Thursday, March 19

How Much Better Can Ya Eat? How Much More Tastefully Subtle Can The Pattern On Your Dress Shirt Get?


DOES anyone watch Bloggingheads? I admit, to my embarrassment, that I've been advocating a return to talking heads television since 1970, or roughly the very moment when the nightly news became Happy Talk for Happy Earthworms, which is what I call it because almost simultaneously, and certainly not by coincidence, the broadcast air became filled with enough crashes and flashes and starbursts and sonic booms and swooshing rainbows to keep an eyeless, earless, and brainless Oligochaete or other sensory Manichaean entertained. And, of course, once you devalue sensory perception to the Lowest Pan-Species Denominator, a reasonable assumption is that abstract content is the next to go, as it was, replaced, within a decade, by more easily digested moral precepts as sold you by people with really good teeth.

Now, don't get me wrong: no way do I offer this as a panacea, and I'm not even suggesting that the news itself was much better in the overrated days of the overrated Edward R. Murrow. I just think it would be of some small psychic benefit if there was a half-hour of network television dedicated to something resembling, even shamming, gravitas. I guess there's some congruence here with some folks' idea that regular church attendance is good for you even if you have to lie about going.

But then, teevee news, whatever else is wrong with it, crams the day's events into 22 minutes; Drezner and Frum are up there for forty-five minutes, and it's still not long enough for me to figure out why they're there, let alone together. This is not the same thing as saying I don't know why they're up there, since those few times I've been directed to something at Bloggingheads have reinforced the idea that it is populated by a small-lecture-hall-sized sample of the group under consideration for Atlantic Monthly columns after that august publication was taken over by pod people. And like those Atlantic columns the thing seems disproportionately representative of both the "liberal" centrist who hopes to sound reasonable by finding some area of rough agreement with "conservatives", and the "conservative" who is willing to talk to "liberals", provided "liberal" is defined as "Ezra Klein" and "rough area of agreement" as "just how far Right we can continue to push the supposed center despite our having screwed various pooches, on tape, from several camera angles, because 'liberals' are still afraid of us". And nearly all of them of whatever stripe seem to be laboring under the rather frightening hallucination that what this country needs is more of their already-way-overexposed brain droppings.

It's a Win-Win situation, in other words, provided no one ever looks up at the scoreboard and notices the game's been over for a few years now. The idea that the domestic political universe is bounded by Matt Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan, or David Frum, for that matter, is a variety of poison to which only these folks are immune, apparently. (For fuck's sake: Frum now has a tidy little sinecure writing, over and over, that the "conservative" Republican party will be back on top just as soon as it jettisons its base, which Frum now finds gauche to associate with now that they haven't voted him back into power. And this works.)

I wound up watching half of The Reasonable Republican Seeks Common Ground With A Libertarian Republican-in-Denial Pretending To Be A Centrist Show because I clicked a link at the Times, which was puffing the "Comparing Obama to Reagan" bit. And, as I think you know, I believe this is probably the premier issue facing America today: how do we reconcile the pernicious vapidity and historical disinformation that has attended the beloved 40th President with the ongoing administration of a man the soggy Centrist--and especially the fictional "conservative" centrist--would like to present as his Second Coming, equal parts movie-star charisma, hidebound ideologue, and Lucky Lotto winner? You may already suspect that I did not tune in to Drezner/Frum expecting to find an answer.

I did, however, imagine that I might be in the presence of two men who between them could have managed to cough up who appointed Paul Voelcker (Carter) and when the Fed went to war on inflation at all costs (1979), especially seeing as how they can now speak of Obama having to get along with Ben Bernanke.

This is, of course, the really remarkable thing about the "Reagan Legacy"; not that it was constructed of jaw-dropping falsehoods but that these seem to hold so much power that even today people can't help adding to them whether they mean to or not. So that you have here Drezner saying that the Carter administration was to "liberal" failure what the Bush administration was to the "conservative" when they're about as similar as an oil stain in your driveway is to the contents of the Exxon Valdez spilled across a thousand miles of coastline by a drunken incompetent. By the time Jimmy Carter took office the fundamentals of the US economy had been in trouble for nearly a decade, exacerbated by one global oil embargo and the faulty timing of Nixon's Wage and Price controls. The Carter administration spun its wheels. He had begun his campaign as a "fiscal conservative", moved leftward, then filled his administration with nominal liberals who were nonetheless in the thrall of proto-Friedmanism, which resulted in, as someone once put it, an administration equally convinced of what needed to be done about the economy and why they shouldn't do it. Then Carter let our puppetally the Shah into the country for medical treatment, which resulted in the shutoff of Iranian Revolutionary Brand Petroleum, and more economic bad news.

Now, two things here: one, I cannot understand in any rational way why the Right did not rise up in defense of Carter's humanitarian gesture towards yet another of our Cold War Worst Dictator in the World pals, but then Politics over Even Reasonably Rational Reaction to Your Own Definition of Self-Interest was about to enter a plane of existence previously unimagined. Two, the idea of Carter as a liberal, and, by extention, the virus it died from, is pure fucking laziness.

But then, y'know, you hear Frum say that Reagan "had one or two big ideas, then spent the rest of his Presidency defending his tax cuts"--which, you'll note, seems to leave out the part about his rescinding most of them before they could do any more damage--or announcing "Market economics works!" as though the theory behind what you pay for your choice of toothpaste should more than make up for the looting of your retirement savings, as though the real problem with the markets are that they've been insufficiently shilled. And Drezner announces that while he's one of Frum's 5-8 Percenters--the Leaders and Doers and Associated Lickspittles and Accounting Firms--he's been "turned off 'conservatism' " by the Bush administration.

Let me repeat that. Dan Drezner was "turned off 'conservatism' by the Bush administration". Can anyone explain to me why a professor of political science would talk about domestic politics the way a disappointed Star Wars fanboy would talk about Jar-Jar Binks?

And how much energy do we really need to expend in this country so that people who were horribly wrong at the top of their lungs for two decades or more can still feel like they're part of the process?


Anonymous said...

The idea that the left end of the spectrum gets to be defined by squishy-soft centrist BloggerDudez like Klein and Yglesias, and even Drezner, is laughable and horrifying. On his site, Klein spends a lot of his time lately defending poor, misunderstood Tim Geithner on the AIG bonuses, and Nate Silver does the same at 538dotcom. And they're the "liberal" bloggers! I know it's passe, but couldn't we have a little outrage at the rich fucking us, repeatedly? No, we can't.

Anonymous said...

I've just recently discovered bloggingheads. . .I bookmarked it, though the one I saw probably should have put me off the whole thing: it was Christopher Hitchens versus Eric Alterman on why Christopher Hitchens Is Wrong About Everything. (Really.) Hitchens dominated the debate, while nonetheless remaining true to billing on the actual issues. It was a lesson in debate form on the uselessness of debate. Possibly there was another lesson about the temporarily superior efficacy of hard liquor (and, I suspect, speed) over long-term sanity.

Perhaps I'll feel strong enough to tackle Frum and company soon. . .in the meantime I enjoyed your remarks, particularly about TV having turned into "happy talk for happy earthworms" and devaluing sensory perception to the lowest pan-species denominator." Word.


Brendan said...

I confess to being a regular watcher -- nay, a fanboy -- of, and whether the site overall will ever be your cup of tea or not, I submit that it's unfair to judge its worth on the basis of its moments of Frum.

And yeah, it gets worse -- they also have on regular rotation Jonah Goldberg, Megan McArdle, Ann Althouse, Conn Carroll (now apparently being replaced by Matt Lewis), and a few others probably horrible enough to be suppressed by my memory. Bob Wright apparently subscribes to the Michael Jordan view of the world ("Republicans buy sneakers, too"), which means he gives airtime to more wingnuts than anyone should have to suffer.

Nonetheless, it's got its good days, too. I'll skip the sell job and just say that for my money, it's better TV news than anything except for Stewart and Colbert.

And, @redscott, some other good liberals (by my standards, anyway) that show up from time to time include Bill Scher, Joshua Cohen, Rosa Brooks, Eric Alterman, David Corn, Jane Hamsher, Mark Kleiman, Rick Perlstein, Mark Schmitt, Rebecca Traister, Emily Bazelon, Michelle Goldberg, and Noam Scheiber.

Oh, and Mickey Kaus, of course. ;^)