Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vote Democratic or the Republicans Will Kill Michael J. Fox

In a season of record lows for political campaigning, manipulation and mud-slinging, we've reached depths this week previously un-dreamt-of. I can't figure out which is my favorite: Michael J. Fox's insinuation that Republicans don't care about disease or the escalating shenanigans in the Webb-Allen race that have Virginia smelling like a fresh pile of manure. Never in my life did I think it would be so transparently easy to defend Rush Limbaugh.

In case you live under a rock in a cave on the Moon, here's a recap: Michael J. Fox, exhibiting extreme side-effects from Parkinson's disease, has appeared in a political ad for Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill that is making the rounds on YouTube. The core message: Fox shares McCaskill's "hope for cures," as opposed to Republican Jim Talent, who "opposes stem cell research." (Bad Jim Talent! Bad!) According to Fox, that unconscionable bastard Talent even "wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope." The ad has inspired international debate, much of it focusing on the fact that Rush Limbaugh had the gall to challenge the facts of the ad as well as the extremity of Fox's apparent symptoms.

Two facts need to be stated right here and now.

One: Limbaugh apologized on-air less than five minutes after suggesting that Fox might be exaggerating his symptoms. (I dare you to find me a news outlet that's reporting that.) He apologized again the next day after Fox clarified that his uncontrollable movements were a result of dyskinesia, a common side-effect of Parkinson's medication. (Try to find that on He also devoted much of the rest of the week to learning about Parkinson's disease and passing the information on to his listeners.

Two: Fox has admitted in his book and on television with Diane Sawyer that he has, in the past, intentionally over- or under-medicated himself to increase his symptoms for theatrical effect. He most famously did this in 1999 before--surprise surprise--testifying before the U.S. Senate on the subject of embryonic stem cell research. So perhaps Limbaugh needn't have apologized for suggesting that Fox may have done something that he has a track record of actually doing.

This may be the single most repugnant moment in decades of American politics, and it's exactly what Ann Coulter got in so much trouble for attacking a few months ago. The strategy of using ultra-sympathetic figures such as Michael J. Fox, 9/11 widows, and Cindy Sheehan to place a party's issues above criticism is disingenuous at best and diabolical at worst. Hey there, Claire: Are your ideas so bankrupt that you have to trot out a sick celebrity to shill for you? After all, no one gets to tell a vulnerable, sick man that he's wrong; that would be cruel and insensitive. No one gets to accuse Marty McFly of being a liar, right? Only a monstrously evil conservative would do such a thing. This isn't as new as it seems; John Edwards assured voters that if John Kerry was elected President Christopher Reeve would walk again. I wish I was joking.

I love Michael J. Fox. I love his work as an actor; Back to the Future and Family Ties were big parts of my young life. And I greatly respect the progress his foundation has made. But I am completely disgusted by his appearance in this ad, and I can't imagine spending money on his films any time soon.

So let's put the manipulative emotional appeal aside and look at the facts for a minute. First of all, there is no evidence that embryonic stem cell research holds the key to curing Parkinson's or paralysis, only speculation. Secondly, other approaches, such as adult stem cell research, have yielded very promising results. In fact, Fox's foundation has spent $1.9 million pioneering a new gene therapy treatment at a Chicago hospital that may reduce Parkinson's symptoms by as much as 40%. Thirdly, the science that Jim Talent wants to "criminalize" is not stem cell research at all: it's human cloning, which is illegal almost everywhere in the world.

But that's not the message of the ad. The message of the ad is this: Only Democrats care about disease. Only Democrats care about Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and spinal paralysis. Republicans don't care if you get hurt or sick or die. Talent isn't just against hope, he's against even "a chance for hope." Only Democrats offer you hope. A vote for the left is a vote for hope!

"Disingenuous" is too small a word. "Reprehensible" is getting warmer. "Completely and utterly disgusting" is four words, but it will have to do.

Isn't disease something we can all agree that everybody is against? Are we so convinced that the American people are a race of drooling couch potatoes that we don't even TRY to win elections based on the value of our plans and ideas any more? Do we not see that the more we cater to the lowest common denominator in this most crucial of social interactions, the more the bar descends? Television isn't rotting this country's mind away, our duly elected leaders are.

There's another way to look at the real message of this ad: by following the money trail. A wealthy husband and wife have provided 97% of the funds supporting the stem cell research proposal in Missouri. James and Virginia Stowers, both cancer survivors, have contributed $25.5 million to the cause. Their Stowers Institute for Medical Research is a Kansas City non-profit organization seeking to prevent and cure diseases through gene research. An admirable goal. However, it should be noted that the $25.5 million they have spent on this political campaign is $1.5 million more than Great Britain has spent on Parkinson's disease research since 2004. I have to say, using $25.5 million that could have been spent on research grants to get a Constitutional amendment passed sounds far more like a political or financial stake than medical research to me.

This is not about legalizing or criminalizing embryonic stem cell research, which is legal and ongoing. It's about assigning Federal funding to lines of research that private investors won't touch because they would rather put their money in other areas which have shown promise and verifiable results. In other words, the private sector, responsible for almost every significant medical advance of the past century, isn't terribly interested in embryonic stem cell research because they have very little reason to believe it will yield any results.

Capping it all is Fox's insistence this week that he thinks the issue of research funding should be "bipartisan." He said, "You know what? I don't really care about politics." REALLY? Then why are you only coming out making commercials in an election year, and only for Democrats? If you're going to lie to me, Mr. Fox, at least come up with something remotely plausible.

And finally: Here in Virginia, we have the choice of all choices: Vote for Republican George "Macaca" Allen, who may or may not have used the N-word thirty years ago, or Democrat James Webb, who wrote novels including sexually explicit material involving under-aged sex, talented strippers (if you don't already know, you don't want to), and a father placing his son's member in his mouth, as well as suggesting in writing several years ago that women entered the Naval Academy to have easy access to multiple male sex partners.

What shall we do? Vote for the racist or the sexist?

Wait, you mean there's more to the election than that? These guys have stances on actual issues that could affect my life?

You could have fooled me.

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  • At 10/28/2006 12:36 PM , Blogger Joey said...

    "(I dare you to find me a news outlet that's reporting that.)"

    actually, the local news did report that. but i think the point your trying to make is that big news corporations, such as CNN and HNN, dont report such things, which is absloutly true. anything beyond your local news brodcasting is not within the reach of positive news.

    but this kind of thing, although unacceptable, is expected so close to election time. i just home the mud slingers are willing to clean up their mess when the person whom they are mud slinging aginst wins.

  • At 10/28/2006 12:40 PM , Blogger Joey said...

    and also, if i were old enough to vote, i would vote democrat this year, and thats coming from someone who leans slightly to the right. the republicans have done enough damage.

    and we need stem cells.

  • At 10/28/2006 6:19 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    We have stem cells, dude. Existing stem cell lines have indeed been promising. We can continue effective stem cell research without human cloning.

    And it's a bit silly to paint every member of a political party with the same brush. Vote individuals, not parties. Don't vote against a Republican if the opposing Democrat is a moron. And bear in mind that the Republican "damage" of the past six years includes a record stock high market, record high home ownership, the lowest unemployment in years, and deficit-cutting that's two years ahead of schedule.

  • At 10/29/2006 7:24 PM , Blogger Joey said...

    yes, but didnt bush disapprove any further stem cell research?

  • At 10/30/2006 8:02 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I liked the post, Ange.

    I think if the republicans had fostered a better record of caring about the poor and disenfranchised they wouldn't find themselves backed against the wall politically on these issues. They are reaping what they've sown with their supply-side economics et al, wherein "the rich get richer and inherit the meek..." True, democrats tend to play on heartstrings on issues like this, but Republicans have a deserved reputation for favoring the rich.

    For the record, God favors the poor.


  • At 10/30/2006 8:18 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    The Republicans also did a fine job establishing the pattern for attacking an opposing party President at every possible turn for eight full years. I don't think the Democrats could be so blatant if their opponents hadn't set the precedent so well in the '90s.


    Okay, I'm in teacher-mode now. Look up the difference between stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research. This is especially important when there are fringe elements of the scientific community who want to clone humans to create embryonic stem cell "farms." THIS is what many people, including the President, are trying to prevent.

    Propaganda like the Fox ad is very good at convincing Joe American that "Bush is against stem cell research." It doesn't matter if it's true, it only matters if it makes people vote Democratic.

  • At 10/30/2006 8:20 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Oh, and God also favors the meek, which pretty much leaves American politicians out in the cold...

  • At 10/30/2006 5:06 PM , Blogger Joey said...

    see, it'd be nice if the news would tell me something like that.

  • At 11/01/2006 8:41 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    I'm through trusting TV news to give me unbiased information of any kind. If an issue is important to me, I have to research it on my own.

  • At 11/01/2006 9:57 AM , Blogger philbike20 said...

    RNAi offers more possibilities than embryonic stem cells by a long shot.

  • At 11/01/2006 11:58 AM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 11/01/2006 12:00 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    the news has become so unreliable that it's almost to the point where not trusting the news is just universal knowledge.

    i research a bit myself, at least on the issues and topics i care about, but evenso i seem to be out in the cold sometimes. maybe i just dont research enough, or i look in the wrong places.

    boy, why didnt i use correct grammer in this comment? i didnt even notice i wasnt untill i finished writing it.

  • At 11/03/2006 5:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    If I didn't know any better I'd say you're defending the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.
    It's pathetic that you would boycott Mr. Fox for taking action on something that he believes in. That is something that most citizens aren't even given a platform for. If you are more tolerant of Limbaugh's hateful rants than Fox's political belief and RIGHT towards lateral thinking on a matter that is being shut down at the gates, then your position on political manipulation is flawed and contradictary. He chose that platform because it is the only party that has taken a position on this matter and this country offers little else in the way of an alternative. As for him not taking meds, well it certianly makes sense to attack the problem at the core rather than the symptom. I appreciate your knowledge of the research, but his standing with the democratic party is born from neccessity, especially under a blossoming authoritarian rule where morality is being legislated by a fundamentalist right and a following that pays more attention to rhetorical sound-bytes and absolutism rather than the prospect of saving lives.
    Is it the most effective and honorable way to get the word out? Not at all. But then we don't make the rules...

  • At 11/05/2006 11:32 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    I'd have to say it's very clear that I'm defending the likes of Coulter and Limbaugh here. There are not a lot of places where I'm willing to openly do so, but this is one. Fox, Sheehan, and the coterie of 9/11 widows Coulter attacked aren't achieving change through persuasion and facts, it's emotional manipulation and, in many places, outright lies. I can come out against lying with a very clear conscience.

    Limbaugh's so-called "hateful rant" was nothing of the kind; I just happened to hear it live while driving home from a voice-over gig in Silver Spring. Rush is a big fat easy target, but all he did was call a spade a spade. I do have to admit that making his very well-reasoned arguments the target of assault does a pretty good job removing the focus from Fox's appalling behavior, so kudos to the lefty spin machine.

    I'm not boycotting Fox "for taking action on something that he believes in." I'm boycotting him for taking extremely unethical and deceitful action on something he believes in. He absolutely has the right to pursue "lateral thinking" toward the curing of a disease; his foundation spends millions of dollars on just such approaches every year. What's appalling is his insistence A) that embryonic stem-cell and cloning research holds promise, when in fact all it holds is vague and unsubstantiated potential that no informed investor will touch with a ten-foot pole, B) that Republicans don't care about sick people (by the way, it was the Nixon administration that assigned massive amounts of funding to "The War on Cancer" in the '70s), and C) this is a non-political issue (his words), while he appears as a celebrity shill for Democratic candidates during an election year. Please illuminate me: how are any of these three completely unsubstantiated statements, all three of which are easily disproved by approximately three minutes on, intellectually honest or defensible?

    This country offers more than any other in the world for Fox. The USA spends more money than any three other nations combined on Parkinson's research, including stem-cell research, which no one, not even the President, is attempting to outlaw. Fox has alternatives galore, and he should know: his own foundation funds many of them--promising, legal lines of study that have achieved massive measurable results in the lab and in test cases. I'm willing to bet that more than a few of the funders and scientists involved in this research might just possibly be Republicans. (They must only be doing it for profits so they can buy bigger yachts and more expensive cigars to light up with flaming hundred dollar bills.)

    As for him not taking his meds, it may be the single most despicable act of the bunch. What's the message there? "Vote for Claire McCaskill or Jim Talent will outlaw my medication?" Imagine if Christopher Reeve did a TV spot without his wheelchair or ventilator. Instead of casting himself as a victim of disease, Fox would get a lot more respect from me by portraying himself as a symbol of just what medical science can do to help people in his situation.

    As for your appreciation of my meager knowledge of Parkinson's and the attendant research, most of it comes from my own research, but more than a little comes from--you guessed it--Rush Limbaugh, who devoted most of the rest of that week to educating himself and his listeners on the facts of Parkinson's disease. This was, of course, well after he manned up and apologized for the insensitivity of his initial comments, something that happened a full week sooner than Democratic hero John Kerry apologized for calling the US Armed Forces stupid. Now which side is insensitive and hateful?

    We DO make the rules. We make them at the voting box on Tuesday, we make them with our campaign contributions, we make them with our free speech (like this stupid blog or Fox's equally stupid commercials), we make them with the money we buy newspapers with, and we make them with our remote controls if we have Neilsen boxes. The American people are just bending over and taking it from both sides, and it's getting worse. No leader is going to change it, and certainly not one from either corporate party. We need to do the work down here, on the ground.

    Listen, anonymous: please forgive me if I sound angry with this post. I do not in any way intend offense. But we are so many years removed from anything resembling an honest exchange of ideas in this country that it just frustrates the hell out of me. Thanks for raising issues, and I hope you comment on something else of importance to me. Like what's wrong with the Redskins, or why is Superman so cool?

  • At 11/05/2006 3:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Well, it sounds like we agree on the same thing in the end, but just get there a different way. Interesting, that...
    "Years removed anything resembling an honest exchange of ideas" is right.
    And I agree with what you say about going to the ballot box. But as to whether or not we make the rules, the last six years have shown we don't. Let's hope that the next group in office rules a little more from the center. Afterall, they're supposed to work for us.
    And speaking of manipulation, I think it's quite appropriate for widows of 9/11 victims to voice their dissatisfaction of the current management, given the incredibly shifty way things have been dealt with.
    I don't know what lies you think they told. But as a citizen who sees a president who says he's tough on terrorism and national security and then snicker about his long drive as we invade a completely irrelevant country and kill thousands more innocent people, the expression "question authority" is more appropriate now than it has ever been in the U.S.
    Emotional manipulation? You want to talk to talk manipulation? How about "you're either with us or against us?" You know who said THAT last?
    He also says that if we vote democrat we're all going to be killed by terrorists. Oh, and he's lied about WMD's, what he knew before 9/11, he's pitted Americans against Americans with absolutist rhetoric and uses the words "freedom" and "liberty" to make it all okay. He set the bar for emotioinal manipulation.
    Why mention all this? because on that end of the ethical dilemma this blog should be directed at the man/people who have set the rules and created a new standard by which politics is played, rather than a movie star who's trying to demostrate his illness towards the cause of scientific furtherment. (Another discussion in there)

    Anyway, it's interesting to hear your argument. Thanks for responding.
    Funny that you're in the arts...

    I'll anonymously buy you a beer one day.

  • At 11/06/2006 9:11 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Bit by bit, you're turning me into a Bush apologist, my friend. This is a great discussion, though.

    You want a centrist in the White House? I've got news for you: we have one. President Bush is far less conservative than he is named by the left. He spends our money like Clinton on a bender, and he's far out of the conservative mainstream on immigration. Conservatives want a 1700-mile fence, they want deportation instead of amnesty, and they want a national language. Bush wants none of those things, possibly because he's a Spanish-speaking Texan and he's seen a lot of the life illegal aliens live.

    The far right disagrees with the waging of the war as much as the left does; the difference is that wack-jobs like the Michael Savage set think we should carpet-bomb the Sunni Triangle and let God sort it out. THAT's extreme conservatism, my friend, and President Bush isn't that.

    And by the way, it's a matter of international public record that President Bush did not lie about WMDs in Iraq. Once again, the liberal "get-votes-at-the-expense-of-truth" machine just keeps shouting in our ears, knowing that the American people are so TV-programmed that enough of us will believe them if they just repeat it over and over. Every intelligence agency in every intelligence-gathering nation nation in the world, including dissenting countries such as China, Russia, and France, had the same information: Saddam Hussein has WMDs, he is hiding WMDs, he has been hiding WMDs from inspectors, he has no intention of actually destroying or handing over his WMDs, and he is developing nuclear weapons. EVERYONE AGREED. Not only did everyone agree that he had them, but we have found some: hundreds of artillery shells loaded with Sarin and other gases. We have one of Hussein's weapons developers in the US, who has detailed how he received orders from Hussein to dismantle and hide his research before the invasion. And we had a Friday New York Times cover story detailing Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program, and declaring that Iraq was one year away from developing a working atomic bomb.

    The Bush administration has done a lot of stupid stupid things. The biggest stupidity of the bunch has been their complete incompetence in communicating details and information to the American people. I shouldn't have to dig through internet and alternative newspapers to find satellite photos of the airplane shell terrorists were using as an Iraqi-sponsored training camp twenty miles from Baghdad.

    It is indeed perfectly appropriate for 9/11 widows to state their opinions on the war. What is not appropriate is attacking as insensitive those who disagree with them. The Fox and Sheehan cases are the same thing; the fact that you can hang a "victim" label around your neck does NOT make you immune to criticism, especially if your argument is dismissed by a conservative with a seventh-grade debate-club education. For example: Rush Limbaugh is not a hate-monger for making many valid points about Michael J. Fox's fallacious ad.

    You want a centrist? Pleased to meet you. That's me, the radical moderate: conservative on abortion, liberal on the death penalty. As someone who doesn't much care for either party, I look on our political scene with as unbiased an eye as I can manage, and I see a lot of problems on both sides. The difference I see is that the President makes mistakes because he has chosen in good conscience to do things that are very very hard and might just be impossible to do. The Democrats just seem to get slimier and slimier, more and more hypocritical, power-mongering and deceitful, and excellent at manipulating people's emotions through a sympathetic media. Honest to goodness, I don't see how everyone doesn't see how incredibly weak the leadership on the left is. I mean, John Kerry? That's the best Presidential candidate you can come up with?

    Out of time--gotta go to work.

  • At 11/06/2006 11:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I agree about the Democrats. It's unfortunate the way it's going for them. And yeah, Kerry was pretty bad. But at least he can form coherent sentences when straying from the script. This country needs another party so bad it hurts. I have an incredibly bad feeling things are going to get WAY worse in this country before they get better.
    Incidentally, it has been confirmed by generals and previous advisors that Bush was prepping to invade Iraq before 9/11 happened. And deciding to invade without letting the UN go in and do its job is blaringly suspect to me. Maybe it wouldn't seem so bad if Bush and his administration didn't disown everything they say after it fails. There is a trend to govern from an emotional platform, not an informed or intellectual one and that is always trouble.
    So the far right is against waging war? Hm. Interesting. Could have fooled me.
    It's also a interesting to note that this man was against the investigation into 9/11. He agreed to testifying before the commission on 3 conditions: 1. Cheney had to be with him. 2. It had be behind closed doors. 3 He would not be under oath.
    Hmmm...what sort of man would set such conditions? Someone with a lot to lose I suspect.
    So the U.S. will "enforce the just demands of the world". (Even if the whole world objects.) Ari Fleicher even said to the press that "the policy of the United States is regime change, with or without UN inspectors." Regime change apparently does not mean a regime that Iraqis might prefer, but one that the conqueror will impose, calling it "democratic". Cloak it in whatever you like, we were going in from the beginning.
    Our reasons went from Al Quaeda links, to WMD's, to liberating Iraqis, to spreading democracy, to mission accomplished and now the quagmire we're in currently. 300 million dollars and thousands of lives later; habeus corpus killed; absolutist partisan rhetoric that makes any voice of dissent "traitorous". You're right, he's not an extreme conservative because there's nothing conservative about this administration. Extreme he is though.
    At the root of all war is economics. It's just a simple fact. If we were as benevolent as he says, we'd be saving people in Darfur. I'd like to think the gov't has good intentions, but it just doesn't add up, no matter how you look at it. The thing with Fox and Limbaugh is interesting though. Both of them are obviously smart and doing their own thing. I guess at that point you just have stand by your own beliefs. Coulter, on the other hand, I firmly believe should be hit by an enormous truck and dragged for a few miles...

  • At 11/07/2006 7:45 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Putting aside for the moment that the UN has been involved in WMD searches in Iraq since 1992, I'm not sure you can convince me that the UN has any ability to do, like, anything useful anywhere in the world. How many UN resolutions did Saddam Hussein openly defy? I believe it was seven. How many times did the UN actually do anything about it? I'm quite sure it was a big fat zero. Far from "not letting the UN go in and do its job," the GWBA did all due diligence in giving them more chances to get it right that they deserved. they'd had a decade to show Hussein some teeth, and had failed to take ANY action to support their own resolutions quite literally every time. Of course, when Russia, Germany, and France are each owed billions of dollars for the weapons they have sold the Saddam Hussein government, it's not surprising that the Security Council would give him a pass to, you know, commit genocidal atrocities.

    Coulter is harder to defend, but she doesn't especially want to be defended. The outrageousness of her approach is part of her act, and it sells her a lot of books. In may ways, she's very similar in that respect to Al Franken. Their job is to throw a grenade into the opposite camp and watch the chaos.

    The far right, and I'm talking almost-survivalists here, is not against waging war, they're against waging a limited war. One has to admit that carpet bombs and daisy cutters would be much more effective in killing insurgenterrorists. Also more effective in killing civilians, though, so I can't get behind that...

    I actually like President Bush when he strays from the script. Then again, with President Clinton, the public face of the administration was so polished that I never believed a word he said, so there's that.

    There was a president long ago who was attacked by both sides for being too hick, too stupid, and too country to be a leader. His own Secretary of State called him "the original gorilla" behind his back. His name was Abraham Lincoln. I'm not equating Bush to Lincoln in any deep sense, I'm just saying, press conferences don't define the quality of a president's leadership--history does.

    As for Kerry being a good public speaker, I'm pretty sure he's actually incredibly stupid. "I voted for it before I voted against it?" What the heck was that supposed to say? And was your "joke" A) calling the troops stupid (which he's done before) or B) calling the President (who had a substantially higher GPA than Kerry) stupid?

    Okay, I'm done getting off topic for a while. I really only wanted to talk about Michael J. Fox, and I'm coming across as an across-the-board conservative and a Rush man when I am instead a Glenn Beck man, which may be even worse. I will say that I'm grateful that this conversation is taking place. An actual exchange of ideas is good. It would be nice to see it in Congress.

    And I'll close with this: I'm really worried about the lack of leadership in the opposition party right now. As hard as it is to find heroes on the right, I think it's much harder to find them on the left right now. If Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Howard Dean, and Al Gore claimed to speak for me, I'm form a third party, I swear to you. Please go out and vote, and do it well.

  • At 11/07/2006 9:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Good talk. You can bet I'm voting!

    And you're right. History will definitely remember the quality of Bush's presidency.


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