Here's part of "Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, first edition. For newer info, read the second edition at


Why do they call it “politics”? Because discussing it is the fastest way to tick off Aunt Polly.

Conservative’s lament

Conservatives say:

If you’re young and not a liberal, you haven’t got a heart.

But if you’re old and not conservative, you haven’t got a brain!

That quote was attributed to Winston Churchill (Britain’s prime minister during World War 2), but according to his fans, there’s no record he ever said it. That thought was expressed by many people, including a French historian in the 1800’s. I call it the Conservative’s lament.

The lament is correct. Young people, forever optimistic, believe that the world will be a beautiful place if you treat everybody kindly and liberally. Old people, who’ve been mugged and cheated by many “nice-looking” people, become cynical.

For example, when President Jimmy Carter and I were young, we both believed the Soviets would treat the rest of the world kindly if the rest of the world would treat them kindly. But then the Soviets, without provocation, invaded Afghanistan. I was disillusioned, and Jimmy Carter was voted out of office.

When I was young, I believed that all people who claimed to be poor should be given generous welfare benefits. But after I chatted with many welfare recipients who used their money to eat in fancy restaurants, buy drugs, and visit prostitutes, I grew more cynical about the needs of the “needy.” Sure, there are members of society who are truly desperate and do need welfare money; and sure, the rich have a moral obligation to give large sums of money to the truly needy poor. But when I see the large percentage of welfare recipients who abuse and even laugh at the system, I want to cry.

When the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, was young, he ran for office on a platform of being nice to blacks. He even kissed black babies. He lost the race. Then he changed his tune, became a cynical anti-black segregationist, ran for office again, and — because he was a cynical segregationist — won! Although I don’t recommend imitating him (since segregation is immoral), his life proves one point: cynicism pays.

Why Democrats make me smile

Democrats tend to be liberal, and Republicans tend to be conservative. But what is “liberal,” and what is “conservative”? What’s the difference?

In 1974, Representative Craig Hosmer (Republican from California) published a funny list of differences in the Congressional Record. He apparently got it from a source that wished to remain anonymous. Several people tried updating (or censoring) that list (especially Rowland Nethaway, senior editor of the Waco Texas Tribune-Herald, in 1998). Here’s my own attempt to update that list further:

Republicans raise dahlias, Dalmatians, and eyebrows.

Democrats raise hell, kids, and taxes.

Republicans employ exterminators.

Democrats step on the bugs.

Republicans go fishing on their boats.

Democrats stay fishing at the docks.

Democrats eat the fish they catch.

Republicans hang them on the wall.

Republicans grab financial pages and love them.

Democrats grab financial pages and shove them — into bird cages.

Democrats take individual delight in reading books that have been banned.

Republicans form censorship committees to read those books as groups.

Republicans consume ¾ of all rutabaga produced in this country.

Democrats throw out the rest.

Democrats give their worn-out clothes to the less fortunate.

So do Republicans, who are smarter and take the tax deduction.

The junk along the road was thrown from car windows by Democrats,

but can’t be seen by Republicans from the back of their limos.

Democrats name their kids after athletes, entertainers, and politicians.

Republicans name their kids after the richest ancestors.

Republicans follow the plans their grandfathers made.

Democrats make up their own plans — but ignore them.

Republicans close their curtains at night — but needn’t bother.

Democrats leave their curtains open — to amuse Republicans.

Republican boys date Democrat girls.

They plan to marry Republican girls but feel entitled to a little fun first.

Republicans sleep in twin beds, often in separate rooms.

That’s why there are more Democrats.

Recently, it’s become less true that most Republicans are rich and most Democrats are poor. To predict how a person will vote, don’t ask about the person’s income; instead, ask about church attendance: Protestant “churchgoers” (who attend church at least once a week) tend to vote Republican.

Reagan’s summary

Ronald Reagan said the government’s economic policy can unfortunately be summed up in three sentences:

If it moves, tax it.

If it keeps moving, regulate it.

If it stops moving, subsidize it.

Adlai Stevenson’s lament

Adlai Stevenson was the brilliant egghead Democrat who ran for President against Eisenhower but lost. He made this comment about politicians and their speeches:

It’s often easier to fight for one’s principles than live up to them.

Bush imitates Carson

Here’s the real reason why America voted for George Bush the younger and made him President: he looks like Johnny Carson, when Johnny was young. He smiles and is a semi-intellectual affable joker.

That’s what America wants in a President: a talk-show host who smiles. That’s what America got.

But after 4 years, America gets tired of seeing the same old smiles and wants to change channels.

Democratic primary

I’d like to thank the 10 serious Democrats who were brave enough to fight in the 2004 primary against the “giant monster” (also known as the “callous cowboy idiot, George W. Bush”). I’d also like to give those Democrats my condolences for all the mistakes they made.

Journalists divided those 10 Democrats into 3 groups and gave each candidate a simple label:

The leftist group consisted of Al Sharpton (the black man), Carol Moseley Braun (the black woman), and Dennis Kucinich (the vegetarian). Journalists called that group the “minor candidates,” said they couldn’t win, and said voting for them would be throwing your vote away, so hardly anybody voted for them.

The centrist group, who acted like Republicans except they also wanted votes from the poor, consisted of Wes Clark (the gentle general), John Kerry (the rich veteran), John Edwards (the smiling Southerner), Joe Lieberman (the moral Jew), Dick Gephardt (the union guy), and Bob Graham (the most boring).

The quirky guy (in between the other two groups) was Howard Dean (the goofy doctor).

Each person contributed positive and negative elements to the debate. Out of nearly 300 million Americans, those mediocre 10 were the best the Democrats could produce, but I guess that’s further support for the Democratic claim that the whole country is undereducated, including the Democrats themselves.

Here are my letters to those 10. I’ll start with the first quitters.…

To Bob Graham (the most boring, quit on October 7, 2003):

Bob, you had the foresight to drop out even before the voting began! That inspired others to drop out soon afterwards. You were the first to narrow the field, and the voters appreciated that because “10 candidates” were too many to keep track of. Thanks.

I wish I had a chance to know you better, but I’m sure you’ll show us your wisdom someday.

To Carol Moseley Braun (the black woman, quit on January 15, 2004):

Carol, you were the second to drop out. That was a shame, since you’re the only candidate everybody liked. Nobody ever said anything negative about you. We all loved you, Carol!

Too bad the media downplayed your candidacy, and folks were afraid to donate money because of your previous campaign’s financial scandals.

When I was trying to decide between you and Howard Dean, you solved my dilemma by dropping out and telling us to vote for Howard instead. I suspected you’d do that, since a week earlier you and Howard were photographed holding hands and beaming at each other!

You’d have been the first black President, the first woman President, the first interracially married President, and the first noticeably divorced President. You played up the “first woman” angle, but that wasn’t enough to get you in.

You were friendly and kind, but your Web site lacked specifics about how you’d accomplish your platform. You didn’t prepare enough yet. Maybe next time — except Hillary Clinton will steal your “woman” thunder.

To Dick Gephardt (the union guy, quit on January 20, 2004):

Dick, you’ve had lots of experience in the House of Representatives and worked for good causes. The US should give you a pat on the back.

For many years, you’ve warned that US manufacturing jobs are disappearing and workers are hurting. But your solution, “cut international trade,” is small-minded. It shows you care just about the US, not the world. Moreover, your laws to stop imports from Canada, Mexico, and China would be as cruel as sending the Gestapo into Wal-Mart to take all low-priced goods off the shelves: you’d restrict the American consumer’s choices, raise prices, cause inflation, make those countries hate us and retaliate by rejecting our exports. Then our export manufacturers would have to shut down, we’d lose even more jobs, and the bad international vibes would scare our State Department and military.

Alan Greenspan and I believe a better solution is to improve US manufacturing by automation and worker retraining, so US workers become internationally useful instead of just whiners. We applaud your desire to nudge China to be a better world citizen (by treating its workers and environment better, becoming more democratic, and adjusting its exchange rate), but we don’t want you to get belligerent about it and start World War 3.

You staked your whole campaign on your desire to cut international trade, so you lost. So sad!

To Joe Lieberman (the moral Jew, quit on February 3, 2004):

Joe, thanks for reminding us to be moral. I got scared you’d favor censorship and not sympathize enough with Palestinian grief, so I held back from voting for you, but I’m glad you tried.

You were lucky Al Gore picked you for his running mate against Bush 4 years ago. Too bad Gore lost and most Democrats felt you acted too Republican.

To Wes Clark (the gentle general, quit on February 11, 2004):

Wes, thanks for proving that generals can be gentle and soft-spoken.

You’re thin! I thought you looked frail, but people who met you in person said you looked tantalizingly fit, especially when you took off your shirt!

Since you’d been Republican and still call yourself “conservative,” we liberal Democrats don’t trust you. For example, you said the Iraq war was bad because it was badly executed without a good plan, but you weren’t bothered that the US went into Iraq without international approval, so you still think like a Republican. We welcome you to the Democrat party, but you can’t expect us to consider you our representative.

To Howard Dean (the goofy doctor, quit on February 18, 2004):

Howard, I voted for you because you’re a funny parody of me. We were both born in upper-middle-income families in New York City, we both rejected our Republican capitalist Dads and became Democrat scientists, we both went to Ivy League schools, we both like Jewish things (you chose a Jewish wife, I chose a Jewish-style life), and we both migrated to northern New England, trying to change public opinion. We both have New Yorkish brash honesty. You remind me of the way I was 15 years ago, before I got wiser and warmer. I voted for you because I enjoyed listening to your immature words, which seemed to come from my former self.

College kids liked your honesty too and tried hard to get you elected. You were lucky: those kids used the Internet to hook you up with, the Internet organization good at setting up meetings; so soon thousands of kids were meeting each other, writing to each other, and dating each other, while also trying to get you elected.

Like me, you blab first and try to correct yourself afterwards, which lets everybody see your honest feelings but also gets you in trouble. Your character flaw (lack of warmth) prevents you from smoothing out those troubles.

You were the first candidate to attack Bush strongly for entering Iraq without international support, and you inspired the other candidates to get as strong. Those other candidates learned a lot from you and your style. Unfortunately, you didn’t learn from them, so eventually they surpassed you, and you fell.

I disagree with you on many issues. I believe in free trade; you don’t. Your opposition to gun control disturbed me and most other Democrats. Your desire to remove all Bush’s tax cuts, even for the poor, was distressing, even though promised the higher taxes would pay for better health care. You repeated your cute stump speech too often, while other candidates were improving their platforms. Your biggest mistake was to blow so much money on New Hampshire’s TV ads and ignore Iowa, where Kerry beat you and got enough momentum to squelch you forever after.

But your smart honest style was compelling and I was heartbroken when the Democrats dropped you.

When you were planning to quit, I wanted to buttonhole you to suggest you stay in the race, like Sharpton and Kucinich, as a “minor” candidate, to make a point; and to urge you to praise all the other candidates but nudge them to do better, Braun style. But I figured you wouldn’t listen to me, so I kept my mouth shut.

You bragged how you balanced Vermont’s budget when you were Vermont’s governor. Too bad you couldn’t balance your campaign’s budget: you blew away all that money we Democrats donated, you couldn’t pay your campaign bills, and you screwed businesses out of a million dollars. Maybe it’s good you didn’t become President yet: you haven’t yet learned how to handle financial risk.

To John Edwards (the smiling Southerner, quit on March 3, 2004):

John, thanks for reminding us that a President has a duty to give uplifting, optimistic speeches. But through optimism thrills the evangelicals in the Bible Belt, us Yankees appreciate constructive criticism more. You gave the same optimistic speech too often. You didn’t grow.

Like Gephardt, you opposed free trade. Like him, you lost votes by doing that, since free trade helps as many Americans as it hurts. Bye-bye, John!

To the 3 survivors:

John Kerry, you seem to have conquered the primary, but remember: you won only because your long track record makes Democrats think you’re strong enough to stand up to Bush. Nobody really likes you, except maybe your wife. People respect you, mainly because you’ve recently changed your voice to sound deep, authoritative, trustworthy, and comforting, like Robert Stack (the actor who played in “The Untouchables” and “Unsolved Mysteries”). The fall election will really be about whether Americans prefer Robert Stack over Johnny Carson. You have one character flaw, which will haunt your Presidency: like Wes Clark (the other military man), you still think going to Iraq was a great idea, just badly executed; you don’t appreciate the United Nations enough.

Al Sharpton, thanks for making us laugh and reminding us that politics is a joke. Your challenge is how to take your interest in civil rights, which is a divisive issue, and make it a unifying issue. Better luck next time.

Dennis Kucinich, thanks for having the guts and conscience to nudge us to the left. But you went so far to the left that you got left out of the room.

I’m waiting for the 10 candidates to join hands and send me this reply:

Russ, thanks for your snotty letters to us. After reading them, it’s clear why we got to become candidates, not you.                 — the Democratic team