An effort to weave two disparate topics into a column.Based on last presidential election.
| Birds on the Stump
“...Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal chords.” Adlai Stevenson
My sister recently burst into song–birdsong, that is. We were at the tail end of a telephone gab session when our chitchat segued from the presidential race to wild bird calls.
“Blue jays have quite a repertoire of songs,” Carol said, “and one of them sounds just like a baby chimpanzee. It sounds like this...” She squawked so realistically I nearly dropped my cell phone into the spaghetti sauce. Thank heavens we weren’t Skypeing; Merely imagining her blue jay-like facial contortions made my weak eye shudder like a Jello shot at a bachelor party.
I quickly hung up before Carol launched into her celebrated medley of jungle bird calls and opened my ancient book on birdsongs. Several chapters later it suddenly dawned on me: Birds and politicians have strikingly similar methods of communication.
I knew I was on to something when I read these words by early 20th century author and bird expert Aretas A. Saunder, “. . . Many birds communicate in a loud, harsh chatter, while others call out in an emphatic twitter. “ Aha! I had heard those exact vocalizations during a recent presidential debate.
During my research, I came across other amazing similarities:
1. Meadowlarks are capable of singing two songs at once. Big deal. Politicians can talk out of both sides of their mouths. “Since 1968 there have been all these theories that I was running for this, that or the other. This country has enough problems without inflicting me on it,” said Ross Perot who shortly thereafter ran for president on the Independent ticket. Charles de Gaulle may have said it best: “ Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him.”
2. Birdcalls and songs can be maddeningly repetitious. One hopped-up red-eyed vireo reportedly sang its song 22,197 times without stopping. A neighbor of mine was unable to fall asleep in his camper one summer night because a whippoorwill perched on his roof and whipped poor will 385 times in a row.
That’s nothing. Politicians repeat their monotonous platitudes for years. “Mistakes were made, mistakes were made,”, “Let me just say this about that,” or “Stay the course, thousand points of light,” “Read my lips, no new taxes,” and “Right wing conspiracy, right wing conspiracy!”
2.The calls of both the white-crowned pigeon (“Coo-cooo”) and Bell’s vireo (“Tweedle-deedle dum”) seem to refer to that particular bird's intelligence. Politicians may blurt out stupid statements, confirming our suspicions that they are are not as smart as their publicists' would have us believe. “It’s wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago.”- Dan Quayle And this classic- “Depends on what your definition of is is,” Bill Clinton 1998.
3. Meadowlarks vary their songs from region to region. Politicians’ often change their tunes, too ..... “ Wait a minute, I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out,' and 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping." –Pat Robertson, clarifying his call to assassinate Hugo Chavez
4. Mockingbirds and catbirds mimic other birds’ songs. Politicians love to mock their rivals.
“After one of his long-winded harangues, I suggested he (Hubert Humphrey) had probably been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.” Barry Goldwater
5. The bohemian waxwing and Philadelphia vireo sing out “Seee,” or “See-me? Here-I-am! Up-here!” And the boastful northern cardinal cries, “Purty, purty, purty!” Politicians love to be the center of attention. “I like the color red because it’s a fire. And I see myself as always being on fire.”- Arnold Schwarzenegger
6. The willet, a large shore bird calls, “pill, will, willet, kuk, kuk, kuk,” Politicians sometimes make no sense. Consider this statement by Adlai Stevenson - “The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to resolve it by legislation why who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, or even bird versus worm....” And the equally perplexing “I know something about being a government. And you’ve got a good one.” —George W. Bush, Nov. 4, 2002.
On a final note, I’ll repeat the call of an unidentified bird I call the “Pat Nixon bird.” I have never seen it, but it lives in my backyard and calls out, “Reechard, Reechard, Reechard!” I don’t understand what the bird is really saying any more than I understand political rhetoric. So excuse me while I telephone my sister for an explanation and some realistic impersonations.