Thursday, November 15, 2007

Forget "Issues" --Authenticity Is All That Matters

Jeff Feldman decries the rise of “authenticity.”

Americans, he says, should reject the very notion of authenticity in favor of that old traditional value, pragmatism. In fact, he has a highly pragmatic proposal for our leading Democratic Presidential contenders: they should call for “NATIONAL CONVENTION TO SOLVE AMERICA'S HEALTH CRISIS.” (Evidently, putting it in all-caps and in bold makes it more, um, pragmatic, I guess. Maybe it’s more “frame-shoppy.” I don’t really have a clue.)

Intending only to help a worthy cause, Jeff has managed to embody almost single-handedly why Democrats are so singularly unsuccessful – and unsuccessful they are, in light of the huge majorities of Americans who agree with what they say they want to do. Too bad because Jeff's a fighter on the side of the angels.

It’s often said that we Dems are left-brainers – verbal, analytical, plodding, meeting-holders. And on the whole I agree. The Right wants leaders, the Left wants a meeting.

Oh sure, it’s a grand and glorious tradition – and of course the reason why Democrats are so much better at “governing.” But it ain’t gonna get us the political movement we need. We don't lack for good ideas, or snappy labels (OK, maybe we do, but it's not what's killing us). And we surely don't lack for meetings, workshops, or national conventions.

FDR (and this next sentence always begins with FDR, doesn’t it?) was our last great leader. Of course, under 8+ years of his leadership, the nation remained more or less stuck in an economic depression. But what he offered the nation wasn’t successful government programs. He offered hope. He offered a sunny, upbeat personality that somehow let every American believe that we’d get through the crisis.

People who work on Madison Ave (as I sort-of do) know that commercials for Campbell’s Soup are not about soup. It doesn’t matter if it’s tomato-i-er, or higher in protein or lower in msg or sodium. What matters is that your mother loves you, and that you love your kids. “Lower Sodium” as a claim isn’t about sodium; it’s about showing how much you care.

Hillary Clinton is yet another in a long-line of deeply dislikable Democratic nominees. I believe she thinks the campaign is about health care, the war, improving education and the like. No matter how much she thinks that’s true, it isn’t. It just isn’t. The campaign is about which of these two candidates do we like better.

Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are by almost any reasonable measure not likely to be good for most Americans as President. But people will like whichever one prevails. They’ll seem jovial and confident. They’ll come across as reasonable people who want the right thing. They’ll have a very good chance of winning the election.

McGovern. Dukakis. Mondale. Kerry. Gore-2000. These people were deeply dislikable, and went down to defeat. Carter seemed likeable in76, but after 4 years of grappling with the issues of the day, seemed to lack confidence in himself. (As opposed to Reagan, a dreadful President revered to this day.) And consider what they did to Bill Clinton—a likeable sort. Their entire campaign was not to make us think his policies weren’t good, it was to make us hate him.

The Republicans know how to sell soup. If we don’t learn, we’ll just keep on making the best soup no one buys.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

OK, it's time to promote Comedywise's newest adventure, Frank Santopadre has been percolating this idea for quite a while, and it finally burst forth on June 1. You can subscribe to get it in your e-mail via the site, or grab it via Twitter.

Try a taste -- here's today's Daily Dose of Downer (tm)
Cigarette mascot Joe Camel debuts on this date in 1987. Underage smoking soon increases.

Enjoy! Tell your pals!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Whither Immigration?

I've been hearing comments like this from our brethern on the right:

Normally, I am the first in line to support my party and the President. The Immigration fiasco/sellout that President Bush and others are pushing has caused me to rethink things. I declined to donate anymore until immigration is fixed. By fixed I mean border control first-funded, built and staffed, then legalization/visas as separate law next. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Posted By W. Brucker, MD, Eau Claire, Wisconsin : June 18, 2007 5:16 pm
This was over on

For the life of me, I cannot begin to understand immigration outside of a frankly racist context.

I do not understand what Dr. Brucker, of Eau Claire for heavens' sake, is so excited about. We have any number of flagrant law violations in our society, but the "failure to control our border" seems to be especially irksome. Don't know why this is so. It wasn't, say, 18 months ago, nor for the previous 400 years that Europeans have been here. So I'm not sure why this is so urgent. (But then again, I was never clear on the urgency to confront Saddam Hussein's failure to adhere to the UN's instructions either. It must be me.)

Nor can I see why English is so damn important. Folks on the right are happy with the market shaping our society, at least when it comes to who can afford health care or higher education or have job security, etc. (Some of the most extreme want the government to stop regulating the purity of foods or the safety of consumer products on the grounds that the markets provide more effective and more efficient protection than the hated government regulation.) But when it comes to speaking a language, or regulating who can have sex with whom, etc., all of a sudden the market is irrelevant and there is a moral imperative.

People have been not speaking English on this continent since humans first came here. Since the founding of our little Republic, there has been constant and in many cases uninterrupted non-English speaking. And we have all survived. Why is it now all of a sudden critical to somehow or other find a way to inflict some kind of painful consequence on those who do not speak this particular language?

I fear that too large a proportion of our population has gone round the bend for good, much as happened in the 1830s-1860, when nearly half of us were 110% certain that any tinkering with slavery would assuredly cause the loss of everything of value, so much so that nearly half of us were ready to fight and die for it. Whatever one's views of the causes of the Civil War, it is certainly undeniable that bloodshed was unavoidable or desirable. It was stupid then, and the same insistence on sticking our heads in the sand now is just as stupid now.

Vive la Revolution!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why Embrace Defeat?

The Democrats have reportedly agreed to drop timetables from their funding bill. And Democrats are claiming defeat. I can't for the life of me see why.

The Democrats should remove these timetables and declare it a Republican defeat. Not a Democratic one. We have not "caved." We brought pressure to bear in a situation where we lack the power to coerce a favorable result. There is not enough support from Republicans to force the President's hand. This failure to stop the war lies at the feet of Republicans unwilling to join us. Not with us.

To those who say we should simply stop funding the military, you will have to recognize that this is not a viable option. Our C-i-C would use that as a justification for all kinds of mischief. He'd put our troops into even further needless danger. He'd use the lack of funding as an excuse to blame the Democrats for losing the war -- a meme that could well find traction. After all, the Republicans are about to start a Presidential campaign in which they all are against the war, all are in favor of withdrawal as soon as possible, and united only by their belief that the problems we've had are the fault of Defeat-o-crats. And while we won a righteous victory in 06, do not expect your fellow Americans to suddenly stop buying the Republican line of crap. Nah. Gon. Hapn.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

This Nails it

I wish I had the talent of James Wolcott. In this post's 2d paragraph, he articulates my thought about 10 times better than I ever could my self. The master writes:

The ashy clouds over Mordor have parted, my friends. It was only a year or so ago that the Permanent Republican Majority seemed not only a grim possibility, but a stark near-inevitability. Karl Rove's master plan seemed to have a mortal lock on the political future. So downbeat was the daily news and so dispiriting the performance of the Democrats in 2004 that I had internalized liberalism's permanent underdog status, consoling myself that at least I lived in a liberal city in a liberal state and had plenty of company in the commisseration ward. But I also took heart in Emerson's insight that everything looks permanent until it's secret is known; that invisible cracks form deep in even the sturdiest structures and over time will not be denied. But "over time" can be a long time. Decades, even. And so much would not survive that long a wait.

He then goes on, of course, to herald the start of a new era of progressive ascendency, massive change on the near-horizon.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Interesting Essay on Outsourcing

There's an interesting essay on today about outsourcing. Go read it and come back.

Some of the commenters say David is a big cry-baby for giving up steak dinners and ice cream ("CEO-ness," I think someone said) To them I say: you have no idea what David has given up. I'd guess he's lost quite a bit more than mere perks. Certainly his ego and self-esteem have taken a beating.

Secondly, to those who feel that David was a fool for putting in $2M to a dying business -- well, all I can say is, "nice hindsight, buddy." Why would you think David, his father, the SBA and the banks are such fools? Wait -- I know why.

In our post-Reagan society, people who experience loss DESERVE to. David isn't unlucky, or a victim of circumstance. No, out individual-centric worldview demands that his fate be somehow his fault. So to those who condemn David for looting his Dad, or his Dad for believing in him: shut up. You are simply wrong.

Finally, to the anti-globalization crowd: David's right, there is no stopping it. Not via tariffs, not via regulations, not via anything. Do you think the US government would have allowed Detroit to export all those jobs in the 70's and 80's if it had a choice?

The so-called "race to the bottom" is a fact of our market-based economy. In fact, the process of seeking ever cheaper production is what drives our economy and always has. It's why Europeans invested in North America in the 17th century. It's why Phildelphia is crowded with office buildings built for companies who have long ago moved out or closed. It's why India is finding that it's ability to attract jobs is being undercut by lower cost providers in Manilla and Malaysia.

The lesson to be learned from all this one that David is just beginning to grasp. Our market-based system has been one of the great creations of humankind. Of course it has limits, and it must be carefully regulated to work to society's advantage. What's missing now is not market mechanisms, or tariffs, or a soul. What's missing now is the simple faith that the future will bring us new opportunities and new rewards. And this faith is, in my experience, largely a product of a society's leaders.

It's what endeared FDR to a couple of generations of Americans. It's what made JFK seem cool. It's what makes Obama seem cool. It's even, God help my immortal soul, what made people like Reagan (the evil bastard!).

David's bankruptcy lawyer was right. He's a young man, with obvious gifts. He'll survive, maybe even thrive again. The future's like globalization: there's no stopping it.

We would do well not only to recognize that but to embrace it. One of the posters commented that the government has robbed us to give money to defense contractors, etc. I think this is right. What we should be doing instead is investing that same money in our future. We should be saying to David and everyone else who is trying make their way, "we've got your back. Your healthcare is on us. Your kids' education is on us. You won't starve or become homeless." And we should do that not because we're interested in creating a class of people addicted to a nanny-state. We should do that because we believe in David and in each other.

If David were a stock, I'd be ready to invest (if I had any money, that is!). Our future can be a great and wonderful thing, but only if we let go of the past and start to invest in it by investing in ourselves.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Abu G

Mr. Gonzales' performance yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee was by any standard preposterous.

Well, not by any standard. The President, the one person who matterswas pleased with the Attorney General’s testimony today.

I have this image of the President sitting in his office watching these old fuss-budget Senators fuming and sputtering and stewing and full of righteous indignation, and the President simply enjoying the fact that there is not one goddamned thing any of them can do about it.

Mr. Bush has nothing to fear from the electorate or even his own party. So long as Mr. Gonzales is willing, my bet is that the President continues what is for him a ritualistic humiliation of pompous blatherers.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Things We All Know

There are certain things We All Know. In fact, quite a lot of things. The best example of things We All Know is that we all know that there is not an old white man living in the sky who looks out for us specially. We All Know that there is not an invisible Jesus who tells us what to do if we just listen hard enough. Whenever I hear Jesus freaks ranting about religion, I think there is no one they are trying to convince as much as themselves. They know, deep down, the truth. Their religious talk is a desperate cover -- a cover they feel strongly about because they so want it to be true. Even the Rapture: what better fantasy than that any day – tomorrow, even – one might awake to find all earthly cares swept away and replaced by truly transcendent bliss.

When these folks see secular media, they see a world that mocks them. The people they see on TV, movies, etc., are well off, educated, part of a meaningful group doing meaningful things, etc. They feel excluded from that mainstream society, and understandably they scorn it, mock it. And their legitimate feelings are manipulated and exploited by conniving men and women who see these dispossessed souls as a pool of money and votes to be commandeered for their own nefarious purposes, generally involving big houses, swimming pools and the odd private jet.

We need to acknowledge that these folks are our fellow Americans, and that those of us still feeling part of the mainstream have failed them terribly. Perhaps we have blame for defining society in such a way that it doesn’t include them. Perhaps we deserve blame for not fighting to address their real needs. Perhaps we should be ashamed that we have not treated them with the respect they deserve. There’s no shortage of blame. Only a shortage of clear paths to a better future.

There are a lot of Things We All Know. We all know that our society has lost the will to address our most pressing problems, even to the point of allowing our fellow citizens to die for lack of a modicum of health care. We seem uninterested in preparing tomorrow’s citizens for the world as it will exist. We seem determined to treat the least of us as a pariah whose misfortune is morally justified and whose amelioration is surely not our responsibility.

We All Know that the current regime is not in the least bit interested in doing what’s best for the voters. We All Know that the conservative movement is not really interested in lowering taxes, or reducing the size of government, or for preserving individual liberty, or for walking softly and carrying a big stick. We All Know that too many Democrats and most Republicans are so enthralled with the comforts of access to plentiful cash that they cannot be counted on to turn their backs on their paymasters and take up the cause of the people they purport to represent. We All Know This.

For today, let me point out something We All Know. We All Know that the President and his party have absolutely corrupted the US Attorney corps, just like they corrupted every other part of the executive branch. We Also All Know that the Attorney General was and is no innocent victim in this. By shifting the story repeatedly, We All Know these people are showing a guilty conscience. Finally, We Also All Know that however satisfying it may be to see Mr. Gonzalez removed in disgrace, the truth is he was a dutiful soldier, carrying out the wrongful instructions of his principal, whose continuing presence in the Oval Office is an embarrassment to us all.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Comedywise on Gothamist

The has an interview up with yours truly and my partner Frank Santopadre. More press for Comedywise!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Trouble We're In

Gary Kimaya writes a nearly perfect encapsulation of the thinking of many on the left, "Is There Life After Bush?"

Like so many, Kamiya has become so focused on the excesses of the Bush administration, he has a hard time seeing the bigger picture. Which unfortunately is quite grim.

Back when South Carolinians were electing the 90+ year old Strom Thurmond, I used to joke (mostly) that the problem wasn't Senator Thurmond but rather the people who kept voting for him. Indeed, I used to propose that states or other jurisdictions which made obviously foolish choices -- choices that were not merely unwise or foolish, but choices that bespoke a fundamental lack of judgment such as sending an obviously incompetent man to the Senate -- should be penalized by having the right to send a representative suspended for some time, say 10 years.

The point of this was to focus blame where it belonged: on the people hiring these guys. And as awful as these guys can be (I'm talking to you, Junior Bush), they aren't the problem. The problem is our fellow Americans who keep voting for them. And they're not going anywhere.

In some imporant ways, people like this have been here since the Puritans landed. There have been sporadic clashes between these forces and the rest of the nation as long as there has been a nation.

But what's happening lately takes this to a new level. This slice of America is becoming radicalized as it is becoming organized and entrenched. It is a religious phenomenon, but it is also unmistakably a political and cultural phenomenon. Alexandra Pelosi's Friends of God offers a compelling glimpse of the alternative society now growing withing our larger society: a distinctively militaristic and persecuted society, in which almost any measures are acceptable because they are mandated by God (whose word is delivered by humble servants like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell). It is a society that proclaims its commitment to Christianity while it actively works to thwart Christian values.

Unfortuantely, the harm is not confined to the many good people who have been fooled into buying into this nonsense. No, this pool of people is an ocean of gasoline waiting for a match. And the flames will threaten us all.

In "American Fascists," Chris Hedges describes this movement. Comparing it to movements he witnessed in other parts of the world, he told Salon

Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don't understand how radically changed our country is, don't understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.

This build-up of fear and hate, of expressed longing for a cataclysm that will finally give their lives the meaning they now lack, will not just go away when Bush goes away. No, as Hedges told Salon

It takes time to acculturate a society to a radical agenda, but that acculturation has clearly begun here, and I don't see people standing up and trying to stop them.

So the problem, friends, is not merely this or that horrendous politician or preacher. The problem is with our fellow Americans themselves. Bush didn't vote himself into office (Supreme Court or no, the man got a lot of votes.) Bush is the symptom of a much larger problem we will have to confront -- sooner or later.

God in America

A lot of talk about religion in our society these days. The thing that always strikes me is that the people with the most passion in their assertions about God, Jesus and all the rest are mostly trying to convince themselves.

Watched Alexandra Pelosi’s “Friends of God” on HBO, and was struck by this with renewed force watching Ted Haggard, who was earnestly explaining how great it was to be a heterosexual Christian because of all the great sex within marriage. I can’t believe he was trying to convince anyone as much as he was himself.

Alexandra showed us all manner of Pharisees and scribes, all of whom were fixated on telling other people what God wanted. (Evidently, He is much consumed with marriage.) I seem to recall the New Testament as being fairly clear that faith is something that is personal and that the important part is what is between each person and God.

So I’m fairly certain that all this talk about God and religion is in fact not really connected to religion at all. If someone really has faith, I’m not sure what’s gained by talking about it.