Spare Change or No Change at All

Change? The corporate crooks keep getting billions of our money and we get what? Maybe, spare change, if there is any left. Will a new smile do? We won’t have to look at that smug Bush’s face. We get a radiant smile from President-elect Obama. Like Eisenhower’s Smile. That’s a change. A small change.

My first, active Presidential campaign was for Ike because the Republican headquarters was on the way to my bus stop when I left Hebrew school. I was in the fifth grade in 1952 at George Wythe Elementary School in Hampton and the smart guys at the Eisenhower headquarters in Newport News gave me a huge poster of a smiling Ike, much bigger than the one of Stevenson. Eisenhower had an Obama Smile. Stevenson had the smug smile of an unapproachable know-it-all who had better things to do than campaign. My poster was billboard size, but the Republicans in Virginia couldn’t afford a billboard in those days, so they gave it to me.

In those days, Virginia Republicans were like the Greens, the Party of Lincoln in the segregated South, where they still sold school kids real Confederate money at the Jeff Davis’s old home in Richmond and the American Civil War was still taught as “the War Between the States.” I wonder how I got that poster home on the city bus from Newport News to Hampton? Did I sit way in the back of the bus with the Blacks, just me and my poster?

My fifth grade teacher, Miss Clemons, let us hang our posters of Ike and Stevenson in front of our classroom over the blackboards. Eisenhower’s was huge and dragged down to the floor in folds. We had an entire elementary school march around the playground with our posters and- guess what? – Eisenhower won! A grassroots experiment in democracy that predicted a presidential upset in Virginia.

“I like Ike” was the greatest political slogan of the twentieth century. I recently heard someone try to explain “Two Chickens in Every Pot.” “I like Ike” was easy to connect to that big round, beaming white face. It fit right in with early TV ads toothpaste ads like Bucky Beaver and New Ipana Toothpaste.

My infatuation with Eisenhower ended the day I heard him lie. Time had passed and I was in the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C. in 1960 as Virginia state winner in the Hire the Handicapped essay contest along with the other state winners and the scowling young man who won from the territory of Puerto Rico. Maybe he had been brought up by parents who told him about Puerto Ricans shooting up the American Congress to demand their freedom or maybe he knew what colonialism was really like.

I knew about Virginia’s Royal colonial status and had even played Baron de Botetourt (1768-1770) in a May Day celebration. I knew about all the Royal Governors because I lived right down the road from Colonial Williamsburg where that era was idealized. We were taught that being Rebels against the Crown had been a good thing and being Rebels in the war against the states had been good. But we were hazy on the details of colonialism. Slavery wasn’t mentioned. That Puerto Rican kid wasn’t hazy. His look would have kept him far away from President Obama, but this was less than three years before Kennedy was assassinated by Oswald. In cultural terms, it seems like a lifetime.

So there we were in the National Guard Armory. We had just met George Meany, who came across as a grandfatherly type and whose office had at a dynamite view of either the White House or the Capitol, I don’t remember which. The AFL-CIO had sponsored the essay contest about Hiring the Handicapped. Down in Virginia, Right to Work, Right to Starve, still held the day. At the Newport News Ship Building and Dry Dock Company the “shipyard”  created on the James River, along with Newport News, by Robber Baron Collis Huntington, to export West Virginia coal to Europe and build war ships, majestic liners and merchant ships, real unionization was always put down. A company union held sway and a choir of black workers would sing sweet nothings to the workers when organizing efforts were tried against the company union. Blacks and white were pitted against each other and the company won.

Back to the Armory. So we state winners were clustered around Ike. He is wearing thick pancake make-up, the first time I saw a man looking like that, I later told my mom. The girls in the group are swooning over this old guy. He could have had them all right then under a tank. Trust me, I have a photo of this and if you saw it, you would know I’m not lying. Power is an aphrodisiac.

So the reporters crowd up to him and one of them says, “The Russians say they have shot down an American spy plane?” And Ike says, “ It’s not true. It’s a lie.”

As we now know, it was true. Francis Gary Powers, (later a Los Angles weatherman, killed when his helicopter went down), was brought into open kangaroo court in Moscow. Ike didn’t know Powers was alive. Powers had decided that it was better to live another day, then to die for Ike and his smile.

Now that wasn’t a bad way to learn that presidents with radiant smiles will lie like dogs.

President Obama smiles and offers change, but not prosecution of people who set up America’s torture program. Yes, change, but just a kiss and hug for that old rascal Lieberman who nearly was Vice President back in 2000 and who campaigned with Palin and McCain. Yes, change, like Hillary Clinton, whose husband, Bill, now sells himself like Elvis on the world market, a president transformed into a vacuum cleaner for sucking up foreign money. Well, he had to find a new job. Habitat for Humanity already had a former president. If Clinton was our first black president, Obama could end up as the first black Clinton. His big donors and bundlers are already getting big jobs. What else is new?

“Change”? I’m using my mutual fund reports as fire starters to keep my house in Point Roberts warm instead of reading them. That Eisenhower poster would have done fine as a fire starter, but it’s gone. All that’s different is the smiler. We’re all waiting for spare change from the next agent of change, listening to the rationalizations about why change has to be dependent on a thousand other variables out of the change man’s control before he gives us whatever is left.

If you pay in a political campaign, you play. Otherwise. It’s going to be small change, for you, if that. Why else are Big Auto and the UAW being raked over the coals when it bellies up for its share of the corporate bailout? When Big Auto was a serious player in the big money political game, it got what it wanted from Clinton and Gore (the Nobel Prize winning environmentalist), emission standards you could drive a light truck or SUV through. But now the financial industry, linked to big media- as Big Auto used to be- gets billions without strings. The ratio of political donations during the presidential campaign from the financial to transportation sectors ran 33:1 for Obama and 13:1 for McCain, according to Where political contributions are concerned, Big Auto is so yesterday. That’s why Big Auto’s bailout requests get all the hard questions left out in the mega bailout of the banks. But don’t smirk. You’re not at the table. You’re not even under it. You’re just getting smiled at from the podium.

Want your spare change? Demand it now, before the inauguration Get a single payer health care program by demanding it as a component of every single corporate bailout by the political donation whores who say they want to help you, for you and yours and for the auto worker with his family, and even the auto executive and his family. Tie single payer to every tax dollar siphoned away. Subsidize the corporations and the rest of us in one big plan. Include the employees of health insurance companies when they lose their jobs. Let’s catch up with the rest of the world and make our companies competitive. How radical is that? If spare change is left as an after thought, believe me, if will remain an afterthought. Obama’s radiant smile won’t get your family though your wife’s next stroke.

The French said it first “The  more things change, the more things remain the same”.

P.S. If you can find a way to use Dick Cavett’s snippy attacks on Palin’s use of the language, let me know. I can’t burn it or eat it and Palin didn’t steal a dime of my retirement money from me. Some of his amused New York friends did. Cavett can get back to joking about “the help.” Palin’s crime was her complete inability to ask Joe Biden a single question about his patrons in the credit card industry or his bankruptcy deforms. Palin has a great smile. So does Dick. But smiles make lousy umbrellas on rainy days no matter what the song says. And it’s raining.

STEVE CONN lived in Alaska from 1972 until 2007. He is a retired professor, University of Alaska. His e mail is