Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Potemkin Unattractiveness of Liz Lemon

I just read this post, 13 Ways of Looking at Liz Lemon (h/t Bill Simmon), which makes a number of observations about 30 Rock that are worth your time if you like the show. Probably the most interesting aspect of 30 Rock is the constantly advanced notion that Liz Lemon is unattractive when it's quite obvious, by a visual inspection, that she's not. Self-deprecation is a tried-and-true way of mining comedy from your personal life, but jokes about Tina Fey's unattractiveness ring about as hollow as Jerry Seinfeld doing jokes about flying coach now. Seinfeld is a gazillionaire who probably hasn't flown coach since 1989, and Tina Fey is definitely cute. So one might ask, perhaps with Seinfeld's particular intonations, what's the deal with Liz Lemon?

I wonder if this has something to do with a residual self-image issue. Fey used to be much heavier and more homely in general, so it's possible that she sees herself as an ugly person, culturally speaking. (I hate myself for writing something so Brooksian, by the way.) Perhaps that's why she feels she can get away with those kinds of jokes. But if these jokes are an attempt to get audiences on her side, in some way, the whole thing just strikes me as backwards. If anything, it smacks more of false humility, like Fey is trying to make a joke about being unattractive to solicit contrary opinions. I don't know if that's the goal, but it's not unreasonable to assume that it might be.

Then again, I guess it's easier to think of "Liz Lemon is ugly" jokes than it is to think of "Liz Lemon is totally sexy" jokes. As Jon Hamm's stint on the show proved, it's not that easy to make jokes about how attractive someone is. But about how ugly they are? Easy. My guess is that's the real reason why those jokes are there.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Right and Palestine

Yglesias has a must-read on the success of the conservative movement:

I think that to understand what’s wrong with the conservative movement today, you need to think about Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential campaign. In ‘64, the GOP establishment felt that Goldwater was too radical. They said that nominating a hard-rightist like Goldwater would be counterproductive. But conservative activists worked hard, and they did it. Goldwater got the nod. And, just as the establishment predicted, Goldwater got crushed. And just as the established predicted, it proved to be counterproductive. The 1964 landslide led directly to Medicare, Medicaid, Title I education spending, and the “war on poverty.” In the 45 years since that fateful campaign, the conservative movement managed to gain total control over the Republican Party and to sporadically govern the country. But it’s only very partially rolled back one aspect of the Johnson administration’s domestic policy.

Which is just to say that the conservative movement from 1964-2009 was a giant failure. By nominating Goldwater, it invited a massive progressive win that all the subsequent conservative wins were unable to undue. But the orthodox conservative tradition of ‘64 is that it was a great success that laid the groundwork for the triumphs to come.

Which is to say that it’s not just a movement incapable of thinking seriously about the interests of the country, it can’t think rigorously about its own goals. 2009-2010 has already seen the greatest flowering of progressive policy since 1965-66. No matter how well Republicans do in the 2010 midterms, the right will never fully roll back what the 111th Congress has done. And yet, as Andrews suggests, if they win seats in 2010, conservatives will consider their behavior during 2009-10 to have been very successful.

Reminiscent of nothing more than the Palestinian statehood movement under Yasir Arafat. Arafat inspired generations of Palestinians to resist--and, in some cases, violently resist--Israeli rule in establishing a Palestinian state. He was in power for decades and was extremely popular among his followers. And yet, there is no independent Palestinian state at this time, and the odds of getting one are significantly dimmer than they were a decade ago. But he flattered his people, appealed to their anger, to their vanity, and their prejudices. He accomplished nothing, but he gave his people some righteous anger. I guess it was enough for a lot of them.

For some time now, it's been clear that movement conservatism is not an ideological movement, but rather a movement dedicated to gaining and holding power as long as possible. I think you see this in someone like Newt Gingrich being completely baffled by why the Democrats were willing to risk so much on health care reform, without an obvious political upside. The idea that something might be doing in and of itself, as a moral imperative, seems not to ever have occurred to him. The self-stated ideological goals of the movement are almost never actually attempted, and when they are, they are always immediately abandoned after significant resistance is encountered (e.g. Gingrich and Medicare, Bush and Social Security privatization). These failures rarely bring down their instigators, and conservatives themselves are completely uninterested in the outcomes of what their leaders do, so long as the liberals are unhappy with them. It's more common now for conservatives to blame Bush for their troubles, but he left office with three quarters of Republicans approving of his performance. I must admit that I'll never fully understand this myself.

It would seem obvious that both of these situations--Arafatism and American Conservatism--seem ripe for massive corruption. And, in both cases, this has indeed been true. Sufi Arafat's nearly-regal lifestyle in Paris and the K Street project are both excellent examples of how the scam works. The lesson the Palestinians never learned is the one I hope conservatives take some time to learn, which is that ultimately anger and prejudice are powerful motivators that can make a person easily manipulable by demagogues and hucksters whose only real interest is in power, wealth, and control. They tell you what you want to hear, get you angry, and then make excuses. At some point, conservatives will realize that liberals aren't their enemies, and that in most cases there are compromises to be made on the big issues out there. The real enemy of conservatives is, as always, the conservative establishment, as well as the limitations of their own worldview.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

American Tories

Steve Benen has a post about the emerging Republican message on health-care reform. It is, to my thinking, rather insane (the message, not Steve's post). There are certainly some aspects of HCR that are unpopular and could likely become good campaign issues for the GOP. But there are plenty of popular aspects to it as well. Campaigning on a bald repeal pledge is insane (even regardless of this poll saying that reform has jumped in popularity) as it gives Democrats an opportunity to trumpet the popular provisions of the bill, educate their constituencies, and build more support for the entire package (bad parts included). Jon Cornyn--who is extremely conservative, but usually a bit more strategically bright than most of his compatriots--is offering a more nuanced and plausible path forward for Republicans, but it is unlikely he will get his way.

For the past few months, Republicans have been offering Democrats advice about dropping health-care reform, despite the obvious conflict of interest. Democrats mostly ignored them, figuring that Mitch McConnell probably doesn't have the best interest of the Democratic Party at heart. But it might be advantageous for Republicans to consider that the Democrats are positively giddy at the prospect of running against a party dedicated to a full-on repeal of HCR, from liberal media outlets to elected officials, there is positive excitement to fight for what Democrats rightly feel to be a historic achievement. Republicans are highly unlikely to win the argument for full-on repeal. There could indeed be some utility to a more nuanced case for targeted changes and modifications to the bill, though I think would force Republicans into a defensive debate position. The odds of a court challenge to health care succeeding are uniformly regarded as poor. It seems apparent that the Administration has pulled a fait accompli on the issue, and among elite Republicans there is little enthusiasm for fighting this fight. Right-wingers are, as usual, setting themselves up for disappointment.

But it does seem as if Republicans are going to run on repeal. Considering the stakes they put on this bill, they really have no other choice. My guess would be that such efforts will be a drag on Republicans' chances, generally speaking. It might help in winning Democratic seats in conservative areas, but I find it highly unlikely that the public--which has been worn out on this debate for months now--is going to respond to angry calls for repeal. By all accounts, they've wanted Congress to move onto new issues for some time now. Republicans' pledging to continue this debate means less time spent talking about the economy--in other words, it will only render the Republicans out of touch even more so than they are now. They've really fallen for their own nonsense--the Republicans running for Senate in California (California!) are all pledging to repeal Obamacare, in what will no doubt go down as the greatest example of mass seppuku since ancient Japan. The idea that this issue will play to their satisfaction in liberal, union-dominated California is positively nuts to me. But what can they do? It's much too early to prognosticate about the Midterm elections, and high unemployment will be a difficult hurdle for Democrats to overcome. But the Republicans are showing signs of replicating the same errors that plagued the British Conservative Party over the past decade, such as their obsession with their own pet issues instead of the public's desires. This could play very poorly for them. Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A question of morale

Reading this piece by Dave Weigel only furthers my conviction that, in addition to the genuinely good effects that passing health care reform will have for people out there, there will be a lot of secondary political advantages to passing it as well. For some time now we've heard about an enthusiasm gap between the left and the right. This has been largely due to the fact that the right has made some headway and won some victories (at least in PR terms), and it feels like it is making progress, while the left has largely felt that things aren't happening that should be happening. Morale is a pretty easy thing to figure out, finally: victories breed good morale, defeats crash it. I suspect that final passage of HCR will have the effect of causing a lot of the Tea Partiers to lose confidence in victory, while others will be even more radicalized and will demand that Republican candidates run on repealing HCR, which simply will not happen. I'm not even talking about the plan's resurgent public standing--the discussion is a loser for Republicans because it will force them to take the defensive once Democrats press them on what provisions they actually want to repeal, and it will refocus the conversation onto the actual stuff in the bill that people like.

I actually think that the Tea Parties are going to break up a lot sooner than people think. Not just over failing on HCR, but when one considers that the next big battles are going to be over financial regs and clean elections, where the far right doesn't have much purchase on public opinion (and which are issues that the Tea Parties are supposed to be exercised about), I really doubt that this movement is long for this world. But, then again, movements don't last forever. They either fail to achieve their goals and everything falls apart, or they achieve them and become institutions.

Media is not everything

I have to commend Andrew Sullivan's take on Andrew Breitbart, rightroots hero:

Breitbart, like Drudge, gets the web. He understands its subversive and rhetorical power: the sheer thrill of the direct access to millions, the fuel that ideology brings to everything, the traffic that anger summons like a dog whistle to the alienated. This is an angry time, and the web helps tap our anger, monetize it, leverage it in intoxicating ways. I don't begrudge him one bit his fury at some liberals' smugness, or the p.c. nonsense of the 1990s, or the cant of a lot of academia. I never came from liberalism, so I never felt I had to shuck it off.

But Drudge has kept himself sealed off as a human being for a reason, I suspect. He's public only as an avatar. It is because this transparent, raging, brutal world is too destructive to the soul and the psyche to remain so exposed in such a raw fashion for so long without serious damage. Drudge is smart. Andrew, I suspect, will realize how smart eventually.

Yep, death happens because the Internet has replaced life for some but it hasn't abolished the real thing. And Breitbart's vulnerable moment in the piece shows how even the enraged and always offensive are sad and defensive at times, vulnerable often. The web has not banished these truths. Ideology is false. Labels obscure. Rage eventually undoes the enraged, even if the anger is merited. And no, media isn't everything. The battle isn't everything.

I don't follow Breitbart's work, but he's always struck me as a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sullivan, for his quibbles, is able to put this stuff in perspective. It's a good bit of wisdom that all of us netroots types should heed.

The disappearance of reasonable Republicans

What can one make of the screeching behavior of once-reasonable, measured Republicans like Orrin Hatch? This duplicitous op-ed is par for the course. Hatch has always been conservative but used to be of the dealmaking, likable group of conservatives, just like his colleagues Judd Gregg and Lamar Alexander. All three have recently become known, depressingly, as partisan attack dogs.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on here, but I suspect stuff like this is why it's happening. In no universe can Bob Bennett be considered liberal, but he is interested in solving problems and working with Democrats, which is apparently not allowed anymore. These other dudes have seen what's up and are hamming it up for the Tea Party crowd, but they don't really have the knack for it, so they come off as unbelievably obnoxious. It's just kind of sad.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Michael Moore isn't smart

This is rich:

What about instituting a universal single-payer system, something Moore advocated for in his 2007 movieSicko, through a Congress that balked at a watered-down public option? According to Moore, all it takes is courage.

"We've been lied to for so long, and it works," he said. "It's amazing to watch a lie work. Only a strong leader, only a Roosevelt could confront this."

Wait, FDR instituted single payer? Wow, what are we arguing about here? No need to do health care reform, it's all done, Roosevelt did it in 1935! What a fool. And I like the notion that all it takes is courage. I hear that that sort of courage goes well with failing to pass reform and then losing an election. Where was Michael Moore in 1994?

This line of reasoning annoys me because it's so ignorant. Roosevelt was an extremely strong leader, sure. But he took office before the advent of the cable news circus, before the partisan realignment, etc. Plus, he had 75% Democratic majorities in Congress at a time when the filibuster wasn't abused, and at a time when Republicans really were demoralized after several years of the Great Depression. And despite all this, he wasn't able to do everything in one fell swoop. Social Security and the National Recovery Act were mere shells of what Roosevelt wanted, but he was persistent and he eventually won those battles and got much of what he wanted in the end. There is a lesson for Moore to learn here, if he knew anything about politics instead of trying out to be an FDL personality (perhaps?).

This is not to sell Roosevelt's accomplishments short in any way. If you look at the country he inherited and the country (and the world) he left behind, the depth of what the man accomplished pretty staggering. He and Churchill literally saved liberal democracy in the world. But Roosevelt was, like Obama, a pragmatist and incrementalist with moderate inclinations. I have no idea how Roosevelt would fare in this sort of environment, but I suspect he would have run into many of the same troubles Obama has, because these troubles are largely not of Obama's making.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's called conscience

Yglesias is baffled by the torture right:
Why was the Bush administration initially so eager to cover up its torture, and conduct its abuses in secret? Once the truth about the Bush administration’s policy of institutionalized torture came out, it turned out to be something that the right thinks works for it politically and they like to brag. But back in the high tide of the torturing, they clearly understood that they were doing something shameful and wanted to keep it secret. And even today they’re ashamed of what it is they were actually doing. In their constant invocations of SERE training as way of showing that waterboarding’s not so bad they reveal themselves. The logic of their arguments is that brutality works and it’s good, but they can never quite bring themselves fully and fulsomely embrace that idea and instead want to turn around and minimize the enormity of their actions. But if the justification of the brutal coercion involved in waterboarding is that it works then why is the semantic argument about torture even relevant?
My guess is that a lot of the torture apologists are actually somewhat conflicted on this issue. They've committed themselves to defending this garbage, but deep down they feel there is in fact something wrong with it. After all, our national identity used to be based in part on the fact that we didn't do stuff like this. I think this theory explains the dilemma quite nicely. I don't think all these people are sociopaths (Rove is the only one that comes closest, in my opinion), but the makeup of the right is such that I don't really expect there to be too many people to stand against this brutality.

My major concern is that the younger generation of conservatives--ones who grew up when their leaders defended torture--aren't going to be particularly conflicted about this stuff. We anti-torture people have a lot of work to do.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stupak is on the ropes

I moseyed on over to ActBlue and happened to see this on the front page:

Ms. Saltonstall is the woman who announced a primary challenge to Bart Stupak, who has proven himself an odious theocrat once again. I sent her a little cash myself, might have to send some more later. She's raised $20k online in about a day, which I think is pretty impressive.

The why should be obvious: Stupak's behavior has been far beyond the pale. And I'm not going to do the thing about how the Democrats are a pro-choice party and he should not stand up for what he believes in. I find it irritating when Michael Steele says stuff like that and I'm not going to say it myself. It's not even that he opposes this particular health care reform bill. Bart Stupak has proven himself to be solely interested in power politics. He doesn't care about the women whose lives would be impacted by his law, any more than he cares about the tens of thousands of people who die because their health insurance gets cancelled. He's interested in becoming the head of the Pro-life Democratic Caucus and a power player in the House. How do I know this? Because his complaints about the bill are senseless. The Senate Bill very clearly separates federal money from abortion funding--the Nelson/Casey business actually mandates separate checks to be written to pay for insurance for abortion. Stupak is a lying, C-Street fundamentalist, and I'd rather take a chance with someone who isn't of that ilk, like Connie Saltonstall, and accept the risk of her losing the general to someone with Stupak's views. No downside, in my opinion. The good news is that it looks like his coalition is cracking.

I agree with John Cole: he's worse than Lieberman.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chait dings Dean

And he's right, of course. Key line:
"My response was that Dean was temperamentally unsuited to be president -- he had the resume of a moderate but the soul of a radical. His egomania and extreme pugilism made him a poor advocate and an even worse negotiator. His only solution to political impediments is to pretend they don't exist."
I should add that Dean's fear that the GOP would repeal HCR is unfounded. The Tea Partiers want them to, but the Democrats are positively salivating for them to do so. The fact is that the GOP has convinced much of the public that the Democrats' bill is weak, but virtually all of the individual components are popular. Campaigning on repeal would be a disaster for the GOP: they couldn't support full repeal, because then the Democrats would hit them on preexisting conditions. The debate would become one in which Democrats attacked Republicans for wanting to bring back payment caps and preexisting conditions, and the Republicans would be on the defensive with some sort of nuanced position that probably wouldn't play well. This is why Tim Kaine is saying things like, "If they want to run a campaign of bring back the day of kicking people off because of pre-existing conditions, I relish it."I guess Republicans could campaign against "government-run care", but that's just spin and not a plan of action. There is nothing like that in the bill. If the GOP runs against government-run care but pledges not to mess with the pre-existing condition ban, the individual insurance exchanges, the insurance payment caps, etc., I wouldn't be too worried.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why The Tea Party Failed

Yeah, I'm going to use the past tense there. It's true that the Tea Party movement exists and will exist for a little while longer, but I think it should be clear by now that they will have no real impact on the political scene. They've become little more than an appendage for the Republicans--something used merely to advance conservative memes--and perhaps it was impossible that they would become anything else. Some might argue that the Tea Party types haven't failed, that they're moving the electorate to the right, but that was somewhat inevitable in a period of Democratic governance during a recession. If the Tea Parties had never existed, what would have happened? The right would have still become hypocritical on spending. There would have been the same sort of relentless attacks on Obama. What's happening now is little different from what Republicans did in 1993-4. The Tea Partiers have merely given Republican operatives some visuals to testify to the power of their message. But the Republican Party has not changed very much.

Here's how I see it: the GOP has many problems at this point, but probably the biggest one is that its supporters are thoroughly captured by its elites. Because much of the Republican base is animated by the culture war message rather than by strict policy proposals (not a risky assumption, I should think), they can be fairly easily manipulated by the conservative elite, whose interests largely don't lie with solving big problems or helping their constituents, so much as enriching very specific groups. They make big promises and don't follow through on them, and then invoke the specter of the evil liberals to justify inaction. This is where you get the (accurate) accusation on the left that the GOP is run largely by grifters: you have almost a perfect set of circumstances for widescale corruption.

I think that the Tea Parties understand this on some level. They get that it's incompatible to both extol the virtues of the free market and then bail out the big banks. The problem is that they share very little substantive policy differences from the mainstream conservatives, and they don't really have much space to launch the critique that it would make sense for them to make. It would make sense for them to decry corporate collusion with government and to back regulation and legislation to reduce it, but this is a tacit admission that capitalism isn't a uniquely just system that gives everyone what they deserve, and that the Republican approach to the market is flawed. Most of them aren't ready for that. The Tea Party movement has not correctly identified its enemies, preferring to make partisan attacks instead of getting the Republicans' house in order and demanding accountability. There has been little backlash against the people who misled them for all these years: I've heard of little anger at Karl Rove, or Bill Kristol, or Fox News among these folks (or, at least, among Dave Weigel's persistent reporting on them, as well as some of the random conservative blogs I read). In fact, Fox News is more popular than ever, despite having fed these very people lies for many years. The deep-down fear of liberalism pushes them back to the very people who failed them because the alternative is unthinkable, or perhaps merely unthought. What the Tea Party movement seems to me to be is a movement that is trying to rebel with a group with which it agrees with almost everything. There is little imagination within the movement, less vision, and it overwhelmingly reeks of futility and chaos. It's like some late-90s pop-punk group raging at the system underneath a Doritos banner. Or, to use a political metaphor, I'm continually reminded of liberal hawks' decision to turn against the Iraq War in 2005-06. The tide was palpably turning against the war, and many of these hawks needed to pivot away from defending it, but the problem was that their ideology--which found American hegemony, national security ideology, and the notion of preemptive war acceptable--didn't allow much space for critiques of the war. Eventually, they decided to criticize Bush's conduct of the war, which was handy because Bush did such a poor job of it, but it was weak as far as these things go. The Tea Parties folded their complaint against the bailouts into a complaint against spending, which is fair enough I guess, but it is about as obvious as the liberal hawks' rationale and it doesn't really try to solve the problem that was, for a time, their raison d'etre.

This is why I think calls for some sort of right-left populism are misguided. I think that such a dialogue could be interesting, and I think that some of the same things motivate populists on both sides, but I have seen little evidence that this sort of right populism has a substantive case to make on these issues that differs from standard Republican thinking. Perhaps dialogue could discover some common ground, but I doubt there would be too much trust on either side. They've chosen to base their movement around spending, but anyone who actually thinks that a Tea Party-powered Republican majority would actually take action on this issue is sorely mistaken, as can be seen with Paul Ryan's neglected budget ideas.

Here's some SAT prep for you all

Mitt Romney:Tarp::Hillary Clinton:Iraq War. Well, somebody has to be the new jester of politics since Harold Ford got out of the NY Senate race.

(h/t: Larison)

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.