more than half of it — $8,500. Another $2,000 came from within her own family — meaning that Martin’s actual haul from individual contributors is just $5,500.

Martin’s campaign filings to date list 10 other individual contributors. Of that ten, seven of them gave $500 a piece and one gave a thousand.

Four of these Big Donors share one thing in common — they all work for the Forcht Group. Of the $5,500 Martin has raised, $2,000 of it comes from Terry Forcht and associates, among the leading funders of Kentucky’s Republican Party who also hold deep ties to Karl Rove and his Super PAC American Crossroads:

FORCHT, MARION
500 SCENIC VIEW DR
CORBIN, KY, 40701
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : EXECUTIVE
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/09/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

FORCHT, TERRY
500 SCENIC VIEW DR
CORBIN, KY, 40701
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : CHAIRMAN/ CEO
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/09/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

MARTIN, JENNIFER
729 EAST MAIN STREET / SUITE 220
LEXINGTON, KY, 40502
Employer : 
Occupation :
CANDIDATE Contribution
$8,500.00 on 02/14/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

REYNOLDS, DEBBIE
750 GRANGE LANE
LEXINGTON, KY, 40509
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : PRESIDENT
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/10/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

SHOCKLEY, RODNEY
3275 GEORGETOWN ROAD
PARIS, KY, 40361
Employer : THE FORCHT GROUP
Occupation : ATTORNEY
INDIVIDUAL Contribution
$500.00 on 04/10/2014
MARTIN, JENNIFER for
CIRCUIT JUDGE – 22ND DISTRICT-6TH DIVISION FAMILY
PRIMARY – 05/20/2014

 

Terry Forcht’s bank, Forcht Bank, is the bank of Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads. Terry is Karl Rove’s banker. (See: here, here, here.)

Forcht’s money is omnipresent in Kentucky politics and in particular among Kentucky Republicans where he is widely considered to be one of the top, if not the top, contributor to the state’s GOP and its candidates. Over the past two years, Forcht and these associates that are donating heavily to Ms. Martin have also donated big, usually maxing out, to Mitch McConnell, Andy Barr, Thomas Massie, Rand Paul… the list goes on.

That Forcht — the main moneyman behind the state’s Republican Party — would be targeting Kathy Stein for defeat is unsurprising. She’s a strong woman, a strong voice within the Democratic Party, and has been a thorn in the side of the old white male RPK for a very long time, so much so that in 2011 the state’s Republican leadership tried to remove her from office by re-writing her district into extinction (see here).

So it appears the big money men in the State Republican party are at it again, once again targeting Kathy Stein.

Which means, once again, it’s time to rally behind the immovable Ms. Stein, our Lady of Perpetual Awesomeness.

The Committee for Judge Kathy Stein is holding a Fundraiser this Thursday – you can find the details on Facebook

Or… if you can’t make the Thursday event, you can contribute online here.

He never seems to learn, but it’s one more chance to tell Karl Rove’s banker to stop shoving his money into our politics.

Mitch McConnell: “I’ve often wished we had more women in the Senate.” (VIDEO)

“I’ve often wished we had more women in the Senate.” — Mitch McConnell, 1992.

In 1992, American voters tripled the number of women in the United States Senate — from 2 to 6 — in a wave that was called “The Year of the Woman.” Asked about this in 1992, Mitch McConnell expressed his firm belief that the US Senate desperately needs more women… and then lamented the fact that the Republican Party fails time and again to appeal to women and consistently fails to elect them.

In 1992, there were just 2 women in the United States Senate. After that year’s election, there were a whopping 6. Clearly more women were needed.

To be fair to Mitch McConnell, that interview was given in 1992. Today, there are 20 women in the US Senate and it is quite likely that Mitch McConnell believes 20 is all that we need — despite the fact that women make up 51% of the US population.

And while McConnell lamented the Republican Party’s systemic inability to appeal to women, today there are a few Republican women in the US Senate. Mitch McConnell is probably keenly aware of their presence. Back in 2012, when Mitch McConnell and 30 other Republican Senators voted against the Violence Against Women Act, all five of the Republican Women in the Senate voted in favor of it.

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Setting aside McConnell’s professed desire for more women in his governmental body, Mitch’s record on women’s issues is woefully lacking.

  • Mitch McConnell is stridently pro-life and wants to further limit women’s choice.
  • Mitch McConnell the leader of a party that is waging a war on birth control.
  • Mitch McConnell tried to block the University of Louisville from awarding scholarships to any woman who would not pledge to never have a child out of wedlock.
  • Mitch McConnell opposes equal pay for women.
  • Mitch McConnell opposes raising the minimum wage which would help millions of women, many of them single moms.

That list goes on.

Earlier this year, McConnell was caught on tape espousing his 21st Century belief that

  1. Sexism is over;
  2. Women face no barriers in the professional world;
  3. A Republican Party that’s rife with men belittling victims of rape and calling women who take birth control “sluts” is not hostile to women. 
  4. Women, who constitute a majority of our population, don’t need “preferential treatment.”

I could be wrong, but I think most of the barriers have been lowered. And I’m a little skeptical about arguments that – particularly people like my party who are hostile to women – what kind of nonsense is that? I think my opponent is going to make that argument to all of you this fall, that somehow I’m promoting policies that are harmful to women…. I don’t grant the assumption that we need to sort of give preferential treatment to the majority of our population, which is in my view, leading and performing all across the… you know, maybe I’m missing something here. But I’ve, um, I think the efforts on the part of my opponent, in particular, to try to convince people that women should vote for her because she’s a woman are likely to fail, because I think women voters are going to be looking at the same kind of issues that men are.

It is, of course, twenty years since Mitch McConnell claimed he’d like to see more women in the United States Senate. Today women — again, 51% of the population — make up 1/5th of the U.S. Senate. Perhaps Mitch McConnell believes that’s equality (if you’ve heard him talk about the deficit, it’s obvious he’s not very good at math).

McConnell claims there’s no need for “preferential treatment” because if you look across the American landscape you will see that women are leading just as much as men… but if you actually look across that landscape, you’ll see nothing of the sort. For example, women make up just 4.2% of the CEOs of the top 500 corporations in America, and just 5.1% of the top 1000 [source].

Either Mitch McConnell is wrong today, or he was wrong yesterday, but either way it seems he’s wrong.

“I do think it’s very good to have more women in the Senate.” — Mitch McConnell, 1992

Barr vs. Jensen, #KY6: Student Loan Debt Crisis

  • In 2012, Student Loan Debt surpassed the $1 Trillion mark.
  • Student Loan Debt is now the second highest form of consumer debt, behind only home mortgages (and ahead of credit card debt).
  • 37 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt
  • The $1 Trillion in current student loan debt could create as much as $4 Trillion in lost wealth as borrowers struggle to pay back payments with interest.

Over the past decade, as the cost of college has increased, wages have stagnated or decreased, making it even harder to pay back student loans that have only gotten bigger. In these past 10 years, the number of borrowers has ballooned, up 70%.

In 2004, 23 million people had student loans, and the average balance was $15,651. By 2013, 39 million people had student loans, and the average balance was nearly $25,000.

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This is a bubble. Worse, with debt repayments drowning graduates, adult children are increasingly relying on their parents for money and often housing. This drains still more wealth from the economy, stifles growth and, thus, employment and wages.

In short, it is obviously a problem.

One which should require serious attention. In the 6th District Congressional race there is clearly only one candidate who’s given the issue of student debt any serious consideration.

Garland H. Barr IV, the incumbent Republican Congressman, makes zero mention of this trillion dollar issue on his campaign website.

BarrDebt1 BarrDebt2

Andy Barr’s opponent, the Democratic candidate Elisabeth Jensen, on the other hand, directly addresses the issue on her campaign site:

We have a student loan crisis in the United States. Young people are graduating from college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and so are moving back in with their parents and delaying their contributions to community and economic life – marriage, buying a car, buying a home, starting a business, or taking the next step toward a successful career.

Jensen goes on to lay out a few simple, initial steps to make college more affordable and reduce the debt burden on the 1 in 5 Americans currently struggling to pay back their student loans.

  • Jensen cites the need for increasing the number and amount of merit based scholarships.
  • Jensen cites her own professional background, founding two foundations that have raised and awarded over $5 million in scholarships.
  • Jensen states that we must help “families struggling with high student loan debt as part of a broader plan to get the economy moving” which she says she will work to achieve by “offering lower interest rate refinancing to graduates and former students with crippling loan debt.”
    • Specifically, on this point, Jensen says: “Interest rates have been lowered for new student loan debt but this is no help to students who have already left school with massive loans at higher interest rates.”
  • Essentially, give graduates and former students with existing debt at high interest rates a chance to refinance at the lower rates now available to for current students.
  • Increased “financial literacy” for high school students so that they have the proper understanding of what massive loans will ultimately do to their credit histories and the long term effects they will face.

Jensen ends with a loose proposal that demonstrates a keen interest in finding creative ways to lessen student debt through the types of legislation Democrats routinely seek and Republicans routinely block.

 “Student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt nationally and this is potentially the next bubble that could burst. This is all the more reason to get creative in ways these young people can give back to society, and also repay their loans. This could include caps on the percentage of after graduation salary students must pay. This could include student loan forgiveness for military or civilian service, or for taking lower paying but vitally important jobs. Any steps we take to keep student loan payments and interest rates at reasonable levels helps make it possible for young people to pay back their student loans and get their financial lives in order.

While Jensen’s platform doesn’t address other pertinent issues (Kentucky’s per student higher ed spending is down 24% since 2008; universities are admitting record numbers of students while increasing costs each year and increasingly shifting the teaching load on to lower paid adjunct professors and siphoning resulting bounties off into colossal infrastructure projects and administration salaries), it is quite clear that Elisabeth Jensen has a much firmer grasp on the very real issue of student loan debt — and how it affects families and the overall economy — than does her opponent, Rep. Andy Barr.

Which is not to say Andy Barr has been completely silent on this issue. In an interview last year with the Kentucky Kernel’s Matt Young, Garland H. Barr IV expounded at some length around the issue of the trillion dollar student loan bubble without ever saying much of substance or of truth.

Young is now at the Herald Leader and last month Barr accused Young of colluding with the White House in a bizarre conspiracy in which Young had simply lent his byline to an attack orchestrated by Barr’s political enemies, but a year ago the two were on friendlier terms. (Or was this Young’s first act in his conspiratorial collusion with Nancy Pelosi and Washington Democrats to attack Andy Barr?).

It’s classic Andy. His usual overly-emphatic delivery, the condescending notion that you will never check the veracity of his claims, and a barrage of doublespeak and half-truths that define the Garland H. Barr IV Experience:

B&P examined this Young/Barr video closely back in June, so let’s recap:

  • Asked about the Trillion Dollar Student Loan Bubble, Barr responds, “We’ve gotta do something about it, there’s more student loan debt in this country than credit card debt.”

All good so far…

  • His first example of how he’s addressing the problem of 40 million people struggling to pay back their student loans is to tout his efforts to expand investment options for people with newborns… which, you probably understand, does not one thing to help the 40 million people who currently have $1.3 Trillion in crippling student loan debt. 
    • (This does help investment firms and banks though. Give them more money! You can trust them. That’s why they underwrite Barr’s entire campaign.)
  • Barr’s next example of how he’s addressed the student loan crisis is that last summer Congress passed with his support a bill that would keep interest rates from doubling and “got the politicians out of student loans.”
    • First of all… the only reason the rates were going to double is because the Republicans wanted the rates to double.
    • Second of all… The only reason the bill prevented those rates from doubling was because the President and Democrats were using the doubled rates the GOP had pushed for to bludgeon the Republicans.
    • Thirdly, the whole “getting the politicians out” was a veiled reference to tying student loan rate increases to the market which was a Republican initiative to bring in more money off the backs of those taking out student loans.

Regarding that last point, the Republican plan goes something like this: As interest rates go up with the market, those with student loan debt have to pay more and thus the government brings in a bigger profit off the loans the government made to these students — it’s the same basic principle as a credit card lender; they get you on the hook, then hike up your rate, and they make more money.

Republicans like Andy Barr call the profit this GOP policy creates “revenue.” All that means is that this is a tax hike on middle and working class families and students.

So long as it’s being brought in off people who can’t afford to get a higher education, Republicans are okay with creating backdoor tax hikes like this — but if that “revenue” were being collected off the handful of people who make over $1,000,000 a year, they’d call it “taxes” and they’d fight tooth and nail to stop it. 

When the GOP controlled House passed the bill Andy Barr is so proudly touting, Barr had this to say:

The Smarter Solutions for Students Act gets the government out of the business of setting interest rates, provides more predictable interest rates to millions of families who borrow money

Again, Andy Barr thinks you are an idiot who can’t understand what he’s saying — or that what he’s saying is nonsensical double-speak. Barr claims that his bill would “get the government out of the business of setting interest rates” and that it would “provide more predictable interest rates” to borrowers. But the fact is, the government sets rates on its student loans because a) it can and b) it helps students have predictable rates on their loans. Barr’s plan provides “predictable rates” in as much as it necessitates “predictable” increases in those rates — as the market goes up, you can safely predict that with the Republican bill, so too will the rates on student loans. That is predictable, but it’s not good.

Here’s a brief primer on how this bill Andy is so proud of works:

In the end, the bill passed the House but was made marginally better in the Senate before being passed there as well. The Democrats in the Senate weakened some of the provisions and while it did ultimately pass, 18 Senate Dems voted against it, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

Noting that the government stood to bring in nearly $200 billion over the next 10 years because of the higher rates, Ms. Warren denounced the bill.

“This is obscene,” she said. “Students should not be used to generate profits for the government.”

In his interview with the Kernel, Andy Barr answers a question about how to address the Student Loan bubble and make college more affordable by saying that:

  • People with kids now should be able to invest differently, which does nothing to address either the existing student loan crisis nor the exponentially rising cost of education.
  • He is proud to have voted for a bill that raised rates on people who can’t afford the exponentially rising cost of tuition, essentially raising taxes on middle class Americans.

Andy Barr is not offering serious solutions to a very serious problem and, in fact, it doesn’t appear he even understands the seriousness of the issue — nor possibly even the issue itself.

If Garland H. Barr IV did understand the Student Loan Debt Crisis, he wouldn’t be offering solutions that kick the can down the road (savings accounts for newborns don’t help the 40 Million already in debt or even the next decade’s worth of future college grads) nor would he be using the Student Loan Debt Crisis as an excuse to essentially raise taxes by raising “revenue” off the backs of middle and working class Americans.

If you’re a student, a parent of a student, a graduate in debt, a parent of a graduate in debt who now lives in your basement, or a person who believes saddling even more debt onto the American public-at-large is not an effective way to grow an economy — then Andy Barr is not for you.

If you do not understand that the Student Loan Debt Crisis is real, that it’s getting worse, and that doing nothing to address it will cripple the nation’s economy, then you should vote for Andy Barr. In fact, you may actually be Andy Barr.

 

Daddy Issues: Soap Opera Politics in Battle of Super Wealthy Families

That’s the most recent Alison Lundergan Grimes ad. It attacks Mitch McConnell for spending 30 years in Washington and getting insanely rich. Technically, as several fact checkers have pointed out, the vast sum of McConnell’s accumulated wealth does not come from the repeated pay raises he gave himself (though those didn’t hurt) but rather from the fact that in his first decade in Washington, McConnell was able to woo another DC insider and eventually marry her — and it turns out her daddy’s a billionaire shipping magnate.

Which helps.

In 2004, Mitch McConnell’s net worth was just $3.1 Million; by 2007, it was a measly $7.8 million; but in 2008 it leapt to somewhere around $23 Million.

That giant leap for Mitch McConnell came at a time when the rest of Mankind was taking one small step backwards — America’s economy had imploded and trillions in personal wealth were lost. But Mitch was okay thanks, in part, to a vast monetary gift from McConnell’s father-in-law to his wife, then the sitting Secretary of Labor in the Bush Administration, Elaine Chao.

When Grimes released the above ad a few days ago, the McConnell folk did some leaping of their own, quick were they to dismiss Mitch’s wealth as purely the burden of having in-laws rather than the result of some power couple politicking or Mitch’s own three decades of power consolidation.

Which is fine. Sometimes your in-laws show up unannounced for the Holidays, sometimes they give you $15,000,000. It’s all part of the sanctity of marriage.

The Kentucky Senate race seems to have moved from a deadening tit-for-tat about which candidate will burn more coal over the next six years into a Hatfield/McCoy inter-family grudge match — if the Hatfields and McCoys were multi-millionaires.

Yesterday the race was all atwitter over Alison Lundergan Grimes’ sweet family deal on a fleet of campaign busses.

Tomorrow, perhaps we’ll be trying to figure out the answer to this riddle: If Mitch McConnell’s campaign says the vast majority of his wealth isn’t the result of him enriching himself on the taxpayers dime but is rather just a gift from his father-in-law to his wife, whose money is it that keeps underwriting loans at vast sums to McConnell’s own campaign? Is that the Foremost family gift money, or is that the couch-cushion change from all those raises McConnell’s given himself?

McConnellLoans4

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If the McConnell people were so quick to leap to their bosses defense to suggest that his vast wealth was really barely his at all but actually belonged to his wife, then where’d the $250,000 Mitch McConnell loaned his own campaign come from?

Where McConnell’s money comes from doesn’t really matter. He’s got a lot of it, his wife has even more of it, it’s theirs to share — and it’s also rather sweet. After a couple decades of marriage, Mitch’s in-laws have given him over $100,000 in contributions, $27,500 in 2012 alone. That’s the sign of a healthy relationship. So good for Mitch & Elaine!

What all this comes down to, really, is the most expensive Senate race in history being waged by two enormously wealthy families in one of the poorest states in the Union.

The bickering about whose family has more money and whose money is more tainted by family is entertaining (though I still prefer Days of Our Lives) but it’s also a little off-putting.

Take, for example, this ad from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition — a dark money group that funnels cash from billionaires into the Kentucky Senate with, thanks to the decades long service of Mitch McConnell, absolutely no telling which billionaires are actually paying for the ad:

That’s an advocacy ad against the “Death Tax.” The “Death Tax” is just a pretty name for the “Estate Tax.”

Billionaires and mega-millionaires hate the Estate Tax, which explains why the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition and Mitch McConnell want to end the “Estate Tax” but doesn’t particularly explain why Kentucky voters should care about the issue.

The ad’s nice. Guy talking, seems real, says “family farm” about 80 times in 30 seconds, you see a standard Kentucky home on a hill, not exactly a mansion.

But the Estate Tax only actually affects estates that are worth more than $5,000,000. ["Death Tax" Myths Debunked, CBPP].

If your estate isn’t worth $5,000,000 or more, repealing the estate tax will do nothing for you.

The median annual household income in Kentucky is $42,000. Twenty percent of the state population lives below the poverty line.

But — when you’ve got a political debate being dictated by billionaires and millionaires, perhaps ending the “Death Tax” is the kind of issue they like to see raised in the ads that they pay for.

estatetaxmyths1

Oh… also… tax relief for the wealthy is just what Kentucky needs:

While the poorest 20 percent of Kentuckians pay 9.1 percent of their income in state and local taxes and the middle 20 percent pay 10.9 percent, the wealthiest one percent pay only 5.7 percent, according to the fourth edition of “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States,” released today by the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

“Our tax system is upside down,” said Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “It’s the wealthiest Kentuckians who have the greatest ability to pay taxes and whose incomes have grown the most over the past couple of decades. Many poor and middle-class Kentuckians have seen their wages stagnate or decline. Yet the wealthiest pay far less of their income in taxes.”

Andy Barr & Mitch McConnell remain silent on Democrats “War on White People”

It’s been a week since the last big Kentucky Senate race poll came out and it seems while both sides have had a good deal to say about aspects of the poll, one issue the poll raised has gone largely without comment.

The Public Policy Poll found that Kentucky Republicans are convinced that the Democratic Party is waging a “War on White People.”

By a 42/28 margin Kentucky Republicans think the Democratic Party is waging a war on white people. Mo Brooks may speak for the base

Among respondents who identified as “very conservative” (which accounts for 37% of all the people polled, see here) these numbers were even worse — 54% of these Republicans believe the Democratic Party is waging a “War on White People” while just 22% believe that’s moronic.

Strangely, in response to such widespread ignorance within their own party, neither Mitch McConnell nor Andy Barr have done anything to disabuse their supporters of this racist notion.

It’s doubly strange since just two weeks ago, the McConnell campaign and the state’s Republican Party couldn’t stop talking about racist politics in Kentucky. In that case, a single rogue “consultant” tweeted something racist about Mitch McConnell’s wife and in response everyone on both sides blasted her for it.

In this case, 42% of all Republicans — and 54% of the state’s true conservatives — believe there is a “War on White People” being waged by the Democratic Party. And the McConnell campaign, the Barr campaign and the state GOP are silent. Apparently, racism within their ranks is okay.

One idiot on the other side, and Republicans are up in arms — tens of thousands of them within their own party, that is another story.

Over half of the state’s African American population, and nearly half the state’s Hispanic population, live in Kentucky’s 6th District and 3rd District. (Also big: Hopkinsville in Christian County.)

Obviously Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and 3rd District Congressman John Yarmuth are leading the “War on White People.” Each day that passes, these three leaders inch closer to the total eradication of White Culture.

Obviously.

The fact that Mitch McConnell and his campaign have not addressed the racists within their ranks or even sought to correct this apparently widely popular Republican misconception is highly opportunistic and not particularly surprising. Either McConnell and his team share their supporters racist beliefs, or they are willing to silently do nothing to correct them.

Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr, on the other hand, may have a simpler motivation for not addressing these galling statistics. If 52% of conservative voters believe the Democratic Party is waging a “War on White People” that’s probably a-okay with Garland H. Barr IV.

After all, until just four years ago, Andy Barr was a card-carrying member of a racist organization, the Whites Only Idle Hour Country Club.

Those 54% of Kentucky’s die-hard Republicans who believe there’s a “War on White People”? Those are Andy Barr’s people.

 

Also, for the record, here’s what Barack Obama’s “War on White People” looks like — he is literally killing them with kindness!

Obama's War on White People is Killing Kentuckians with Kindness

Obama’s War on White People is Killing Kentuckians with Kindness

 

 

Last Thoughts On Robin Williams: Why We Hate Ourselves

The first joke I ever told, I stole from Robin Williams. At dinner, when my brother was speaking, I told him, “Sit down and shut up!” I didn’t get the joke—not sure I do now—but I had heard Robin Williams say it on a rerun of Mork and Mindy. The people on TV laughed, and when I said it, my family laughed (with the exception of my brother, who beat the ever-living fuck out of me—everyone’s a critic). This started my long career of repeating what I saw on TV and hoping it made people laugh. The results lay somewhere between “Schwing” and “Master of my domain.” Which is to say, I’m hilarious.

I’m not interested in Robin Williams’ career, or whether his Oscar for Good Will Hunting is ridiculous (it is) or if he’s underrated as a stand-up (he is). What I want to know is why funny people kill themselves. They don’t always kill themselves directly, but sometimes through dope (John Belushi) or old age (Groucho Marx) or Jet-ski accident (Woody Allen in 2020) or fake cancer (Andy Kauflman) or by hijacking a plane and flying it into the World Trade Center (Mohammad Atta). Okay, so maybe just dope. But there are a lot of comedians who die from dope.

Mork and Mindy wasn’t my favorite show when I stole their joke. That was Diff’rent Strokes (which roughly translates to “Different Strokes”). That family felt funny without trying. In retrospect, I realize it was mawkishness that kept me watching. But I liked spending time with the Drummonds. Mork had to win me over with craziness because he was an alien. I didn’t understand him, so he had to work at making me like him.

Every comedian is an alien. This is something that Robin Williams understood more than anyone. He flailed around to make his joke. If you and I were having a conversation and I said “How’s it going?” you’d say “Fine” (if you’re normal) or “Oh, let me tell you about it” (if you’re in asshole) or “Hippopotamus “ (if you misunderstood the question). But if you were talking to a comedian, you’d get a barrage of one-liners and jokes. On top of that, you’d expect it, and if that person simply had a normal conversation with you, you’d feel cheated.

Robin Williams is the biggest alien—or as he’d soon be seen in Popeye, a fleshy cartoon. He’s so unlike us that we laugh at him trying to communicate with humankind. His comedy was the equivalent of a squirrel shooting a free-throw—it doesn’t matter if the shot goes in, but it’s cute that he’s trying.

I don’t much like Robin Williams. I like the sort of humor I can recognize as coming from someone I know. It’s the same reason a casual conversation with my friends makes me laugh far more than a gifted stand-up comedian. My friend wants me to laugh—the comedian needs me to laugh or he’ll sulk and feel like he’s a failure. My favorite comedians perfume that desperation to where you can’t smell its stink. But that wasn’t Robin Williams’ way.

He seemed like a nice guy. If I met him on the street, I bet he’d humor me by talking to me and trying to make me laugh. But my (wholly unfair) impression of him is that after fifteen minutes I’d be checking my watch and pretending I have to go somewhere. It’s not that he wouldn’t be funny—I imagine I’d laugh a lot—but he’d be so desperate to be funny that I think it would be hard to relax and enjoy the conversation. It’s entertaining and exhausting to listen to Robin Williams talk to us because he’s not one of us. He’s an alien.

The same problem happened when he switched to serious roles. He played saints—a surgeon who heals people through his red rubber nose, a psychiatrist who cracks through his tough cases by repeating “It’s not your fault” (I get that I’m in the minority, but Jesus, Good Will Hunting was a stupid movie). That’s no different than being a wise-cracking genie who impersonates Jack Nicholson. Both are compelling: neither is human. In fact, both play like a robot approximating what it would take to get humans to like him.

No death is easy, even from a great distance. But why is suicide different? And why is suicide sadder?

I heard about Robin Williams’ death from a text message chain from a couple of my wise-ass friends who are also Barefoot writers. They were joking and I joked too. The headline I read said, “Robin Williams Dead at 63.” When a 63 year-old with a history of cocaine use and heavy boozing who has already had a heart attack dies, the world tends to be unsurprised. I passed one of my stupid jokes to my brother (he who would neither sit down nor shut up). He said, “It’s sad when people kill themselves.”

That changed things immediately. Now, I felt like I was bullying him, his loved ones, and his fans. It’s difficult to say why. But imagine if you found out tomorrow that Robin Williams died because he was trying to auto-erotically asphyxiate himself. Would it make his death seem less tragic somehow? In fact, it seems like a wasted opportunity for a final Robin Williams joke: he could’ve pulled his pants down and made the world think that’s how he died.

Suicides are sadder. Objectively, that doesn’t make sense. Why do we feel differently about the deaths of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini? Both of those men were younger, and, more pertinently, they did not want to die. Robin Williams did want to die. That we can’t accept that says a lot about our national character. Whether we should accept that, depends largely on your proximity to suicide.

A few years ago, my God-brother shot himself in the mouth. This was after a daily struggle with crippling depression that he had ever since he was a teenager. The great refrain about suicides is, ”I never saw it coming.” Yes, I never saw it coming, but only because I didn’t look very hard. I should have seen it coming from a mile away. Still I do not, do not, do not accept that he wanted to die.

When we mourn the dead, we’re talking about ourselves. Every tribute to Robin Williams is someone detailing their own lives. It’s not even that we feel depressed—we feel robbed. They chose to spend time with nothing over us.

James Gandolfini eating himself to death causes us pain, but we can deal with it—he is fat, and we are not. Phillip Seymour Hoffman OD’ing hurts us, but only to a point—he’s addicted, and we are not. Rush Limbaugh breaking his neck while fellating a baby mountain goat causes us grief, but it’s a manageable grief—Rush Limbaugh loves the taste of goat semen, and we do not.

But Robin Williams killed himself. And there’s a reason why that hurts us more than any other death. It feels like he’s addressing you and saying “Well, you’ve given me no reason to stay.” In truth, people leave our lives for the same reason they show up there in the first place: no reason at all. Yet, we see leaving as a judgment.

Why do funny people kill themselves? The same reason the rest of us kill ourselves. I get that this is a political website and a pretty non-political topic, but I do think it has politicized roots. This is a component of living in modern America. We hate ourselves. We aren’t suicidal, but when something bad happens, we feel like we deserve it.

When we work longer and harder than our parent’s generation for less money, we think “Only an asshole complains.” That’s because we hate ourselves. When East Kentucky is named the poorest and unhappiest part of America, and we figure we can’t do anything different because this is our culture, it’s because we hate ourselves. We don’t feel we’re worth more.

And when people leave us, we think we deserve it as well. The outpouring of grief over Robin Williams is no doubt genuine, but it’s not about Robin Williams. It’s about the grievers. A year ago, when Robin Williams was the star of The Crazy Ones, how many of these same people would talk how much they loved him? How many of them thought of Robin Williams as this cringing embarrassment they wanted to go away?

Now he’s gone away, and we feel responsible. In his depression, he seemed more human—less like the manic clown who wanted our approval, and for once, like someone who didn’t care about us at all. We want to apologize for letting him down. But we didn’t do anything wrong. Neither did he.

Depression is a motherfucker. I imagine Robin Williams knew how much people loved him, but no amount of love alters the nature of depression. It’s a disease, same as addiction, same as cancer. Instead of projecting our sadness onto Robin Williams, let’s talk about the real issue. Why do we hate ourselves? How do we get better?

We can start by taking our friends at their words. They wanted to die. Let’s respect them, and leave them their grief. Part of the reason we can’t accept that our loved ones want to die is because we don’t want to die. We understand the pain of being alive, but we like it—at least we prefer it—and we can’t fathom people who don’t think like us. But it’s okay to not understand. We don’t need to apologize for existing; they don’t need to apologize for not existing.

I called Robin Williams an alien, but of course, he’s not. He’s human, and he died succumbing to the human condition. But we don’t have to. Sometimes we tell jokes or stories to stave off that condition. Sometimes it works.

The impulse for extinction is part of all of us. But if we can love and forgive famous people who we did not know, we can forgive each other. The first step toward doing so is to ask more from ourselves and to ask for more for ourselves.