The Wrong Direction

Political Speech Writer's Jargon In and Jargon Going Forward Desk Organizers.If you’re a political speechwriter the easiest thing to write for your candidate to say is, “I don’t like the direction America is heading.”  It’s a chestnut we hear every election cycle because a lot of people never seem to like the way we’re heading.

It’s what candidates generally say when they’re running against a candidate whose party is in the White House.  Clinton used it against Bush, Bush against Gore, and Obama against McCain.  We hear it in congressional and senate races, too.

It resonates because it always appears that things are getting worse.  Yet, we seem to miss the irony in the fact that these are the very days that future candidates will one day wistfully recall as the better times we need to get back to.

We all pretty much agreed that we didn’t like heading into a deep recession in 2008 and Barack Obama won by a substantial margin, but, the refrain, “I don’t like the direction America is heading” is being trotted out again.

Personally, I’m not happy with many of America’s foreign policies, but I’m never happyGraph-Upward-Trend2 with many of America’s foreign policies.

In domestic matters unemployment figures are below pre-recession levels, the stock market has reached new highs, corporate profits are healthy, more Americans have healthcare coverage, environmental concerns are getting more attention, and civil rights are front and center.

Oh, we have work to do!  We have to build the middle class, create upward mobility for working Americans and fair pay for women.  We also have to tackle affordable education, but all of these things are on the table and that indicates a pretty good direction.  At least good enough to make “I don’t like the direction America is heading” a fairly thin statement.

But polls are showing that it still works and that suggests a continuing truism; the truth is not what the public is looking for.

Political consultants have known this for decades, if not centuries.  Voters are looking for feelings, not facts.  The most blatant illustration of this in my lifetime came from a AP515702295380Democratic campaign when a Lyndon Johnson commercial showed a nuclear explosion insinuating that Barry Goldwater was so extreme that his presidency could end the world.  It played on fear without any substantive reason to make that connection.

A young Karl Rove must have been taking notes because he emerged as the master of modern political rhetoric.  When Ann Richards seemed unbeatable as governor of Texas, Rove felt otherwise.  He knew that people vote on emotional connections and not substantive ones.  When crime was down in every major category in Texas under Richard’s watch, he had his candidate, George W Bush, say, “Ann Richards says crime is down in Texas, but I don’t believe that.  I don’t feel safer.  Do you?”

thCA03UG69And enough Texans rose to their feet and said, “No!  We don’t!”  Never mind that they actually were and statistics were there to prove it, reactive fear came to the polls and Richards lost.

Truth doesn’t matter.

Last year in a Senate race a candidate’s support for veterans was disputed by challenging his committee attendance.  The accusing candidate gained from the attack, but the truth was, few politicians worked harder for veteran’s rights and benefits than the candidate who was under fire.

The playbook has been written and candidates who use it best fare better than those who think that facts will rule the day.

Today, some media uses the playbook by taking dangerous international concerns and whipping people into a froth of fear to, once again, move opinions with feelings and not with rational thinking.

Truth doesn’t matter.

Yet, we know in our hearts that truth does matter.  And when it’s rendered irrelevant in our rhetoric, consequences will rise in our reality.

When the truth of justice is swept aside, fear is manifested.  When the truth of generosity is ignored, we give rise to greed.  When we are blind to the truth that bigotry is evil, we are complicit in the hate it reveals.

The-Wrong-DirectionTruth matters, and until we give it more importance in elections, we will undoubtedly be heading in the wrong direction.

“He is not great who is not greatly good.”

I’ve now heard every Republican who has declared their candidacy for the presidency state that we need a president that will “make us proud again to be an American.”

Yet, it wasn’t that long ago when Democrats were rallying to “return America to greater standing in the world” and to find our “moral authority once again.”

I remember because I was one of the louder voices.

Only 8 years before that the battle cry was heard from a Republican running against Gore that we needed to “bring dignity back to the White House.”

Clinton, before that, ran against Bush Sr. and promised to return us to “a time when America was respected more than feared.”

A letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register criticized Obama’s foreign policies and finished with the proclamation, “We need to make America great again!”

Every time I hear that I ask myself, “What ‘great’ period are they referring to?”

I hear “return to greatness” from both sides of the political fence and I wonder, “What is the criteria for greatness?”

Apparently, the letter writer felt good about the way things were before Obama even though the Bush era ended with economic catastrophe, and a foreign policy quagmire.

Maybe, they were referring to Clinton-era American pride.  Clinton did balance the budget and maintained an extended period of prosperity, but, something tells me that wasn’t the writer’s intention.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that many Americans wish for a return to the principles of Ronald Reagan and his “Shining city on the hill,” but, that was also when we first became a debtor nation from his fiscal schizophrenia.  Not to mention that the “Trickle Down” revival of neoliberalism (not to be confused with liberalism) created a divide between the Haves and the Have-nots that still tangle the economic debate.

Many Americans think of the great moral purpose of World War II and the recovery from the Great Depression as the greatest time in the history of America. Although to hear the conservative revisionists speak of FDR today, you would think that every failure since, social and economic, was the result of the New Deal.

Lincoln, perhaps the greatest philosophical genius to ever occupy the White House, presided over the greatest socio/political divide in history.

There is no doubt that seeds from separatism still exist to this day as we continue to fight challenges of racism and policies born from ignorance and fear.

So…what is the period of greatness that we all, at one time or another, seem to crave?

Good news!  This isn’t a rhetorical question, I have an answer!

There are two things that happen when we consider our historical greatness.  One is a natural human craving for nostalgia.  Nostalgia is not built upon a remembrance of how things were; rather it comes from what we remember about how we felt at a certain time.  We carry in our narrative the fact that we have survived, and we remember the moments of joy in the cracks and crevices of our struggles; we instinctively long for those feelings again.

Some of my happiest memories are from financially hard times long ago where I found laughs and inspirations in my journey.  I yearn for them even today.

And two, we have a collective historical consciousness about the legacy and promise of America. We are aware of the unique place in world history that our Republic occupies and we have been taught what our forefathers fought for in defiance of tyranny. We are raised on the traditions of patriotism and the stories of struggle and triumph that define our realization of freedom and human rights.

While our history is undeniably peppered with stumbles and falls toward realizing those principles, it is still a timeline of progress toward life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Together, nostalgia and patriotism conspire to give us a sincere sense of what makes this country great and we perennially long to restore her to something that “used to be.”

My challenge for all of us is to ask ourselves, individually:  “What is it that I believe in that makes America great?  Does America follow the call of human rights and the principles of freedom?  What am I doing to continue that journey?”

We make a mistake when we put the responsibility of America’s promise onto the shoulders of politicians before we answer those questions ourselves.  Only collectively, as citizens and politicians, can we define the moral directives that will restore our journey to freedom and guide us toward the realization of peace.

That will make us great. Again.

The Art of the Deal; the Agreement with Iran

I posted this essay once already.  I took it down after a headline the next day was “Kerry Disturbed By Ayatollah’s Comments.”  The Iranian Ayatollah has made it clear that Iranian foreign policy toward the “Arrogant America” and toward Israel had not changed since the nuclear containment agreement.  Behind him were chants of “Death to America!  Death to Israel!”Death-to-America

Even though this was not really breaking news as the clerics of Iran have held this position all along, it was timing that I could not ignore.  My support of negotiations after a hostile threat was not going to be well received by people who are understandably concerned in the post 9/11 world.

But today as I read Mike Huckabee’s foray into this foreign policy debate I decided enough is enough.  Huckabee states:  ” The president’s foreign policy…is so naïve that he would trust the Iranians.”  He went on to invoke the Holocaust by implying that the Iran deal “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”‘

Huckabee is only the latest Republican candidate for President to prey upon many Americans’ fear and by tying this action to the Holocaust, he links Islam to genocide.  That is the black and white world of foreign policy carried by too many Republicans and why more open-minded thinking must prevail.  For the past half century, conservative Republican policy has been to keep our enemies, enemies, and to view any effort to assuage the very things that create enemies, to be weak policy.

Iranian clerics, it must be said, do nothing to placate the fears of Americans (and Israelis) by fanning those very flames with such statements, but this is where we have to go deeper than the rhetoric to understand the beliefs of the Iranian people themselves.

I came upon this blog:

And while this is a purely anecdotal perspective, it is TEHRAN+COFFEE+SHOPundeniably a point of view that runs contrary to the conventional perception that many Americans have of Iranians.  I was struck by the premise: “When Iranians burn the American flag in street demonstrations – they are NOT showing hatred toward Americans; they are, in fact, pointing out the the U.S. government has and is continuing to try to destroy Iran and Iranians.”

Huckabee may believe that it is good policy to condemn Iran with military intervention, but from the Iranian perspective, a mistrust of American policy is not only warranted, but well advised.  We are only one generation removed from a covert American operation in 1953 that imposed a coup d’état and deposed their popular prime minister.  The coup was to secure oil interests for the United States after Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh had nationalized Iran’s rich petroleum industry and oil reserves.  The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, became a puppet of the United States, while subjecting his own people to arbitrary arrests and torture.  While the Shah lived as a monarch, the people were kept poor by this alliance.

This led to the 1979 Revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and thus began the Islamic Republic.

Relations with the United States continued to fester as the US supported the corrupt regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war; again to secure our own interests.  The blog above pointed out that over a million Iranians died in that 8 year war with Iraq.

us embassy tehran muralAnd so I ask:  Is it any wonder that the people of Iran distrust America?

Here’s where I can offer a little perspective of my own.  26 years ago I lived in Los Angeles and there was what seemed like an epidemic of “Freeway Shootings.”  Along the freeways for several months there would be a flurry of bullets from one car fired at other vehicles and these events carried the news.  Now, the truth was that daily living did not change one bit.  No one re-routed to other freeways, no one refrained from going to outdoor cafes, and it was not the prevailing feeling that among 12 million people scurrying about that anyone was in any particular danger at any particular time.  At least not any more than usual.  But, that’s not how it appeared to the rest of the world….

Later that year I was in Israel (making the legendary film “A Man Called Sarge”…I jest…) and I was walking down Dizengoff in Tel Aviv with a young Israeli soldier.  He explained to me that he is always aware of his surroundings as an act of terrorism could happen at any time, yet he seemed as relaxed and secure as anyone I’d ever known.  The Uzi hanging over his hip, however, gave clarity to his words.

Then he said, “Yeah, but it’s not like where you’re from where people are shooting at each other all the time.”

And it hit me.  People outside of each reality only know what they see on the news, and the news carries what is the most newsworthy.  The report is no less real because of the coverage, but it is heightened by the broadcast.  Could that be the reality elsewhere?  Such as when we see Iranians chanting “Death to America!”?

Would it be hard to imagine that Al-Jazeera reporting on the KKK chanting ” White White-supremacist-group-the-Ku-Klux-Klan-assembles-outside-South-Carolina-Statehouse-to-protest-against-flag’s-removal_-—-Al-Jazeerasupremacy!” could lead some nations to view us as primarily racist?  Is it hard to imagine that people in the Middle East, and elsewhere, might see a glaring contradiction between the free nation we pride ourselves on being and what they actually see of us?  Especially when what they see first hand is intervention that rejects their own way of life?

I offer a more scientific poll as evidence of this disconnect.  It also supports the previous bloggers distinction between the American people and government:

This nuclear agreement with Iran is not a simple, quick fix as this short essay may seem to imply; it is only part of a modern transformation.  Extreme Islam is a reaction to this change, but this is also where new alliances will form. Iran shares the fight against ISIS, and we must also shore up our true allies, particularly, Israel.  And while Israel is uneasy with a solvent Iran, this could be the step toward breaking the stalemate with the Palestinians, as an agreement (perhaps a two state solution) is what will hold serve in the inevitable Middle East transformation.

Zahra_YousefIt’s true that Tehran supports Hamas and Hezbollah and has not recognized Israel since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but this agreement is also for the people of Iran who wish to live in peace.

One side of the debate in America believes that Iran must be treated as an enemy of the United States and anything short of military annihilation of nuclear facilities (including power) and continued economic sanctions so that Iran’s ability to rebuild them is rendered impossible, endangers us all.  Inflammatory comments from the Ayatollah easily verify that position for many.

The other side believes that Iran is a sovereign nation, and like the blogger points out, is a proud nation, suffering under economic sanctions.  They believe that the pathway to03IRAN-master675 peace is to restore economic solvency and salvage their national pride by acknowledging that sovereignty.  But only after creating strict parameters on Iran’s uranium stockpile (reducing it by 98%), destroying centrifuges and submitting to expansive inspections to insure that no military nuclear development is possible.

I stand with the latter.

The opposition to the agreement is based on a misunderstanding of the country and our history with Iran.  Not that a misunderstanding is hard to understand, given the anti-American rhetoric that has been part of that history for several decades, but the reverse suspicion is equally as relevant.

The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports to fall by two-thirds, their GDP has plummeted, inflation has risen over 40 percent, and the people have struggled to buy necessities.  Unemployment has skyrocketed, foreign investment has disappeared and nations like India and China, which owe Iran billions, have not been permitted to pay their debts.

The lifting of sanctions could allow Iran to recoup more than $100 billion in frozen oil profits and would reopen Iran’s ability to export worldwide and allow its banking system to do business with Europe.  They would be integrated back into the world economy.

Is that good news for world security?  I offer “yes” but only with vigilant attention to the ramifications of these transitional events.  David Rothkopf writes in Foreign Policy Magazine (July 20, 2015):  “Make no mistake, this deal is just the latest in a series of seismic shocks that are remaking the modern Middle East. Some have been generational. Some have been technological. Some were manifested in the Arab Spring….Some came with the evolution of the extremist threat from al Qaeda, to the Islamic State, to whatever comes next. Some are unique to the massive changes taking place within individual countries — from Israel, to Syria, to Libya, to Yemen, to Iraq. But all are part of this being a transformational moment, and all will be impacted by this deal and its consequences, intended and otherwise.”

The agreement with Iran, even as clerics and American/Israeli government hating protesters posture, is a catalyst toward cooperation as it was the process of negotiation that held the trigger without laser guided missiles.

I don’t believe that the inflammatory statements of Ayatollah Khamenei can be ignored, not by any means, but we must put him into context.  He condemned 9/11, his foreign policy has been to avoid confrontation with the United States, and he asserts that US intervention throughout Iranian history is the primary source of Iranian insecurity.  That is not a position without credibility.

His anti-Zionist views are extreme and create understandable uneasiness in Israel, but that is why this agreement is crucial. Iran would be foolish to unleash nuclear weapons on Israel or anywhere.  They would be annihilated and they know it. They would be foolish to attempt to develop nuclear weapons and risk the automatic reinstatement of crippling sanctions. My interest is in a path to peace that protects Israel by taking away the capacity for a nuclear threat against her while redirecting the machinery of war to a treaty between nations.

article-2328629-19EB010B000005DC-374_306x423The jacked up fear mongering of Huckabee and too many others is not the reality of this agreement.  The reality is that giving people respect, dignity, and sovereignty, will go a lot further toward establishing peace, than beating the drums of intimidation and fear.

It’s No Laughing Matter

My campaign for Congress is now 3 months old.  I have learned a lot, made a lot of headway and have shown Iowans at events, committee meetings and backyard barbeques that I study the issues and have ideas to expand our economy, protect our environment and to educate our youth.  Yet, I am still faced from time to time with a comment that more or less goes like this:  “Gary you were a comedian, how do we know you can be taken seriously?”

needlemanI cannot (nor do I have any desire to) deny that I was once a satirist on Saturday Night Live; that once I made my living looking for laughs, whether as a performer, a writer, or even as a game show host.  The truth is, those experiences lend themselves very well to the business of politics.

The job of any artist, whether a comedian, a painter or a novelist, is to look at life with the deepest, most clarifying lens possible to reveal the idiosyncrasies, the contradictions and sometimes hypocrisies of the human condition and bring them to light.

Is it really any surprise that Senator Al Franken has been such an effective voiceal franken?

Yes, I have in my career poked fun at the way things are done in Washington, because business as usual in the District of Columba is laughable at times.  But I can easily make the distinction between that dysfunction and the business of the people, because that is no laughing matter!

It’s no laughing matter when hard working Iowans with fulltime minimum wagegary speech jobs remain below the poverty line.  The “menial wage” that Republicans like Rod Blum wish to continue, only adds to the welfare they wish to discontinue.

It’s no laughing matter when labor and unions are under attack and pension funds are at risk.

It’s no laughing matter when the party of small government has no qualms about playing a big role in what we choose to do with our bodies, who we marry, and what we believe.

It’s no laughing matter when Republicans pervert the principals of a government of the people into austerity fever to deny healthcare to the citizens they claim to serve.

To deny support programs for Americans who have fallen on hard times in favor of entitlements for the wealthiest Americans is not only insane, it is immoral.

We need leadership for all of the people, not just for members of the millionaire’s (and billionaire’s) club.

I loved being an actor, a producer, a writer and any other hat I may have worn in Hollywood, but I know the difference between the entertainment of laughter and when the serious matters of the people and our government are at hand.  I am very clear as to why I am running for the United State Congress from Iowa’s 1st District: To serve the people and to preserve and protect the sanctity of sanity in government.








“My name is Oil”

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:  “I don’t hate oil.  I don’t hate Big Oil and the contribution that industry has made to our economy, and for the jobs that continue to be created.  What I don’t like are dangerous emissions and hazards from the procurement, processing and burning of oil.”

The Santa Barbara oil spill is only the most recent example of that precarious relationship between demand and production.  The company responsible for the latest ruptured-pipeline-spills-oil-along-santa-barbara-coast-1environmental catastrophe is the Plains All American Pipeline.

“Our goal is zero (spills),” said senior director Patrick Hodgins on Friday. “Are we happy with this unfortunate event? Absolutely not.”

But, of course they aren’t happy.  No one intends for a mistake to happen; just like no one driving drunk intended to crash.  But, when you are dealing with variables around a toxic product, it is inevitable that eventually, somewhere, something bad will happen.

Even though the company had passed recent inspections, when you are carrying over 1300 barrels of crude oil an hour, along thousands of miles of pipeline, the corrosion of salt water, somewhere, is going to create a vulnerable weld that has been undetected.  No one intends for that to happen, but this result is as inevitable as 5 beers and the wheel of a car; eventually, the worst happens.

So, what do we do?  I said myself that I recognize the value of oil.

Well, as with drunk driving, we create parameters and punishments to contain the potentially disastrous outcome.  And, we do that with oil rig, pipeline, and refinery inspections. A Carbon Fee would also be a viable way to counter negative outcomes.  But, ultimately, those are only restrictions to minimize bad results.  The problem is that bad results are irreversible.  The harm, possibly death, the car crash has caused cannot be undone.  The harm the oil spill creates is devastating, as well.

Every event like this becomes “a wake-up call” to curb continued oil development, but essentially, after the dust (or 100,000 gallons of oily sea water) has cleared, we remain in our state of consumption-induced slumber.  The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations immediately urged state and federal politicians to refuse additional oil projects, and they forward solutions by calling upon the nation to usher in a “post-oil era” by embracing renewable energy, but that will only be as effective as the intensity of demands we make as a society.

“When we have a huge solar spill around here, we just call it a nice day,” said Dave Davis, CEO of the Community Environmental Council, with more than a little irony.

Activists have noted that a 1969 spill in Santa Barbara was so catastrophic it ignited the environmental movement and a host of federal and state laws to protect the natural world.  And now we are here again…at that place where our habit enables our addiction; where change can occur, but the counter movement to keep things as they are, roars in defiance to that change.

We must address Clean Energy alternatives now.  We can decrease the oil we use by investing in public transportation, community planning, and with more fuel efficient vehicles.  At the Sierra Club website this has been written with regard to the Santa Barbara disaster:  “We don’t need ever-increasing oil resources, brought to us by increasingly extreme and dangerous oil infrastructure, like oil rigs in the Arctic ocean, exploding bomb trains (which soon may be coming to the Santa Barbara coast if we don’t stop them), or massive tar sands pipelines. What we need is a firm commitment to clean energy solutions.”

To bookend this piece with the admission I made at the beginning; the oil industry will not whither and die as we transition toward a cleaner future.  The jobs, the production and the progress that has been facilitated by oil, will not be lost.  What we must do, however, is aggressively explore, develop and implement better, safer, cleaner energy sources.  Jobs will be created along the way.

The oil industry itself could lead the way developing alternatives to protect our beautiful coastlines and amber waves of grain.  Just like they say they do in those multi-million dollar commercials that always come out after these accidents, promoting their environmental stewardship…Screen-Shot-2015-04-23-at-10.08.44-AM



Run, Gary, Run!

GE DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been running for office for 9 days now.  What have I learned….?

I’ve learned that everyone knows what you need to do to win.

I’ve learned that county central committees don’t call each other to determine if they overlap.

I’ve learned that being a candidate means that, sadly, you can no longer write a column0020_MG_1399 for the local paper, that you no longer can be the emcee of the annual parade, but that everyone you run into will call you “Congressman” with a smile.

I’ve learned that most people will be gracious, even if they don’t agree with you on a topic.

I’ve learned that everyone is concerned about you and will warn:  “You know that there will be negative ads, don’t you?  Are you prepared for that?”

I’ve learned that people root for people they know and that they really like to know people who are willing to run.

And I’ve learned that running for office, holding down a full time job, having 2 young sons, and continuing to serve the community in the various ways you always have….make it nearly impossible to keep up with your blog, Gary Has Issues.

portraitI will get back in here from time to time, if just to re-post or freshen up an older post (it never ceases to amaze me how issues circle back year after year).  In the meanwhile, here is my candidacy webpage:

I hope you take a look now and again.



The Stick

My father was a child of the Great Depression.  He grew up in a family with 7 children in an abandoned caboose with no electricity or plumbing and only had one pair of overalls and ratty old shoes to wear to school every day.

It was, after all, the Depression, and everyone was poor in the dusty town of Sterling, Colorado, but even among the poor, no one had less than my father.

He was teased for his clothes, his lack of decent shoes and unkempt appearance.

His mother and father did what they could for 7 children and saw that everyone attended school, but in the midst of a depression it is hard to improve your situation once you are destitute.  They couldn’t afford new clothes if they were to put food on the table.

My father told me a story, just before he died 13 years ago, about that childhood.  He told me how jealous he was of the other kids at school who got Tom Mix 6-guns for Christmas or any of a variety of toys that were popular in the 1930’s;  comic books, tinker toys and train sets.  Such things were a far off dream for my father.

And then one day on a lonely walk home he found a stick.

It was a perfect stick; long and straight.  The stick became his rifle, it was a divining rod, even a magic wand.  It became his toy and it captured his imagination.  He took it everywhere; to school, to the supper table, even to bed.

Being the kid with dirty overalls, however, with worn out shoes, living in an broken down caboose, having a stick for a toy didn’t improve his status.  It was something more to be ridiculed by classmates because he didn’t have anything another boy would want.

And so, he told me, he began to “hate that stick.” He hated that it was all that he had.  He hated the poverty that it reminded him of; it was everything that was missing in his life, his family’s life.  It represented the undoing of the promise of America that was called the Great Depression.

“Until, one day,” he said, “when I lost that stick.”

Suddenly, it was gone.  That stick that he hated had nevertheless been all that he had.  Beyond its scorn it contained a boy’s hopes and dreams.  It was an inanimate friend that never let him down and now that wooden, cylindrical object, made magical by it’s perfect form, that he alone could transform into anything, had disappeared.

And he cried and cried…and cried.

My father was not a story teller.  He never put much credence into nice resolutions with moral lessons and his story ended there.  But that was my father.  He knew that his true to life parable had a point and that it was up to me to find out what it was.

I was mesmerized by the vision of my father as a poor boy with nothing, because the man I knew as my father was always strong and success radiated from his unusual intelligence and his unwavering commitment to giving his family a home that was safe and sound.

I saw that stick as vividly as the table that separated us.  I knew instantly what that stick was meant to tell me.

Don’t measure your life by what is missing from it or has yet to be fulfilled.  Instead treasure what is in your hand.  It may be lost someday, and you may discover…that it was the most valuable thing you could ever call your own.

As we argue as a nation over budgets, welfare spending, taxes and health care reform, let us all remember that we live in a free nation that allows for our disagreements and we can emerge better and stronger.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that when we have the opportunity to help ourselves we can also help our neighbors.

Let us remember to treasure the freedom that we hold in our hands.

Thanks, Dad.


Backstage at SNL’s 40th

Last weekend I went to the SNL 40th reunion.  I had two Willy Wonka Golden Tickets to the biggest event on earth (that weekend, at least) and I took my 15 year old son, Chris.  To summarize what I will soon detail, it was the time of our lives.snl 40

This wasn’t my first Saturday Night Live reunion.  I went to a 15th anniversary show and a 25th, and they were big deals, to be sure, but nothing like this one.  I’ve never been given any attention on any of them and no sketch featuring me ever gets shown, but I go to see old friends and admittedly I get misty seeing the hallways which were once a crucible for my career dreams, and so I go.

I have a very clear perspective of my SNL career and I harbor no ill feelings toward the experience, in fact, if anything, I am critical of myself for not figuring out how to emerge from a show that is a one-way ticket to stardom.

needlemanBut, I can also forgive my friendly Iowa nature for not being able to navigate those sometimes dangerous waters. The shadow of Eddie Murphy loomed large and there wasn’t enough wattage in the universe to support another star like him, and truth be told, the entire Ebersol era was not a time to nurture a neophyte like me.

I credit Dick Ebersol for identifying the talent of Murphy and also of Joe Piscopo (the hardest working person there) and for keeping the show alive.  Later he hired Billy Crystal and Marty Short to achieve that same end.  And, truth be told again, I was thrilled to be in their company.  Even after a show where I had nothing to do I could say, “I’m being paid to live in New York City and now and again I get to be on tv.”

That, in the scheme of things, doesn’t suck.

And now here I am back at 30 Rock with my teenage son and about to walk down the Red Carpet….

red carpetThe Red Carpet was like nothing I’d ever seen before.  Except for glimpses on Entertainment Tonight, I had no idea what to expect.  I handed a nice young woman our “special” credentials, she whispered my name to a guy with a dry erase board who then proceeded to write “Gary Kroeger” and show it to the row of photographers.

I was given, with my son, a cue to start walking the carpet.  In front of me was Melissa McCarthy and Billy Crystal and so I was surprised when I heard, “Gary!  Over here!  Up here!” and rows of flashes went off.

What happens is that you hit a small mark on the carpet and when that gallery of photographers have their shot, you move about 3 feet to the next marker and repeat the process.  There are about 5 marks to hit before you are finally through the venue.  I felt a little embarrassed actually, but I looked over at my son and saw the coolest 15 year old kid on the planet soaking it in.

Once through, we proceeded to the Pre-Show Party.  If I had to choose one event only on this evening, this would have been it.  As soon as we walked up the stairs, we saw Mike Meyers.  I extended my hand and said, “Hi, Mike, Gary Kroeger” and he beamed and said, “Yes, of course, we met at the last one of these.”

I was flattered to say the least.  I introduced my son, who shook his hand, and as we walked away, Chris, said to me, “Dad!  I just met Shrek!”

“And Austin Powers and Dr. Evil,” I reminded him.

No sooner had we walked into the main bar area when we noticed the Manning brothers, Payton and Eli, standing alone in a corner.  I thought to myself, “This is never going to happen again” and so I pulled my son by his lapel and walked right up to them.

I extended my hand.  “Gary Kroeger and this is my son, Chris.”

Payton Manning gave me a firm shake and said, “I’m Payton Manning and this is my brother, Eli.”


The humility of their nature was apparent.  Two southern gentlemen who never assume that they are special.  Of course I wanted to ask Payton about next season, but this 20150215_185912-1event is one where everyone feels safe from the scrutiny of media and adoring fans and I wisely chose not to.

No sooner did we say our farewell to the Mannings when Bob Odenkirk appeared.

“Bob, Gary Kroeger” as my hand thrust forward again.  I have a reflex where I always do that in order to avoid an awkward “and….you are….?” moment.

“Gary!  Yes!  How are you?”

I looked at my son, a huge “Breaking Bad” fan, and saw his appreciation of the moment.  Bob was genuinely thrilled when I told him how much I love “Better Call Saul” and we even exchanged emails.  A nicer guy there has never been.

An announcement was made that it was time to head toward Studio 8-H because seating was about to begin.  Chris and I headed toward the elevators when emerging from a small coterie was Eddie Murphy.

Again, the hand thrusts forward.

“Eddie, Gary Kroeger.”

“Kroegs!  How’ve you been!  It’s been like 30 years!”

“Eddie, I’ve been great.  This is my son, Chris.”

“How ya doin’, Chris?  Nice to meet you.”

A few more pleasantries and Chris and I moved toward the elevators.

“Dad!  I just met Donkey!”

“And all of the Klumps,” I reminded him.

We turned to the elevators and Paul Rudd was right on top of us.

“Paul.  You went to college with my ex-wife’s brother.  Matthew Bailey”

“Matty!  Oh my God!”

20150215_233603We swapped stories about my mutually adored ex-brother-in-law and, again, I glanced over at my son to be sure that he was connected to this moment.  His smile said it all.  He had the “It’s Paul Rudd and we’re talking to him” look on his face.

Paul Rudd is one of the most down to earth celebrities you will ever meet.  Chris said to me as we exited toward the elevators, “He is exactly the guy I hoped he would be.”

Once on the studio floor, we stepped out into what was an all too familiar hallway for 3 years of my life, and Jim Belushi seemed to appear from nowhere.


“Hey, Jim!”

Years ago, Jim had approached me in a restaurant in LA and said, “Hey, I’m sorry I was such a dick at SNL.”

20150215_191706-1Well…he was kind of a dick, but I knew that he was being sincere and any resentment I may have felt toward him and his…ever-present ambition….melted away.  Now it was just two old friends looking for the cast pictures in the hallway of our years.  We found one and posed together.

Just before the entrance to Studio 8-H is another hallway to the right where the dressing rooms are located.  I decided that I wanted to see mine.  I had inherited it from Garrett Morris and Chris Farley from me.  The 30 Rock from my era was the same 30 Rock that was built in the 1930s, but now everything was remodeled and very contemporary.  Nevertheless, I knew the space and peeked inside.  I saw the wall where I once threw a chair out of frustration after all my sketches were cut.

I kept that remembrance to myself.

Chris and I turned back to go to the stage and in front of us was Fred Armisen.  Out came the hand, but before I could say, “Fred, Gar-” he cut me off.

“It’s so great for you to be here,” he said.  “That really means a lot.”

I looked at him quizzically.

“You were my cast,” he continued.  “You were the cast I grew up watching, wanting to be part of this.  It means so much to me that you are here.”

Boom.  This moment was indelibly imprinted onto my consciousness.  It had never occurred to me that I was noticed by people that I admire today.

Once inside, we were shown our seats.  To get there we walked by Jack Nicholson. Christopher Walken, Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, Kristen Wiig, Paul Simon.  We were seated next to David Koechner of “Anchorman” fame who gave us a big (Whammy!) hello.

I 20150216_003420whispered into David’s ear that my son was a big fan and David, without missing a beat, launched into a tirade about how he could only get one ticket and now “You are in my wife’s seat!”

He proceeded to try and occupy my son’s space in order to feel more included.  Chris was keen to the bit and grinned ear to ear.

Another one of life’s truly nice people.

The show…was the show.  Most parts were good, some were great.  Some were….why?  3 1/2 hours is a long time even if you’re getting a foot massage and I could have left after “Celebrity Jeopardy” but my son was enjoying every second.  I mean, Tina Fey and Larry David were just in front of him, Matt Lauer was to his right.  Bill Murray was singing the theme from “Jaws” so what’s not to enjoy?

20150215_194510For me, there is one thing that’s a little difficult at these anniversary shows and that’s the fact that I want to be part of it.  I want to be on that stage making this crowd laugh.  There is a tinge of jealousy toward those who earned that privilege, and it is then, and only then, that I wish I’d been more aggressive back in the day.

For the last two minutes of the show, though, every cast member was asked to come to the stage for the goodnights.  I hesitated…and then I ran onto the stage.  I was suddenly with a swarm of the most famous people on earth.  Billy Crystal was the first that I saw and he said, “Kroeger, I hear you’re running for office!”

Wow.  News spreads fast.

Then came Marty Short who said the same thing.

I looked to my right as the familiar goodnight music began and was face to face with Sir Paul McCartney.

I thrust out my hand….

“Sir, I’ve waited 50 years to shake your hand.”

He smiled and replied, “Well, it’s about time then” and he took my hand.

What a great, glib, Beatle-esque thing to say, I thought to myself.  I could tell that he was willing to engage in a conversation, but my edit function kicked in. “What hasn’t he heard?” I thought.

I considered for a second doing my Ed Sullivan impression of their first introduction in 1964 (which I have done since that first introduction in 1964), but the moment passed,  Dana Carvey moved in and the two of them started playing air guitar.

I worked with Ringo on the show in 1985 and I was perfectly satisfied with having met two of four Beatles.  Not bad for a kid from Iowa.

20150215_233420-1At the coat check was Jim Breuer and his wife and they graciously offered that we share their limo to the After-Party at the Plaza Hotel.  My son has now flown First Class to New York, been to the biggest SNL show ever, and is going in a limosine to the Plaza where McCartney, Taylor Swift and Jimmy Fallon will eventually get onstage to sing.

Not bad for a kid from Iowa.

We get inside to the most opulent event I could ever imagine and worked our way into the main room.  There was Joe Piscopo and Don Novello at the bar.

“Kroeger!  I hear you’re running for office!  You should come do my radio show!” said Joe.

Joe was great on SNL and I loved him.  He always included me and here he was, 30 years later, including me again.

But here’s the defining moment of the evening for me.  My son and I are talking to Andy Breckman, one of the great SNL writers, when in walks Sarah Palin.

palinAndy said, “I know Governor Palin, let me introduce you!”

“No!” I said.  “Absolutely not.  What would I say to her?”

“C’mon, I want you to meet her, ” Andy insisted.

“No! I have said and written terribly critical things about her. This is a party and there is no reason for–”

“Governor Palin, this is Gary Kroeger from SNL.  He’s a Democrat who might run for Congress.”

(Thanks a lot, Andy)

“A Democrat, huh?” came the familiar Alaskan/twangy accent. “They’re not all bad.”  She smiled a very warm smile and we shook hands.

“Governor, it is very nice to meet you.”

“And who is this fine looking young man?” she inquired, reaching for my son’s hand.  Chris didn’t need Dad to do his introductions anymore and he returned the greeting.

“I’m Chris Kroeger and I’m here with my Dad.  A real pleasure to meet you.”

Governor Palin introduced us to the people she was with and at no time looked around to see who else might be in the room; she was 100% committed to this conversation.

We talked about our kids.  She asked me about my consideration for Congress and I offered this:  “Governor, we may disagree on several issues, but I’ll bet there are a lot of things we have in common.”

She chimed right in:  “We love our families, don’t we?”

“And we love America and our home states, too” I replied.

“We sure do.  I wish more people could see things that way.”

“Governor, I think we’re all a bit lazy.  I think that government, and the electorate, are afraid of the hard work and like to rely on shortcuts to find answers.  I think we could sit down and talk about what we agree on, what we disagree on, and stay in the room until we solve some issues. I’ll bet we could all try harder to find common ground.”

Governor Palin looked at me and I sensed that she wished she had said that first.  I saw her eyes log the idea into the back of her brain.  She then looked at my son.

“Chris, you’ll do well.  You have a good father.”

We said our goodbyes.

When we decided the evening should end, we worked our way out, running into Timcarrey Kazurinsky and writers from our day, Barry Blaustein, David Sheffield and Pam Norris.  Jim Carrey was just coming in and as he posed with my son for a picture there was a tap on my shoulder.  It was Ellen and Steve Higgins.

steveSteve, of course, is an SNL writer and Jimmy Fallon’s side kick on “The Tonight Show.”

“Gary!  Hi!,” said Ellen, “Isn’t this an amazing Iowa connection out here?”

“Yes, it is.  How great to see you guys.  Steve, I am thrilled at what you’re doing at SNL and the Tonight Show.”

“Yeah, it’s quite a ride.  Hey, I’d love to get together next time we’re in Waterloo”

(Ellen is from Waterloo)

Yeah…being from Iowa is okay.

As my recollection of this adventure comes to an end, the epilogue to this story is actually the prologue.  I had been asked to appear on “Upup With Steve Kornacki” on MSNBC that morning, before any of the SNL festivities.  The story of another SNL alum-turned politician (on the heels of Senator Al Franken) was a pretty decent angle that had been getting some press.  In fact, Senator Franken was on the show the week before.

The interview with Steve was short and sweet and not substantive, but it was fun and I enjoyed it.  My son sat behind me in the studio and apparently he was Tweeting about the experience.

I only saw the Tweet the other day.  It read: “Proud, inspired, awestruck.  These are all words that describe me watching my dad this morning.”

No, son.  It is your father who is so proud of you.  Finally, I became the biggest star of the biggest show, because you were there to see it with me.chris


Oh, by the way…



My Thankful Prayer

Someone said to me, “Gary, I don’t see any evidence of American pride in your positions.  You criticize our great country.”

I was startled.  I honestly feel that my perspective is a tribute to America, even when I am critical of politicians, policies and political parties.  I never take for granted what this country provides, and I consistently give thanks for all that I have.  I’ve been educated, I have a great job, I have healthy sons and I am free to speak my mind in the public square.

To bring some harmony to this dissonant chord I decided to form my political views, realized and hopeful, into thoughts of thankfulness.

I am thankful to live in a country where we are free to protest, to peaceably assemble to empower the voice of the people.  A country where such a right is recognized as essential to securing our freedom from tyranny.

I am eternally grateful to our military men and women who have bravely sacrificed so that we may have that freedom.

I am thankful that I live in a country that has recognized that clean air and clean water are vital to the health of our nation.

I am hopeful that health care reform will continue, and improve, so that more Americans can live healthier lives and reduce the fear of illness and financial ruin.

I am thankful that I live in a country where the rights of citizens are protected by ethical laws regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion; and that these laws are vigorously examined to suppress the tendencies of prejudice and fear.

I am thankful to live in a country that offers support and help to those who have fallen on hard times or who are challenged by obstacles of ill health, physical or mental, or who have been raised in an environment without advantages.

I am thankful to live in a country where education is acknowledged as the engine of prosperity and freedom, and public education is offered to every child.

I am thankful to live in a country where more reasonable voices can subject an imperfect system to better governance and demand accountability from those who have taken advantage of its flaws.

I am fearful, however, that the national debate has turned into demagoguery that could compromise much of what I am thankful for.

I am fearful that many politicians are working to eliminate or marginalize many of those great things that Americans have fought for; things like civil rights for all Americans, environmental protections, equality of opportunity, public education, religious freedom and valuable social programs.

I have two young sons, and on Sunday nights we have a traditional, good old American meal of burgers and sweet corn.  Sometimes I share my thoughts with them.  My 15 year old is, well, 15, and can wear boredom as a badge of honor, but he gets a little memory chip from Dad’s passion for public service, and lately he’s been coming to the table to play his own hand.

My youngest is 10 and little of this resonates, but this won’t be the last time ol’ Dad talks to his sons about how much he cares about America.

And for now, I am thankful just to have them at dinner.

Our Beloved Plutocracy

I love money.  I would like to have more and if I did I could make investments to make even more.  I’d love that.  I like my bank too. They are very nice and I think that if I had more money to put into their bank they would guide me wisely to protect and grow my investments.

What’s more, I’m a Capitalist!  I like the motivation to earn more and to seek the opportunities to do just that.

I also like my job and I like my employers.  I have many wealthy friends and I like them too!

You see, I have no problem with the accumulation of wealth or the lifestyle advantages wealth brings.  Many people see the castle on the hill and that is what inspires them to work; that is the capitalist model that we have embraced.

But “Houston (Oakland, Seattle, New York, Chicago, Des Moines, and Detroit) we have a problem…”

Capitalism is not a perfect system. It started in the Middle Ages as Merchant Capitalism, but was never drawn from a plan as a flawless application of trade or the accumulation of capital in a fair and judicious manner.  In fact, justice was never part of the equation. It grew because it worked in terms of motivating growth and creating productivity.

We are, by nature, driven by an instinct to accumulate, but that also leads to shades of fear and greed. We try (most of us) to suppress that part of us, but it is consistently revealed whenever we steal that extra cookie.

Yet, Capitalism exists today around the world as the principle economic alternative to Communism, and “Globalization” is a realization of the power of capital.  China’s growth, for example, is an extension of Western economics.

So where does all that leave me and my dreams of great wealth?  It leaves me with 90% of America.  Stagnant.

The Congressional Budget Office released data that shows that the top 1% earners in America have more than doubled their share of the country’s wealth over the past three decades. That means that they not only increased their personal holdings, but did so at an exponential rate that increased their stake in the entire country by over 250%. In other words a population of about the size of Iowa controls over half the wealth.

“Good for them,” some might say, “that’s how the system works.”

Is it?

The wealthy in America have been winning the public’s heart for decades, yet to hear the conservative side talk, you’d think they were in need of a yard sale to pay the bills.  During the 50’s, one of our most prosperous periods, the top federal rate was 90%, today it is 36.  Capital Gains under Reagan was as high as 28% and today it is 15%.  Has this led to industrial expansion from the “Job Creators”?  No, not consistently.

After the Bush tax reduction in 2002, jobs were consistently lost over the next 8 years.  All that has happened is that the upper 10% have increased their holdings and the upper 1% have amassed wealth at the greatest rate in history while the rest of us have suffered a deep recession.

Money is power and when we inch toward a plutocracy, our great Republic, even capitalism is at risk.  When a small, focused minority can use their great wealth to influence legislators and buy lobbyists the Republic of the People becomes a charade; money buys media and when the information we receive becomes a bias toward the interests of those who have the most, there is no truth.  Without truth in the marketplace even capitalism becomes a silly puppet in the hands of the elite.

The only thing that can counter the massive force of wealth is the aggregate voice of the People; the communal power of government.

In the words of FDR: “The liberty of a Democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group.”

Many people are seduced by a myth that when the wealthy have more money they will create more jobs, when in reality it is demand that creates jobs.  The bought and paid for message from the wealthy elite has also convinced many people that they will see more money in their own pockets without a progressive tax system.  Neither is true as our piece of the economic pie dwindles in a shell game of shelters and loopholes that are already tipped in favor of the investment class.

A Plutocracy is “rule by wealth”…is that what we want? Could it be that’s what we already have?