The Greatest Political Ad of my Lifetime

We have just 10 days left until voters hit the polls en masse to cast their vote for President of the United States. And within that tiny window before election day, the Obama campaign has released the most brilliant political ad I’ve ever seen. I have to warn you, many of you may find this offensive and distasteful.

Now, let me first say the reason I find this ad so amazing has nothing to do with what it’s talking about. Comparing voting for the first time to losing your virginity is not some door-breaking revelation that will cause voters to flock to Obama’s side. I am not saying it’s great because it features a cute and edgy Emmy-nominated actress acting, well, cute and edgy. This ad’s genius has nothing to do with content, appeal to the masses or a clear vision for the United States.

The reason this ad is frightfully effective is that it is a perfect combination of timing and targeting.

Let’s talk timing first. As stated, we are less than two weeks from the election. The debates are over, the candidates are largely campaigning only in swing states, like Ohio, Virginia and Florida. And the last two economic indicators before the election were both positive for President Obama. The first was released earlier this month, when the nation’s unemployment rate fell by three-tenths of a point to 7.8 percent. And it did so on the back of more people returning to work instead of dropping out of the workforce. And the most recent (and final) economic news came today, when the Commerce Department announced the economy expanded by 2 percent between July and September. While still slow, it was better than expected, and for a voting public that doesn’t have its degree in economics, it looks favorable for the President.

So this Lena Dunham ad hits the air after Mitt Romney has had his final face-to-face with Obama, and concurrent with a boost in the economy that is good, but not as good as any of us would like. But the timing is only part of it. The audience targeting of this commercial is the part that is really astounding.

Believe it or not, this ad is intended for two sets of voters. The first one is obvious: young people. These people immediately know who Dunham is (actor and producer of HBO’s Girls). They tend to be more liberal. They tend to be more exposed to open talk about sex. While some of these young people might not like the ad (and might well be offended by it), the majority of them won’t even blink. They’ll probably love it just for its face value. Now, this group of young people, many of them students, was mostly going to vote for the President anyway. For them, this is a memorable commercial, yes, but will not change their vote one way or the other.

So why do I believe this commercial is the best political ad I’ve seen? Because it targets another group of people. It targets conservatives. It targets them hard, and not at all in the way you are thinking. It’s true, this ad will not convince a single Republican or conservative to vote for Obama, or vote against Romney. If anything, it will further solidify Republicans behind Romney. But it will infuriate them. It is infuriating them.

Do a simple Google search for “Lena Dunham Obama”. See if you can count the number of political blogs and columns about this spot. I didn’t bother counting, but it is already well over a thousand. That’s more than a thousand sources of conservative viewpoints all focused on a commercial that has no impact on the vote. Bloggers can’t help themselves (heck, I couldn’t). This is red meat dangled in front of a starving pack of dogs. Check out a few responses below:

As a father of two beautiful girls, how could you possibly have allowed this to be aired? Did you approve this? Did someone on your campaign staff actually think this was a good idea? It is offensive, repulsive and should be removed immediately. – Red State

Is it a good idea for a campaign to equate voting for their candidate to getting screwed? – Michelle Malkin

 Isn’t it just like a wingnut (Dunham) to sexualize the right to vote that women fought so hard for? Do they think women are too stupid to appreciate a straightforward pitch on the issues? – Hot Air

That’s just a small, but representative sample of the conservative blogosphere’s reaction to the ad. And you know what? They have a point. But what they don’t realize is that they are playing right in to the Obama camp’s strategy. Instead of spending the final days breaking down facts and hunting down dirt on the President, they will be talking about this. It only further demonstrates the genius of this spot that it was released on a Thursday afternoon, just in time for it to become popular and well-disseminated Friday evening. That is conveniently after Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren have lined up their guests and laid out their programs. Sure, they might get to mention the ad, but won’t really get to sink their teeth in it until Monday. In other words, conservative talking heads will spend the final full week of the election season talking about something that will have no impact on the vote.

So to sum up: this ad, which will not change any minds about the best candidate, is released at a time when the economy looks to be improving and conservative leaders can’t truly react to it until the final full week before the election. Instead of talking breaking down why Romney might be correct about his Detroit bankruptcy comments or how Libya demonstrates that the President might not have the best handle on dealing with a foreign terror threat, conservatives will be talking about an actress equating voting to sex. When undecided voters head to the polls, the last real news they’ll have heard is how the economy has improved, and some meaningless rambling about an advertisement by a liberal actress. That’s why this commercial is perfect. I’ve never seen a political ad so expertly crafted, timed and targeted in my life. This is political strategy at its pinnacle.

Oh, and don’t think that President Obama will mention this genius commercial at all. He doesn’t have to. It’s already doing exactly what he and his team want. It is locking in the news cycle to a pointless discussion while the final piece of real news paints him in a positive light. Obama won’t talk about this ad directly, and the President won’t be seen anywhere near Lena Dunham, except maybe on election night, if she joins him on stage celebrating his winning a second term.

Unemployment, Month 5

I have now been without a regular, full-time job since April. That’s more than four full months. Now, before I get started, I need to make it clear. This thing was mostly my fault. I voluntarily left my job, thinking that finding work would be easier than it has turned out to be. I am still convinced that it was the right decision, but I never saw just how hard it would be, both on me and my family.

If you have never been unemployed, I urge you to avoid it if possible. Every single day, I browse at least a dozen job search engines. I have applied for well over 40 full-time positions, and filled out a brand new resume for each. I have been interviewed eight times. Four of those times, I’ve made it to the very end, the final stages of picking a candidate. And all of them have passed.

Some have been more brutal than others. I made it to the final three out of hundreds for a position with the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. While the final interview went well, I got the idea that I wasn’t getting the job. And when I didn’t, I wasn’t too upset about it. But two in particular were gut-wrenching. I applied for a position at Aristotle and had a lights-out first interview. The second interview went well, and as I walked out, the marketing director told me she would recommend me for the spot. Sounds great, right? This was two months ago, and today I can’t get them to return my emails. I have no idea what happened, but it’s clear I’m not needed there.

The most recent was much worse. I applied for the executive producer position at a competing station, and had another great interview. However, a non-compete clause from my previous contract kept me from joining immediately. The news director informed me that he wouldn’t even approach my old station unless he was sure he wanted to hire me. And days later, he did approach them. But when the two sides couldn’t reach a deal, the news director asked me to request that the non-compete clause be dropped.

That was a tough conversation. I basically had to ask my boss of seven years to get his bosses to break that agreement. I have a great relationship with the Fox GM, and I knew my request would put him in a tough spot. But I did. And a week later, he told me I was clear to join the new station.

That was a great day. I called the news director (who I thought would be my new boss) to tell him. He sounded shocked, but said he’d call me back later. The next day, he does call me back. And he tells me that he offered the job to another person…just moments before I called him.

I don’t think I’ve had a greater moment of anguish. I wasn’t even angry. I was stunned. I had no words. I probably sounded like a drunken teenager after he gave me the bad news. In my mind, nearly four months of joblessness was coming to an end. And in one moment, I was violently yanked from my spot in the sun and tossed back to the darkness of square one.

It takes a toll on you. And your family. The stress in our home has been much higher than usual. I thank God for my wonderful wife, who has been more understanding than I could have ever deserved. But every single day is a battle with pessimism. Every day, poring over bland screens of job listings I’m only vaguely qualified for, brings new doubts and new realizations of hopelessness. And then there’s the lack of self-worth. The depression. The anxiety. It will make you question everything you ever thought about life. About God.

To those who don’t have faith in God, this probably sounds like I need to be committed for suicide watch. And honestly, I can see how this situation could lead to horrible thoughts like that. But I know everything is going to work out for the best. And I know I and my family will be much, much stronger for what we’ve endured.

I am a top two candidate for a writer position with a foundation downtown. The job would be amazing, the pay and benefits would be beyond what I’ve ever had and the career would be fulfilling. I’m not nearly as excited about this job, however. Probably because the experiences of the past few months have tempered the unbridled optimism I used to carry like second nature.

The final interview is next week, and I’m going to be great at it. I’m going to give them the right answers, I’m going to make them smile, I’m going to make them feel good about me. How do I know? Because I’ve done it before. Because I am good about getting people to like me. Because I am outwardly confident, easy-going and friendly. I’m going to bury the negative thoughts and cynicism that have assaulted me for months, and for one hour, I’m going to shine. I am as sure of this as I am of anything.

And yet, I can’t be tickled or exuberant or arrogant like I used to be going into these situations. And that’s the whole point of this post. For me, unemployment has made me a more subdued person. It has suppressed the boundless joy I used to know. It has held back the almost irritating chirpiness that used to define my perspective. Being jobless has, in a way, taken a part of my identity.

I’ve debated for about an hour on how to close this post. I of course treasure your thoughts and prayers ahead of my interview next week. And I definitely hope that you gain a new appreciation for things in your life you may have taken for granted. I guess the best way to wrap up here is to thank you for reading this. This isn’t one of my typical posts where I make a stance on an issue or tell a funny, self-deprecating story. This is just what I’m going through right now. This is what I needed to write.

Keep your head up.

Why I didn’t eat at Chick-Fil-A

Writer’s note: I don’t blog nearly enough. I had to submit examples of my writing for a job application, and in going through this blog, I realized how much I missed writing in a creative setting. I solemnly swear I will be a better blogger.

On August 1, 2012, a host of hungry patrons descended on Chick-Fil-A locations across the country. While Chick-Fil-A is a fast-food restaurant that is used to business, this day was different. Several locations had so much business, they actually ran out of food. Roads and highways across the country backed up, as cars waited up to half an hour to enter the parking lot area. It was certainly the most financially successful single day in the Atlanta-based company’s history.

Of course, you already know that this was not a case of sudden mass cravings for waffle fries. August 1 was a day to show your support for Chick-Fil-A, whose owner, Dan Cathy, had come under fire for his comments supporting traditional marriage. While he didn’t specifically attack gay marriage, there’s no doubt Mr. Cathy believes marriage is only for one man and one woman. What followed was a surprisingly strong backlash from media outlets, the gay community and moderate-to-liberal voters. In response, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called for those against gay marriage to come out and support Chick-Fil-A on August 1.

And come out they did. The two locations I happened to drive past were slammed. Cars wrapped around the building and spilling out into the street. Lines out the door, with 20-30 minute waits being the norm. The vast majority of the patrons – conservative Christians, who genuinely believe that God looks on homosexual acts as sinful. Many of these, I call my dearest friends. Probably because I am also a Christian, who also believes that God looks on homosexual acts as sinful.

And yet, I deliberately, purposefully stayed away.

To many, this will make no sense. Many will wonder why, if I believe in the Bible, I didn’t show my support for a company that is making its stand for Biblical principles. Not only that, many will wonder why I am putting out my intentional absence on my blog for everybody to see.

My answer has nothing to do with the way I see the world, my beliefs or my experiences in life. It has everything to do with people.

Many people, straight and gay, believe that a stance against gay marriage necessarily equates to bigotry. While I don’t agree with their opinion, I can see where they are coming from. Gay couples in most states do not and cannot share in the rights and privileges that straight couples can. There’s no tax deduction. There’s no automatic inheritance. There’s no provision to be at their partner’s side in the hospital during an emergency. That’s something that is reserved for married couples, whose state recognizes their marriage. There are other benefits the state gives to married couples that gay couples cannot access. The only way to have those rights is marriage.

This is why, to gay couples and others, a stance against gay marriage is a stance for bigotry. I’m not agreeing with their position, merely outlining it. So since this is the way they feel, what would my presence at Chick-Fil-A on August 1 tell them? It would tell them that I think they should remain second-class citizens. It would tell them that I look down on them, that I somehow think I am better than they are. This is not what it would mean to me, but what it would mean to them.

Most importantly (and I came to this point after a lot of thinking), my going to Chick-Fil-A on August 1 could potentially cost me a chance to connect with and witness to my gay friends.

After coming to that point, I couldn’t make an argument good enough for actually going. What else in this world could possibly matter more? Did Chick-Fil-A miss my presence? No. Would my presence have made a huge difference for Chick-Fil-A or my faith? No. But would it have damaged my relationships with those I would love to see at my church? Very likely. It is a simple risk-reward analysis, and I felt the risk far outweighed the reward.

So I ate my homemade pimiento cheese for dinner instead of delicious nuggets or strips. I will be eating at Chick-Fil-A again. Probably in the near future. But on this one day, it was not worth risking the chance I have to be an example of Christ to the world around me. Do I believe in the Bible? Absolutely. I believe it is the word of God, and that I should strive to live my life according to its standards. But I also believe Jesus’ example in Mark 2:13 is far more important than my respect for Romans 1:26-27.

Toilet (Seat) Humor

I consider myself to be a pretty smart guy.

I did extremely well in school. I can solve problems relatively well. I can come up with creative solutions. But one seemingly simple group of tasks has always gotten the best of me: home and auto repair and upkeep. I don’t know what my problem is, but chances are if I have a hammer or a screwdriver in my hand, I’m going to mess up whatever chore is in front of me. I have had my foot pinned under a car while changing a tire. I’ve put a hole in a ceiling while installing surround sound. I’ve caused a leak in my roof by installing an antenna. (UPDATE: I’ve also locked myself IN a bedroom while changing a doorknob. Forgot about that one.) But my chance at redemption came this weekend, a shot at getting a home improvement project right.

Somehow, while babysitting for Avery, my sister broke the master bathroom toilet seat. I have no idea how this is possible, but it happened. (I should probably ask her about that sometime.) So it was off to Home Depot, where I learned something surprising. Toilet seats come in two sizes: round and elongated. I thought about all the times I had stood over that toilet, and came to the conclusion that I needed an elongated seat. When I got home, I held the still-wrapped seat over the broken one, and it matched up well. Or so I thought.

The installation was amazingly satisfying. I removed the existing seat, then used a series of “washers” and “braces” to install the new seat (I don’t know what these things are). It took about ten minutes, and when it was done, it looked fantastic.

The seat lined up perfectly! The outside edge of the seat aligned with the bowl. The bolts were snug, and the seat didn’t slide one way or the other at all. It was my most successful home improvement job ever, and the feeling I got standing over my freshly-installed toilet seat was one of victory.

Then I moved from standing over the seat to standing in the middle of the bathroom.

Of course, you fans of literature and movies will see the technique I employed in the post known as “foreshadowing”, and knew this was coming. And those of you who are adept at these types of projects are no doubt rolling your eyes at me now (don’t worry, my wife did the same thing). Of course, my toilet bowl is round, not elongated, resulting in a drastic overhang of the toilet seat.

So now I’m at a loss for what to do. Obviously I can’t return it (I mean, surely Home Depot wouldn’t take back an opened toilet seat. Surely.). I could remove it and go get the right size, but then there’s $30 right down the…well, you know. So at the moment, it stays. A testament to my prowess at handyman tasks. A reminder for all that the tools I use best are a typewriter and a chef’s knife, and not a hammer or a drill. A humorous conversation-starter, if you will.

At least, that’s how I’m pitching it to my wife.

Best Songs of 2011

So yeah, I’m bringing back the blog. Never should have let it go this long, and what better way to do it than to put out a top 20 list that nobody will agree with?

For me, this was a fantastic year for music, and it’s due in no small part to the U.S. debut of Spotify. For those of you who aren’t on Spotify, it’s a service that basically allows you to play any song you can think of. It’s free to use on your desktop/laptop, but pay 10 bucks a month, and you get to stream it on your phone or tablet, wherever you go. For a music lover like me, this is a steal. I was spending at least three times that buying albums.

But even if I didn’t get Spotify, the year in music was still fantastic. So many good albums came out, I was having trouble making time to enjoy them all. Still, I was able to pick out a list of 20 favorites. The Spotify playlist I’ve created isn’t in order of my favorites, it’s more in the order I thought would work best for sitting down and listening all the way through. Still, there were two songs this year that will stick with me for a long time.

Holocene” by Bon Iver

I really believe Bon Iver’s self-titled album is not only the best of the year, but will probably end up being my favorite of all time. The song is a master class in climax and denouement, rising and falling at the exact perfect times. Every single instrument works together to perfection, from the clear, golden tone of the guitar to the swelling clarinets and achingly precious bass line. Most of the lyrics are non-specific enough so that the listener can glean any number of meanings from them (“Not the needle, not the thread, the lost decree/Saying nothing, that’s enough for me.”). But the chorus is at once humbling and exhilarating (“And at once I knew, I was not magnificent…/Jagged vacance, thick with ice/And I could see for miles, miles, miles.”). I’ve probably listened to this song 40-50 times, and every time it moves me to my core.

Midnight City” by M83

Wow. That opening four-note progression. You’ve probably heard this playing under a Victoria’s Secret commercial (and yes, dear, I only looked up at the TV because I heard the song). But that strained synth-line is only the amuse bouche, the insistent, delicate opening to an impossibly layered, frantically paced four minutes of unrestrained joy. While all of “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is triumphant, this one song delivers like nothing else on the album. And just when you think it’s over, in comes one of the most unexpected saxophone solos I’ve ever heard. This is a rare song that can get stuck in your head after just one listen, yet still reveal new depths and secrets with repeat playings. More than one publication has named this the Song of the Year, and while I prefer “Holocene”, “Midnight City” is stunning.

Sinful Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Ingredients

8 slices soft bread

Spreadable Margarine or Butter

4 slices American Cheese

4 slices Provolone Cheese

4 slices Mild Cheddar Cheese

1/3 c. freshly shredded Parmesan Cheese

Preparation

Set electric cooktop to 350 degrees. If using a pan on a stove top, set to medium-high heat. Spread margarine or butter on one side of each piece of bread. Separately, create 4 stacks of cheese, layered first with American, then Provolone, then Cheddar. Set aside. Put Parmesan on a plate. Press buttered side of each slice of bread into Parmesan.

Put 4 slices of bread cheese side down onto cooking surface. Put stacks of cheese on each slice of bread, then place remaining 4 slices of bread cheese side up to complete the sandwich. Cook 4-5 minutes per side, turning once.

Serving

Slice into halves. Serve with your favorite soup.

Working Ahead

You can set the slices of cheese out 15-20 minutes ahead of time to let soften. All other steps should be done at the time of preparation.

Socially Acceptable Bigotry

Working in news, nothing much surprises you anymore. I don’t blink at murders, I’m not blown away by domestic violence and I don’t lose sleep over children found at a meth lab. Sad, but true. It’s part of the job. Just like E.R. doctors and nurses don’t freak out over the injuries of accident victims, I’ve learned to tone down my emotional response to the horrible things humanity does to itself. It takes something special to really make me angry. Something like, say, a school board member advocating gay teen suicide. My apologies for the strong language, but I felt it necessary to quote him exactly:

Seriously, they want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way I’m wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I can’t believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.

Mr. McCance would go on to outdo himself in a few responses on his post:

…because being a fag doesn’t give you the right to ruin the rest of our lives. If you get easily offended by being called a fag then don’t tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself. I don’t care how people decide to live their lives. They don’t bother me if they keep it to themselves. It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags can’t procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they also give each other aids and die. If you aren’t against it, you might as well be for it.

And because there wasn’t enough vitriol in the air, he continues:

I would disown my kids if they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See it infects everyone.

Bear in mind, this isn’t just Joe Bigot spouting off at the mouth. This is an elected school board official telling gay teens he wants them to commit suicide and he wouldn’t support them in any way, even if they were his own children.

That’s a lot. For a school leader to advocate teens to kill themselves is pretty bad. For a father to say he would disown his children (for ANY reason, not just homosexuality) is equally reprehensible. But even this isn’t really what got me riled up. It’s the support McCance is getting from others on the Internet. Even on his Facebook comment, people responded with statements like “agree, people have gotten extremely STUPID!!!!!!!!!” and “amen”. Six people gave it the anonymous “like” click. On my news station’s website, several people commented agreeing with McCance. This has all led me to believe that many people feel it’s okay to bash homosexuals.

Of course, I’m not sure why I’m surprised at this. Throughout history, mankind has found ways to excuse his bigotry. Whether it’s the ancient Egyptians and the Hebrews, the Jews and the Samaritans, the Romans and the Gauls, the whites and the blacks, the Nazis and the Jews or, even to some extent, men and women, we’ve always found reasons to treat another group of people with less honor and respect than others. We’ve created socially acceptable bigotry, and without a doubt, today’s version is conservative straight people treating gay people like second class citizens.

Right now, there are plenty of people who not only support McCance, they agree with him and wish his comments went further. And their attitudes will not change so long as the people around them, the people they look up to, are silent. When you sit idly by while a friend makes a snide comment about “queers”, you may think you’re just staying out of it. In fact, you’re encouraging that person to continue. The same thing when you hear people talking about “niggers”, “wetbacks” and “bitches”. When you do nothing, you are playing an active role in keeping bigotry alive.

I’m not saying you should start yelling and screaming at the offender, or worse, get violent with them. But you know how to handle it. A disapproving look, or a single “that’s not cool” is usually enough to discourage that kind of attitude. Maybe you need to take the person off to the side and tell them why you have a problem with what they said. But if you really want to put an end to the socially acceptable bigotry, you have to make it socially unacceptable. You have to make sure that person knows this isn’t alright with you, and it shouldn’t be acceptable anywhere.

As Christians, we are called to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I would argue that most gay people aren’t your enemies, don’t hate you, don’t curse you and don’t mistreat you. If we’re called to be kind to those who actively try to hurt us, how much more should we show love and compassion to those who are just trying to live in peace? It doesn’t mean you have to accept or endorse what they do, their actions. But it does mean you should actively work to stamp out the hatred against them. If you want to call yourself a Christian, it’s the only acceptable choice.