"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone."
I found myself there, in the Twilight Zone, Tuesday night. Actually it started almost thirty years ago to the week... doodoodoodoo doodoodoodoo (phonetic)...
...flashback to 1980. My first visit to Alaska to see family. From the Anchorage Airport, my cousins picked me up and took me to my aunt and uncle’s house at 1900 Stanford Dr. I would stay there for a week. Walking in the front door and down the long narrow hallway toward the huge round living room supported by actual carved totem poles, I had only ever seen the house from the copy of a 1967 edition of Life Magazine which did a feature on this uniquely Alaskan house (now owned by banker and sometimes self-funded US Senate candidate Dave Cuddy).
As I walked down that hallway to greet my beloved Aunt Marge, I walked past many framed 8x10 black and white photos with my aunt and uncle appearing next to a number of democrat politicians and Alaska leaders from the 60s and 70s at several fundraisers held in this home. I remember recognizing Hubert Humphrey in one, but as a young dumb eighteen year old, none of the others seemed familiar. I’m guessing Bill Egan, Bob Bartlett, and perhaps Nick Begich graced some of those photos.
Flash forward thirty years. Tuesday evening September 14, 2010. I’m walking down the same hallway. Eerily identical in decor, it seemed almost exactly the same, dark walls and dim light, resurrecting that Twilight Zone feeling. That is until I saw Joe Miller standing there at the end of the hallway, while one of dozens of supporters bent his ear. I remember him seeming skinnier, almost frail compared to his somewhat rugged plaid TV appearance.
As I passed by Miller I attempted to make direct eye contact. No luck. Rather, I saw a faint hollow stare that seemed to be directed to a spot on the wall about six feet over my head, as he listened to...or ignored...I’m not sure which, the woman who was talking to him.
Beyond Miller the hallway opened up into that exquisite circular room ringed by totem poles, just as I remembered it, but the crowd couldn’t have been more different from the crowds that showed up for fundraisers here four decades ago.
I saw a number of the usual suspects I would’ve expected, and a number of the fringy ultra righties I expected. What I didn’t see, surprisingly, was one single elected Republican leader, except for Sen. Fred Dyson. That seemed telling.
So, what the heck was I doing there you might ask. A staunch (but moderate) democrat, at a gathering to get to know Sarah Palin’s favorite congressional candidate?
One, I got an invitation. I have no idea why. But two, and most importantly, my wife had never seen Aunt Marge’s old house and wanted to have a look. Oh, and I guess I wanted to hear what Joe “job-killer” Miller had to say. Not to mention, it was kind of fun appearing to be the turd in the punch bowl at such an austere Republican gathering.
I noticed a couple of head-shaking double-take looks that plainly said - “what the f*** is HE doing here?”
One of my real curiosities was I saw that Senators Jim DeMint (R)-South Carolina and John Cronyn (R)-Texas were the highlighted co-hosts on the invitation, and I thought they might actually be there. Instead, we were treated to a phone call from DeMint and then one from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma. Sadly, those three senators have among the lowest ratings of any of the senators in Congress when it comes to votes that affect working people. And a quick search on Open-Secrets.org showed the depth of the big corporate support of DeMint and Cronyn. Among their biggest supporters is Koch Industries, primary funders of the Tea Party Express and avowed enemy of working men and women throughout America. I wonder if your average Tea partier knows this.
But of course, Joe Miller must know this….right? He must know that senators like DeMint, Cronyn, and Coburn enjoy some of their biggest support from off-shoring, outsourcing, polluting, job-killing, huge corporations. So perhaps the new moniker “Joe Miller/Job Killer” fits.
The other peculiar thing about this guy is the way he talks. Consider this following direct quote:
“The republican view on ear marks is they’re a thing of the past. Brian Richards, chancellor of the University of Alaska made the comment last week that that’s his perspective and that was before hearing from Joe Miller on the issue.”
Let’s break this quote down a little bit. First Joe Miller almost always refers to himself in the third person. In his twenty minutes I rarely heard him say “I” or “me.” It was always we or Joe Miller. Who does that? Its just a bit weird. Okay, maybe this next critique is a little nit picky, but the guy is from Fairbanks, and he identifies Brian Rogers as Brian Richards, chancellor of the University of Alaska. Not technically correct. Rogers is the chancellor of UA Fairbanks. Pat Gamble is the president of the University of Alaska. I know, it sounds like a petty detail, but this guy wants to be the Senator from Alaska. He should have those details down. Especially being from Fairbanks and all.
Oddly, the occasion seemed solemn and nearly devoid of energy, save for the one loud shrill squeal of delight from one woman when Mr. Cuddy announced Senator DeMint was on the line. Now I’m pretty sure it was a woman, as I didn’t see Anchorage’s high-pitched radio screechers Fagan, Super Dave, or Rydell there. That reminds me, is Rydell still eligible to vote in Alaska? I hear he’s not here much. But I digress.
The more Miller spoke the more solemn the faces got, and Miller seemed to be tired himself, also devoid of energy. He spoke platitudes and impossibilities tempered with his typical must have word salad including: constitution, freedoms, forefathers, entitlement, and enumerated powers.
Speaking off the cuff, he also seemed full of contradictions.
After going on about how he was going to slowly cut Alaska off from needed federal funds, talking about how he was going to starve all the federal agencies by blocking appropriations to them, he then immediately went into this: “We have no Coast Guard presence in our Arctic waters, and we have all sorts of nations that border the arctic eyeing that pot of gold up there. They’re staking their claim and aggressively positioning themselves for resource development and we don’t even have a Coast Guard presence there. Its extraordinary. We’ve got one functional ice breaker, I mean its just unreal, and why? Because we’ve become this massive entitlement state.”.....What!?
That doesn’t even make sense. I’m not sure how Alaska being a “massive entitlement state” has anything to do with funding the U.S. Coast Guard (incidentally not an enumerated power Joe) but Miller seems to be saying that we need tons of federal dollars to put Coast Guard cutters off of Prudhoe Bay to ward off imaginary attacks on our resources from our evil Arctic neighbors. And at the same time he suggests we need to cut off our noses AND spite our faces by defunding all federal agencies so that we can both take back our government and stop Obama, and cut off earmarks and whatever other portion of the $7.6 billion of federal dollars that annually circulate in our state thanks to the federal government (ISER report Nov. 2003).
Well which is it Joe? I’m sure you want to have your cake and eat it too, but you seem to be contradicting yourself at every turn. Not to mention, about half of the crowd at this event looked to be social security and medicare age eligible. The message didn’t seem to be resonating with a lot of folks there.
But aside from the less than warm and fuzzy reception Miller seemed to be getting from a bunch of the crowd, there did seem to be a few, passionately hanging on his every word. There was a short Q&A, but Cuddy grabbed the microphone after one of the nutters prattled on about what Joe was gonna do to block Obama and have him impeached.
I swear there was as many groans as there was head nods in agreement to the notion of impeaching the president, indicative I guess of the split I sensed in the room.
There were a few of the tried and true republicans like party chairman Randy Ruedrich who seemed to be there about half-heartedly, despite Miller pandering to him a couple times for Ruedrich’s “expert” knowledge on this or that.
“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to be able to roll back many of these federal agencies.…EPA specifically I think has gone far beyond its constitutional mandate,” said Miller. While I don’t entirely disagree with Miller’s characterization of the EPA, I know without a doubt the ultra rich, polluting, anti-regulation, anti-worker, Koch Brothers also squeal with delight when you say stuff like that Joe.
Between my own twilight zone journey to 1980 and back and the stunned confusion of Alaska’s rational republicans around the state, I was reminded of the closing narration of one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes (The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street) as I left this strange experience at 1900 Stanford Dr:
"The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own; for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to... The Twilight Zone.”
This episode is often used as part of the ‘Cable in the Classroom’ series in order to teach kids about the dangers of prejudice and hysteria.
At the end, the Aliens above, watching the riot on Maple Street comment about how easy it was to create paranoia and panic, concluding the easiest way to conquer the Earth is to let the people of the Earth destroy themselves.
If Alaskans put this paranoid extremist in the U.S. Senate, Alaskans will indeed be relegated to our own Twilight Zone for the next six years.