Sunday, May 25, 2008

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels 3

There's no point further dissecting Mrs. Clinton's flakey drive to the Democratic nomination, a free fall of miscalculations and dumb remarks quite at odds with her presentment of competence and experience. What should be considered this morning is why, after Obama's rousing keynote address to the convention four years ago, the Clintons' first order of business was to not get him on their side. Everything, you might say, devolved from there.

Josh Marshall has a thoughtful piece on the ongoing transformation of our politics, or if you will the collapse of the GOP. At H&J we have always taken the long view and nothing in Josh's piece has not been said here already, albeit less cogently and clear.

My planned appreciation of Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago on its 40th anniversary was co-opted a bit by Clinton's, yes, unforgivably stupid remark. But let it be said that there are astonishments in it on nearly every page. What is seen in hindsight is that the Democratic Party imploded in Chicago in 1968, practically on national television, when it became utterly clear that a party that once gathered under the same banner such diverse actors as Bobby Kennedy, Richard J. Daley, Gene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and Lester Maddox could not logically remain standing. Four years later, George McGovern mainly acted out of honor to a lost cause.

Mailer sensed Nixon's appeal at the time, indeed his portrait of the man and his party meeting in Miami is not unsympathetic. The nastiness and paranoia awaited however. Watergate was the only reason Reagan (who makes a memorable cameo in Mailer's book) was not elected in 1976. After 12 years of Reagan-Bush, Clinton did an admirable job--I still consider him the finest president of my fairly long lifetime--consolidating the party as best as possible as a sort of GOP lite. He is not a great man, however, and in retrospect his successes and failures both appear smaller than they did at the time.

Our squalid little president gained the White House not by any innate political sagacity or pressing national need, but rather an effective brand marketing campaign, and the judgement of two mainly Republican judicial panels. He kept the job, barely, thanks to 9/11, a choice a great many of his supporters came to regret with rather astonishing speed. As disconnected as old King Ronny was, he had oceans of political experience, judgement, and an unshakable personal ease. He made the job look easy. As our war-criminal-in-chief seemed surprised to discover, it is not.

On the last page of Mailer's book, leaving his hotel, he encounters McCarthy's daughter, furious about a police raid that day on her father's headquarters. She asks Mailer what he plans to do about it. Go home to his family, he tells her. Noting the proud disapproval of her eyes he then writes:

"Dear Miss, he could have told her, "we will be fighting for forty years."

One who reads a lot of Mailer soon realizes how well he was served by an uncanny intuition over the years. Here, in a throwaway line, he somehow managed to capture an arc of American triumphalism.

Now it is the Republicans' turn to collapse in disarray, maybe even, like many once-famous brands, to vanish for good. The Democrats held on because of the traditional coalition nature of their fractious organization and their unwavering commitment to broadly popular programs, an abiding dedication to people politics which Teddy Kennedy, perhaps now the greatest of the haunted brothers, has upheld for almost half a century. The GOP have no such bastions. Their mean strategy was one of minority fiat and effective marketing which took advantage of a climate of resentments and, this cannot be overemphasized, mainly good economic times. The good times are gone now, and though the national resentments have not gone away, they are directed now towards those who have unambiguously mismanaged the republic while waving a flag of patriotism, dedication and stability.

What makes the times so fascinating is just how many social constructs besides the GOP are now on the point of a drastic reconfiguring, something which may be the simple result of following the same dumb cultural assumptions, impolitic rationalizations, a mistaken folklore of success, long after it was clear that changes needed to be made. While we may wonder how successful Obama will be as a president, a large measure of his success will, like FDR's, be predicated on the utter failure of what came before.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mailer On RFK

From the essential Miami and the Siege of Chicago:

And he was too young. Too young for Senator, too young for President, it felt strange in his presence thinking of him as President, as if the country would be giddy, like the whirl of one's stomach in the drop of an elevator or jokes about an adolescent falling in love, it was incredible to think of him as President, and yet marvelous, as if only a marvelous country would finally dare to have him. ...

[I] went on in a fatuous voice, sensing error too late to pull back, about how effective two Irish Catholics [Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy] would be on the same ticket for if there were conservative Irishmen who could vote against one of them, where was the Irish Catholic in America who would vote against two? And Kennedy had looked at [me] in disgust [...] his upper lip had come down severely over his two front white teeth, and he had snapped, "I don't want those votes."

Shortly afterwards, Kennedy's body lies in St. Patrick's Cathedral:

People had waited in line for hours, five hours, six hours, more, inching forward through the day and police lines on the street in order to take one last look at the closed coffin.

The poorest part of the working-class of New York had turned out, poor Negro man and women, Puerto Ricans, Irish washerwomen, old Jewish ladies who looked like they ran grubby little newsstands, children, adolescents, families, men with hands thick and lined and horny as oyster shells, calluses like barnacles, came by to bob a look at that coffin covered by a flag. Some women walked by praying, and knelt and touched the coffin with their fingertips as they passed, and after a time the flag would slip from the pressure of their fingers and an usher detailed for the purpose would readjust it. [...] A river of working-class people came down to march past Kennedy's coffin, and this endless line of people had really loved him, loved Bobby Kennedy like no political figure in years had been loved.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sour Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a capable Sun Times hack on the local politics beat, newly elevated to national attention for having been on the Obama story from the get go. But for all her experience, she shines no light. In a story headlined Barack hits milestone, but his weakness is revealed she leads:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama staked a claim to the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday, sweeping Oregon but getting trounced by Sen. Hillary Clinton in Kentucky, exposing problems he might face in winning middle-class white votes in the fall campaign.

Now Sweet likely has no say on the headline fixed to her piece, so we shall pass over the point that the "weakness" is the truly astonishing revelation that there are communities of people in this great land who would never ever ever in their lives vote a black man into the White House.

I'm shattered about that. Wow--give me a minute. . . . Okay.

No, the silliness of the piece resides in that conditional "might" and her dogged need to say something crucial, in this case something about Kentucky which ignores the fact that middle class white voters have been turning out in measurable, photographable, masses to support the Senator from Illinois, such as last night in Oregon for example. Sadder is the quaintly deluded notion that most rural Kentucky voters somehow reside in the middle class.

They could indeed be the vital remains of the Jacksonian Democratic Party, the abused, put upon, mocked and lied to, independent, dependable, suspicious, clannish and hardworking patriotic believers in a land which never really was. But, no, Lynn, they are not middle class. In fact calling them such (and I am speaking now as broadly as she) is a mockery on a far more exalted level that any opinions about bitterness residing in their souls. It ignores the great problem of wealth, class and influence in this country (a problem newspapers have been neglecting at the behest of advertisers for generations) and misdirects their otherwise justified anger at outsiders who have proved very adept at fucking them over since, gee, Ol' Hickory retired to Nashville.

The wind beneath Mrs. Clinton's gaudy triumphant wings this morning is rather the methane venting up from played out coal mines, old and horrible and part of a stale America a distinct majority is ready to leave behind.

Monday, May 19, 2008

X Marks The Grades

Much attention has been directed at Professor X's takedown of the adult higher education system, which you should go read, because you can.

Now, Matty, while agreeing with the good professor's mordant assessment, sorta misses the point:

This is all true, but there are basically two ways of looking at the upshot. One would be to say that we have too many people starting college. Another would be to say that we need to do a better job of preparing more people for college. The growth in the wage premium associated with a college degree suggests the latter option to me. The fact that many European countries now have a higher proportion of people graduating from college also suggests the same to me.

The anonymous instructor is not concerned with any shortcomings in the technical fields or social sciences, rather his or her despair is the utter collapse in widespread reading comprehension and writing skills. Professor X's English 101 and 102 classes are the unavoidable disasters for those adult students who otherwise do pretty well in other departments on multiple-choice exams.

The fact that Europeans graduate in greater numbers suggests to me that they have spent millions of fewer hours watching television than adult Americans. Reading and television watching are both, believe it or not, physical activities. To read you need to sit still while your eyes make repetitive left/right scans down a relatively broad column of text, over and over again. To watch TV, the eyes are free to roam across an ever-shifting illuminated field. Doing either one habitually and nearly exclusively for any length of time measured in years predisposes one to have difficulty handling the other for very long.

There is also the issue of concentration on either task. No sooner does an American television viewer become absorbed in a narrative than, 19 times out of 20, that attention is cut for a commercial. My limited exposure to European television is that that is not, or at least has not, been the case over there.

Leave off for now other cultural considerations in which large vocabularies, appreciation of poetry, a love of books and a dedication to what used to be called a life of letters, not to mention teachers of all of the above, are mainly mocked in our popular entertainments. The fact remains that the basic motor skills necessary for the absorption and comprehension of text has been neglected for millions of Americans for two generations. All you Sesame Street fans out there need to explain why reading scores have plummeted in the nearly four decades it has been teaching toddlers the ABCs.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Okay, Mets Fans

I bet I am not alone among us in feeling that yesterday was the first fun game of the season. While the team has constructed a respectable record, no one who's been watching, or listening in, can reasonably say that they've been entertaining. Aside from the marvelous Ryan Church (and what is it about Shea where journeymen outfielders come to have the seasons of their lives? And--can we take it over to the new place?) and the bankable Johan Santana, there has been precious little shade to rest in.

Injuries, mental mistakes, pathetic run production, batting slumps, starters good only for five or six innings, shaky relief pitching, and now, in the last week or so, bickering. It is a testament to their innate skills, and a new parity in the league, that the Metsies are above .500.

That, of course, is what has made them so aggravating to follow these last few weeks. Any fan with a soul would much rather watch a second-tier team that plays its heart out, and who can conceivably catch fire, than a squad of stars waiting to get hot.

Do I blame Dr. Randolph? No. It is his responsibility, however. And I guess Friday's 35-minute team meeting, the baseball world's equivalent of a weekend Microsoft motivational seminar, bore fruit. And while Billy Wagner is not one of my favorite players (truth be told, there is something which dwells at the core of the closer role which bugs the shit out of me), he is probably the only guy on the team who has the credibility and nerve to call out the rest. Traditional leaders, your catchers, first basemen, centerfielders, are parties to this season's woe. Wright is a quiet lad who seems to try to lead by example, Endy and Church do not have the seniority, or the big contracts, to call the rest to account.

So we shall see. Maybe the fun is only starting, or a vale of underachievement beckons. A sweep of the truly reeling Yanks would be a good place to start a run. Whatever happens on the field this season though, it is up to us, the fans, to do what we can to save the homerun apple.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Son Dolt

Just between you and me, I was expecting the McCain campaign to come apart later in the summer, once focus came down to two candidates, and he had to account for his malign drollery in real time.

Well, ha-ha. I think losing Mississippi 1 finally sent the message to the most delusional Repup that that squalid little man and his stinking war (and, in Mississippi, the ghost of Katrina) has pushed the party into the grave. Reactions since from their camp have been fraught with pathos.

Early in the following news cycle, the senator from Arizona declared we'd see victory in Iraq a year after his putative first term, which might, in the daze to come, compel some to ask what he would do differently than what has been done to this point, or if we just have to maintain the current excellent plan. Hard upon McCain's speech, the squalid little man, in an address to the Knesset, takes a thinly veiled poke at Sen. Obama, calling his strategy an appeasement, and instead of ignoring it or saying he politely disagrees, Old John jumps in (or was pushed by his pal Joey) with both slippered feet, saying yea.

Many have remarked how historically unprecedented, injecting domestic politics into the foreign realm, the little man's criticism was. Others note he apparently has no grasp of history, or the difference between capitulation and negotiation. Some laugh at the picture of McCain binding himself even tighter to the most unpopular president in popular memory. This morning, it appears, comments Old John made two years ago about talking to the Hamas government have surfaced in Britain. Sport indeed.

You know, once upon a time I'd say a majority of the electorate cared very much about the fortunes of israel, but now most of the people who could be expected to pull the lever for McCain, those uneducated salty earth types Ms. Clinton claims as her own, don't give a flying fuck if there is a single, or two-state solution. In fact talking about it only directs attention to our nation's completely screwed adventure in the Middle East, and how the fuck do we get out now?

But I'd like to propose that the biggest mistake the leading dolts in the GOP have made in their non-negotiable policy regarding A-rabs they don't like is how it completely overlooks what has become in the last thirty years the predominate cultural feature of our service-oriented, management-heavy, cautious and corporate way of life. For the average American nearly everything is arbitrated, moved forward by consensus or through committee. You name it--work projects, insurance claims, family therapy, 12-step programs, even the management of evangelical churches. Indeed, is there a more bureaucratic place than the Pentagon?

One could argue, of course, that the my-say-or-no-way stance has a certain appeal in proportion to the frustration with the prevailing way of doing things we must tolerate in our everyday lives. And maybe, so long as the results are unambiguously successful, people will back it. But I submit that it is a great deal to ask an electorate to stay with when it is clear that the management has gone off the rails. There is a better way of doing things, and Americans, still a remarkably practical people, know it in their bones.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Said Sullivan

While admiring Andrew Sullivan for his resolutely snappish gay fogeyism (to coin a phrase) I never pay much attention to his observations, as he also strikes me as one of those Brits who love America without quite understanding it. His is an optimistic reading of the Land of the Free, likely first gained at university and strengthened to an ardor after his first glorious trip to New York City, or maybe San Francisco.

But to cases:

It saddens me a great deal to see conservatism in America increasingly lean toward top-down, authoritarian, fear-based politics. In its best incarnation, conservatism is about self-government, individual freedom and hope-based politics. It's about trusting people, not corralling them. In this, the web is the right's natural ally, and it's a very telling sign of American conservatism's decadence that it doesn't get the Internet as effectively as others.

Increasingly? Increasingly?? Andrew, buddy, that has been the whole fucking point since Goldwater went down in flames 44 years ago. You probably were not here for Dick Nixon and his Silent Majority. Surely, though, you recall the ascent of Ron Reagan? It is all about saluting and following orders, the relief from doubt, the pleasure of not thinking, the security of brand loyalty, get the picture?

I'll say it here again. The GOP is coming apart at the seams not because they won't understand the function of broad digital communication, it's because they can't. Radio is perfect for the likes of them, a medium which only requires switching on and a half-brain attention. Multiple voices in a see-saw debate, respect for the sovereignty of divers minorities, evolving democratic values among competing ideas all present reflexive philosophical horrors that are nested in the depths of the collective Republican psyche. For a generation, or two, the conservative mission was to tamp down such frightening notions as furiously and thoroughly as possible.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Monster Mush

It gives me no joy to say that Hilary Clinton is a shit, a self-centered, carping, too-old and spoiled suburban girl too smart for anyone's good. Until her asshole comments regarding her unique electable standing among those oh so hard working whites were made public, the more thoughtful of the leftist commentariat were saying what a great job senator from New York is, (a post once held by Bobby Kennedy, remember) and how she could really shine there in the coming years. And they were right. Only now, I am here to tell you, no one, No One gets to re-up as a Democratic senator from New York by pissing off Charlie Rangel.

"I can't believe Sen. Clinton would say anything that dumb," Rangel told The News as he headed to the House floor, where earlier he had embraced Obama. (link above)

Sorry, Charlie, she did, her own little Gerry Ferraro dizzy spell, where the swill gets splashed around in the name of candor. Turns out that Samantha Power was spot on.

In a season when the Clintons got pretty much everything wrong, hired the wrong people, lined up the wrong support, made the wrong moves, took the wrong money and said the wrong things, comments which have now leached into the toxic realm, the notion that that woman will have any standing in the Democratic Party once her current term of office expires is utterly laughable.

Because unless she apologizes right now, and quits the race next week, once Barack Obama beats that hyperactive nitwit McCain like a government mule, with a healthy plurality of disgusted white voters on his side, then all Hilary will have left will be her standing as a craven and hollow fraud, with no influence, helpful friends or future in public service.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Pest Mortem

Almost two years ago when I predicted the implosion of the GOP (really less a prediction than a reading of unambiguous trends) I also wrote that the same stresses that were killing the Republicans would also shiver the Democrats, but that the Democrats would survive the challenge. Money quote:

The Democratic Party, a coalition from its inception; fractious, clumsy, a veritable prairie dog town of policy speakers and interests, is in a far better position to adapt to a very rapidly changing environment of public media communications.

Now I certainly did not expect the stresses placed on the Dems would be exemplified in the cranky, old-fashioned campaign the Clintons have been running. But what has been missing from all the dumb and fearful talk about how the primary race has been hurting the party is any recognition that the GOP is meanwhile on life support and fading fast. This will, of course, become clear soon enough.

What my confreres on the left need to keep in mind going forward is that just because no one is talking about something does not mean it isn't happening. Or that a debased public discourse decides events. No less than the GOP, it seems a lot of Democrats have been conditioned to believe that reality is expressed on TV. This is not so. Indeed Obama's great achievement is to understand that there is a political life in this country that network television has considered its duty to obscure for two generations, and that it can now, thanks to digital media, be organized and projected on its own terms.

When will people stop getting upset about FOX snooze? If those pasty-faced pinheads, and their broadcast ilk elsewhere, had any real sway that squalid little man's approval would be in the 70% range, Obama would have gone home three months ago and Cindy McCain would be thinking of color schemes for the White House family quarters. Want further proof these bozos are headed for the last clown roundup? Here's Brit Hume (from the clear-eyed Field Negro):

The Internet is an interesting phenomenon. My sense of it is that in ten years, or fifteen perhaps, we'll all be saying, 'Hey, you remember the Internet?'

On the contrary, in about five years the channel of fair delusion and balanced denial, as currently constituted, will have ceased to exist. And the fun part is that Brit will never know what hit him.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Top Ten

Clinton panders to come:

10. Make Middle Earth 51st state!
9. A chicken in every pot and a heli-car in every garage.
8. Smithsonian exhibition of Hitler's brain.
7. Running mate will be whoever wins next Talladega 500.
6. Free healthcare with every fillup.
5. Waives the math requirement forever!
4. Extend dependent tax deductions to pets, sister's kids.
3. Will dish about Bill in first State of the Union address.
2. Vows not to rest until there's a grandchild in the White House.
1. Orders all the X-Files made public.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Wall St.upid

Everyone go read David Strahan's latest appraisal of where we are in the Peak Oil Dept. (via the Oil Drum) then ask yourself what the captains of finance are smoking (and if we can get some too.)

"Cause, frankly, there is no good news out there, or, more to the point, the good "news" is ginned up by cheerleaders at various offices in the federal government and media outlets who still cleave to the sentimental notion that you can avoid heavy consequences by serial lies, or, for you grad students, massaged data.

That link is to Barry Ritholtz's very smart financial site and, specifically, his gloss on Alan Abelson's rant this weekend in Barrons. Recall that the Dow shot up last week after ignoring some pretty bad banking news and on the combined effects of another rate cut, a $3-4 drop in the price of an oil unit, and a rise in unemployment that was not as bad as expected.

Forget how expectations can be manipulated, that's been standard for Wall Street for generations, what Abelson found in the labor statistics for April was an accounting methodology that allows the statistical creation of otherwise invisible jobs, called the birth/death adjustment, which added 8,000 jobs in finance and, are you sitting down?, 45,000 new construction jobs last month. (Ritholtz then explains what are useful statistical adjustments as opposed to accounting tricks.)

Now armed with moonbeams, the financial guys slip into the next quarter.

Can I just observe how fucking emblematic this whole process is? Wall Street is a bastion of illusion in the first place, the collective fantasy of many over-stimulated and under-nourished minds. As such, like the state of the Iraq Project, it is hard there to judge the difference between malign sophism and the merely quixotic. After a while, though, it all looks like stupidity.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Miss Calculation

The interesting thing about the Rev. Wright stuff (and, no, I will not stop using that dumb pun) is how Sen. Obama remained on top of the proceedings, as a rider on an enraged bull. It was no fun, and for over a week his rivals and enemies gained no small kicks watching him get thrashed around up there. I'm sure he'd have rather been somewhere else. But the story, for good or ill, focused on and framed him to a faretheewell and the outcome might make him a better candidate.

His apparent woes however may have induced Sen. Clinton to hop on the gas tax holiday platform, where her only company was crazy old John. And here, in acting so hastily in what probably appeared in the dash of the day a political slam dunk, she may have done more damage to her chances than the good rev. did to Barry's.

Broadly, she busted a general election move in party primary season. That is: something which would have probably played okay in moving the inattentive masses to her side against a Republican opponent, looks, among Democrats, like the dumbass pander it deeply and truly is. Not only is it bad policy, which maybe even the auto-savvy citizens of Indiana understand, but it has framed her against a backdrop of many related issues she has no real connection to (which was not the case with Obama/Wright), not to mention pairing her with her putative opponent, a Republican nutcase. The story is not "Hilary and the gas tax" but "The gas tax, good or bad?" This cannot work in her favor.

Compounding the boo-boo is that she apparently thinks it is a winner, a lapse of judgement that will be noted by the party mahahs she is hoping will break her flinty, street brawling way. As the good Carpetbagger has noted, introducing her plan for a senate vote only puts her supporters there in a no win spot.

Better to be on top of a angry bull than in the jaws of a worrying cur, which, I submit, is Mrs. Clinton's political address this AM.

UPDATE: Bow-wow-wow. Astounding that no one in the Carpetbagger's comments section (as of this writing, some 30 messages) have jumped in to defend her anti-elite gas tax talk at a town hall meeting with Stephanopoulos this morn.