Monday, January 26, 2009
It Can Be Done
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Good for You, Gov. Paterson - Updated
This show of decorous strength and independence helps Paterson's electoral chances in 2010, not weakens them, imo.
Update: Uh... okay. Thing is, one way or the other, it seems her "candidacy" is toast. If the report of her withdrawal came from Paterson, then she (or somebody near her) is playing a game of chicken with him -- not smart. And if the withdrawal report did come from her, and she's now changed her mind, she's just added an exclamation point to a "campaign" of remarkable ineptness. I mean, uh, you can't, you know, do this kind of thing in, like, public.
Update 2: “The fiasco of the last 24 hours reinforced why the governor never intended to choose her." We dodged a bullet here. Talk about unreadiness for primetime.
Update 3: A good outcome to this Rashomon tale.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The Big Pictures
“I’ve got it! Remember that Avedon issue of Rolling Stone in 1976? How about we do it now? We devote all of the main editorial well of the pre-Inauguration issue to full-page portraits of ‘Obama’s People.' Say, 52 of them, for each week of the year. Don't let Vanity Fair beat us to this!
"After all, like many of our readers — like most Americans, it seems fair to say — we sense something eventful and potentially far-reaching about this election, and the challenges the new president and his team will immediately face. Why not take account of this with portraits of those whose character and temperament and bearing may well prove consequential in the coming months and years? (Note to self: Reference Roland Barthes in the intro.)
One note: This gargantuan attempt at collector’s edition-creation conveys no discernible idea or point… but it does achieve one interesting result: full-page portraits of both Hillary Clinton and Jon Favreau, on a level playing field. Which is nice for him. After all, we know how much he enjoys being next to a full-size photograph of Hillary Clinton.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Boom Boom Boom
I’m speaking about the idea of Boomer partisanship, fractiousness and culture wars.
It’s not just the strawman du jour for those seeking to defend Barack Obama against legitimate criticism – indeed, any criticism – on everything from FISA to tax cuts to Rick Warren to universal healthcare to Social Security. It goes deeper than that. It’s helping to dumb down our thinking more generally.
The idea is so silly and lazy that one would think it would be dismissed on its face. The notion that the Baby Boom generation was uniquely fractious or partisan reveals a narcissistic ignorance of history. Even high school Social Studies ought to have instilled awareness of the humans’ long narrative of conflict, tribalism, misogyny, racism, partisan struggle and general lack of evolution as a species. But if that was too much to pay attention to, what is one to make of people who have watched the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism – all of them carried out not by Boomers but primarily by Xers and Yers – and who nonetheless attribute to my generation a puzzling clinging to our bitterness and battles? (In case it needs saying: Obviously, I’m not saying Gen X or Y is uniquely violent or crazy. In fact, the silliness of such characterizations in general is my point.)
This lamebrained idea isn’t just a crutch, a way to opine without actually learning or thinking. It’s also a vehicle for an age-old neural path that’s strongly etched into humans’ brains: generational conflict. The claim about Boomers isn’t empirical, but it’s not a “lie.” It expresses a genuine feeling – one of the mix of complex feelings children have had about their parents since time immemorial: You're not giving me room to breathe. Go away and let me live my life.
The examples of this nonsense are too numerous to mention here. Hardly a piece of punditry gets published these days without some trace of it. In tomorrow’s NY Times Magazine, for instance, there’s a representative ditty from Matt Bai. The article in which it occurs isn’t my focus here – it’s a typical mishmash of half-thoughts and Obama-cult musings. Some of the points are valid – such as the possibly dispositive nature of the current crisis for policy formation, and Obama’s “elusiveness” – and some are not. My point here is simply to use the following passage – annotated for your convenience – to demonstrate the self-contradiction, muddled thinking and prejudices of this generational meme:
“Already, in the weeks since the election, Obama has endured the moans of disgruntled constituencies in his own party whose idea of the outsider is difficult for any breathing politician to fulfill. Progressive activists online and inside the party have complained bitterly about Obama’s turning to so many pragmatic insiders – that is, public servants who ran Washington in the Clinton years – to populate his cabinet, rather than reaching out to more academics or state-level politicians whose political instincts have not yet been corroded by Washington’s penchant for incrementalism. [So… he didn’t reject the moaning, disgruntled Boomers, then? He hired them? And these old-timers are examples of… pragmatism, not identity politics or bitter partisanship? And yet, aren’t we told that partisanship was the defining characteristic of
and politics in general… until now? I’m confused…] Then, too, have come the inevitable protests from identity-based interest groups: Latinos and African-Americans in Congress who weren’t satisfied with the number of senior appointments, as well as gay activists lamenting the omission of a gay cabinet nominee. [I don’t know about you, but the chief complaint I’ve heard from gay activists wasn’t about a cabinet nominee, but about Rick Warren. And isn’t it interesting that the “interest group” he leaves out is the one most damaged by the Obama movement – women?] That sound you hear is the last wheezing gasp [It’s true. Old people are short of breath.] of boomer-age politics, the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression [ Washington OMG, when will they get over it?], the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives. [Okay, so ‘boomer-age politics’ was about cataloging oppressions and endlessly tallying cultural differences? As in the civil rights movement? As in the women’s movement? As in the anti-war movement? As in the environmental movement? As in ? Those phenomena were not about, er, aggregating common objectives? And their legacy was an endless laundry list of complaints, and not a body of legislation, programs, laws -- and at least partially changed consciousness?] It is a political philosophy that probably made sense 30 years ago [“probably”? “made sense”? He can’t be bothered to learn about it? Or maybe he just doesn’t think it’s worth seriously characterizing.] but that seems sort of baffling [How puzzling we are to these new, rational beings, as we do our tribal Dance to Identity and Bitterness around the bonfire.] at the dawn of the Obama era, when such interest groups are among the most powerful in the Washington establishment [Right. Gays are running the place. Latinos are running the place. Women are running the place. And African-Americans have progressed so far that they really have nothing to complain about any more. Life’s good. Oh, and the presence of some representation in D.C. is sufficient demonstration of progress all around.] – and when the Man himself is black.” the music and the culture that produced Woodstock
See what I mean?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
And on the Other Hand...
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
We Listened to Her, and We Found Our Voice
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I am thinking of this because I just finished reading Dreams from My Father, and I’m not one whit closer to an understanding of who this person actually is than I was before I opened the book. As advertised, it is elegantly written, but detached, opaque, impersonal – despite being an autobiography. Its literary elegance disguises rather than reveals.
At first, we think we’re going to get some insight into his head and heart – and I went into it genuinely open to that. I want to love the one I’m (perforce) with. But what we get, instead of self-expression, is a series of reflections on race, mostly in the form of emblematic scenes from his life, each of which illustrates some political point, each of which has the same hedged, muted, multi-perspective aura. In what is by far the most engaging part of the book – its final section, describing his first trip to
This is, I think, every bit as much of a campaign document as The Audacity of Hope – even if it was written ten years earlier. Barack Obama, it seems clear, set his mind on becoming President of the
This is a man whose true genius is hiding in plain sight. (For anybody who is familiar with Sigurd Burckhardt’s famous essay on King Lear, “The Quality of Nothing,” Obama is the perfect anti-Lear, the antithesis of a figure constitutionally incapable of mediacy. He may vote “present,” but he can’t be present. He’s almost too post-modern, too Derridean, too palpably the presence of an absence.)
It doesn’t matter what he does. He can talk for hours, joke around, expose himself to the world’s media, be the focus object for millions of hungry souls… he can even write entire books on himself… and yet he recedes ever farther from actual view. Is this a skill, or a psychiatric condition? I don’t think it can be a sham. Nobody could pull that off. He really must be so terrified of what lies inside, must have sealed it up so tight, that he himself hasn’t the first idea who’s in there.
Thing is, he’s now in a place where there’s a better-than-even chance that it’ll be smoked out. He has walked out onto the stage, one of the biggest and barest of them all. It’s not easy to hide there, maybe impossible. And there's a fellow whispering in the cellarage -- only this ghost isn't saying, "Remember me." This one is saying, “Nothing will come of nothing.”
One can only wonder what play is going to be spawned by whoever this protagonist turns out to be.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Or maybe he actually intends to grab the Third Rail -- the one that killed W's second term before it began. Along with the "new New Deal," maybe our Vote-Present-Elect, the post-partisan Chauncey Gardner of the 21st century, feels compelled to balance it with an anti-New Deal. Maybe, instead of Medicare For All (i.e., single-payer healthcare), he's going to give us Medicare For Fewer. Maybe he really is Herbert Hoover in Wendell Wilkie clothing. Maybe this really will be the third Bush term.