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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Embrace your inner liberal!

Ann Althouse, middle-aged conservative law prof by day, teenaged rock and roller by night, blogging in between to try to reconcile those two sides of herself, and somehow always managing to discover that to be a conservative is to be a teenaged rock and roller, says that all great artists, from rock and rollers to painters, are conservatives.

To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

(Scroll down when you go to her post; she makes that assertion in her comment section.)

Someone must have given Althouse a copy of The Fountainhead at a too impressionable age.

Great artists in her mind, apparently, are all Howard Roarks, tall, manly, strong-willed, independent, healthy-minded, violent, anti-social proto-fascists, not a Mozart, a Van Gogh, a Henry James, a George Eliot, or a Miles Davis among them, nor a reality-based version of Picasso or Bob Dylan neither.

And apparently she has extrapolated from this Randian fantasy the notion that the American Right is made up of an army of Howard Roarks and isn’t the club of Babbitts and Elmer Gantrys it appears to be to the rest of us.

Nevermind that an army of Roarks is an oxymoron, that in fact the world would be better off if all Right Wingers were Howard Roarks because they would not have anything to do with one another on principle and there’d be no organized political movement mucking up the governing of the country right now.

Althouse isn’t really thinking like a conservative, or a Randian, here.  She’s thinking like a third-rate literary critic.  She has decided that great artists like Dylan and Picasso don’t know their own minds, that she knows them better than they know themselves, and it turns out they happen to think just like Ann Althouse.

We’ve all met people like this.  People who can’t appreciate a work of art except as a mirror.  Heck, we’re all guilty of this sometimes, usually, though, when we’re 20.

It’s not peculiarly conservative of Althouse to believe that because she likes a work of art or an artist that work or that artist must reflect her own beliefs, virtues, ideals, prejudices, and vanities.

(Didn’t G.K. Chesterson try to make the case that Dickens was a closet Catholic?  Was Chesterson a conservative?  That’s not a rhetorical question.  I’m asking for my own information.)

It’s immature to think that an artist or work that she likes, and which therefore is an image of herself, cannot also reflect things she doesn’t like about herself.

If she likes a song by Bob Dylan, but that song seems to express some “naive,” “superficial” lefty politics, then that message can’t possibly really be there, because Ann Althouse wouldn’t like anything lefty.

This would be like me deciding that Dostoevsky wasn’t an anti-semite because I like Crime and Punishment.

As I said, this isn’t peculiarly conservative of Althouse.  But what is, is her assumption that certain virtues---being a strong individual, taking responsibility for one’s own place in the world---are not simply conservative, but exclusively conservative.

Liberals don’t have ‘em.

The idea that Liberals are anti-virtue---anti-family, anti-religion, anti-American, godless!---has come more to the fore since the Right Wing Fundamentalists joined the party, but it has been a driving force of the American Right for a long time, a long time.  In fact, that’s how the Republicans attracted the Christian Right.

To be conservative is to be good and to be for what is good.

Conservative would-be culture vultures like Althouse, Jonah Goldberg, and John Podhoretz tie their minds into knots---and paint themselves into corners---because of this assumption.

If you can only like and admire what is good---what is conservative---you are forced to find political meanings that aren’t there, ignore political meanings that are there, and, when you can’t do either you, like or dislike movies, books, songs, paintings, comic books, TV shows, and cereal boxes because of and exclusively for their political meanings.

In this way, Cinderella Man becomes the best movie of 2005.

(The hero, boxer Jimmy Braddock, climbs back into the ring to keep his traditional, nuclear family together and uses his winnings to pay back the dole money he got from the New Deal, because real men don’t need no government handouts.  Get it?)

This kind of ideological self-straight-jacketing is perfectly demonstrated in the National Review’s list of the top 50 conservative rock songs, as Amanda showed here the other day---Jon Swift takes it a step further, hilariously.

Many things in life are not political, or at least not primarily so, and should not be politicized.  One’s own taste in art and music, for instance.

And an individual’s public political actions have never, ever been proof of that individual’s personal virtue.

It’s just plain foolish to say that because a people are liberals, or conservatives, they can’t be good persons (or great artists).  Virtues aren’t gifted upon us by ideological angels.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that some beliefs, ideals, virtues even, are inherently conservative.  Conservative in that they support and enforce the status quo and legitimize established and traditional authorities.

A conservative might put it that conservative values support and enforce a stable society, but liberals can reply that if that’s the definition of conservative than liberalism is more truly conservative than the corporate capitalistic ethos of the American Right.  Another time, another post, and at my place, because my time here at Michael’s is drawing to a close.

Althouse’s definition of great artists as Howard Roarks makes them very much not conservatives.  Howard Roarks are not stablizing influences on society, nor do they go in much for legitimizing traditional authorities.

But let’s say that to believe certain things and practice certain virtues is to be conservative.

I can be conservative.  I can believe that a two-parent family is best for raising children, I can believe in God and go to church, I can admire policemen and support the troops, I can be against abortion---seriously; not just in that I wish nobody would have to have one, but in that I think it’s wrong (but!)---I can coach little league and be a Cub Scout den leader, I can believe and do all these things (and I really do and have), I can be in many ways very conservative, and still not vote like one because of other things I think and believe that are more important to me, or which I think are more important for the country, and because I don’t think conservatives are any good at governing, which is to say that they can’t bring about a stable and safe society.  Ask New Orleans.  Ask Badgad.

And in that way, as conservative as I am, I’m a liberal.

Doesn’t stop me from admiring some businessmen and women whose politics I know are to the right of Barry Goldwater’s.  Doesn’t stop me from admiring some conservative politicians.  And it sure doesn’t prevent me from liking the work of some artists.

I love John Wayne movies.

Well, except for The Green Berets.  But that was plain awful.

I also think Charlton Heston’s a lot better actor than he gets credit for being.  Sue me.

What I’m saying to you, all my many conservative readers, is suppose you are basically pro-choice, socially libertarian to the point of thinking that heck, a little premarital sex is no big deal, even if it’s two men doing it and especially if it’s two women, and you can think the drug laws are ridiculously draconian, and you can be a conservationist if not an out and out environmentalist, and you you can oppose preventive wars, and think that while God is to be found in the details He’s not necessarily found in church and shouldn’t be found in science text books, and you can believe in the redistribution of wealth (just not that the government should be the redistributor), and be essentially egalitarian and want people to smile on their brother, everybody to get together, and try to love one another right now---you can think, believe, and even work for all that, you can be in many, significant and sincere ways liberal, and still not vote Democratic or consider yourself a liberal, because you think there are more important things for yourself and the country.

As it happens this is one of things that’s the matter with Kansas.

I have been in churches that have had wonderful social outreach programs, whose congregations are alive with real charity, that do all kinds of “liberal” good, and yet are firmly in the category of Right Wing Fundamentalist.

It’s possible to be conservative and liberal.

So embrace your inner liberal!  You’ll be happier.

You won’t have to reconcile your artistic tastes with your political opinions.

You can admire Dylan and Picasso for who and what they are, not for what you wish they were.

And you won’t have to watch Cinderella Man anymore.

Yesterday at my place I tried to do my bit to reclaim at least one song from the Conservative Top 50, Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

Posted by Lance Mannion on 05/31 at 07:35 AM
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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Whatever you do, don’t figure out that it’s systematic

You poke it, you own it is indeed an ancient “man law”.

I’ve been getting a ton of emails and blog posts on Technorati defending the ”you poke it, you own it” commercial (and so has Twisty, apparently) and the general gist of the complaints is the same: Feminists are clearly irrelevant because they waste their time talking about petty shit like a beer ad that instructs men that it’s cute to sit around with their guy friends and joke about how their penises are so mighty that they have the power to strip women of their autonomy. (Also, beers, but beers don’t have conscious thought so that’s mildly to severely less offensive depending on the amount of value you place on the existence of conscious thought. My guess is men who feel attached to Miller Lite commercials don’t value it that much.) A sample of the kind of criticism I’ve been seeing:

I’m generally sympathetic to their sentiments, but um… are you guys (women) out of your mind? Spending this much intellectual effort critiquing the not-very-catchy catch phrase from a beer commercial? I can get behind using a dumb beer commerical as the starting point in a women’s rights essay/blog entry, or at least an essay on men being humorously stupid (which is pretty much what all Miller and Bud commericals are about, being as their beer isn’t good enough to compete on taste) but there’s clearly some baggage being unloaded on a bunch of fairly innocent and clever commercials.

Ah yes, women who like to exercise the brain cells are mentally unstable, a venerable anti-feminist argument. Never fear, good sirs who love the beer commercials. Twisty and I are avowed non-procreaters so if all this thinking is indeed harming our uteruses, the practical effects of this are nil.

But blog posts like this are so illogical there must be some kind of Latin word for the error in logic they make. What is the phrase for an argument that disproves itself merely by existing? For if it’s petty to waste time writing blog posts protesting beer commercials that dehumanize women for having sexual intercourse, then surely it’s pettier to waste time to write blog posts whining about aforementioned blog posts. The sheer amount of time that defenders of this commercial spend on it demonstrates their deep affection for it and the sentiments of male ownership of female bodies contained within. The sheer defensiveness of this beer commercial space as a place where men get to let their hair down and talk about how they all really do feel superior to women after all is enough to alert those of us who are interested in a little justice instead of carefully protecting male egos that this is indeed something worth examining.

The absurd nature of the “petty” argument reaches are evidenced by this blog post Ampersand wrote defending a blog post he wrote a long time ago called the Male Privilege Checklist. The Male Privilege Checklist is a very silly, petty list and to reflect how silly and unimportant it is, anti-feminists on the internet have spents years grousing and complaining about it. This latest round of complaints is about how small the advantages men have over women in American society are, and therefore how petty it is to notice them. (As Ampersand says, it’s a stretch to suggest that the grousers would refuse to complain about a petty cut in their wages of even 10%, much less find themselves shoved back to 76 on the dollar they earn now.)

Anyway, the critic Ampersand takes on whips out one of my all-time favorite anti-feminist arguments called the “I’ll Give You Something to Cry About” argument.

We have women on this planet with REAL PROBLEMS and we’re going to fill our list with entries about our clothes and our weight issues?

Women in Iran are being sold into prostitution as children and then hanged for ‘promiscuous behaviour’… and the author of this list is going to concentrate on how long it takes to put on makeup. Shouldn’t the women with all the money and freedom the world has to offer (even if that money and freedom is fractionally less than that of their male counterparts) be trying to help the millions (billions?) of downtrodden women in China and Africa? […]

I think that, instead of focusing on little gripes (some of these 43 things are quite little comparatively), everyone needs to pull together to make sure that North Dakota and the new SCOTUS don’t overturn Roe v Wade.

Instead of the little gripes about things that affect only women, let’s focus on important shit, like my ability to fuck my girlfriend knowing if she gets pregnant on accident, I won’t end up being forced to pay child support. Women are getting killed in Iran and American men are paying child support already, and women have the nerve to complain about systematic oppression at home?

The logic of “I’ll Give You Something to Cry About” is as follows: Some people get beat down once a week, some get beat down once a day. The former have no cause to complain about the weekly beatings and they sure as hell don’t want to tempt anyone into giving them daily beatings, do they? The argument that no one should be getting beat at all is thereby wedged off the table.

At this point, I figure it’s obvious why anti-feminists get into such an uproar when a feminist singles out all the little ways wound into every day life that women are put into a subservient position. It’s not because it’s “petty” and they sincerely think being irritated at beer commercials precludes being concerned about honor killings overseas. It’s not because they think these things are truly beneath attention, as the now 132 comments at Hugo’s will show, commets that are mostly anti-feminists flipping shit because he wrote a post about the joking methods sexist men use to stifle women’s voices in a discussion. The reason sexists are so protective of the little things is because the devil is in the details. They are trying to prevent people from seeing the ugly truth that sexism isn’t the individual sins of a few bad apples, but is a systematic injustice.

Another defense of pettiness available here.

Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 05/30 at 07:33 AM
(11) Comments • (1) TrackbacksPermalink

Monday, May 29, 2006

Local authors

[Holiday weekends are tricky for blogging at my place.  Things get busy around the homestead and it’s hard to carve out time to post, which doesn’t bother my readers much since traffic tends to fall way off anyway as they find better things to do with their holiday.  I’m guessing it’s the same around here.  So I hope no one minds if I post a re-run from last spring.  I’ll try to be back this evening with an original post, but meanwhile: Last Memorial Day the Mannions were spending the weekend in the Boston area and a year ago today we were in Concord, and after a walk along the Battle Road and a good lunch we wound up at the Concord Bookshop, where I met up with two of my favorite ghosts.]

In most bookstores, outside of the big cities, when you browse the Local Authors shelf, you think, Who are these people and how much did they pay to get their “books” published?

At the Concord Bookshop the names of the local authors are vaguely familiar.


Hawthorne, Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau…

There was a time when you couldn’t throw a brick in Concord without hitting someone carrying a fresh letter of acceptance from the Atlantic Monthly in their pocket.

The Transcendentalists would like the way the owner of the book store has arranged his wares.  In the Classics section you find only the Classics---Homer, Virgil, Hesiod, Plato.  If it wasn’t translated from Greek or Latin, you have to look for it in the regular Fiction section, no matter how many college syllabi it appears on.

I grabbed a copy of Walden---I had a wide assortment of editions to pick from; I chose the one from Princeton---and a book of excerpts from Emerson’s journals, found a chair, and sat down to read.

I read the first chapter of Thoreau and got a kick out of this passage

I have travelled a good deal in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways. What I have heard of Bramins sitting exposed to four fires and looking in the face of the sun; or hanging suspended, with their heads downward, over flames; or looking at the heavens over their shoulders “until it becomes impossible for them to resume their natural position, while from the twist of the neck nothing but liquids can pass into the stomach”; or dwelling, chained for life, at the foot of a tree; or measuring with their bodies, like caterpillars, the breadth of vast empires; or standing on one leg on the tops of pillars- even these forms of conscious penance are hardly more incredible and astonishing than the scenes which I daily witness. The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra’s head, but as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.

I laughed, because many of the buildings that lined the main streets of Concord in Thoreau’s day are still standing, still in use, still housing shops and little businesses that I had just walked by and peeked in the windows of, and they’d all looked like quite cheerful places to me, full of smiling rather than penitential faces.  Life was harder in the 19th Century, but sometimes, when the subject was other human beings, and not plants, animals, and the weather, Thoreau saw a little too much of what he expected to see and not enough of what was really there.  Or as his friend Emerson put it, perhaps thinking of Thoreau, who sometimes got on his nerves, Thoreau made a difficult friend:

People only see what they are prepared to see.

There are entries in his journal where, writing about a visit from Henry, Emerson sounds as though he wishes that he’d pulled the drapes and hid behind the furniture, pretending not to be home, when he saw Thoreau coming up the walk.

The collection of excerpts from the journals is one I’ve read through many times before.  It’s my favorite.  Emphatically Emerson edited by Ralph Crocitto.

Sitting there in the bookstore, I found at least 20 quotes I want to copy down, memorize, put to work.  I had a notebook with me but didn’t use it, because I was pretty certain I already had most of the quotes that struck me saved in my own journals.  Sure enough.

The maker of a sentence, like the other artist, launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight.

The sum of life ought to be valuable when the fractions and particles are so sweet.

Who can blame men for seeking excitement?  They are polar, and would you have them sleep in dull eternity of equilibrium?  Religion, love, ambition, money, war, brandy—some fierce antagonism must break the round of perfect circulation or no spark, no joy, no event can be.

Are you not scared by seeing the Gypsies are more attractive to us than the Apostles?  For though we love goodness and not stealing, yet also we love freedom and not preaching.

The god of the cannibals will be a cannibal, of the crusaders a crusader, and of the merchants a merchant.

Fools and clowns and sots make the fringes of every one’s tapestry of life, and give a certain reality to the picture.  What could we do in Concord without Bigelow’s and Wesson’s bar-rooms and their dependencies?  What without such fixtures as Uncle Sol, and old Moore who sleeps in Doctor Hurd’s barn, and the red charity house over the brook?  Tragedy and comedy always go hand in hand.

God had infinite time to give us; but how did He give it?  In one immense tract of a lazy millennium?  No, but He cut it up into neat succession of new mornings, and with each, therefore, a new idea, new inventions, and new applications.

Every poem must be made up of lines that are poems.

If I should write an honest diary, what should I say?  Alas, that life has halfness, shallowness.  I have almost completed thirty-nine years, and I have not yet adjusted my relation to my fellows on the planet, or to my own work.  Always too young or too old, I do not justify myself; how can I satisfy others?

The sannup and the squaw do not get drunk at the same time.  They take turns in keeping sober, and husband and wife should never be low-spirited at the same time, but each should be able to cheer the other.

Emerson is my bible.  I can open up his essays and journals at any page and find a passage that matches my mood, addresses my concerns, makes the point I am struggling to make on my own.

Still sulking about being stuck with this handyman’s nightmare of a house, Lance?

When I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, bobolinks, and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.

Need to be flogged into doing some work?

Like the New England soil, my talent is good only whilst I work it.  If I cease to task myself, I have no thoughts.

Worrying about the 11 year old heading off to junior high and the nightmare of his initiation into the adolescent social scene?

When I was thirteen years old, my Uncle Samuel Ripley one day asked me, “How is it, Ralph, that all the boys dislike you and quarrel with you, whilst the grown people are fond of you?” Now am I thirty-six and the fact is reversed—the old people suspect and dislike me, and young love me.

Feeling a little full of myself?

Every man I meet is in some way my superior.

Feeling a little too much the other way at the end of the day, crushed by an insight into my own worthlessness, and unable to fall asleep as I count and recount today’s mistakes and failures, a nightly occupation for me?

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Not at all comforted by that quote and close to deciding to chuck it all and light out for the territories?

No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.

Emerson would have made a wonderful blogger.  Thoreau too. Their journals read very much like blogs.  Thoreau would probably have been a Libertarian blogger.  Emerson a Liberal:

All conservatives are such from personal defects. They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the defensive.

Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after dinner.

Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory.

But he was not an un-self-critical Liberal:

Reform has no gratitude, no prudence, no husbandry.

So it’s no surprise that Emerson has a lot of good advice for bloggers.

Trying to make sense of the rage of the dittoheads on the Right and some on the Left, as well?

Henry Thoreau made, last night, the fine remark that, as long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way, governments, society, and even the sun and moon and stars, as astrology may testify.

Thinking of posting something pithy about Bush and Iraq?

America should affirm and establish that in no instance should the guns go in advance of the perfect right.

DeLay, Rove, Frist?

These rabble in Washington are really better than the sniveling opposition.  They have a sort of genius of a bold and manly cast, though Satanic.  They see, against the unanimous expression of the people, how much a little well-directed effrontery can achieve, how much crime the people will bear, and they proceed from step to step...

Disgusted by what you read in the newspapers, watch on CNN, hear on the radio, overhear in lines at the supermarket and at the water cooler at work?

To what base uses we put this ineffable intellect!  To reading all day murders and railroad accidents, to choosing patterns for waistcoats and scarfs.

Thinking maybe you’re quoting too much from Emerson?

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.

Of course the editor of Emphatically Emerson chose the journal selections based on his judgment of their universal applicability.  And I have been reading and thinking about Emerson for such a long time now that he’s hardwired into all my thoughts, into my outlook, probably into my very habits of thinking and seeing.  When I was teaching I made a conscious effort to become a Transcendentalist.  I went looking for Emerson everywhere and made sure I caught him, brought him home, and pinned him like a butterfly on every other page of my notebooks.  So reading Emerson is just looking into the mirror and using it to arrange my thoughts the way I use the mirror to shave and comb my hair, to see what I know intimately is already there but can’t groom without aid.  And, as for all that, would it have mattered if I’d never read a word of his or Thoreau’s all day?

I can get the same result from reading the newspaper, Dickens, a poem, the back of a cereal box, or thinking and writing too much about Star Wars.

I can find my biography in every fable.

Posted by Lance Mannion on 05/29 at 07:31 AM
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Friday, May 26, 2006

Arbitrary But Fun Friday, Striking Back at Hackery Edition

This version of Arbitrary but Fun Friday is inspired by Punkass Marc, who for reasons unknown actually sat and watched the entire film Charly on cable and found one of the stupidest movie cliches of all time.

The subsequent romance montage climaxes with a shot of Charly and Alice going down a children’s slide together, he behind her with his arms around her waist. They land with expressions of joyous rapture, happier than they’ve ever been in their lives.

Now, I understand why the patriarchy loves a rape-turned-romance story, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how or why this slide thing is the iconic expression of True Love.

You see the damn thing used in movies like this all the time, but I can’t think of a less comfortable experience than trying to make my way down a tiny, sticky, white-hot metal slide while clinging to another person. Children are often unsanitary little creatures, too, and the thought of wriggling my lower body along the uncleaned path paved by countless kid-butts is hardly intoxicating. Even if you manage to make to the bottom without toppling over, what was the ride, two seconds long? Maybe we could switch the Slide Cliche to something equally as fun, like the Condom-Breaking Moment or the Accidental Burp During a Kiss.

While looking around for images to use for this ABFF post, I found that glass wedding topper that invokes exactly this cliche, which goes to show how big a danger hackery in film-making poses to our society. How long for this world is a couple that says, essentially, “Our love reminds us of the lazy choices of hack directors?” So I knew I had to throw this question out there:

If you could ban one movie cliche from movies forever, on the pain of the director’s execution or at least banishment from making any movies ever again, what would it be?

As I said in the comments at Punkassblog, the one movie cliche that always makes me wonder what wrong turn I took in life to be watching this movie is “I Love You So Please Don’t Get On That Plane.” Or any variation of the scene where one character is about to get on a plane and another character, realizing he/she doesn’t want that person out of his/her life forever, chases him/her down at the airport and stops the beloved from getting on the plane. Presumably, all these planes are flying directly into the sun. How else do explain why it’s always critical to keep the person from getting on the plane in the first place instead of letting him/her fly home, get some rest, let tempers cool down and talk about maybe mending fences at some point in the near future?

This cliche especially bothered me in Meet the Parents, a movie that was formulaic, sure, but was actually pretty funny and managed to capture very well how it feels to be in those alarming situations where everything you do, no matter how well-intended, just makes things worse. And while they tried to dress up the last minute airport dash scene with a lot of admittedly funny business about the airport bureaucracy and while it was amusing that the character who “realized” his love was the father-in-law, not the fiancee, it still didn’t make a lick of sense. All the excitement of it was just there to distract the audience from the obvious--Stiller’s fiancee was indeed a spoiled princess who didn’t have the courage to stand up to her dad and he shouldn’t want to marry her after seeing this aspect of her character.  It basically ruined the “romance” part of the romantic comedy for me.

So, what movie cliche ruins pretty much any movie you see it in for you?

Cross-posted at Pandagon.
Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 05/26 at 07:16 AM
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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sharing a beer and a burger with the next President of the United States

Margaret Carlson, giving Al Gore his due at last, and doing it the only way a paid-up member of the Media Elite can give a Democrat his due, with a backhanded compliment, observes that possibly, just possibly, likeability isn’t the only qualification for a President of the United States.

Sure, she admits, George Bush might have been the more likeable guy back in 2000, but:

Maybe Americans prefer to have a beer and burger with the charming frat boy to the student who always does his homework. But is that a wise basis for choosing a president?

As Shakespeare’s Sister’s father would say, No foolin’, Red Ryder?

Carlson goes on to note that George Bush, as charming a frat boy as he is, hasn’t done a bang-up job:

With all the needless death from a ill-conceived war, the wasteful corruption of sweetheart contracts in Iraq and New Orleans, debt and deficits as far as the eye can see, gas prices through the roof with no energy policy in sight, and with a president who delegates to incompetents and cronies, I’m ready to give the class nerd his due and raise a glass to a serious man.

You’ll note that giving Al Gore his due doesn’t require her to admit he’d have been a better President or that he should run again in 2008 or for her to give up referring to him and Bush as if running for President of the United States was the same as running for high school class President.

Al’s still the class nerd.  And as Bob Somerby keeps pointing out, this caricature of Gore is not going to go away.  And if Gore does run and faces off against John McCain, the Media Elite will follow a very similar script in 2008 as they did in 2000, portraying the election as a contest between the robotic class nerd and the authentic, straight-talking, independent (but intellectually average and on the issues wronger than wrong, as wrong as George Bush) man of the people.

The Green Knight dug up something Carlson had to say about Gore and Bush back in 2000:

You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get in the weeds and get out your calculator or you look at his record in Texas. But it’s really easy, and it’s fun, to disprove Gore.

If you can find the difference in tone between what she said then and what she’s saying now you have a better ear than I have.  The problem, back then, apparently, was that telling the truth about Bush would have required work, while picking on Al Gore just came naturally.  Of course, in order to have done that, they needed to make things up about Gore, but that was ok because he was the class nerd, and nerds have no excuse to live if they aren’t there to be picked on.

But I want to deal with the likeability thing a little bit, the idea that Americans want of vote for the candidate they’d enjoying sharing a beer and a burger with.

I don’t know when this notion took root.  Maybe back in 1800 pundits were pointing out that regular Americans would prefer to quaff an ale with the charming, straight-talking war hero Aaron Burr to the cold, intellectual elitist Thomas Jefferson.

But the first I became aware of it was back when it was Morning in America, and analysts and journalists were trying to explain how it could be that while it was obvious to them that Reagan lied, flip-flopped ever which way on issues, blew off his conservative base when it suited him, ignored the will of Congress when that suited him, broke the law (Iran?  Contras?  Death Squads? Ah, memories!), praised dead Nazis (Bitburg.  Good times, good times.), just plain made stuff up, and basically was wrong about almost everything, he remained wildly popular.

Throwing up their hands collectively, they decided, Heck, it’s just that he’s so gosh darned likeable.

You can imagine yourself sitting down to have a beer with the guy.  There’s even a famous picture of Reagan in a pub raising a beer---that he didn’t drink.

I don’t recall anyone suggesting at the time that Reagan’s likeability and apparent sociability excused everything else.

By 2000, their tune had changed.  George Bush was likeable, the charming frat boy you’d share a beer and a burger with.  Al Gore was the class nerd, the kind of annoying twerp who always did his homework and made sure you knew it (Sigh).  And not only did this explain why Bush was the people’s choice, even though he was only half the people’s choice, it made Bush the pundits’ darling and the Right Man at the Right Time.

Somerby would argue that it wasn’t so much the case that the Media Elite thought, or even, cared that Bush was likeable.  They were just using the likeability script to demonize Gore.

As Kurt Vonnegut likes to say, Whatever.

Here’s my point.  The beer and the burger thing?  It’s not necessarily such a dumb way of looking at candidates and why voters vote or don’t vote for them.

I have never heard anyone say that they voted for the candidate they thought would make the best drinking buddy, fishing buddy, hunting companion, lunch date, first date, second date, husband, wife, father, mother, best pal, parish priest, or starship captain---at least not until right after some talking head on TV had just suggested that such and such a candidate was the kind of person voters could imagine as a drinking buddy, fishing buddy yadda yadda starship captain.

But I have heard people I know voted for Reagan and then Clinton and then Bush and the next time out will vote for Al Gore or Hillary or John McCain or Russ Feingold or Mike Huckabee and who did not and will not see any inconsistency in their choices.

These are not stupid people.  And they aren’t necessarily ill-informed.  What they aren’t is all that sure that any politician, whatever his or her ideology or positions on specific issues, can accomplish anything they set out to accomplish.  They see government as a mainly improvisational business.  It’s catch as catch can.  You deal with this problem, then you deal with that problem, as they come up.

What they want in a President, or a governor or a mayor or town selectman or a school board member, is someone who knows what the problems are---what their problems are.

They want leaders who understand the people, sympathize with them, like them, and trust them to know what they want and need and to have at least some idea themselves as to how to go about getting what they want and need done.

Those leaders don’t have to be the kind of people you’d feel comfortable sitting down to have a beer with.  But they have to be the kind of person you’d feel comfortable taking your problem to.

Jeffrey Goldberg has an article in the latest New Yorker (May 29) in which he looks at what the Democrats need to do to win in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Unfortunately, the article isn’t up on the New Yorker’s website yet, but there is an interview with Goldberg here.

Boiled down, these are what I think are Goldberg’s main points.

1. The Democrats need to win in the South and Midwest.

2.  Look out! Bloggers! Run for your lives!

3.  Whatever else they do, the Democrats must not, repeat, must not, nominate Hillary.

Nevermind points 2 and 3 for now.  Point 1 in Goldberg’s article isn’t as simplistic as I’ve stated it.  Boiling that one down, it comes out to this:

Whoever the Democrats nominate should be a moderate who doesn’t condescend to voters in the Heartland.

Goldberg seems to have done most of his legwork in Missouri, where a self-described "not a Liberal" Democrat named Claire McCaskill is running for the Senate.

McCaskill ran for governor in 2004 and lost a close election.  McCaskill doesn’t come flat out and say it, but she makes it plain that she thinks John Kerry cost her the election.  Kerry got stomped by Bush in Missouri, and having him at the top of the ticket almost surely cost McCaskill the relatively few votes she needed to close the gap on her opponent and win.

Actually, the way Goldberg tells the story, it appears that Teresa Heinz Kerry cost McCaskill the governorship.

Kerry was making a campaign stop at a soybean and cattle-farm in Smithville, MO:

Kerry reminisced about clearing fields on a Massachusetts famr and promised to side with small farmers in their struggles against agribusiness.  Teresa Heinz Kerry handed her husband a note, and then stood up to speak, recalling a visit to an organic hog famr in Iowa.  "It’s really inspiring to see the work they did," she said, and encouraged her audience to consider organic famring.  "It can be done.  It’s economical, and there is a huge market in America."

At that point, winston Simpson, a hog farmer from Clarence, Missouri, stood up and interrupted.  "I said, ‘Mrs. Kerry, you’ve got to undertand that hog farmers just freak out when they hear people telling them to go organic,’" Simpson recalled recently.  "She looked kind of surprised.  I was just there helping out, making a crowd [Simpson’s a Democrat, even something of a Liberal], but I’ve got an adrenaline problem, and when someone pisses me off I jump up and tell them."

Simpson is a grower-finisher; four thousand or so hogs come to him at forty pounds and leave their pens for slaughter two hundred and fifty pounds later.  "I’d go broke if we switched to organic farming," he said.  His public advice was informed by tactical, rather than ideological concerns.  "I don’t have a problem with people raising food organically.  If people want to eat that way, fine, but she shouldn’t have been pushing that as a solution to the farm problem  A lot of farmers think those organics as some kind of elitist lunatic-fringe thing."  For some, Mrs Kerry’s performance recaleld other moments of Democratic campaign obliviousness, like Michael Dukakis’s endorsement of Belgian endive as alternative crop for Iowa farmers...snip

Referring to the Kerry-Edwards campaign stop, [Claire McCaskill] said, "I’m sure Teresa’s motives were fine.  But I think it’s a tone thing.  It’s the ‘We know better’ thing.  Some of it is completely unfair, but there’s a critical number of Missourians who believe that people from the East Coast or West Coast don’t think that people in the heartland are smart."

Leaving aside the whole Teresa thing and the unfairness of judging a candidate by his or her choice of a spouse, and ignoring another example of John Kerry’s fitful and embarrassing attempts to pass himself off as a man of the people---like I said, I don’t think the people necessarily want a President who is one of them; they want somebody who understands them and sympathizes with them and respects them---it’s important to note two things.

One, the farmer Teresa pissed off was a Democrat.  Is it really so hard for us to find candidates who don’t annoy their own base?  And I’m not talking about us netroots types.  We aren’t the base.  We’re a pack of weirdos and normally we’re pretty proud of that fact.

Two, judging by what McCaskill says about how folks in the Show Me State feel about East and Left Coasters, the only way for the Democrats to win in the Heartland is to nominate someone who comes from there.

I don’t buy that.  It’s true that the only three Democrats who’ve been elected President in the last 40 years were from the South.  (Four if you count Gore, but I’ve made the case that nobody sees Gore as a true son of the South.)  But their two biggest losers were from the Heartland and both of them lost to Californians.

I do buy that neither John Kerry nor Al Gore came across as men you felt you could bring your troubles too---and I felt that before the Media Elites set out to caricature them as pompous, elitist stiffs.

This beer and burger thing, it’s another way of describing the common touch.

This being a democracy, having the common touch is in fact a qualification for public office.

Not the qualification, but certainly a qualification.

Some aristocrats have it, and some sons and daughters of the working classes don’t.

And whatever it is, it is not a matter of being a charming frat boy, or of not being the kind of A student who always has his homework done.

And whatever it is, should the Democrats find and nominate someone who has it, you can bet the Media Elite will do their best to tell us that that person doesn’t really have it or that the Republican candidate has it more authentically.

Or if they find someone who has it and the Media Elite can’t deny it, they’ll change the rules.  Having the common touch will be a sign of the Democrat’s bad character.  He, or she, will be dismissed as being someone who tries to be "all things to all people."

This has already been done.

You may remember that the Democrats had someone who was at home among the people, who liked crowds, who loved to talk with voters, who wasn’t just someone voters felt they could share a beer and a burger with but who wanted to share beers and burgers with them, who was someone people felt they could tell their problems to because he felt their pain.

You probably also remember how the Media Elites felt, and still feel, about that guy.

Cross-posted at my place.

Posted by Lance Mannion on 05/25 at 09:47 AM
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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Go Fug Yourself is funny, or why feminists should like it when witches cackle

Recently on the internets there was a debate about whether or not it was proper feminist protocol to pop open a site called Go Fug Yourself and cackle mercilessly at the parade of horrid celebrity clothing that the proprieters mock. Ann Bartow said no; Lindsay said yes. At the heart of the debate is not whether you can tell at first blush whether or not making fun of stupid clothes is sexist so much as whether or not or it’s appropriate to laugh at female fashion victims. Are rich fashion victims also victims of the patriarchy? Do we owe them our pity?

Since then there’s been a few interesting posts on this sort of subject.  Jedmunds linked to a defense of Paris HiltonBitch Lab posted on a debate over whether or not it’s cool that Pink has a video mocking other women for being shallow idiots. To no one’s great surprise, I’m going to weigh in on this debate on the side of ruthless mockery. Not only am I going to approve mocking “stupid girls”, celebrity fashion victims and socialites who are famous for being giant assholes is good, but I’ll say such humor is a valuable component of a sustainable model of patriarchy-blaming.

It’s silly to waste time trying to label individuals as Victims or Not Victims of the patriarchy--it’s perfectly possible for a person to be both victim and oppressor. The guy who has to suffer the humiliation at the hands of the male pecking order at work only to go home and beat his wife is an example of this. Not that this means that I think the defense of Paris Hilton was wrong--I don’t doubt Paris does feel pressure to dress and act a certain way, etc.--but it does well to remember that she’s a huge asshole and a self-appointed judge of other women’s worthiness as sexual playthings, and for this she should be mocked ruthlessly. This recent post from Go Fug Yourself where Heather attacked Brandon Davis and Paris Hilton making fun of Lindsay Lohan is just the sort of humor that makes this feminist cackle.  (Hat tip, Ezra.)

It’s well-documented by now what Brandon Davis was filmed saying about Lindsay Lohan—lengthy and numerous rants disparaging her private parts and their cleanliness, announcing that he is disgusted with how poor she is because she is only worth $7 million, and spitting that he would never, ever sleep with her, before asking the videographer, “Would YOU [sleep with] her?” All the while Paris Hilton is choking on her own laughter, because there’s nothing at all trashy about her.

So fuck Paris Hilton for being a shallow turd, too stupid to be aware that if she wasn’t born into wealth, she’s have died off by the time she was 10 years old from sheer stupidity. Mocking her for this is a wholesome activity that should be encouraged. Mockery is an excellent way for people to convey their values systems and progressives shouldn’t cripple ourselves by abandoning this tool. Just as mocking someone’s race encourages racist values, mocking someone for being racist encourages anti-racist values. When you mock Paris Hilton for being the sort of trash who thinks making fun of a woman’s (probably throughly scrubbed and waxed) genitalia, you are discouraging people from being this kind of trash.

Not that I necessarily blame people for being skittish about this sort of thing.  There is an epidemic of people who can’t quite grasp how to make fun of someone else. For instance, it’s difficult for people to understand that just because Michelle Malkin is an odious person doesn’t mean she’s a good target for racist insults.  There’s one very simple rule when determining how to make fun of someone:

Mock the thing that is odious about them, not something innocous.

Simple.  There is nothing wrong with having Asian heritage, but there is something wrong about being a racist twit.  When mocking Malkin, mock her racist twittery.  Alternately, what’s funny about Paris Hilton is not that she has sex nor that she filmed it; what is funny is that she answered her cell phone in the middle of the filmed sexual encounter, indicating what her investment in the situation was.  Especially funny is the way her partner chased her around the bed trying to get her to hold still, indicating a lack of dignity on his part.

And mocking the parade of horrible clothes that celebrities wear might not be your thing, but it’s a perfectly feminist activity in that it functions as a critique of the very existence of fashion victimhood.  The fashion industry is showing nothing but contempt for women when they churn out clothes designed to make women look stupid or clownish and when we meet their contempt with derisive laughter, we are fighting back.

Posted by Amanda Marcotte on 05/24 at 07:32 AM
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