Russell: Odds & ends

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I've been writing an opinion column for one publication or another for more than 30 years. When you have promised some editor a certain word count in a certain time, you keep your eyes open for inspiring tidbits, since nobody can always stick with Great Issues. Well, maybe Rush Limbaugh can, but I've never looked up to people who take pride in not thinking deeply.

One of the complications of growing up Indian is that the old people who often have thought deeply about important things are not flashy about it. If young people don't choose to sit still and listen, most elders are like Robert Redford in ''The Horse Whisperer.'' Kids, of course, are the horses.

So you get to an age when you think you know something, but people whose depth you admire have taught you by example not to be flashy. I had a personal advantage, though, having grown up thinking that Will Rogers was the greatest Cherokee who ever lived. I have a bit broader perspective on greatness now, but I'll always be an admirer of the man who entertained so well but clearly thought about what he said.

Current events bring to mind one of the great Will Rogers bons mots: ''I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat.'' The ability of the donkeys to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory has always astonished me, but they are really out over the edge of crazy this year.

First, the leading Democrat in early polls turns out to be the only candidate who can unite the Republican base: Hillary Clinton. The most experienced candidates - Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Bill ''Judas'' Richardson - all failed to reach double digits. When her coronation was delayed by the technicality of having insufficient votes, Clinton led the media on a tour of fantasyland trying to find a metric by which she could prevail. Rush Limbaugh contributed ''Operation Chaos,'' encouraging Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries for Clinton in the interest of uniting the Republican Party.

Clinton, in the meantime, embarked on ''Operation Kitchen Sink,'' which involved shoveling so much dirt on Barack Obama that he would be crippled for the general election. This tactic is also known as ''Hillary in 2012,'' given the history-making aspect of 2008.

The obvious history is that should a Democrat win, we will elect the first woman or the first African-American. The less obvious history is that we may elect John McCain as the oldest white male. This would be the same McCain who is likely to pick a vice president (and heir-apparent) to suit the Jesus-loves-me-but-He-can't-stand-you wing of the Republican Party. This would return us to the Bush position that global warming, if it exists, does not matter because we live in the end times. Sex education would be the current ''abstinence only'' policy, wishful thinking that has brought us one in four teenage girls with a sexually transmitted disease. Each new war would be a necessary prelude to Armageddon.

See why I don't want to be serious all the time?

On a less serious note, I've been thinking about Obama's hair. In case you didn't notice, the man has rather prominent aural appendages. The editorial cartoonists will go to town on that.

Now, any hair stylist will tell Obama how to solve his problem. He needs hair long enough to cover up those Dumbos. Problem is, he can't grow hair for political reasons.

He's only got two choices. He could ''conk'' his hair, which is not only out of fashion but would make him appear ''too white.'' The other way to sprout hair would give him an afro, and that would make him appear ''too black.'' So he campaigns in a high-and-tight that reminds me of my son, the Marine. And his ears look like if they caught wind, he might fly away.

This morning, a young man writing in my campus newspaper, the inauspiciously named ''Daily Student,'' gave me some thoughts. He was lamenting the impact of Internet piracy on the poor record companies. His claim was that record companies are in the business of developing musical talent and if they can't make big bucks, then we will be reduced to ''folk music.''

As a fan of early Joan Baez, I'm not scared of folk music, but this young fellow was horrified. I got to thinking of my own undergraduate years, when everybody had a guitar and we lived the truism that guitar is the easiest instrument to play and the most difficult to play well. There was also the odd dulcimer, autoharp or flute. Making our own music might have been a little rough on the neighbors, but my memories are fond.

What about people who want to sit and be entertained, particularly Indians?

Well, there's Mitch Walking Elk, one of the few people I've ever heard in person with the chops to cover Roy Orbison. Muscogee poet Joy Harjo is also an exciting and cutting-edge musician, with or without the Poetic Justice band. John Trudell also bridges the gap between the spoken and the sung. There are worse fates than going to hear Joanne Shenandoah or Bill Miller. R. Carlos Nakai has melded Native flute with mainstream American music, no small deal since traditional flutes were carved to fit the hands of the musician rather than to produce a common pitch with other instruments. We have traditional flute players everywhere, and as a Cherokee I have to mention Tommy Wildcat.

The only sure thing about the paragraph above is that somebody will be offended because I didn't mention his or her favorite. I find myself offended that I did not mention somebody who dates from my early love of folk music and is still playing: Buffy Sainte-Marie. Actually, before you send me nasty messages, try to understand how this makes my point. We as ordinary people and as Indians are perfectly capable of making music without the aid of large corporations.

Which segues back to the natural subject of election years: elections. We may have a chance, for the first time in my lifetime, to pick a president without the aid of large corporations. Obama has raised more money in the last month than McCain during the entire campaign, most of it online. Obama's average contribution is $109. When you can raise money in great amounts from small contributions, we can hope there will be no more sales of nights in the Lincoln bedroom if Obama is elected.

I've paid close attention to every election since Eisenhower v. Stevenson. My students, of course, don't remember Adlai Stevenson, who famously replied to an admirer who said every thinking person was for him: ''That's not enough, madam, we need a majority!''

Obama's recent speech on race scans between a 10th- and 11th-grade level by standardized measures. The problem with that is that most political discourse takes place on a sixth-grade level. I try to do the same thing with this column. This is not showing off. You can say things with complicated language you cannot say with simple language. The drawback is that people may not be listening. I've made the choice that you can't advocate for education by pretending not to have it, and it appears Obama has done the same. This leaves me wondering, as I have so many times since Eisenhower and Stevenson, whether the United States will get the government it needs or the government it deserves.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and an associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University - Bloomington. He is a columnist for Indian Country Today.