Transcript

41:

Politics
Transcript

Originally aired 11.08.1996

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/41

Act One. Life in the White House.

Ira Glass

So what was it like after election day this week for the couple who live in the White House? Every morning, they got up, put on their robes, went downstairs, and jumped in the pool for a swim.

Rosemary Eckersley

And we do that year round. And, of course, coffee is very mandatory. [LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

And then?

Rosemary Eckersley

Well, the usual. I go fight with the face and Max Factor and my husband goes off to the office.

Ira Glass

The office in this case is not the Oval Office. No, she spends more time there. He drives into San Francisco where he has an office for his business in international finance. The couple who live in this house are named Norman Eckersley and Rosemary Ashley Eckersley. Neither is a member of the Democratic Party. Both have lots more money than the President of the United States. And the White House-- this one, anyway-- is about 15 miles south of San Francisco in a suburb called Hillsborough.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, surprising stories of American politics. We have campaign diaries from Michael Lewis, a new theory of politics and television from Henry Jenkins, the Mexican-American self-deportation movement, Joan Jett Black, and we start with Act One, Life in the White House.

Act Two. Television Man.

Ira Glass

My tour guide at the Western White House-- this White House-- was the real estate agent who's trying to sell the thing, Ann Riley. And she began the tour with a packet of old photos and press clippings that she'd assembled.

Ann Riley

This is really quite a fascinating home, and it has had several lives. It started off this.

Ira Glass

Originally, this just looks like just a regular big old house.

Ann Riley

It was a Victorian. It was an old Victorian. Here it is in the beginning.

Ira Glass

The house has been around for over half the life of the United States. And it's the kind of huge structure that reflects every prevailing fashion over time. It's been redesigned in the neoclassical style, the French Normandy style, as a massive Swiss chalet, as a Mediterranean home with a tile roof.

And finally, in 1930, George Hearst, the oldest son of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, bought this place and hired Julia Morgan, the architect who designed Hearst's castle-- San Simeon-- to turn this house into a facsimile of the White House. Why? Ann Riley says the best guess anybody has is this.

Ann Riley

Julia Morgan's charge was to deliver a house that he could invite the presidents to stay in when they came to the West Coast. So that's the myth. And I say it's a story.

Ira Glass

And we actually don't know exactly why he decided. There's no documentation or quotes or anything from him saying, "Here is why I'm going to do this."

Ann Riley

Well, his father, you know, had all these wonderful Hollywood starlets cavorting all over San Simeon. There was all this great stuff going on. And I think George was just trying to rise to the occasion. So what else would be famous besides a movie starlet? Well, the presidents of the United States might give him a little muscle in the family feud. It just feels so "mmm."

Ira Glass

And once your dad builds Hearst Castle, what are you going to do?

It's not an exact duplicate. Yes, there's an oval office. Yes, there's a rose garden. Yes, the columns in the window bays. the fireplace mantles, and the pediments above doors are modeled on those at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But it's more of a kind of tribute to the White House than a copy. From the outside, it reminds you of the White House the way that Madonna resembles Ava Peron. They're shooting for the same effect. There's a strong resemblance. But the copy just doesn't have the gravitas of the original.

Ann Riley

Now, this is a fun room. Upstairs play room. Painted bright red slashed with silver paint. Ping pong tables, exercise equipment, massage table.

Ira Glass

And again, this is, like, a lacquer red room.

Ann Riley

Actually, this is a carpet that lights up. It has lights in it.

Ira Glass

What?

Ann Riley

This carpet lights up. I don't know how to turn it on. But do you see all those little pinholes?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Ann Riley

Those actually can be turned on.

Ira Glass

The owners of this White House reflect the times just as clearly as the occupants of that other White House back East do. During the last century, they included one of the men who founded banks in California and financed the railroad's expansion through the West. And the owner of the shoe company that made Buster Browns. In 1972, it was rumored that John Lennon and Yoko Ono would be moving in.

As for the current owners, they made their money the way people do these days. He comes from the world of international banking, she from Hollywood. She was the wife of a studio vice president and the wife of a plastic surgeon before this marriage. When I meet her, she descends a staircase telling a slightly off-color and actually very funny joke. Before an hour's up, she's told me why Jean Harlow used to put ice on her breasts, why there are nude calendar girl paintings of herself over the beds in the house, and some story that Jane Russell told her the other night at dinner. I liked her.

Rosemary Eckersley

You know the old song-- Cyndi Lauper-- "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." That's me. I think that if we can't enjoy our life-- and I tell my friends, I always have something. I have a big calendar on my desk. And I always have something that I can look forward to, even if I have to make that date. If I look down and say, well, I think I'll plan on going to Las Vegas this month. If I have to create something to make that month special, I do it.

Ira Glass

The house itself is a mix of high-brow and low-brow-- incredibly elegant rooms with beautiful furniture and expensive paintings, and here and there, paintings of doe-eyed girls, picked up at sidewalk art sales. The little embroidered pillows that say things like, "Murder, yes. Divorce, never" And "Screw the golden years, there's a safari room." In short, it's hard to imagine Bill Clinton living here. But it's a place that his mother-- Virginia Kelley-- would probably just love.

It is impossible to imagine an American building a house today as a duplicate of the White House as a way to lure the president over. People just do not view the presidency with the same respect as they did back in George Hearst's day. Witness Rosemary's response when I ask her this question about her home purchase.

Ira Glass

Was the fact that it was, in part, a replica of the White House part of what drew you to it?

Rosemary Eckersley

No, it wasn't. It really wasn't.

Ira Glass

The asking price for this Western White House is $8.5 million. It has 27,000 square feet, 22 rooms. Coldwell Banker real estate agents recently put together an estimate of what the real White House would sell for if it were ever put on the open market. The real White House, by the way, has 43,000 square feet and 132 rooms. It sits on 18 acres of prime downtown real estate.

Estimate? $64 million. Actually, to qualify for the mortgage, you'd have to be able to make monthly payments $600,000 a month. $64 million. Of course, according to the FEC, candidates Clinton and Dole each spent far more than that for the privilege of just living in the place for four years.

Act Three. Losers.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Television Man. Throughout this election year, we've been bringing you the campaign diaries of Michael Lewis. He's been publishing these in The New Republic. And as I've said many times in introducing him, they are among the most surprising and interesting campaign reporting that anyone has done this year.

Michael Lewis has said in the past that one of the reasons for the dullness and mendacity in modern campaigns is that American politicians still have not adjusted to the presence of television cameras. He got a chance to see the effect of television cameras firsthand on the political process just last month when he momentarily left the unglamorous life of a print reporter for another higher calling.

Michael Lewis

October 1. The Dole campaign treats me so oddly when I arrive this morning for the trip to Cleveland that I find myself looking back over my shoulder to see if there's some other Michael they're talking to. That I have a name is itself unusual. Normally, I'm just checked off the cargo list as The New Republic i.e., another magazine writer who, together with his readership, can safely be ignored. But this morning, I am carrying my new Sony Digital Super SteadyShot Handycam DCR-VX1000 millimeter, a palmable grey box that crack technicians from ABC spent nearly an hour teaching me to use. It is festooned with various stickers that say ABC News.

Yesterday, I mentioned in passing to a Dole staffer that I might do some shooting for Nightline tomorrow, as if I were the sort of person who did shooting for Nightline all the time. Now, a Dole campaign worker named Charlie is standing over me like an old friend. "Hi, Michael," he says. "Good to see you again. You know, you're not allowed to film on the plane."

When I step onto the plane, a second Dole staffer tells me the same thing. As I take my seat across the coffee table from a radio lady, a third Dole worker stops by and stresses the point. Apparently, the place where the campaign television journalist spends the vast majority of his time is considered outside the bounds of television journalism.

Before all these warnings, it had never occurred to me to film on the Dole plane. Now it does. Just before takeoff, I stand up and take my first shot. A fat cameraman on his way to the toilet squeezes past a skinny stewardess, and I have him in my crosshairs. "You're not supposed to do that!" a voice shrieks out at me. It's the radio lady playing narc. Charlie appears beside my seat to remind me of "the rule." He does a nice job of not being upset.

The day unfolds uneventfully-- Dole gives a speech in a gym-- except for my peculiar new relationship with the Dole campaign staff. Normally, I have to set off a flare to get their attention. Today, Charlie takes the seat beside me on the bus and for the rest of the day never seems to be very far away. Whatever they think I might do, I don't. By the time the rally starts, I have busted the sound mechanism, lost the earplugs, and run out of batteries. I put the camera to one side. Charlie vanishes.

But then we head back to the plane and a fresh battery, which brings us to the episode of the shrimp.

Once we'd settled into our seats, I set about trying to fix all the parts of the camera I'd busted. In order not to offend the Dole people, I decide to test the thing on what I figure is a declassified object-- a large plate of cold, mottled shrimp that has been laid on the table between me and a pair of radio reporters.

I hunker right over the little buggers so that the ABC technicians will see I have absorbed what they've taught me about not giving in to the temptation of zoom. But the moment I'm in place, the radio woman shrieks out to the Dole staff and makes to cover the shrimp with a sheet of paper. "It's OK," I say gently. "I'm just seeing if this thing still works." I keep shooting for a good five seconds. Then I put the camera away.

Suddenly, a Dole lady is in my face, teeth gritted, breath blowing. "We told you seven times not to film on the plane," she shouts. "You don't know how serious this is."

"But it was just the shrimp," I begin to say before she cuts me off. "We told you." I want to protest that it's not my fault her guy is 20 points down the polls, and she's on the fast track to not being the next Dee Dee Myers. It's not worth the trouble.

I return to the New York Times where Dole's campaign manager, Scott Reed, is quoted as saying that some major event is about to transform public opinion. "We deserve a break, and we're going to have one," he explains. Asked to be more specific, he said, "Something. World affairs." It's hard to see how the shrimp fit into this scenario.

October 6. On the streets outside the debate hall in Hartford, the Super SteadyShot wreaks havoc. Many hundreds of previously listless protesters leap into action at the sight of it. "Let's have some action for ABC," I shout. And the effect is distinctly more dramatic than if I'd said, "Let's have some action for The New Republic."

They rise as one and proclaim their causes. One moment, they are an undifferentiated jumble of people shivering in the cold. The next, they are the ardent supporters of Nader and Perot, pro-life and anti-vivisection, anti-deficit and pro-welfare. Of course, the SteadyShot is not permitted inside the Bushnell Theatre. It is too powerful a weapon to be permitted close to the candidates.

So after a brief altercation with a security guard, I retire to Spin Alley. Spin Alley is what the debate organizers have renamed the Hartford Civic Center until a few journalists start pointing out that only a few years ago, political hacks actually denied that they "spun" at all. The signs saying Spin Alley are then ripped down, which, when you think about it, is itself a form of spin.

At any rate, the Super SteadyShot penetrates Spin Alley, emanating its extraordinary forcefield. When she enters the frame, the comely Maureen Dowd dives behind her notepad, and who can blame her? Once you're in the camera's eye, you no longer have control of your soul. Truly, it is astonishing the way all of the important people cave in to the camera.

I point it at White House Spokesman Mike McCurry, then at Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, then at Labor Secretary Robert Reich. They answer questions that they might ignore if it were just me and mine eye. How do you feel as you stand there spinning me? If you truly felt that your candidate had lost, would you say as much?

They are not talking to me, of course, but to some notional audience-- the American people. And whatever they might be thinking, they treat the camera with deference. In the same way that ordinary people feel obliged to smile when they have their picture taken-- even when they are unhappy-- important people feel pressure to answer sincerely even when they are insincere.

I miss the debate entirely. I'm too busy taking pictures of people assessing the debate, which they do from the moment it starts. No matter. I'm able to track its effect between the lines of Scott Reed's quotes. Tomorrow in the New York Times, Reed will revise his mental picture of the campaign. "This is going to be a steady building process for the next 30 days," he will say. "There's not going to be an overnight shift." All of a sudden, it's looking as if every little shrimp might matter.

Ira Glass

Michael Lewis' campaign diaries will be collected in a book called Losers: Real Men Don't Become President Anymore. Stay with us, now. We will have another set of campaign diaries from Michael Lewis later in the program.

This section of our program on television continues. We have this argument about TV and politics from Henry Jenkins, director of film and media studies at MIT.

Henry Jenkins

I think what we're dealing with is a kind of crucial transitional moment in American politics. And it's actually change that's occurred over the last couple of elections from an era where network television dominated the political campaign toward a point where cable television is dominating the campaign and looking toward a point when cyberspace or the online communities will dominate. Each of those medium have different properties which candidates have to respond to and shape their campaigns around.

So if we go back eight years to Bush versus Dukakis, Bush was a paramount politician of an era of network television. Network is based on a broadcast model. That is, it speaks the same message to multiple publics. There's not a lot of targeting to regional-specific audiences or narrow demographic groups.

The strategy that Bush adapted in that campaign is what he called "Story of the Day." "Story of the Day" is you pick a topic that you want to hit your opponent on especially, and you find ways to dramatize that topic through images, through your personal appearances, through the other people who are tied to the campaign who are giving talking points. And you want one unified message which carries the day.

Classic example is Bush goes to Boston Harbor to attack to Dukakis on his environmental record. All three major news networks gave that top coverage that evening. And what you find is that news cameras use the same soundbites by Bush, they use the same images, the cameras actually do Bush's dirty work by focusing directly on the sewage waste in the Boston Harbor and dramatizing his issues. And Dukakis' response is simply him talking to the camera. So that's the politics of the network era.

Four years pass, and the way America watches television changes fairly drastically over that period of time. More and more people are getting their news and information from cable. There's a wider array of options. And cable is embracing this narrowcasting notion of specific appeals to specific demographic groups, of targeted messages, of a focused public. And Clinton recognizes that there are all kinds of opportunities in cable that were not there in the network broadcast paradigm.

So Clinton uses cable to completely blindside Bush. He goes on MTV. He goes on Arsenio Hall. He goes on Larry King. He goes on Nashville Network. He's courting a number of different publics with different messages that are tailored very intensely to the interest of that particular group. What appears on network TV is simply an image of that appearance-- Clinton answering questions about his underwear on MTV or Clinton playing the saxophone on Arsenio Hall, often images that trivialize those appearances. But for the constituencies that Clinton is speaking to, such as the MTV audience, he's given an enormous amount of space to frame his issues and his terms to that specific voting block.

So what we get is a diffused message from Clinton during that campaign, which motivates voters. So the largest voter participation of 18- to 27-year-olds of any election in recent memory-- since the 18-year-olds got the right to vote, in fact-- motivated by Clinton's appearance on MTV. And Rock the Vote was really pivotal in bringing out that election.

Ira Glass

And so what have you seen this year in the '96 campaign? How has this developed this year?

Henry Jenkins

Well, Clinton, I think, learned a brutalizing message, which is that you run on cable right now but you have to govern on network TV. That is, all those diffused messages to multiple publics, which developed intense voter participation four years ago, became scattershot, confused, decentered unfocused when he tried to govern because he was still being evaluated on those three major networks on the evening news. And in that space, Clinton's administration seemed completely incompetent. So Clinton had to retool himself for the evening news.

The same message was learned by Newt Gingrich, who is also a product of cable television. And I like to call Gingrich and Clinton the "not ready for prime time players" because they were, in fact, such products of cable that they weren't ready for prime time network news. Gingrich's career begins on C-SPAN. And what Gingrich did as a young representative from a small district in Georgia was realize there was a slot in the day in the early evening hours which historically had been used by representatives to stand up in an empty house and deliver messages which went directly to Congressional Record and were sent out to constituents back home.

Gingrich recognized that that was free air time on C-SPAN every evening in the dinner hour. He went on every night at the same time, the same focused speech on every issue of the day, and said flamboyant things that had a very intense appeal to conservative Americans. He graduated from that to The Family Network and to GOP TV, which are even more focused on the conservative constituencies. And he was able to spring from free air time on C-SPAN to a national political constituency.

The minute he reaches power, though, he's also being judged by the evening news where those red meat issues that he focused, that got attention on C-SPAN, suddenly seem too intense or too conservative or too reactionary and extreme for middle America. And so he also failed to be able to govern on network television. So we're seeing is that politicians are being pulled back and forth between the network paradigm of a general message to a general audience and the cable space which opens up a lot of chances for challengers to emerge and to begin to exploit the medium to get messages out and motivate very intensely committed groups of voters.

Ira Glass

Have you seen either candidate actually use the cable strategy in this election?

Henry Jenkins

I think Clinton still uses it, but I don't think either of them are using it as effectively as Clinton did four years ago. I think they are frightened by it. Dole is fairly inept at every medium I can think of. There's not a single medium one could say Bob Dole uses well. We've seen him completely misunderstand the nature of this cable politics in the last debate, where he's used to talking on network news, where he talks over the interviewer and delivers his message no matter what.

That very first question in the debate when the school teacher asked him about children's innocence and their hopes for the future, and he used it in cynically as a platform to attack Bill Clinton on his ethics issue. One saw an example where he didn't understand the embodiment of those issues in specific people and specific constituencies and how it matters who you're speaking to and where you're speaking in cable.

Ira Glass

I asked Henry Jenkins if he wasn't overstating his thesis a little, especially when it came to Bill Clinton. I wondered if Bill Clinton didn't know more about handling the network news when he took office than Jenkins gives him credit for. After all, in 1992, Bill Clinton made four or five cable appearances during the campaign. But he wasn't just running on cable. Every day of the campaign, there were staged events for the network news and there was the Clinton message of the day.

Henry Jenkins

But those are moments that are probably the most memorable moments in the campaign. They are moments they were replayed over and over on those networks. They are moments that I think shaped public perceptions of these candidates in a significant way. And I think our understanding of Clinton was defined more through those moments than through the evening news. So their impact is much greater than the sheer number of events.

Ira Glass

Henry Jenkins is director of film and media studies at MIT and author of two books. The latest is called Science Fiction Adventures: Watching Star Trek and Doctor Who.

Act Four. Inspiration.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme and invite a wide range of writers and performers and documentary producers to contribute stories on that theme. Today's theme, of course, Post-Election Politics. We're at Act Three of our program, Losers. In this act, we have a story of an unsuccessful presidential candidate, and this story of a struggling political movement.

Man

Hey, Pedro. Go back to Mexico, stop taking our jobs, and stop looking at my daughter!

Daniel D. Portado

Immigrants, are you tired of being pushed around in America? Well, don't sit on your serape. Do something about it. Join the conservative political action group HALTO-- Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover.

Announcer 1

HALTO was formed by Mexicali karaoke lounge sensation Daniel D. Portado as a way to spread California Governor Pete Wilson's message of self-deportation to a national audience.

Daniel D. Portado

I am the chairman of HALTO, Daniel D. Portado. What is self-deportation, you ask? Think of it as a permanent vacation. Just imagine, in one easy step, you can avoid all this crazy anti-immigrant harassment in America. How? Self-deportation. Just imagine yourself on the beach, in Mazatlan, relaxed, tension-free. Immigrants, join HALTO today and see your homeland tomorrow.

Announcer 1

Self-deportation is a trademark of Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover. Subject agrees to voluntarily repatriate to native land or Mexico, whichever is nearest. All self-deportations are final. No exchanges or refunds. Tickets are one way only.

Announcer 2

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

Well, listeners to our program in California may be familiar with this advertisement and with the group Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover. They are a militant self-deportation movement encouraging all minorities to leave the United States. That's right, all minorities. Its founder, Daniel D. Portado, has appeared on Spanish-language TV. I actually saw a video of one of these appearances where basically, the entire Latino studio audience yelled at him nonstop for his entire appearance.

Mr. Portado says that he started his movement when he read newspaper accounts about Mexican-Americans who were in favor of California's Proposition 187. Prop 187 was the proposition that cut off social services to illegal immigrants. He thought these Mexican-Americans-- who were in favor of cutting off those services-- had the right idea but just did not go far enough. They just didn't take it to its logical conclusion, and he felt that self-deportation was the only real solution.

Daniel D. Portado

We feel that the immigrants are taking too many jobs, are bringing down the quality of life. They're not allowing our young American teenagers the character-building experiences of picking fruit and cleaning hotel beds.

Ira Glass

So what's your evaluation of this week's election results? Were the election results in California good or bad for your self-deportation movement?

Daniel D. Portado

Oh, well, luckily, Pete Wilson is still with us. Of course, I was the chairman, originally, of Hispanics for Wilson, the pro-187 group.

Ira Glass

Proposition 187 was the California proposition that suggested-- and passed-- saying that illegal immigrants could not receive any social services.

Daniel D. Portado

Right, right. And we are also sponsoring for the next election our own initiative, the "Spic and Span Initiative," which stands for Stop Promoting Illegal Culture and Spanish. Basically, we're trying to prohibit any sort of activity which might attract illegals to this country, such as dancing the Macarena, that would now be punishable by four Saturdays of freeway cleanup and a $250 fine.

Ira Glass

Pretty steep.

Daniel D. Portado

And also saying certain words-- or any word-- in Spanish, such as Los Angeles, California, San Diego--

Ira Glass

Burrito.

Daniel D. Portado

Burrito, yes. And churrito. You know, all these traditional-- things like Linda Ronstadt records will now be banned.

Ira Glass

Those ones where she sings the Mexican songs?

Daniel D. Portado

Yes, the ones that she doesn't understand what she's singing. But it's very harmful. And it's like a yodel out to the immigrants. It's saying, "Are you out there? Is there anyone out there? Would you like to come to America?" That's what, basically, Linda Ronstadt is saying.

Ira Glass

When she sings a Spanish-language song, you mean she is pulling people across the border with the power of her voice?

Daniel D. Portado

Yes, it is a major conspiracy. You did not know. Governor Wilson has discovered that there is a major conspiracy to get all sorts of Indios from remote villages to come over. I mean, when Clinton says it takes a village, he's talking about importing a whole village from Michoacan. Don't you know that?

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]

Daniel D. Portado

Also, we have discovered, with the help of Governor Wilson, that the Macarena is actually a very sinister mind control device. And it is part of a conspiracy to control the white electorate's feeble mind.

Ira Glass

What do you mean? How do you figure? What is it doing to the white electorate?

Daniel D. Portado

Well, we actually have a translation here by our researchers that we can read for you.

Ira Glass

All right, sure. These are the words to the Macarena?

Daniel D. Portado

Yes.

Ira Glass

Sure.

Daniel D. Portado

So my bodyguard, Rudy Rico, will do the translation in English and I will read the original lyrics in the soon-to-be-forbidden Spanish tongue. So here we go. [SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

I control your mind and body, gringo.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Now it's time to pick the fruit and make me rich.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Give me the keys to your Volvo, gringo.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Hey, stupid gringo.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

See how foolish you look?

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

When you twist and dance to my mind control music.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Screw the police.

Daniel D. Portado

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Rudy Rico

Now go cook some food for my friends.

Daniel D. Portado

Macarena, macarena, macarena.

Rudy Rico

Stupid gringo, stupid gringo, stupid gringo.

Daniel D. Portado

So as you can see, this is a very sinister device.

Ira Glass

Let's go to other election results here. In California this week, voters voted on something called the California Civil Rights Initiative-- Proposition 209-- which was essentially a proposition to end quotas, set asides, and contracts. Basically, it was an anti-affirmative action measure. The fact that Californians voted for this anti-affirmative action measure this week, do you view that as being a positive thing for your movement?

Daniel D. Portado

Oh yes, I think it will allow these young Latinos and black youth to go back to their roots and traditions of picking fruit and parking cars in Hollywood. I think it's a very positive development for them. They need character building too. And if we can't deport them, well, we should employ them.

Ira Glass

Daniel D. Portado, if you actually believe in deportation, what are you, yourself, still doing in California?

Daniel D. Portado

Well, I am here to help everyone get out. I hope to look forward to the day where I will stand at the border and say, will the last Mexican out of California please turn out the lights? That will be me.

Ira Glass

Let me ask you to just look ahead past this election that we just had towards the future. What is next for the self-deportation movement and for HALTO, for Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover?

Daniel D. Portado

Let me say this here first for you, Mr. Ira Glass, that I will now announce my candidacy for the California senate seat in 1998.

Ira Glass

You have a slogan yet for that campaign?

Daniel D. Portado

Yes, we do have a slogan for that. The campaign is, "three Macarenas and you're out."

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS] Now, I understand that you have brought in a song that you want to perform for us.

Daniel D. Portado

Yes, this is an old chestnut sung to the tune of "New York, New York." I like to call it "Pedro, Pedro."

Ira Glass

"Pedro, Pedro." And you're doing this, I understand, karaoke-style, out there.

Daniel D. Portado

Yes.

Ira Glass

All right.

Daniel D. Portado

[SINGING] Start spreading the news. You're leaving today. You're going back to Mexico Pedro, Pedro. Start packing your bags, your Chevrolet too. You're going back to Mexico Pedro, Pedro. You little welfare monkey, take your cousin junkie and pack your trunkie and go. You're going away--

Ira Glass

All across the country, losing politicians are licking their wounds and planning for tomorrow. And one presidential contender who did not win this year's general election is Joan Jett Black. Joan Jett Black first ran for mayor of Chicago in 1990 and this year, ran for president in drag. In a tasteful Chanel suit, Joan Jett Black gave speeches, made appearances, and lost. But she has not conceded despite President Clinton's overwhelming showing at the polls and vows she will fight on.

Joan Jett Black

There's a couple things. I'm still speaking. I've got a couple university things to go do in the near future. And I'm kind of like a community spokesmodel out here in San Francisco. And then I've also thought of starting the QRA-- the Queer Rifle Association.

Ira Glass

I didn't realize your feelings about the Second Amendment were so strong. Why would that be necessary?

Joan Jett Black

Well, you know, because we can't get married, we barely can get housing, we barely can get jobs, so--

Ira Glass

At least we can buy a gun?

Joan Jett Black

We'll just start shooting. Yes. But I'm not saying shooting bullets. I mean, we could shoot water or something. I don't know.

Ira Glass

That is true, isn't it? I hadn't stopped to think about that. Gays can't get married, but they can buy a gun.

Joan Jett Black

Yeah, and you know what the motto of the QRA will be, don't you?

Ira Glass

No, I don't.

Joan Jett Black

"What did you call me?" So there's that as well.

Ira Glass

You going to be out kissing babies and stuff between now and then?

Joan Jett Black

Well, I kiss babes. I'm not really fond of babies. But I kiss babes, yeah.

Ira Glass

Now, you make a lot of a public appearances and you meet a lot of politicians. You know a lot of politicians. You do a lot of public speaking. And I know that one of the things that you've said in the past I'd like you to explain a little bit is that you believe that a life in politics-- a politician's life-- is a great deal like a life in drag.

Joan Jett Black

Well, it's very interesting that one of the things that they tell a presidential candidate is that you have to look presidential. You have to walk presidential. You have to move presidential. They put on the drag of being the president or the drag of being the governor or the drag of being senator.

And it's very similar. In a way, it's acting. It's very similar to what drag is all about. And every little boy who wants to be president, he pictures himself standing in front of a podium speaking to a lot of people. And every little boy who wants to be a drag queen pictures himself standing in front of a microphone lip syncing to a lot of people. So it's almost the same thing to me.

Ira Glass

Joan Jett Black, presidential candidate for the year 2000.

Act 4.

Ira Glass

Act Four, Inspiration. It is easy to feel dispirited by the way things went this election year. So we wanted to end our post-election show today with a story of some politics that would inspire us and not depress us, which brought us to this story. It was written in May by Michael Lewis. It's from his campaign diaries.

Michael Lewis

April 19. I leave my hotel earlier than I need to and walk down from the Washington Monument to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Even at 7:30 in the morning, the Mall is nearly deserted, the Lincoln Memorial empty. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on the other hand, is teeming with people who appear to have been up for hours, walking slowly along the length of the black marble slab bearing the names of the dead. For the next 20 minutes, I sit on a bench dodging bird droppings and waiting for Senator John McCain, who has agreed to meet me here.

In my attempts to spot him at a distance, I can't help but notice how differently ordinary people behave from politicians. Maybe 50 likely candidates pass through my line of vision, and not one of them could pass for a US senator at 100 paces. They comb their hair in public, scratch themselves, hold hands.

At 8:00 on the button, McCain appears at my side, looking very senatorial except for a pair of outrageously wide black aviator sunglasses with some undignified name-- Hobby? Hippo?-- stenciled on the earpiece. McCain is the Dole surrogate most in demand as a speaker around the country. And it's not hard to see why. What matters most to the people who wish to see McCain speak for Dole is the formative experience that the two senators ostensibly share. Both nearly died in a war. Both endured indescribable pain and suffering.

Dole's ordeal is at the center of his national campaign. To some extent, it is his campaign. McCain's trials are less known. On October 26, 1967, when he ejected out of his Navy jet and into a North Vietnamese mob, McCain suffered two broken arms, a shattered knee and shoulder, and bayonet wounds in his ankle and groin.

Robert Timberg's gripping book, The Nightingale's Song, depicts McCain two months later in his first prison cell. McCain weighed less than 100 pounds. His hair, flecked with gray since high school, was nearly snow white. Clots of food clung to his face, neck, hair and beard. His cheeks were sunken, his neck chicken-like, his legs atrophying.

McCain survived in captivity without medical treatment for the next five years, enduring torture so exquisite that even to read about it causes sweat to pop out on your brow. His captors would hang him by his broken arms from dangling ropes for hours on end, for instance. But the astonishing part of McCain's experience was its voluntary aspect.

McCain is the third generation of a distinguished military family. His father was an admiral during the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese hoped that this famous prisoner of war would violate US military policy, which dictated that prisoners be returned in the order they arrived. If he accepted their offer of freedom, McCain would testify to the demoralization of the American troops. For five and a half years, his captors tried to torture him into going home. For five and a half years, he refused to go.

We walk alongside the black granite slab against the oncoming traffic, then back again. The Park Service says that the memorial has become the second most frequently visited site in Washington after the Capitol. McCain admits that at first, he found it depressing and even faintly antagonistic. But one day, he was passing through on his own-- he visits often by himself-- and discovered a couple of veterans running their hands across the inscribed names. Clearly, the two men had never met before, but they had fallen into conversation, swapped war stories, and in a few minutes were clutching each other and weeping. If that kind of healing goes on, says McCain, well, then it's a good thing.

Someone once said that an explanation is where the mind comes to rest. There is a feeling about McCain-- one that seems lacking in Dole-- that he has somehow explained his own experience to himself. He has assimilated his trauma differently than the candidate he's behind. He says, "This is the McCain theory, and I think it's valid. I was an adult when I was shot down. 31 years old. I'd had a whole life. He was 19. What were you like when you were 19? I believe that everything Bob Dole has done since the war was dictated by that experience."

The Vietnam veteran has achieved a kind of equanimity that is supposed to be reserved only for veterans of good wars. When Clinton arrived at the White House, for instance, McCain sent him a note saying that any time the president wished to walk down to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the senator from Arizona would be glad to walk alongside him. Clinton sent back a nice note. Recalling this exchange causes McCain to break his rhythm. We were walking back towards the bench, and McCain is limping slightly, like a high school football star. Hi is remembering something else.

"I don't know if you want to write about this," he begins. "Back in the mid-'80s, a guy who protested the war came into my office. He said his name was David Ifshin."

In December 1970, David Ifshin had led a group of American students to Hanoi, where he delivered an antiwar radio address to American soldiers engaged in attacks on North Vietnam. Like other anti-American propaganda, his program was piped into McCain's prison cell from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. But McCain, who can generate anger in a heartbeat, shows not the faintest trace of resentment. He explains, "Ifshin stood in my office and he says, 'I came here to tell you I made a mistake. I was wrong, and I'm sorry.' And I said to him, 'Look, I accept your apology. We'll be friends. But more importantly, I want you to forget it. Go on with your life. You cannot look back.'"

Here he pauses, and I figure he's finished. But he's groping behind his aviator sunglasses for the point of his anecdote, that forgiveness is ultimately less self-destructive than the bitter desire for revenge. Or perhaps that there is no such thing as revenge. Five months ago, David Ifshin was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer has proved untreatable and has spread rapidly. David Ifshin is now dying. He's 47 years old and has a wife and three young children. Says McCain, "When I heard about it, it did pass through my mind. Suppose I had told David Ifshin to get the hell out of my office. How would I feel about myself now?"

April 23. I'm walking out the door of my Washington apartment on my way to find David Ifshin when John McCain calls. I've made the mistake of telling his press secretary what I'm up to, and she's passed it along to the senator, who is seriously concerned. He says, "Look, I don't mean to insult you, but be careful with this. If you wrote anything that hurt David or Gail or the kids, I'd never forgive myself. I'd forgive you, but I wouldn't forgive myself."

It's a half-hour drive out of Washington to the Ifshin's house in the Maryland suburbs, where I find a gaunt, bearded man stretched out on a patio lounge chair, attended by his wife, Gail. This afternoon he's tired, and his voice is barely audible as he sketches his political career. The cover of Life magazine of April 23, 1971 shows David Ifshin, age 22, at a war rally, wearing a collegiate goatee. He's standing directly behind Jane Fonda, who has her fist raised. After his war protests, he worked on a kibbutz.

But when he returned to America, he also returned to national politics. He went on to work on the Mondale campaign and, to a storm of protest, was even tapped to head the Dukakis transition team. He spent 10 years as general counsel to AIPAC, the Israeli lobby. He had met Clinton briefly in 1972. 20 years later, when Clinton ran for president, Ifshin became general counsel for his campaign. Before he accepted the job, however, he told Clinton he'd been attacked for his war record each time he'd joined a presidential campaign.

He says, "I brought it up with Clinton deliberately. And he said he knew what I'd done, and he admired it then. And that he still admired it now."

These days, Clinton calls Ifshin two or three times each week, even when he's traveling. A few months ago, the Ifshin family spent the night in the Lincoln bedroom. In the pictures of Clinton playing with the Ifshin children, the president's ruddy good health seems almost obscene besides Ifshin's drawn face. Yet, when I called him, David Ifshin did not hesitate to rise to the occasion. He says, "I'm very proud of this story, and it's never been written," I ask him about his feelings towards McCain. He says, "One of our true political heroes. He's a giant."

Ifshin's version of their story differs from McCain's in its important details and in its spirit. The way McCain tells it, Ifshin is the hero. He decided he'd made a mistake and bravely took responsibility for his actions. The way Ifshin tells it, McCain is the hero. As I listened to him, I realized that this is the reverse of the usual Washington investigation in which the reporter visits each interested party to collect the dirt on the adversary. Here is a case where each is needed to explain the other's nobility of spirit. I have never heard two political allies-- much less two political opponents-- cast each other in a more flattering light.

Ifshin begins, "I had always wanted to apologize, but didn't know who to apologize to." His moment to act, he decided, came at an AIPAC meeting around 1986 at the Washington Hilton. Ifshin spotted Senator John McCain at a distance and decided that he was the man who deserved the apology. Ifshin says, "I hoisted up my courage and went over to him. And before I could get a word out, McCain says, 'I owe you an apology.'"

A couple of years earlier, during the 1984 presidential campaign, McCain had given a speech in which he attacked Ifshin's war record. "Basically, someone had handed him a script," says Ifshin, "and he read it. He was sorry he did it, and said he wouldn't do that kind of thing again. Then he asked me to stop by his office, which I did, and normally wouldn't do. It was blind fate, I told him at that time. I said, 'I owed you an apology, and you robbed me of the chance to make it.' And he was characteristically modest and humble about it." Later that year, McCain and Ifshin, together with a Vietnamese emigre named Doan Van Toai, established the Institute for Democracy in Vietnam.

Ifshin shifts painfully in his chair and stops to catch his breath. It was at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that what he calls "the second half of the story" with McCain began. On Memorial Day of 1993, Bill Clinton spoke at the site. Both McCain and Ifshin were present. Clinton was cheered loudly. He was also heckled. And one of the hecklers waved a sign that said "tell us about Ifshin."

Four weeks later, Ifshin found himself on a flight to Washington with McCain, who motioned for him to take the seat beside him. Ifshin says, "He asked why I hadn't taken a job in the administration. I said this and that. We played 20 questions until finally he said, 'It's because of that stupid sign, isn't it?' And I said, "Yes, partly it was.' And he said, 'Come to my office tomorrow morning and we'll settle this thing once and for all.'"

The next day, June 30, 1993, David Ifshin turned up in John McCain's office in the Russell Senate Office Building to find that the senator had drafted a letter which he entered later that day in the Congressional Record. It began by praising Clinton's Memorial Day address on behalf of Vietnam's veterans. The veterans, McCain wrote, "were very impressed by Clinton's determination to offer an eloquent tribute to their service when it would have been far easier for him to avoid the event altogether. McCain decried the behavior of the protesters. Then he moved on.

"Among the demonstrators that day, one individual held a sign which asked the president to explain his association with a person known to many of our colleagues, Mr. David Ifshin. 'Tell us about Ifshin,' it read. My other purpose in speaking today is to do just that. I want to talk about David Ifshin. David Ifshin is my friend. This declaration may come as a shock to those people whose perception of David--"

Ira Glass

Well, in the weeks after that was published-- it was published in May, by the way, not written in May-- David Ifshin died, and John McCain became a leading vice presidential contender after Jack Kemp. It was John McCain who nominated Bob Dole, gave the speech for that at the Republican National Convention. And Michael Lewis ran into McCain on Election Day.

Michael Lewis

It was funny. Everywhere you went with the Dole campaign, senators and governors would come out of the woodwork because they wanted to have their picture taken and show support, all the rest. Until the final day, and they all cleared out. No senators or governors were traveling with him. There was one person at his side, and it was John McCain.

And I was in Russell, Kansas when the Dole campaign came through. And I noticed this. I saw McCain kind of off to one side. He had been with Dole all day. And I went up to talk to him. And he said to me almost apologetically, he said, "You know I wouldn't be here if I thought he was going to win."

And I knew that. He was there because he knew that it was Dole's time of need, and it was time for someone to step up. And this is what's so curious about McCain. I think that he continually-- as I covered this campaign-- I was new to politics when I came into this campaign. I had never written about politics. I found that McCain sort restored my faith in the process again and again.

There was something about his-- how should I put it? It was his willingness to stick his neck out for a losing or an unpopular cause that was so different from most of the people who do what he does for a living-- so different from the ordinary political attitude-- that was refreshing and inspiring.

Ira Glass

Michael Lewis.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel and myself with Peter Clowney and Nancy Updike, contributing editors Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, and Margy Rochlin.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Music help from John Connors, Travis Stancil, and Steve Cushing. Thanks to public radio stations WBUR, KPCC, and KQED. If you'd like a copy of this program, it only costs $10. Call us at WBEZ in Chicago. 312-832-3380.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia. I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.