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Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday guest post!

Hi, kids!  I’m Bill Kristol.  You may remember me from such hits as “The New York Times is Guilty of Treason” and “Sarah Palin is the Future of the Republican Party.” But today I’d like to talk to you about my very greatest hit, “Memorandum to Republican Leaders: Defeating President Clinton’s Health Care Proposal.” I’d like to read a little bit from that today, and remind you all just why I am such a highly regarded public intelllectual.

As you’ll recall, I insisted that even Clinton’s tepid plans to expand health insurance coverage would result in epic disaster.  I even said it would threaten the “breadth” of our system:

Its success would signal a rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment we have begun rolling back that idea in other areas. And, not least, it would destroy the present breadth and quality of the American health care system, still the world’s finest.

Of course you’ll recall that, because that’s remained the party’s talking point for the past sixteen years.  But I want to call your attention to this equally important point, where I argued that the Clinton plan

will relegitimize middle-class dependence for “security” on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.

Obviously, kids, both things can’t be true at the same time!  Structural reform that destroys the American health care system would not revive the reputation of the Democrats; structural reform that improves the American health care system would revive the reputation of the Democrats. That is why we need to oppose it: not because we think it will fail, but, even worse, because we fear that it will improve the lives of our fellow citizens—and that they’ll be grateful to Democrats as a result, just as they were with Social Security.

This means we have to conduct policy debate as if it is a matter of handing out purple band-aids to mock Kerry’s war wounds.  We have to take serious matters and ridicule the shit out of them.  Just like I did back in 1993:

Genuine, yet remediable problems do exist in the American system of medicine, but the rhetoric surrounding the president’s health plan deliberately makes those problems sound apocalyptic. “Fear itself” does not trouble the New Dealers: Indeed, they welcome it as a powerful tool of political persuasion. Mrs. Clinton, in particular, routinely describes a nation of individual lives teetering on the brink, each only an illness or a job away from financial ruin. The text of the president’s Health Security Plan and virtually all the public remarks on health care made by his advisors are filled with images of a health care system spawning little else but frustration and tragedy. It is a brazen political strategy of fear-mongering, conducted on a scale not seen since the Chicken Little energy crisis speeches of President Carter.

I’m fond of that paragraph myself, because it’s a twofer.  First I dismiss the idea that millions of Americans are only an illness or a job away from financial ruin. (Hey, I’m not!  I’m all set, and if you’re a conservative pundit like me, you are too!) Then I mock Carter’s energy-policy speeches, like that famous “malaise” speech and that famous “sweater” speech, which everyone knows were big downers.  Did you catch the literary allusion to Chicken Little?  My parents taught me how to literary allude.  It is a very clever rhetorical device in this context, since, after all, Chicken Little was wrong, and Jimmy Carter was basically right.  “It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century,” he’d said.  Well, it did!  Thank goodness no one important was paying attention, or we would have accuse them of “crying wolf.” That is another literary allusion.  Oh, and I almost forgot:  drill, baby, drill!  Now there’s some serious policy talk for you.

Anyway, the immediate point at issue is that a new WSJ/NBC poll shows that Americans largely oppose Obama’s health care plans ... until they learn about them:

In mid-June, respondents were evenly divided when asked whether they thought Mr. Obama’s health plan was a good or bad idea. In the new poll, conducted July 24-27, 42% called it a bad idea while 36% said it was a good idea.

Among those with private insurance, the proportion calling the plan a bad idea rose to 47% from 37%.

When given several details of the proposal, 56% said they favored the plan compared with 38% who oppose it.

This, then, is our mission, my friends: we need to fight against this dangerous trend in which people are given “several details of the proposal.” We need to make shit up.  We need to go beyond the tactics that have taken us this far—stuff like telling people who haven’t seen a doctor in five years that socialized medicine will interfere with their relationships with their personal doctors, or telling people who can’t afford their medicines that health care reform will be too expensive.  No, now’s the time to tell people that the Obama plan includes the critical “kill grandma” provision and mandates late-term abortions for all non-Muslim fetuses.  Don’t worry about making shit up—no one’s ever going to call us on it, and we’ve got the Baucuses and Conrads in Congress and the Broders in the media pretty much sewn up as is.  We could spread the word that the Obama plan will cost each American a trillion dollars over ten years, will give illegal immigrants free medical services, and will require all white people to undergo racial sensitivity training, and the Baucuses and Conrads and Broders will still call for civility and bipartisanship, just as if we’d said something sane.  So make shit up with impunity!

And remember this above all:  the Republican making-shit-up industry is still the world’s finest.

Posted by Michael on 07/31 at 10:37 AM
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


It’s raining all day, so no painting around here.  But no blogging either, because I’m just too depressed about the health care morass and the odious Blue Dogs and the mind-numbing suckitude of the Washington Post and everything that will follow from the Democrats’ extra extra special fecklessness.  It’s so 1993 that I’m expecting to hear the Spin Doctors and “Whoomp, There It Is!” from every radio.  But never mind 1993!  Wait ‘til 2013—when the people who believe that Obama was born in a Kenyan madrassa and sent to the United States to strangle your grandmother in her sleep won’t just be the people who believe that Obama was born in a Kenyan madrassa and sent to the United States to strangle your grandmother in her sleep.  They’ll be the people running the country.

Meanwhile, here in Pennsylvania, we think we’ll have some of what California’s having.  Mmmmmm ... total institutional failure.  It’s what’s for dinner!

Posted by Michael on 07/29 at 11:36 AM
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Housepainting is hard work. 

It’s week two of this summer’s chore, and today I get to the part where God’s hand touches Adam’s.  Should I use a roller?

Posted by Michael on 07/28 at 09:41 AM
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Even though Barack Hussein al-Obama has totally betrayed his promise of a post-racial society

I still kinda think the officer acted stupidly.

Posted by Michael on 07/27 at 09:37 AM
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Back by popular demand

Looks like I’m missing a lot of weird, wild stuff out there: PUMAs and moral panics and tumultuous behavior in general.  Well, I have an excuse.  I’m housepainting and writing not one but two reviews of this book.  In fact, I have to write the second one by tomorrow.  So my discussion of Harry Potter and the Movie Everyone Hated will have to be brief.

Well, maybe everyone didn’t hate it.  That’s the impression I got from SEK’s survey of the terrain, but I see that tomemos challenges this in comments.  And I agree with Amanda that the whole thing would have worked much better as a television series than as a decade-long string of Major Motion Pictures.  But then, back in 2001 when the first film was released, there weren’t a whole lot of brilliant TV series going on.  Just The Sopranos, really. The Wire and Mad Men were still years away from production.  (That’s the other thing I’m doing with my time: watching season two of Mad Men with Janet at night.  Anyone who shows up in comments with spoilers about the last five episodes will be deleted and banned.  I’ll attempt a post on the subject when we’re done.  You all knew I originally planned to go into advertising instead of applying to graduate programs in English, right?)

But I don’t understand the people who didn’t like Jim Broadbent as Slughorn.  Broadbent was nearly a perfect Slughorn: he could have been a bit more arrogant, I suppose, but I think Slughorn’s distinctive combination of pomposity and toadiness (upon which Tom Riddle plays so effectively) came through very well.  I think I like the fact that the films have more or less given up on exposition, especially since Half-Blood Prince is itself one very long “As you know, Bob” device.  Keep the Pensieves to a minimum, I say.  As you know, Harry, Voldemort grew up in this orphanage.... As you know, Harry, Voldemort has a fetish for objects associated with the four Hogwarts founders.... The attitude by this point—it is number six, after all—has to be that if you’re coming to the movie without knowing Snape’s history (or Voldemort’s), you’re on your own.

Two important changes from the book: one, Snape doesn’t confront Harry after Harry slices up Draco with sectumsempra, and doesn’t demand to see Harry’s Potions book.  This strikes me as bizarre; it leaves Snape merely tending to Malfoy on a bathroom floor, and leaves the kids to decide to hide the book on their own.  Two, Dumbledore doesn’t immobilize Harry before Draco’s arrival on the astronomy tower; Harry restrains himself throughout, or at least until he is stymied by Snape.  I’m of two hands about this.  On the one hand, it’s not really credible; Harry is, as we have seen with his ill-fated attempt to “save” Sirius in Order of the Phoenix, impetuous and rash when it comes to heroics on behalf of people he loves.  And he does despise Draco with a passion.  Hard to imagine he’d stand down when it’s just Draco and an unarmed Dumbledore.  On the other hand, it underscores Harry’s fierce loyalty to the man: he’s just made him drink a nasty bowl of Voldemort-brand hallucinogenic punch, and now he’s standing mutely by while Draco threatens his surrogate father.  Maybe he really has learned a thing or two about trusting Dumbledore’s judgment.

But the whole scene—and the strangely truncated confrontation with Snape that follows—is just muted and muffled.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve seen it twice now, and the impression was even stronger the second time: there’s just no climax in this climactic scene.  And one important feature of it gets left out: remember when Dumbledore says, “introductions are in order,” and introductions aren’t offered?  (No exposition, remember.) Well, we don’t get to meet Alecto and Amycus properly as a result.  No loss there!  But more to the point, we don’t get that critical moment when Dumbledore admits to being a bit shocked and disgusted that Draco would let a child-eating monster like Fenrir Greyback into Hogwarts, where all his friends live.  Draco, you’ll recall (and if you haven’t read the book, remember, you’re on your own), protests that he didn’t know Greyback would be among the invasion party.  But in the movie, Draco is working with Greyback from the start.

This seems to me a mistake, because something happens to Draco at that moment, quite apart from his agonizing realization that he doesn’t actually have the evil cojones necessary for killing Dumbledore.  Janet pointed this out, so it’s her point: Draco and the Malfoys are deeply invested in their sense of superiority to the Muggle-born and the half-bloods.  They think of themselves, with good reason, as the elite of the elite in the wizarding world, and never fail to sneer at the Weasleys’ relative poverty.  But the crew that attacks Hogwarts that night isn’t made up of Death Eaters from the country club.  They’re either utterly vile (Greyback) or distinctly ill-spoken Cockney-tinged thugs (Alecto and Amycus).  This gives pause to the young man whose first encounter with Harry, six years earlier, turned on the question of who hangs out with “the right sort.”

I’m not saying that I wanted to see a twenty-minute confrontation between Dumbledore and the Death Eaters.  It’s just that the whole thing is so muted—we don’t even get Dumbledore’s offer to put the Malfoys in a Wizard Protection Program so Voldemort can’t find them.  Any explanations for the mutedness and unclimacticalness?  I’m eager to hear them.

Two final things.  The opening of the movie seems quite effective.  The book, after all, was published a mere nine days after al-Qaeda’s 7/7 attack on London, and eerily opens with Cornelius Fudge getting a befuddled Prime Minister up to speed on the Global War on Voldemort. HP’s reflections on terrorism and antiterrorism were evident the moment Stan Shunpike got shipped off to Gitmo, but in the final three novels the tone becomes increasingly ominous, to the point at which, as Rich Puchalsky puts it, “Harry is effectively living in the equivalent of a death squad state, in which people are routinely kidnapped, tortured, and disappeared, and constituted authority is either complicit, corrupt, or at best ineffective.”

And what do we make of the ethics of Snape-Assisted Suicide?  This kind of thing is deeply controversial in the disability-rights community, you know.


Ah, one more final final thing. I see in the Intertubes that back in 2005, I wrote, “did you know that there are only two functioning sectors of the American economy now?  Housing sales and Harry Potter films.  That’s it.” Funny, that.  OK, so now we’re down to one.

Posted by Michael on 07/22 at 11:16 AM
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Friday, July 17, 2009

The left at last

Woo hoo!  I mailed my galleys back to NYU Press yesterday—and sure enough, caught a typo late last night.  So I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of an eerie copyeditor who appears at my door saying, room for one more....  Did I mention that this will be my first book that includes a Tom Tomorrow cartoon?  And that the cartoon was placed on the wrong page of the galleys?  Fixing that little mistake will probably cost me as much as the reprint free I offered to Mr. Tomorrow.  But at least I have my very own page at the NYUP website, with all the critical book-related information:

Cloth: $29.95
ISBN: 978081479984
Release Date: 11/01/2009
352 pages, 1 illustrations

The 1 illustrations are just great.  Thanks again, Mr. Tomorrow!  And I think 978081479984 is just about my favorite ISBN number ever.  I note with chagrin, however, that I am listed as “Michael F. Berube,” even though I last used my middle initial in 1974, sometime around the night Chicago died and Billy was advised not to be a hero.  On the plus side, the cover is going to be Teh R0XX0r, with no ginormous ghostly looming heads or preternaturally large pieces of chalk.

So now I can finally answer Flavia’s questionIf your book manuscript (or dissertation, or latest research project) were a piece of furniture, what would it be? Mine is a big, creaky old armoire I’ve been stuffing things into for the past five or six years.  Last winter, when I finally finished stuffing things into it, I decided to paint some fire on the side and then hit it with a sledgehammer repeatedly—to make it look mean

Also, I edited the index, which was done by a professional indexer who knew what he was doing.  The subject listings and cross-referencings were intense.  I did catch one curious mistake, though:  my discussions of “class-first” leftists in chapter 5 were indexed as discussions of “first-class” leftists.  As you might imagine, I was sorely tempted to go back into the manuscript and change “class-first” to “first-class,” since that would certainly put a fresh spin on the cultural left vs. reformist left debates of 1990s. That Gitlin fellow—he was one first-class leftist, he was.  When I hit the road with Mike Tomasky, lemme tell ya, we always went first class.

Well, since Flavia has the manuscript-as-furniture question covered, my Arbitrary question for this Friday is this: what’s your very favorite typo in a published book or essay?

Posted by Michael on 07/17 at 10:13 AM
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