From Fala to Obama: Showing some bite to the G.O.P.


Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

From Labor Day 2010 to Primary Election Day 2010 it was, and is, as Yogi Berra once did or did not say, déjà vu all over again.

On Labor Day in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that missing person, the gutsy, daredevil Barack Obama of 2008, came out of his careful, balanced, superbly civil schoolmaster’s shell just long enough to set a working-class crowd roaring, and my heart juiced once again for at least that split second of his (ungrammatical) off-the-cuff wisecrack, “They talk about me like a dog.”

All that night, Labor Day night, I waited for somebody on tube or radio to summon up memories of a long-ago pooch named Fala. Nobody did. Nada. At least not where I was tuning in.

Well, ladies and gents, it was another president of these United States who on September 13, 1944 — with his bitter-end, frustrated, reactionary enemies charging that in the midst of a war he had sent a destroyer to fetch his black Scottie home from the Aleutians — turned the whole hoo-ha around by way of a nation’s guffaws over F.D.R.’s stunningly self-confident “These Republican leaders have not been content: with attacks on me, my wife, my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog Fala.”

That’s the difference between a to-the-manor-born aristocrat and (if you push him hard enough) a Chicago-bred, post-New Deal street fighter.

To go from the sublime to the ridiculous — no, to the gutter — there is also a day-by-day, ever more marked difference between a charismatically intelligent bearer of goodwill and a Tea Bag brewer, any one of them, of vicious bad will.

Like somebody I’d never heard of until Primary Election Night 2010: Carl P. Paladino, now the Republican nominee for governor of the great state of New York. And when I indeed first heard of him, or from him, he was attacking — guess what! — the Statue of Liberty, for its ever-enduring life-giving lines from Emma Lazarus that you can find at the head of this Talking Point.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free… .

Nah, Mr. Paladino was saying, sneering (as I caught it on the fly): “We don’t want them. The poor. Let them stay where they are.”

So much, incidentally, for all those Paladinos who once upon a yearning time made it through that same golden door. So much, also — full disclosure — for all those Thalheimers and Kohuts and Lowenthals who, thank God, put yours truly, by birth, inside that golden door.

Further incidentally, a question: Is sexual kinkiness (pornography, bestiality, masturbation fixation) a prerequisite of Tea Party deification? Let’s not even mention doctoring a photo of the president and first lady of the United States into a comic-strip, burlesque-garbed pimp and his whore. Bow wow.

Frank Rich, former drama critic, present “Week in Review” political commentator of The New York Times, usually touches on all the bases. But not even Mr. Rich, in evaluating President Obama’s “They talk about me like a dog” breakthrough, recalled the saga of Fala, nor did he, in writing about F.D.R.’s “legendary 1936 Madison Square Garden [pre-Election Day] rally,” at which Roosevelt joyously welcomed the hatred of all the latter-day Bourbons of this nation and ran down the roster of continuing goals of the New Deal.

No, columnist Rich neglected to cite F.D.R.’s key line that night.

I was there, Frank. I was a kid standing on a wooden folding chair, my father, Albert F. Tallmer, beside me, and I went crazy, along with the whole jampacked Garden, when F.D.R. climaxed his point-by-point citation of work remaining to be done with: “…and for all these things, we have only just begun to fight!”

That’s what my heart was pumping with in that one gutsy “They talk about me like a dog” moment on Labor Day 2010. Press on, Mr. President, stay angry, stay polite. We have nothing to lose but our pains.