1. It’s Tuesday, November 15, 2016.
2. It’s the 71st birthday of character actor Bob Gunton.
He played the evil warden in “The Shawshank Redemption” who decides to take matters into his own hands before getting his comeuppance.
Unfortunately, at the same time this classic film about a wrongly imprisoned man came out, we acquired a “Sesame Street” VHS tape about a visit to a firehouse. And the kindly fire chief in the video was played by – yup, Bob Gunton.
My father and I have the same problem – we have difficulty disassociating an actor from the first role in which we see them.
In my dad’s case, he could never watch a Folger’s coffee commercial with the actress who played Mrs. Olson without thinking that she played a Nazi in some World War II movie (he might have had her confused with another actress, but that would ruin the story). And anytime Mrs. Olson tried to get someone to drink her coffee, my dad would yell at the set “Get away, you lousy Nazi!”
With Gunton, I had the dissonance of having seen the “Sesame Street” tape first. So I bemoaned the fact that a guy who could be so nice to Muppets could turn out to be the religious-zealot louse that he is in “Shawshank.”
So here’s wishing Bob Gunton a happy birthday, and hoping he’s back helping Big Bird learn about fire trucks.
3. I’m a big Keith Ellison fan, proudly signing Bernie Sanders’ online petition to urge him to run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Ellison is a Democratic Congressman from the Twin Cities. He is a leading voice for the progressive wing of the party, having backed Sanders in the primaries but becoming a full-throated backer of Hillary Clinton when she won the nomination.
Ellison is African-American and Muslim. There will be detractors, to be sure, and the fringe end of the people who just elected Trump will jump on Ellison’s background as a sign that the Democrats are out of touch with “real” Americans.
He’s not. He saw Trump’s rise before others in the party, and understands what happened as middle-income voters abandoned Clinton and the Democrats last week.
He’s also unapologetic about what Democrats are supposed to stand for. People of all backgrounds, coming together to form a coalition to change everyone’s life for the better.
Today, Ellison said he’s in. Besides Sanders, he has such high-end support as current Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and pending leader Chuck Schumer.
So, with the tragedy of Clinton’s defeat a week in the rearview mirror, it’s time for Democrats to start their comeback by looking at Ellison and saying I’m with him.
4. I’m almost always impressed when Barack Obama speaks. And yesterday’s news conference was nothing if not impressive.
When the nearly one-hour session was over, the commentary on CNN was how restrained and graceful the President was. How he seemed to be urging Americans to give Trump a chance. That, because Trump doesn’t seem to have an ideology, he might see his way to understanding why Obama did some of the things he did.
That’s nice. But if you look at the transcript of the first few minutes, you realize that Obama isn’t Mr. Nice Guy – and that’s a good thing.
This part seemed like a dig at Trump to me:
“This office is bigger than any one person and that’s why ensuring a smooth transition is so important,” Obama said. “It’s not something that the constitution explicitly requires but it is one of those norms that are vital to a functioning democracy, similar to norms of civility and tolerance and a commitment to reason and facts and analysis.”
Am I right? Civility. Tolerance. Facts. Those were words we heard a lot eight days ago, when the campaign against Trump was still going.
Obama also talked a lot about turning over the keys with the car of state running smoothly,
“We are indisputably in a stronger position today than we were when I came in eight years ago,” the President said. “Jobs have been growing for 73 straight months, incomes are rising, poverty is falling, the uninsured rate is at the lowest level on record, carbon emissions have come down without impinging on our growth.”
By doing that, Obama is trying to lay down markers. Here’s what I did. Let’s see what your numbers are in a year or two. I already made America great – there ain’t a lot of upside.
The news conference itself was kind of a dig at Trump. It’s traditional for a president-elect to talk to reporters within a couple of days of election. Obama did that three days after his win in 2008.
Trump hasn’t done that. He talked to “60 Minutes” – and that’s it. Part of it might be his way of spiting the media, as he did all campaign. Part of it might be the fact that he’s going to have some embarrassing things to talk about – see: Bannon, Steve.
Finally, I was struck by Obama’s comments about his signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, widely expected to be extinct not long after he gets in the limo for his new home in D.C.
Obama said he would offer congratulations if Republicans find a way to get rid of Obamacare and improve on its results: 20 million Americans with insurance, kids getting coverage until they’re 26, free mammograms and more.
“If, on the other hand, whatever they are proposing results in millions of people losing coverage and results in people who already have health insurance losing protections that were contained in the legislation, then we are going to have a problem,” he added.
He mentioned the American people would too. But the fact that he had to add them to the statement is a subliminal reminder of the following:
In Britain, the opposition party has what’s called a shadow cabinet – people who holds positions comparable to the official ones, such as a shadow chancellor of the exchequer.
We haven’t done that in the United States. But given the nature of this election, that could well happen.
Democrats and even those Republicans who couldn’t stomach the idea of voting for Trump will look to someone for guidance on how to deal with whatever the administration coughs up. Until the Democrats figure out their next group of leaders, there might very well be a shadow president.
His name is Barack Obama. He’s just 55 years old. And, man, does he have a way with words!