Thursday, September 30, 2010

Common sense is not so common

Tip O’Neill must be spinning in his grave. I can't believe my beloved New York Times is peddling the fiction that All-Politics-Is-National, the opposite of the House Speaker's timeless maxim. The paper (Matt Bai pinch-hitting) cited Christine O'Donnell's virtual non-presence in her home state of Delaware, the borderless nature of the Online Epoch and the obsession by our lemming-like chattering class with each new shiny object. “O’Neill’s adage may now be as much a part of history as he is,” clucked Bai. Now, it's true that the Witch of Wilmington refuses to leave the national spotlight (And why not? There's a huge fortune to make off her 15 minutes of fame.) But it's also true that she is all but certain to lose her quixotic senate bid. The reason: All politics is (still) local.

Blinded by the light

Some of the memorable quotes I posted today on Twitter from Matt Taibbi's Excellent Adventure for Rolling Stone:
"Arguments with Tea Partiers always end up like football games in the year 1900 — everything on the ground, one yard at a time."
"It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists."
"The Tea Party today is being pitched in the media as this great threat to the GOP; in reality, the Tea Party IS the GOP."
My full post on Matt's piece here.

The heart of the matter

"Tea Party doesn't really care about issues — it's about something deep down and psychological, something that can't be answered by political compromise or fundamental changes in policy. At root, the Tea Party is nothing more than a them-versus-us thing. They know who they are, and they know who we are ("radical leftists" is the term they prefer), and they're coming for us on Election Day, no matter what we do — and, it would seem, no matter what their own leaders like Rand Paul do." - Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone)

Stupid is as stupid does

"It's not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It's just that they're shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid." - Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone)

Tea & Crackers

Matt Taibbi is one frustrated journalist. Reporting for Rolling Stone, he went to Tea Party Country expecting to find rational explanations for the phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, he came up empty.

But like so many young journalists today, he seems to possess little sense of history. As a piece by author Rick Perlstein noted last spring in the NYT, coverage of the Tea Party Movement has indeed been overwhelmed by "historical myopia." To wit:
"As the Times’s new poll numbers amply confirm ... [Tea Partiers] are the same angry, ill-informed, overwhelmingly white, crypto-corporate paranoiacs that accompany every ascendancy of liberalism within U.S. government. 'When was the last time you saw such a spontaneous eruption of conservative grass-roots anger, coast to coast?' asked the professional conservative L. Brent Bozell III recently. The answer, of course, is: in 1993. And 1977. And 1961. And so on."
Still, Taibbi's wonderment and incredulity is great fun to read. Some Excerpts:
"It's taken three trips to Kentucky, but I'm finally getting my Tea Party epiphany exactly where you'd expect: at a Sarah Palin rally. ... [She] is railing against a GOP establishment that has just seen Tea Partiers oust entrenched Republican hacks in Delaware and New York. The dingbat revolution, it seems, is nigh. 'We're shaking up the good ol' boys,' Palin chortles, to the best applause her aging crowd can muster. She then issues an oft-repeated warning (her speeches are usually a tired succession of half-coherent one-liners dumped on ravenous audiences like chum to sharks) to Republican insiders who underestimated the power of the Tea Party Death Star. 'Buck up,' she says, 'or stay in the truck.' Stay in what truck? I wonder. What the hell does that even mean?"
"Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately struck by two things. One is that there isn't a single black person here. The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. ..."
"A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can't imagine it.
The dingbat revolution is nigh, indeed. Read the full article here.

Some Like It e-Hot has a piece up today entiled: "Kindlerotica: The strange but inevitable rise of e-reader pornography."

An excerpt: "Like the Kindle itself, the marriage of porn and e-reader is relatively new; much of this digital erotica has been added to the Kindle library in the last 18 months or so. From a technology standpoint, anyone who's seen Boogie Nights or Middle Men could predict this development. Every time a major new content platform—print, film, cable, VHS, DVD, the Internet, mobile phones—has experienced massive growth, it has either been driven by a porn boom or at least brought the porn industry along for the ride. (The biggest exception is probably radio.)"

Well, it had to happen.


"President Obama will name White House senior adviser Pete Rouse as the new Chief of Staff, serving for now on an interim basis. What does that mean? It means Rouse will be the chief of staff and he may be replaced. Or, if it’s working out for everyone, he might not.” – Jake Tapper (ABC News)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Today's Notable Quotable

"Your answer reminds me of the 13th chime of the clock: not only is it wrong in and of itself, but it calls into question the other twelve." -- Yale law professor to a student in class.

Bubba and Me

Did my last post seem a little harsh? Perhaps you detected that I don’t exactly swoon for William Jefferson Clinton, with hands folded under chin and eyes aflutter? You would be right. Look, Clinton is a swell politician. I voted for him twice. Hell, I would have voted for him thrice, if that were possible. Anything to forestall the Dubya Dark Ages. Anyway, ‘twas the spring of 1991 when I spied the “Boy Governor” on TV for the first time. A jovial Clinton was being interviewed by a local reporter. I’ve long since forgotten what political bullshit he was spinning that day. But my initial impression has never left me. “Who the hell is this used car salesman?” I said aloud to my television set. Then I laughed. I thought: Nah uh. No way will this bozo ever get the Dem party nomination, let alone the keys to the White House. Quaintly naive, isn’t it? Well, we know how this epic movie ended. And I subsequently learned how to properly assess presidential elections. Ultimately, I came to respect Clinton. I admire his intellect and political acumen. The trouble is I never felt I could trust him, man to man. We never “connected.” I never quite knew why until L’Affair Lewinski broke over the shoals. Later, his reprehensible political behavior during the 2008 election added insult to injury. Both, in my view, speak directly to a woeful deficit of character. And so to me, Bill Clinton will always be some version of “Slick Wille.” That said, I salute the rank, not the man.

‘That Bill Clinton is sooo kewl!’

The Washington press corps is all atwitter on Twitter and the cable airwaves. Recent polls show Bill Clinton is WAY more popular on the national playground than that skinny kid with the funny name (Barack Obama) by the swings. Giggle. President Spock just can’t do anything right. Sigh. It’s like high school, isn’t it? One has to wonder how many of the reporters peddling this empty narrative were regularly shoved against hallway lockers – or worse, simply ignored by the cool kids at their respective schools (the ones now running Wall Street). But today, with horn-rimmed glasses no longer askew, the reporters the cool kids on the big DC campus. Hell hath no fury like a nerd scorned. But I digress. So just why is the Big Dog so much more popular than the Professor? Because Bubba doesn’t have to pay the political electric bills. Daddy-in-Chief Obama has to. Otherwise, the lights go out - nationwide. Playing the glad-handing pol without a portfolio is easy. Try running the White House in this toxic environment, Willie, this time without focusing “like a laser” on the first blue dress you come across.

You Don’t Know Dick

Today, Jonathan Chait asked: Is President Obama mean? Apparently Richard Holbrooke – you know, that sweet paragon of geniality – felt slighted when the president allegedly mocked him in private after the diplomat daintily asked to be called “Richard” instead of “Dick.” His wife, he said, just HATES it when people call him Dick. So goes the tale as recorded in Bob Woodward's new book. And the point of Chait’s post? Page views, I guess. Even if the story is true (and it does kinda sound like the shenanigans the notoriously alpha-male Obama would perpetrate), it just proves Holbrook is a milquetoast who hides behind his blustery public persona. Would you really care what the Leader of the Free World called you if he offered you a top job at the White House? Okay, okay. I'll stipulate that being called “Turd Blossom” – Dubya’s nickname for Karl Rove – might be a bridge too far for most of us.

There’s No Escape

You know how Google now tries to guess your search term as you look up a subject? Doing some routine research, I started typing “Sarah Palin” and only got as far as “r” when her name popped up.

Talk about unsettling.

'Buck Up'

Warning about the consequences of the midterm elections, President Obama told Rolling Stone magazine: "People need to shake off this lethargy. People need to buck up." (My italics)'s estimable John Dickerson begs to differ:
“The president must already miss his soon-to-depart Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. When people in the White House say, "Buck up," they often receive Emanuel's favorite epithet in return. (Hint: The first word of the phrase rhymes with buck.) Telling people to "buck up" suggests they are ignorant, inattentive, or lazy.
Well-worded, sir. But the problem is that many people ARE ignorant, inattentive, or lazy. Fortunately, regular folk, the ubiquitous Joe and Jane Sixpack, are not as thin-skinned as fuming Washington insiders like the good Mr. Dickerson. Nor are they uninformed without cause. They have real lives. But like 90% of the nation, they are low-information denizens. Indeed, this is probably the first the Sixpacks have heard about the midterm apocalypse waiting the Dems. And Obama is only now breaking through the news cycle clutter. To the Sixpacks, “buck up” will likely translate to: “Hey honey, remind me to vote. Sounds like we better.”
[The buck up plea] doesn't seem a promising approach to bringing Democrats out of their fuming repose.
Again, well-played, sir. But, relax. Joe and Jane Sixpack don’t scare easily. And they don’t whine, even in repose. They just do what they gotta do.
Of course, for those who already share the president's point of view, this call will seem reasonable. ... But the president isn't preaching to the converted. He's talking directly to members of his base, who are disappointed and angry with him.
Excellent return volley, sir. But let’s put our cards on the table. It’s the “professional left” that are disappointed and angry with Obama. (To be fair, so are many independents – at least until they change their minds, again.) It’s time to wake up, my dear Rip Van Winkles. Jed Barlet is not in the White House. Obama is. Remember? No? Okay, how many fingers am I holding up ...?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Today's Notable Quotable

"I think progressives in general have to decide whether to work when the work is easy, or work when the work is hard. " -- A reader on

Doing Right Is Hardest Of All

I felt that old twinge, nay the lump in the throat again as I watched Obama thunder away at a Madison college rally this evening. I guess it's my version of Chris Matthews’ “thrill up the leg.” This is a president who sorely needed to publicly unload his political burdens. And, oh my, unload he did. And it was probably healthy for him to do so.

The key passage that stood out for me:
"I know sometimes it feels a long way from the hope and excitement that we felt on Election Day or the day of the inauguration. But I’ve got to say, we always knew this was going to take time. We always knew this was going to be hard. I said it was going to be hard, remember? I said I was going to tell you some things you didn’t want to hear. I said that we were going to have to make some difficult choices. I said not everybody was going to be happy with every single decision I made. You did not elect me to do what was easy. You didn’t just elect me to read the polls and figure out how to keep myself in office. ... You elected me to do what was right."
Exactly. Know hope.

The Nature of Things

Mathematicians see the outlines of primal truths when a proof reveals the elusive elixirs of both simplicity and elegance. It is a fleeting peek into Mother Nature’s cookbook. Similarly, these elemental elixirs sometimes reveal themselves in politics. They can be glimpsed in the cogency of the well-turned phrase.

From the moment Barack Obama swore “So help me God” on that glorious inauguration day, he became a valiantly embattled figure. How could he not? And yet, a simple quote by Niccolò Machiavelli goes to the heart of the vitriol Obama often faces: "Men's hatreds generally spring from fear or envy."

Is it not, at long last, fear - both political and cultural - that drives much of the American Right in its many guises (the Tea Party being just one) today?

Liberals and the White House

Ezra Klein weighs in on the endless press stories about "whining" liberals:
For the record, I'm in agreement with the view that the Obama administration has been a disappointment on civil liberties, unconvinced by the argument that a more combative White House would have led to more policy achievements, and hostile to the view that things like health-care reform aren't major successes worth celebrating.

Monday, September 27, 2010

'Please, sir, I want some more'

“No DC schools for Obama girls,” screamed the headline adorning the homepage of this morning’s Washington Post website. And just in case you missed it, the inside page headline hammers the point home: “Obama: D.C. schools don't measure up to his daughters' private school.”

The story derived from Obama’s interview on the “Today Show.” When asked why his daughters don’t attend a public school, he matter-a-factly replied:  they’ll get a better education at a private one.

The DC journos just love to print this stuff. Today’s piece makes certain you leave with two takeaways: The “elite” school Malia and Sasha attend (Sidwell Friends School) costs over – gasp! – $31,000 a year. And that (unnamed) critics call Obama “hypocritical” for spending big bucks on his girls while “allowing a federal voucher program in the District to lapse.” Mercy.

I’ve said this a million times before. Readers don’t care about this stuff. The reason is simple: What father wouldn’t spend lavishly to ensure his little girls get the best possible education if he could afford to do so? Parents lucky enough to hand their kids something besides a small bowl for the thin educational gruel now served by our school systems tend to do. (See “Waiting for ‘Superman’”)

Obama is commander-in-chief. But first he’s daddy-in-chief. People get that. Why don’t reporters?

Burning empathy in effigy, Ctd

Apparently, Erza Klein has got my back. "Results matter. Speeches don't," he writes in a short post about John Harwood's CW piece in the Sunday NY Times. He notes:

"[Harwood] quotes Stan Greenberg, one of Bill Clinton’s pollsters, as saying. “Clearly Bill Clinton had the ability to connect emotionally. He got slaughtered in 1994.”
Enough said.

Hijacked by Politics

Something worth remembering from Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute:

"John Boehner used to be a serious legislator. Eric Cantor is smart and a justifiably rising star in the GOP firmament. But they are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious. Instead of encouraging a constructive relationship with the serious and fair-minded legislators on the Democratic side, they are adding to the traction of their take-no-prisoners counterparts. What a shame." -- May 2010

(Hat tip: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly)

'I Masturbate Constantly'

As an anonymous commenter quipped today, guess you can say someone really fingered her for past indiscretions. Bada-boom. Enjoy:

Outlier or miracle?

Well, this is interesting: "Big new poll from the Louisville Courier-Journal shows Republican Rand Paul only up two points on Democrat Jack Conway in the U.S. Senate race. The last Courier-Journal poll, in late August, gave Paul a 15-point lead." (Hat tip: Talking Points Memo)

Conventional Wisdom, Ctd

Paul Krugman on how debilitating the force of conventional wisdom is:

When everyone … everyone who supposedly matters – is saying something, it takes a real effort to step outside and say, wait a minute, how do we know that? It’s especially hard if you spend most of your time hanging out with other Very Serious People; I know that I myself have a hard time saying that people I know personally are talking nonsense, even when they are. The VSP effect is one reason smart bloggers, both on economics and on politics, have generally been a better guide to what’s really happening in America than famous reporters: their distance, their lack of up close and personal insights, is actually an advantage.

This is what you need to know: important people have no special monopoly on wisdom; and in times like these, when the usual rules of economics don’t apply, they’re often deeply foolish, because the power of conventional wisdom prevents them from talking sense about a deeply unconventional situation.

In other words, as the Bard would say, "the fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."

‘Mad Men’ Monday

Yes, I’m a fan of the show and last night’s episode (“Hands and Knees”) was entertainingly epic. In one of many delightful twists, the character Robert Pryce (“a deceptively benign-looking gentleman in tweed”) indulges in an interracial romance (this is set in circa 1964, mind you). It’s the second time the series has visited this social territory. Baby, we really have come a long way.

I’ll leave the critical reviews to others. For those interested in lively but light postmortems of the show, check in weekly with’s stable of cheeky critics. For the more discerning connoisseur, don’t miss film critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s  in-depth appraisals at the New Republic each Monday morning.

Notable Quotable

"Whenever I read about Woodward’s books my takeaway is that the people who rule us have the emotional maturity of 9 year olds." -- Atrios laments on Twitter this morning.

Yes, but the same is largely true of the people that elected them. We the People need to do better.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Burning empathy in effigy

Many top tier Washington journalists behave, to put it crudely, like abused wives. The frequent failure of these women to divorce their bastard husbands – preferably after whacking said spouses upside the head with a frying pan – seems inexplicable. (It isn’t, just infinitely complicated.)

Likewise, the Beltway Boys (and, sigh, they are still mostly male) remain hopelessly married to Obama’s so-called “empathy” problem. The president, they drone in unison, is too cool, too cerebral and much too Spock-like. And worse, he is too effete to alter the perception.

One can image John Harwood, the latest purveyor of this narrative, nodding gravely as “former aides” to Bill Clinton held forth on the issue “over salad and swordfish” at a swank eatery. (And yes, he actually noted the menu selection in his Sunday New York Times piece. What a classy dude, that Harwood. Oh, and do pass the caviar, dah-ling.) But I digress.

This week’s excuse for dragging the burning empathy effigy to the forefront came in the form of one Velma Hart, an articulate Obama supporter who happens to be black. “I’m exhausted – exhausted of defending you, defending your administration,” she said respectfully to the president at a televised CNBC town hall meeting. She wants meaningful change for the middleclass, adding “I’m waiting, sir.”

Indeed. Aren’t we all? But that isn’t where the story ends as the press would have you believe. The next day a very impressive Ms. Hart appeared on Chris Matthews’ Hardball. She repeated her concerns thoughtfully. But as Matthews rushed to end the segment (pushing his own narrative that Obama + White House bubble = tone-deafness), Hart insisted on adding a few more words:

“Well, I want to say for the record, I am a supporter and I believe in the vision and I’m hoping he is going to come through. I have great faith in him and I think he will.”

I have “great faith.” I think he’ll “come through.” Hmm. Funny how this obviously sincere sentiment from Ms. Hart never saw the light of day outside of Hardball, least of all in the Harwood treatise or the Sunday talk shows or the prominent political blogs.

It is also funny how our press studiously ignores the real story simmering just below the surface: the growing infantilism of the American people and their wildly unrealistic expectations of the political class. (Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?) Be it true or not, it is a serious topic worth exploring (as I will in a future post).

The national press, as it is wont to do, is making way too much of the presidential feel-your-pain ethos. Evidently without realizing it, Harwood answers his own thesis about Obama’s inability to connect with the huddled masses -- with an Obama quote.

“When the unemployment rate is so high and people are having a tough time, it doesn’t matter if I was green, it doesn’t matter if I was purple. I think people would still be frustrated.”

In other words, it’s (mostly) the economy, stupid. It is also worth remembering that neither Reagan nor Clinton was particularly popular at this juncture of their presidencies. Indeed, both were perceived as weak by our hallowed Beltway Boys.

Trust me, if the economy turns around by 2012 (and it likely will), the press corps will be tripping over itself to hail Obama as the American Marcus Aurelius and a canon of empathy. You heard it here first.

Here's the Hart Hardball interview:

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Resistance is futile

I resisted Twitter for a long, long time. I mean, who cares what kind of toast you had this morning? Get off my lawn!

It never interested me UNTIL many of the pundits (and websites) I follow began their Great Migration to the Land of Tweet. And so, bewildered and out-gunned, I wearily waved the white flag and (cliché alert) Came in from the Cold. Now I'm like some twitchy, red-eyed Neuromancer on 'roids, utterly mesmerized by those endlessly rolling tweets.

Okay, okay. That's a slight exaggeration. But, yes, I'm active on Twitter. As in every bloody day active. And, yes, slack-jawedness is an occupational hazard. Scarier still: I kinda sorta love it.

Anyway, you can find me at

Pondering doubt

Robin Le Poidevin, Professor of Metaphysics at the University of Leeds, makes a case for agnosticism. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

On this, I have no position or, Lord knows, any answers. But his conjecture about God’s existence is, if nothing else, thought provoking:

[In science] elegant simplicity is the ideal. Perhaps God is like that: his understanding and capacities may be infinitely complex, but the underlying nature that gives rise to that complexity may be relatively simple. If so, then it isn’t a given that the probability of such a being is enormously improbable.

Shakespeare Sunday

"In the reproof of chance lies the true proof of men." (Florizel in "The Winter's Tale.")

Waiting for Obama

I generally dislike the ubiquitous What-Obama-Should-Do column. It is lazy opinion writing and too often a platform for simply advancing the (usually wrong) conventional wisdom. But occasionally, the format works. Today, of all people, the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker gets it right.

Gently directing her exasperation at the president, she writes:

There's a saying that seems applicable here: Work like you don't need money, love like you're never been hurt, dance like no one's watching. Note to President Obama: Lead like there's no tomorrow. No midterm election, no presidential reelection, no party base. Liberate yourself from the Woodward Syndrome, figure out what you think, and lead. You are commander in chief, after all. Half the country may disagree with you, but they'll respect you in the morning.

Well said, fair lady. It is the best advice I’ve heard in a while. Hope Mr. Obama read it, paused, and pondered its truth as he sipped his morning coffee. He is quite the enigma, this complicated but good man.

Check out Parker’s column.

Perkins Predictions

Yes, Virginia, the top California Dems will sweep the midterms. But I'll place an advance 2 lb. order of crow just in case.

'Twixt such friends as we

Interesting op-ed by David Kirkpatrick (author of "The Facebook Effect") in the Washington Post this morning. He writes: “While Facebook's base still skews young, about two-thirds of its 134 million American members are older than 26. Outside the United States, Facebook's fastest growth has been among middle-age women.”

More startling, he notes without irony that “it has become so central to social life that if you are not on it -- regardless of your age -- you are probably not in very close contact with your friends.”

Is it me, or is that really kinda scary?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

MoDo: Slouching Toward Washington

I hate Maureen Down and I love Maureen Dowd. But there's no getting around her gravity-defying brilliance. In her latest column, MoDo weighs in on the ongoing Christine O’Donnell kerfuffle and the quickening transformation of American politics into parody (See Mr. Colbert Goes to Washington):

On the hapless O’Donnell:

Holy Roddy McDowall. Christine O’Donnell doesn’t understand why monkeys can’t turn into people right before her eyes.

[Bill Maher] has a soft spot for the sweet-faced Republican Senate candidate from Delaware, but as he told me on Friday, it’s “powerful stupid to think primate evolution could happen fast enough to observe it. That’s bacteria.”

She (rightly) slaps the GOP wingnuts with one hand:

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Jim DeMint and some Tea Party types don’t merely yearn for the country they idealize from the 1950s. They want to go back to the 1750s.

And then, unable to resist, she swiftly backhands Obama with the other:

President Obama was supposed to be a giant leap forward in modernity, the brainy, rational first black president leading us out of the scientific darkness of the W. years. But by letting nutters get a foothold, he may usher us into the past.

Look, needling Obama in front of a national audience is fine. Hell, it’s healthy. And I’d like to imagine this death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach is MoDo’s special way of holding “Barry” accountable, even when it is gratuitous. That said, methinks her expectations still derive more from a “West Wing” fantasy than realpolitik circa 2010 A.D.

Hello, world

Starting a blog (actually, my second) is like wandering, suddenly, into a vast landscape of digital wilderness, an electronic forest echoing with written voices. A few trumpet their presence like clashing cymbals. Most murmur in obscurity. The horizon begets more wildernesses, into infinity. The bright sky above me, to paraphrase William Gibson, really is the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

I am anonymous.

And today, I am but a solitary seed. Will it sprout green?

We’ll see. Anyway, welcome.