Monday, June 30, 2008
The Court Jesters of Loss
I would add a fourth explanation to his list: The commentators he skewers all arose concurrent with (and concomitant with) the post-Vietnam Democratic Party, which, as I've argued, was anti-power. Watergate was the journalistically formative experience for this generation, and it, too, was anti-power.
So consider the Hall of Shame Somerby lists: Dowd, Matthews, Kelly, Margaret Carlson, Russert, Brian Williams, Connolly, Barnicle, Gail (Gleason) Collins, Shields ... et al. Collectively, they are the scribes of the Democratic Anti-Party, the postmodern critique of politics, the oh-so-smart, oh-so-ironic journalistic institution that speaks truth to power, rather than accept responsibility for wielding it. Of course these folks are Democrats -- they dig fellow journalist-types. But of course they trash anyone who ventures into the arena -- and they reserve their deepest loathing for the Clintons... who not only found a way not to need these dispeptic fops, but rejected, in their whole being, the anti-power, immature frame that these whiplashing snidelies held as their dearest credo.
Yes, we have met them at the break of day... heard their impolite, meaningless words... seen them as evidence that we but live where motley is worn. But no terrible beauty is getting birthed 'round these parts.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Flip and Flop
I have expected that Hillary’s dropping out of the race would create an immediate and palpable emotional vacuum – and it sure as hell has. The most compelling figure in the drama has been killed off and carted away. She was like, had she been put on, to have proved most royal – but ‘twas not to be. So, bid the soldiers shoot.
And yet… we’re still here. Sitting in the theater. We’re still watching… as Fortinbras, Osric and Horatio amble about the stage and attempt to deliver soliloquies and repartee. And we find ourselves wondering why the curtain hasn’t come down and the house lights come up.
Anyway, nature and airtime abhorring a vacuum, as they do, the talking must go on – so the campaign shifts from Hamlet (or Lear) to Six Bloviators – and Two Candidates – in Search of a Narrative.
On the Sunday talk shows this morning, the discussion was almost entirely about which one is the bigger flip-flopper. Both have provided a wealth of material, of course – Obama most recently, and most amply.
The popinjays of the lefty blogosphere have tried to out-Osric themselves in their own flip-flops – from rationalization to buyer’s remorse and back. ("It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.... Exceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry -- as 'twere -- I cannot tell how.") And yet, the net effect of all this isn’t mostly outrage, much less fervor or excitement. It’s more like ennui. Dare one say “malaise”?
This was supposed to be the most consequential, conscious, compelling election of all time… the turning of the page… the hopefest of a new age of changiness. The issues were supposed to be clear and paramount. And yet, the whole thing is quickly resolving around dumb-ass media narratives of “But you said X” and “Are you gonna take that from him?” And this isn’t simply because the media likes dumb-ass narratives. It’s the candidates themselves who are playing this game – pretty much to the exclusion of any other game.
Anyway, if I were advising John McCain’s campaign, this is exactly where I’d want the meta-narrative to go. Because if this thing becomes a contest between two men, McCain wins. I don’t care if it’s a dispiriting contest between two men – as this seems to be becoming. As long as the main thing in voters’ minds is “Which of these two guys do I think is better for the job? Who’s stronger? Who’s more decisive? Who’s a better leader?”… rather than “Which party do I like better?”… it’s bad for Obama. It’s bad for Obama because he has consistently failed Job One, failed to define himself. And his “tacking to the center” – as Big Tent Democrat and Glen Greenwald accurately note – simply continues this failure.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Leadership of What?
These people don’t seem to care about who wins elections. If you actually care about outcomes, at some point you start getting mad about the trashing of your candidates. But quite plainly, nothing on earth makes these people mad. What’s the explanation?His description of the symptom is, as always, right on. My own explanation of the cause isn't mostly or only about wealth -- though that's related. I think it's about the Democratic Party's evolution. I've written about this at greater length here. The short version is that since Vietnam, the Party has self-conceived as anti-power. It doesn't want to govern, it wants to critique. That's shifting -- gradually, inconsistently, painfully, but it is on balance moving forward. The Party is rediscovering its capacity for and interest in wielding power. But Pelosi and Dean are walking emblems and enactors of an interim stage of that -- the Democratic Party as legislative party. They do things that help win Congressional elections and majorities -- they did it in 2006, and they will do it again in 2008 -- but not that help win the presidency. Not that put it in the position of power, of decision-making -- and responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.
Do you mind if we pose an unflattering theory? Nancy Pelosi and her husband are extremely wealthy. So are many other people in the leadership arms of the Dem Party—and in the larger “liberal” world. Most likely, these people would rather see Dems win elections. But they gain millions from GOP tax cuts if the other guys do.
But that explain their lack of intensity? We have no earthly idea.
That is, at root, what hurts the Dems on national security issues. It's not a question of willingness to use force, per se. It's a sense that people have that the Dems aren't serious, that they aren't ready, willing and able to be in charge. The Clintons, in contrast, did seem so (at least in comparison to the rest of the Party). And that is what made them seem "monstrous" to the Anti-Power Party.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Amateur Hour - Updated
More thises as they arise.
Update: Thises continue...
Honestly, how many more examples of delusional, hermetically sealed, unprincipled amateurishness would it take for the superdelegates to realize that they haven't actually voted for a nominee yet? A hundred? A thousand?
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Osric - Updated
Don't get me wrong. I expected that the judgment of history would come down hard on them. But I didn't expect it this soon. I figured it would do so with what looked to me to be Obama's likely loss in the general election. That their abandonment of their putative principles, swallowing of Kool-Aid and discovery of their inner misogynist should be exposed five minutes after Hillary dropped out is a surprise, even to those of us well attuned to their delusional All-Hypocrisy, All-the-Time broadcast frequency. Talk about "You broke it, you bought it." These people are keeping Pottery Barn's brand alive.
If Obama is Fortinbras, these people are Osric.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Just Have to Call This Out
What's Gonna Happen?
Stepping back from advocacy for the moment, I’m trying to assess what will happen on November 4, and I realize that I haven’t the first idea. A persuasive case can be made that Obama will win in a landslide – largely because this is going to be such an overwhelmingly Democratic year, but also, to those of this persuasion, because of his tangy goodness as a candidate. But an equally persuasive case can be made that McCain will succeed in framing the election as the decision not between two parties, but between two men, and that Obama will lose.
What I don’t believe is that McCain can win big. If he wins, I think it’ll be a squeaker. But I do think it’s possible that we’ll hear that squeak.
Why? Here are a few reasons.
First, though Obama has a strong base of African Americans and Creative Classmates, he hasn’t succeeded in expanding that base, and it’s not enough to win. Obama’s bounce now from winning the nomination should be a lot bigger. Dukakis was up by 17 at the equivalent stage of that contest.
Second, McCain is a stronger candidate than the netroots likes to believe. His brand has proved remarkably resilient, despite his awkwardness as a speaker (or perhaps in part because of it), and despite his backpedaling on previous principled positions.
Most importantly, I think, Obama has pretty much failed to define himself. This was a huge error. There is a major opportunity cost to his quasi-disappearance during the last three months of the primary campaign, when he basically ran out the clock. And I think a good case can be made that that tactical error – or inherent incapacity – could prove fatal to his candidacy.
Obama is a new, unknown quantity. It’s Job One for a new, unknown quantity to define himself or herself. This is true for a new employee, a new boss, a new product, a new anything in a competitive arena. Since he hasn’t done so – for example, not having chosen a single economic issue to make his own in a clear and compelling way, so that his Q-rating on things economic isn’t much better than McCain’s – he remains vulnerable to being defined by the Republicans.
One way they could do that? Peg him as Jimmy Carter II. I was talking about this with a friend, and he laid out how the pitch could go:
“Remember when gas prices were skyrocketing and the economy was in the tank, before Ronald Reagan revived it?” (You and I know Reagan didn’t do that, but a lot of people – maybe most people – believe he did.)
“Remember when crime was rampant, before Republican and Democratic administrations stepped up to the issue?”
You get the picture. We’re already seeing signs that they plan to run against Carter – and Carter himself will make that so much easier, since he refuses to shut up, and can probably be counted on to respond personally to these attacks. In many ways, he’s a gift that keeps on giving to the GOP.
Jimmy Carter, in other words, could become the Willy Horton of 2008 – somebody a majority of voters don’t like or trust who gets hung around the neck of a candidate nobody really knows very well.
Now, of course, Obama will counter by saying that McCain will give us a third Dubya term. Can he make that stick? I have my doubts. As I say, McCain’s ‘maverick’ brand has proven very persistent, and as Media Darling Numero Uno, he has a lot of enablers. The image of him in the public mind seems to have been frozen at the 2000 primaries – so he’s seen as Bush’s opponent, despite caving to the Bushies on any number of things since then.
Also, the press may well now turn on Obama – not for ideological reasons, but for narrative reasons. A lot of his appeal vs.
Anyway, that’s just one possibility. I’m only suggesting it to show how vulnerable Obama may be. And to me, it underlines the rather astonishing fact that, despite what promises to be a Democratic sweep of 1936 proportions, the presidency remains a toss-up.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
The Limits of Ideology
Ideological frames, like anything else, need to be continually challenged and rethought. They're like neural paths -- necessary for thinking, but artifacts of a reality that is now past. I believe this is true of the narrowly ideological frame of some on the left. Even those who have gotten past the old Marxist model often (or in some cases, always) still organize their thinking rigidly in terms of “left vs. right.”
Marx’s analysis of industrial capitalism was acute, though his solutions to its problems turned out to be pretty bad. But the problem is, we’re not in industrial capitalism any more. The access to the means of production is becoming radically democratized. It is literally the case today that any literate person can become a global publisher for free in five minutes – as everybody in the blogosphere knows full well. The blogosphere – which is growing at three times
So, as we continue to evolve from industrial capitalism to post-industrial capitalism – from the era of the nation-state to a truly global commons for communication, commerce and society – the old paradigms and the old institutions become less and less useful.
The old institutions haven’t disappeared, of course, and they won’t anytime soon. Neither will the social relations that those institutions shape go away overnight. Revolutions don’t destroy, they repurpose. And new ages always, necessarily, arise within the context of an existing regime. Mutations occur and succeed within an existing and dominant ecosystem. That’s how nature and natural selection work. It’s a process not of simple replacement, but of transformation.
But a stubborn focus on the prior age’s ideological tropes blinds us to much of what is actually happening on this orb – and also to much of what was so dangerous and destructive about W’s administration. Further, it skews our thinking about what represents a real alternative to it.
The Bushies can’t be adequately understood as just another chapter in the conspiratorial evil of corporations or capitalism. That’s a bogeyman, and an archaic one, at that.
For one thing, these guys weren’t regular Republicans, they were radicals. They targeted not just the New Deal social agencies and institutions that the Democratic Party had built up since FDR, but also the intelligence, defense and other agencies and institutions that were the home turf of the Republicans. They rejected Bush 41 and the “Realists” every bit as much as Clinton and the liberals. There’s a good reason why the military has turned on them.
I talked about this in another post. Of course, like any administration, this one was a mix of different motives, strains and constituencies. But the net effect – especially after 9/11 – was that the serious radicals – the Dick Cheneys, Jon Yoos, David Addingtons and John Boltons – drove out the conservatives – the Christine Todd Whitmans, Ed O’Neills, James Comeys and even, bless our souls, the John Ashcrofts.
The emblemmatic confrontation in Ashcroft’s hospital room between Gonzalez and Card, representing the coup, and Comey, Mueller and Ashcroft himself, representing the institution, will go down as one of the crucial – and consequential – political dramas of our era. It was people we disagree fervently with who stood up for and may have saved our democracy. Comey was called into Bush’s office the next day, and he stood the Imperial President down. His threat to resign – backed up by Mueller and a phalanx of others in DOJ – tops the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate in scale, courage (because it happened in private) and significance.
“What’ve you got today, Joe?”
“FEMA. How about you?”
“Justice. Well, have a good day”
Anyway, applying a simplistic left-right filter obscures these important differences. W’s administration melted down the Republican Party as much as it melted down DOJ, FEMA, EPA, the
Secondly, railing against capitalism in Old Left ways is pretty silly. Capitalism is, simply speaking, reality. Any Communists still out there? There aren’t even any in
But capitalism isn’t monolithic, it's dynamic. The global economy that is taking shape today isn’t a static thing – any more than anything else in history or nature ever are. We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift, of at least the magnitude Thomas Kuhn famously described in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Such a shift changes everything – the conceptual frame of reference, the institutions of society, the relationships among the actors in that society.
This shift is, to pick just one instance, threatening multinational corporations every bit as much as it’s threatening nation states, academia and the rest of civil society. The new capacity for individuals, entrepreneurs, communities and business ecosystems to self-organize dynamically, along with the radical democratization of the means of production, are rapidly undercutting the rationales for the large, vertically integrated firm – such as Coase’s famous theory of the raison d’etre of the firm: to reduce transaction costs. Today, the Net does that far better than the firm.
We see this in all spheres – business, governance, academia, the life of communities and across society at large. We are seeing the rise of an increasingly networked, increasingly democratized, increasingly feminized, increasingly globalized economy and normative culture… a culture that can now spread with viral speed and organic variation. Of course it emerges in fits and starts, with two steps forward and one step back. But it does emerge.
In fact, it is precisely in reaction to this onrush of modernism that we are seeing the concomitant growth of fundamentalisms, at home and abroad. Traditional society – in the
Of course, it’s not only opportunity, innovation and democracy that can use the global commons. Really scary shit can spread like this, too. But it’s this shift, not the creaky old left vs. right tropes (or, for that matter, secular vs. spiritual… or technology vs. art… or business vs. government), that speaks to the actual changes in the human deal going on today. Those tropes are becoming as outdated as trying to explain history by astrology, or our bodies in terms of the “humors,” or the physical universe in terms of earth, air, fire and water.
Finally – and this is the key point – a networked global market economy is a very good thing. Read Jeffrey Sachs if you doubt that. No one who professes to care about the fate of the humans can possibly ignore the fact that hundreds of millions of people in
That includes more than half a billion people – larger than the entire population of
Are there concomitant problems? For sure. Is this explosion of wealth being fairly distributed? Not at all. Does the reality of globalization have huge policy, governance and environmental implications? You bet. Do struggles continue? Of course. Does there remain a need for regulation and oversight? Totally. But the enormous overall increase in wealth – which is continuing, at rates never before seen – is a great thing. We will never get anywhere if we keep repeating the old mantras and shoving these new square pegs into the old round holes.
For all his failings, Bill Clinton’s great achievement was to free the Democratic Party from the old trope that business is evil, and that the chief purpose of government is to serve as its superego. Bill, Hillary and the wonkocracy that they brought into power in 1992 saw the potential of technology, and saw the growth of market economies in the developing world as an enormously hopeful and progressive force – a force that was then taken to the 10th power by the emergence of the Web in the mid-‘90s. They began to move government toward being a catalyst for progressive business, academia and civil society, through new kinds of rational collaboration.
I part ways with some of my fellow
And it worked. As Hillary was wont to ask during her campaign, “Which part of the ‘90s didn’t you like – the peace or the prosperity?” Of course, we all understand that no political administration can take sole credit for either. But I think it’s quite clear that the Clinton Administration made a significant contribution to nurturing and sustaining the greatest economic boom in American history. They freed us from the schlerotic analyses and policies of both the right and left.
Indeed, for all the dispiriting NAFTA-bashing of the primary, the core economic debate today reflects this basic shift that Bill Clinton pulled off. Obama accepts it, and Hillary accepts it.
At the very least, the
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Vocabulary Annotation 2 - Updated
Update: It seems we are in for a bumper crop of chutzpah this year. Not surprising, when you think about it. People who stoked the fires of an orgy and danced around the rising flames in full-throated, abandoned glee, even though they continue to harbor that same lust, don't like to admit it in the light of day. So they lower their adjectival decibel level a bit, and point at somebody else. Mirrors are definitely verboten.
So... I'll periodically add new entries to the Chutzpah Chronicle.
The latest: Frank Rich, as acutely captured by BTD today. This particular specimen, like Dowd's piece, is the commentariat species of the genus, I'm Not a Sexist -- Only Republicans Do That. Other rapidly growing mutations of this virus are the variants, Yes, There Is Sexism, But It's Not Why Hillary Lost... and Isn't It Possible To Hate Hillary and Not Be a Misogynist?
Another subspecies: I Can't Hear You. La la la la la. I'm Not Listening. Do de do de do. As in Daily Obama's lead diarists devoting exactly one commentary in their "Why Hillary Lost" fest to the issue.
And one more -- this the most familiar (sadly) of all: Sure the Bitch Don't Like It When I Smack Her Around a Bit, But She Asked for It... and Besides, What's She Gonna Do? Leave the Kids? Latest entry, as (somewhat ruefully, but still cluelessly) described by Keith Olbermann's producer in the profile of KO in the latest New Yorker:
... just as Obama must work to win Clinton supporters for the fall campaign, Phil Griffin has to repair a fractured audience base, a portion of which saw sexism in his network’s Clinton coverage and vowed to boycott MSNBC. Griffin knows that some of that anger is aimed at his star anchor. "It was, like, you meet a guy and you fall in love with him, and he’s funny and he’s clever and he’s witty, and he’s all these great things," Griffin said of the relationship between Olbermann and the Clinton supporters among his viewers. "And then you commit yourself to him, and he turns out to be a jerk and difficult and brutal. And that is how the Hillary viewers see him. It’s true. But I do think they’re going to come back. There’s nowhere else to go.”Update 2: Chutzpah of the hedged New Yorker variety: Hedrik Hertzberg -- he of the encomium to Chris Matthews and the remarkable assertion that demonstrating in favor of counting votes is the same as demonstrating against counting them -- offers his so-thoughtful reflection on the need for Obama to reach out to Hillary's erroneously aggrieved women supporters... and for them to respond in grateful kind.
Please feel free to use the comments to continue fleshing out this emergent epidemiological morphology.
As will not surprise anyone who has read my earlier animadversions, I don't entirely share Traister's critique of Clinton's behavior -- but that's a relatively minor cavil. What she does here (and has done often in the past) is to demonstrate a political-emotional intelligence sorely lacking in most pundits, and has captured the deeper impact and import of Hillary and her candidacy. Brava.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Something Happened: A Look Back
Before I started this blog, I had been writing down my thoughts about the campaign and then sending them around to a few friends. The first of those screeds was something written shortly after Hillary's New Hampshire win. I'm reproducing it below. As you will see, it's pretty long. So read it if you like, or not. The reason I want to post it here is that I think it's important to remember the moment/event that prompted it -- specifically, Hillary's tearing-up the day before the vote. That moment and the win that followed were important, and shouldn't be lost. I also find myself struck by how the primary campaign did, in fact, roll out in the months that followed, vis a vis my speculations back then about how it would do so.
I've got a couple of thoughts at the end, based on this ditty.
The very idiosyncrasy of the moment made it clear that this was genuine – not exactly (or just) the words she uttered, but the feeling behind those words. Hillary was caught unaware by the most softball and innocent of questions – and precisely because she wasn’t feeling confident at that moment, or confident enough to switch immediately into self-aggrandizement and/or performance mode, she was unable to hide the pain it dredged up.
She was surprised at that moment to find herself visible as an ordinary woman, being asked by another ordinary woman about keeping up appearances, about her hair. She wasn’t expecting the focus to be turned suddenly onto herself, or in that way. Staring at probable defeat – everybody, even her own team, was saying so – and possibly the beginning of the end of her presidential bid, she was struggling to keep it together, to remain upbeat and composed. And that question, quite unintentionally, zeroed in on just that tender spot. It called up, in ways she wasn’t in control of, all the emotional suppression that being a smart woman involves, and that she has been learning to practice her entire life.
It called up her own ambition, and the pain of feeling it about to be dashed – the pain of being rejected very publicly. It called up the pain and public humiliation her husband had inflicted on her – pain she has generally expressed in private with her friends, with women like this one. It called up the rage and feeling of impotence at not being able to hit back at the vicious misogynists who regularly celebrated her every disappointment – and whose gleeful cackling had reached a remarkable crescendo that very day, at the prospect of her impending defeat. That crescendo was echoing from the anchor desk of MSNBC, to the op-ed page (and even the front page) of the NY Times – not to mention the legions of Hillary-haters around the blogosphere, where glee and rage are unconstrained by the decorum of more traditional discourse.
This moment was a Rorschach test. You either got it or you didn’t. Women across
Olbermann, Andrea Mitchell – and, of course, Chris Matthews – piled on with glee. The basic storyline was never even questioned, and they all kept congratulating each other on their metaphoric exuberance in repeating it: Hillary’s gonna lose! She’s one of the great losers in history. She’s like the Turks, and Obama’s like Lawrence of Arabia coming at them from across the desert! Loser, loser, loser. Ha ha ha. The reporter covering the Obama campaign for MSNBC described nothing but huge crowds, euphoria and history. Mitchell, supposedly covering the
Except… that’s not how women saw it – most women, women who themselves struggle with the sorry state of human evolution and the misogyny that’s all over the face of this planet. Some women pundits, of course, are infected themselves – think Maureen Dowd, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin. But for most women – and, yes, plenty of men – the obvious was, well, obvious. This was an unscripted, unexpected and even unwelcome rush of real feeling, real hurt, real regret – and it was touching regardless of whether it was intermixed with ambition, steely discipline and an awareness of the presence of the cameras.
So the stage was set as the coverage began that night – set to play out the drama of the humiliation and final collapse of “Billary” or “the
The problem, of course, is that the play these folks came into the theater expecting to see wasn’t the one actually put on by the actors who walked onstage – that is, the voters of New Hampshire. The reason the polls got this so wrong – all the polls, even the latest ones, even those taken as recently as the night before election day – is not because polling sucks. Nor is it because people made up their minds at the last minute. If that had been the case, those earlier polls would have indicated a lot more undecideds. And not, pace some claims to the contrary, because of the “Bradley/Wilder Effect” – i.e., people’s unwillingness to admit to a pollster that they’re racist. For one thing, why would that obtain dramatically more in
What happened here wasn’t that people made up their minds in the last 24 hours, it’s that people changed their minds – mostly, switching from Edwards to
Put all of that together, and a determination crystallized and grew over the next 24 hours among women in
In that moment, Hillary Clinton became a public woman in a way not just unprecedented in her own life, but in American political history.
The bafflement on the part of these impresarios of shadenfreude, as Maddow correctly tagged it, was palpable. The wind was totally knocked out of their sails. Confronted not just with their own pompous, self-important mistakenness, but with their own enthusiastic sexism, they were deer in the headlights.
That isn’t to say their surprise was inappropriate. This wasn’t just a surprising reversal – it was stunning. Politicos were at a loss for comparisons. To get a sense of how enormous this switch was, consider the way things looked on election day to the Obama camp. This from the NY Times on Jan. 9:
On the eve of the
Their confidence had been mistakenly buoyed by not only the polls, but also the enormous crowds that met Mr. Obama at most stops.
The reversal of all that in one day is non-trivial. It’s profoundly puzzling and troubling to pollsters – troubling because this contest was so consequential. This isn’t some methodological blip in a race for sheriff. It might determine the leadership of the free world. So it must be explained, accounted for.
This is a defining moment for Hillary, obviously – but more broadly, for all of us. In many ways it has the whole male-dominated world scratching its head – including that world's snark patrol, as personified by Dowd and her ilk. (It’s a hoot to watch her floundering here, to witness her automaton-like inability to stop spewing impotent bile, even after such behavior has just been called out in public by the women of America.) Frank Rich, another NY Times Hillary-hater, is more moderate in his response – and yet he, too, misses what was so emotionally important here. He attributes her victory to the debate exchange – not even mentioning the far more powerful moment at Monday’s lunch.
But it was clearly Hillary’s moment of emotional visibility – bursting out after all these years of keeping it bottled up – that touched something deep in women, caused them to come out overwhelmingly for her (in contrast to Iowa). This wasn’t just 100,000 people voting. It was 100,000 years of incomplete evolution erupting – in one place, at least, and for one evening.
Beyond this primary and the election in general, I think it was also a major moment in Hillary’s life – and we heard that in the great signature line from her speech: "I listened to you, and in the process I found my voice." Was that line scripted? Of course. Will she continue to live up to the authenticity it promises? Who knows?
What this moment provides is not a punch line but an opportunity. It could open up for her the ability to be less controlled, more spontaneous. She’s just gotten validated for that – big time. She's won permission to be herself – or at least a little more who she really is. And that kind of thing can build. It has not only transformed her electability, it may also have begun a transformation in who she is – and therefore in how she makes decisions once she's president. Whatever game she chooses to play from now on, she’s now holding a couple of different cards.
And make no mistake – this has totally transformed her electability. She has, unintentionally, tapped into a wellspring of longing for hope that is every bit as deep as the spring that Obama has been dowsing. The emotional shoe is now at least partly on the other foot. Before, she was the inauthentic one. Now she’s the one who says what she really thinks and feels – even when it’s awkward, imperfect, maybe not so appropriate (i.e., the move straight into talking-points mode that Olbermann excoriated). In contrast, Obama is the cool, detached, cerebral presence.
Also, whereas she formerly had the problem of how to attack him without seeming to attack the hopes of all oppressed people, now he has to think about how to treat her, how not to crap on the hope she represents. His greatest strength – his universal-recipient quality as a tablua rasa for people’s hopes and fantasies – has been punctured. Perhaps not fatally… but people may now start looking at him in a different context, may want to forge a similar personal bond, may start looking to see if they can find something there like the authenticity, visceral feeling, vulnerability and/or accessible humanness that they’ve seen in Hillary.
There was always the chance that Obama’s very vagueness, his lack of definition, rendered him subject to being blown away by a stiff breeze. Some of us worried that might take the form of a muy macho, “stronger-on-security” Republican opponent in the general election. What we didn’t anticipate was that the breeze would come along with tears in its eyes.
Obama may very well recover – though his campaign’s knee-jerk reaction immediately following, in playing the race card, is not encouraging. That betrays a lack of equilibrium and maturity – which underscores Hillary’s main point about him: that he’s not ready for primetime. However, he may recover and do well in this election, and he may have a distinguished political career. This experience may also cause him to learn and to grow. In any event, he is clearly not some garden-variety sexist. He remains an inspiring, central-casting politician for a new global age. But in this election, no matter what else happens, he no longer has sole ownership of the “hope” franchise.
Beyond the primaries, I think this also changes the calculus of the general election. Counter-intuitively, it strengthens rather than weakens Hillary versus any of the Republicans. Now their nominee, even if it’s McCain, has a new standard of authenticity and emotional connection to match. And woe unto him who tries to engage in even subtle gender-baiting. The women of
We’re in uncharted territory here. There has certainly never been a woman in American political history in this situation, and one could argue that you could remove the word “American” from that phrase. By “this situation,” by the way, I don’t mean “about to accede to power.” I mean, rather, a woman with the liberating potential to be herself on a global public stage of this size and impact. She may well choose not to go there, not to dive off that ledge, a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She may pull back. But even if she does, something has happened that can’t unhappen, and it’s going to resonate through this campaign and beyond. I think we may well look back on this moment as an inflection point in more than one historical narrative.
My hope is that Hillary will explore the new possibilities that have opened up for her. I don’t mean exploiting this moment in her campaign – which she will almost certainly do. I’m talking about something more personal. I’m imagining her trying out being less bottled up, letting herself know what it feels like to be seen, trying on the identity of a woman who has – in a very unexpected way – struggled for, and then stumbled into, the freedom to be a real and full human being.
* * *
So, five months later, how does that moment look now?
Did Obama respond well, and grow? On balance, one would have to say no -- or, at least, not yet. I'm not just talking about the shameful tactics his campaign employed, the most egregious of which was the Big Lie about Hillary's RFK remarks. I mean did he, in fact, grow as a candidate, a thinker, a fighter, a leader? Or, rather, did he (a) rely on the very smart tactical work his campaign had begun a year before, leading to the string of 11 victories in February, with particular benefit from the undemocratic caucus states; and then (b) run out the clock? As I've written elsewhere, he has largely faded as a presence. To be sure, there will be a new burst of media hoopla and fawning -- it's their job, after all -- now that he's the presumptive nominee. But it really does not seem to me that he has, in any significant way, become "a better candidate for having had the privilege of competing with her." There are still five months until the general election, and the future, as Pat Brown once cogently remarked, lies ahead.
Did the media -- and especially MSNBC and the New York Times -- learn anything? Did they recover from their deer-in-the-headlights stupor with some self-reflection and increased wisdom? Does that question even require an answer?
On balance, I'd say yes. She didn't do so in the ways I expected at the time. She didn't stay inside that space of visible tenderness. But through month after grueling month, loss after crushing loss, win after tough win, slur after vicious slur, obituary after obituary... she did, I think, find her voice, and use it to sing a song neither she nor any of us has heard before.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
There Must be a Pony in Here Somewhere - Update
These days, if you want to find out what the leadership of the Democratic Party and the "creative class" think, go to the right-wing outlets. Case in point, this remarkable hate song by the scribe who gave us "morning in America." And remember this when you're hearing pleas for "unity." Remember: They really do hate Hillary. They really do believe she is a monster, a lower form of life. They really do have contempt for your deep feelings of affiliation for her.
Update: Link added.
Feel Free to Spare Us - Updated
Spare us your sympathy.
Spare us your understanding of “what we must be going through.”
Also spare us the less condescending form of that sentiment. If you feel inclined to express your understanding of what we are going through… spare us.
Spare us your calls for “unity.” Lines have been crossed that can’t be uncrossed. Hatred – vicious, vitriol-dripping misogyny, bullying derision and murderous rage – has been thrown around like confetti.
Spare us your apologies.
Spare us your appreciations for Hillary Clinton’s accomplishment in her “historic” campaign – with or without hedges about how “unfortunate” some aspects of her conduct were.
Spare us your “reflections” on the state of feminism – such as your “discovery” of a generational divide.
Spare us your lectures on how no “real feminist” could do anything but try to defeat John McCain.
Spare us your appeals to the institution of the Democratic Party – the institution whose base you have aggressively sought to throw out and whose values you have trashed, the institution that you have dragged into the sewer of disenfranchisement, whose principles and integrity you have soiled, in order to win.
Spare us your assurances that Hillary’s supporters will “come around.”
Spare us any mention of Kubler-Ross, or any stage of anything.
Oh, and Dr. Dean – spare us any future fund-raising appeals for the DNC. We do plan to work our asses off for Democrats running for the House, the Senate and in state and local races – but for the purposes of the presidential race, we’re Independents for now.
Okay, now that you’re free from those feelings of responsibility, or guilt, or whatever gets you through the night, let us tell you some of the things we’d be happy to hear and see.
Please, don’t hold back on your most sincere frat-boy, triumphalist thoughts and feelings. Feel free to give them full-throated voice. (And Camille, have a ball.)
Feel free to drop your PC inhibitions on how fed up you are with all this feminist crap. In fact, feel free to use the following terms liberally: bitch, cunt, whore, slut, pussy, screech, witch, castrator, dyke, lesbo, frigid, and so on.
Feel free to spread your poetic and metaphoric wings. Feel free to surf the ocean of world literature, myth and pop culture for examples of monstrosity, soullessness, inhumanity and all manner of evil. (Suggestion: There are many cultures whose canons and myths remain unplumbed in this dialogue. I, for one, have hoped for imaginative analogies to such figures as Grendel's mother, Shiva, Medea, Hecate and Lady Macbeth, for starters.)
Feel free to blame Hillary -- even better, prospectively (check out the comments to this TPM post) -- and her dead-ender supporters for handing the election to McSame.
Feel free to chuckle over -- or provide deeply sincere and concerned advice to -- Hillary the Loser.
Feel free to shake your sober editorial head over her many jaw-dropping excesses.
Feel free to compose concerned or helpful lists of “what went wrong” with Hillary’s campaign.
Feel free to complain off-the-record to journalists about how Hillary is just going through the motions, and isn’t really supporting Obama’s candidacy.
Feel free to ask, all puzzled and hurt-like, “Can anyone explain to me how Obama’s campaign was sexist? I really want to know”
Feel free as the breeze to exult in the wonderfulness of The Movement.
And, oh yeah, feel free, once all this is over – once the damage done to the Democratic Party is clear, once we have lost an election that couldn’t be lost, once the tide of Beatlemania has ebbed, and the “passions of the moment” have cooled – feel free to grow up.
Then feel free to give us a call. We’ll be here.Update: I'll continue to add links that demonstrate the points of this post.
Friday, June 6, 2008
A Third Bush Term
The Bush Administration wasn’t just an ideological shift. It was a retreat from thinking itself. This was, of course, exacerbated by 9/11. But the deeper narrative of this period was the rejection of rationality, the retreat to magical thinking, the move away from “the reality-based community.” Al Gore’s Assault on Reason isn’t especially interesting – but he’s onto an important point.
These bozos came into town with a hard-on for anybody who actually knew anything. In that sense, they were like the Khmer Rouge or the young storm troopers of the Cultural Revolution. Anybody wearing glasses – metaphorically speaking – was suspect.
This goes a lot deeper than simple big-business greed – just as the Nazi phenomenon went a lot deeper than world conquest. There was a kind of profound despair underlying and uniting the crazy quilt of wingnuttery in W’s White House, and by extension in the rotting hulk of the GOP. It ranged from Rumsfeld’s technocratic fantasies, to Wolfowitz’s delusions of being a Johnny Appleseed of democracy, to W’s own feckless, faux “optimism,” to Cheney’s bottomless darkness, and on and on. A perfect storm.
But under it all, what united its various strains? What was consistent here? I’d say it was a throwing-up of hands, a despair over the possibility of people of intelligence and goodwill using their brains, figuring stuff out and making a better future. Bush outsourced the future to some providential power. When Woodward asked him how he thought history would judge his term in office, he said, “Who knows? We’ll all be dead.”
The antithesis of this isn’t Obama’s “hope” and “change.” Absent more specificity, those are just the flip-side of “stay the course.” In both cases, we're being invited not to think. They’re both the marks of “movements,” which are all about fantasy trajectories, and not so much about actual work and real progress. The real antithesis to the anti-rationalist despair of the last eight years – and the assault on the institutions of the U.S. government, at all levels, that accompanied it – is Hillary’s grounded, detailed, wonkish program of policy and institutional transformation.
In Adam Curtis’s flawed but fascinating
Then, fortuitously, their marriage of true minds was forged in the mountains of
Both the jihadis and the neocons take credit for having toppled communism in
Well, now into this pas de deux we’re introducing a potential ménage a trois. We’ve got dueling movements – movement conservatism, movement jihadism and movement Gen-Yism. Yes, yes, I know there are huge differences among these, on multiple levels. But there are a lot of similarities, too. For one thing, Barack’s railing against “the old Washington” – whatever legitimate critiques it may contain – is also eerily reminiscent of the anti-Washington, anti-institutional songs that the Bushies came into town singing.
Not, of course, that ancien regimes deserve to be defended, per se. They don’t. But haven’t we learned, after this past catastrophe, to beware politicians bearing the gift of adjective-rich but programmatically thin “new politics”?
I'm talking here about leadership, not about ideology. On paper, as we hear endlessly, Obama's and Clinton's positions are very similar. I agree with Krugman that where they diverge, it is to Obama's discredit. But there's no question that his platform represents a turn back to the center from where we've been -- though not in any respect more "progressive" than Hillary's. However, at a deeper level, in terms of the attitudes toward leadership that they represent, Obama is no closer to Hillary's or Bill's model than any of them are to W's.
With Hillary, we were pretty clear what we would be getting: Ms. Wonk. Like the rest of her husband’s administration, she wakes up every morning thinking about Some Big Societal Problem to wrestle to the ground – and by lunchtime she’s developed a seven-point plan for doing so. Not much wallowing in fantasy there.
But frankly, of the two finalists in this round-robin, it's a bit of a toss-up as to which seems most likely to give us a third Bush term.
McCain represents continuity with the Republicans on a number of issues – strongly on national security, weakly on the economy, etc. We will usually – not always (think environmental issues, for example) – disagree with him. And his approach to wielding power is hard to predict. He isn't the executive type; he's never been the guy in charge. Instead, he's the lone ranger, the one who holds up under torture, who cracks wise, who gives the finger to the Man. You know, the "maverick." He's a bit of a rageoholic, and maybe even a bit distracted. But he is tough, ornery and pretty specific.
Finally, one unpleasant but inescapable thought. Can it be coincidence that these three movements are either grounded in, or at least vulnerable to infection by, misogyny?
Thoughts for a late-spring night, on the eve of Hillary’s withdrawal.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
A Vocabulary Annotation
Chris Matthews: "Can she obey?"
As I've been saying, this beast is just getting warmed up. It's gonna get really vicious -- and that viciousness, contrary to conventional wisdom, will not primarily come from the right. The GOP and the right in general are depleted of energy -- to be either nasty or enthusiastic. The emotional energy in this cycle is entirely within the Democratic Party -- but not necessarily in the "Isn't it great that so many people are voting" way that it's usually framed. The rolling thunder here is the misogyny of the Left, which is waxing, not waning.
The rough beast will not be placated by Hillary's loss -- look at what the New York Times and NBC are publishing on the night of Obama's victory declaration. Class? Graciousness? Not so much. This meme is bound for glory. It's going to keep going, fueling its bottomless rage by blaming her prospectively for Obama's impending loss (for starters).
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
The Silence of the Lamb
Whatever happened to Barack Obama?
Does it strike anyone else that the about-to-be-anointed One has been a non-presence for, oh, the past two months, at least?
Maybe he doesn’t want to rain on her swan song?
It’s not just that he keeps losing by ever-more-epic proportions. It’s not just that he’s “wheezing across the finish line.” It’s not just that he hasn’t articulated an arresting or interesting policy position in living memory.
As a test, ask any Obama supporter to name one innovative idea the good Senator has proposed in this campaign. Then ask them to name one policy proposal of his that is more thoughtful, detailed and progressive than the comparable position of Hillary’s. But I digress.
What’s striking is that he seems to have faded entirely. He emerges every once in a while to respond to an attack by McCain – or, recently, to resign from his spiritual home (which, we were led to understand, he could no more do than he could cut off his ties to his African American roots). But he hasn’t picked a single issue and made it his own. His entire plan for the GE seems to be: “I’m the Democrat, and so you can just take it for granted that those Democrat-like things are what I want.”
If this were a play, Obama would be the guy standing off to the side, waiting for the actual drama to finish up. At best he’s Fortinbras, and nobody in the audience has the slightest interest in him. He’s even stopped sending thrills up Chris Matthews’s leg. This is a play with a great tragic heroine (or villainess, depending on your rooting interest), and she owns the stage.
That makes sense, of course, because for most of the media and the Obamanauts, this play has been Kill Hill. If Obama then wins, well, that’s fine – but Job One will have been accomplished.
And it is simply the case that Hillary is a much more forceful and riveting person – both intellectually and emotionally. She stirs feelings of far greater intensity, pro and con. And even at that, it feels to me that something more is going on here. He seems to have run out of steam, out of ideas, out of a role to play.
In any event, he could hardly be playing this phase – ever since he became the front-runner, by the end of February, and now in the endgame of the primaries – more ineptly, less like a leader. He’s been content to watch the passionate Hillary supporters be dissed and dismissed in ever-more-derisive and sexist ways by his supporters in the media and blogosphere. He’s been content to push “the rules” at the expense of democratic principles, and let Donna Brazile continue to drag the Democratic Party into the sewer of disenfranchisement – for what? Basically, to be able to kick that much more sand in Hillary’s face. And most egregiously, he has encouraged the toxic, deeply misogynist lie that Hillary advocated his murder.
In every real contest, there are no timeouts. Even if it seems you can coast for a quarter, there’s an opportunity cost – especially for someone whose brand has yet to be defined. And failure to define yourself, for a politician, is an unpardonable sin, a demonstration of dispositive incompetence.
If he really had this thing wrapped up – if no number of Hillary blowouts after February was gonna persuade the Party to choose her – then a real leader would have been working all that time to shape the “new” party that would encompass the constituencies she represents. A real leader would have been making serious efforts to address their issues – or at least to learn about them. A handful of patronizing head-pats for Hillary’s campaign and career don’t come close to cutting it. A real leader would have… led.
He hasn’t. He couldn’t have been more passive – almost invisible. Even when he speaks, it’s the same old “hope and change” song and dance. I wonder if his speechwriters have changed more than the thank-you intros in a month.
Quite a way to show your stuff, as the next leader of the world.
Monday, June 2, 2008
The Post I Want to Write
I want to make the argument that taking this step – making a deliberate decision (vs. an affirmative action) to acknowledge and repair the widest stain on American history and the deepest hole in America’s heart – trumps any other imaginable issue or consideration that might determine one’s vote.
What is more tragically central to American history than race? If you’re going to fix
Over what other question did we fight a civil war? What made
What has ennobled the modern Democratic Party more than its willingness to sacrifice near-term electoral success in order to pursue this essential long-term cause?
And ask yourself: After the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act… the refusal to retreat into racism despite the Southern Strategy… the embrace of diversity during the
I want to write a post about what it would mean to millions of African American kids – what it would mean to their heads and their hearts – to be able to hear “President Obama” uttered every day on television, and written every day in the newspaper and on the Web.
I want to write about what it would mean to many more millions of non-black kids and adults to see this face as their face, as the image of a smart and hopeful and evolved
I want to write about what it would mean to literally billions of people across the world to see that same face as the image of the world’s only superpower.
I don’t want to write about the first African American president who proved to be the cause of a failed administration.
I don’t want to write about the gap between an inspiring symbol and a deeply limited and flawed leader, sharing the same body and face.
I don’t want to write about crucial policies and actions that die on the vine because of lack of vision, skill and strength – including strength of character.
I don’t want to write about wars stumbled or forced into because of naiveté and amateurishness.
I don’t want to write about fatal damage to the Democratic Party for a generation to come because we blew it when we were handed all the reins.
I don’t want to write about the increasing embrace by many on the left and in the Democratic Party of vicious misogyny.
What is more tragically central to human history than misogyny? What is the darkest black hole at the heart of the struggle between modernism and traditional society? What taboos and violence are most essential to fundamentalists, at home and abroad?
What issues go more to the core of our self-conception as humans than the complex mixture of “feminine” and “masculine” in each of us? What psychoses drive our murderous rage, and how is that rage enacted – and often politicized – across Planet Earth?
What is more dispositive as a genetic fact – race or gender?
What would it mean for more than half the world’s people to hear “Madame President” spoken on television? What would it mean to the hearts and hopes of girls across the entire planet – in places where women are mutilated as a matter of course… in places where they are prohibited from showing their faces in the public square – to see Hillary’s face as the face of America I don’t want to write about irresponsible party leadership that is shallow and stupid enough to abandon fundamental principles when the going gets tough – including the principles that had distinguished it from its opponents.
I don’t want to write about my own party allowing itself to be hijacked by a nasty, narcissistic cult.
I don’t want to feel outraged.
State of play, at the start of June 2008.