I think Mitt Romney would make an acceptable vice-president.
He must have been thinking that, too, when he inadvertently introduced his new running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, as “the next president of the United States.” By choosing the noted Ayn Rand groupie, Romney effectively jettisoned any pretense of moderation from the GOP ticket, in favor of extremist economic and cultural policies for which Ryan has been a public point man.
Nothing wrong with that. People who claim there ain’t a dime’s worth a difference between the Republicans and Democrats will get quite a show this fall as the respective parties roll out wildly differing visions of the future. While the Obama-Biden ticket is no progressive’s dream, its goals seem much closer to the average American’s than those of Romney-Ryan.
On the other hand, it is troubling that the assertions of the far Right, previously dismissible as lunatic babbling, are now officially mainstream and hence will be discussed for the next three months as rational propositions. That includes climate change denial, fetal personhood, the demolition of Medicare and Medicaid, and allowing the rich to pay even less in taxes than they do now. As per the latter, under “The Roadmap for America’s Future,” authored by Ryan, multi-millionaire Mitt Romney’s tax rate would effectively be lowered to 0.82%. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Romney’s surrogates say he’s totally cool with the Ryan budget plan.
Don’t discount the economic power of “outside” political action groups to dominate the airwaves and, by sheer rote repetition, to make the unthinkable plausible. When big money holds sway, lunacy is always in play.
We’ll return to these topics as November nears, but let us retrogress to consider anew the passing of a young multi-millionaire 35 years ago this week.
For those who were not alive while he was, Elvis Presley is likely seen as through the Hubble telescope, images viewed today from light
generated long ago. You’ll have to take our word for it that, like a cosmological event whose existence must be inferred, Elvis Presley changed the world.
All great American music synthesizes elements of music that came before. Born in 1935 and raised in north Mississippi and west Tennessee, Elvis Presley was exposed to “rural” music, such as played on the Grand Ole Opry, as well as the sacred songs of the Assembly of God, radio crooners such as Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, and contemporary black music he would have heard on the radio as well in the poor neighborhoods in which his parents, Vernon and Gladys, were obliged to dwell. What made Elvis special was that he didn’t bother to categorize distinctions. As he told Sun’s receptionist Marion Keisker when he showed up at 706 Union Street to audition, “I don’t sound like nobody.” He boldly determined he could sing it all, and the records showed that he was right.
Elvis’s live performances were equally transformative. He let the beat of his music dictate the moves of his body, and in the Eisenhower years, it triggered crowd frenzy not seen since Dionysus still had public altars. Presley’s gyrations were condemned by the mainstream press and therefore affirmed by rebellious youth, who turned out by the thousands to help establish rock and roll as a legitimate phenomenon.
Elvis cut a deal with the devil, who walked the earth at that time in the persona of “Colonel” Tom Parker, a hustling immigrant who became the most imposing business manager of all time, controlling virtually every facet of his client’s life.
Parker moved Elvis from the regional Sun label to the national RCA label, and in short order, the giant hits started coming: “Hound Dog,” Jailhouse Rock,” Love Me Tender,” and more. So unclassifiable was Presley’s sound that his records appeared simultaneously on Billboard magazine’s Pop, R&B and Country charts.
Though a two-year Army hitch could not slow the Elvis juggernaut, a series of uninspired movie musicals in the early 1960s did. Once the British Invasion secured a U.S. beachhead, acknowledging its stylistic debt to Elvis, the real thing seemed to matter less. It took a career reboot in the form of a 1968 NBC-TV special featuring a lean, leather-clad Presley in full command of his powers to remind everyone who the real King of Rock and Roll was.
Elvis became the best-paid entertainer on the planet, despite Colonel Parker’s refusal to let him perform outside the United States. Known literally everywhere, he was imprisoned by that fame. Discouraged from pursuing his creative bent, he was put out on seemingly endless tours recycling the same old set lists. Elvis made billions of dollars before his metabolism overwhelmed his spirit, and his estate still makes around $55 million a year. Talk about death being a good career move; a computer-generated holographic Elvis soon will be filling arenas with the nostalgic and the curious.
However, the corporeal Elvis departed with one thing we seem unable to regain today, and that is consensus.
The likewise late Lester Bangs prophesied our current disarray in August 1977, saying, “We will continue to fragment…because solipsism holds all the cards at present. It is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’s. But I guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis.”