Thursday, January 31

Okay, Patting Yourself On The Back During Auto-Fellatio Is Impressive, Gymnastically. It's Just Not My Idea Of A Great Porno Loop.

Jeff Greenfield, ex-journalist, CBS: "With Edwards' withdrawal, something which would have been unthinkable just a decade ago has occurred: The Democratic Party will nominate either a woman or an African-American for President."

WHAT the hell happened to Jeff Greenfield? Yale Law, writes speeches for RFK, spends a year as the Liberal-Rationalist questioner on Firing Line, seems like a promising political affairs reporter. Gets a teevee gig as a media commentator for CBS, which seemed at a time when the mass-market media was still congratulating itself for its glorious non-role in exposing Watergate, and when Jimmy Carter was being treated nightly as the Ur-Al Gore, a new, important beat. (Consider what might have been had critiquing the news become a regular part of The News.) He starts off pretty good but then begins to develop a slow IQ leak that, somehow, never gets repaired.

(Why? Well, for one thing, the early 80s and their insistent Reagan fluffing were the apex of the network capitulation to Nixon's anti-Press campaign, which saw the elimination of news commentary, the rise of the Happy Talk/No Disturbing Unpleasantness format, the promotion of Barbara Walters up from the cosmetics counter and the (not unrelated) absorption of independent network news bureaus by Sports and Entertainment, not to mention Big Infotainment's eye on Our Digital Future & Cable Pie and a favorable merger & acquisitions climate. The networks did not wish to be part of the Librul Media, regardless of the accuracy of the charges, and as a result you had Bircher demagogy elevated to Voice of the Common Folk status, on the grounds that some of its spokesmen actually lived out there with Homer and Jethrine and thus must have a finger on their pulse, their colorful rustic rituals, or the pipette they used to inseminate hogs. Consider the clueless groping the Times has engaged in in bumbling its way along the same path in recent years. Consider that that period in network news stretches, roughly, from Walter Cronkite noticing the Light was out at the end of the Endless Tunnel, to the period when Sam Donaldson was loudly disparaged as the face of teevee liberalism. Sam Fucking Donaldson! It didn't exactly pay to be smart.)

By the end of the first year of the much-admired Reagan era Greenfield had begun to look like he'd contacted incipient Norma Desmonditis, possibly from Leslie Stahl. By the time he jumped to ABC in 1983 he was practically a Koppel Klone, meaning that IQ was down at least thirty ticks. Whenever I've seen him since he's been more unwatchable than the previous time. The last time I remember tuning him in--as opposed to bumping into him accidentally and trying to be polite--he was leading his CNN White Guy Panel in a Jenna Bush-inspired discussion of how "everybody" used fake IDs in college, and the media ought to leave the President's family alone. No one even bothered to cough up a dissenting opinion. Sure, sure, hindsight's 20/20, but don't the nose-thumbing adventures of a couple of aimless, disinterested partying princesses now seem like a harbinger of their Daddy's administration, if we'd just bothered to listen half-seriously? I mean, aside from the fact that they didn't pull weapons and change the management regime at Chuy's.

Perhaps the above is superfluous; perhaps it's sufficient to note that I walked into the room where my Poor Wife was watching the CBS Evening News, which is now delivered by a woman whose demeanor suggests she should be co-chairing the event with a cast of woodland puppets. And just as I got there Greenfield was delivering that windup about how unthinkable it is that a Woman and a Colored Fellow should be duking it out for the right to be slimed on cable news for the next several months. Sheesh, it's not even unthinkable that the Republicans might have gotten around to breaking the White Male barrier a decade ago, though it would have been the Veep slot and it would have been calculated, not earned by having the best time in the 1500 meter slime wade. Hell, internet trolls couldn't get enough of the idea that Condi Rice would replace Dick Cheney in 2004, thence to run in 2008 as that unstoppable combination of Woman and Black, setting off a nationwide series of Liberal Brain Detonations unlike anything ever seen in US politics.

This stuff borders on insulting the sainted dead and the mostly-unsung living who gave so much in pursuit of equality, and who were so often backhanded from the same pulpit where Greenfield now leads us in prayerful Thanksgiving for our own worth. And that's when it doesn't cross the line with impunity. Or is it just me? Please, someone, anyone, explain to me what difference in attitude there is between that stump-dumb notion of Liberalism being trawled across the internet four years ago and this nonsensical idea that America Has Finally Turned A Corner because a good-looking orator and a very smart lightning rod stand poised to take the Democratic nomination. In a race, we might add, which hasn't made it to the one-month mark without charges of racism and gender bias being loudly "examined" in the Press. Historical? Okay. Unthinkable a decade ago? Sure. If the decade you mean is the 1920s. Someone recently reminded me that Jesse Jackson (like Obama, a black man!) won the South Carolina Democratic Primary. Twenty years ago. And like the Lady said, it still is faux-balanced news.

Tuesday, January 29

So Long. Assholes.

AH, what is so rare as a day that rids of Rudy Giuliani and officially ushers in the Bush Legacy with last night's State of the Union? Here's wishing both men many, many, many, many years in which to enjoy their retirement.

It's tempting to say I want my eight years back, but that would be an insult to the people who didn't survive them courtesy the incompetence, greed, and self-aggrandizing, testicle-free macho posturing of these two.

I've never sat through an entire Bush speech or press conference during his Presidency. I tried, once or twice; frankly, I'm not comfortable admitting I never made it, since I think one ought to do so at least once as the price of citizenship, with mouth closed and ears open. But with Bush, if nothing else, the jaw always dropped sometime within his first fifty words. How did you come to be elected, even in Texas? People heard this guy speak, and then they voted for him. Some more than once. And it's not as if he's simply a bad public speaker, or a clumsy one. He's a What Th' Fuck Is This Guy Brain Damaged? speaker. Which, of course, I know you know, but I bring up for two reasons. One, I've decided to run screaming to the bosomy comforts of (political) nostalgia as a refuge from a campaign I no longer want to hear about (and I'm sticking to that for at least the next ten minutes). And, two, because the fact that this guy managed to get elected President after he was known (it's the first one he had to steal) ought to serve as a partial anchor to reality for all the suddenly-weightless Progressives and Independents flyin' around here like seraphim.

Remember, he was the guy you'd want to have a beer with. He was charming. He winked! And people--people who are paid to comment on the state of our nation--saw, looked you in the eye, and said that it was Good! He'd been misunderestimated! He was an executive, not an English teacher! By that summer they were telling you how much he'd improved! in just the four months since they'd told you he didn't need to.

Remember his February 27, 2001, address to Congress? The one with the hysterical Republican applause breaks pencilled in for roughly every other conjunction, and standing ovations every time he completed a paragraph without announcing he needed to go potty? (It was impossible to listen to, but I do recall him saying that the massive budget surplus, fiendishly and criminally accumulated by the Clinton administration, would more than cover his lil' ol' tax cuts for the foreseeable future. [Standing ovation. Time 0:45])

Remember the White House Vandalism story? That one took less than twenty-four hours from Inauguration to national press. Recall how Ari Fleischer puffed the thing for a month, kept insisting he'd provide proof (the remarkable thing there being there were actually some members of the Press Corpse who asked for some), then turned up with a Polaroid of boxes stacked in a cubbyhole? Remember that he put off coughing up this shocking evidence by saying the WH was cataloging the massive damage, then admitted the cataloging was actually "one staffer" who was "keeping mental notes"? Remember that the GAO would say, two months later, that it could not confirm any extraordinary damage whatsoever? Remember Bush being hailed as a statesman for allowing as how there'd been no damage on Air Force One, something like six weeks and several eyewitness reports to that effect after the story broke and took attention off his rapidly-recognized incompetence?

Remember that six months later the WH came out with a final tally, claiming obscene graffiti in the Executive Office Building, hundreds of "inoperable keyboards" and cut communications lines? All from the mental notes of one flunkey, and despite the President being Bigger Than All That, and, remarkably, just at the time his approval numbers really began to tank.

Remember that this made the Press Corpse famously dislike Ari Fleischer, as demonstrated by the fact that the ones who weren't planted male prostitutes could be seen hoping he'd get his footing crossed up and one of their softballs would break his glasses?

Approval numbers! Bush had no use for them, of course, not being a poll watcher, or a thinker, or much beyond an amateur bicyclist, but remember how fabulous his early numbers were? The man who'd been selected after the crookedest and most acrimony-filled election in a century, at least, entered the White House with just 18 percent disapproval ratings, or so we were told. I'd like to know who the rest of you are.

Selection! Remember that whatever shenanigans the Court pulled were in the service of putting George W. Bush in the White House! Not one of five justices of the highest court in the land was sufficiently rational enough to say to himself, "George W. Bush? Th' fuck'm I thinking?" Remember his selection acceptance speech? The one before the Texas legislature, whose sad Dixiecrat reverberations were loud enough for our keen-eared national pundits to promote the idea that George W. Bush could reach across the aisle? Why, he worked with Texas Democrats! or, as they're known elsewhere, No Longer Mostly Klansmen. The loser of the popular vote, installed by the worst decision since Plessy, at least, barely fucking acknowledged the majority of the country's voters who'd voted against him. You generally get a better consolation handjob just after a landslide falls on you. (It had, unknowingly: before December was out some Bush functionary or other--no commenting on the record!--would be quoted bubbling on about his mandate, the same mandate which would later be given to Iraqi citizens who found themselves in proximity to the National Museum and in need of a little somethin' for the nick-nack shelf.)

Through all of this no harsh words were heard from the mass-market press--except those still being aimed at the Clintons or Al Gore's Beard--despite the fact that had your favorite daughter pulled just one of those stunts you'd have had her written out of the will. Mike Allen's still eatin' good. So's Chris Matthews, Kit Seelye, and Bill Kristol; Andrea Mitchell's still filing for the Liberal Keith Olbermann show. Judy Miller's still drawin' breath. Bush's tough talk on the recently re-discovered Osama bin-Laden gets a standing ovation from Nancy Pelosi as he squeezes out his final hot links before returning to the Crawford Texas of Eternity. (Good Christ, I forgot about Crawford.)

So long, asshole; we'll always have the French Quarter. Too bad about Rudy. He was your last best hope at getting some small respect from our future historians, if any, as in "but the real disaster was still to come". And remember, America's always ready to fuck something else up in the name of its Divinely High opinion of itself, so keep up hope. We're losing an asshole, but nobody's ready to empty the colostomy bag yet.

Monday, January 28

It's Just Too Bad James Meredith Isn't Around To Present You With Your Medals

What: "Our first black president?"

Where: Salon

Subhead: "It's worth remembering the context of Toni Morrison's famous phrase about Bill Clinton so we can retire it, now that Barack Obama is a contender."

Can That Possibly Be The Actual Subhead?: Yes.

Why You Need To Read Further: You don't.

Why You Might Anyway: 1) You're 12 and you have a report due tomorrow. 2) You're a Crotchety Senior Citizen who likes to keep abreast of the latest developments in tone-deaf idiocy.

Précis: The one time Toni Morrison referred to Bill Clinton as our first Black president she wasn't referring to his skin color.

Conclusion: The one time Toni Morrison referred to Bill Clinton as our first Black president she wasn't referring to his skin color.

Number of Words In Between: 800.

Number of Those Words Which Is "Cute": Two.

Why Our Forefathers Were Willing To Sacrifice Their All For a Free Press: "Once we stop rehashing this term out of context, we can stop accepting as a given that African-Americans have already had their black president, and focus instead on this actual African-American candidate we have before us, Barack Obama."

Describe Obama's South Carolina Primary Victory in Three Words or Less: "historic and overwhelming".

In These Historic and Overwhelming Times, Is It Still Possible to Make a Major Contribution to the Language?: "An actual black man now stands before the nation, making the case for why he thinks he is the best choice for president. Regardless of what happens in the weeks and months to come, America is listening."

Odds That The Multiple Ironies of the Above Were Lost on the Author: 5 in 6.

We Shall Overcome Our Historic Reluctance To Vote: "Obama won a majority of whites under 30, along with the vast majority of African-Americans and most women."

Okay, But What's The Metacontext?: "Real and urgent issues affect black people all across the nation."

Chance That After This I'll Apologize For Having Called Camille Paglia The Worst Writer on the Internets: Still zero.

Friday, January 25

David Frum. For Those Times When One Bill Kristol Just Isn't Enough.

David Frum, "Turning the Triple Play." January 25

I'VE been indulging my increasingly worrisome and incontinent nostalgia with a correspondent and fellow Indianapolitan (we do not call ourselves that, by the way), managing so far to let the confluence of the Underground Railroad, possible Native American forced migrations, the troubling loss of arable land, and the shameful state of legal protection for old cemeteries half-convince me that I'm not more affected by the destruction of the woods where Peggy Clarke let me reach under her training bra. Anyway, fair warning. I try to use this stuff to gauge the progress of Incipient Galloping Geezer Syndrome, so far only self-diagnosed. You're welcome to help.

But, you know, these kids today! When I was a lad, someone like Walter Brennan, who'd won something like six Oscars™, worked as a teevee sidekick. Today, someone who'd just been the fricking sidekick for a season is due international acclaim, and those Oscars™ would have entitled Brennan to the Sub-Saharan African nation of his choosing.

This, then, is the emotional and intellectual mindset with which I approach a Times guest editorial from Frum. Who th' fuck is David Frum? and What's he famous for besides being wrong? Kristol was Quayle's Brain. Frum was Bush's Uvula.

This attitude dovetails nicely into actually reading the piece, which is a nostalgic look backward at the period when "conservatives" could both afford utter obliviousness and get away with it. The titular "Triple Play" is...wait for it! imaginary panel discussion! involving the three types of "conservative": economic, social, and political, or "foreign policy". Frum poses the Big Question of 2005:
WHY is the Republicans’ three-legged stool wobbling?

Y'know, I'm just an amateur woodworker, but if I was to hazard a guess I'd say that one of your legs being wholly imaginary isn't helping much.

I mean, really, when has there ever been such a thing as a "Foreign Policy Conservative" who was a discrete species? We've certainly listened for decades to the line about Republicans being "tougher on defense" (read: more willing to throw unfathomable amounts of taxpayer dollars down that particular rat hole). You've even got a candidate over there figured he could run on that alone (The name escapes me. Jewish fellah? How's he doin', by the way?), but he jumped on the Bush Tax Cuts Are The Major Achievement Of Our Times Outside My 9/11 Leadership wagon pretty quick. You might've found a liberal hawk to join in as late as 2006, but they're hardly "conservative" by your standards, and they've all drunk themselves to death by now anyway. You might as well have made one of them a cabbie.
The Economic Conservative:

It’s not my fault that we’re in such trouble.

You foreign policy conservatives got us into this endless war in the Mideast. You’ve driven up oil prices and busted the budget. And you social conservatives: Your obsession with same-sex marriage makes us look as if we’re from the Middle Ages. And why can’t you people pay for your own prescription drugs? The Iraq war was bad, but Medicare Part D could cost at least 15 times as much.

What this party needs is a return to the good old Reagan message: less spending, lower taxes and no more of these weird social and foreign adventures.

All righty. Let's recap, shall we? The Iraq war was conducted from the get-go off the budget. Maybe that's not the technical term, but the administration chose to fight first and ask for money later, including, if you'll recall, avoiding any supplimental spending bills until after November, 2004, to the extent the Pentagon's financial boys had to do some fast shuffling to buy bullets. Name me the Economic "Conservative" who objected to these shenanigans at the time. Name me one who's objected since, prior to the post-'04 meltdown and subsequient realization that the party was in Deep Shit. Just one. Somebody at The Corner. Some guy in Helena with a chain of Vegetarian Poodle Clipperies. Anybody. Isn't "You Broke It, You Bought It" a foundation of Economic Theory, or am I showing my ignorance?

On the other hand, I'm with ya on this Medicare prescription plan business. I would have been earlier, but I didn't understand that "Economic Conservativism" meant "evaluating programs solely according to the projected long-term costs as determined by the Coefficient of Making Shit Up". I'd like to suggest you guys run on it. The day won't be far off when the Republican party once again serves as the unequivocal voice of the Railroads and Eastern banking interests. Long may she wave.
The Social Conservative:

You’re blaming us? It’s our votes that pass your tax cuts — and what do we get in return?

Of course you can’t understand why we care about the marriage issue. You’re rich and secure and highly educated. The divorce rates for people like you have plunged since 1979. With your big new salaries up there, mothers can quit their jobs and stay home with the children — while your illegal-immigrant housekeepers make the beds. Down here, though, it’s still the 1970s. Our wages are stagnant. Both parents need to work, and those megachurches you laugh at provide the day care that makes it possible.

We can’t afford a single mistake. We need government to send consistent moral messages to offset the poison your Viacoms and Facebooks are dripping into our children’s minds.

You got a tax cut. We didn’t. That big increase in the per-child tax credit with which you garnished your big payday? We can’t use it. It’s only credited against income tax, and many of us don’t pay very much income tax. And even if we could use it, it usually gets clawed back by the alternative minimum tax. We are the party — but we’ve got little enough to show for it. It’s about time we ran it.

This is really stunning, and maybe I've misjudged Frum's abilities. It's not often you run into someone who can be wrong about both sides of an issue at once.

(That was my second thought. My first was, I sure wish he'd given his debate squad names, instead of labels. Zeke here sounds like my kinda guy.)

Interesting that Frum seems somehow to have stumbled upon the idea that Ronald Reagan Blesséd Be Thy Name's tax cutting hasn't really done the Tricklees much good, an idea I'm pretty sure I've heard "conservatives" moderately disputing once or twice in the intervening years. And I think you gotta love the fact that some sinecured Establishment Republican imagines th' folks in flyover country musin' over that durn Alternative Minimum Tax while they're tryin' to recollect which pot's fer pissin' and which fer totin' water. Assuming there's two.

Someday--I'm basically an optimist, but I'm disinclined to believe I'll live to see it--but someday, the people these charlatans hoodwinked for decades are gonna figure it out, and when they do Frum's "Economic Conservatives"--the people who have money and yet believe Hillary Clinton is a Communist--are going to regret picking the wrong side in the debates over the Second Amendment.
The Foreign-Policy Conservative:

Have you people gone crazy? Have you forgotten there’s a war on? And that we’re in real danger of losing? Don’t you have any sense of priorities?

You tax guys insisted on fighting this war on the cheap. So we didn’t expand the armed forces after 9/11 — and fought Iraq with half the troops the generals told us we’d need. You social conservatives are happy to talk about putting tariffs on Chinese toys. But the real issue is that the Chinese are underwriting Iranian energy development — and the North Korean weapons program. Can we do something about that, please?

Okay, I was gonna just type "Insert Charlie Brown teacher voice" here, but, again, you gotta love the idea that one "Conservative" faction dreamed up The War, and another figured out how to pay for it. And I still have a soft spot for the argument that we could have changed the manpower equation in Iraq by, you know, changing it. We had three options: 1) Military conscription, which would have taken a minimum of eighteen months to produce trained soldiers in any quantity whatever; whether we had the actual training resources to turn out 200,000 of them, barely trained for some undefined purpose by an administration which did not believe we'd face an insurgency, before the first of them was ready for retirement, is highly doubtful, or, put another way, No. 2) Putting together something like the first Gulf War coalition, which would have meant waiting at least a year while Germany, Russia, and the Evil French were satisfied inspections had not worked, which, of course, we now know would have involved finding that non-existent WMDs were non-existent, which the Bush administration was not going to accept, returning us to square one, except naked this time, or 3) Virtually abandoning every overseas commitment and sending troops--regardless of specialty or training--into Iraq to act as peacekeepers and to counter an insurgency the administration claimed was not going to materialize. Again, the logistics of this, assuming it could even be thought of (we note here that even the delusional idiots who ran the operation we wound up with rejected these three) and international reaction overlooked, is problematic at best; in the event we wound up tossed out of Turkey, and additional troops would have been stacked up in Kuwait for weeks, awaiting attack by those WMDs we had pictures of, remember? Sadly, Frum doesn't mention which of the three methods he'd have employed, or which he personally urged on the President.

But what of fixin' that stool?
Economic conservatives are right to want lower taxes on saving and investment. They need to recognize, however, that supply-side tax cuts are no longer a vote-winner. If Republicans want to hold their down-market voters, economic conservatives must learn to talk about health care with the same urgency, passion and detail that they are accustomed to bringing to taxes and over-regulation.

Not to mention the same lack of shame.
Social traditionalists too need to adapt to new realities. Opposition to same-sex marriage is dwindling. The pro-life cause, though gaining strength, remains a minority point of view. If social conservatives can avoid seeming judgmental or punitive, their core message will become more relevant than ever to an America where marriage is equaling college as a tollgate to the middle class.

Or, somewhat more succinctly, keep voting for us and getting butt-fucked, Jethro. There's a shiny new quarter in it for ya.
Last, foreign-policy conservatives must recognize that crucial blocs of voters have wrongly but unmistakeably put 9/11 behind them. The apparent success of the Iraq surge — along with the National Intelligence Estimate taking Iran’s nuclear program off the table — have transformed 2008 into a domestic-issues year. Uncontrolled immigration has replaced weapons of mass destruction as the supreme security concern.

Hell. Insert Charlie Brown teacher voice.

Thursday, January 24

No, No, No. You Need To Dig Up!

THE Slate, via TPM, which, in case you're Chris Matthews, is a leftist blog. Oh, and a "blog" is a web log. And the "web" is, oh fuck it, you aren't Chris Matthews:
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama said Monday one of the biggest frustrations of his presidential bid is dealing with national media that he says doesn’t correct inaccuracies about his candidacy and his record.

Some of those, he said, are pushed by the campaign of Democratic rival U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is locked in a tight race with Obama for the party’s nomination.

Obama, speaking Monday morning to State newspaper editors, cited as an example the reporting of his remarks about President Ronald Reagan as an inaccuracy that hasn’t been corrected. Obama, Clinton and John Edwards are appearing jointly during the King Day at the Dome march and rally Monday morning at the State House grounds.

Obama, speaking of remarks he made to a Nevada newspaper last week, told The State he wasn’t praising Reagan’s policies. Obama said was making a point that Reagan reached across party lines in order to snare a large majority of American voters that made it easier for him to push his agenda.

By attracting so-called Reagan Democrats, the California governor swept into office in 1980 and cruised to a 49-state landslide in 1984. Such big victories gave Reagan a mandate to push change. “Hopefully we can get some Obama Republicans and independents,” Obama said.

We get it, Senator. Our question is whether you get it, and whether your supporters get it, and why it seems to get worse. What you said you admired about Ronald Reagan is carefully constructed fiction. I don't know whether you believe in it yourself or were just using it cynically or out of frustration with the Clintons, but it's fiction nonetheless, and centrally, vitally, important to the Democratic narrative of the disaster that was the Reagan decade.

Reagan didn't "reach across party lines." He stood in one place for sixteen years until White backlash over the Civil Rights movement, the Religio-Culture wars begun in earnest with the school prayer decisions of 1961, a bad economy, and a hostage crisis he may have had something to do with perpetuating brought those voters to him. Reagan ran as an extreme partisan; he had no choice, since his hagiographies were still in the works in those days. He sure never ran a Kumbayah campaign. The public elected him, but it viewed him, first as the only alternative to Carter (pace John Anderson, pace Barry Commoner), then as an affable, polished salesman for Double Plusgood America N' Stuff. And America loves a good salesman, even when it detects the scent of bovine manure on his brogans. Even the electoral trouncing of Walter Mondale didn't buy him a Republican majority in Congress. He didn't need one. The Democratic leadership, which bit its own President in the late 70s, rolled over and whimpered for its belly to be scratched, and conservative Democrats, including the remaining Dixiecrats, were his anyway. The race with Carter was decided in the last ten days, while he foolishly sat in the Oval Office instead of campaigning; '84 saw the full flowering of the Through the Looking Glass media coverage we've enjoyed ever since. It isn't a question of admiring his policies; it's a question of whether he accomplished what you claim, in the way you say he did, and whether he did so admirably. Not to mention whether it makes us more or less inclined to sign on. It's a question of whether an entrenched Democratic leadership simply handed over those "Reagan Democrats" in exchange for a few more years of power, and sold out the party's base, the one you now seem to think doesn't much exist, or mean much.

And it is, maybe above all else, a question of just how contrived that Ronnie the Pathfinder narrative really is and who's involved in the contrivance. Reagan is legendary as the Teflon Man. He's legendary as the President who told the White House Press Corps to sit down and behave like frightened schoolchildren, to which they complied. A lot of us who lived through it imagine that Reagan could not have been portrayed as the Great Communicatin' Coalition Builder had he simply been portrayed fairly. For some reason Big Media, which was angling for control of the future of cable and the public airwaves, relaxation of media ownership limitations, a favorable labor climate, and a Justice Department that couldn't spell anti-trust, really loved the guy. And it didn't go unrequited.

We imagine that. Since the Democratic party of the time didn't stand up and fight for Democratic party ideals, we'll never really know for sure. But we do know what his record was, and we see very clearly that parts of it, at least, appear to have been re-written by Newt Gingrich, Spitz Channel, and Jackie Collins. Where, at long last, is the beef, Senator? The Reagan "bio" has been so thoroughly larded in twenty-five years that it's all lardoon.

Fight on, Senator. But wake up and smell the coffee you rarely drink, and put down the Mountain Dew. Your suggestion yesterday that you can take Clinton supporters votes for granted, but not she yours, is the latest sign of a campaign which appears, increasingly, not to have thought things through.

Wednesday, January 23

'Night Said Fred

Okay, the Oval Office ages its occupant, but three months of part-time campaigning?

David Brooks, "The Voters Revolt." January 22

IN trying to figure out David Brooks' Republican campaign coverage one might be tempted to point out a certain, oh, trend-following via the Conventional Wisdom, where whomever is atop the US News and World Report newsview and worldview any given week is the subject of an 800-word meditation on the (possibly) sunny future of the GOP. Thus, before Iowa, Mitt Romney was the savvy guy who with "impressive clarity of mind" had reversed every one of his lifelong political stances to conform to the Gomer Pyle model of the Republican primary voter. (Although, having praised the sagacity of a move most of us might have considered Standard Political Operating Procedure #1, Brooks then doubted its long-term wisdom, and now salutes Mitt 2.0 for his Office Park Republican appeal.) After Iowa it was Mike "Not Scary" Huckabee who just might lead us to a new era of conservative domination; since New Hampshire the reanimation of John McCain has proven that "conservative" voters will not necessarily follow "conservative" leaders, chosing, instead, to be more like, well, David Brooks.

It's like a man changing brands of high-fiber cereal every week. There's the illusion of variety, but the same predictable result.

I know we keep pointing this out, but we are beginning to suspect some future Lord Raglan will have a field day with Brooks and his fellow Reagantots ("1. Is known to be well-born, but is mysterious about it. 2. Is 'liberal' in youth, though we are given no details. 3. Conversion to Reaganism involves seeing Higher Economic Truth, but 4. Remains a self-described 'moderate' or 'libertarian' "). Reagan worship has retained the sense of smug inevitability in these guys because a) it's still fueled by radiation left over from unused Teenaged Testosterone and b) Reagan worship was always about smug inevitability, regardless of the evidence. Reagantots didn't get their helmets cracked like the Left did in '68 or '72; they saw their man reelected in an electoral landslide, then the easy victory of his Preppy underling. This didn't engender their smugness--what is "conservatism", with or without quotation marks, if not the political arm of the congenitally smug?--but it gave them to believe they could practice it with metaphysical certainty. We're the real Americans! The election of a Demopublican like Bill Clinton, soft-drawling and dirt-poor, did not lead them to acknowledge their youthful liberalism as the far fence of our political meadow; it was an affront to the way the world was supposed to work now the Truth had been revealed.

But that was Then, and Now is a bummer:
The Reagan administration had its pragmatists and its so-called ideologues. It had James Baker as well as Ed Meese. Reagan carried moderate states like Connecticut, Wisconsin and Washington, as well as conservative ones like Wyoming and South Carolina.

But then a great tightening occurred. Conservative institutions and interest groups proliferated in Washington. The definition of who was a true conservative narrowed. It became necessary to pass certain purity tests — on immigration, abortion, taxes and Terri Schiavo.

Schiavo! A tell that would shame Herbert Ransom (the man so unable to control his expression when dealt a good hand that Franklin P. Adams proposed the club rules be amended to include "Anyone looking at Ransom's face is cheating"). What is it with these "moderate" Republicans that made Schiavo come as such a shock? If memory serves, that post-election winter was the time when Brooks announced he needed to rethink the Iraq disaster, then went silent about it for six months, then reemerged a semi-realist, leaving behind a cocoon fashioned from his cheerleader outfit, but keeping hold of the pom-poms. We might be forgiven for assuming the sudden realization that he was sharing a party with religious extremists was not just belated but convenient.

And now, in addition to being Unassailably Not Racist, Reagan is no longer an ideologue ("so-called", like Ed Meese! Ed Meese was a "so-called" ideologue the way a Tommy gun is a "so-called weapon"). After all, he appointed a political fixer, and not a raving Bircher, his Chief of Staff! Q.E.D. And again, how convenient for the Reagan idolater for whom the second crash-and-burn of the Reagan myth is just as professionally unintelligible as the first, the one that occurred while he was still President.
The fact is, this has been a bad year for the conservative establishment. Fred Thompson was supposed to embody the party line, but he has fizzled (despite being a good campaigner the past month). Rudy Giuliani proposes deep tax cuts that do not seem to excite. Mitt Romney ran as the movement candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire and grossly underperformed. Now he’s running as a nonideological business pragmatist for the exurban office parks, and his campaign has possibilities.

The lesson is not that the conservative establishment is headed for the ash heap. The lesson is that the Republican Party, even in its shrunken state, is diverse. Regular Republican voters don’t seem to mind independent thinking. There’s room for moderates as well as orthodox conservatives. Limbaugh, Grover Norquist and James Dobson have influence, but they are not arbiters of conservative doctrine.

Schiavo! None of the above has endorsed a candidate, to my knowledge, but Rush called Thompson the "only true conservative" in the race, Grover's fluffed Rudy, and Dobson planted a big wet one on Huckabee after Iowa. It sorta sounds like they're as "diverse" a crowd as Brooks imagines Republicans in general to be.

As for Fred, well, a campaign post-mortem would erroneously imply he had a pre-mortem campaign. Instead let's have a look at what Brooks was saying about him on the Newshour a scant four months ago:
[Thompson] said, and he made the point well on "The Tonight Show," that nobody is going to say, "I'm not going to vote for the guy. He entered too late." And that's probably a reason. I mean, they'll look at the guy. And he's got a great manner. The question is whether he has an ideology. [emphasis mine]

And now he exits, a short season later, taking "the party line" with him. Lord, if Fred had been energetic enough in the interim to have made the crossing from No Ideology to Embodiment of the Party Line he'd still be polling in the Twenties. Y'know, I have no problem with David Brooks being delusional. I just object to him taking up valuable real estate while doing it.

Tuesday, January 22


THIRTY-five years. I'm old enough to remember back-alley abortions, in particular a young girl who stumbled down the stairs at my girlfriend's house in 1971, screaming. My girlfriend's mother, a staunch liberal Christian, had arranged the operation, and my girlfriend was the only one who'd known she was there, or who she was. I remember thinking about her when I heard about the Roe decision a couple years later, and hoping she'd never go through it again, legal or no.

As an anniversary, Roe seems to me to be a day for somber reflection, not in the form of a meditation on the "moral" issue of abortion, but on the corrupt manipulation of our public discourse, from the "Thanks for watching" card I got in response to asking the old MacNeil-Lehrer Report, circa 1976, what standing a Catholic priest had that put him on their panel discussion, through Professor Newt Gingrich telling Stephen Ambrose that anyone performing an abortion in the 19th century would have been tried for murder (and getting away with it), to Justice Kennedy's bizarre impersonation of a B-movie backwoods Family Court judge. The public issue has always been phrased as a question of "moral values", of "when Life begins", or the "rights of the Unborn", despite the fact that opposition to reproductive rights has always been a minority opinion in the decades since Roe. We might ask here if the reader was taken aback momentarily by the peculiar circumlocution "Unborn", or whether it's become enough of a commonplace that we zoom right by. How much of our debate concerns a "Right to Life" which is not even properly a term of the debate (or, reversed, occupies the center of a very different space: what is a woman's right to her own life?). Framing the issue as "choice" arose only after the buzzwords of the anti-rights crowd had completely shaped the public debate. (How many times have you heard about "partial birth abortion"? Can you, without looking, give the proper term for the procedure?)

But it's not about "choice", it's about rights, a proposition which has never been given fair hearing. Roe came precisely at the time when the television networks (still the public's #1 source for news, but so much more so then) were busy caving in to Nixon's Press paranoia and Agnew's delivery of Bill Safir(e)'s alliterative onanism. In the interests of "fairness" the minority opinions of the Right were not just aired (as they always had been), but treated with kid gloves. Cassocked Right to Lifers were never asked to denounce contraception as murder, a stance which would have split the movement and might have drastically changed where it stands today. Birth control didn't peek out of the closet until the Bush administration neared the summit of Mt. Hubris. One never hears the anti-choice advocate asked to give a simple answer to the basic question of who controls a woman's body, she or the State, of what will stop back alley surgeries, of how they can call abortion "murder" while denying that woman who have them will be tried for a capital crime.

Instead it's a thirty-five year history of harassment--to put it nicely--of citizens trying to exercise a Constitutional right, in part because Roe is never presented as such. Imagine a national effort to scream in the ears of African-Americans between the doors of their vehicles and those of the polling place. Imagine a "Voting Crisis Center" set up down the block designed to trap unsuspecting voters into casting worthless ballots. Imagine an interstate terror ring being ignored by the FBI for the duration of three presidential terms.

Okay, it ain't that hard to imagine. I'm from Indiana; I have to show my driver's license now to vote, to prevent "fraud" no one's ever demonstrated. But at least the challenge to that law gets reported on something like its merits; at least reports of voter intimidation aren't covered as differences of opinion. The harassment of women seeking their right to a medical termination of pregnancy is attacked everywhere with impunity. We're reminded by the juxtaposition of the holiday that for the better part of a decade after Brown public schools across the South were simply closed, rather than comply. Much the same has occurred for thirty-five years of Roe, much of it achieved by physical coercion, yet somehow this is treated as part of an ongoing national debate, and not as a source of ongoing national shame.

Monday, January 21

Holiday Wishes

At Roy's Duncan requests a little vintage William F. Buckley; we supply a bit only in the way we'd offer you an eggnog for Christmas: with personal repugnance and good cheer:

From "Why the South Must Prevail," August 24, 1957.

"The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.

"National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. . . . It is more important for the community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.

"The South confronts one grave moral challenge. It must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class. . . . Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function."

From June 2, 1964:

"But whatever the exact net result in the restricted field of school desegregation, what a price we are paying for Brown! It would be ridiculous to hold the Supreme Court solely to blame for the ludicrously named 'civil rights movement' – that is, the Negro revolt . . . . But the Court carries its share of the blame. Its decrees, beginning with Brown, have on the one hand encouraged the least responsible of the Negro leaders in the course of extra-legal and illegal struggle that we now witness around us. . . .

"Brown, as National Review declared many years ago, was bad law and bad sociology. We are now tasting its bitter fruits. Race relations in the country are ten times worse than in 1954."

The National Socialist Review was still slagging King during the Reagan administration, meaning that at some point the Communist Negro revolt might have actually crossed paths with the "Librals are the real racists" routine that followed.

Why We Need School Vouchers

MY Poor Wife was sitting in her classroom Thursday between periods when a girl she didn't know turns up with a class schedule looking for her next class. And it turns out that she was a period late, being unfamiliar with the whole setup because she's a current-semester transfer from the Land of Ponies and Chocolate and Chocolate Ponies known as private school education. And she and my wife get to talking, and she tells the girl, who rather obviously is some species of upperclassmanperson, that there must be some mistake on her schedule, because the class she just missed was for freshmen. And the girl replies that since her parents had refused to pay her private school tuition for the previous semester (reason as yet unexplained) the school was withholding her transcripts and she was being forced to enroll as a freshman unless and until the transcripts were released.

Which sent my wife down to the guidance councilor, who informed her that 1) this happened routinely and 2) public schools were powerless to remedy the situation by skipping the student a grade. In fact, she learned, the school had recently graduated a young man of 21 who had lost three years to the practice. And no, public schools were prohibited by law from behaving in a similar fashion.

Sure, sure, pay your bills. But that's not the fault of the student, and how 'bout demanding payment up front if you're gonna be so goddam dickish about it? How does someone wind up three years in arrears?

Then again, I'm reminded that in Indiana your optometrist owns the results of the eye exam you pay him for; I've had one refuse to give me a copy so I could buy glasses elsewhere. Just another example of why I remain unconvinced that government has any real interest in citizens being able to read.

I Feel Yer Pain, Bub

LISTEN: I'd'a been happy if Barack Obama had turned out to be a better candidate. Not gushingly happy, no, which on its own would likely have left me outside the club, but happy to the extent that there was a progressive voice in the Democratic primaries who hadn't signed off on opened-ended offensive war conducted by incompetents and crooks, or who wasn't Dennis Kucinich (no hard feelings, huh, Denny? You're not the guy).

But then the first thing I hear come out of Candidate Obama's mouth is how narcissistic Boomers and their partisan politics are harshin' his buzz. This is Progressivism? It's a critique of local radio formats.

This is acceptable in someone who's twenty-six, but in a middle-aged man, born on the 196th of Kennedy's Thousand Days, it's a campaign pander. Senator Obama was old enough to make a decision in the Carter-Reagan campaign of 1980. He's old enough to have seen what happened since. He was at Columbia (a political science major!) and at Harvard Law in those days, and after that in Chicago's wards. He has to know the nature of the "excessive" partisanship of the last twenty-five years, and he should be keenly aware of the damage caused by the Democratic party leadership's decision to accentuate the Loyal and ignore the Opposition (that, too, sounded like good soundbite politics at the time). He may, indeed, now be forgiven if he feels some schadenfreude at the treatment of Bill Clinton's presidency, but that does not excuse a clear-eyed look at just who has controlled the partisan timbre of the last quarter-century, and who has been holding on, trying to protect the environment, social justice, and those other excesses of the Sixties.

We don't count him out yet, any more than we dismiss his potential as President to do what he refuses to say as Candidate. And we certainly agree with jabs at Bill Clinton. Okay, except this:
But, trust me, to the thousands of committed progressives who supported him when he really needed it, who went to the mat for him at his moment of (largely self-inflicted) crisis but who now happen to be supporting someone other than his wife, he's done himself a tremendous amount of damage.

since at our age we're weary of everyone with a keyboard speaking for Thousands of Us, and we're still functioning well enough cognitively to recall "going to the mat" in opposition to naked, lyin', thievin', and yes, fascist power grabs by the Right, not as a political calculation that anything a centrist Democrat did was worth defending. And we also recall that some of the most anti-Clinton sentiments we heard during that whole politically benighted decade came from the Left. Rightly.

We're sorry, but then we didn't do it. The man has run a poor campaign, and we suggest he's done so at the service of a political calculation, namely, that looking and sounding like you'd win a reality-show competition for President was enough to clinch the real thing without trifling about specifics. He held course until November, daring to exasperate Maureen Dowd, then joined in pummeling Hillary. This was another horrid miscalculation, as Thousands of Us saw it as unfair piling on in cooperation with Tim Russert and Brian Williams. That whole "do they dare pick on a Girl" routine had been played out for months, while Obama and Edwards and the rest of the field lost debate after debate to Senator Clinton. He sat through months of debates like he was running for Mahatma, and when his numbers didn't improve and the clock started ticking he pounced. This works only if you're a puma.

Obama seemed to think that the anti-war vote was in his pocket, based on that 2002 speech everyone kept pointing at, and without regard for what he and the United States Senate has done about the war in the past three years, and he seems to imagine that whomever takes the fewest actual positions on the campaign trail wins by acclamation.

So, again, sorry. There's still time for him to come out swinging, but now he looks calculating when he does; these are the basic math skills of campaigning, and it would have been much better for him if, several months ago, his supporters had demanded to see his work. They can cry in their beer now, and blame the Clintons. We'd join 'em but we're busy pining for McGovern. And we think real Progressivism values issues over personalities, and bears the scars of old and bitter fights that still inform us today. We honor the incredible bravery of generations of miners and foundry workers who fought against slave wages and sixteen-hour days and unsafe working conditions; we remember that it was church secretaries and truck farmers and school teachers and students--and not just one charismatic preacher--who spit in Death's eye and brought down Jim Crow. Thousands of Us would as soon honor the memory of Herbert Hoover, J.P. Morgan, or Allan Pinkerton as Ronald Reagan.

And personally, a President who won't appoint three more wingnuts to the Supreme Court, threaten tenth-rate military powers with nuclear annihilation just to win votes, and eliminate what's left of taxes on the wealthiest 5% on the grounds they have better things to do with their money, is a President who won't keep me awake nights. If it's Progressivism you want, work for a Progressive Democratic party, and stop hoping a President will make it all better. Because in case you haven't actually looked at the Democratic Congress lately, even after seven years of Bush we're still a lot closer to eliminating Ugly Partisanship by crushing what's left of Progressivism than by ushering in an era when everyone else admits it was right all along.

Saturday, January 19

I'd Love To Have Me A Pony, Too, But I'm Not About To Put A Saddle On A Sheepdog

CJ, in comments:
C'mon...Obama was merely acknowledging that Reagan was politically savvy and embraced by the people enough to push his agenda...that doesn't mean that Obama or any other Democrat actually agrees with the agenda! Get real. Whether we like it or not, Reagan was able to accomplish a lot of (evil) change while he was president and united the public in a way that Clinton did fact, Clinton ignited the movement that put the GOP in congressional powera nd gave us 8 years of GWB. Just because you state that we need a movement that can create create change the WAY that Reagan did, doesn't mean you want the SAME policies and change that Reagan had!

1) Senator Obama (D-Triangulation) is running for the Democratic nomination for President. He's not running for tenure track in the History department of a community college. Which is fortunate for the students.

2) As such it would behoove him to acknowledge that the Democratic Party is not exactly the best recruitment grounds for the Ronald Reagan fan club and that, in fact, for much of the Democratic rank-and-file Ronald Reagan, his "popularity" and the subsequent confusion of his hagiographies with actual history are what they've been fighting for a quarter century. And one may include alongside this the Reagan-fluffing instincts of the Democratic party; see "Approval Ratings, 110th Congress" for an example of what failure to oppose naked dumbassery can bring.

3) No one, to my knowledge, parsed Senator Obama's comments to mean "he wants to re-enact Reagan's policies"; the piece you're responding to certainly didn't. I admit I'm frequently imprecise, unclear, or simply befuddled, and sometimes intentionally so, but I thought the point was graspable. If not, here's the remix: his professed admiration for the Reagan administration is either lacking in knowledge or a sadly-misguided pander. It may come at the service of the best man for the Oval Office, and the good shepherd of 21st Century Progressivism; I don't know, and I'm less than convinced by those who claim they know. Accepting on faith what in practice seems largely unachievable or hopelessly and unnecessarily conciliatory to a party which has wrecked the economy, exhausted the military, spied on citizens, shit on the Constitution, and destroyed our international stature for purely partisan reasons, very often with criminal intent--in the name of anti-partisanship!--is out of the question.

4) And don't tell me it's just brutal honesty; it plays upon a fictional account of Reagan and Reaganism which is at the center of our current pit of political cess. So, no, I do not agree that Reagan "accomplished a lot of change" while President, parenthetically evil or no; the Reagan Revolution is a large serving of flummery sprinkled with Cold War detritus and topped with whipped cream for an easily spoon-fed public. I don't deny their are opinions to the contrary which are not strictly intended to fluff the Old Boob; and I don't insist that every last thing he touched turned to shit. (Nor Nixon, for that matter.) But Reagan fluffery generally comes down to insisting this amorphous "bringing together" was something tangible, and that it affected some sort of legislative trailblazing that has put us on our current path (except-pfui!--when Bill Clinton is being blamed for George W. Bush). Yet--Ronald Reagan ran for President for sixteen years as Goldwater's smoother (slightly) younger brother, on the evils of National Debt, then nearly quadrupled it. He ran on an opposition to government regulation, and affected some change there--by putting industry mouthpieces in charge of their own industries, mostly--but deregulation was already in the air; the Carter administration had put a lot in into practice, and the end result was not a fundamental reformulation of the question, but a continuation of the need to regulate in opposition to tendency for campaign contributors to blunt it, rewrite it, and comandeer it. Candidate Reagan, like the rest of the anti-fluoridation bunch, griped about creeping socialism, but once in the Oval Office took his hand off Social Security like you'd drop a hot tin can. The Right-wing social agenda--abortion, school prayer, creationism, public monies for private religious schools, the great amorphous plaints of the Culture Warriors about Permissiveness--got his lip service and nothing else. His administration shepherded massive-to-the-point-beyond-insanity military spending increases. But the increases in military spending, following the lean post-Vietnam era, began in the Carter administration and were carried out far more intelligently, which is to say, with any measure of intelligence at all. geared toward combat-readiness and not space-launched lasers that can put out an A-rab's eye from 25 miles up. Reagan begat not just the vast black hole known to pundits as "Star Wars", but our program of building enough aircraft carriers that some later emperor could lash them together and ride across the Pacific on his snow-white charger. He resuscitated the unneeded and nearly unworkable Air Force Shiny Object known as the B-1 (which the Carter administration had cancelled). He insisted on creating a 600-ship Navy, and came damn close. Today, as sense has slowly crept back in, we're down to 300. Those are the headline-writer highlights. We could go on until the keyboard wears out.

One hardly need add (except to Senator Obama, perhaps) that an administration which instituted a war-time defense build-up in peacetime at a time when it knew the Soviet Union was bankrupt simply threw money at defense contractors, rather than a) innovate or b) determine and implement long-term strategic goals. Just as a headlong rush into Iraq did not result in the promised game of Middle East Democratic Dominoes, the drunken spending spree of the Reagan years did not result in an improved defense posture or necessary, sustainable growth; it just bought more stuff. A lot more stuff. Depending on your age you, or your parents, paid for it. Today, you're paying to warehouse and maintain it. Billions for a spasm, and all of it for tribute.

The Reagan administration made a showpiece of taxes, which they cut (via a Democratic Congress) in 1981, and then were required to use the phrase "it's a revenue enhancement, not a tax hike" when it came time to raise them again. (Guess who benefited in the interim? It wasn't the blue-collar Reagan Democrats so enamored of his unitin' good ways.) The economy improved during Reagan years, particularly for some, after a decade in the oil-embargoed doldrums, but not nearly as well after those tax cuts as it did after taxes were raised again in the early 90s. (This, by the way, being a prime example of how bald-faced Reagan hagiography is; when the unrestrained effusiveness over the Reagan-era economy ran headlong into the much larger, less stratified, decade-long uninterrupted growth of the Clinton years, Clinton's contribution was immediately discounted.)

We suggest, in fact, that what was "savvy" about the Reagan administration was its advertising department, which was the first to understand that if the truth isn't particularly in your favor an adequate temporal response can be formed by calling the very concept of truth into question. This was "successful" in that it won them elections, and was later the basis for further electoral gains in 1994 and the Bush II years, but in terms of governance it's an unmitigated disaster that took twenty-five years for a lot of people to recognize, while many more have yet to get it. We don't find much that changed according to the Reagan "plan" beyond the current percentage of self-described "conservatives" who answer pollsters' phone calls; we find this mainly an artifact of wishful thinking. We think the reorganization of a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, hubristic consumer society into a supposedly united and upbeat one was, and is, mostly predictable, self-fulfilling prophecy, a matter of moderate white suburban and blue-collar society deciding to chuck difficult and sometimes ugly reality in favor of that split level, cable teevee, and an easy pretense of moral clarity. And Reagan was its affable face. But his underlying political agenda advanced surprisingly little, and that mostly to the extent that the ruling Democratic party-now shorn of its Dixiecrat helpers, fell into disfavor. People climbed on board; the American public has to climb on bandwagons the way a shark has to swim forward, and if it's not accompanied by reassuring blather they check to see if they hit the mute button by mistake. The Reagan hagiography is partisanship in action. Someone who doesn't see that isn't likely to pull us out of the muck.

So, no, this is not about reenacting the Reagan years (hold that thought while I get my gun); it's about portraying them as years of accomplishment which "united the public in a way Clinton did not". Bill Clinton left office--after being hounded by Reaganauts for eight years--with higher approval ratings that the Gipper. You could look it up.

5) Reagan wasn't elected. or re-elected, nor did he sweep to "unprecidented" popularity, out of a rejection of "the excesses of the 60s and 70s". The construction contains something of a tell: the 70s were themselves a period of retrenchment from the social uphevals of the 60s; Jimmy Carter was the moderate Democratic candidate in 1976. They're blended into a haze of patchouli simply because Obama needs to account for Reagan not making it to Washington until the 1980s. But he'd been the favored backlash candidate since 1964, and there was plenty of that, enough to make him governor of California in the acid is groovy 60s. Pretending that anti-civil rights, pro-war, religious and culture war factions didn't exist until the Gipper became President is ahistorical nonsense acquired from teevee sitcoms, and it belongs, if anywhere, in the Republican primaries. The Vietnam War remained more popular than the war in Iraq until the last helicopter was shoved off the last flight deck. Reagan coasted in on dissatisfaction over Carter, which coalesced in the last week or two of the campaign. You could look it up.

6) For us the answer doesn't really matter, a point we've made several times during the campaign season: Pig in a Poke, Lick and a Promise, Wishin' an' Hopin', Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens. Obama may not be Ronald Reagan, but his voting record ain't much different than Hillary Clinton's, and we're not voting for her either. He's another in a long line of Presidential candidates who pretend not to be calculating, but won't show the work to prove it. We were willing, once, to listen; now the first thing we want to hear is an apology. Senator Obama needs to explain himself, not for the Reagan remark, but for why the country at large should put its faith in charisma when the argument in its favor is the disaster that was the Reagan administration.

7) As for Bill Clinton leading the way to George W. Bush: a limited perspective is one thing; presuming to lecture on that basis quite another.

UPDATE: Saying that he shouldn't be criticized by people who bought into the Iraq war, since it was the worst of GOP excesses kinda raises the question of what the best were, doesn't it?

Friday, January 18

One More Thing...

SORRY to interrupt the casting process for that statue of Glen Johnson, but 1) Where's the Associated Press been the last eight years? 2) Why does run-of-the-mill candidate BS get the treatment, when colossal lies get stenoed? and 3) Can't you wait your turn by this point? You can call out Romney in print every single time he says something like this; in fact that--and not reality television--is your job. I do not welcome the prospect of someone interrupting Barack Obama to quote his book at him, or Hillary Clinton to ask about her husband's penis. Enough of the Teresa Heinz moments, already. Just (start to) do your fucking jobs. Heroism is out of the question at this point.

Friday Housekeeping

Stinky ponders a) the effects of Tunisia on Paul Klee's later works; b) what good photo composition means; or c) how vastly improved digital camera optics are always available on the camera that isn't around.

JUST wanted to note for D. Sidhe and anyone else who'd planned their weekend around candle-lighting ceremonies for my upcoming surgery that it's postponed until the end of March. I did this, by the way, so that I wouldn't be underfoot during my Poor Wife's busiest month of the year, and moved it to Spring Break so she'd be better able to do without my cooking and other feeeble swipes at domesticity; she immediately interpreted it as my desire to be waited on hand and foot for a sennight. Remember, kids, at least give abstinence a try; you may be doing yourself a bigger favor than you know.

Say Goodnight, Gracie.

Wow, this comes as a shock.

LEMME say first that I'm sitting here trying to be reasonable about this. I believe that people deserve to have their words heard as intended, and we should err on the side of charity when humanly possible. The definition of a liberal as a man who sees every side but his own, well, I'm not a Liberal, but that's a pretty good joke rendition of the theology I grew up with, and I think the real joke is there's a lot to be said for it. And like ol' Sam said about Christianity, it's a real shame nobody's ever tried it.

So, really, although there ain't much worse you could utter as a Presidential candidate than how much you admire Ronald Wilson Reagan, unless you wish to add a few details to show that admiration is the result of swallowing Reagan hagiographies by the volume, I'm willing to turn the thing around once or twice and see if something useful cain't be made of it. I'm willing to read three or four Oborg posts to see if somebody else has picked up some nuance I may have missed, and I'll do so without mentioning their names. Okay, I'm ready now.

On second thought, fuck that. You think there's ugly partisanship afoot today? Too bad you're too young to have taken a seat in People's Park, Berkeley, in 1969, so you could have experienced Ronald Reagan changing the trajectory of American politics one load of buckshot at a time, and reported back on how much you enjoyed that fundamentally different path of his while his goons were chasing you down it firing into your back.

That 'States' Rights' kickoff and the worst civil rights record of any post-war administration. The worst labor record. The worst jobs-creation record to that time, since topped by his successor and his successor's idiot Reagan impersonator son. The beginning of the tax-cutting scams which have enriched the top 1% and eroded the middle class. The worst environmental record. A record of adventurism in Central America which any decent person should view with disgust. The escalation of an already failed War on Drugs to include the use of military personnel in domestic law enforcement functions. Insane spending on big-ticket military toys purely as a domestic politics ruse, long after we realized the Soviets were broke. The introduction of Bombing the Shit Out of Countries With No Air Force As A Means Of Reviving That Ol' Martial Spirit. Iran-Contra, the S&L swindle, reduction of the number of federal food inspectors, assaults on clean air and water standards, the elimination of the Fairness and Equal Time doctrines, the kickoff of America's highly-successful "Industry Mouthpiece to Regulatory Commission Chairman" Retraining Program, and its time-saving "Why Write Laws When Lobbyists Already Have a Template Ready?" reforms. Roger Ailes. James Watt. Robert Fucking Bork. With apologies to Robin Harris, you don't stop typing Reagan atrocities because you run out of them. You stop typing because your arms give out.

Oh, no, wait. That's unfair, I guess, because we have received the standard disclaimer "even though I disagree with some of his policies" from the Senator. Boo-boo all better now!

Wish I could say the same about the pod-people apologias I waded through.

No, there's no excuse for not fully understanding this. No one's going to be slickered by a canny Reagan reformulation. We've just been informed that the Senator from Illinois is either blithely ignorant about the scope of the great struggles in this country in the 60s and 70s, inside and outside the Democratic party, against racism, sexism, economic injustice, and military adventurism, or he's willing to discard them in what even his admirers claim is a Three-Card Monte deal. Those struggles all failed to some extent or another, and they all still go on. Senator Obama has the luxury of imagining he'd be standing where he is today without them. Senator Obama apparently imagines it's time to end this untidy campaigning stuff and start naming airports after him.

Our struggles have fallen short; most human endeavors, and probably all political endeavors, do. But this was not the result of our "excesses". What is excess zeal in the elimination of racial discrimination? They were opposed, Senator. Opposed by white supremacists, by the white power structure, by corporate America and the greedy little piggies at the public teat, by ugly class and race hatreds, by religious fascists. By partisans, Senator, who fought the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the ERA, environmental protection, who howled when Jimmy Carter tried to make Human Rights a watchword of American foreign policy. Assassins of moral and political leaders and murderers of thirteen-year-old black boys who they heard might've whistled at a white woman.

Partisans, Senator, real partisans, not the kind that tie up a bill in committee because some donor wants it that way. Real partisans. The kind that used millions in public funds to hogtie the Clinton presidency. The kind that paid staffers to go to Florida to disrupt the counting of ballots while pretending to be ordinary citizens. The kind that had no compunction about how they won the 2000 election.

You do recognize partisans when you see them, right? I mean, you've been eagle-eyed about it on the Excessive Left. You do see the others, right? Do you imagine these people are going to magically disappear the moment you take the Oath of Office? Why am I being asked to vote for you, again? Because you're the one man in America who realizes that if things were different they'd be different? And who guarantees that that would mean "better", so long as we don't ask for any troubling details? Because you'd look great on a stamp?

This is not a time for self-styled Progressivism to creep around the back and try to find an open window to climb in. And it's surely not a time to assume that someone kicking in the back door without announcing himself first has our best intentions at heart. Personally, I'd listened to enough sermons for a lifetime by the time I was sixteen. I've seen the results of forty years of appealing to "moderates", aka "disinterested, self-serving dumbasses"; you can, too, if you'll look at the 60s and 70s with open eyes and not with a Newsweek cover story on patchouli use as your guide. It's bad enough listening to a roomful of Obamakinder chanting like monks. It's worse when they're mindlessly intoning "We Can Do Better", despite their having done nothing whatever to prevent two Bush terms and a disastrous waste of human and material resources in Iraq. It's worse still when you direct that toward a droning appreciation of "the brave Pioneers who settled the West". An appreciation of Ronald Reagan is the topper on the Fairy Tale Wedding Cake.

And, right, right, right. Merge right, grandpa. Shut up, bitter old hippie. You know what, Obamatots? It doesn't matter. Maybe this is why some of you we won't name were so wrong about Iraq in the beginning. Actions have consequences, even pirouettes in the clouds. Excusing your man from making any real proposals on the grounds this will put him in the White House so he can get to work enacting your agenda is the surest way to do one thing: keep being taken for granted and milked for votes. Youth isn't wasted on the young. But music composition software is frequently wasted on the tone-deaf.

But then, like I say, I was sitting here trying to be reasonable, and I think I've figured a way to move past our present-day partisanship, at least. Endorse John Edwards, Senator. I will if you will.

Thursday, January 17

Who Could Have Predicted That The Big Problem With Technology Is That It Works?

SO I happened to turn on MSNBC this AM--I'd bother to explain I had no reason for doing so, but what reason could there possibly be?--and Slimy Joe "More Time With My Family" Scarborough and his co-host, or assistant, or colorist, Blowsy the Talking Hair Dye Bottle, who is apparently the end result of a twenty-five year breeding program optimizing the ratings-grabbing qualities of morning zoo "personalities"--Vocal Screech, Obnoxiousness, Plug Ignorance, and the genetically-transplanted laugh of a demented jenny mule--were talking to Jonah Goldberg about the respective party's Presidential races, having, mercifully, dispensed with that book of his before I got there (both Congressman Dead Intern and Screechy the Wonder Badger would later shriek their delight with its amusing cover).

Goldberg is a moron, something you may have heard suggested before, but Scarborough may be a bigger one. The Pantload dropped a Kumbaya-laden assessment of Barack Obama which included, yes, "Kumbaya," and a reference to "climbing a mountain and giving everyone a Coke™" which had Scarborough rolling on the fucking floor before reclaiming enough breath to praise Goldberg as the only man in punditry who could have hocked up a reference to "a commercial from 1978". Seriously. Jonah Goldberg, a man who gives every indication of never having learned anything that wasn't on teevee, and precious little that was, brings up one of the most famous commercials of all time, one which was running continuously from his eighth through his twelfth birthdays, in the course of spewing out an already clichéd description of Senator Obama which, odds are, wasn't his originally, and Scarborough acts like he's pulled off an obscure double pun on The Rape of the Lock without taking the Meerschaum out of his mouth.

This is the party which has been telling us what's wrong with Education for the last thirty years. Goldberg pitched manure-forkloads of retread Newsweek campaign analysis: Fred Thompson's the only "true conservative" in the race, but his campaign lacks excitement (what a curious requirement this is for "true conservatism"!), McCain's a "great guy personally" but one who once disagreed with George W. Bush (who, as I recall it, was ejected from the True Conservative club at least eighteen months ago), Hillary was "like a Soviet Politburo chief" (more clucking admiration from Joe for Goldberg's choice of decade of permanent lodging), and Obama, of course, Mr. Kumbaya, but not before the obligatory back-handing ("Democrats want their party to change", as if they still want it to follow the highly-successful Republican model) and a brief note how "the charges of racism flew" the minute he was challenged in New Hampshire, which "raises the question" of how he'll deal with it in the general election. "Y'know, when he's running against real racists" was, sadly, left unsaid. I'd have loved to hear Joe laugh that one off.

Yesterday I downloaded Steve Jobs' keynote address at Macworld, which--excuse me for a moment--the Technology Guy on Channel 8, who is also the non-snuggly Weather Forecast Reader and who got the Tech job--which consists of touting recently released electronic gizmos once or twice a month, more frequently for the holidays--apparently because he's the only one on staff who knows the difference between the USB and Firewire symbols, twice called "The Mac Convention", which was also displayed as a graphic. I do not mean to sound like a Mac cultist version of a Star Trek conventioneer ("It was episode 29, and they were on Antares 7, moron.") but it's been Macworld for nearly twenty-five years, and it's been noted for Jobs' keynote since his return to Apple, and it's not like it generally occurs in a busy news month, or like "busy news month" affects the ninety minutes of weather radar, church social bulletins and celebrity gossip these people husk for a living. Was there some problem saying "Macworld", like we daren't give any free advertising to a mostly unknown publication ? This, in a city which has sold the naming rights to everything but the World War Memorial, and I sure hope that doesn't give anyone in the Accidental Mayor's office ideas.

Anyway, I shuffled through the thing--Apple seems to be allowing QuickTime to moulder, probably on the grounds that it will have to fall to dust before it's as bad as Windows™ Media--and I thought, y'know, this country can produce a laptop that fits in an envelope ("style over substance" sniffs Slate, as though the
American business model of the last five decades had changed back overnight, and Jobs was the only one who didn't get the memo); we can produce crappy movies by the boxcarload, and constantly find new and better ways to force someone to hear about them, and we can even find something for Randy Newman to do twenty years past his sell-by date, but we can't manage a sensible political process or find candidates to staff it. And then today I'm reminded that in the course of two generations we've gone from Edward R. Murrow relayed to the seven-inch screen in the living room to a privileged know-nothing beamed directly into your pants. Maybe we're going about this the wrong way.

Wednesday, January 16

Spit Valve For A Rusty Trombone

Matt Bai, "McCain's Michigan Test." January 15
It’s too early, of course, to know who will win today’s primary in Michigan. What’s interesting about this one, though, is the extent to which it would seem to test one of the principal ideas underlying John McCain’s campaign—that Republicans will respond to difficult truths rather than the distant echoes of an old ideology.

DARN! If only Michigan Republicans had been smart enough to vote against their own interests!
A lot of liberals and independents who loved Mr. McCain back in 2000...

Name three who aren't "journalists".
have turned on him now, partly because of his passion for the war in Iraq and partly because he has embraced other positions to make himself palatable to conservatives. (The most obvious example may be the Bush tax cuts, which Mr. McCain voted against, but which he now supports; his justification for this is so tortured that even anti-tax conservatives don’t really seem to buy it.) It’s true that, compared to the “straight talk” version in 2000, today’s McCain looks and sounds as doctrinaire as Tom DeLay. But compared to Mitt Romney and his other rivals in the field, Mr. McCain is still something of an anomaly, a longtime Republican senator who is willing—or even determined—to tell Republican voters what they may not want to hear.

Let's put this another way: Senator John McCain, professional "maverick" and recipient of a campaign mania à la Paul in 2000 which was so mild that when he was slimed in South Carolina no one cared, adopted the Bush tax cuts he'd opposed in 2000 as part of his 2008 makeover scheme and now he can't change back.

In 2000 McCain objected to Bush's tax cuts on the grounds they "unfairly targeted the wealthy". This, it would seem, was the opportunity to test whether Republicans "will respond to difficult truths rather than distant ideological echoes" across the entire country, not simply in the Wolverine State. And the answer was a resounding "No".
Mr. McCain, for instance, is the only Republican candidate who advocates an aggressive strategy to combat global warming,

The beauty of this being that, as a Republican, the issue isn't all that likely to come up.
Mr. McCain is also the only candidate in either party whom I have heard tell a hall full of voters that a lot of manufacturing jobs just aren’t coming back, and that’s a fact we have to live with. (Sounding more like Bill Clinton than Ronald Reagan, he has proposed that community colleges be drafted to retrain displaced workers for other jobs.) This may be the simplest, most obvious economic truth in American life, and yet politicians continue to insist that somehow it isn’t so.

Really? I must have missed it when the other Republicans ganged up on McCain about this.

Look, Indiana has--or should I say, traditionally has had, a lot of auto industry jobs, and it's been badly mauled. It has a governor who got elected making amorphous claims about the lack of jobs creation by the previous administration (while he served as OMB director) compared to his own entrepreneurial competence. And when they closed Delco he first threw his flyweight behind cutting pay and benefits by 2/3, then touted replacement jobs at a new call center. You call that "straight talk," I call it "pandering to people who don't happen to be in the room at the time".
This all could make for a pretty substantive, forward-looking debate with a Democratic nominee in the fall.

What the hell, let's try something that's never been done before. I'm sure the Press will do its part, eh?
A lot of issues and personality factors will affect the results from that state, but one question would seem to be whether conservative-leaning autoworkers and other Republican voters can respect a man who tells them that their beleaguered industries have to figure out how to adapt, that it isn’t necessarily government’s fault, and that some of their jobs have disappeared for good. If John McCain can take that message to Michigan and emerge with a win, it may signal that industrial-state voters understand more about modern reality than most of their leaders tend to think.

Good Lord. The Press in general, and the Times and WaPo in particular, seem determined to prove their 2000 coverage was no fluke. People in Michigan understand as well as anyone. What's more, they've understood it for thirty-five years, or roughly since the days when someone set up Matt Bai's first trust fund.

I still say McCain is toast, and I like to think this sort of thing is partly to thank. He's an attractive enough guy (if you don't look too close), devoid of intellectual heft, who got this phony-baloney "maverick" and "straight-shooter" rep from a bunch of people who cover politics but would rather be working for Entertainment Tonight, and who can't conceive of, let alone remember, a Republican party that didn't march in lockstep. He's the longest-running Presidential campaigner since Reagan, but he never gets tagged for "ambition"; he's made every miscalculation a candidate could--if he's flopped his flips less dramatically than Romney, still his full embrace of the war at a time when it was still popular enough to keep Bush in office, but obviously deep and inextricably in shit, seriously calls his judgment into question; and his Reaganesque brain-bubble episodes are more than a little troubling in a man who'll be seventy-two freakin' years old come election day. He might have been the alternative to Giuliani, or Huckabee, but he can't be the alternative to Everybody. Mr. Campaign Finance Reform (void where inconvenient) is going to get hoist by his own canard. Maybe he can get Bob Dole's spot as a Viagra spokesman. 'Cause god knows the reacharounds don't show any sign of slowing down.

Tuesday, January 15

See? He Occasionally Writes Something A Sane Person Who'd Never Heard Of David Brooks Before Could Agree With. So He's Not That Conservative.

David Brooks, "The Identity Trap." January 15

WASHING his Wishy, not-really-that-conservative style:
When Hillary Clinton is good on the Sunday talk shows, she is really, really good. But when she is bad, she’s atrocious. When she talks about policy, she will dazzle you. When her own ambitions are on the line, it’s time to reach for the sick bag.

On “Meet the Press” Sunday, it was the latter. Clinton refused to admit any real errors. She implied that Barack Obama is unfit to be president, without ever honestly taking responsibility for what she actually believes.

Fair, and fair-warning: if Clinton is dazzling on Policy, and awful on Ambition (whatever that means), two guesses which one we're about to talk about.

We agree with Bob Somerby: when someone like Gore, or either Clinton, has a perpetual target painted on their backs by the Press gang they should simply avoid it. Tim Russert gazes out the same Overton window Brooks does. Did anyone imagine he was going to spend an hour of Wonk with her? Clinton's stage demeanor is poor; it's widely known that she's personable and much more at ease in person. It's not Russert's job to bring that out, but, pace Dowd, Collins, and the "gang" "around" the "computer screen" at the "office" where "MoDo" may not actually have been , it is his job to discuss policy, not tout horseraces. As for "ambition", what needs to be added at this point? It's a characteristic much to be decried when it occurs in Al Gore or Hillary Clinton. The only time "ambition" among Republican candidates comes up is when they lament the fact that Fred Dumbo Thompson has to import his.
She broadcast her own humility: “You know, I’m very other-directed. I don’t like talking about myself.” She also described the central role she plays in the lives of all living creatures in the universe: “The Iraqi government, they watch us, they listen to us. I know very well that they follow everything that I say.”

Just stop talking to these guys!

I mean, look, I agree. Clinton goes into clumsy mode far too easily. She comes across as calculating. She comes across as a middle-aged actress trying to hide how much she needs a part and how much she knows about the dirt underneath. Is this in some way different from most other politicians? Of the major remaining candidates, Romney's all sheen and no substance, McCain sounds spontaneous, frequently to his detriment, Edwards comes across no better than Hillary, and Giuliani (if he's still a major candidate) is an arcing wire of exposed avarice. Only Huckabee and Obama have the gift of appearing totally at ease and mostly genuine. And personally I don't believe either one of 'em.

We'd leave it there, except that our current Administration belongs to Mr. Brooks, regardless of what he says he thinks now or how non-totally conservativelike he appears to a succession of Times ombudsmen. Dick Cheney's wallowed in naked ambition and raw paranoia for seven years, and set new age-group records for hubris. His co-president broadcast his own humility, "ignored" polls, got advice direct from the Almighty, and read the minds of world leaders, and I don't recall a peep coming from Mr. Brooks' direction until his approval numbers collapsed.
Both Clinton and Obama have eagerly donned the mantle of identity politics. A Clinton victory wouldn’t just be a victory for one woman, it would be a victory for little girls everywhere. An Obama victory would be about completing the dream, keeping the dream alive, and so on.

Now, here's the thing about this whole tsimmis: I don't believe that either is the case. Clinton, as noted above by Mr. Brooks, is best at wonkery; Senator Obama at rhetorical flights of inclusiveness. It's a ludicrous premise. If Clinton tries to rally women to her side, if Obama (or his wife) tries to portray himself (rightly) as a unique opportunity in African-American history, so what? On the GOP side you've got Mr. 911, Mr. POW, Mr. Somewhat Competent Inheritor of Wealth, and Mr. Southern Baptist. So what?
The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment. Today, they are not facing the white male establishment. They are facing each other.

Anybody know how to perform the Heimlich over the internet?
But the entire theory of identity politics was that we are not mere individuals. We carry the perspectives of our group consciousness. Our social roles and loyalties are defined by race and gender. It’s a black or female thing. You wouldn’t understand.

Then let's put it in a way you will understand: fuck you. Question: when isn't the "entire theory of politics" that we are not mere individuals? Answer: Anarchy, which somehow lacks a champion this time around, and, charitably, phony-baloney libertarianism, which is allowed to pretend it's about individualism only because it performs its triple-somersaults over the safety net of knowing it will never be enacted.

Just because the "group consciousness" on the GOP side dare not speak its name except in Ron Paul's newsletters doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Why is "immigration" such a big deal over there, eh?
What we have here is worthy of a Tom Wolfe novel:

Bullshit identity politics from a Patrician perspective? Please, in the Name of all that's holy, do not disturb his corpse.
...the bonfire of the multicultural vanities. The Clintons are hitting Obama with everything they’ve got. The Obama subordinates are twisting every critique into a racial outrage in an effort to make all criticism morally off-limits.

Shit, Dave, as you noted just four paragraphs before, the accusations against the Clintons personally were "absurd".

Let's inject some facts (foreign concept, I know). Obama, trailing Hillary badly all year, was frequently encouraged on the pages of your Op-Ed section to begin attacking her. This advice came from you, as well as Frank Rich and MoDo, even if you didn't write about it twice a week.

So, again: fuck you if you now suggest he shouldn't've, or that she shouldn't fight back. After Iowa the Clinton campaign found itself sailing desperate waters, partly in the sense of the gleeful shipwreck dispatches "journalists" were composing. The campaign stepped up its main line of attack, which is that Senator Obama is too green and his pro-anti-partisanship too airy for Our Dangerous Times.

Mitt Romney did exactly the same thing, only raised exponentially, when he was on the rocks in Iowa and again in New Hampshire. I don't recall you writing a column about how anti-religion or anti-shot-down-Navy-napalmer he was. In fact, I recall you writing a column about how it all ushered in the next era in "conservative" dominance.
The final two points I’d make are: First, this whole show seems stale and deranged to the younger set, as Obama and Clinton seemed to recognize when they damped down the feud yesterday afternoon. The interesting split is not between the feminist and civil rights Old Bulls, it’s between the establishments of both movements, who emphasize top-down change, and the younger dissenters, who don’t.

Is that the Younger Set that came out in droves to push Obama to second place in New Hampshire? Or the Younger Set that's a harbinger of that Second Glorious Reagan Revolution of yours, that's backing Huckabee as a way of saying "please take our votes again before we disappear and stop inconveniencing not-quite-conservative Times columnists"? Or the Younger Set that's backing Ron Paul Superstar? Just tell me which one of these partisans will be leading us into the Non-Partisan Promised Land?
Second, this dispute is going to be settled by the rising, and so far ignored, minority group. For all the current fighting, it’ll be Latinos who end up determining who gets the nomination.

At last, a bridge to the 21st century.

And its transcendence of identity politics.