Friday, February 29, 2008

Bill Overdue

Not much to say here about W. F. Buckley that has not been said elsewhere. More impressive in debate that his ideas necessarily warranted, like the Pope, he was roundly and easily ignored by those in his cohort whenever he said something which disagreed with their idea of orthodoxy. I think his last three years, watching the nitwits in power, and their press enablers, must have been very demoralizing indeed.


I will point out that in 1962 he and Norman Mailer undertook a series of public debates on the nature of Conservatism. Hard to believe today, but the two of them spoke to packed houses of paying customers (some 4,000 in Chicago!) Mailer claimed to have won the exchanges by pointing out that, in brief, small-government conservatives automatically betrayed their principles when advocating an enormous military. That has been the contradiction at the heart of their blinkered agenda for almost 50 years, and may be one more fowl flying in to roost this election.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Name Cooling

For me the most interesting development of the post-Clinton campaign (Yeah, I'm being just a tad hasty. Sue me.) is the mix of apprehension and glee with which the goofy right is unpacking Obama's middle name. Now I'm someone with a strange, ethnic middle name myself (Natale, Alfonso, and Rocco are all family' names for me, so pick one) and I can tell you from experience that any embarrassment for having a 'different' name is gone by age 16. Furthermore, if your name is the same as your father's, and if you are proud of your old man, as aggravating as he could be, then the name becomes an abiding source of strength.

What I'm saying is that on a personal level they are energizing their opponent in ways unproductive for their ends.

Now does reminding people that Barack Hussain Obama, Jr. is running for president play well with the brain dead GOP base? Of course it does. But they don't need to toss any beads to the base, do they? The reason Obama is running the table now, and I think the reason behind King Zog's new low in his approval numbers, is that by every measure available, Hussain Obama is the precise opposite of the current president. Reminding people of that is exactly his message. The last smart people working for the GOP know this down to their toenails and is the reason why they are trying to nip the middle name calling in the bud.

Now some liberal observers think that effort is insincere, and there is no question the GOP is conflicted about it. They are after all the party of arrested adolescence, sullen, spoiled, loud and remarkably undisciplined (check out the RNC accounting mess if you disagree.) The short answer is they have no explanation for the last eight years, and will have to run a national campaign this summer with gas hitting $4 a gallon. When I said in an earlier post that no one lays a glove on Obama this election it is because the nature of his support recognizes that events have shifted dramatically in the country, which means none of the old rules apply much anymore, which means Barack Hussain Obama takes the oath of office on a bible in January.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Oh, look:

Over take-out meals and late-night drinks, some regrets and recriminations have set in, and top aides have begun to face up to the campaign’s possible end after the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4. Engaging in hindsight, several advisers have now concluded that they were not smart to use former President Bill Clinton as much as they did, that “his presence, aura and legacy caused national fatigue with the Clintons,” in the words of one senior adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity to assess the campaign candidly.

The campaign’s chief strategist, Mark Penn, and its communications director, Howard Wolfson, have expressed frustration with the difficulty of “running against a phenomenon” in Senator Barack Obama; their attacks have not stopped Mr. Obama from winning the last 11 contests.

Like I was saying. . .

In other news. this has to be the finest politcal ad I have ever seen. A work of art which, as I am fond now of repeating about Barack's strategy, relies upon the traditional to advance the idea of change.

There is a very telling line early in the song which reflects a situation a great many (like all of) our political accountants have hitherto ignored. "Starting on the streets of Chicago. . ." the verse begins. I am here to tell you buddy that the streets of Chicago are home to an enormous Mexican American population and have been for two generations at least. A lot of good, hard working immigrants, in their 50s, 60s and 70s, now living in San Antonio, Dallas and Corpus first lived in Chicago for years. Not only does that verse speak to their experience very directly, they have friends and family here still.

Now maybe no one bothered to exit poll Illinois a couple weeks ago. But I will bet you Senior Obama did just as well with mi hermanos Mexicano as he did with my black brothers and sisters. I am wondering how many precinct workers from Chicago are in the Lone Star state right now.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Barak and The Brainy Canadian

I keep meaning to dig through old posts so as to link to those especially incisive ones where I describe the reasoning behind my observation/prediction regarding the GOP implosion. They are back there somewhere.

Then, I decided, writing a new post about it would be less work overall, and new readers would just have to take my word on just how jolly perspicacious I have been in my short career here.

Mainly, my understanding comes from understanding Understanding Media Marshall McLuhan's strange and brilliant book regarding the corrosive action of new media on the power elites which relied upon the assumptions inherent in the old.

I hope the above was not too abstract.

Understanding Media is a dense, difficult, goofy book. Not once does the brainy Canadian stop to defend or explain his points, I guess trusting his readers and events to demonstrate the self-evident nature of his theories. Sometimes he got it wrong. Sometimes you don't know what the fuck he was driving at (the chapter on Money, for example--$10 cash to the first person who can explain that one to me.) But for a book written ca. 1959, when the old order was being remade by TV, it is astonishing what it still says regarding the internet and 2008.

Never having studied him in college (and I went to a college which, 35 years ago, regarded John Mill and W.B. Yeats as boiling avatars of contemporary thought), I can only suppose that McLuhan did not intend his book to be a point-by-point telling of his ideas, so much as a collage (what kids today call a mash-up) that would allow his readers to begin to see the media landscape for what it is, and therefor, on his terms.

People looking for a more accessible and cogent presentation of McLuhan's thinking can read a terrific book by the late Neal Postman, one of McLuhan's students at McGill, Amusing Ourselves to Death. (Though the book mainly deals with television, its title has very little bearing on what it's about, and was probably some editor's idea.)

McLuhan broadly categorized media into two groups, Hot and Cool. With a hot medium--Radio, for example--communication is entirely one way, that is, it requires no input from the consumer, and tends to build authoritarian structures (think Limbaugh and all his ilk.) Cool media, for McLuhan, a newspaper and TV, rely on the engaged participation of the consumer, her emotions and psyche, if you will, to complete the experience.

Now, clearly, there is nothing that may strike us today as Cool about TV and newspapers, but McLuhan saw the indistinct, pixilated image the TV presented as inviting the viewers' unconscious engagement, just as the random mosaic of images and stories assembled in a daily paper allowed readers the opportunity to construct their own narratives from it. In this way TV was much cooler than radio, newspapers cooler than books.

Now, no medium is completely hot or cool, and McLuhan said that a rising new medium will combine aspects of older ones and make them far less vital to peoples' lives. Which brings us to the Internet, the coolest medium yet.

And to Barry Obama.

It would be easy to dismiss Obama as an internet phenomenon, and he most certainly is. But a new-medium phenomenon is NOT just a different way of winning an old game. It is a collapse of the old game completely (McLuhan called this action an implosion.) Laugh if you will, but I guarantee there are this very minute old-guard campaign fixers in both parties wondering just what the fuck is going on behind that guy. They have no clue.

Obama is the first candidate who embodies in his frame the change people feel all around them in the rest of their lives. He gives voice to tradition, in the very timbre of his speech, which under the circumstances is VERY important, while projecting a genuine resolution about the future that relies less on policy initiatives (which drives good people like Krugman nuts) than a clear-eyed awareness that the nation needs to be awake to every new day if it is to recover itself.

This is NOT the message being sent by the Clintons or any of the candidates of the dying GOP, who have mainly relied on the old rules of print and TV -- call it the authority of the sound bite, the feeding of the Press.

And here's the deal. As frustrating as Obama's appeal is to the rest of the establishment, no one, not Hil, not the GOP, not FUX or the Washington Pest, is going to lay a glove on him this time around. The strength of TV networks and newspapers is ebbing daily, and they know it. The election is about the death of their influence as much as the rise of Obama.

Our Stupid President is the apotheosis of a ton of bad ideas which have sustained the GOP for a generation, mainly the triumph of Public Relations and Nepotism (two factors which figure heavily in the Clintons' dying game plan, btw.) Being such a perfect example of his kind, our Prez can hardly put three sentences together without spouting nonsense.

Obama's remarkable poise in front of a crowd speaks to his self-reliance and awareness that his power is rising exactly from not manipulating the crowd beforehand (another polar opposite of the GOP leader), but from identifying with an enormous movement that is carrying all of us. I think he is as surprised as anybody by what's happened. But unlike the others, he grasps the Now.

UPDATE: As I was penning the above, Matt Yglesias was putting together his own admirably wonky take on what went wrong with the Clinton campaign. I disagree with none of it (only, Matt, people don't "decide" to panic. They panic, usually when presented with an unexpected situation the nature of which they don't understand.) His rather smart readers also have good points to make, all of them rising ineluctably from the conditions I outline above. Just to be clear, Obama's success is not because he is magically inevitable, only that the nature and appeal of his organization resonates to a much greater degree than any other candidate. If he had not done the hard ground work leading up to this, he'd be on a beach somewhere right now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Michelle, You're Swell

I have a good friend -- funny, nice guy, fun to be with -- who's a conservative in crisis. The main reason for his crisis is not that squalid little man (whom he voted for twice) per se but that, for all my friend's engagement with the issues, he has been consistently wrong about matters of great national import. Specifically he thought it was useful and necessary to invade Iraq, that New Orleans would recover from Katrina in a year's time, and that the GOP would hold on to Congress last election.

He is not one of those dingos who pretends things are better than the media reports (though it took him a long time to figure out just how screwed the economy is), or that the Repups many many many mistakes, losses, and failed initiatives are the fault of anyone but their own stupid-ass selves. He does, however, now have the crazy idea that John McCain has a chance, and a good one, to be president, specifically that he can beat Obama.

I'm not sure how someone who pays attention can be so unwilling to understand what he sees (and, no, he is not an absorber of FUX news either). McCain would probably poll two, maybe three percentage points better than any other Repup in the general election. But his overall total is entirely dependent on the popularity of Mr. Party Killer (hey, I like that name!) next October. Several weeks ago I predicted that the GOP nominee would gain five points over the prez' approval number. Say McCain gets eight.

Turns out McCain does not like Obama personally. Yipee, sez me. Looks like the fading right wing is trying to muster some dudgeon over Michelle Obama's remark about how she is proud of our country now for the first time in her life. To which I say, Yay! Though legions of well-off white guys, like my good friend, will take exception to the remark (if what was reported is indeed the gist of what she said), I submit she is speaking to millions of Americans who know exactly what she means, and agree, and may just show up at the polls in the fall.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rocket 86'd

photo NY Times

My confrere IOZ, has been tisking the task of Henry Waxman and his hearings on steroid use in Baseball. Proper Libertarian thought says who cares what athletes use to improve their performance? It's certainly no business of elected officials, etc.

Consider, though, like it or not, baseball was granted a special immunity from anti-trust laws in one of the Supreme Court's dumber decisions eighty some years ago. Consequently its status makes it fair game (haw!) for a Congressional committee bent on investigating the workings of an enormous actor in interstate commerce, one which also benefits greatly in many places from public funds.

And, gee, who got caught but one of its paragons, a very conservative Texan, lawyered-up enough to make you think he's fighting for a future in politics more than his place in the Hall of Fame. Looks like the rugged individualist had a little bottled help to make him walk so big. What we saw come apart in Washington yesterday was the budding career of one more brain-dead GOP politician (Jim Bunning, your starting job is secure!) a man who apparently had little understanding, use or respect for the protocol of the Legislative.

UPDATE: I was not aware that certain committee Repups, seeing their potential colleague from Texas in such a fix, went overboard with the stupid. Niiice. (C&L: don't miss the clip of Francessa and "Mad Dog" Russo tearing into Shays.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hil Decline

I am not yet ready, no wait -- I am! -- to sing the end of Mrs. Clinton's hopes for the White House. Her losses seem to be coming faster and harder than her operation can account for, and have left her by default with the same firewall strategy as i Guiliannini. (The Hil camp even seems to have borrowed his "tested and ready" line.) This was certainly not part of the plan going in, and it does not look like they had a Plan B after "Release Bill".

A large part of Mrs. Clinton's stumble stems, I submit, from the GOP implosion and the awareness dawning among the sentient that any Democrat with a pulse is going to turn the Republican into a greasy stain this November. Under those circs, why not go for the one who says change with a cap C? Add to her woes a very GOP-like hierarchy to her campaign organization, which then cracked after a couple unexpected hits. As Denny Hastert will tell you, collapse when it comes, comes fast, and it will not take a lot to put either Ohio or Texas in play for Obama (In fact, I bet Texas treats him like a son.)

The networks hate inevitabilities they have no sway over, and the GOP implosion will have all the cheap talk shows promoting a match without mentioning that one of the fighters is in a wheelchair. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the political blogs put paid to McCain's senseless bid. Meanwhile, I do believe the rest of the country has already moved on.

Friday, February 08, 2008

McCain and Able

Time to square accounts here at ol' H&J, and yr. obt. svt. has to fess up about missing a few called shots. I expected Edwards would stay in the race and step up when Obama stumbled. I expected Mrs. C's husband to be so much of a reminder of the past as to be a liability (well. . . the jury is still out on that one.) I expected Mitt to stagger to the end of a dumb GOP nominating process as the tepid winner. (Though Rudy collapsed in a way every bit as satisfying, albeit lacking a televised meltdown, as I hoped) Instead we were treated to a flash of McCain support that has left a lot of R's looking like W.E. Coyote after a bomb has gone off in his hand.

I am, of course, speaking metaphorically.

One thing I did call correctly, over a year ago, is the implosion of the GOP, though I would have been hard-pressed at the time to describe what that would look like. Now we know. It looks a lot like Mitt dropping out so the terrorists won't win, John McCain getting booed at CPAC, and the smiling face of Huckabee (happy as a Christian, Twain said once, holding four aces.) Oh, and some 28 house repups deciding that the game is no longer worth the contest.

Does McCain have a prayer of being president? Nope. Too old (am I the only one who looks at his left eye and wants to see his blood pressure numbers?), too nuts, too compromised over earlier principles, too tied to the war. But it is altogether touching that the apparent desire of the GOP rank and file is to bring forth the candidate they now know they should have nominated eight years ago.

Ha ha.

UPDATE: An imploding party looks a lot like this too (via TPM)

UPDATE 2: And this

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


To get some idea how people sixty-five years ago regarded Ernie Pyle, whose body is pictured here, imagine that Mike Lupica was as famous as Bill O'Reilly, and could write like Ernest Hemingway. A columnist for the Scripps-Howard chain, Pyle's accounts of the Second World War were grounded in the contributions and gripes of common American infantry soldiers. He was universally adored by enlisted men. Indeed, Hemingway considered Pyle the better writer.

Nothing ages quite so poorly as a newspaper column, and when I finally got around a few years ago to reading Brave Men, a collection of Pyle's work, in an old copy that probably belonged to my dad (601st Tank Destroyer Battalion, 1st Armored Div.), I was expecting a creaky exercise in sentimental, patriotic bathos.

Instead were lean and spare accounts, written on deadline in very rough circumstances, lacking any sentiment but compassion, tinged with weariness. Pyle was that rare war correspondent who deeply hated war, and made that point clearly and honestly in his descriptions of what young men trapped by the inhuman dispositions for battle had to endure.

His death in the last weeks of the war in the Pacific was one last huge blow, and it served to make certain that nearly everyone in the country lost at least one person whom they loved and admired. The news Pyle had been killed sent that hour an Army photographer to the site, where, at no small risk of his own life, he made the astonishing portrait seen here. It was never published. Instead it vanished for over 60 years until a man who owned one of the few existing prints, a retired Navy officer now in his late 80s, a Hoosier, like Pyle, recently gave it to the Associated Press.

Recall that Americans at the time, in the wake of so much death, needed the picture from Mt. Suribachi to help them believe that, somehow, the monumental waste of life had meaning. Which is not to take away from Joe Rosenthal's great photograph. But the death picture, had it run as it should have, in Life magazine, would have sent another message entirely, one which Pyle himself would have certainly wanted.

It is impossible for us to grasp how unbearable, how personal this view of Pyle's body would have been for tens of millions of Americans. And perhaps it was held back to spare the feelings of a nation looking to move on (who wanted to remember the man as pictured above). But if the death photo had been printed, maybe the country might have thought longer about what to do in Vietnam 20 years later. Maybe we would have been spared that little man strutting around a flight deck in his big-dick flyboy costume.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Whewsday

I don't know about you, but a good Super Bowl helps me feel a little better about the country the next day, that somehow the stupid hype and overwrought blather can lead to something exciting, indeed memorable. Alas, I am not a big fan of football, alas further, the team I follow is the Bills. But I am aware enough that, were I a sports betting man, I'd have jumped all over Sunday's 12-point spread. My pal Tom in Reno did, and I need to call and see how much he won. Here it is Tuesday morning and I am still trying to figure out how all those smart bookies were so, so wrong. (I know most of New England considered the Pats a mortal lock, but still - 12?) I might add that crazy coach Ditka, on the radio before the game, got it right, though I think he had the final score 24-21.

Speaking of, I gotta say, the polling insanity leading up to today's contests have knocked all the stuffing from my regard (if such a thing is possible.) Josh Marshall's place has been an embarrassment for at least a week. Granted he's hyping a new site rollout on his way to MSNM status (can I copyright an acronym?), but there is something fundamentally icky about breathless reports on the latest numbers, no matter who is doing it.