Monday, July 28, 2008

They Don't Need Us? Good - Update

Joe Cannon has been assiduously documenting the ongoing viciousness, misogyny and arrogance of the Obamasphere – here, here and here. And while some commenters dismiss the vile sludge he dredges up as the kind of stuff that can be found among bottom-feeders in any political contest, the latest scuttlebutt out of the One’s campaign makes it clear that the tune they’re singing is in harmony with its Netroots choir. Namely, they believe they don’t need us:

“The arguments for picking Mrs. Clinton have always been highly pragmatic, based more on electoral politics than anything else, as Mr. McAuliffe suggested in pointing to the vote-getting power she has exhibited. (For what it’s worth, some of Mr. McCain’s advisers said they view Mrs. Clinton as the single strongest candidate Mr. Obama can pick for those same reasons.)

“These arguments have not held much sway with Mr. Obama or his inner circle. Instead, they have indicated that whatever political benefits might be gained by putting Mrs. Clinton on the ticket would be outweighed by the costs.”

Fine, they don’t like us, they really don’t like us. And the existence of the PUMA movement is evidence that the feeling is mutual. But the question I have is not about the feelings, but about the maturity and leadership of the cult now controlling the Democratic Party.

Whether or not they like us, isn’t it their obligation to learn how to work with us? Isn’t it their obligation – the responsibility of anyone with actual power – to get over themselves? Isn’t it their obligation actually to optimize the institution over which they are now the stewards?

Whether or not they like us, don’t they have to observe the bonds of marriage?

When Trent Lott “joked” that maybe lightning would strike Hillary before her first Senate term began, he was not alone in that sentiment on his side of the aisle – or, we now see, on Hillary’s own. And yet, facing that wall of hatred, what did she do? Did she marshal her ample forces of celebrity and treat these assholes like the historical and intellectual irrelevancies that they were (and are)? No. She walked across the room and brought a cup of coffee to someone who had wished her dead.

Hillary, in other words, is deeply serious. She is deeply serious about what is required to wield power in ways that matter. She is so profoundly serious and tough that she could suck it up and work with the worst bullies in the playground. She is so profoundly serious and tough that she was able to keep her eyes on the prize – actually passing laws, actually building coalitions, actually governing – despite the cost to her pride, despite the laws of the jungle.

And, of course, the result is that she had her cake and ate it. She accomplished real work, while winning the admiration and respect of her colleagues in ways absolutely no one expected.

My Precious? Not so much. Instead, he and his thuggish-yahoo chorus (if you think that adjective is unwarranted, just read through any of the links from Cannonfire above) are caught up in their own delusional, narcissistic fantasies:

"Mr. Obama’s advisers say that a central message of his campaign — that he would represent a break from the way politics are conducted in Washington — would be tarnished by the simple of act of linking himself to the family that has dominated Democratic politics since Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992."

It's hard to know where in that sentence to direct one's outrage. Obama represents a break from the way politics are conducted in Washington? The Clintons would "tarnish" them?

They don't need us? Good. Hillary shouldn't be associated with this soulless, unprincipled charlatan or his jejune acolytes. Even if they do win this election -- which a potted plant could do if it were registered Democratic -- his administration will be a failure. And Hillary will be in much better position to pick up the pieces if she isn't part of it.

Update: Nice to have eriposte back -- even if only for a drive-by.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Evil of Two Lessers

They’re both unfit to lead, for different reasons.

McCain is emerging as someone who can only act in opposition to someone else. He self-defines by pushing back against someone in power. That, of course, has been his bio. But now that he has stepped forward to assume a fundamentally different role – that of Mr. President (or, at least, Mr. Standard-Bearer) rather than Mr. Contrarian – he has been called upon, as all leaders are, to lead. His attempts to do so in the campaign have been risible.

I don’t think he’s senile. I just think he’s constitutionally incapable of leading. He truly is the “maverick” he has claimed to be – not so much ideologically as emotionally and dispositionally. Yes, one element of that disposition – the least appealing element – is his by-now-famous temper. A man who is capable of calling his wife a “cunt” in front of reporters is pretty creepy. But his genuinely admirable qualities are also a part of the same person. His ability to “stand up” to things – to torture, to political pressure, to conventional wisdom – also comes from his innate in-opposition character.

That capacity is worthy of praise, but it’s not leadership. McCain is not an actor, he’s a reactor. And the demands of being a standard-bearer have smoked that out – even on his home turf, in foreign policy and national security. As Joe Klein persuasively argues, “McCain has straitjacketed himself in an ideology focused more on enemies (real and imagined) than on opportunities.” This seems “tough” – indeed, let’s grant that it is tough. But it is counter-punching tough. He doesn’t have the mindset or the skills to stage-manage a fight, merely to stand strong when he’s hit. He can’t be like Ali – can’t be the dramatist as well as an actor. And he certainly can’t redefine the game, can’t shape an agenda. He depends on others do so.

And when we move beyond national security, McCain’s lack of leadership is even more starkly evident – on pretty much every other issue and in every other field of policy. Most notably, he has never had a single thought about the economy in his life. The economy is a complex system, and McCain is not a systems thinker. He’s okay on the environment, on balance – but only because not to be so is to be a nut job, and McCain isn’t a nut job. He has built his political career by joining with Democrats to reform things, to fix things that need repair – in particular campaign finances and immigration. He deserves respect for having done so. But in his very long legislative career, he doesn’t seem to have found a single area – other than military affairs – on which to become expert, or in which to innovate.

Before and during the primaries, I had thought McCain a formidable candidate – by far the strongest of the GOP’s choices. But the campaign has exposed his fundamental limitations, just as it has Obama’s. One is all counterpunch, all defense. The other is all dance and no punch – entirely “float like a butterfly,” no “sting like a bee.”

And not only is neither of these men a leader or visionary, but neither gives any evidence of being able to run a complex operation. (Please don’t give us that “Obama’s campaign has been masterful” nonsense. Every bit of mastery it showed was in the pre-game tactics. In the fray, it was an increasingly losing effort. And, of course, ever since Hillary’s concession and endorsement, his performance has been a shameful embarrassment – woeful both in principle and tactics.)

So, here we are. The press has its two darlings. Along with the lefty blogosphere -- a sink of misogyny -- and the pathetic institutions of the Democratic Party -- still only halfway on its journey back to life -- this unholy trinity has succeeded in pushing aside the person with the smarts, the knowledge, the toughness and the character to tackle really hard, complex problems and to lead – to imagine a future, and actually build it. Mazeltov to all of us. Now is the glorious winter of our content made dog-day summer by these sons of… well, you know. Clothespin-makers should do a land-office business this November.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Deeper Lie

Reflecting on my last post, the one about Frank Rich, has led me to a thoughtstream about PUMA and the hypocrisy of the Mainstream Shrillosphere and the DNC.

First, on Richie Rich. I didn’t quite capture what is really offensive about last Sunday’s column – namely, Rich’s neo-pretense of sobriety. He adopts the affect of the rational, aesthetically sophisticated grown-up, dispirited by the juvenile triviality of the campaign – he calls it a “food fight,” and compares it invidiously to the visionary profundity of Wall-E, and by extension of popular culture. Even a kids’ movie has more to say about our world than these clowns, he tells us.

The biggest problem with that isn’t its intellectual or ideological lie. It’s the underlying and suppressed emotional lie.

Of course, there certainly is an ideological lie here – Rich’s willful obfuscation of the policy differences between Obama and Hillary, and the equally willful avoidance of Obama’s cynical abandonment of principle or consistency.

But the deeper lie is Rich’s posture as a dispassionate observer of the passing parade, a detached seeker of substance and rationality, one who regards politics with the aesthete's eye for dramatic form. The precise opposite is the case. As long as Hillary was in the race, Rich was foaming at the mouth. He hated her, and that hatred came through in every noun, every modifier, every punctuation mark of his pieces – as it did for Dowd, Olbermann, Matthews, Markos, Avarosis, Huffington, Marshall and many others in this new edition of the media-Net echo chamber.

Now, hatred is invigorating when you’re in its grips. And for the verbally clever, it can fuel a metaphoric and adjectival energy that makes for entertaining prose. That’s why so many pundits of the page, the airwaves and the Nettubes cultivate rageoholism. Whether or not they actually feel this rage in their hearts is more or less irrelevant. Hate sells.

Once the party is over, however, once the object of hate has been dragged offstage, the videotape of the orgy isn’t very attractive. People who have joined a pogrom – at least the more mainstream among them – are usually kind of embarrassed the morning after. And these particular dancers around the pyre – Rich notable among them, but far from alone – have been duly and quickly brushing the ashes off their shoulders and shoes… lowering their emotional decibel level and asking all innocent-like what the PUMAs are so hot and bothered about. Kinsley’s faux puzzlement is a serviceable emblem of this.

A clear contrast to this, by the way, is Big Tent Democrat. Even though he supported Obama throughout, and even though he is therefore lumped into the Hall of Shame by some of my fellow PUMAs, he has consistently demonstrated a clear recognition of the reality, virulence and importance of the hatred directed against the Clintons, including the misogyny directed against Hillary. One may disagree with his decision, but one cannot gainsay his clear-eyed recognition of the underlying emotional realities.

So Rich’s deeper lie is to run away from his own intensity of emotional ugliness. He – like the others cited – was never a serious proponent of substance or vision or policy. This whole crew was in the grips of a far darker, stronger and stranger brew. Yes, they have egg on their faces because Obama turns out to be an ideological charlatan who has not simply “tacked to the center,” but abandoned fundamental principle after fundamental principle – not to mention being a far weaker candidate than Hillary would have been. That bill of attainder is damning enough. But even worse – and more important, I think, in explaining the real nature and purpose of PUMA – is the need to deal with the orgy and its aftermath, and with the behavior of the DNC while it was underway.

I can’t speak for Riverdaughter or Anglachel or Lambert or any of the other PUMAs, but for myself, I can say that my refusal to vote for Obama is as much the hope for teaching a lesson to the Democratic Party as it is the fear about an Obama adminstration. I believe the DNC, the media and the lefty blogosphere must be punished for their complicity in this hateful explosion – complicity that extended to disenfranchisement and rigging the results, via the RBC. If the DNC is not punished – if it doesn’t lose the election that couldn’t be lost – then the Party will not have its consciousness raised in the ways I want. It will not change.

It simply must be politically impossible for woman-hatred to succeed in the 21st century Democratic Party.

I am also, by the way, genuinely concerned about what an Obama presidency would be. He has no compass, and I think that Jimmy Carter II is probably an optimistic view of what we’d get. It could be far worse – horrifically worse. Fools rush in, and all that.

But I’m not sanguine about a McCain administration, either. And while I think it’s possible that a divided government would be safer and marginally more progressive than an Obama administration, I can certainly see where that might not be the case.

What I am certain of, however, is that the Democratic Party will not take the necessary step toward rebirth, toward becoming an institution capable and worthy of governing, if it does not get whacked upside the head now. This isn’t petulance. It’s simply saying “No” to something that must be opposed. It’s saying “No” to an unacceptable viciousness. It’s saying “No” to the lack of adult supervision.

Is this, as Kinsley claims, making Obama, the Party, women and the poor pay for Chris Matthews’s sins? No. Obama deserves to lose on his own merits. And the evidence of the past month – indeed, the past year – makes it far from obvious what women and the poor can hope for from an Obama administration. A good case can be made that we will survive a divided government, whose result is likely to be stasis, not catastrophe. But for those of us who believe we need a reborn and serious Democratic Party, its current iteration cannot be allowed to triumph, not yet. It’s not ready.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Movie Reviews

Is it possible to be more fatuous than Frank Rich? His political analysis is shallow and fatuous. His self-awareness is slim and fatuous. Even his moral outrage is fatuous. And the skill that used to be his legitimate calling card – film and dramatic criticism – has now become fatuous.

Frank Rich is, to paraphrase Al Franken, a big, fatuous idiot.

Somerby has amply chronicled Rich’s shameful contributions to the trashing of Al Gore, the consequent election of Dubya, and the overall trivialization of our political culture. I just want to take this occasion, prompted by Rich’s latest column in Sunday’s Times, to note two things.

First, it’s a bit much for him to urge Obama to remember “just how bold his vision of change had been before he settled into a front-runner’s complacency.” Uh…while you’re reminding Obama of what that bold vision was… could you do the same for the rest of us, too? We’re all a bit fuzzy on its boldness and its substance.

Second, he’s holding up Wall-E as a deep, moving vision of society’s problems, circa 2008? Say what? Its box-office notwithstanding, this is the weakest film Pixar has ever made. Only Cars can compete for that distinction. The signature Pixar story strength is entirely absent in this boring and didactic exercise. Yes, the first ten minutes are beautiful and suggestive – but from then on, it’s a pedantic snooze. The film lacks any of the visual and physical wit of Monsters Inc. or The Incredibles, the satisfying narrative of A Bug’s Life, or even the slapstick energy and delight of Ratatouille. And it can’t be seriously mentioned in the same breath as Pixar’s masterpieces, Toy Story and Finding Nemo.

To claim that its message hits audiences “at a profound level beyond words” says a lot less about the film, or about audiences, than it does about Rich’s notion of profundity. As with Obama, there’s no there there. This is an utterly banal and remarkably untextured, unthought-out and unimaginative sci-fi vision. It’s about as profound as Joni Mitchell’s unfortunate Shine – a self-congratulatory demonstration of unexceptionable and uninteresting pro-environmentalism… an anomalous misstep by artists capable of greatness.

But de gustibus non est disputandum... and I digress. My point isn’t about Wall-E. My point is that it is really, er, rich for this guy to complain about the triviality of the presidential race, when he spewed everything his vicious little laptop could churn out to besmirch the truly substantive candidate. We got this movie because Rich and his CDS fellow travelers turned the primary into a cheap melodrama and hissed their bete noir off the stage.

I mean, c’mon, Frank: “This movie seemed more realistically in touch with what troubles America this year than either the substance or the players of the political food fight beyond the multiplex’s walls”??

You started throwing the food, you putz.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Buyer's Remorse, Osric-of-Record Edition

Ha. Money quote, with inserted gloss:

We are not shocked when a candidate moves to the center for the general election. But [we are shocked, shocked that] Mr. Obama’s shifts are striking because he was the candidate who proposed to change the face of politics, the man of passionate convictions who did not play old political games.

There are still vital differences between Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain on issues like the war in Iraq, taxes, health care and Supreme Court nominations. We don’t want any “redefining” on these big questions. This country needs change it can believe in.

Thank goodness we didn't choose the vicious woman who was dragging us all into the gutter. Thank goodness we did, instead, choose the avatar of the new, all shiny and networked. Thank goodness we defended the bully pulpit of the Cassandra of CDS. And thank goodness we cling -- even in our shock and disappointment, and with just the slightest touch of clingy bitterness -- to the most important elements of this drama: that is, the words and phrases of the Precious. Thank goodness they remain our North Star... so that we hold onto -- no, we won't let go of -- his proposal "to change the face of politics," his passionately declared convictions not to "play old political games," and most of all, the reality, the substance and the promise of the transformative words: "change [the nation and we] can believe in."

Without those words, what would we have to light our way?

So, let me get this straight. The problem isn't with those who purported that they really, really saw and loved the emperor's new clothes. The problem is that he described them so beautifully.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008